Sunday, December 17, 2023

Classix Nouveaux - Battle Cry

Classix Nouveaux initially formed in 1979 when two former members of the legendary X-Ray Spex teamed up with two former members of the band The News.  They released three albums (four if you count the alternate US version of their debut) before calling it a day in 1985 (the 2021 release The Liberty Years 1981-1983 is a great four CD box containing these four albums).  A few years ago, they found out that fans were making Facebook pages dedicated to the band, and frontman Sal Soto told the other guys they should do another recording together and surprise the fans, so in 2021, the version of the band who was responsible for their first two albums, released a remake of the track “Inside Outside”, originally on their 1981 debut album.  This caused the fans to start talking about new material and now forty years after their final album was released, Classix Nouveaux is back with Battle Cry, an outstanding new album that in my opinion is even better than their earlier releases.  While it’s a given that the album is going to have a much better sound and production, another big difference is the fact that while the synths that were so prevalent before are still a vital part of their sound, Gary Steadman’s guitars are a much bigger piece of the puzzle this time around. “Prelude/Fix Your Eyes Up” kicks the album off with the relaxing ambient prelude, then as “Fix Your Eyes Up” starts, the drums kick in along with swirling guitar, pulsing synths and a super funky bass, all topped off with Sal Soto’s vocals (just as strong as ever) resulting in an extremely catchy track and a great opener.  The title track is up next and really show the band moving in some new directions.  It starts off with what sounds like a crowd in an ancient coliseum followed by bagpipes, a galloping beat kicks in, and then it largely becomes, for lack of a better term, a battle cry chant with synth blasts and a strong guitar solo.  Harkening back a bit to the New Romantics era, “Wretched" is a dreamy, somewhat laid-back track with an undercurrent of Gregorian chants in the background.  After opening with a short guitar riff and a droning synth that then leads into the sounds of a symphony warming up, “Final Symphony” blasts you with a heavy synth beat before shifting back and forth between that and a softer vocal and synth section and wrapping up with another strong guitar solo.  It’s a really fun tune with an infectious, almost headbanging drive.  Starting off with just an acoustic guitar (something new for the band) and then vocals with a gentle synth undertone, the gorgeous ballad “No Do Overs”, slowly evolves into an orchestral section.  At its quieter moments it has a bit of folk tinged prog and interestingly the lyrics are all taken from hit songs of the eighties.  Bookended with a spoken section and with lyrics inspired by the end of the Book Of Revelations, “Revelation Song” is a midtempo track with heavy synth beats and super funky bass along with some really interesting, kind of mysterious sounding, guitar and some orchestration with horns towards the end.  Next up are the two reimagined tracks, both of which are less cluttered and of course have a more modern sound.  “Never Never Comes”, is a little more laid back and smoother sounding, while “Interlude / Inside Outside” is much more laid-back and while still synth heavy like the original it has more emphasis on the guitar.  Closing things out is the epic six minute plus “Colour Me The Sky”, another track that opens with captivating acoustic guitar followed by the synths creating a moody midtempo track with some hints of prog.  Toward the end of the song the guitars kick in with a great solo and it turns into a rocker before closing out with a symphony and choir.  Unlike so many bands that come back with halfhearted efforts, Classix Nouveaux have returned with what I think is the strongest album of their career.  Hopefully Battle Cry is just the beginning.  

(Cherry Red Records)

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Glenda Collins - Baby It Hurts - The Holloway Road Sessions

Glenda Collins got her start in 1960 when her father arranged for her to record some demos, which resulted in her getting signed to Decca Records at the age of sixteen and releasing three singles.  None of those ended up charting and she ended up being released by the label.  Her father had become impressed with Joe Meek’s recording of the song “Telstar” and in 1962 he got her an audition with him.  Meek didn’t audition many female singers but was taken by her and was determined to make her a star.  Over the next few years, they released eight singles (along with their flip sides) and recorded numerous other songs that remained unreleased.  None of those singles reached the Top 40 but are all collector’s items today.  Baby It Hurts - The Holloway Road Sessions 1963-1966 is one of the latest collections compiled from Joe Meek’s Tea Chest Tapes archive and is a stunning collection containing seventy-four tracks, of which sixty-six were previously unheard.  

Discs one and two both start off with a variety of alternate takes and backing tracks of the sixteen songs that made up those eight singles (when compiling these box sets, they decided to only include recordings found in the Tea Chest Tapes, so the actual singles are not here).  If you listen to the three singles she released before teaming up with Meek, it’s obvious listening to these what a difference he made as a producer.  There are so many great songs here, and Collins' voice is so strong and full of emotion it's hard to believe none of them became hits.  Tracks like the fun, infectious "I Lost My Heart At The Fairground", the bouncing "If You've Got To Pick A Baby" and “Johnny Loves Me”, where her vocals just exude happiness, are perfect examples.  Then there is the soulful “Baby It Hurts”, which has a powerful vocal performance, and the lush nicely arranged “Something I Got To Tell You”.  Shifting away from the poppier side is “Though Shalt Not Steal”, an all-out stomping rocker where Richie Blackmore was allowed to stretch a little, absolutely tearing it up on guitar.  Many of the b-sides are just as strong including “Feel So Good”, “Nice Wasn’t It”, with it’s rockabilly beat and thumping bass, "Everybody's Got To Fall In Love", "Paradise For Two”, which has some nice organ fills and strong vocals, and the laid-back, lilting sound of "Don't Let It Rain On Sunday".  Since Meek had a tendency to speed up singles to make the singer sound younger, many of these are here for the first time in their original speed, and there are many versions that are just backing tracks or vocal takes without the overdubs, that give real insight into Meek's process.  A few other tracks of note are an alternate take of “Been Invited To A Party”, which is a little slower and has a completely different beat, and "Feel So Good" (vocal take 4) featuring a different guitar solo from Ritchie Blackmore.  Two different versions of "Though Shalt Not Steal" are included, one which was before Blackmore's guitar was added, and another that's slower with a different Blackmore solo.  There is also an alternate version of Collins' last single "It's Hard To Believe", which was rejected by the label.  That song was released with explosion effects and very political lyrics, but in its original form (widely bootlegged from an acetate over the years and finally released in a studio version here) the lyrics were about flying saucers and had Meek's well-known space like effects.  Discs one and two each close out with two different versions of five tracks that Meek and Collins recorded that didn’t make it onto singles.  “You’re Gonna Get Your Way” is a punchy pop tune with a really tight performance from the band, and “Run To Me” has hit written all over it and is also included here in an a capella version that really shows how strong her vocals were.  There’s also the folk-tinged pop of “Self Portrait”, her rip roarin’ bluesy take on Ruth Brown’s “This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin’” (written by Bobby Darin and Mann Curtis) and the quirky waltz-like “C’est La Vie”, which to me is actually the worst song here.  

