Sunday, May 22, 2022

Billy Mackenzie - Satellite Life Recordings 1995-1996

Although he is best known as the co-founder and frontman of the Associates, Billy Mackenzie also had a short solo career with several outstanding releases, but unfortunately most were released after his death in 1997.  Now, coinciding with the twenty-fifth anniversary of his death, Cherry Red Records has released the excellent three disc box set Satellite Life, which was curated by Steve Augle from sessions he and Billy recorded, and is comprised of thirty-nine tracks, sixteen of which are previously unreleased.  Augle says he was never happy with the way the songs were originally presented, so he has resequenced them more cohesively with each disc having it’s own theme.  

The first disc is titled Winter Academy and contains the ballads.   Most of the tunes here are stripped down with him accompanied by some combination of piano or keys and violin with guitar or a string section on a few.  Opening things are "Sing That Song Again", a gorgeous torch song, and "Winter Academy", which has an insanely emotional and expressive vocal performance.  Next up is "Wild Is The Wind", the first of three covers on disc one and a song that has been covered by many other artists, most notably Bowie, Nina Simone and Johnny Mathis.  In Mackenzie's hands it sounds like it written for him.  The other covers are the Sparks tune "Mother Earth", which is more stripped down than the original, but has a similar vibe, and Randy Newman’s "Baltimore", a haunting version with vocals that border on spoken word, except in the chorus, with Dennis Wheatley’s keys swirling around them.  "The Soul That Sighs" is a subdued atmospheric ballad with subtle electronic elements, while "And This She Knows" contains another haunting vocal performance and also includes a little guitar accompaniment.  "When The World Was Young" is slightly more upbeat than the rest of the songs on disc one and contains some gorgeous harmonies with his voice layered over itself.  On the slow, dreamy sounding "Beyond The Sun", he shows just how incredible his vocals are with a delivery that sounds like he is using his last breath, while “Return To Love” is a slower, hypnotic track with a hint of electronica.  Quite possibly the high point on disc one, and one that is definitely unlike anything else here, is the previously unreleased “Tallahachie Pass”.  With new music added by Aungle, Tom Doyle and Anth Brown, the gorgeous acoustic guitar, subtle drumming and keys come together to create a country flavored tune reminiscent of Glenn Campbell or Jimmy Webb. 

Disc two, titled Consenting Holograms, collects his electronic and more dance oriented songs.  After kicking off with some nightclub ready dance tunes including “3 Gypsies In A Restaurant”, with it’s techno beat and middle eastern flourishes and “Falling Out With The Future”, things move in a more experimental direction.  High points here include “Hornophobic”, an aggressive drum ‘n’ bass tune with some melodic, almost industrial elements, that comes off a little Bowie-ish, “14th Century Nightlife”, a hard driving industrial soundscape that is definitely unlike anything else here, and the high energy electronica instrumental “Consenting Holograms Have More Fun”.  Next is the upbeat “Fear Is My Bride”, which has a really strong vocal performance and is closer to a more traditional Mackenzie sounding track, a solid electronic dance cover of Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again”, and “Mysterious Lover”, an upbeat track with a driving beat that takes you back to the clubs.  Other highlights here are the beautiful, dreamlike version of “Return To Love” that has a bit more of an electronica sound than the version on disc one, and a subdued, nine minute remix of “Give Me Time”. 

The final disc is titled Liberty Lounge and is primarily band oriented songs, many of which had the potential to be hits if given the chance. The disc opens really strong with “Tomorrow People”, an extremely catchy pop tune.  Next up is the gorgeous sixties sounding ballad “The Mountains That You Climb”, a tune that would fit perfectly on disc one, with a vocal performance that is one of the best in the box, and superb musical accompaniment including organ, which is a brilliant touch.  “MacArthur’s Son” has a nice soul pop vibe with another of his strongest vocal performances.  The next two tracks move in more of a rock direction with “Liberty Lounge” being a slower tune complete with electric guitar and an everpresent organ, while “Sour Jewel” has a bit of a glam Roxy Music feel.  Things are a bit more pop again with the laid-back “14 Mirrors”, a tune that shows up again a few songs later, with a previously unreleased version that is stripped down to just piano and vocals.  The pace slows down on the next couple of tracks with the original version of “Give Me Time”, which draws you in with it’s synth blasts and slow burning beat, and “At The Edge Of The World”, a moody trip hop tune that was produced by Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins fame and sounds like a lost James Bond theme song.  “Satellite Love” is a very captivating tune, again stripped down to vocals and keys, that has an air of mystery about it.  For “Your Own Fire” Mackenzie collaborated with Stiv Lester to create a strange tune that is raw and edgy with a bit of a garage rock feel complete with a ragged honky tonk piano rattling in the background, and is quite unlike anything else here.  Closing out the box is “Van Hamburg”, a nice little piano and violin instrumental.  Rounded out with a twenty four page booklet containing notes from Augle and a couple other collaborators this is an outstanding, highly recommended collection that shows just what a talent Mackenzie was.  

(Cherry Red Records)

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Prowler - Reactivate

Formed in Basildon, Essex in 1975, during the early days of NWOBHM, Prowler steadily built a fanbase playing live shows and opening for bands like Budgie and Atomic Rooster.  At a gig in 1980 they met the legendary producer Chris Tsangarides, who after hearing one of their demos, recorded “Gotta Get Back To You” for the compilation Brute Force, an album that would end up becoming a NWOBHM classic and also included tracks from Fist, Diamond Head and Raven amongst others.  That song, “Gotta Get Back To You” is a gritty NWOBHM styled rocker that has some killer guitar work that even includes a bit of “Hava Nagila”.  A few months later the band recorded three more demos with Tsangarides, all of which are also found here along with a live track recorded at The Marquee Club in London in December 1980.  At the urging of Bronze Records, 1981 found the band changing their name to Samurai.  While the name change was short lived as the band went back to Prowler later in the year before actually calling it a day in 1982, there are two tracks here under the Samurai name, one a studio recording and one recorded live.  For the most part the rest of the songs are really solid twin guitar rockers that are often reminiscent of Judas Priest and Saxon, and in the case of the live version of “Samurai” there’s a little Maiden thrown in for good measure  Having said that they still manage to maintain their own identity.  In 2010 and 2020 the band reunited, first to record a 30th Anniversary version of “Gotta Get Back To You” and then to record a 40th Anniversary version of“Heavy Metal Hero”, which has a Deep Purple vibe to it.  While they are a little more polished and the vocals are a little rougher on the 2020 cut, both tracks stand up to what they did decades earlier.  It's a shame the recognition didn't come back in the day, but it's nice to see Prowler get the album they deserve. 

