Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Arrows - The Complete Collection

With two of their first five singles hitting the UK charts and their own UK television series running for two seasons, the odds seemed on the Arrows side.  Unfortunately, that initial chart success and being on TV wasn't enough, and after those singles and an album they called it a day.  The roots of the band were formed when Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker performed together in 1966 in the NY band Watertower West. Merrill moved to Japan in 1968 and played briefly in the band The Lead before releasing a couple of Japanese only solo albums, Alone In Tokyo and Merrill 1.  In 1971 he took a trip back to NYC and recorded some demos with Hooker and drummer John Siomos.  He then returned to Japan and recorded with the band Godzilla before forming the band Vodka Collins who released a single and an album.  During this time Hooker had moved to the UK, formed the band Streak and released an album and a single (drummer Paul Varley replaced their original drummer for the single). At this point Hooker convinced Merrill to come to England to form a band with him and Varley, resulting in the Arrows.  

A few months after forming they signed to Mickie Most's RAK Records and he teamed them up with the songwriting team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, who at that point had written singles for the likes of The Sweet, Suzi Quatro and Mud.  Over the next year and a half, they released five singles (all included here on disc two) starting with the Chinn and Chapman penned “Touch Too Much”, a glammy 70’s pop track with a guitar lick very reminiscent of “Summertime Blues”.  Merrill wrote the flipside “We Can Make It Together”, a 60’s flavored pop song with a chorus that sounds a lot like “Hang On Sloopy”.  The single hit number eight on the UK charts, which unfortunately was the best they would ever do.  Chinn and Chapman were back for single number two, contributing “Toughen Up”, a catchy pop tune with a slight rock edge and a little bit of a Bo Diddley beat.  “Diesel Locomotive Dancer”, another Merrill song, was again delegated to the flipside, and honestly the rocker with a bit of a poppier Rolling Stone-like swagger is the better of the two.  They hit the charts for the second, and last, time with single number three.  Written by Roger Ferris, who was known as the former Abbey Road sound engineer for The Beatles, “My Last Night With You” hit number twenty-five on the UK charts, and is a soulful ballad with a hint of doo wop.  Merrill and Hooker wrote the B-side “Movin’ Next Door To You”, a catchy track with a bit of a laid-back glam feel (interestingly there is a live version on Youtube that once again has that Stones-y swagger and is really the better version).  Ferris also wrote “Broken Down Heart”, a decent midtempo track that was initially the A-side to their fourth single, and featured John Douglas “Rabbit” Bundrick (known for his work with The Who, Bob Marley, Free and many others) on keys and Chris Spedding on electric guitar.  The B-side to the single was originally “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll, which was written by Merrill and Hooker, and is a little slower and doesn’t have the bite that Joan Jett added to her version.  After the single was released, Most’s wife convinced him that he had made a mistake and he then repressed it flipping the songs.  ITV producer Muriel Young saw the band perform "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" on the TV show 45 and offered them their own series called "The Arrows", which replaced the Bay City Rollers' show "Shang-A-Lang".  During The Runaways' UK tour in late 1976, Joan Jett saw them perform the song on their show and fell in love with it.  She eventually recorded her own version in 1982 resulting in the massive hit we all know.  Once again featuring Spedding on guitar, “Hard Hearted” is the last single the band released before their album.  It was written by Ferris and while nothing special, it’s a nice laid-back seventies sounding track.  As was almost always the case, the flipside “My World Is Turning On Love”, was a band original written by Merrill and Hooker, and is one of the best songs here.  It’s a solid rocker not too far removed from Free or Bad Company and has some really strong guitar work.  A few months before the April 1976 release of their album, the band did release a single containing two album tracks, but strangely none of their previous singles were on the album.  

First Hit, which opens up disc one, ended up being their only album and was released in conjunction with season one of their TV show.  As with the singles, the band contributed almost half the songs, with Merrill and Hooker writing four and all three of them writing another.  This time around the songwriting team of Bill Martin and Phil Coulter, who had written songs for The Troggs, Bay City Rollers, Cilla Black, Cliff Richard and many others, wrote five, and Craig McLearie and John Laurenson wrote one.  This songwriting split made for an interesting album with the Martin and Coulter tracks being more radio friendly ballads and bubblegum/glam and the originals tended to be more on the bluesy rock end of the spectrum.  While the originals are overall the better set of tunes, Martin and Coulter did contribute some solid tracks with opener “Once Upon A Time”, a pretty ballad with a big production that brings to mind classics from The Walker Brothers, as a perfect example.  Originally recorded by J Vincent Edwards and then Waylon Jennings, “Thanks” walks the line between gospel and folky rock, but lyrically doesn’t really fit the band.  While the title isn’t the best, “Boogiest Band In Town”, which was originally recorded by Midge Ure’s band Slik, is a catchy, upbeat boogie rocker with a hint of glam, and “Gotta Be Near You” is a dose of glam-tinged bubblegum pop.  The last Martin and Coulter track is “Let Me Love You” and while it has a really strong vocal performance, the song itself is extremely reminiscent of “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”.  Highlights of the band originals are “What’s Come Between Us”, a powerful slower rocker with a hint of blues, a really good guitar solo and some nice organ fills, and “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Love”, a hard driving rock tune once again reminiscent of Bad Company.  The title track is a breezy, laid-back track with hooks that dig in deep and “Love Is Easy” is a ballad with big production and a solid yacht rock groove.  The biggest misstep of the originals is “Feelin’ This Way”, a somewhat generic seventies pop rock track.  “Love Child”, the track from McLearie and Laurenson is an over the top orchestrated ballad in the vein of “Beth”.   

