Monday, February 15, 2021

Fraternity - Seasons Of Change – The Complete Recordings 1970-1974

Before becoming the lead singer of AC/DC, Bon Scott fronted the band Fraternity.  Seasons of Change is an outstanding 3 disc box set that contains their two studio albums, which have been remastered from the original tapes, along with a third album that is actually a collection of session tapes and some live recordings.  In addition to this there are also non-album single and EP tracks.  Disc one starts off with their debut release Livestock, which opens with a couple of rootsy rockers (the title track and “Somerville”) with a vibe not so unlike The Band and The Allman Brothers.  The next cut “Raglan’s Folly” finds them bringing in prog elements reminding me of a rootsier cross between Jethro Tull and Procol Harum.  After that they shift gears with the percussion driven, bluesy jam of “Cool Spot”, which has a bit of a Santana feel.  Other highlights on the debut are “Jupiter Landscape” and the dramatic “If You Have A God”.  Closing out disc one are 6 bonus cuts taken from 3 singles including the jaunty “Why Did It Have to Be Me”, an interesting cover of The Moody Blues “Question” and “The Race”. 

By the time they released their second release, Flaming Galah, they had added new members on harmonica, piano and slide guitar to further enhance that country rock sound.   Because of this they decided to re-record four songs from the debut to showcase this added element.  While the change is definitely evident, for the most part it isn’t too drastic with slightly newly named “Somerville RIP” being the most evident with alot more emphasis on the keys and harmonica. As for the new songs the band for the most part moved away from the prog elements that popped up from time to time on the debut and moved further into the aforementioned country rock sound.  While The Band continues to be the most comparable (their outstanding cover of their song “The Shape I’m In” is actually one of the bonus tracks on this disc) there are some CSNY like harmonies here (especially on “If You Got It”) and the more rock oriented “Hemming’s Farm” has a bit of The Faces vibe.  Also included as bonus cuts on this disc are single versions of two of the album cuts and their live performance of “Seasons of Change” and “If You Got It” from Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds in 1971, an annual band competition held in Australia from 1966 to 1972 that they won that year.  

Second Chance, the third disc of the box set is actually, with the exception of three, a collection of previously unreleased tracks recorded by the band between 1972 and 1974.  First up is “Second Chance”, a more straight ahead rocker and the last song recorded by the band with Bruce Howe on vocals, because Bon had just left the band. The next six cuts are demos that were recorded in England.  Some of these like the blues tinged roots rocker “Tiger" and the cover of Don Nix’s “Going Down" show signs of the band evolving a little towards a more straight-ahead rock sound, but then there’s also the more root/blues oriented “Requiem" and “Patch of Land” that still show where they came from along with a very funky jam alternate version of “Cool Spot”.  The last of these demos is “Hogwash” a kinda goofy song that is notable for Bon’s spoken word vocals that would resurface from time to time later on in AC/DC.  The Band shows up once again on a cover of “Chest Fever” that was recorded during an Australian TV documentary about the band.  Next up are four cuts recorded live on a South Australian tour including a couple Chuck Berry covers, another cover of The Band (“Just Another Whistle Stop) and the only recorded version of the song “The Memory”.  Closing out the box set are four cuts that have Vince Lovegrove, Bon’s old bandmate in The Valentines on vocals and backed by the band.  Interestingly two of the songs he sings are covers of Fraternity songs “Livestock” and “Getting Off” (renamed “Getting Myself Out Of This Place”) that aren’t that unlike the originals.  Completing the package is a fantastic booklet with a detailed biography, song notes and anecdotes from the surviving members and tons of pictures.  Seasons Of Change is a well deserved look back at this underappreciated band’s place in music history and shows there was more to them than being Bon Scott’s band prior to joining AC/DC.  

