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. 


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.


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.   

Sunday, April 03, 2022

Fields - Feeling Free – The Complete Recordings 1971-1973

Following the release of their second album, Rare Bird founding member and keyboardist Graham Field left the band and formed the short-lived three-piece Fields with ex-King Crimson drummer Andrew McCulloch and bassist/vocalist Alan Barry.  In 1971 they recorded and released their eponymous debut album, which is where this two CD collection begins.  While their sound on this debut is rooted in Progressive Rock there is actually alot of diversity amongst these ten tracks.  Starting things off is “A Friend Of Mine”, a really catchy track that is one of the more Prog tunes here with Field’s organ leading the way providing a really nice groove along with some outstanding drumming from McCulloch that has a bit of a jazz vibe.  The next track “While The Sun Still Shines” still has some really nice organ work, but overall moves in a bit more of a bluesy rock direction, while “Not So Good” starts off with some really nice piano and finds them slowing things down a little resulting in a track that has a bit of a Procol Harum feel, especially when the organ kicks in.  “Three Minstrels” starts off with a sparse medieval folk sound and eventually evolves into more of a prog tune towards the end with some great guitar work.  Next up is the slow, almost droning instrumental “Slow Susan”, which leads into “Over and Over Again”, a catchy prog rock track that adds a bit of a funk groove, and “Feeling Free”, which finds the band moving in a bluesy gospel direction with some really nice piano and organ.  “Fair-Haired Lady” is a really pretty stripped down ballad that is primarily vocals and acoustic guitar with a little clarinet and “A Place To Lay My Head” moves in the bluesy direction again bringing to mind Joe Cocker with some really strong blues guitar.  Closing things out is “The Eagle”, a really strong prog instrumental that at times draws from the classical influence of Pachelbel and displays the outstanding musicianship of the band and is the standout cut on the album.  Included at the end of disc one are four bonus cuts consisting of alternate versions of “Slow Susan” and “A Place To Lay My Head” and previously unreleased versions of “A Friend Of Mine” and the non-album track “Wouldn’t You Agree” from BBC Radio One Sounds Of The ‘70’s sessions recorded in December 1971.  Both tracks show how strong they were live and “Wouldn’t You Agree” is another solid Prog cut that would have fit right in on their debut.      

A short while after releasing their debut and doing some live shows Barry decided to leave the band.  He was replaced by ex-Supertramp bassist and vocalist Frank Farrell and the band got started on recording their new album.  Unfortunately for the band, while they were in the process of recording, the entire London-based A&R staff of their label was fired and replaced by staff from New York who had no interest in Prog or any band signed by their predecessor.  At this point the band had written and record two thirds of the next album, but decided there was no point in continuing if the label wasn’t going to support them.  In 2015, with Field overseeing it, that second album Contrasts was finally released along with three demos from that time that were included as bonus tracks.  These eleven tracks are now included here on disc two.  Kicking things off is “Let Her Sleep”, a really strong prog tune highlighted by Field’s impressive keyboard work and Farrell’s throbbing bass lines.  Next up is “Wedding Bells”, an extremely catchy tune that finds the band showing far more pop tendencies than ever before and leads into “Someone To Trust”, a slow, bluesy tune with some nice piano work and haunting violin.  “Wonder Why” is an interesting cut that’s catchy, but really sets itself apart from the rest with a funky jazz beat under high chorus like vocals and some really quirky keyboards, while “Music Is Their Game” is an extremely hook-filled tune that finds them moving in a pop direction again with some prog tendencies largely thanks to the the bouncy organ.  “The Old Canal” is a captivating laid-back song that is actually fairly reminiscent of the more orchestrated work of The Beatles and early Bee Gees.  Closing out Contrasts are the bouncy instrumental “Put Out To Grass” and “Storm”, a very prog rock sounding song that starts with calmness and birds chirping before moving into quiet keyboards that build and build in intensity as the lyrics detail an intensifying storm.  The aforementioned demos that are included on disc two include “Set Yourself Free”, a catchy, laid back tune with a lazy groove and a couple of keyboard driven instrumentals with “The River”, which has an almost easy listening feel and the bouncy R&B of “Spring”.  The band was really showing some interesting experimentation on this second album and it's unfortunate we never got to see what else they had in store for us.  Feeling Free – The Complete Recordings 1971-1973 also contains a CD booklet with photos and an essay detailing the history of the band. 

(Esoteric Recordings)

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Interview with Stel Furet

In 2018, after largely taking a couple decades away from music besides the occasional get together, Stel Furet decided he really needed to give it another shot.  The results of this shot are human nature machine, his outstaning new EP.  I recently had the chance to talk to him about the EP and it's creation, as well as his plans for future releases and a few other things.  