At one point Meek was considering releasing an album from Collins and The Riot Squad, but due to his untimely death it never materialized.  Disc three opens with seven covers recorded during their sessions together with “Mockingbird” (featuring additional vocals from The Riot Squad frontman Keith “Nero” Gladman), “Can I Get A Witness”, “I Who Have Nothing” and “Lover Come Back To Me” among the highlights.  Disc three also contains numerous other previously unheard songs.  Many of them had great potential to be hits including her take on The Beatles "This Girl" and the Meek track "Love Story", both of which allowed her to show the higher range of her voice.  Mel Tillis' "Walk On Boy" is an extremely catchy, honky-tonk tinged track and "Hear That Train A'Coming" is more soulful with a great galloping beat.  There are also a couple of Meek tracks in "Put A Ring On It", a super bouncy and fun song that had been a hit for Les Paul and Mary Ford, and "In The Garden", which eventually evolved into the song "Paradise For Two".  More for Meek fans that like to dive deep, there are seven demos of him singing future Glenda Collins songs completely off key, but usually giving it his all.  Included in these is his duet with her on "My Heart Don't Lie".  The box set it completed with a fantastic booklet with very comprehensive sleevenotes from Joe Meek Society's Craig Newton, along with new previously unseen pictures.  This is once again another highly recommended Tea Chest Tapes release.  

(Cherry Red Records)

Sunday, December 03, 2023

The Haptics - Zero Gravity

The Canadian four-piece The Haptics are back with their new three song EP Zero Gravity, the follow-up to last year’s full-length debut second-bestSelf-described as post-punk, their music is driven by guitars that walk the line between grunge and shoegaze, along with frontwoman Jin’s goth-like vocals, and prominent bass and drums that provide an always infectious groove.  While the songs are well-produced and polished, and aren’t lacking in hooks, there is also a darkness that runs throughout the EP and in the case of “Mouse” they also show their punkier side.  A worthy follow-up that's well worth discovering if you haven't already.  

(SODEH Records)


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Ancient Grease - Women and Children First

In the mid sixties there were numerous bands making their name in the South Wales music scene, although most were largely unknown outside the area.  By the late sixties, bands from the area were making themselves knows across the UK.  These bands included Amen Corner with Andy Fairweather-Low as a member, Love Sculpture (lead by Dave Edmunds) and The Bystanders who evolved Man.  Another band coming out of the area was Eyes Of Blue, who originally were a covers band called The Mustangs, before changing their name and then releasing several singles and three albums (for some reason the third was released under the name Big Sleep).  Sometime in 1968 or 1969 their drummer John Weathers came across Strawberry Dust, a covers band from South Wales, consisting of Graham “Morty” Mortimer on lead vocals, Graham Hedley Williams on lead guitar, Jack Bass on bass guitar and Dick Ferndale on drums.  He felt there was something to the band and helped them record a demo, which he then took to Mercury Records, resulting in a licensing deal and then an album that he produced.  Women And Children First ended up being released under the band name Ancient Grease, a decision made by the head of Mercury Records, Lou Reizner, who didn’t like the name Strawberry Dust. This newly released version from Esoteric Records marks the first time it has been remastered using the original master tapes instead of being taken from vinyl.  Interestingly, since the band were primarily a covers band and hadn’t written much of their own stuff, Weathers ended up contributing four songs he had written that were more straight-ahead rock and didn’t really fit Eyes Of Blue (he also co-wrote two with Ancient Grease guitarist Williams and another with his bandmate Gary Pickford-Hopkins).  As for the music, the songs often tend to have a wandering feel to them, sounding like the band just got into the studio and let loose as opposed to following a strict song structure.  They also quite often shift from genre to genre within the context of a song.  The album blasts out the gate with “Freedom Train”, a stomping, bluesy hard rocker full of dirty, fuzzed out wah wah guitars that’s raw and gritty.  Next up is “Don’t Want” a loose, kind of rambling bluesy rocker.  “Odd Song” starts off with some gentle piano and acoustic guitar followed by Mortimer’s vocals, then about halfway in it picks up with some electric guitar and drums and turns into a laid back and easygoing funky rocker with a hint of psychedelia.  One of the album standouts is “Eagle Song”, a twisting turning track that has a definite bluesy Zeppelin vibe, but is much rawer and dirtier.  Written by Eyes Of Blue keyboard player Phil Ryan, who also contributes outstanding organ and keys to the cut, “Where The Snow Lies Forever” is a powerful track with vocals that are somewhat reminiscent of early Rod Stewart.  With a bit of a Hendrix vibe in the guitar work, “Mother Grease The Cat” is an expansive track that has some prog elements.  The largely acoustic “Time To Die” is a beautiful, yet sad and dreamy psychedelic track with some really nice, soulful electric guitar in the middle.  There’s a bit of a bluesier pub rock sound to “Prelude To A Blind Man” which has a lot of tempo shifts throughout and a loose vibe that almost sounds like they are just jamming.  “Mystic Mountain” has a really lazy groove and shows their rootsier side.  The album closes like it starts with the title track, another hard-driving bluesy rocker driven by outstanding organ and more fuzzy wah wah guitar.  Also included is an alternate version of “Freedom Train” that is similar to the album version but sounds like it may have been a demo.  Unfortunately, the album didn't sell much, which has been partially blamed by the lack of promotion (word is the label had put all their money into promoting Rod Stewart, who had been recently signed by the label, and had released his latest album).  With the lack of support and sales the band went back to South Wales, once again playing live under their original name, and eventually went their separate ways.  In 1971 Weathers, Pickford-Hopkins and Williams joined Wild Turkey, a band that had been formed by former Jethro Tull bassist Glenn Cornick.  Shortly after, Weathers and Graham left to join Graham Bond in his band Magick and then went on to join Gentle Giant and then Man.  In 1973 Williams and Mortimer formed the band Racing Cars who released five albums and had a hit in the UK with the song "They Shoot Horses Don't They?".    As usual with Esoteric, this outstanding reissue is rounded out with CD booklet containing a handful of pictures and a very informative essay on the band.  