(Cherry Red Records)

Edgar Jones - The Way It Is – 25 Years Of Solo Adventures

Every once in awhile you come across a musician who has been around for years, but has somehow slipped past you, and once you do find them you find yourself wanting to
hear more and more.  That was exactly what happened the first time I made my way through The Way It Is, 25 Years Of Solo Adventures, the 3 CD retrospective of Edgar Jones.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was first introduced to Jones with Mexican R'n'B, the outstanding 1992 debut CD from The Stairs, a band that he was lead vocalist and bassist in.  Following that release (now available as a 3 disc deluxe version with two and a half discs full of demos and rarities) and a couple EP’s and singles with the band, Jones went onto a stint playing with The La’s (over the years he has also played with the likes of Paul Weller, Johnny Marr and St Etienne among others) and shortly after fronted his band The Isrites.  Over the years since he has also had solo releases along with releases from his other bands The Big Kids, The Joneses and The Edgar Jones Free Peace Thing.  The Way It Is contains 70 songs (some extremely rare) and covers music from these other projects.  Making your way through these three discs you never know what is coming next.  It is a fascinating journey of styles that will keep you on our toes from track to track and keep a smile on your face as he delves into everything from garage rock, jazz, R&B, soul and blues to psychedelia, funk, ska and more and handling each one as deftly as the next.  Hopefully this compilation will give Edgar the recognition he deserves and others like me will start searching down the full releases that the songs were taken from.  

Roof Beams - This Life Must Be Long

While 2020 definitely had a devastating impact on the music industry as a whole, it also motivated many bands to approach things differently than they ever had before.  For the Roof Beams and their latest release, This Life Must Be Long, that meant everybody recording and arranging their parts remotely and then sending them to Nathan Robinson to do the final mix at his home.  I don’t know if it was this approach that made a difference or not, but while this Roof Beams album has all the hallmarks of their previous efforts, there is an evolution to the sound that is very refreshing.  Nathan’s lyrics are as strong as ever and very pertinent to the times we are currently living in.  He sums them up best as “reflecting a very timely anxiety and struggle for connection”. Musically the overall sound still has an indie roots vibe fleshed out at times with instrumentation like mandolin, pedal steel, banjo and harmonica, with tunes like “Outer Rings”, “Clean Break” and “Witness Me” really standing out. Then there are a few that step away from that like the hypnotic sounds of the title track, the dreamlike sound of “Carry On”, with the subtle keyboards and electronic elements really setting it apart, “Awareness", which harkens back to the rootsier songs but with some melodica and “Buckle", which has some beautiful textures to the instrumentation and percusssion.  Closing out the disc is “My Business”, my favorite track here and one that Nathan performed and recorded entirely on his own.  It’s a tune that moves in a completely different direction with lots of electronic sounds and keys creating an electro-indie rock vibe and really opening the door to all kinds of possibilities for the band in the future. 

 Interview with Melting Mallows

Belgian duo Melting Mallows has recently released their extremely impressive debut full-lengther Something Sweet.  I recently had the chance to do an email interview with Brian about the release, the path to getting there, being a two-man band, the Belgian music scene and more.

you give me a bit of a band history?

About 7 years ago Bices and I (Brian) met during high school. We got introduced to each other by a couple of mutual friends. Once we had met, we started jamming and it was sounding pretty good. We asked some other friends to join us and formed a small band. We couldn’t really find any places to play shows, apart from 1 cool venue called JH SOJO. That’s the only place where we had some shows. During that time we had written around 40-50 songs. 3 years after starting this band, the band had split due to our friends wanting to go in a different direction, so it was only Bices and I left. We didn’t really want to stop playing, we still loved playing music. At the time we didn’t know anyone who played an instrument so we had to find a way to play music with just the 2 of us. This would, 6 months later, become Melting Mallows. By starting this new band, we felt like we should have a fresh start and make new songs instead of keeping the songs we’ve previously written.

Can you tell me a little about your songwriting process?

It’s mostly Bices who has an idea and an almost finished lyric that he wrote at home. The next day he comes to my house and we see if we can work out the song. At first we take 2 acoustic guitars and make some changes in the structure, well only if that’s needed, and see where we can add some backing vocals and riffs. Once that’s done and the basic song is ready, we go over to the electric guitar and drums, and figure out those parts. We can’t really play riffs with only 1 guitar and a drum kit, then we would lose the ‘drive’, so sometimes the structure has to change a little again, just so the song won’t get boring in a live setting.

