Monday, July 08, 2024

Carmen - The Albums 1973-1975

Carmen originally formed in LA in 1970 as a seven piece and was the brainchild of David Clark Allen, the child of flamenco performers who had himself been trained as a flamenco guitarist.  Over the next few years, twelve different musicians made their way through the band before they became a quintet in 1972.  While all the labels in LA loved their live performances, they felt it was impossible to get their sound recorded, so they ended up moving to London thinking they would have a different opinion.  It should be noted that in their live show they used vocalists Roberto Amaral and Angela Allen as flamenco dancers, and they also used an amplified floor to utilize their dancing as percussion.  Initially rounding out the band were brothers Brian and John Glascock on drums and bass respectively (both had previously played in pre-Uriah Heep band The Gods and Toe Fat, and John later played for a short while in Jethro Tull before passing away at 28).  Upon moving to London, they made a very influential friends with David Bowie and Tony Visconti, but unfortunately Brian had decided not to make the move and was replaced by Paul Fenton.  While Visconti ended up producing their first two albums, the friendship with Bowie resulted in them being his guests in a show at the Marquee in London from October 18-20, 1980, called The 1980 Floor Show.  It featured his final appearances as Ziggy Stardust and ended up being broadcast in the US on the Midnight Special TV show.  From 1973 to 1975 they released three albums that to this day contain some of the most unique music out there, meshing rock and prog with flamenco, dance and more.  Their new three CD box set, The Albums 1973-1975, collects these three albums, as well as four bonus tracks.  

Their debut album, Fandangos In Space, was produced by Visconti and opens with "Bulerias", a track that is the epitome of what they are about.  It's a three-part song that is the perfect merging of flamenco rhythms, prog guitar sections with castanets weaving in and out and foot stomping percussion.  The extremely catchy "Bullfight" continues in that vein, but also adds synths to the mix and has great stop and start, fast and slow tempo shifts.  They slow things down a little on “Stepping Stone”, which has a spacy, psychedelic sound and a bit of a laid-back funk beat, while “Sailor Song” is more of a folk-rock track with some elements of prog.  “Lonely House” is a fairly straightforward acoustic ballad with some really nice Spanish flavored acoustic guitar.  David showcases his guitar work on the acoustic instrumental “Por Tarantos” which isn’t quite straight up flamenco, but definitely has flourishes of it.  “Looking Outside (My Window)” ups the ante in the rock department starting off quite heavy and then shifting back and forth between slower, acoustic guitar driven sections and heavier sections with even more emphasis on flamenco, including some handclaps.  At just under nine minutes, “Tales of Spain” is somewhat of a prog suite that’s constantly shifting, twisting and turning in multitude of different musical styles, starting out slow and very reminiscent of the west coast sound with some great vocal harmonies, then moving into spacey spoken word storytelling, upbeat rock, psychedelia and much more.  It’s followed by “Retirando”, a gorgeous Spanish flavored track that at only forty-eight second still really impresses with its harmonies (interestingly some places on the internet show the end of “Tales of Spain” as actually being the beginning of this song making it almost a minute and a half longer).  The title track is up next and is another complex tour de force with a melodic prog intro leading into more of a flamenco section and then an almost frantic, jazzy instrumental middle section and then back into prog.  It also has some great guitar work and incredible vocal harmonies, including some falsetto and choral sections, that have a Queen vibe if they had had a Spanish flamenco influence.  Closing out the album on a mellow note is “Reprise/Finale”, a short acoustic Spanish guitar driven instrumental.

