Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Chicken Shack - Crying Won’t Help You Now – The Deram Years 1971-1974

Following the release of their first four albums on the Blue Horizon label, including two with Christine McVie (Christine Perfect at that time), Chicken Shack signed with Decca’s Deram label, which is where Crying Won’t Help You Now - The Deram Years picks up.  Covering the years 1971 to 1974, this box set includes their three CD’s with that label along with three single tracks. 

Imagination Lady, the first of these albums, not only found them with a new label, but frontman and guitarist Stan Webb had formed a completely new band.  Now a trio, the band was rounded out by bassist John Glascock, who would later go on to play with Jethro Tull, and drummer Paul Hancox.  There was also a shift in their sound as they moved from the more straight-ahead blues of their earlier releases to heavier blues rock.  Opening the release is the first of three covers, a solid rocking version of BB King’s “Crying Won’t Help You Now”, a track that still maintains their bluesy vibe, but explodes with Webb’s outstanding wah-wah heavy guitar work and a very prominent throbbing bass.  “Daughter Of The Hillside” is an absolute blistering straight-on rocker that at times is very reminiscent of Cream’s “White Room”.  Next up are covers of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were A Carpenter” and Don Nix’s “Going Down”.  While the former starts really simple and quiet, it evolves into a powerful slowburning rocker and the latter is an all out, down and dirty track with more great guitar work and a thick, heavy groove.  “Poor Boy" is another heavy blues rock track with some insane guitar playing and tons of wah wah that is often reminiscent of both Zeppelin and Hendrix and is to me the standout cut here. Unfortunately, it’s followed by the album’s only real misstep “Telling Your Fortune”.  This eleven minute track starts off promising enough with a slower paced bluesy groove, but then a little past the one minute mark it becomes an almost six minute long drum solo before closing out with what is pretty much a bluesy jam.  Even though Hancox’s drum solo shows how talented he is, it really doesn’t work as an album track.  Ironically one of the bonus tracks is the single version of this song, which is just over two minutes long and works much better by completely removing the drum solo and stripping it down.  Closing things out is “The Loser”, a catchy upbeat tune with a bit of a psychedelic pop sound that is a nice change of pace from the rest of the album.  Disc one has one additional bonus track with the single version of “Poor Boy”. 

Follow-up Unlucky Boy found the band once again switching up some members with Bob Daisley (Ozzy, Black Sabbath, Rainbow, Uriah Heep) replacing Glascock and the addition of Tony Ashton on keyboards and Chris Mercer on saxophone.  Webb once again shifted the band’s sound here, largely moving away from the heavier rock of its predecessor back to the blues and with the addition of horns even a bit more R&B.  Having said that, opener “You Know Could Be Right” is a strong midtempo blues tune that does dip it’s toes a bit in the rock end of things.  “Revelation” is a laid-back bluesy tune that with the addition of sax takes on a bit of an R&B vibe, while “Prudence’s Party” is a quirky upbeat instrumental showcasing the great interplay between Webb’s slinky guitar work and Ashton on piano.  The band once again mixes in a handful of covers here, starting with Lonnie Johnson’s “Too Late To Cry”, a delicate, stripped down tune with a really nice old school folk blues sound.  Next up is “Stan the Man”, a killer electric blues jam with some blistering guitar work followed by a rocking blues cover of Big Mama Thornton and William Dupree’s “Unlucky Boy” (their version is “Unlucky Girl”) featuring more great sax from Mercer.  Complemented with a string section, “As Time Goes Passing By” is a mellow blues ballad that really stands out from the rest of the album.  “Jammin’ With The Ash” is a seven plus minute blues rock jam that really showcases Webb’s guitar, Ashton’s honky tonk flavored piano and Hancox’s drumming.  Closing things out is an upbeat Chuck Berry styled boogie woogie cover of Jimmy McCracklin’s “He Knows The Rules”.  The single version of “As Time Goes By” is also included here as another bonus track.