I hear alot of diversity and a wide variety of styles popping up throughout the 16 tracks including garage rock, surf guitar, strong 60‘s pop hooks and psychedelia.  Are there any particular bands or artists you would consider your biggest influences?
It’s not really a band in particular, but we get our inspiration from a couple of songs per band. Mostly British and American Bands.
The Beatles (I guess people say this band all the time), Beach Boys, King Khan, Ty Segall, Jack White, The Ramones, Spencer Davis Group, The Kinks, Car Seat Headrest, The Undertones, Simon and Garfunkel, Chuck Berry, ...

I read that you built your own studio in a 200 year old farm house.  Can you tell me about that?

The house has been in my family for about 7 generations or so. It’s basically been in the family from the day it was built. In recent years the house is no longer being used as a farm. 
Once my father heard Bices and I play together about 7 years ago, after a year he thought ‘wow, this is starting to sound good!’, and he also didn’t really want to annoy any of the neighbours. He had the idea of building a practice room in one of the old stables. But when he was still in the planning stage, he got the idea that, now that we are building this together, we could build a recording studio instead, in that way we did not have to hire a recording studio every time we wanted to get something recorded. So the old pigsty became our private recording studio. 

It says in your bio that you are 100% DIY.  Can you tell me a bit about the DIY recording process for the album?

A whole lot of struggles haha. I think in total we’ve re-recorded all of our songs about 10-20 times. We didn’t have any engineer, producer or arranger, so we had to learn everything ourselves. We had to learn using the mixer, the different types of microphones and placements, and the mixing process itself. We’ve just been experimenting with 'what would happen when we try this?’. 
We started with some demos of the basic ‘live’ recording of the song, after this we started adding other instruments on top just to have our songs sound like a full band. When we were playing our music acoustically, we had the riffs we needed, but when recording it for our album we had to look for sounds and that was the hardest and most time taking part of the recording. We’ve used about 9 different guitars and 3 different amps to get the guitar sound right. For example, on the song "Telephone", to get the sound of the guitar solo as we wanted it, we let a clean guitar go through a small amp, connect the headphones output of that amp to another amp and cranked up the volume of the first amp to get the sound all fuzzy. Also the drums, we tried different microphone placements and drumkits to get the sound we wanted. For example on our song "Nowhere", the drumkit only consists of 2 microphones, one above the kit and one at the snare, but on the song "Telephone", we’ve mic'd all separate parts of the drum kit. On the vocals, we’ve also tried different microphones and placements. On Nowhere we were singing the backing vocals together, both standing at one part of the mic and had a room mic high up at the side of the room. By accident on the high ‘oeh’ I moved my mouth to the right and it came in louder in the room mic. When mixing I’ve panned the normal mic to the left and the room to the right and it gave an interesting stereo effect. We’ve just been experimenting with things like this.

Does anyone else play on Something Sweet or is it just the 2 of you?

It’s just the 2 of us. We didn’t really know anyone at the time who played instruments so we had to do everything ourselves. 
A little later, we started knowing a whole lot of people who play music but we thought to just keep doing what we’re doing and stay as a duo. On most of the songs it's Bices playing the bass and guitar, on some songs it’s me playing a rhythm guitar or bass.  

Was being a 2-piece a conscious decision or did it just happen?

It just happened due to not knowing many people. A little later we thought of getting some extra musicians, but the thinking process of the songs is a lot faster to do with 2. But it’s not easy at times because for a moment you need to think as a drummer, then as a guitarist and then as a bassist, instead of only focusing on your instrument. But it's fun to do, I’m not complaining.

I know you released “Nowhere” as a single in 2018 and I read that you were planning to start recording the album in late 2018.  Was there anything in particular that took so long to get  it finished?