Album number two, Dancing on a Cold Wind, was once again produced by Visconti, and opens with “Viva Mi Sevilla”, probably the heaviest, and arguably the best, track they ever released.  After starting with an acoustic Spanish guitar, a fuzzy, thumping bass comes in along with foot stomping percussion.  As it evolves, killer electric guitar kicks in and then it shifts to heavy Spanish flavored prog rock before closing with a powerful instrumental section that includes keys and some pummeling cowbell.  Angela steps up to the mic to handle lead vocals on “I’ve Been Crying”, which is overall more of a catchy pop tune with some prog elements, but still has plenty of quirkiness with the thick fuzzy bass again very prominent, along with mellotron and a slower section that sounds like a funhouse waltz.  Opening with haunting piano, “Drifting Along” is an interesting ballad that is not run of the mill, with elements of prog along with some really strong guitar solos, dark synths and strong vocal harmonies.  Following the short instrumental “She Flew Across the Room” to close out side one is “Purple Flowers”, another twisting turning prog track with occasional flourishes of flamenco, that is at times a little reminiscent of Jethro Tull and Queen.  Side two consists of a side-long suite in nine parts called ‘Remembrances (Recuerdos de Espana)’.  Unlike a lot of their other songs, the majority of the nine tracks are shorter pieces, but they work brilliantly together to create a twenty-four-minute piece of music.  Musically there is more emphasis on British folk and string arrangements than before, along with plenty of the prog, rock, Spanish and flamenco elements they were known for.  "She's Changed", "Gypsy Girl (Caravan)", "People Dressed In Black", along with the title track, are some of the highlights here.  Disc two also contains two of the bonus tracks, starting with “Quiriquitu”, which has a slower, dreamy sound and a bit of a funk beat.  It’s kind of different for them but gets a little repetitive.  “Out On The Street” is also slower but works better with its heavy groove and synth heavy ending.  

For their third album, Gypsies, the band split with Visconti and brought in Steve Elson as producer.  It opens extremely strong with “Daybreak”, which starts with a gorgeous flamenco instrumental with incredible guitar work then kicks into a hard flamenco rocker that has a hint of glam.  “Shady Lady” and “High Time” are both more easygoing midtempo tunes that have more emphasis on synths, and on the former, some great Spanish guitar.  The melancholy folk of “Dedicated To Lydia” is absolutely gorgeous with delicate acoustic guitar work and stellar harmonies.  “Joy” finds them moving back into a more straightforward prog direction, but also with a bit of a quirky pop side to it.  On the title track they come back around to where they started.  It’s an absolute powerhouse prog tune (again quite reminiscent of Jethro Tull) with their classic flamenco flair like snapping castanets and foot stomping percussion, and Allen is on fire here with his guitar work.  “Siren of the Sea” is another straight-ahead rocker, but has an almost sing songy feel to it that comes across a little cheesy.  With its Queen-like backing harmonies “Come Back” is a bouncy soft rock tune with another strong guitar solo.  The album closes with “Margarita”, a delicate acoustic instrumental with some really nice Spanish guitar.  Rounding out disc three are a couple more bonus tracks.  “Flamenco Fever” is actually one of my favorite songs here, and was a single only track released in 1974.  It’s classic Carmen, at times a hard driving rocker with a definite Jethro Tull influence along Flamenco rhythms, castanets, foot stomping and more great guitar work.   With its stark acoustic guitar, synths, a drum machine and Angela’s captivating vocals it’s obvious that the hauntingly beautiful “Only Talking To Myself” is not like anything else here.  Unfortunately, there are no details about this track, so after a little digging around online I discovered that it’s actually not a Carmen song, but a tribute to John Glascock that she recorded in 2006 with Laurence Lush contributing the music.  Even though it's not one of their tracks, it's a nice track to close out the box set, but I wish they had given some details about its history.  Overall, this is a fascinating and refreshingly unique look back at a band that was sadly underappreciated.  

(Esoteric Recordings)

Friday, July 05, 2024

Interview with Halfway To Neptune

Southern California's teen band Halfway To Neptune recently released their impressive debut EP On These Walls.  I had the opportunity to interview the band (vocalist and rhythm guitarist Madison, lead guitarist Jacob, bassist Blake and drummer Eric) where we talked about the early roots of the band, their new EP, what's in store for the future and more.  

I love that if you scroll back to the early days of your Facebook page there are posts from when a couple of you were in an early incarnation of the band called Flames Of Fury. You can really see the early, early days with you recording yourselves playing live in what looks like a spare room. Your progression is pretty amazing. Can you tell me a little about the history of the band and the path from then to now?