(HNE Recordings)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Flush - Conspiracies, Threats and Chaos

After releasing their debut album in the midst of the pandemic in 2020, Helsinki, Finland’s Flush was of course unable to perform live, so they headed into a shipping container studio, and over two days self-produced and recorded the EP, Conspiracies, Threats and Chaos.  With a sound that’s largely rooted in hard rock, the four songs they have produced make for a fairly diverse EP.  Kicking things off is “Kings and Queens” which starts with a loose, rattling bassline and crunching guitar before shifting into a solid rocker that balances a melodic side with a raw edginess.  “Weak and Wrong” moves in more of an aggressive and dirty punk direction and at instances is a bit reminiscent of Bad Religion, but with more of a garage rock vibe, while “Cut Me Open” has a more dynamic, laid-back groove and borders on being a bit grungy.  Closing things out is “Entertainment”, a pub rock singalong with a straight-ahead hard rock bite.  This is a very impressive EP that really has me looking forward to hearing what they have up their sleeves next.

(WormHoleDeath / Flush - Facebook)



Thursday, May 05, 2022

Harry Chapin - Story Book: The Elektra Albums (1972-1978)

Although his initial foray into music was in his teens with his two brothers as The Chapin Brothers (they released an album called Chapin Music! in 1966 and also occasionally performed with their father Jim, who was considered a legendary percussionist), Harry Chapin intended on being a documentary filmmaker and was even nominated for an Academy Award in 1968 for the boxing doc Legendary Champions.  After shifting his focus to music and playing New York City nightclubs, there ended up being a bidding war between Columbia and Elektra before he signed a multi-million dollar deal with Elektra (considered one of the biggest at that time) and releasing his debut Heads And Tales in 1972.  Story Book: The Elektra Albums (1972-1978) is an outstanding new six CD box set that starts with that debut and covers his nine Elektra releases from that time period, all newly remastered in 2022.  He did release one last album on Elektra, 1979’s Legends Of The Lost And Found, which was a combination of some live and studio tracks, and is owned by the Chapin Family and not included here. 

Produced by label head Jac Holzman, Head And Tales is a beautifully arranged collection of tunes with Chapin's warm, relaxed vocals accompanied by his core band and the subtle use of cello and recorder. Chapin had an incredible way with telling stories through his lyrics which was evident from the start with the album’s biggest hit and one of his best known songs “Taxi”.  Hitting number 24 on the US charts, the semi-autobiographical tale of a taxi driver picking up a former lover and addressing their reflections of the past and present does a brilliant job of painting a picture of the taxi ride and the emptiness of their lives.  Both “Taxi” and the album sold over one million copies within the first six months of the album’s release. 

While the follow-up Sniper And Other Love Songs wasn’t as successful as his debut, overall it is really a stronger and more diverse release. Album highlight “Sniper” is one of the most powerful storytelling songs he ever wrote.  Written about a real-life mass shooting in Texas, the song is an almost ten minute musical movie.  Many of the other songs continue to show just how good a storyteller he is.  “Burning Herself” is an intense tune addressing self-mutilation and punctuated with some hard rock like guitar riffs, musically “Better Place To Be” is somewhat reminiscent of “Taxi” and basically tells the story of someone who feels being with anyone is better than being alone, and “Woman Child” tackles teenage pregnancy and abortion.  Another notable song here is “Circle”, an infectious tune that was covered by The New Seekers the same year the album was released and became their biggest hit.

With Short Stories Chapin once again found himself on the charts with “W.O.L.D” hitting 36 in Billboard.  The song is basically a bittersweet conversation between an aging DJ and his ex-wife as he realizes his life has passed him by as he chased his dreams of being a DJ around the country.  “Mr Tanner”, another movie like song about a dry cleaner who is encouraged by friends to go to New York to sing in a show because of his beautiful voice, but gets panned when he gets there and never sings again except by himself at night (one of Chapin’s backup singers “Big” John Wallace is featured as Mr Tanner), “Mail Order Annie”, a beautiful, laid-back tune that’s basically a love letter of sorts from a North Dakota farmer to his mail order bride, and “They Call Her Easy” are amongst several other songs here that became crowd favorites.

Opening with “Cat’s In The Cradle”, his only song to hit number one, Chapin’s next album Verities & Balderdash sold over two million copies.  The song started as a poem written by his wife and today has become a part of pop culture (there’s a segment in the Chapin documentary When In Doubt, Do Something where they show clips of the song being referenced in many TV shows including The Simpsons, Friends, Modern Family, Blackish, Stephen Colbert, The Goldbergs, Two and A Half Man and The Office along with Shrek and being covered by both Johnny Cash and DMC with Sarah McLachlan).  The album also contained a couple more singles that charted in “I Wanna Learn A Love Song” and “What Made America Famous”.  “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” and “Six String Symphony” are lighthearted tunes that showed his sense of humor, while “Shooting Star” is another gorgeous movie-like story song. 

Even though Portrait Gallery ended up being one of his least popular albums it still has plenty of great songs and the overall sound of the album harkens back to his earlier releases.  Along with “Bummer”, an epic nearly ten minute track with an outstanding orchestrated arrangement full of horns and even utilizing backing vocalists, some of the other highlights are “Dreams Go By”, a bouncy tune that’s upbeat musically, but very bittersweet lyrically, and “Someone Keeps Calling My Name”, which was originally on The Chapin Brothers release and has been rerecorded here.  

Compiled from shows recorded over three nights in San Diego, Santa Monica and Berkeley, Greatest Hits Live is largely just that, live versions of his biggest hits and most popular songs along with a song apiece written by his brothers Tom and Steve.  Chapin always shined live and had a great rapport with the crowd and it really shows here.  Along with the eleven live songs are three new studio tracks, “She Is Always Seventeen” “Love Is Just Another Word” and “The Shortest Story” (while these songs were on the original vinyl version of the album, they were removed from past CD versions and have once again been included here). 

For On The Road To Kingdom Come, Chapin turned to his brother Stephen to handle the production.  The resulting album contains the most elaborate production to that point in his career with electric guitars, horns, keys and even some sound effects.  At times this gave the album a little more of a rock sound and on the opening title track there is even a hint of a reggae beat at times.  Some of the highlights include the beautiful “Corey’s Coming”, “Caroline” and “If My Mary Were Here”, all of which are a little more reminiscent of his earlier stuff, along with twisted tale “The Mayor Of Candor Lied”.

With his brother Stephen at the production helm once again, the double album Dance Band On The Titanic is his most ambitious sounding disc.  The production is outstanding as it expands even further than it’s predecessor and the diversity of his songs are at their peak as evidenced by the opening title track, a tune with an earwormy dance beat that breaks out into an all out rocker complete with screaming electric guitars.   Along with a couple of standout ballads in “Mismatch” and “I Do It For You Jane”, other standout tracks include “We Grew Up A Little Bit”, “Country Dreams” and the humorous bluesy “Bluesman”.   Another track of note is the fourteen plus minute closer “There Was Only One Choice”, an absolute brilliant conceptual piece. 