(Esoteric Recordings)

Monday, November 20, 2023

Glenn Hughes and Robin George - Overcome

Robin George initially met Glenn Hughes after a gig he was playing with his band Dangerous Music at Dingwalls Rock Club in London.  He invited him to sing background vocals on the Notorious album Radio Silence and after the recording sessions Glenn asked Robin if he had any more songs he could hear.  Robin was in the process of recording a new solo album and invited him to the studio to give it a listen.  After Glenn listened to the songs, he asked Robin if he could sing on the whole album, and in late 1989 they started recording.  Throughout the course of recording Robin’s songs, anytime they would finish early they would write together, which resulted in four co-written tracks on the album.  Once recording was finished they had an album they were calling Sweet Revenge.  Their respective managers got them a deal with a major label, who then booked them time for further recording at a studio near Horsham called Ridge Farm, followed by time at Nomis Studio in London where they completed the final overdubs and also recorded the song “Loving You”.  Unfortunately, not long after the album was finished, the UK/US deal fell apart, the deal was pulled and so was the album.  In 2008 a CD containing ten of the tracks was released, but the songs had been bootlegged from low-quality mp3’s that George had sent to some people he thought were friends that were supposed to be for “their ears only”.  Now, thirty-four years after it was originally recorded, the album, renamed Overcome and using the original recordings from Robin’s studio with him playing all the instruments, has finally been properly released.  Interestingly, over the years, Robin has released different versions of at least eight of these songs with him on vocals with the exception of one featuring Fuzzbox vocalist Vix.  It should also be noted that even though it’s the first time these have been properly released, they were recorded in 1989 and quite often have a 1989 sound.  The album opens strongly with “Flying”, a great melodic rocker with a definite Robin George Dangerous Music vibe featuring his distinctive power chords, keys and Hughes awesome vocals in full force.  The title track is up next and is a complete shift in direction.  It’s a funky track with a bit of a Philly soul vibe and a definitely sounds like the late eighties / early nineties (even though it doesn’t exist, you can almost see the MTV video in your head as you listen).  While it’s not quite as funky, “I Want” is another catchy, MTV era sounding rocker that has some strong guitar work and backing vocals from George but is overall a bit generic.  “Haunted” is a beautiful power ballad, elevated above your normal power ballad by Hughes vocals and George’s guitar work, and is the only track with other musicians, featuring Dave Holland, Mel Galley and Terry Rowley, virtually making it a Trapeze reunion.  The straight-ahead rocker “Number One” with its crunching power chords, stabbing synths and one of the album’s best vocal performances (and that’s saying a lot) is a definite album highlight.  It has a very modern sound to it and can stand side by side with today's music.  With a bit of a Stevie Wonder “Superstition” feel, “Sweet Revenge” is a strong rocker with a funk beat that really works well, while “The American Way” is a midtempo track with a slow, slinky groove and a touch of the blues.  “Machine” is another cut that stands out from the rest of album as they delve a little more into the electronic and synth side of things, while still maintaining a rock edge resulting in an extremely infectious track.  Hughes vocals add a really soulful side to the “Steal My Heart” and “Things Have Gotta Change” is pretty, midtempo, semi-power ballad with plenty of Robin George flourishes.  The powerful “Don’t Come Crying” is another standout.  It’s a big sounding rocker with great dynamics that at times sounds a lot like King’s X.  As mentioned before, “Loving You” was recorded during the sessions for the final overdubs and is a stunning tune stripped down to nothing but Hughes’ vocals accompanied by George on acoustic guitar.  Rocker “War Dance” closes the album perfectly putting all the pieces together with impressive soloing from George, a passionate vocal from Hughes, synths and a great groove.  It's a shame these songs weren't released back when they were recorded and there is no telling what impact it would have had on their careers, but thankfully they are finally out there for the world to hear and sounding the way they should.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

David McWilliams - Reaching For The Sun - The Major Minor Anthology 1967-1969

David McWilliams was born in Belfast and then at the age of three moved to Ballymena with his family.  He started playing guitar and writing songs in his early teens and then after leaving school in 1963 he started playing in his own group called The Coral Showband.  He recorded a demo that got the attention of Phil Solomon, who was managing other Irish acts like The Bachelors, That Dubliners and Van Morrison’s band Them.  He was impressed enough with the demo that he got his friend, well-known Irish songwriter Dominic Behan, to help him out.  McWilliams moved in with the Behan family in West London and signed a deal with CBS, who in September 1966 released his debut single “God And My Country” backed with “Blue Eyes”.  Around the same time the single was released, Solomon started his own label Major Minor Records.  McWilliams signed with the label and in an incredibly short eight month time period released three albums.  Now with the recently released two CD collection Reaching For The Sun - The Major Minor Anthology 1967-1969, all three albums have been compiled together along with twelve bonus tracks appearing on CD for the first time.   