Disc three’s Goodbye Chicken Shack is a live album recorded on October 26, 1973 at Brunel University in Middlesex.  Even though it was recorded just a few months after the release of Unlucky Boy, Webb is once again the only remaining member and is joined this time around by Rob Hull on bass, Alan Powell (Hawkwind) on drums and Dave Wilkinson on electric piano.  Interestingly, while Unlucky Boy found them largely moving away from the heavier rock sounds of Imagination Lady, two of the tracks here were originally on that album and the live set is a good combination of songs tackling blues, rock and R&B.  Opening the set is a cover of the Peter Chatman (better known as Memphis Slim) song “Everyday I Have The Blues”, that is best known by the BB King version and has the crowd clapping and singing along right out the gate.  A cover of another King song, the classic “The Thrill Is Gone” is up next and is given an edgier, rocked up sound with some really good wah wah guitar.  The band tears through a cover of “Going Down” with some blistering guitar work and then turns it down for the slow burning blues of “You Take Me Down”.  “Webb’s Boogie” has a great boogie woogie piano opening and then evolves into a full band boogie woogie jam.  King is represented one more time with a rocking version of “You’re Mean” and then there is a stellar take on “Poor Boy”, which is fleshed out nicely with Wilkinson’s piano, an element not on the studio version.  Closing out the set is a some more boogie woogie courtesy the instrumental “Webb’s Guitar Shuffle” and an edgy take on Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti”.  Also included here is a really detailed twenty-four page booklet with an essay on this era of the band, including alot of comments from Webb, photos and reproductions of the original liner notes from Goodbye Chicken Shack.  

(Esoteric Recordings)

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Speedfreak - Fast Lane Livin' 

If no frills, high adrenaline, down and dirty rock and roll is your thing then look no further than Fast Lane Livin’, the latest from Chicago’s Speedfreak. Bringing to mind bands like Motorhead and Black Label Society, the eight tunes here explode with Kevin Kelly’s thick, crunchy riffs that shift from thrash aggression to a bit of a shred, often with a sludgy, down-tuned groove.  Add on Steve Serpe’s thumping bass, some outstanding drumming courtesy Dave Hornyak, a former member of Cathedral, and top it with Tom Kucharski’s vocals and you have the perfect soundtrack for the next time you jump behind the wheel and head out flying down the road. 

(Speedfreak - Facebook)

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Skids - The Saints Are Coming - Live and Acoustic 2007 - 2021

From 1977 to 1982, Scottish band the Skids, originally comprised of Richard Jobson, the late Stuart Adamson, William Simpson and Tom Kellichan, released four great albums that kind of walked the border between punk, new wave and even pop.  While they had numerous hits in the UK they never really hit it big in the States (I’ll admit I was late to the game and only discovered them in the mid-eighties scouring through the used record bin, being a Big Country fan and seeing Adamson’s name in the liner notes).  In 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, Green Day and U2 covered their 1978 single “The Saints Are Coming” to raise money for The Edge’s Music Rising charity to help replace instruments lost in the hurricane.  Inspired by their cover, band founder Richard Jobson decided to get the band together to play a few shows to commemorate their 30th Anniversary.  Rounding out the band for these shows was original bassist Simpson, Mike Baillie who was their drummer in ‘79 and ’80, and Bruce Watson and his son Jamie on guitar.  Bruce had played guitar in Big Country with Adamson, so he was a fitting replacement.  On July 1, 2007 the reformed band made their broadcast debut for DJ Billy Sloan on Radio Clyde, which is now available for the first time on disc six.  The nine-song set shows the band in fine form as they tear through eight of their best-known songs and an interesting cover of The Sensation Alex Harvey Band track “Vambo”. Their performance is high energy with a bit of an edge, but also has that radio show intimacy.  If you didn’t know better you would never believe this was their first performance in 25 years and the first performance from this incarnation. 