Living Room Suite is the last album from this period and found him shifting back to the more stripped down singer/songwriter style.  While the album is still full of classic “Harry Chapin” songs, most notably “Flowers Are Red”, a really catchy upbeat tune that deals with conformity in schools and was apparently quite popular in Ireland, the record buying public’s tastes had shifted and the sales weren’t very good.  Songs like “Poor Damned Fool” and “Jenny" are great ballads, and others like “Dancin’ Boy” and “I Wonder What Will Happen To This World” find him dabbling in a bluesy gospel direction.  Chapin did go on to release a couple more albums before his untimely death in a car accident in 1981.   Cherry Red/Strawberry has done an outstanding job with this collection.  The CD’s sound great and the enclosed booklet contains a detailed bio as well as a rundown on each album and credits.  This is a highly recommended collection. 

(Strawberry)

Monday, May 02, 2022

Dramatis - Dramatis

In late April 1981, Gary Numan performed three shows at Wembley Arena that signaled his retirement from live performances.  At this point, his band, RRussell Bell (guitars, keyboards), Chris Payne (vocals, keyboards) and Ced Sharpley (drums), along with Gary’s extra keyboard player, Denis Haines, decided to form their own band Dramatis (bassist Paul Gardiner wanted to start a solo career).  A few days after those shows the band was signed to Elton John’s Rocket Records and over the next few months they released three singles, “Ex Lunia Scientia”, “Oh! Twenty Twenty-Five” and “No-One Lives Forever”, then in September they released their debut album For Future Reference, which is where this new two-disc deluxe version kicks off. 

Opening things is the album version and differently spelled “Oh! 2025” a catchy synth rock tune with a hint of Devo in the vocal delivery.  On “Human Sacrifice” they go in a bit of a colder, darker direction with some tribal percussion, viola and jolting synths.  This darker sound continues on the next track “I Only Find Rewind”, which at first reminds me of Berlin’s “Metro” (ironically also released in 1981) with vocals that are sung lower than the prior songs, and a really nice upbeat melodic break towards the middle.  "No-One Lives Forever" is another bouncy, upbeat catchy synth tune with some really good guitar work setting it apart.  This brings us to “Love Needs No Disguise”, which largely due to the contribution of Numan on vocals was their biggest hit.  The lyrics are about their time in the Gary Numan band and it just so happened that he had stopped by the studio the day they were recording it.  He liked the song and asked if he could sing on it and it ended up reaching 33 on the UK charts (it also ended up being released on Numan’s label Beggars Banquet and was credited to Gary Numan and Dramatis).  The song itself is without a doubt the album’s high point, a very captivating tune, again kind of darker and with a very hypnotic, atmospheric sound full of swirling synths, viola and piano.  Starting with a very beautiful classical sounding section of piano, viola and keys “Turn”, another standout track, evolves into a very upbeat song meshing synth heavy dance beats with very dynamic prog instrumental passages.  “Take Me Home” is a hauntingly beautiful, somewhat distorted, piano piece accompanied by viola and pleading vocals repeating the title, while “On Reflection” is a bright, pop tinged tune that brings to mind Ultravox.  Closing things out is “Ex Luna Scienta”, which was initially their first single and the first song they recorded as Dramatis, and sounds like Visage meshed with ELO, thanks to their use of vocoder.  Disc one also contains eight bonus songs consisting of three single tracks and five twelve inch mixes.  The single tracks here are “The Curtain” (b-side of “Oh! Twenty Twenty-Five), a very captivating piano/synth instrumental, “Face On The Wall”, a hook heavy synth driven pop tune and “Pomp And Stompandstamp”, an edgy instrumental with modern day classical and prog synth runs twisting and turning around the occasional crunching guitar licks (these last two were non-album tracks released after the album. 

Following the opening cut on disc two, which is a medley of four album tracks stitched together as a sales sampler and included on the flipside of “No One Lives Forever”, are six seven inch single tracks.  Included in these are “Lady DJ”, which is driven by a really cool funky synth beat and finds them using vocoder in the chorus, and was released as the b-side to “Ex Luna Scientia”, and “The Shame”, an epic song, where all the pieces really come together and was released as a single after the album was released.  Their final release was the single “I Can See Her Now”, a really pretty pop tune that saw them hitting the charts again peaking at 57 on the UK charts.  “One Step ahead, which was the single’s flipside, is a spritely synthpop instrumental.  Closing out disc two is a previously unreleased BBC in Concert performance from the Paris Theatre in May 1982.  Opening the show is the previously unreleased “Sand and Stone”, a fairly taut tune that leads into “I Only Find Rewind”, which has a rawer, almost punk energy not present on the album version.  The performance of “Face On The Wall” maintains all the hook heavy catchiness here and “I Can See Her Now” is heavier than the studio version with more of a rock edge.  While the playful, more dynamic sounds of “Turn” and “Pomp and Stompandstomp” showcase their musicianship, their take on “Love Needs No Disguise” is outstanding with Chris Payne handling the vocals just as well as Numan.  “The Shame” then closes the show out brilliantly.  The CD also comes with a booklet containing a really good band history, an interview with RRussell Bell and recollections on all of the songs. 

As the band were working on songs for a second album they received a call from Numan asking if they would consider returning for both recording and touring (at this point Denis Haines had left the band and joined The Hollies), which they decided to do.  Around 2012 they had plans to reunite, but those plans failed to materialize after the passing of Ced Sharpley.  After several more years of uncertainty, 2020 saw the release of a new Dramatis single “A Torment of Angels”, which can be found on their bandcamp page (Dramatis).   Since then they have also played some live shows and have plans for a new album. 

(Cherry Red Records)


Saturday, April 30, 2022

Gadgets Sons - Gadgets Sons

The moment this self-titled debut from Oklahoma two-piece Gadgets Sons starts it’s complete in your face brutality.  For the most part, the songs are aggressive extreme/death metal, but if you dig a little deeper there are a lot of dynamics with elements of stoner, groove and hardcore coming through.  The guitar work from Charles Ian Ireland is very impressive, aggressive and heavy, but with a lot of little nuances throughout like the shredding that pops up for a moment in “Perrika”, which at times musically reminds me of Fear Factory, and his acoustic playing on the gorgeous, atmospheric instrumental “You and I”, a song that gives you a quick reprieve halfway through the EP.  In the vocal department Ireland largely shifts deftly from a death metal growl to a scream. Phillip Eyad Mofadi’s drumming is for the most part brutal and precise, but there are also times like on “Song One”, which is a thrashier groove metal song that’s a touch more on the melodic side (I say that lightly) and “IWBY”, which is a little doomier, where he does a great job of falling back a little in the groove.  This is quite an impressive debut, made even more impressive by the fact that it sounds like a full band and not two people.  Looking forward to hearing where they go from here. 