Singing Songs By David McWilliams, his debut album, was released in June 1967, and was produced and arranged by Mike Leander, who had just finished arranging "She's Leaving Home" for Sgt Pepper.  The music has a lot of similarities to what other musicians like Donovan and Dylan were doing at that time often rooted in folk, sometimes a little more on the rock and pop side, with the Baroque arrangements from Leander.  The album opens with a couple of really powerful tracks, a rerecorded version of the previously released single track “God And Country”, a strong protest song with a simple arrangement in the background, and “Redundancy Blues”, dealing with job loss and poverty.  Next up is “The Silence Is Shattered”, which is somewhat reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel, followed by the dark and haunting, self-explanatory “Hiroshima”.  While the next couple of tracks “Question of Identity” and “Time Of Trouble” are more upbeat and bouncy, the arrangements border on being a little too gimmicky and feel out of place, whereas “Echo Of My Heart” and the love song “In The Early Hours of The Morning”, a track that sounds like it would have been a perfect fit for Glen Campbell,  are more upbeat as well, but the arrangements work perfectly.  Two of my favorite tracks on the album, both beautifully arranged, are up next with “I’ll Be Home”, a gorgeous song with a bit of a country feel, and “Leaves That Fall”, which opens with a nice acoustic guitar and then evolves into a stunning folk tune.   Following the hypnotic, easygoing groove of “Twilight” is “Hey Sally Sally”, a super infectious upbeat track.  “Reaching For The Sun” is a quirky, horn heavy track that again has a hint of Simon and Garfunkel, especially in the vocal delivery, while “Sheelo Gone So Long” is a bigger sounding tune, again with lots of horns, and a bit of a rock edge.  The album closes strongly with a couple of really beautiful tracks, “Midnight Sun”, which interestingly sounds like a folkier version of something John Denver might have done, and “Pretty Bird”, a laid-back track accompanied by a delicate string arrangement and subdued horns.  

Not long after the release of his debut, McWilliams went back into the studio with Leander and in October, just four months later, he released his sophomore album, Vol. 2 (also found here on disc one).  Not only would it become his most successful release, but it also opened with the biggest hit of his career in “Days Of Pearly Spencer”, an incredible earworm that has a bit of a Scott Walker feel in both his delivery and the lyrics.  It is also notable for its chorus that was recorded over a phone line from a phone box near the studio giving it what has been referred to as a “megaphone effect” (the song has been covered many times over the years, most successfully by Marc Almond).  While that song supposedly talks about a down on his luck homeless person, the overall lyrical tone of this album was less about issues and more about relationships.  The perfect example is the gorgeous, laid-back “Can I Get There By Candlelight”, which to me is the album high point with beautiful lyrics and a stunning arrangement that is absolutely perfect.  Following the laid-back love song “For Josephine” the pace of the album picks up a bit.  The upbeat “How Can I Be Free” has an infectious beat and is punctuated by some great R&B styled horns.  Simon and Garfunkel comes to mind again with “Brown Eyed Gal”, which has an interesting arrangement sounding almost like a movie soundtrack, while “Marlena” feels like an upbeat folk-tinged waltz.  Following “For A Little Girl” and “Lady Helen Of The Laughing Eyes”, a couple of standout midtempo tracks with great arrangements, is the somewhat melancholy “Time Will Not Wait” and “What’s The Matter With Me”, another slightly Dylan-esque track.  Unfortunately, the album wraps a little weak.  “There’s No Lock Upon My Door” does change things up a little with a thumping bass and a slight funk groove but treads a little too close to the Four Tops, and Leander’s arrangement on album closer “Tomorrow’s Like Today” sounds like an excerpt from a Disney cartoon.  Having said that, overall Vol. 2 is just as strong if not stronger than his debut.  

In February 1968, just four more months after Vol. 2, McWilliams and Leander recorded and released album number three.  Having found a formula that seemed to work, Vol. 3 wasn’t too far removed from its predecessors, although there does seem to be an increased use of keys and organ.  The album opens with two of its strongest cuts in “Three O’Clock Flamingo Street”, which has a similar feel to “Days Of Pearly Spencer” with a very big arrangement (interestingly it had just been released as a single by The Bachelors in October 1967) and “Harlem Lady”, an extremely strong cut that at times musically is a bit reminiscent of Jim Croce’s “Operator” that would be released a few years later.  Following the slower, laid-back “Four Seasons” are a string of upbeat tracks including “Turn Homeward Stranger”, with a definite Dylan influence, “Letter To My Love” and “City Blues”, which has an infectious ragged, bluesy groove.  After the melancholy, laid-back “Reflections” is the powerful “Poverty Street”, which musically has a darker edge thanks largely to the accompanying strings and organ.  In contrast to its predecessor, “And I’m Free” is almost pop-tinged with upbeat keys and very positive lyrics, and “September Winds” has a nice baroque sound to it.  Closing the album out is “Young Man’s Dream”, another midtempo track that has a nice easygoing sound and the super catchy “Born To Ramble”.  As mentioned before, the anthology also includes thirteen bonus tracks, most of which are making their first appearance on CD. First up are six songs that were also released on three singles on Major Minor.  Released in May 1968, “This Side Of Heaven” and “Mr Satisfied” are a couple of upbeat tunes that follow in the tradition of his previous work with great hooks and solid arrangements.  In January 1969 came “The Stranger”, a very dark tune both musically and lyrically, that’s much more rock oriented than anything else he had released, thanks largely to the use of electric guitar.  “Follow Me” was on the flipside and is a strong upbeat love song.  His final single for the label came out in June 1969 and contained the bouncy, country tinged “Oh Mama Are You My Friend” and “I Love Susie In The Summer” with it’s gorgeous, almost orchestral arrangement.  “Who Killed Ezra Brymay”, interestingly the most country tune he released during this time, is also among the bonus tracks and was actually released in July 1968 as a US only single on Kapp Records.  The final six bonus tracks include mono versions of “Harlem Lady” and “Days Of Pearly Spencer” that were also released as a single, and Italian language versions of album tracks “Poverty Street”, “Mr. Satisfied” and “The Stranger” along with new song “Intangible”.  Following this whirlwind couple of years, McWilliams decided to take a lengthy break from music and went back to Ireland and bought a farm.  He did start his musical career back in 1971 and released numerous albums and singles over the years before passing away from a heart attack in January 2002.  In addition to two discs absolutely crammed with outstanding music from McWilliams, there is an outstanding booklet full of pics as well as an extremely informative essay about him.  Whether you are a longtime fan, someone who mainly knows him for his hit or someone like me who somehow knew nothing about him, but is now seeking out even more of his releases, I highly recommend this collection.  