Shifting back to the beginning of the box set, disc one and two contain two full-length live shows, which were recorded on March 6, 2010 at Alhambra in Dunfermline and June 16, 2017 at The Roundhouse in London.  Both shows sound great with the band at the top of their game and the crowds energetically cheering and singing along.  The sets are full of songs that Skids fans know and love and while all the songs they played in the Alhambra show were also in the setlist at The Roundhouse, they also included several additional songs in London, including new track “World On Fire”, which would appear on the following year’s Burning Cities album and has some great Big Country sounding ringing guitars. 

After Richard and Bruce played a few of their songs acoustically for a charity event in Dunfermline they decided to record some acoustic versions of some of their songs, which resulted in the 2019 album Peaceful Times, found here on disc three.  A few months after that album’s release, Jobson along with Bruce and Jamie Watson went out on a ten date acoustic tour called “An Evening With Richard Jobson… “Songs and Stories’”.  Disc four was recorded on that tour at The Sage 2 in Gateshead on September 10, 2019.  Stripping the songs down like this really breathes new life into them and does a great job of showcasing Jobson’s emotional vocal performance.   Several of the tracks on Peaceful Times have been reconstructed a bit from their original versions.  “Fields” is given a bit of a Celtic sound, “Hurry On Boy” takes on an Australian vibe with the use of didgeridoo and some interesting percussion and then there’s “Animation”, now completely revamped with gorgeous harmonies reminiscent of the sounds of the West Coast in the late sixties.  On the other hand the songs on the live album stick closer to the originals and are absolutely gorgeous pared down to nothing but vocals and guitars. Surprisingly each album contains several songs not on the other including a great live version of “Castles In Spain” from Jobson’s mid-eighties band The Armoury Show.

Like so many other bands during the pandemic, the band decided to live stream a couple acoustic shows, which led to them being asked to do an electric one, that was recorded live in Livingston on March 9, 2021 and is found here on disc five.  Listening to the ten song set that comprises Lockdown Live, the band’s performance is extremely tight and you would never believe they were performing in an empty room during a pandemic as they tear through some of their best known songs with the energy of a young, upstart band.  Jobson also provides great between song banter telling jokes and giving some insight to the songs as well as providing some band history.  It should also be noted that drums for this show were handled by Mark Brzezicki, best known as the drummer for Big Country.  This is an outstanding box set and even though many of the songs here appear multiple times (a few are on almost all six discs) the diversity of the performances keeps them fresh and the band sounds as vital as ever.   

(Cherry Red Records

Friday, July 08, 2022

Elephant - Big Thing

A little over a year ago I was going through some new releases and threw on the debut EP from Rotterdam’s Elephant.  Unlike most releases that take a few spins to really sink in, that EP hit me from the first listen.  I immediately went down the rabbit hole watching YouTube videos (some containing songs not on the EP) and after interviewing the band discovered that they had already recorded, but not yet released, a full-length album.  Now, after getting a sneak peak here and there as they released a few singles, that album is finally out, and I can assure you it was well worth the wait.  Like the EP, Big Thing was produced by Pablo van de Poel from the Dutch band DeWolff and draws you in with their textured instrumentation and lush, rich vocals, stellar harmonies and well crafted, hook-filled songs that give them a dreamy, laid-back sound reminiscent of a cross between Americana and the West Coast sounds of the seventies, but without really being either.  Another element that really helps to set them apart is the lead guitar, which enhances the songs and really gives them a lot of character.  Some of the better examples of this are “Calling”, which has that West Coast sound with great guitar work throughout and some distortion towards the end, “Hometown”, a tune very reminiscent of Cass McCombs, with some insane harmonies and a bit of fuzz and echo on the guitar, and “Only Love” and “Medicine”, both of which throw in a little twangy guitar, along with a touch of jazz in the latter.  Even though most of the songs have a really mellow vibe, they still manage to mix things up to keep it fresh with songs like “Saturday Night” and its strong George Harrison influence (especially in the guitar), “Sunlight”, with its light, lilting vibe that sounds like a late night hanging out on the beach and “Reptile Zoo”, which has a touch of jazz in the guitars and drums.  “Happiness” is more of a straightforward mood piece with some nice guitar work and an interesting drum groove, but no normal “verse chorus verse”, and closer “Bird’s Eye View (reprise)” is just that, a short reprise of one of their EP tracks complete with some tasty slide guitar.  Lastly is their psychedelic rock take on the traditional tune “Know You Rider”, full of fuzzed out, reverb drenched guitar, which is definitely a different direction from the rest of the album and shows they can rock out too.  Even though the year is currently just half over, I have no doubt that this will end up being one of my top releases of 2022 if not sitting at the top. I would highly recommend doing yourself a favor and checking out both Big Thing and last year’s EP. 