Eric: When Flames of Fury first originated it was me and my best friend Blake wanting to start our first band. We then later added some friends of ours who eventually left. When the band originated our music consisted of covers from our favorite bands. Along the way we added Maddie who has been our singer for around 4 years. Once Jacob joined, we rebranded to Halfway To Neptune and began writing our own music. 

What do you think now when you look back at those first videos?

Blake: I look back on the videos from the days we were in Flames of Fury and I wonder what younger me would think when he sees the new me. It’s very strange to think about.

How does your songwriting process tend to work?

Madison: I love how collaborative we are as a band when we write songs. If one person has a drum part, a riff, or chords, we usually have writing sessions to implement their idea into an entire project where all four of us contribute to the sound of the song. For example, a couple of the songs off of the EP originated from Jacob and Eric jamming out and creating a lead guitar part/drum base. Then, they showed it to Blake and I and we worked with them to insert our rhythm, vocals, and bass parts. Another method we use to write is where I come to class with song structure, chords, and vocals. I work with Jacob to create melodies and lead parts, Eric creates drums, and Blake creates bass. The song ‘On These Walls’ was actually created during a jam session where I was messing around with some chords that weren’t originally written for a song, and Jacob joined in. From there, we all loved the sound and created the track that eventually inspired our entire EP.

It seems like in most of the stuff I have read about the band there is always an emphasis on calling you pop punk. You can definitely hear that throughout the EP, especially in a song like “Watch Me Burn”, although even that track is a lot more than just pop punk. I really think that description of your sound does you a disservice because there is much more going on here. Would you agree with that?

Eric: I would 100% agree with that for a good reason. Our EP On These Walls was made to get us on the radar and help us find our sound. The tracks consist of a broad style of pop punk ranging for the heavier elements, into the slower elements which you can see in "Watch Me Burn" and "Fall Away". A more specific pop punk feel will be coming in our new album in 2025.

I hear some classic metal influences at times, especially the Metallica like guitar licks in “Night Driving” and the galloping rhythms that pop up in “Edge Of A Knife”, that bring to mind Iron Maiden. Then there’s “Stay Alive”, which has a little bit of a melodic nu metal feel to it. Would you consider metal a big influence on the band?

I don’t know if I would call it big. I mean we definitely like Metal, and Rock, and Punk, and EMO. So I guess you might hear some of those throughout our songs. If there was some influences that have impacted me most it would be the legendary Randy Rhoads, and Classical Space Rock genius Matt Bellamy of Muse. 

I really like “Fall Away”. It has an intensity to it and is darker and slower than the rest of the tracks, which really creates a great mood. Can you tell me a little about that song?

Madison: This song explores the complicated and painful emotions that arise when you’re slowly slipping away from a loved partner or a friend. I wanted to write the lyrics to encapsulate that feeling when you’re not quite out of their lives, but at the same time you’re hanging on by a thread which could snap at any nearing second. It’s agonizing and it’s torturous knowing that a support system or a primary aspect of your life could slip out of your grasp so quickly. 

We wanted to adhere to the intensity of the lyrics with the sound of the song itself. Jacob wrote a dark and moody guitar lead during the chorus as well as an intense minor riff during the verses. We also wanted to include a guitar solo which captured the emotional and forward feel of the song. About the melody of the vocals, I wanted that intensity to increase slowly right from the beginning of the song all the way to the end. I started soft and quiet, and grew up until the final chorus and bridge. 

You recently had your EP release party/show. How was that?

Jacob: Where do I begin? Sold out Venue, 3 phenomenal bands that opened for us. We had a blast playing that night. People singing our songs along with us and actually hearing them sing was truly amazing. A feeling I can’t describe. 

Blake: When the time came for the EP release party, I noticed how much we have improved ever since the Whiskey a GoGo.  It’s kind of shocking how much you can improve within a year, really.  This was the first time though that we actually had a big gig that was starring us, meaning everyone there were fans of us, which surprised me when i heard we sold over 300 tickets in total.  I feel so accomplished with this band and plan on seeing it to the end.

Is there any significance to the band name?

Eric: We thought we might get canceled if we chose 'Halfway To Uranus'

What are your plans now that the EP is out?

Eric: We are going to spend the rest of the year writing new music and really honing in on our sound, and releasing an album early next year. That and playing lots of shows the rest of this year. 

