Monday, November 28, 2022

Hard Meat - The Space Between - The Recordings 1969-1970

Considering they were only together for a little over two years, they only released two albums and are definitely not a band that most people have ever heard of, it would seem quite unlikely that Hard Meat would ever be given the box set treatment, but one listen to this three-disc set, The Space Between – The Recordings 1969-1970, and it’s obvious they are definitely very deserving.  The music is diverse and a bit ahead of its time with Mick Dolan’s impressive guitar playing, both acoustic and electric, leading the way, accompanied by his brother Steve on bass and some very creative drumming from Mick Carless (sadly all three have now passed away and never got to see this release).  The band formed in 1968, were quickly signed to Island Records and recorded an album set for release in 1969.  In preparation for the album’s release, they issued a single with a cover of The Beatles’ “Rain” on the A-side and the original “Burning Up Years” on the flip.  Even though the album was completely recorded, the band was dropped from the label prior to its release and with the exception of the two tracks on the single, it remained unreleased until its inclusion here.  Not long after being dropped the band signed with Warner Bros and released two albums in 1970 (both included here) before breaking up in early 1971. 

Instead of starting with disc one I’m going to jump ahead to disc three, which is the previously unreleased album that was set to be their debut and is now seeing the light of day thirty-three years later.  They open with two of the album’s three covers with their take on The Beatles “Rain” (also the A-side to the single that was to precede the album), and Dylan’s “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine”.  With The Beatles’ track they do a great job of respecting the original while still making it their own, especially with the psychedelic guitars, and the Dylan track has a bit of a rootsy feel to it with some piano that brings to mind The Band.  “Liquid Boats” is a gorgeous instrumental that is an acoustic guitar showcase with hints of a Spanish feel.  The horn-laden, bluesy rocker “Walking Down Up Street” is reminiscent of the early days of Chicago, although a little heavier.  The album’s second instrumental, the awkwardly titled “Erection”, is an interesting cut.  It is largely a drum solo with guitar and bass accompaniment (also with a little mouth harp) that merges prog with some jazz vibes (especially in the drumming).  Next up is the final cover and one that on paper seems a strange choice, but to their credit they really make work.  In their very capable hands “Strange Fruit” (of course most notably performed by Billie Holiday) is a very sparse acoustic version that is extremely haunting.  In the CD booklet Richie Havens is mentioned as an influence and that can really be heard on “Run Shaker Life”, which mixes acoustic and slightly proggy electric guitars with congas and an easygoing groove making it one of the album highlights.  “Burning Up Years” was the flipside to the single and is a solid rocker with a hint of prog, especially in the shifting tempos, along with some blues.  “Don’t Chase Your Tail” closes things out and is another rootsier tune that is really hypnotic and is again at times reminiscent of The Band. 

Not wasting any time, shortly after that album was shelved, they were back with their eponymous debut (disc one in this collection), which included new versions of two tracks from the unreleased album and five new tracks.  Kicking things off is “Through A Window”, ironically also the title of their second release, a tune that combines swirling acoustic and electric guitars with shifting tempos that give it an early prog groove.  “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow” is a mellow, dreamy sounding tune full of swirling psychedelic guitar that at times have a hint of jazz, while “Space Between” takes the psychedelia in more of a blues direction.  Even though you would be hard pressed to find a bad track in this whole box, “My Time Shows No Face” stands head and shoulders above them all and should have been a huge hit.  It is an extremely catchy, hook heavy cut with a rootsier sound driven by acoustic guitar, gentle drums, piano and enhanced by flute from Mighty Baby’s Ian Whiteman.  “Run Shaker Life”, the first rerecorded track, is expanded here from its original four and a half minutes to over ten.  It still has the Richie Havens vibe but is a bit heavier and harder edged with a lot of jamming and is full of shifting tempos with some outstanding guitar work.  Closing out the disc are the laid-back psychedelic blues shuffle of “Universal Joint”, which is a bit reminiscent of Cream, and a new take on the Dylan cover “Most Likely You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine”, which isn’t too radically different here. 

Later in 1970 the band was back with their sophomore effort Through A Window, which is a little mellower than the debut, but just as strong.  Opener “On The Road” is a six plus minute track that has a loose jam feel to it with some hints of psychedelia and more great guitar.  Highlighted by strong harmonies, some gorgeous acoustic guitar along with some flute, “New Day” is a pretty ballad with an interesting upbeat, jam-like breakdown in the middle complete with congas.  The instrumental “Freewheel” is a laid-back track full of really great acoustic guitar and some light jazz influenced drumming, while “Smile As You Go Under” is a really catchy mellow rocker.  Next up are a couple of covers with the rocking blues of Graham Bond’s “I Want You”, which has some nice longer instrumental passages and “From The Prison”, a stark, acoustic folk tune written by Jerry Merrick and originally recorded by Richie Havens (Havens’ influence is very present once again here).   Perfectly titled, “A Song Of Summer” is just that, an upbeat track that is just a real feel-good song.  Gorgeous harmonies, a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitars and a little organ come together to create a powerful midtempo rocker with “Love” (credited in the liner notes to Bob Whale) and closing out the disc is “The Ballad Of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes”, which was released as a single and again had all the makings of a hit.  Based on the true story of a couple of vagrants in Colchester it's an acoustic guitar driven track with a mellow, easygoing groove that's at times reminiscent of The Faces.