(Excelsior Recordings)

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Hemlock - Hemlock (expanded edition)

After some time in the mid to late sixties working with a pre-fame Ian Hunter, Miller Anderson joined the Keef Hartley Band on vocals and guitar in 1968, recording four studio albums and one live album.  Following that stint he signed with Deram and in 1971 recorded his debut solo album Bright City.  Since he had actually written so many songs for that album, he decided to head back into the studio to record a second solo album.  Once the recording for this album was completed, he decided that instead of releasing it under his name, he and the musicians he recorded with would form a band and thus Hemlock was formed.  While comparisons to the blues, roots and jazz sounds of the Keef Hartley Band are inevitable, Hemlock were definitely their own thing and had plenty more to offer. Tracks like the laid-back “Fool’s Gold”, which is basically Miller and an acoustic guitar, the bluesy gospel of “Broken Dreams” and the folk country of “Garden Of Life”, complete with pedal steel, are some perfect examples. Some of the other highlights include the opener “Just An Old Friend”, with its greasy soul groove and funk beat topped with blasting organ and horns, the upbeat bluesy roots rock of “Mister Horizontal”, a standout track that’s a little reminiscent of The Band, and the laid-back rootsy “Young Man’s Prayer”, a song that brings to mind Van Morrison and has a really powerful vocal from Anderson.  Then there’s “Ship To Nowhere”, a gorgeous slower tune with bit of a haunting sound.  All the pieces really come together on this track with standout musicianship and a very emotional vocal.  Also included here are four bonus tracks, three of which are previously unreleased.  First up is “Beggar Man”, the b-side to their only single “Mister Horizontal”.  In my opinion this is the strongest song here and really would have been a great addition to the album.  Starting with a Deep Purple-y organ, this bluesy rocker is an epic tune that’s almost like a suite with great dynamics and a tempo that speeds up and slows down as you make your way through it. Next up is a ragged, raucous bluesy cover of the old twelve bar blues song “Corrina, Corrina” driven by some great slide guitar and honky tonk piano.  The last two bonus tracks are early versions of album tracks.  While the take on “Ship To Nowhere” is fairly close to the version found on the album, “Garden of Life” is a completely different take on the song stripped down to just guitar, vocals and harmonica giving it a Dylan-like vibe.  Also included is a CD booklet with a well-written essay detailing the story behind the album along with Miller’s musical history.  Thanks to Esoteric for once again giving deserved recognition to a largely overlooked album. 

(Esoteric Recordings)

Babe Ruth - Darker Than Blue – The Harvest Years 1972-1975

After spending time in the mid to late sixties playing in bands with the likes of Mick Taylor, Chris Farlowe and John Glascock (Jethro Tull) guitarist Alan Shacklock formed the band Shacklock, who shortly after that became know as Babe Ruth.  In 1972 they signed a record deal with Harvest Records, who over the next four years released their first three releases.  The new box set Darker Than Blue – The Harvest Year 1972-1975 collects these three releases along with a handful of bonus tracks. 