(WormHoleDeath)

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Michael Weston King - The Struggle

For over thirty years UK singer-songwriter Michael Weston King has had a very successful music career, initially as a member of the bands Fragile Friends, Gary Hall and the Stormkeepers and The Good Sons, followed by a solo career and then for the past ten years as half the duo My Darling Clementine with his wife Lou Dalgleish.
  Now he is back with The Struggle, his first solo album in ten years, which was 
recorded in a rural studio in Wales and features guest appearances from Elvis Costello’s long-standing keyboard player Steve Nieve, Jeb Loy Nichols, his wife Lou, his daughter Mabel Dalgleish-King and others. The resulting album is a gorgeous set of tunes rooted in the sounds of late 60’s and early 70’s singer songwriters with a bit of country and folk added to the mix, at times bringing to mind artists from John Prine, Townes Van Zandt and Jesse Winchester to Van Morrison, Harry Chapin and even Scott Walker.  Lyrically King does an outstanding job of tackling subjects as a storyteller and paints a very visual picture with his words.  Several of the songs tackle the struggles of life and getting older.  “The Hardest Thing Of All”, details battling depression and just getting through the day, “Valerie’s Coming Home” is a heartbreaking song about packing up everything after the passing of his mother-in-law and “Another Dying Day” is about the despair of being alone after a relationship ends.  While “Weight of the World” finds him displaying his disgust with Trump’s march to St. Johns Church to deal with Black Live Matters protestors by looking at it from the view of a policeman who voted for him but now sees who he really is, “Sugar”, co-written with Peter Case, shows how quickly love can get it grips in you and “Me And Frank” is a buddy song with hints of “Pancho and Lefty”.  King's rich, soulful vocals along with the musicianship and arrangements are top notch throughout and the added touches in the instrumentation like the slide guitar and mandolin on “Sugar”, the organ on “The Hardest Thing Of All”, the string arrangements on “Another Dying Day” and trombone on “Old Soft Shoe” really enhance them.  Another track of note is “Theory Of Truthmakers”, which contains unused lyrics from Michael’s late friend and collaborator Jackie Leven that were passed on to him by a mutual friend, and is somewhat reminiscent of Scott Walker, fleshed out beautifully with mandolin, keyboards, strings, piano and has his wife Lou sharing vocals with him.  The Struggle is definitely a welcome return to the solo world of Michael Weston King.   

(Cherry Red Records)


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Steve Gibbons Band - Rollin’ – The Albums 1976-1978

Steve Gibbons initially started his career in the Birmingham music scene in the early 60’s before becoming the frontman for The Uglys until the demise of the band in 1968.  The following year he founded the band Balls with Trevor Burton (The Move) and Denny Laine (The Moody Blues, Wings), but that band only lasted for about fourteen months.  In 1971 he joined the final incarnation of The Idle Race, which eventually evolved into The Steve Gibbons Band.  While they eventually never really took off in the States, they had a fairly successful career in England meshing blues, country, pub rock, pop and even a little jazz.  Rollin’ – The Albums (1976-1978) contains the four studio albums and one live album they released during that period and also includes twenty-three bonus tracks ranging from Peel Sessions, studio outtakes and a live radio performance. 

Kicking things off on disc one is their debut Any Road Up.  Opening tracks, “Take Me Home” and “Johnny Cool” do a really good job setting the tone, with the former being a good straight ahead bluesy rocker and the latter taking a step back with a quirky, yet catchy R&B shuffle.  Other highlights include “Rollin’”, a really pretty, slow burning, midtempo blues rock cut with some great guitar work, and one of my favorites here, the poppier “Standing On The Bridge”, a tune that really sets itself apart from the others, and “Speed Kills”, a punchy rocker with an interesting funky bass line and more killer guitar work.  A couple of other songs of note are “Spark of Love” and “Strange World”, which are both really nice mellow poppier tunes, but with a bit of a jazz element that at times brings to mind Steely Dan.  There are a few weaker cuts and a definite misstep with “Natural Thing”, which sounds like a dance tune and doesn’t fit in here, but overall this is a very solid release.  Closing out disc one are a couple of really impressive bonus cuts in “Back Street Cat”, a straight-ahead bluesy rocker and “Dick Malone”, a hard driving rock tune that is heavier than anything on the album.  Both tracks are stronger than a few of the album cuts and definitely would have been welcome additions. 

Although it’s a little more on the pop side, sophomore effort Rollin’ On follows a fairly similar path to their debut.  It also contains what would become the biggest hit of their career with their cover of Chuck Berry’s “Tulane”, which hit number twelve in the UK and retains the spirit of the original, but gives it more of a rock edge.  Opening the disc are a couple of really solid pop tunes with “Wild Flowers” and the edgier “Light Up Your Face”.  The band then moves in more of a country direction with “Now You Know Me”, which has a rock undercurrent, and the acoustic Tex-Mex sounds of “Till The Well Runs Dry”.  Some of the other highlights here include the fun R&B storytelling “Mr. Jones”, “Cross Me Over The Road”, a really pretty tune that’s a bit slower and has a nice gospel vibe, the upbeat rock of the title track and “Please Don’t Say Goodbye”, and a great cover of Jerry Reed’s “Tupelo Mississippi Flash”.  Closing out this disc are five more bonus tracks starting with “Gave His Life to Rock n' Roll”, an upbeat rock tune with really strong pop hooks that was originally a non-album single.  “Make The Good Times Last” is another solid rocker with a really strong Jerry Lee Lewis boogie woogie vibe and “Dick Leaps In” continues the story of Dick Malone and is reminiscent of a Jerry Reed tune.  The last two bonus tracks are versions of “Please Don’t Say Goodbye” and “Right Side Of Heaven”/”Rollin’ On” taken from a February 1977 John Peel BBC Session.

Next on the agenda for the band was the live album Caught In The Act, which showed that all the pieces really seemed to come together when they were onstage.  In contrast to the poppier Rollin’ On, most of the songs here are cranked up with more of a rock edge. Amongst the twelve cuts are several covers, some tracks from the prior two albums, one from Gibbons 1971 solo album and one written for and recorded by Roger Daltrey.  Tracks like “Light Up Your Face” and “He Gave His Life To Rock n’ Roll” really come to life here with an added jolt of energy, while “Speed Kills” has more of a Southern Rock sound that really wasn’t found on the album.  Alongside a great version of Chuck Berry’s aforementioned “Tulane” are a bluesy rock take on Dylan’s “Watching The River Flow”, some doo wop / rockabilly with “Git It”, a slow, funky cover of The Coasters’ “Shopping For Clothes” and The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”, which has some really nice harmonies.  Also of note is Gibbons early solo cut “You Gotta Play” (from his album Short Stories), a hard driving rock tune that really showcases the musicianship of the band, and “One of The Boys”, which was on Daltrey’s album of the same name, and ironically has a bit of a Who feel to it.   Four more bonus tracks are tacked onto this disc, all from a July 1977 John Peel BBC Session.  In addition to new versions of “Tulane”, “The Music Plays On” and “He Gave His Life To Rock n Roll” is a excellent take on Carl Perkins’ “Boppin’ The Blues”.