Following the album's release, the band did some US and UK touring, including opening for The Flying Burrito Brothers on their 1970 UK tour.  In January 1971, as they were preparing to do another US tour, Carless decided to leave the band, and shortly after the brothers decided to close the book on the band.  The brothers went on to form Big Front Yard, who were said to sound quite similar to Hard Meat, but only released one single.  Mick Dolan also went on to do a lot of engineering and producing at Millstream Recording Studio in Chelteham.  Rounding out the box is a very informative booklet with an essay giving a great history of the band and lots of pictures and memorabilia.  Esoteric and Cherry Red have done it again, giving another greatly underappreciated band their well-deserved just due.

(Esoteric Recordings)

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Plot Vs Damage Control 

Following the release of the three CD Solo Albums 2000-2004 box set, HNE Recordings gives us another batch of Pete Way related releases with The Plot Vs Damage Control.  This box set covers the sole release from The Plot, his collaboration with Michael Schenker and drummer Jeff Martin, and the two albums from Damage Control, which included guitarist Robin George, drummer Chris Slade (AC/DC, The Firm, Uriah Heep) and The Quireboys’ frontman Spike.

First up is the eponymous album from The Plot.  Rumors are that these recordings were just made for fun, but after a bootleg of the recordings was leaked, they decided to go ahead and officially release them.  “You and Me” kicks the album off and is a catchy rocker that is a little heavier than UFO, but not as raw and gritty as his Amphetamine album from a few years earlier.  Bringing to mind early GnR and Aerosmith, “Need Her Bad” is a bit more ragged and has a really cool breakdown in the middle.  Rocker “Take Another Shot” and the slower “Miss You Tonight” are a couple of really solid tracks that both add a little blues to the mix and have a bit of a Stones vibe.  After starting off with a short slide guitar intro “Shake Down”, a definite album highlight, shifts into a rocker that is again very reminiscent of early Aerosmith and includes some great guitar work.  “SeƱorita” is a slower track highlighted with some really nice acoustic guitar, but then halfway through explodes with a Schenker solo before taking it back down a step at the end.  On “Just My Luck” Way revisits his punkier side (a la Amphetamine), but it’s a little more polished and a little less ragged.  Another highlight is “Wild Wild Things” which jumps back and forth between being a punchy rocker and a laid-back acoustic guitar driven tune.  The disc closes out with a couple of high energy tracks with the Bo Diddley beat driven “Ain’t Got You” and the hard driving “Might As Well Go Drinking” which brings to mind Motorhead.

The collaboration between Robin George and Pete Way initially started with them getting together when Robin was recommended to work as a producer for Pete's band Waysted.  That eventually evolved into them playing songs back and forth for each other and then Damage Control.  The band released two albums, a self-titled debut and its follow up Raw, which comprise the other two discs on this box set.  While the majority of the music from Damage Control was more blues based rock, which was largely a bit of a shift for George and Way, they still managed to add a lot of elements that gave it some diversity.  Opening their debut release are a couple of gritty, down and dirty, blues rockers with “Dead Man Walking” and “Savage Songs”, the latter of which opens with some really nice bluesy acoustic guitar.  “Kicked Out” is a reworked version of “Crazy” from Way’s Amphetamine album, which is a little more polished and has more crunch and less grit.  The slow burning “Selfish” has some nice acoustic Spanish guitar from George and is also reminiscent of his early solo work.  “Born Again” and “Take Another Shot” brings to mind Free and Humble Pie, respectably, with the latter also throwing in a touch of glam guitar and a little cowbell.  Way then dips into his past again for “Victim,” a slow bluesy rock ballad that is a remake of Amphetamine’s “Hole”.  Two of the best tracks on the album are up next with “Raw,” a straight-ahead rocker with fuzzed out guitars, and “One Step Closer” with its relaxed, funk tinged blues groove and psychedelic guitars.  The Faces come to mind on the slow burning bluesy rocker “Redundant”, and “Seven Golden Daffodils” is reminiscent of Humble Pie.  Closing out the disc is “Bitching Blues”, a blistering boogie rocker reminiscent of The Faces with some outstanding slide guitar work.  