Do you have a songwriting process that you tend to follow and if so how does it usually work for you?

I’ve never been big on process really, so what little I do have has evolved organically. Ideas come to me at the weird times. Like during dinner or in the back yard. Often, I’ll wake up at 3 or 4am and hum something into my phone. I’ll listen when I wake up and typically it’s complete garbage. But occasionally I’ll hit something that’s worth a look. Regardless of how the idea comes to me, I always start by laying some scratch tracks down and then building an arrangement on it. I’ll then upload a mix to Soundcloud and listen repeatedly for at least a few days to let ideas come to me. I’ll iterate and upload new versions until I’m happy with it and it’s a song. I’ll play all the instruments and then send my tracks off to a drummer and sometimes a bass player and keyboardist to do them right. I always say that I play a lot of instruments but other than guitar, none of them particularly well. I believe you need to accept your weaknesses to be successful. When I get tracks back from them, I’ll lay down the final guitars and vocals. Often, I will still make lyrical changes at that point. On "Next Tuesday" the final phrase was “And I’ll leave it up to you, to give me what you can.” But when I was doing a rough mix, Jenn Grinels who sang the backup vocals sang “never cry again” so beautifully earlier in the song, that I decided to change the last phrase to “I’ll leave it up to you, to never cry again.” The first time I listened to it, I kind of teared up because her voice is just so moving, and we fit together so well.

All that being said, I wish I was one of those songwriters that could say, "I wrote that in 10 minutes, but that hasn’t happened yet.


Did you have the songs and instrumentation pretty fleshed out before you recorded, or did you get much input from the other musicians?


It wasn’t consistent for all songs. I like to have all the tracks roughed out pretty well before I send them off because I know what I want the song to feel like. But sometimes someone else’s interpretation of what I’ve played and what I’m asking for will change the song like I mentioned. Another example is the piano I provided on 33 1/3. It was pretty straight forward and when it came back from Ed, it sparked the idea of the organ, which he then did when the rest of the song was done. On "Chelsea", Ed redid the piano with a different flare, which Mike Butler (whom I co-produced with) changed to a Whirly. I then added the more standout piano parts and the ending piano piece after everything else was done. I’ve come to consider the tracks I send to other musicians as a framework. It’s what I’m thinking I want, but not necessarily what I expect to get. I want creativity and ideas to come in from elsewhere to make things better. I’m also not much on asking for changes unless something is really not to my liking, which only happened maybe once. It’s a respect thing.


Overall the EP has a nice, laid back vibe, but there is still plenty of diversity amongst the five cuts.  Did you strive for that or did it just kind of happen?


Thank you for noticing. I definitely worked for that. I threw away quite a few songs because I felt they didn’t fit. Two were pretty much done and I may release them as singles someday. Granted there’s a lot of symbolism that I wouldn’t expect everyone to interpret in the same manner, but all in all I tried to tell a relatable story across the five songs in a way that spoke to me personally, while allowing each song to stand independent of the others.


I read that before starting this project in 2018 that it had been some time since you did much music related.  Did you write all these songs after 2018 or did anything come from before then?


Some of the ideas date back quite a way. One from 1997. But yeah, it had been a while. I was gigging for a long time off and on and it just got old. I wasn’t getting anywhere, and life just happened. It’s so good to finally be where I am.


There are references to playing a record in the song “33 And A Half”.  Why did you choose to go with that title instead of 33 And a Third?


Yeah, I went back and forth on this and originally the line was “I’m 33 1/3”. But no kid ever says I’m 7 1/3 years old. And that half year is important. I was reflecting on that time in my life and remember I felt like I was always so busy, moving so fast and just getting nowhere. I was struggling with who I was at that point, and I just needed to slow down a little and relax. I remember had a pretty stellar record collection which was always my escape. But I was in a job I didn’t want, there was a music career I didn’t have, and a relationship that wasn’t any good. I couldn’t find time to enjoy my favorite escape and when I did find some time it reminded me that I wasn’t following my passion. So, I made it about my age and trying to find my place in life; I made it about finding my groove. I thought most people wouldn’t know a record spins at 33 1/3, and unfortunately it seems I was correct. But Vinyl has been making a comeback. Long live vinyl!

At times in “The Mirror” there are harmony vocals where the voices aren’t quite together giving them a really cool sound.  Can you tell me a little about that?