Disc one kicks off with the band’s debut album First Base.  Over the course of these six songs the band shows an immense amount of experimentation and diversity showcasing their superb musicianship and vocalist Janita “Jenny” Haan’s strong vocals, which are often rightfully compared to Janis Joplin.  They kick things off with “Wells Fargo”, a solid rocker with a touch of a funk, a soul groove, great guitar work and horns and then turn things on their head with “The Runaways”, a cut that starts very subdued with some folk influences, showcasing Haan’s vocals over oboe, piano and strings, before leading into a classical sounding instrumental piece about halfway through.  The experimental side of the band then hits full force with a great cover of The Mothers Of Invention instrumental “King Kong” that explodes with elements of jazz, rock and blues.  They once again completely shift gears with a powerful cover of Jesse Winchester’s “Black Dog”.  Complemented throughout with some great piano work and tasty guitar work this track starts out as a slow burning bluesy rocker and then builds and builds to a hard rocking close.  “The Mexican”, which is one of the bands best known songs is an extremely catchy upbeat tune that has a nice Spanish guitar opening and then moves into a jaunty, bluesy rocker still maintaining that Spanish flavor before shifting to their interpretation of the Ennio Morricone song “Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu” from the movie For A Few Dollars More.  Interestingly, this song has been covered a few times including a disco version by the Bombers and a dance version from Jellybean Benitez that had Jenny Haan contributing on vocals.  Closing out the album is “Joker”, a straight-ahead rock tune with a touch of a bluesy, Southern Rock vibe with Shacklock and Haan trading off back and forth on vocals.  Disc one also contains three bonus tracks consisting of the single version of “Wells Fargo”, it's flipside, their cover of “Theme From A Few Dollars More” and the non-album single track “Ain’t That Livin’” a really catch high energy, foot stomping glam rocker.   

For their second release Amar Caballero the band went through a bit of a lineup change with a new drummer and keyboardist, and really expanded on the directions of their sound.  The album was a bit hit and miss with some of their strongest and weakest songs both appearing here.  Opening cut “Lady” is an interesting track that’s not only jazzy and bluesy with some really nice jazz guitar, but also throws in a bit of funk and some horns.  “Broken Cloud” is a gorgeous ballad with horns and a string section, along with some Native American influenced percussion, that has a real cinematic quality, and makes it one of the aforementioned high points.  Depending on who you ask “Gimme Some Leg” is a really good song or it’s one of their worst.  It’s a slow bluesy track with a bit of a funk groove and a somewhat odd tempo that I personally feel goes on a little too long and just doesn’t really work. While they thankfully get back on track with “Baby Pride”, a ballad with a nice slow jazz groove, their cover of The Capitols’ “Cool Jerk” is completely out of place and doesn’t really work at all here.  The band once again hit a high point with “We Are Holding On”, a gorgeous Spanish tinged classical guitar instrumental with some violin and keyboard accompaniment.  “Doctor Love” finds them going all-out upbeat funk and while it’s not a bad track, again it seems a bit out of place.  The band closes the album out on a huge high note with the three-part suite that is also the title track.   It starts with “El Caballero de la Reina Isabella”, which has a British folk vibe with Haan giving a really pretty, more subdued vocal over Shacklock’s acoustic guitar.  The second section “Hombre de Guitarra” is a fast-paced Spanish guitar instrumental with bongos contributing to the percussion that is reminiscent of something you would hear from Santana.  That takes us to the quiet hypnotic acoustic guitar of part three “El Testament De ‘Amelia”.  Disc two closes out with another bonus track the non-album single track “If Heaven’s On Beauty’s Side”, a quirky rock tune that has some interesting tempo shifts and sounds effects.   