After working with producer Kenny Laguna on the first two albums the band changed producers going with Tony Visconti for their next release, Down In The Bunker.  From the opening percussion heavy Bo Diddley beat of “No Spitting On The Bus” it’s obvious that the band has moved in a new direction here.  The rock sound of before is largely gone and has been replaced with a diverse collection of tunes that are for the most part really good, but are definitely a change.  Upbeat tracks like “Any Road Up”, with it’s handclaps, and the quirky “Mary Ain’t Goin’ Home”, which has some really good lap steel guitar, are strongly reminiscent of JJ Cale.  Other highlights are “Big J.C.”, which has a Dylan-ish country vibe (Gibbons vocals have a Dylan-like quality to them quite frequently on this album), the very percussive “Down In The City”, which has a bit of a calypso feel, the fifties throwback of “Eddy Vortex” and “Chelita”, which opens with a sax solo and sounds like early Springsteen and Southside Johnny.  Disc four wraps up with eight more bonus tracks and while it's pretty evident why a some of these didn’t make the cut, there are few really solid songs here.  “I Am Here” is a really nice laid-back ballad that would have definitely been a welcome addition, as well as “Satisfying Moods” and “Little Suzie” (flipside to the “Eddy Vortex” single), both of which have more of their earlier rock sound with the latter even moving a little towards the punk side of things. 

Disc five is a fourteen song BBC Radio One In Concert show from November 17, 1977 that once again shows the band really shines when they are playing live. They kick things off with an explosive take on “One of The Boys”, settle into a nice groove for “Johnny Cool” and then pick it up with a very strong “Speed Kills” and another take on The Coasters’ “Shopping For Clothes”, which has some nice guitar work.  Next up are a couple of tracks from the yet to be released at that time Down In The Bunker, starting with the title track, although at this time it was called “Girl In The Bunker”.  Here it has a little more rock edge and to me sounds better, while “No Spitting On The Bus” sticks pretty close to the studio version as do “Mr Jones” and another cover of “Boppin’ The Blues”.  Three more covers follow as they tear through “Tulane”, do a little doo wop with “Git It” and then an absolute killer take on “Tupelo Mississippi Flash”.  Closing out the show is a driving “He Gave His Life To Rock n Roll”, a version of “Rollin’” that will have you wondering why it wasn’t a hit, and another take on “Day Tripper”.  To be honest, this set really outshines Caught In The Act.  Wrapping up this box set is a booklet with a band history featuring contributions from Gibbons and Laguna.   

(Esoteric Recordings)

 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sickpay - Pureocracy

Pureocracy marks Brooklyn composer, producer, drummer and guitarist Mike Birnbaum’s debut as Sickpay.  Over the years he has also been a member of the bands 2 Ton Bug and Juiceboxx, released seven albums of electro-pop and reggae as D. Gookin and also played with Wavves for a few shows.   For Pureocracy he has released five songs rooted in raw, ragged, lo-fi punk, and while the screeching guitars and drums on opener “Quiet As A Joke” give it a bit of a Nirvana vibe at times, he also throws in some cowpunk country on “How Many Times”, a hint of new wave with the thick guitar licks and bass lines on “Generosity” and a bit of Operation Ivy styled reggae on the title track (ironically the most aggressive punk track here).  This is quite a refreshing debut and a Birnbaum project we will be hearing more from.

(Sickpay)

Thursday, April 21, 2022

B.B. Blunder - Worker's Playtime (Remastered)

In late 1969 Blossom Toes were on their way back from a show in Bristol when they were involved in a serious motor vehicle accident.  At that time, they decided to take a break, but instead of a break, it ended up being the end of the band.  After the band broke up, guitarist Brian Godding and bassist Brian Belshaw continued to work together, occasionally working with singer Julie Driscoll, who was Godding’s sister-in-law.  The two of then teamed back up with original Blossom Toes drummer Kevin Westlake, and after they got together, they were given the opportunity to record some music for a film.  They went into the studio to do this, but the film didn’t happen and by that time they had already done a lot of recording, so they decided to work with what they had and then record more songs to make an album.  Along with a handful of guests including Driscoll, Mick Taylor, Brian Auger and jazz musicians Marc Charig and Nick Evans they recorded Worker’s Playtime, the sole release from B.B. Blunder.  While there is plenty of great music on the album, because of the way it was created, the album does come across as a bit scattered and almost a little unfinished.   As they recently did with the two Blossom Toes albums, Esoteric has done a great job with this new two CD reissue with a remastered version of the original disc along with thirteen bonus tracks, two of which are previously unreleased.  

Worker’s Playtime definitely finds them sticking closer to the sound of the second Blossom Toes release as opposed to their debut, but they still expand on that sound here.  Opening cut “Sticky Living” shows that perfectly.  It mixes together rock, funk and R&B with horns and guitars that often have a Led Zeppelin vibe resulting in a six and a half minutes of infectious chaos.   Another example is “Rocky Yagbag”, a very ragged rocker with banging piano that sounds like the Stones having a jam session with Little Richard.  “Research” is a slow dreamy instrumental that sounds like parts of it could be used as soundtrack music and “Lost Horizons” and “Moondance” are a couple of short cuts that are mostly sound effects with a little music that I assume were initially recorded for the film.  “Seed”, the highlight of the album, is a gorgeous, laid-back psychedelic track that is very powerful and emotional, full of outstanding guitar work that builds and builds to an epic climax.  Another notable track is the album closer “New Day”, which features Mick Taylor on slide guitar.  This upbeat rocker actually first showed up back in the Blossom Toes days and a demo version and live version can be found in the bonus cuts on the new reissue of their If Only For A Moment.  The other tracks on the album are the slow bluesy “You’re So Young”, the raw, hard-driving “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and the easygoing rocker “Rise” (there is some really good guitar work in both of these tracks).  Closing out disc one are the two previously unreleased cuts from a 1971 BBC Radio Sounds of the 70s session.  By the time these were recorded the band’s lineup had changed a bit. Westlake had been replaced by Chris Hunt, Reg King (formerly of The Action) was now handling the vocals and Nick Judd was on keyboards.  “Go Have Yourself A Good Time”, is a non-album track that has a soulful rock sound and really showcases King’s vocals and the guitar work.  The other track is a live version of “Sticky Living”, which to me works better than the album version without the clutter of the horns. 