On Raw, the second Damage Control release, the band is pared down to a trio with George and Way handling all the vocals in place of Spike.  Of the thirteen tracks here, ten of them are re-recorded versions of songs from the debut.  Musically the re-recorded tracks aren’t really that drastically different from the debut, but the vocals this time around are of course much cleaner than Spike’s gruff vocals, giving them a fresh sound that ends up making them quite distinctive.  The three new tunes are all great and make welcome additions.  “Pray For You And Me” is an all-out rocker that would’ve sounded great live, and “Slaughtered” has a nice laid-back bluesy shuffle and a great combination of acoustic and electric guitar.  The final new track is actually a new version of “Spy”, an old-school Robin George tune that originally appeared on his solo debut album Dangerous Music in 1984 and has been a favorite of mine since I heard it back then.  The version here is a little rawer and bluesier but maintains the infectious pop-tinged rock of the original and has a great guitar solo.  While it seems like these three releases fell under the radar of a lot of Pete Way fans, as well as fans of the other contributing musicians, they are all well worth checking out and thanks to this box set are readily available for everyone to enjoy. 

(HNE Recordings)

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Big River - Beautiful Trauma

Following up their 2019 full-length album, Big River are back with a new EP that also features their new vocalist and bassist.  Rooted in bluesy rock, the four cuts here show a lot of diversity that really keeps things fresh.  Since I haven’t heard their previous releases I can’t compare new vocalist Adam Barron to his predecessor, but I can assure you they did a great job choosing him.  The previous contestant on the UK version of The Voice has vocals that are a perfect match for their sound and could be compared at times to Robert Plant or Ray Gillen.  Opener “Don’t Hold Out” starts off unexpectedly with what sounds like a ukulele before rolling into an easygoing, kind of lazy, soulful blues tune with a really nice groove.  “The Long Way” is a foot stomping rocker that in certain spots brings to mind Badlands, while “Slow Burn” moves in a more bluesy rock direction, somewhat reminiscent of the early days of Whitesnake.  The acoustic based title track closes the EP out and is a slower track with a very emotional and soulful vocal performance from Barron that has a bit of a Free or Bad Company vibe.  I’m really looking forward to hearing more from these guys and according to their Facebook they have started working on album number two, so hopefully that will be sooner than later.   

(Big River - Facebook)

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Pete Way - Solo Albums 2000-2004

Although he was a founding member of UFO and had released albums with the bands Waysted and Fastway, as well as a couple with his UFO bandmate Phil Mogg as Mogg/Way, in 2000 bassist Pete Way, alongside guitarist Walt James and drummer Scott Phillips, released his first solo album Amphetamine.  Unlike the music from his other bands, which were primarily on the melodic rock end of things, Amphetamine found him moving in a grittier, dirtier, rawer direction, often with more of a punk/garage rock sound, most notably found on tracks like “Hangin’ Out”, “American Kid (What A Shame)” and most notably “Crazy”, which sounds like a band at the end of the night after a few too many drinks.  While the whole album has that vibe, other songs like opener “That’s Tuff” and the slower “Fooled Again”, mix in a bit more of a bluesy sound (interestingly there are spoken word sections in “That’s Tuff” where his delivery is a little reminiscent of “Fight For Your Right To Party”), while “Hole” is a punked up country song and “Hole 2” is a stripped down, acoustic version of the same track.   The band closes things out quite impressively with “Hand To Hold”, a track that has a lot of dynamics that really aren’t found elsewhere and really showcases James’ guitar work.  Disc one also includes demo versions of three album cuts.

In 2002 Way, James and Phillips took the album out on the road and disc two is his set from the Revolution in Cleveland on October 4th of that year.  Along with playing Amphetamine in its entirety, the set that night also included four cuts from The Plot’s sole album (his collaboration with Michael Schenker and Jeff Martin), UFO’s “Too Hot To Handle” and Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” (after hearing this cover you can definitely hear Cochran’s influence in some of Way’s songwriting).  The sound quality here is surprisingly very good and all the raw, raucous energy from the album is on full display.  The band sounds really tight and James guitar work is especially impressive.  Way sounds relaxed and seems to be enjoying himself, even breaking into a little of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” and The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm” during “You and Me” and “That’s Tuff”.  There is a bonus acoustic guitar and vocal track “Paradise” at the end of disc two.  There is no information on this track, so I don’t know the details, but it is a nice, simple little track with a good vocal from Way.   

For his next album, Acoustic Animal, the last disc in the box, Way shifted directions completely, stripping it down to just his vocals and himself and Michael Christian on acoustic guitars.  In addition to six tracks from Amphetamine, there is a take on his Waysted track “Heaven Tonight”, another version of “Paradise”, which sounds almost exactly the same as the one at the end of disc two, and covers of Fats Domino’s “If You Need Me” and Lennon’s “Working Class Hero”.   While this disc is my least favorite of the three, there are some definite high points here, especially “That’s Tuff” and “American Kid”, both of which maintain the ragged grittiness of the originals, “Fooled Again”, “Hangin’ Out" and the aforementioned “Heaven Tonight”.  Unfortunately the same can't be said for the two covers.  They really don't work, and Way's vocals pretty much make them unlistenable.  Overall this is a very enjoyable box set and an interesting glimpse into this era of Way's career. 

(HNE Recordings)