Yes, this is one of those things where another musician caused the end result to be way better. Mike sent my scratch lead vocals and backing vocal ideas to Jenn Grinels, and again she’s a truly gifted vocalist and absolute pro. She changed the timing on a couple of things, sang the entire song, and provided those amazing harmonies. She gave me so much material to work with. As I went back to put my final vocals over it, I decided to switch up the final lines to be more of a conversation. The song was always about me talking to myself and trying to convince myself that I was OK, but it’s also about meeting Wisdom who was an actual person. You can read that story on my website. Having Jenn’s perspective meant that I could really play with some things. I added some harmonies with her vocals in some spots and then I approached it as a conversation, hence the timing. It’s not really a call and response type of thing. I didn’t want that, but it is a back and forth around the question “Do you really know yourself?”


You have a members only section on your webpage that still appears to be a bit of a work in progress, but you do have some demos and early recordings on there.  Can you tell me a little about your plans for that section and also the decision to throw those demos out there for people to hear?


It’s intended to be a more personal way to connect with people who really want to do so. I know a lot of musicians try to monetize this. I don’t really feel comfortable doing that, but I need to find way’s to continue to be able to afford to produce music to the quality I can personally accept. This might be one of those ways, but for now It’s just for people who really connect with the music.

On the demos, my intent is to keep adding them, and unreleased songs. I have so much material. I also plan to do some online gigs via StageIt. Lots of videos coming there and on social media but I’m so busy with the release of this EP and making the next Album that it’s slow going. I’m told music promo and building a fan base is a long game. I’m finding that’s true.

You also have some blog entries on your webpage giving some insight into the EP and some of lyrics.  Those are really enjoyable.  Is that something you plan on continuing? 


Thank you, and yes, I plan on continuing. Coming up will be more about human nature machine and a bit about some of the songs coming up on the next album. The only blocker is time. It’s been difficult to find an hour or two to focus on anything other than the more music. I have some interesting stories about costly mistakes I made during this one though, kind of funny now but at the time, not so much.


The title is listed as human nature machine, but on the album cover there is a vol 1.  Is there more to that?


Stel Furet Vol 2. Will be the next one. Not quite ready to talk about that in detail yet but it will be another 5 song EP. The songs are coming together nicely but the process is organic. One thing that is certain is that it will change from what at the moment, I believe it will be.


The album cover is really interesting.  Can you tell me a little about that?


I appreciate that. A lot of the elements represent specific lyrics. Some of the elements are original, the moon (Wisdom), the birds, however I took the majority of the elements from danjazzia (danil chetverikov) via envato.  He does these amazing libraries of images that anyone can use to create. You can read more about Danil here.  He’s an amazing artist and I hope that my music measures up.

I read on your website about how vinyl has always been a special thing for you.  How does it feel knowing you will soon have your own vinyl release?

Fantastic. I must admit I’m a bit nervous about it though. But being as it’s so important to me, it’s being mastered by David Glasser at Airshow and cut by Gotta Groove in Cleveland. David’s creds are a mile long. Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews among others. And Gotta Groove is top notch. Presale should start in June so I’m excited about that.

You have a place on your website to sign up to get a lyric book mailed to you for free, which is a cool thing to do. What made you decide to do that?


You probably noticed that a lot of this has a throw-back feel to it. And I wanted people who weren’t able or willing to purchase vinyl to still experience the lyrics and some of the artwork in print form. I’ve always done a “zine” for whatever band I was in. Old school style cut and paste Kinko’s copy type of thing. There’d be pictures, lyrics, some other writing. We’d always run out at every show. Come to think of it, that’s where I got the Vol.1 idea from. I was hanging out with a band in San Jose called the ByProducts and I helped out with theirs a couple of times. They’d have parties and have a bunch of people over to staple all these things together. It was a hoot. And they marked each edition as Vol. whatever. I need to look those guys up.

I read that you have a couple more releases in the works.  Any hints as to what we can expect?


I have two EP’s and some singles in the works right now so I’m a bit busy. I haven’t quite decided on which of those EP’s will be first. But I like the idea of a collection of 5 songs. So the next one will be Stel Furet vol. 2.

Have you been doing any live shows or do you have any planned? 
Not recently but I will be doing a charity event this summer and it looks like at least one festival. I am planning on some "live" dates via which will be posted on my website. 

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

Yes, I've been somewhat lame on the social media front as of late. I've just been swamped, but the best way to find out what's coming up and hear more music is on your favorite platform. Doing so really helps out Indie musicians as it just raises awareness. Very basically the more people that interact with you, the more people that haven't yet, will be shown your content.