Monday, November 06, 2023

Interview with 2/14

The New York city based 3-piece 2/14 recently released an outstanding new release titled Juliette's Garden.  Their sound has elements of pop punk, alt rock, emo, metalcore and more, but is refreshingly their own.  I recently talked to band founder Sky Carlson about the roots of the band, the new release, future plans and more.  

First off, I want to congratulate you on an outstanding debut.  It really sounds like the work of a veteran band and the recording is great.


Can you give me a little bit of history on the band?


I started writing music not too long before graduating high school. I had some friends I’d jam with, but they weren’t ready to take it seriously and I eventually decided it was time to move on. I had a demo of a few of our songs, and after a little while I found Ben through his YouTube channel - he had drum covers of bands like Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine.  He learned the songs super quick, and we ended up recording the album after five practices spread out over 2 months before and after the holidays. Since then, we’ve been playing a lot of shows and getting our name out there.


Your bio says that your bassist Dylan joined the band after the album was recorded.  Are there other musicians on there or is it just you and your drummer Ben?


It’s just me and Ben on the record - I laid down the bass tracks in one session after the guitars were done.


Tom Lord-Alge mixed the album.  How did you get him involved?


Our manager reached out to his, and after he heard the recordings, he was down to mix it. It was a dream come true to work with him.


You produced the album yourself and I have to say it sounds great.  How was that experience?


It was really stressful but a lot of fun. It was a big exercise in punctuality, efficiency, and quick decision-making.  I could’ve handled it better at times, but I learned a lot from the whole process, and I’ll absolutely do it again.


You open the album with the one two punch of the instrumental “Intro”, which is an absolutely pummeling track and then “Crystal Ball”, which Is one of the faster tracks, kinda taking me back to the earlier days of the second wave of punk.  Can you tell me a little about those two and the decision to open the album with them?


The intro was inspired by the 2000’s metalcore scene, when those bands started playing melodic death metal riffs with all the chugging and breakdowns. It kinda started as a joke, like “what if we had an intro track that tricked people into thinking we were a metal band?” But when I started putting some riffs together it sounded awesome and the energy fit in really well with the album. “Crystal Ball” is one of my favorite songs, it perfectly represents the time of my life I was looking back on and incorporates everything I love about classic pop punk. There’s no downtime at all on those two - I wanted to kick off our debut with songs that made a statement about who we are as a band and what we’re bringing to the modern rock landscape.


To me “Escalator” has a little bit of a Nirvana vibe to it.  It’s a more midtempo track, but still has those faster blasts and there is a real sense of tension running through it.  Is that what you were shooting for with that song?


I’ve never tried to sound like Nirvana at all, it’s pretty much impossible to replicate uniquely amazing songwriting like Kurt’s. That song draws the comparison pretty often, maybe because of how I sing it. I never really thought about it like that, but the first draft was written during the height of the pandemic so there was probably a lot of underlying angst and tension at that time. I was definitely going for something simple but dynamic and emotionally raw, like the whole thing could fall apart at any moment.


Since I live in PA I have to ask if there's a story you care to tell me about the song “Allergic To Pennsylvania”?


My first semester after high school was at Penn State, and this girl and I were trying to keep our relationship going long-distance.  We’d be talking on the phone every night for hours, it was really unhealthy for both of us.  She ended up meeting another guy at her school; I was staying friends with her and playing it cool to save face, but on the inside I was totally crushed.  I stopped going to class and just stayed in my dorm all day wishing I were someone else. But in the end I realized I would never change myself for anyone, and that’s kind of become a common lyrical theme in our music.


I love the twisting and turning tempo shifts of “Can I Be Your Oli Sykes”.  Can you tell me a little about putting that song together?


It was purely coincidental. I liked the idea of the riffs and vocals alternating in the verses, but the vocal melodies I wrote were somehow at different paces for every section. We don’t even really think about the tempo changes when we play it live - oddly enough it just feels really natural.


“Dust Bunny” starts out with just acoustic guitar and sounds kind of introspective.  It’s definitely the most subdued track on the album until you let loose at the end.  Can you tell me about changing things up on that song?


I wrote it backstage before one of my first shows. I was just messing around a bit on my friend’s acoustic guitar to calm my nerves, and I ended up playing that opening riff. I instantly knew I had something with serious potential, I wrote all the lyrics as soon as I got home and I’m really happy with how it turned out.


I really like “Souvenir From A Power Trip”, which is kind of different from the rest of the album.  It has a really cool groove to it and some interesting sounding guitar.  What can you tell me about that track?


It was a brief collection of riffs that I structured at one of our rehearsals. Ben and I recorded it in the room with each other without a click track, so layering the guitars in post was a lot more difficult than the other songs. We kept it because I wanted a quick blast of energy, but I also wanted something that stood out from the rest of the songs and did something a little different.  I can tell I was listening to a lot of Rage Against the Machine at the time, but the drumming borders on hardcore punk and makes it pretty unique.


The title track closes the album out perfectly.  It’s another track that is really different from the rest - the dynamics are incredible and it’s so atmospheric and powerful.  Is that a sign of something we might possibly hear more of on future releases?