The second disc here contains eleven outtakes recorded at Olympic Studios during the same sessions as the album.  Some of the highlights on this disc are several acoustic tracks including an absolute gorgeous reworking of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”, the laid-back “Black Crow’s Nest”, which has a bit of an early Grateful Dead vibe, the quirky folk tune “When I Was In The Country” (complete with whistling accompaniment) and “Backstreet”, another leftover from the Blossom Toes days that is very reminiscent of Harry Nilsson (a Blossom Toes demo version can be found in the bonus cuts of We Are Ever So Clean).  Another standout track is “Come On Eyes”, a seven minute track that sounds like the Allman Brothers playing psychedelic tinged blues rock.  While it’s a little more hit and miss than the two Blossom Toes albums, Worker’s Playtime is an interesting chapter in the history of these bands and well worth checking out, especially with so many quality bonus tracks.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Double Rider - Double Rider EP

While this trio are only in their early twenties, the story of Double Rider and their debut EP, goes back several decades before they were even born.  The band is comprised of siblings Hannah and Lennon Owl Child and their cousin Erin Many Heads, who are from the Siksika Nation in Alberta, Canada and first started playing under the name Third Generation in 2014.  Music has always been an important part of their family and a few years after they started playing together their grandfather Matthew Many Heads, who built a guitar at 14 and performed in numerous rock bands over the years, introduced them to original songs he had written back as far as the 70’s, and gave them his ok to use them.  The band changed their name to Double Rider, which was their grandfather’s nickname, and have released this EP, containing three songs, all of which were written by him and they have now made their own.  “Echoes Of The Past” kicks things off with powwow drums, bells and a war cry leading into a powerful driving rock tune with lyrics dealing with the struggles of the Blackfoot and their resilience.  Next up is “Walk With Me”, a nice laid back, melodic tune full of bright, chiming guitar work and a very infectious beat.  The final cut “Everyday” features Hannah on vocals (she also sings on the previous cut) that are strongly reminiscent of Susanna Hoffs, and is an extremely catchy track that sounds like a long lost 70’s pop song that you would’ve found on one of the covers albums Hoffs did with Matthew Sweet a few years back (the guitar work actually reminds me a bit of Sweet’s guitar work).  This is a very refreshing sounding EP with the only drawback being it is so short.  Thankfully the band has plans to record a full-length release featuring more of their grandfather’s songs along with some of their own originals, so hopefully there is a lot more to come soon. 

(Double Rider - Facebook)

Monday, April 18, 2022

Blossom Toes - If Only For A Moment

Following the release of their debut album and a couple of singles, Blossom Toes headed back into the studio to record the follow-up, If Only For A Moment.  At this point drummer Kevin Westlake had been replaced by John “Poli” Palmer, who played on some of the single tracks and one song on the album before being replaced by Barry Reeves.  While their debut has now become known as a psychedelic classic, the band said the orchestration with all the strings and horns performed by outside musicians wasn’t really representative of them.  Therefore when they went into the studio to record the follow up, all of those elements were gone and the resulting album was like night and day compared to the debut, and while it’s not necessarily a prog album, there are a lot of prog like dynamics to most of the songs. Esoteric Recordings has followed up their recent box set of their debut with this outstanding three CD box set, which includes a remastered version of the album and twenty bonus tracks. 

It’s apparent right from the opening strains of the album that things are different here.  “Peace Loving Man” starts off with heavy, downturned guitars and Brian Belshaw’s deep, guttural vocals sounding a lot like Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, but with upbeat, almost pop choruses and then evolving into an acid rock ending.   After a bluesy Allman Brothers like intro “Kiss Of Confusion” shifts into a very dynamic prog styled rock tune, speeding up and slowing down and even including a little Santana like groove in the percussion.  “Listen To The Silence”, to me the album standout (but in an album that doesn’t have a bad track), opens with an extremely catchy bluesy, funk groove before completely shifting into a slow, dreamy, psychedelic section that evolves into an acid rock jam and then comes full circle back to the opening groove.  Next up is “Love Bomb”, a slow burning psychedelic rocker with a really nice blues groove.   A lot of the lyrics on the album were written about things going on in the world at that time and unfortunately the lyrics to “Billy Boo The Gunman” about a fictional police officer whose actions represented the violence towards protestors (at that time it was the Vietnam War protestors) are just as relevant in today’s world as they were when it was released fifty-three years ago.  Musically it's a funky blues rocker with some interesting tempo shifts, outstanding guitar work and an everpresent cowbell.  “Indian Summer” starts off as a slow, mystical song that’s somewhat reminiscent of The Doors and then moves into a twisting turning everchanging prog like tune.  Their cover of Richie Havens’ “Just Above My Hobby Horse’s Head” is a catchy folk tune with a hint of a Middle Eastern flavor (largely thanks to the guest appearance from Shawn Phillips on sitar) that is not too far removed from the original.  Closing out the album is “Wait A Minute”, a really nice laid back rocker with a bit of a soul vibe along with some psychedelia in the guitar work.  The first disc also contains four bonus tracks starting off with the upbeat pop “Postcard” and the jazzy “Everyone’s Leaving Me Now”, which were on a single that was released between albums.  The other two tracks are a live version of “Listen To The Silence” and “New Day”, an unreleased single track that is a feel good tune with a bit of a Beatles feel and some choral like vocals. 

Disc two contains six live cuts that were recorded at two different festivals in Belgium.  Opening the disc is an excellent version of “Indian Summer” recorded at the Bilzen Festival on August 24,1969.  Their performance of this song really allows the band to showcase their musicianship.  The remaining five tracks were recorded at the Amougies Festival on October 26, 1969.  First up is a cover of Shawn Phillips jazzy rocker “Stargazer”, which is followed by an over the top, bombastic version of “Peace Loving Man”.   The final three cuts are actually a twenty-five minute long cover of the Ben E King and James Bethea tune “Grooving” (divided into three parts) that turns into a blues rock jam session and is notable because it features festival emcee Frank Zappa playing guitar with them. 