Closing out disc one are three bonus tracks that are demos recorded after their second single in 1974, but unreleased until they were included on a 2004 compilation.  First up is their take on the track “Dreamin’”, originally recorded by Johnny Burnette.  Their version is fairly generic but is notable for pounding double drumming from Varley and guest Cozy Powell.  Producer Most wasn’t happy with this track and had them write new lyrics that were then recorded over the original backing track, resulting in the even worse “Bam Bam Battering Ram”.  They do redeem themselves with “Wake Up”, a catchy, upbeat pop track that shows a glimmer of new wave.  During their TV show there was a segment called the "Arrow-vision Song Contest" where viewers voted for their favorite song so the band could pick a new single to record.  They wanted to include some of these on that aforementioned compilation, but were unable to find the original recordings of these tracks.  Due to this, Merrill went into the studio in early 2004 and recorded new versions of some of them.  These four tracks along with a new version of “Movin’ Next Door To You” are included here at the end of disc two and round out the bonus tracks.  Since they aren’t the originals, they aren’t exactly the Arrows, but they are a nice addition for fans.  While the first three, “Bring Back The Fire”, a mellow AOR cut, “Love Rider”, a meat and potatoes rocker a la Bob Seger, and “Faith In You”, which is reminiscent of Eddie Money or Huey Lewis are all solid tracks, the final one, “Dare You Not To Dance” is more of a funky dance song with horns, and really doesn’t work.  The original versions from the TV show are on Youtube, so it’s interesting to see how they originated.  Although there are definitely some clunkers among the gems on this two CD set, it is definitely well worth checking out.  It's a shame the band were weighed down with so many outside songwriters, because it seems like if they had been left to their own devices they would have been more successful.  Also included is a really nice twenty-four page booklet full of pictures and containing a very informative essay on the band from Phil Hendriks.  Sadly, all three members are no longer with us.  Hooker married singer and actress Lorna Luft (Judy Garland's daughter) and managed her career until his death in 2014.  Varley joined the band Darling and had a daughter with Marc Bolan's ex-wife but died in 2008.  Merrill continued to have a very productive music career, working with Rick Derringer and Meatloaf, releasing numerous solo albums and much more.  Sadly he passed away from Covid in March 2020.

(7T's Records)

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Interview with Sage Graye

The Dallas based five-piece Sage Graye recently released their very impressive debut four track EP Street Lamps. I recently had the chance to talk to them about the their formation, the EP, where they plan to go from here and more.

 

Can you give me a bit of background on the band and how the five of you got together?

Back in 2021, Devin Foster met up with two other local musicians to release a brand new indie song ‘Seventy Five’ - from here Devin adopted the band name Sage Graye and put together a group of drastically different musicians to help her realize a couple of songs she had written in her car that summer. Nicole (rhythm guitar) had gone to high school with Devin but they never met until after graduation, Milton (drums) and Caleb (bass) both work at the recording studio that Devin was hired at, and Patrick (lead guitar) was stolen from a cover band that we stumbled across playing at a bar. I guess you could say we’re a family band - except none of us are related and we’re more like friends.

I don't often ask this question, but here goes.  For some reason, after listening to your EP, the band name Sage Graye seems to fit perfectly.  Where did that come from?

Sage Graye was what our lead singer, Devin, called the color of the walls from her childhood bedroom as a kid. It seems simple, but no other name seemed to fit the band as well as Sage Graye. We try to be super intentional about everything we do, so every lyric has a personal story behind it, including the band name, but we aim to make our words vague enough so that listeners can attach what they want to what we release. We want our fans to become curious about what more the band name could mean for them! 

From what I've read, it sounds like your vocalist Devin writes the lyrics.  How does the rest of the songwriting tend to work?

Devin also writes the chord progressions for the songs she writes. However, she had very little music theory knowledge when this was produced so the beginning of the production process for Sage Graye always starts with Nicole (rhythm guitar) “transcribing” what Devin writes to the rest of the band. From there everyone else writes their own parts over the chord progression and lyrics. 


I wasn't able to find any album credits online.  Did you produce the EP yourselves or did you work with a producer?