You have videos out for “Night Driving” and “Watch Me Burn”. How involved was the band in the creation of those?

Eric: We didn't have much of a music video planned for "Watch Me Burn", but our producer Jonathan told the band to make a collage of videos over the last year and make a music video out of that.  As for "Night Driving", we had no idea what the hell we were doing but we went to LA to record a music video at this small spot with cool backgrounds, turned on the camera, set up a speaker to play along to the music and then we had our music video. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Madison: We want to thank all who have supported us throughout our musical journey and pursuing our passions. We are so incredibly grateful that we are able to share our art with such amazing people who provide us with such astounding support.  As mentioned previously, we won’t be releasing any new music until January 2025, but for now, stream On These Walls and feel free to keep in touch with us through our Instagram, Facebook, and Tiktok.  This summer and for the rest of 2024 we will be frequently performing around the SoCal area so it won’t be hard to catch a show near you if you live around LA or the IE.  Again, we want to thank all of our fans and listeners for helping us make our dreams come true.

(Halfway To Neptune - Facebook)


Monday, July 01, 2024

The Cryin' Shames, Paul & Ritchie & The Crying Shames, Friendly Persuasion - Please Stay

Please Stay by the Liverpool band The Cryin’ Shames hit number 26 on the UK charts in 1966.  It was the last hit song for producer Joe Meek and within a year of that he was dead, and the band had broken up.  While they only ended up releasing two singles with a third from the offshoot band Paul & Ritchie & The Crying Shames, thanks to Meek’s Tea Chest Tapes, the latest in that series of releases from Cherry Red is this outstanding two-disc collection containing fifty-one tracks.  In addition to the six single cuts there are the audition tapes from The Bumblies (the band’s initial name), tracks recorded for an album that ended up never being released, alternate versions and sessions, two songs from Friendly Persuasions (a post-breakup band from guitarist Derek Cleary) and a handful of live tracks.

The band was initially started in 1963 as The Bumblies by bassist George Robinson and vocalist Joey Kneen and was rounded out by Charlie Crane (vocals, harmonica), John Bennett (guitar), Phil Roberts (keyboards), and Charlie Gallagher (drums).  They auditioned for Meek in late 1965 and the five songs from that demo session are here on disc one.  In addition to a couple of Dylan covers, the easygoing “She Belongs To Me” and “Mr. Tambourine Man”, walking the line between the original and The Byrds, are a ragged garage rock version of Van Morrision and Them’s “Gloria” and a bluesy, organ heavy take on Otis Redding’s “Pain In My Heart.”  Lastly, is the aforementioned “Please Stay” that was originally released by The Drifters in 1961 and later covered by Zoot Money’s Big Roll Band.  This early version was a gorgeous take consisting of only Crane’s vocals and Roberts’ organ.  While Meek liked the band he didn’t like their name, so they ended up as The Cryin’ Shames.  December 1965 also found them replacing Bennett with Ritchie Routledge.  The following February they released their debut single, the aforementioned “Please Stay”, which opens the box set.  Fleshed out here, most notably with drums and strings, it is a hauntingly beautiful song.  The flipside, presented here in an extended version with a longer fadeout, is “What’s New Pussycat”, a rocking R&B track that is actually musically almost a carbon copy of Dylan’s “On The Road Again”.   Their next single, released in June 1966, was "Nobody Waved Goodbye”.  Originally released just five months earlier as the B-side of a single by its composers, Joey Brooks & The Baroque Folk, their version was a dreamy pop tune that definitely showcases Meek’s production. The bouncy and extremely infectious “You” was the other track here.  It should be noted that during this period there were some member changes and questions as to who really played on what, that are all covered in depth in the extensive booklet included here.  A few months after the single’s release the band broke up and Routledge and Crane formed a new group called Paul and Ritchie and The Crying Shames.  In September 1966 they released the single “September In The Rain”, which was actually the only song they recorded.  It is an upbeat, slightly Beatles-esque pop tune with some really cool Farfisa organ, that is my favorite of their three singles (interestingly, the song was originally written in 1937 and has been recorded by a who’s who of artists in varying styles).  Although it is rumored they also recorded “Say Diddley Hey”, it isn’t included here at the insistence of Routledge, because he said it is not them.  Instead, the flipside was the brilliant freakbeat track “Come On Back” which was actually recorded during the same session at “You” and has made this a highly collectable single.  Next up are the twelve tracks recorded for an album that never saw the light of day.  The bulk of these tracks were covers, starting with “I’ll Keep Holding On”, which sounds a lot like a slightly slower version of the one released a few months earlier by The Action.  Following a fairly standard version of “Land Of 1,000 Dances” is another take on “Gloria”, which along with a slower “She Belongs To Me”, are two songs that were initially recorded at their audition.  Originally by Marvin Gaye and then The Birds (featuring Ronnie Wood), “No Good Without You Baby” is a surprisingly heavy, fuzz-guitar laden rocker.  To me their version of “My Girl” is the one real misstep here, as it sounds a bit off and really misses the mark. Dipping into the Dylan catalogue for the third time, their soulful version of “With God On Our Side” is hypnotic, drenched in organ and stripped-down percussion, as is their take on the Jagger/Richards tune “As Tears Go By” (originally recorded by Marianne Faithful and later a Stones b-side).  They give a real kick in the pants to the soulful garage rocker “Take Me For A Little While” (written by Trade Martin and recorded by Evie Sands and then The Koobas).  The last of the covers was their bouncy, rocking take on Holland Dozier Holland’s “You’re A Wonderful One” (originally recorded by Marvin Gaye).  Also recorded for the album were what are assumed to be two originals, the soulful “Only You”, which has some cool guitar work and the funk-tinged R&B tune “Wanna Be Loved”.  Closing out disc one are three more songs that were found among the Tea Chest Tapes, all of which are mentioned in the liner notes as possibilities for the third single.  While “Let Me In” is a catchy garage rocker and “Breakout” has a cool midtempo groove, “Feels Like Loving” is a dramatic ballad.  All three were enhanced with brass and strings and had the potential to be hits. 