Closing out the box set on disc three are ten songs labelled “Rarities and Demos” and starts with really cool acoustic guitar and vocal demo versions of “Postcard” and the never finished “Riverboat”.  Version 1 of “Peace Loving Man” is up next and is followed a little later by Version 2.  Both of these are a bit longer than the album version and make for interesting listens as the band experiments with the song musically, vocally and lyrically.  “Nobody But” is an rock tune driven largely by a slinky bass and a slight funky jazz beat and is followed by a stripped down demo of “Wait A Minute”.  While I’m not sure that it was ever intended to be a Blossom Toes song, “Poli’s Folly” is a fun, although a bit lengthy, ten minute long jazz piece performed on the vibes by then drummer John “Poli” Palmer.  Even though “First Love Song” never actually made it to an album, a live version recorded in August 1967 can be found in the bonus tracks on their recently reissued debut, and while remnants of that version can be found here, it has evolved a little into more of a bluesy prog tune with a hint of jazz in parts.  Featuring Brian Auger on piano, who is credited as songwriter along with all four members of the band, “Marmalade Jam” is pretty much just that – a slow funky R&B jam.  Closing out disc three is a stripped down, less polished, demo version of “New Day”, which to me is an improvement over the version heard on disc one that was slated to be a single, but never was.  Overall this collection of bonus cuts is very impressive and a very welcome addition to this box set.  Also including a booklet with an essay and exclusive interviews, this is an stellar tribute to the (sort of) final chapter of this band.  Not long after Blossom Toes called it a day, three of the band members, guitarist / vocalist Brian Godding, bassist / vocalist Brian Belshaw and original drummer Kevin Westlake got together and recorded an album under the name BB Blunder (this album has also recently been given the deluxe reissue treatment). 

(Esoteric Recordings)

Thursday, April 14, 2022

 Blossom Toes - We Are Ever So Clean

After initially releasing a couple singles as The Ingoes, Blossom Toes (Brian Godding - guitar, vocals, keyboards, Jim Cregan - guitar, vocals, Brian Belshaw - bass, vocals and Kevin Westlake - drums, percussion) signed to Giorgio Gomelsky’s new label Marmalade Records, tweaked their lineup a little, changed their name and released two outstanding albums, We Are Ever So Clean and If Only For A Moment.  While they definitely didn’t get the appreciation they deserved when they were first released, Esoteric has done an outstanding job on these two new three CD box sets with each album being remastered and including a multitude of bonus tracks (twenty-seven on the debut).  In addition to these two reissues, Esoteric has also released a two CD box set containing a remastered version of Worker’s Playtime, the sole release from B.B. Blunder, a band featuring three members of Blossom Toes following the demise of the band.

When it was released in 1967, Melody Maker referred to We Are Ever So Clean as “Giorgio Gomelsky’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, and while at times the comparison to The Beatles isn’t totally off base, it is by no means a clone, and over the years it has gained the respect it deserves (Record Collector magazine placed it at number on their list of the “100 Greatest Psychedelic Records”).  The psychedelic side of the band is evident right out the gate with opening cuts “Look At Me I’m You”, which is pure psychedelic bliss, full of swirling guitars, feedback, outstanding harmonies (one element of their sound that is very reminiscent of The Beatles throughout a lot of the disc) and horns, and “I’ll Be Late For Tea”, a little more straightforward psychedelic rocker.  The quirkier side of the band comes to the forefront on “The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog”, which somehow works it’s way into an earworm with it’s marching band beat, strange, almost spoken word lyrics and a barking dog.  “Telegram Tuesday” is a fairly straightforward midtempo pop tune where the harmonies really shine, taking us to “Love Is”, an absolutely gorgeous tune that in a perfect world would have been a huge hit with its very baroque feel driven largely by piano, flute and a string section.  "What Is It For” opens with mariachi sounding horns and strings leading into gorgeous orchestral chamber pop. The quirky side of the band is back for “People of the Royal Parks”, a bouncy pop tune that is reminiscent of the offbeat Ringo-led Beatles tunes.  While by no means a prog song “What On Earth” is a psychedelic pop tune with prog-like dynamics and an explosive horn section, which leads into the bouncy, sunshine-y psychedelic pop of “Mrs Murphy’s Budgerigar” and “I Will Bring You This And That”.   “Mister Watchmaker” is another beautiful laid back tune in the vein of “Love Is”, that is bursting with acoustic guitars, horns, piano and strings.  Opening with a chiming guitar a la The Byrds, “When The Alarm Clock Rings” then melds that with a more psychedelic groove and horns. The band’s quirky side is very evident with the waltz-like “The Intrepid Balloonists Handbook, Volume 1”, but this time around the band is a little too quirky for their own good and the tune is only good for a listen or two before it gets old.  Having said that they redeem themselves quickly with the sunshine pop of “You” complete with some vibes and a little cowbell.  Closing out the album is “Track for Speedy Freaks (Instant LP Digest)”, which basically just smashes snippets of the whole album into a minute and twenty-three seconds.  The first disc also includes the first four bonus tracks starting with the album outtake “Everybody’s Talking”, a catchy jangly rocker with some outstanding folk-like harmonies that is more stripped down than anything on the album, and a cover of Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”, that was released as a non-album single after the album was released, and has a really cool, lazy country groove at first and then a little doo-wop at the end.  The other two tracks are an instrumental version of “Look At Me I’m You” and an early version of “I’ll Be Late For Tea”.

Disc two contains eight tracks recorded live at Philippe’s Club in Stockholm on August 26, 1967, which was a little over one month before the release of We Are Ever So Clean.  Ironically, due to the effects, horns and string arrangements, the songs on the album were too difficult to perform live, so there was only one album track amongst the eight.  Instead the band played a set of more straightforward rock tunes consisting of originals not found on the album and a handful of covers, many of which were stretched out to over seven minutes.   Opening the show was the hard driving rocker “Listen To The Silence”, an original that would show up later on their sophomore release, followed by a cover of Captain’s Beefheart’s “Electricity”, which as expected gives them a chance to show a bit of their more offbeat side.  A couple more unreleased originals are up next, with the slow, bluesy rocker “Captain Trips” and “Love Us Like We Love You”.  “The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog” is the only album cut in the set, and while it maintains all the quirky charm of that version it is quite a bit heavier and is extended to almost ten minutes.  Next up are two more covers, an almost nine minute version of Shawn Phillips’ “Woman Mind”, a slow, meandering bluesy rocker with a feedback drenched closing and a bluesy, jam filled take on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”.  Closing things out “First Love Song” another original that is a really nice bluesy tune with a bit of an Allman Brothers vibe.  The sound quality here could be pretty much described as the equivalent of a decent bootleg, but it is nice to have a chance to hear the band in a live setting and hear the difference between that and the album. 