Something interesting happened late 2018, starting as a joke we signed up for one of the biggest music contests in Belgium called ‘De Nieuwe Lichting’ a music contest by one of the biggest radio stations, Studio Brussel, in Belgium. We thought ‘ah we're not going to get chosen but let’s sign up anyway and see what happens’. A little later I was having a home party at my house with some friends when I suddenly got a call from a guy saying ‘Hey I am … from the radio station Studio Brussel, we like your track and you’ve been selected in our top 9 songs from the 1200 submissions. We would like you to come over to our radio station on Monday and have a chat.’ Well let me say the party couldn’t be any better after that haha. When they played our music for the first time on their radio, within a minute after that, we received about 6 emails of venues that requested us to play a concert in their venue, including one of the biggest venues in Belgium called ‘De Vooruit’. It was a pretty strange time, one week we were nowhere and suddenly everyone knew us and we had mails coming in for bookings. We didn’t think we would ever have this coming at us, or at least not at that moment. We didn’t have a lot of live experience so we decided that we should put the album on hold and now focus on getting our live set as good as we could, so that’s what we did. There is one venue I’d like to thank in particular and that’s Het Depot, the biggest venue in our hometown, Leuven, for international artists (The Pretty Reckless, The Damned, Steve Vai, Jools Holland, The Strangles,...), they’ve booked us 3 times in 2019 and 1 time in 2020 during the covid pandemic. Apart from the concerts there were also a lot of managers and labels who contacted us, but for us that wasn’t really what we were looking for. What has been a little setback is that everyone in the music industry told us ‘The next track needs to be even better than "Nowhere". You should release an EP before the album.’, we picked that up making us confused by thinking ‘Is this new song good? Are we mixing good?’, a whole lot of questions popped up in our minds. After 1 year of playing a whole lot of shows we’ve decided that we can’t keep waiting on releasing new music. We got a little stuck in writing new songs since we were so busy with live shows and playing the same old material, we had to get these songs out to start on something new. So we hired a producer and a studio and recorded the song "YA YA YA YA", we’ve got it mastered at Abbey Road Studios just to make sure that it sounds good. The song got picked up but it wasn’t as highly picked up as "Nowhere". After this single we started thinking ‘Why are we spending this much money? We can do everything ourselves and sound just as good'. That’s when we decided, December 2019, that we should just do it our way as we did with "Nowhere". Bices still had his university exams in January so we’ve planned on recording the album in the first week of February at my house. That’s what we did and it worked out pretty well. We first thought of releasing the album in June 2020, but due to covid we thought to wait a little longer and release it a month later or so. When the 2nd wave came, we didn’t want to wait any longer since we’ve basically been quiet for about 6 months. The last song 'Something Sweet’ is an experimental song, with just guitar and vocals, to show that we wanted to have our album out and that we were pretty tired of waiting. The song contains just one sentence: ‘Something Sweet is all I need’

You have released several of these songs as singles over the past couple years.  Are those versions the same as what’s on the Something Sweet?

Those versions are the same as on the album. Since we were a little quiet for some time because there were no concerts, we wanted to let our followers know that we still existed and give them something to look forward to, instead of looking forward to a concert.

You also released an acoustic EP last year.  Can you tell me a little about that and the decision to throw that out there before the actual release?

Since everyone in Belgium who followed us, knew us from the song "Nowhere" and that competition we joined, we wanted to show them that we were going back to when we first started. The recordings from the acoustic EP were made a little after we’ve released our song "Nowhere". It was not necessarily an idea of ‘let us release an EP' but we meant it more as a sign to let people know who we are and where we came from. We thought that was important. 

Something Sweet is just available digitally at this time.  Do you have any plans for a physical release?

Our original idea was to have it printed on vinyl, but we don’t know if anyone is interested in buying one at this time. When the concerts are happening again, we might get it pressed and maybe also a CD. For now it’s only available to stream or to be bought digitally. (For example: Spotify, Amazon)

Since you just released Something Sweet and all the covid restrictions are still hindering things do you have any special plans for promoting it?

Not really, we thought of giving an online concert, but with the restrictions we are not allowed to come together with more than 2 people. And we would need some people to hold a camera. Once the restrictions are lowered, we might still do it.

How is the music scene in Belgium?

The scene in Belgium is really diverse, you have about everything going on here. That’s also the hard part, to find people who are listening to your genre of music. What separates us from other bands in our genre is that we do it all, live and studio, just by us 2. In that way we stand out from the other bands.

Is there anything else you want to share with readers?

I wish everyone a happy time singing with and dancing to our songs! I am pretty sure you’ll like our music. I hope the covid period will not last long, not just for us, but for everyone who is struggling financially and psychologically. For now, get those happy feelings by listening to our music and have a good time discovering new bands.