Thank you - I’m not sure. When I wrote it I was really lost in my life.  I was struggling so much with growing up.  I’d just come back home feeling like a total failure and a disappointment to everyone - it’s a lot of stuff I’m still dealing with but I’ve been able to grow from.  The song is so emotionally overwhelming for me, I have a hard time listening to it and being reminded of where I was back then.  It’s hard to imagine ever recreating something like that, but songs like those are never really planned to begin with.


I read somewhere that you are already working on songs for another album.  How has that been going and what’s on the agenda for the band now that Adrienne’s Garden has been released?


It’s been going well. We’ve been performing at least 2 of the new songs in our sets. I think the songs I’m writing are progressing the sounds we established with this album. More energy in the fast songs and more emotion and vulnerability in the sad songs. 


All the songs were written by you before the other members were in the band.  Is that something you think will continue or do you think the songwriting will become more of a group effort?


It’ll likely continue that way; lyrics and melodies are all really personal to me and I can’t imagine utilizing anyone else’s contributions in that regard. I’m also super picky about the flow of our songs and how they’re structured.


You’ve got videos out there for four of the songs and they look great.  Did you collaborate with someone to make those?


I edited the music video for “Crystal Ball,” it was largely a collaboration with a Pratt filmmaker named Mrugesh Thakor.  He was moving out of his apartment and told us we could play there for a music video, so I took his cuts of that footage and spliced them with clips of us hanging out in Brooklyn and a video of one of our shows in New Jersey.  There’s a lot that I would do differently now, but I love the rawness of it and it matches the spirit of the song really well.


The music videos for “Escalator” and “Dust Bunny” were done with a local cinematographer named Fengze Liang. For the first song, he just filmed us playing and hanging out in a furniture wood shop that we rented for the day. But the second one was a lot more planned out and there was a real vision going into it - we’re really happy with both of them.


The visualizers for “Graduation” and “Escalator” were done really quickly on the city streets with a friend and a camera just to have something cool to promote when those singles came out.


Is there any significance to the band name?


It’s Valentine’s Day, and the day I was supposed to perform for the first time in high school.  There was a lunchtime karaoke event that they were going to let my first band play three songs at, but it didn’t end up happening because the school didn’t let us use their drums.


Do you have any plans for a physical release?


CD’s will be coming soon! I’ve always loved them and their jewel cases.


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


Thank you for reading about us! I hope you love our debut album and I’m so excited for what the future holds.

(2/14  -  2/14 Facebook)


Sunday, November 05, 2023

Night Ranger - 40 Years And A Night With The Contemporary Youth Orchestra

Recorded in Cleveland at the Key Bank State Theatre on November 9, 2020, just eight days after the fortieth anniversary of the release of their debut album Dawn Patrol, 40 Years And A Night With The Contemporary Youth Orchestra is the outstanding new live release from Night Ranger.  The concert was for the Second Annual Danny Ripepi Memorial Concert, honoring the brother of the band’s tour manager Ed Ripepi, who was killed in an automobile accident in 2020.  Accompanying them for this performance was the insanely talented Contemporary Youth Orchestra (CYO) comprised of over eighty musicians from twelve to eighteen who study and perform orchestral music that is exclusively contemporary and new.  Instead of completely recreating their songs as so many bands tend to do when playing with an orchestra, the arrangements are largely unchanged here and the orchestra, for the most part, does a great job of enhancing the songs.  Tracks like “Four In The Morning”, “Sing Me Away”, “Call My Name” and “Goodbye” are perfect examples of the orchestra fleshing them out to full effect.  While the orchestra is a little more subdued on rockers like “(You Can Still) Rock In America”, “High Road” (taken from their 2014 album of the same name, and the only song here not from one of their first three albums) and “Night Ranger”, they still add a nice texture (unfortunately, “Night Ranger”, always one of my favorites of their songs, is drug down a bit with a bass and drum solo section in the middle).  Another notable track is ”Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”, which is almost nine minutes long and has some great sections where the orchestra really gets to stretch out.  As for the band, now consisting of original members Jack Blades (bass and vocals), Brad Gillis (lead and rhythm guitars) and Kelly Keagy (drums and vocals), along with Keri Kelli (lead and rhythm guitars) and Eric Levy (keyboards), who have been permanent members of the band since 2014 and 2011 respectively, their performance hasn’t lost anything over the years and they just sound like they are having a good time.  Blades vocals sound a little different than in the earlier days, but he and Keagy can still deliver the goods, the harmonies are still top-notch and Gillis nails those classic guitar solos.  My only complaint with the release is the fact that there are four tracks they played that night that aren’t included here (their cover of Damn Yankees’ “High Enough” is included as a bonus track in Japan).  Whether you are a longtime fan or just know them from their hits, 40 Years… is a refreshing listen that shouldn’t be missed.  