For the self-titled album number three the band largely came back around to where they started with their debut, sticking largely to the rock side of things as evidenced by the first two tracks.  “Dancer" is a straight-ahead rocker with a touch of prog, while “Somebody’s Nobody” is a hard rocker at it’s core (Haan’s vocals here remind me of early Heart Ann Wilson), but with a touch of funk, especially in the keys.  Next up are a couple of covers, “A Fistful Of Dollars”, a fun, high energy rock version of another Morricone track and a nice soulful version of Curtis Mayfield’s “We People Darker Than Blue” that has a really great bluesy guitar solo.  “Jack O-Lantern” is a raw, no frills rocker that at times shows a glimmer of early Meatloaf, while “Private Number”, which is the third cover here, is the album’s only real misstep, coming across too much like a generic seventies soft rock tune.   Driven by Shacklock’s acoustic Spanish guitar playing and Haan’s vocals along with some simple percussion “Turquoise” is absolutely gorgeous.  Closing the album out are the bluesy rock of “Sad But Rich” and the powerful epic ballad and album showcase “The Dutchess Of Orleans”.  The last bonus track, which is the single version of “Private Number”, can be found at the end of disc three.  Rounded out by a booklet with memorabilia and an essay on the band, this is another highly recommended box set from the folks at Esoteric Records.

As a final note, while the box set covers these first three albums it should noted that following the release of this third album Shacklock would leave the band to be replaced by Bernie Marsden for a fourth album and after that album Haan and bassist Dave Hewitt also left.  A fifth album was recorded in 1976, but with no original members.  The original band did get back together in late 2005/early 2006 and reunited to record another album titled Que Pasa.  

(Esoteric Recordings

Among Legends - Take Good Care

After releasing three EP’s since their formation in 2016, Ontario’s Among Legends are back with their debut full-lengther Take Good Care.  Along with producer Siegfried Meier, who has worked with the likes of Face to Face, Kittie and Chuck Ragan, the band has come up with thirteen great tracks that draw on elements of a more intelligent pop punk and earlier punk, reminiscent at times of bands like Bad Religion, Social Distortion, Bayside and the sadly underappreciated Valencia.  While quite a few of the songs here stick fairly close to a pop punk sound like “Magnolia” and “Greyhound”, they often tend to add something that sets them apart like the laid-back groove of “Days Like These” and the nostalgic feel of “On The Line”, a song that somehow sounds like a Summer day, or the faster pace of “Monochrome” and “Five Years”, the latter of which has some great double time drumming.  A lot of the other songs find them branching out and expanding their sound.  Tracks like “Come Up Swinging” and the minute long “Baywatch” are a little more aggressive and have more of a Bad Religion vibe, while closer “Highrise” is a tight more straight-ahead, gritty punk tune that really showcases the band’s musicianship and reminds me a lot of Bayside (Mitchell Buchanan’s vocals throughout the album often remind me of Bayside vocalist Anthony Raneri).  “Oceans” and “11318” stray a little from the punk, although not completely, with the former veering a little towards more of a rock tune and the latter slowing things down a tad, but picking up the intensity and heaviness.  Lastly we have “Manifesto”, a bit of an anthem, with great group vocals that should go over great live and then there’s “Rigged”, another slower song that’s very dynamic, full of shifting tempos and a spoken word section that’s quite different from the rest of the album.  It is a track that shows a lot of possibilities for where they can go with their music in the future.  I really enjoyed Take Good Care and look forward to seeing what’s next for this five-piece. 

(Little Rocket Records)


Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Chroma - Weithiau / Caru. Cyffuriau single

Having recently signed to Libertino Records, Welsh band Chroma have released this new single, their first for the label.  Recorded live, both songs are raw, ragged, high energy tunes bursting with fuzzed out guitars and a rock solid rhythm section.  Lyrically “Weithiau” deals with the end of a relationship that just isn’t working anymore and while it definitely has a punch there is a strong sense of melancholy and Katie Hall’s vocals have a real vulnerability. The band says that “Caru. Cyffuriau” is about teens experimenting with sex and drugs and is more of an all-out aggressive punk tune with some garage rock tendencies. This is a great start to their deal with their new label and I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next.  

(Libertino Records)