Disc two opens with a varieity of alternate versions and sessions that as always with these collections really showcase Meek’s genius.  There are three versions of the first single “Please Stay”, including one with no overdubs and one with only overdubs, and an instrumental and alternate version of the b-side “What’s New Pussycat”.  Two alternate arrangements of their second single “Nobody Waved Goodbye” are here along with a take with no overdubs and one of just overdubs, and an alternate version of the flipside “You”, which has a more prominent piano presence.  Three more versions of “Let Me In” are here.  The first two are before the strings and horns have been added and really showcase the powerhouse percussion on this track (Phase 1 Take 3 even has a section where vocalist Kneen starts laughing in the middle), while the third is those missing overdubs.  Following a backing track version and guide vocal version of “Breakout” is an alternate version of the Paul & Ritchie & The Crying Shames “September In The Rain”, two versions of “Come On Back” including one with Kneen on vocals, and an alternate version of “I’ll Keep Holding On”.  While not all of these really stand up to repeat listenings it’s fascinating to hear the building blocks that go into the final versions.  After The Cryin' Shames broke up, guitarist Derek Cleary continued doing session work with Meek and in January 1967 he recorded there with his new group Friendly Persuasion, although they only recorded two tracks before Meek died.  First up is their take on the Skeeter Davis song "The End Of The World", which is a pretty standard band version of the track.  They fare much better with upbeat "Come On" with its great vocal harmonies and keys.  Next up are three tracks from Paul & Ritchie & The Crying Shames when they appeared on the BBC’s Saturday Club radio show on September 13, 1966, performing The Who’s “Circles”, Sam Cooke’s “Shake” and their version of “September In The Rain”.  The recordings sound great and the band are in top form.  Lastly are a couple of live cuts recorded during a television appearance in Paris featuring a performance of "Please Stay" and a raucous take on "Gloria".  As mentioned before, the CD booklet included here is very detailed and goes to great lengths to cover the details of the band's history, the various member changes and well as who played in the different named versions of the band.  It's definitely another welcome addition to the ongoing series of Tea Chest Tapes releases.