The final disc contains fifteen more bonus tracks consisting of demos and BBC sessions.  Kicking things off are three demos, the straight-ahead rocker “Collects Little Girls”, the more midtempo “Hometime” and “Looking Up I’m Looking Back”.  Next are five cuts taken from two different BBC Radio One “Top Gear” Sessions.  First up from October 23, 1967 are live versions of three album tracks, “Mister Watchmaker”, “What On Earth” and “The Remarkable Saga Of The Frozen Dog”, followed by a session from March 25, 1968, where they played the cover of Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” (preceded by a short interview with Jim Cregan) and “Love Is”.   These are really solid performances that show that they could do a really good job performing these tracks live.  Of note is the lighthearted performance on the Dylan cover, which is even more country than the studio version.  Closing out the disc are seven more demos, three of which are different recordings of the ones at the beginning of the disc.  While “Collects Little Girls” is fleshed out a little with some nice piano, the other two are not that different from the earlier versions.  “Backstreet” the first of the remaining four cuts is an interesting midtempo track consisting primarily of vocals, piano and guitar that is reminiscent of early Harry Nilsson.  “Ever Since A Memory” is a breezy, easygoing track enhanced with vibes and “Going Home” is  stripped down with strings and some flute.  Closing out the box set is “Penny And The Pennies”, a really pretty tune built around vocals and acoustic guitar.  Also included is CD booklet that contains fully restored album artwork, an essay on the band and exclusive interview with Brian Godding and Jim Cregan.  

(Esoteric Recordings)

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Gentlemen Rogues - Francy 7" 

With the release of their latest single, Austin’s Gentlemen Rogues are back with a couple more crunchy blasts of power pop.  The title track on the A-side is the more hard hitting of the two, extremely catchy, but with a bit of a ragged punk edge.  The flipside is a cover of They Might Be Giants’ “I’ve Got A Match”, which interestingly reminds me a little of The Smoking Popes, but somehow you can still hear the quirky spirit of TMBG buried in there.  While they’ve been around for awhile Gentlemen Rogues have managed to fly under my radar, but I can assure you that won’t be the case now.   

(Snappy Little Numbers

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Spirit - Twelve Dreams Of Dr Sardonicus, Remastered & Expanded

Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was the fourth album from Spirit and ended up being the last one with the original band comprised of Randy California, Jay Ferguson, John Locke, Ed Cassidy and Mark Andes (Locke and Cassidy were the only members on the follow-up).  It was alos the first one not produced by Lou Adler, with David Briggs, who was best known for working with Neil Young, handling production this time.  Ironically when it was released it was their lowest charting album, but is now their only album that has been certified gold.  Listening to the album today it is obvious that this was an album that was ahead of its time, extremely diverse and full of so much depth and so many layers.  This is displayed right out the gate with the multipart “Prelude-Nothing To Hide”, which starts with a gently played steel guitar solo with vocal accompaniment and then turns into a catchy rocker with a psychedelic groove full of great guitar work that includes slide, tons of effects, feedback jumping from side to side all topped off with a great horn section.  Next up is the classic “Nature’s Way”, a gorgeous tune with intertwining acoustic and electric guitars and the everpresent cowbell, and “Animal Zoo”, which is a bouncy rock song with a hint of funk and some really good piano and harmonica along with a little country flavor in the guitar work.  While there is plenty of experimentation throughout the album, it’s no more evident than on “Love Has Found A Way”, which at its core is a very catchy psychedelic track with a jazz groove, but enhanced with effects, vibes and backwards masking that runs underneath the whole song.  Following a short little interlude with the 1:02 minute “Why Can’t I Be Free”, a stripped down tune with just some acoustic guitar and whispered vocals comes another Spirit classic in “Mr Skin”, a jazzy rocker with its funk tinged beat, throbbing bass, blasting horns and pulsing organ.  ”Space Child” is a hypnotic, “spacy” sounding instrumental that’s split into sections.  It starts with a really cool piano, slowly mixing in some swirling effects before shifting into a jazzier piano and drums section and then back around to the piano that started it all before ending abruptly, but really leading into “When I Touch You”, which is a heavy, fairly dark rocker that interestingly bears more than a passing resemblance to Soundgarden (there are actually some vocal passages that if you didn’t know better you would think was Chris Cornell).   “Street Worm” has a funky vibe with bouncy piano and drums and some interesting guitar passages that gradually evolves into an all-out jam with some stellar Hendrix-like guitar and plenty of cowbell.  The band shifts gears a bit on “Life Has Just Begun” a gorgeous cut that showcases California’s acoustic guitar playing and has a bit of a rootsy flavor enhanced by some nice honky tonk piano.  They then shift again with “Morning Will Come”, a jubilant, feel good tune with a driving beat that borders on R&B punctuated by blasting horns throughout.  Slowing things down to close out the album is “Soldier”, a captivating tune driven by piano and accented by some really nice organ in the background.  Rounding out the first disc are ten bonus tracks, six of which are previously unreleased.  First up is “Rougher Road”, a more straightforward rock tune than the album tracks that does a good job of mixing acoustic and electric guitars.  “Dirty Dan” is a previously unreleased instrumental that starts off with nice interplay between guitar, organ, drums and a funky bass and then moves into a more straightforward rock tune that really showcases the organ work.  Following mono versions of “Animal Zoo” and “Morning Will Come” is “Red Light Roll On”, a lighthearted tune with some tongue in cheek lyrics with and a loose funky R&B vibe that was the B-side to “Animal Zoo”. Next up are the original backing tracks for “Love Has Found A Way” and “Street Worm” and a rehearsal backing track “When I Touch You” followed by “Walking On My Feet”, a short acoustic tune consisting of vocal, guitars and drums (according to the notes on the reel, keyboardist John Locke plays the drums here).  Closing out the first disc is a interesting live version of “Nature’s Way”, recorded at the Fillmore West on May 16, 1970 that is notable because California states on the recoring he had written the song that afternoon. 

Disc two is a previously unreleased seventeen song live performance of the band recorded at the same show as disc one's "Nature's Way".  As explained by band curator Mick Skidmore in the accompanying CD booklet, the band had bad luck getting good sounding live recordings and only one board tape of this show exists and there were three versions of the tape.  With a little work in the studio he made the recording here, that is definitely not perfect, but it’s the best live recording of the band known to exist (Skidmore provides more details on this in the liner notes).  Since it was recorded in May and the album wasn’t released until November, you can hear them still working out Twelve Dreams... tracks “Nothing To Hide”, “Mr Skin”, which sounds somewhat different here, and “Animal Zoo”.  Some of the other tracks of note are the gentle instrumental “Country Echo”, the bluesy rocker “Jealous”, a tune they frequently played live and was supposedly recorded in the studio although no copy has ever been found, and a twelve plus minute version of “Mechanical World” that starts with a five minute drum solo and then moves into an heavy, slow, intense rocker with the droning organ blasting away throughout (this track was actually recorded at the Boston Tea Party on October 11,1969, because there wasn’t a salvageable version of this song from the Fillmore).  Skidmore has done a fantastic job here from the remastering of the album, bonus tracks and live recordings to his detailed essay in the booklet.  Even if you already have a copy of the album I would greatly recommend getting this new version.