Saturday, October 28, 2023

Fish On Friday - 8MM

Three years after their last release, the international group, Fish For Friday is back with their sixth album, 8MM.  The album was largely written and recorded in the midst of lockdown and is a stellar addition to their discography.  The band consists of founding member and producer Frank Van Bogaert (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick, backing vocals, production), Marty Townsend (guitars) and Marcus Weymaere (drums, percussion) and has been in this incarnation since Beggs joined for album three in 2014.  Musically, they do a fantastic job of straddling the line between prog rock and art pop with other elements like folk rock and jazz popping through, while the lyrics this time around often deal a lot with nostalgia.  The perfect example of that is the title track, which opens the album.  It’s a powerful, yet beautiful and melancholy track with outstanding vocal harmonies and hints of Pink Floyd with lyrics about pulling out old home movies and thinking back on life and past relationships (make sure to check out the video for the perfect visual accompaniment).  “Collateral Damage” is a solid art pop tune with lyrics that are unfortunately very pertinent today.  Next up is “Overture To Flame” / “Flame”, a cover from Metro’s self-titled 1977 album, and the only cover Fish On Friday has ever recorded.  It sticks close to the original but gives it a modern edge.  It’s a gorgeous, very dynamic, track with an instrumental opening that leads into a funky section with some great bass work from Beggs and then shifts into sweeping, prog tinged pop where Townsend really shines on the acoustic guitar, before picking up with a climactic finish.  Traces of Pink Floyd show up again with the guitar and keys at the beginning of “Jump This Wall”, an upbeat pop-tinged tune enhanced with flute and sax that has a bit of an Alan Parsons feel and strangely a chorus that's reminiscent of Prefab Sprout.  “Don’t Lose Your Spirit” opens with a two-and-a-half-minute prog instrumental before the vocals come in and kick it up a notch with a very art pop sound before slowing down for a captivating ending.  Clocking in at almost eight minutes, “Funerals” shifts around in tempo, starting and ending slow and introspective, but picking up in the middle with an upbeat section highlighted by organ and some great acoustic guitar.  Featuring outstanding lead vocals from bassist Nick Beggs’ daughter Lulu, “Silently Raging” is a dreamy, extremely infectious track with a nice, very easygoing groove.  Beggs' bass work really stands out on “Instillers” a really strong catchy, midtempo rocker.  Following the laid-back “A New Home” they close the disc with the gorgeous “Life Is Like The Weather”, a light, hypnotic acoustic folk tune that takes a reflective, sometimes somber, look back at childhood love.  While the band name is one was familiar with, for some reason Fish On Friday has never been on my radar, but after listening to 8MM I can assure you that is something that is about the change.    

(Esoteric- Antenna)


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

High Tide - The Complete Liberty Recordings 

After forming in California in 1965, The Misunderstood moved to England on the advice of legendary DJ John Peel, who had seen them on a trip to the States and suggested they come back with him.  Once in England they recruited guitarist Tony Hill, signed with Fontana Records and recorded a handful of heavy psychedelic rockers, but just as they were getting some success and influencing the likes of Pink Floyd and The Move, the American members of the band were deported.  Remaining in England, Hill moved on to doing some session work, spent six months as part of Turquoise, a trio with David Bowie and Hermione Farthingdale, and then formed High Tide in 1969.  Along with Hill on guitar, vocals and keys, the rest of High Tide consisted of Simon House on violin, viola and keyboards, Peter Pavli on bass and Roger Hadden on drums and organ.  Even though their career was extremely short-lived, the band released two incredible, very unique sounding, albums on Liberty Records before calling it a day in late 1970.  This new three CD box set, The Complete Liberty Recordings, contains newly remastered versions of both releases along with a third disc containing demos and studio out-takes.   

Sea Shanties, their debut album, kicks off disc one with the down-tuned, distortion drenched guitars of “Futilist’s Lament”.  It’s a super heavy, bluesy, proto-rocker with some absolutely incredible guitar work, a pummeling rhythm section and vocals that are reminiscent of Jim Morrison.  From the moment it hits your speakers it’s obvious this isn’t your everyday run of the mill release.  At over nine minutes long, “Death Warmed Up” is a powerhouse instrumental full of heavy guitar solos going toe to toe with House’s violin.  “Pushed, But Not Forgotten” starts off slow and hypnotic and it appears like we may be in for a change of pace, but about a minute in it explodes into a heavy psychedelic tune, shifting tempos back and forth throughout the rest of the song.  "Walking Down Their Outlook" is an incredible track that melds The Doors at their most psychedelic with the prog of King Crimson and fuzzed out heavy guitars.  The epic, almost ten minute, “Missing Out” is a very expansive psychedelic tune that’s heavy, but not as aggressive with strong dynamics that give it a hint of prog with outstanding interplay between the guitar and violin.  “Nowhere” closes the album and while again not quite as aggressive, it is a bit of a noisy chaotic track that even throws in some elements of jazz.  It's a mystery why this album isn't mentioned alongside the likes of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind.  

For their self-titled sophomore release, Hill’s heavy guitar work was largely gone, and they moved in a more expansive direction.  “Blankman Cries Again” opens the album and is eight and a half minutes of hypnotic psychedelia and folk with the shifting tempos of prog and long jam-like instrumental passages.  “The Joke” finds them moving further in a prog direction with great guitar work that is often a bit more noodly.  The tempos shift a lot throughout the song and the keys are more present than on any other track. The third and final song is the four-part, fifteen minute “Saneonymous”, which starts with a long instrumental jam with guitar and violin going side by side and the steady, driving percussion section and then shifts back and forth between that and more folk-rock passages with Hill’s vocals and perfectly placed piano.  Definitely a bit of a shift from the debut, but arguably almost as good. 

Rounding out the box set are nine bonus tracks consisting of songs that were left of the two albums, and demos of album cuts.  When the band signed a publishing deal with Apple in early 1969 they went into the studio in March of that year and recorded their first three demos.  Included here, these consisted of “Pushed, But Not Forgotten”, a faster version of “Death Warmed Up” that’s still heavy, but a little less dirgy and “Dilemma”, a really strong cut that shifts between heavier prog passages with fuzzed out guitar and violin, and folkier sections (it’s a real shame this one never made it to an album).  “The Great Universal Protection Racket” and “Time Gauges” were also recorded for the debut but were both left off due to time constraints.  The former of these, a live favorite, is an epic instrumental that is very heavy and psychedelic, full of complex tempo shifts and clocking in at over eleven minutes (a much longer version was also recorded for the second album, but again didn’t make the cut), while the latter was an instrumental that mixed their heavier side with elements of jazz and even some classical touches.  A couple of demos for the second album are up next with “Blankman Cries Again” and a shortened version of “The Joke”, followed by a demo of “Ice Age”, which was recorded after the album’s release and is a mellower track with a strong Middle Eastern vibe.  