(Cherry Red Records)

Monday, June 17, 2024

Rivherside - Instrumental Cheap Fuzz Blues

Although he initially left behind his Rivherside project in 2016, when Renaud Villet came up with a simple guitar riff and then added a little fuzz he really liked what he had.  After he fleshed it out with the rest of the instrumentation, he realized it sounded like Rivherside, and now, with a few more songs added to the mix, we have the new EP, Instrumental Cheap Fuzz Blues.  Largely built around fuzzed out blues guitar with super infectious sampled beats that often give it a hint of hip hop and some organ and/or synths, the EP is an extremely catchy set of tunes running the gamut from the raw rock and funk of “Toad’s Stomp” and upbeat bounce of “The Jab” to the warped Bo Diddley beat of “Fuzz Blowin’” and the BB King inspired “Last Thrill”.  The EP is a refreshingly fun collection that begs you to hit replay and listen again.

(Black and Tan Records)

Monday, June 10, 2024

Methuselah - Matthew, Mark, Luke And John - Expanded Edition

Methuselah initially got their start in late 1964 / early 1965 as the beat/R&B band The Dimples.  Not long after forming they got a residency at The Jazz Workshop in Ashby, as did the band The Imps.  Over the ensuing years, band members came and went and with some members of The Imps (and their later incarnation The Craze) joining, the lineup was finally solidified with John Gladwin (lead vocals), Terry Wincott (guitar, vocals), Greg Tomlinson (guitar, vocals), Craig Austin (bass, vocals) and Stuart Smith (drums).  At this point they started moving from their blues heavy songs to also include Tamla and soul and released a single at the end of 1966.  Not long after the single's release, Tomlinson and Smith quit the band and were replaced by guitarist Geoff Eaton Tindle and drummer Steve Cox.  With this new lineup they started shifting stylewise again, incorporating influences of psychedelia and the burgeoning California sound.  They changed their name to Gospel Garden and released another single.  More member changes followed with Cox and Tindle leaving the group to be replaced by drummer Mick Bradley and guitarist Les Nicol, and they also moved in more of a rock direction.  All of this was followed by the name change to Methuselah when their management told them the one they had wasn't commercial enough.  The band then entered the studio with Brill Building songwriter Kenny Young (co-writer of "Under The Boardwalk") and Steve Rowland (one half of their management at Double-R) co-producing what would become their sole album Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Even though they were signed to Elektra, the album ended up only being released in the US and didn't sell much.  Its release was also delayed and by the time it was released the band had split in two with Austin, Nicol and Bradley playing more free-form jam sessions as a trio (a la Cream and Hendrix) and Gladwin and Wincott playing mellower acoustic music as The Amazing Blondell.  All of this meant sales were lackluster and resulted in it being counterfeited a few times over the years.  Now this newly reissued version has been remastered from the original master tapes, and also includes seven previously unreleased outtakes and alternate mixes from those sessions.  While not necessarily religious, the album definitely has plenty of biblical references starting off with the four-song suite that is the album’s namesake.  “Matthew” kicks things off strongly with its late sixties/early seventies era California sound vocal harmonies and heavy psychedelic guitar work, a sound that continues with “Mark”, which at times is even heavier, but also has some more laid-back psychedelic sections.  “Luke” picks up that laid-back psych sound and adds a little bit of jazz and more strong vocal harmonies.  With a bit of blues thrown in “John” is more of an acid rocker that brings back the heaviness again exploding with screaming guitars.  “High In The Tower Of Coombe” is an interesting, kind of quirky medieval tune driven by a military like marching beat.  Complete with handclaps, “Methuselah” is spirited and upbeat, but with slow and dark choruses.  Driven by a funky, R&B groove, “My Poor Mary” is a super infectious change of pace, followed by the straight-ahead hard rock of “Fireball Woman” and “Fairy Tale”, a ballad with a little rock edge.  The album closes strangely with their bizarre cover of the nursery rhyme “Frère Jacques” that is definitely the album’s weak point.  It starts with them singing in a sing songy falsetto and then shifts into an extended soft-jazz instrumental before coming back around to a choral falsetto section.   Kenny Young, the aforementioned co-producer also contributed the song “Don’t Ask Me And I Won’t Lie”, a really catchy midtempo rocker that ended up not making the album, but is now included here as the first of three outtakes and also here in a mono mix.  The other two outtakes are a soft jazz version of “You Are My Sunshine” that’s in the same vein as their version of “Frère Jacques”, and “Put Me Down Easy”, a heavy blues rocker  Rounding out the bonus tracks are an alternative mix of “Fireball Woman” and mono mixes of “Fairy Tale” and “Frère Jacques.”   Also included here is a very detailed twenty-eight page CD booklet that highlights the band’s history as well as what happened after they broke up.  Grapefruit has once again brought a well-deserved, largely ignored band to light.  

Saturday, June 08, 2024

McCoy - The Sound Of Thunder!

Although primarily known as a bassist, John McCoy got his start in the mid-sixties as lead guitarist for the beat group The Drovers.  Over the ensuing years he worked as a session musician with a multitude of big names, played with the likes of folk rockers Curtiss Maldoon, jazz rockers Zzebra and Atomic Rooster, and also worked as a producer for many artists including Samson and UK Subs.  From the band’s inception in 1978 until its dissolution in 1982, he was a member of former Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan’s band Gillan, where in addition to playing bass, he also contributed a lot to the songwriting, arranging and producing.  When Gillan decided to end the band, he said it was because he had to have vocal surgery, but two months later he announced he was joining Black Sabbath.  This was a blow to the band, but about a year later McCoy, Gillan keyboard player Colin Towns and guitarist Paul Samson, along with vocalist T-Bone Rees and drummers Ron ‘Rebel’ Matthews and Liam Genockey, formed the band McCoy and in 1983 they released an eponymous EP followed by their full-length debut Hard Thinking in 1984.  When the band decided to tour following the album’s release things went awry.  Before their first show Rees got drunk and was horrible, resulting in the promoters and agents saying he needed to be replaced.  At this same time Samson also left the band.  They were replaced for the live shows by vocalist Nikki Brooks and guitarist Mark Keen, but when the band failed to make any impact, McCoy went on to form the group Mammoth who released an album in 1989, but then also broke up.  At this point he focused more on producing, but then in 1998 he revived the McCoy name and released the album Brainstormm with Al Romano on guitars and vocals and Mike Sciotto on drums.  Now, thanks to HNE Recordings, the EP and both albums along with Live 1977, a live recording featuring the trio of McCoy, Samson and drummer Roger Hunt that was recorded in 1977, are compiled on the three CD box set The Sound Of Thunder!

Disc one kicks off with the EP and a killer cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well!” (written by the legendary Peter Green).  It’s a hard driving cut with a strong sense of atmosphere and some solid guitar work from Samson.  Next up are “Night Lights” and “The Sound of Thunder”, a couple of great NWOBHM rockers, the first of which has a short piano section in the middle that reminds me a little of what Van Halen would do not too much later on 1984 (interestingly Rees vocals on the EP also give me Sammy Hagar vibes at times).  “Temporary Threshold Shift” is a catchy track with a hard driving chugga chugga, boogie woogie beat.  That brings us to the last track on the EP, “Because You Lied”, a slower tune full of shimmering guitar washes (a little reminiscent of Whitesnake), but with biting, very emotional lyrics directed at Gillan.
Also included on disc one is the Think Hard album, which starts with the raw, crunching guitars of the hard driving opener “Freemind”.  “The Demon Rose” is a definite standout track that finds them shifting gears a little and is somewhat laid-back with a really cool groove that is strongly reminiscent of Thin Lizzy.  With an emotional vocal performance from Rees, “Loving Lies” is the first of two strong bluesy power ballads (“Fear Of The Morning” is the other).  Driven by its galloping beat, “Hell To Play” is very Maiden-like, while “Heads Will Roll” and “Ride The Night” are more classic sounding NWOBHM tracks.  The album closes with “Jerusalem”, a midtempo rocker, fleshed out with some synths and choral vocals from Mathern Village School Choir, that unfortunately goes on a little too long and gets a little repetitive.  Disc one also contains a couple of bonus tracks with the single version of “Oh Well!” and an alternate version of “Night Lights” that sounds a lot like a demo.  