It should be noted that later in 1970 the band was recording a third album when Hadden had a mental breakdown and was hospitalized. The band decided not to continue without him and split up.  Hill and House did record another release as High Tide in the late seventies that wasn't released until 1986 and Hill had several more releases with a completely different band in the eighties and nineties under that name, but these are really the definitive High Tide releases, and this great box set shows just how vital a band they were.   

(Esoteric Recordings) 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Interview with Maya Blue

The Burlington, Ontario three-piece Maya Blue recently released an outstanding debut full-length release (following an earlier EP) entitled Trouble In Mind.  I recently talked to the band about the album and it's more rock sound, recording at the legendary Catherine North Studios and more.  

Can you give me a little bit of history on the band? 

The three of us decided to start playing together in late 2019. We immediately gelled, wanting to find a more indie take on all of the classic rock records that we love. From there we got to work on our first EP which we released in 2021. From there we began playing shows throughout the Toronto Area, continuing to write, looking to refine our sound. We landed on creating a more rock-oriented album, which has brought us to our new record Trouble in Mind. We are continuing to play shows in the Toronto area and are now trying to branch out to different areas of Ontario to further promote our music and grow as a band.

You recorded the album at Catherine North Studios, which has seen a pretty impressive list of artists record there.  How was that?

Recording at Catherine North was a dream come true. It is an honour to be able to record in a space that has housed many artists we look up to. The space itself is magical. Being an old church, it has an amazing live room that delivers a tremendous sound. Above all, we also got to work with our childhood friend Aidan Robson, who produced, mixed and engineered the record. Having such a great history and comradery with staff translated into a genuine feeling of home for us during our recording experience.

How does your songwriting process tend to work?

Like many artists our process varies. That being said, I think the most frequent process is that one of us will come with a simple idea for either a chorus or verse. If the gang is on board, we take that and work it until we have something we are content with. Very seldom does one band member come with a song that is complete. This allows us to each have our own personal stamp on each song we put create, which makes it versatile and engaging as a collective.

I’ve read that your goal in making this album was to make a “rock record” and I would have to say that you have really succeeded, but I also hear a rootsy side to a lot of the songs.  Would you agree with that?

Being a three-piece band, there is a lot of room for various elements to come through. Not only as musicians but genuine lovers of music.  We each have our own influences. Nick, our guitar player has more influence stemming from blues, folk and country- tones that come through in songs like "Tokyo". Additionally, it was important for us to create an album that flowed as a story, carefully curating our tracklist to translate seamlessly to vinyl (Side A and Side B).

The album opens with “Hey”, which is bluesy, but still has a heavy rock edge.  I also love how it has a crisp sound, but at the same time sounds kind of dirty. Was that something you were looking for with that song?

Absolutely. I think the attitude for the entire record was to have an older sound put through a modern lens. We recorded the tracks live off the floor so we could maintain a classic feel. Thanks to Aidan, we were able to have the crispness that we feel is on par to a lot of modern records.

“Juliet and the Lonely Boy” is a great rocker, but to me it stands apart a little from the rest with the keys and then the almost pop “ooh ooh oohs”.  What can you tell me about that song? 

Giving a nod to one of our favourite bands, Thin Lizzy, we could tell it had the potential to be a single from the get-go. As a result, we decided to take a poppier approach throughout the writing process.

I love the song “Rain”.  It shifts back and forth between being laid-back and atmospheric to sounding like an arena rocker.  There is also a bit of a jazz element at times too.  Can you tell me a little about that one?

We feel that "Rain" is a song that carries a lot of our indie influence. The unique transitions and element changes are no exception in our attempt at keeping with the theme of a traditional rock record. These musical changes allowed us to create two different lyrical themes. An introspective look on yourself wanting to make changes in your life through the verses, while the chorus explores how old habits can affect loved ones in your life.

If you had to pick one, which track would each of you say is your favorite to play live and why?

Nick’s favourite song is "Rain" - there’s a lot of sentimental value for him behind the writing of the song. It took him about a year to complete the lyrics, so it’s incredibly rewarding to see it turn into a tangibly completed song after all this time.

Ty and Derek both love to play "Juliet and the Lonely Boy" live because of the high energy that we maintain throughout the song. Crowds are also more engaged throughout the song, so we get to see people singing along to it while we play, which is a very cool feeling.

I listened to your earlier EP, and the new album definitely has a better production, but you also sound like you have really matured as a band since then.  The album is also overall a lot heavier with much more of a rock edge. Was that a conscious decision or just a natural evolution?

A healthy combination of both. I think there’s a natural evolution in terms of the quality of our song writing and cohesiveness as a band. However, we definitely made a conscious decision to go in a heavier direction.

Do you still play any of those earlier songs live and if so, have they changed?

"Dance" is probably the one we play most off of our first EP and it is a crowd pleaser.  We also frequently incorporate "Maya Blues" into our set, as it’s one of our favourites to play live.  Elements have certainly been refined and tightened over time but overall, they have stayed tried and true to their original versions.

What made you decide on Maya Blue for the band name?

Wish we had a wild story behind that one. Like any good band name, we just like the sound of it.

Did the pandemic have much of an impact on the band?

Since we became a band right before the pandemic unfolded, that time became the catalyst for really understanding what kind of band we wanted to be and what our sound would be like. When live music became a thing again, we were super eager to jump in with both feet and introduce ourselves to the scene.

Do you have physical copies of the album available, and if so, how can people get a copy?

Not at the moment, but we are hoping we grow enough following and demand to realistically start pressing vinyl in the new year.

Now that the album has been out there for a few weeks what’s on the agenda?

With all the hard work that went into creating the record, our main goal at this time is to get the album out there through developing a broader fan base, touring and reaching new audiences.

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

Thanks for giving us your time.  If any of this piques your interest, we’d love your support on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok - all that fun stuff. But most importantly, stream our new album on your platform of choice or keep an eye out for us for a live show in the Toronto area.

(Maya Blue - Facebook)