The lineup of McCoy that recorded the Brainstorm album (disc 2) started around 1991 when Samson and Thunderstick told him about playing with Al Romano on a trip to New York.  Samson said he sounded like him and he thought they might work well together.  Romano got in touch with him and also told him about vocalist Joey Belladonna who he had been working with.  They decided McCoy would write the music and then finish them with Joey and record an album.  Belladonna was still with Anthrax and they had a hit at that time with "Bring The Noise", which continued to create delays with the album.  McCoy started working out the songs with Romano and Sciotto and it reached the point where they decided to just record it themselves with Romano handling the vocals.  When Joey finally heard what they were doing he said he thought it was too AOR for him and after further delays due to McCoy's mother dying, he said he wasn't interested in finishing it. McCoy eventually completed the recordings several years later and the album was released in 1998.  While there are some similarities to the earlier releases under that name, overall, the album is much more on the melodic, and at times poppier, side.  It opens quite differently with the ethereal “Dreaming Of The Dead”, a sitar instrumental with an interesting droning undercurrent.  “Heavy Metal Cowboy” is up next and is a hard driving cut with an almost thrash like pace from the rhythm section that finds them in a more familiar territory.   The next several tracks find them sticking to the melodic rock side of things starting off with the midtempo “On And On”, which is okay but a bit on the generic side.  “Outrageous” and “Don’t Walk Away” are in the same vein, but are catchier and much better, while “I Know A Place” and “Save Me” have a bit more of a rock edge.  Along with more really good guitar work, “Streamtrain” adds a slightly funky, stomping beat to the mix, while “Bad Luck” shifts even more in a harder direction with a bit of a ragged, punky edge.  The synth-heavy power ballad “Josephine” is up next followed by “Tarot Cards”, a poppy melodic rocker with more emphasis on the synths once again.  With the exception of the occasional chant of the song’s title, “The Prophets of Doom” is a heavy, slow paced instrumental.  Closing out the album, bookended between two humorous tracks (“The List/Zoomusic/The List Continues” and “Hawaiians 2 - Electrolux 1”) that are a nod to the For Gillan Fans Only album, is “Disillusioned”, a really pretty stripped-down acoustic cut.

Disc three is from a show recorded in 1977 featuring the earliest incarnation of the band utilizing the McCoy name (to get more gigs they also moonlighted as Samson).  In addition to McCoy, the band consisted of Paul Samson on guitars and vocals and Roger Hunt on drums.  The set was recorded by the band's roadie/sound engineer at a pub call the Target in Reading, Berkshire on July 16, 1977.  Amongst the songs are five that ended up on Samson’s debut album Survivors (“Big Brother”, “Wrong Side Of Time”, “Six Foot Under” and CD reissue tracks “I Wish I Was” and “The Shuffle”, the last of which even showcases some harmonica from Samson) and covers of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" and ZZ Top's "Nasty Dogs and Funk Kings".  For the most part, the set consists of solid bluesy rockers along with some boogie woogie (the aforementioned "Six Foot Under") and a few muscular straight-ahead rockers ("Telephone", "I Wish I Was), and while the quality of the recording is rough, it is a fascinating glimpse of what was to come a few years later.  Rounded out by a CD booklet with an essay detailing the band, The Sound of Thunder! does a great job of highlighting this era of this underappreciated musician's work.   

(HNE Recordings)

Sunday, June 02, 2024

Waverly Drive - Push My Luck EP

Push My Luck is the third EP from Waverly Drive, the solo project from studio engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Phil Galloni.  It's a highly infectious set of tunes that draws from musical influences like indie rock, new wave, synth-pop and electropop.  Kicking the EP off is “After The Show”, a dreamy, indie pop tune with an infectious electropop beat.  The title track is up next and is a bouncy pop track with well-placed synths and some guitar work that gives it a little more of a rock edge.  The new wave influence is very strong on the next two tracks, the melancholy “Moonlight Love Song” and the up-tempo, synth heavy “Taste Of Love”, which sounds like it came straight out of the eighties.  Driven by a hypnotic, dance beat the EP ends nicely with the dreamy, somewhat melancholy "For You".