Devin served as the writer, singer, producer, and recording engineer for this project and it was the first thing she ever produced. However, she has to give credit to the rest of the band, especially Milton (drummer), because they all are incredibly talented musicians with great instincts. 

I love the mood set by the opening track “Alone and Untethered”.  It has alot of textures and it’s a beautiful song, but there also seems to be a little bit of tenseness to it.  Would you agree and can you tell me a little more about it? 

The whole EP is about a difficult life period in which every aspect of life changed for Devin and “Alone and Untethered” seems to be sort of the synopsis of the EP. It is straight to the point about what it means to sever the relationships in life that impact you the most and how it feels to grow up too early. “Alone and Untethered” documents the moment of “Oh crap, I am an adult now with huge responsibilities, consequences, and no one to lean on if shit hits the fan”.  

The second cut, “Shoulders” is a really cool song with alot of tempo changes and shifting styles that almost sounds like a suite.  It has a waltz-like opening that reappears later, there’s what sounds like Spanish guitar, a guitar solo that has a strong Eddie Van Halen feel and towards the end there is some harmonica and what to me comes across like acoustic Cranberries.   Can you tell me a little about that track?

“Shoulders” was written to highlight the complexity of how you can feel about losing someone - Devin didn’t think that she could convey how she felt in one song, so she wrote two fragments about the exact same subject to display the anger and then the grief and sadness of loss. “Shoulders” has a lot going on with a ton of different sounds and so she used the line “Life goes on without you, I knew it could, but I didn’t think it had to” to tie the two sections together because that line could be used in both emotional contexts.  

Between the lyrics and the voicemail clips, “Street Lamps” is about as personal as you can get in a song.  Was it hard to put that out there for the world to hear?

Yes. The release of the EP has been quite exposing to say the least. Although it can be uncomfortable to have your business out on display for everyone to listen to, the best music comes from a raw, authentic place. We can do nothing but be as honest as possible in order to make meaningful projects that will hopeful help someone in such a way that so many other musicians have helped us along the way. 

You have a song on YouTube and Soundcloud called “Seventy Five”.  It was posted almost two years ago and isn’t on the EP.  Was that the same band as now and why didn’t you include it?

“Seventy Five” was one of the first songs that Devin ever wrote, however, she had absolutely no clue how to record, produce, and release a song at the time. With the help of two of her friends from high school, she came out with “Seventy Five” as her first ever song. Sage Graye’s members and therefore musical style has shifted dramatically since “Seventy Five”, so it just didn’t make sense to include it in the EP. Similar to the musical progression of Sage Graye from “Seventy Five” to Street Lamps the EP, we plan to continue experimenting within the genre and introducing heavier bass and drum lines for the next album release.

The EP is the first release for Mythic Panda Records.  Can you tell me more about that?

Devin, Milton, and Caleb (bass) all work at the Mythic Panda Recording Studio in Dallas, Texas which is partnered with Rottweiler Records (which is a metal record label) - there seemed to be a good opportunity because of Sage Graye to start a record label that covers genres other than metal.

I didn’t see anything about physical copies of the EP.  Are those available?

Currently there are no physical copies of the EP, however, there are plans in the future to release the EP on vinyl.

Now that the EP is out what’s next?  Also, do you have any touring plans?

We are working on our next album! We are experimenting with a ton of different instruments for this project, such as trumpets, violins, and cellos - instruments that you normally wouldn’t expect to hear in an indie pop rock band! We also decided to put a heavier emphasis on driving drum and bass lines - our bassist, Caleb, and drummer, Milton, both played in metal bands about ten years ago and we realized it would be a shame not to utilize their talents from the metal style.

Currently, we’re focusing on creating and promoting our music in the Dallas, Texas area. To be completely honest, finding gigs in the area who are looking for original bands, and not cover bands, has been quite difficult. Eventually, we’ll be hitting the road full steam and playing our music for the fans we love. We’re very passionate about our music, so we’re ready to exhaust ourselves on the road. 

Are any of you in other bands or is it strictly Sage Graye right now?

Patrick (lead guitar) occasionally plays in a blues cover band called Crossfire. Patrick loves to play the blues, and although you can definitely hear the blues influence in Sage Graye’s guitar solos, he still gets to play with Crossfire to get his blues fix. The rest of the band are strictly Sage Graye people!

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

Street Lamps the EP was an incredibly healing and motivating project, and we hope that these songs can do something for our listeners as well. Thank you for your time!

(Sage Graye / Sage Graye - Facebook)

Monday, March 20, 2023

Interview with The Crooked Smiles

Following their formation in 2018, the Sheffield, UK based three-piece The Crooked Smiles released a couple of EP's and have now released their full-length debut Tears in the Palace.  I recently had the chance to interview lead singer and guitarist Michael Rodber about the formation of the band, the new album, their future plans and alot more.  


Can you give me a bit of background on the band?

The band started in around 2018, when I met our drummer Dec in a Sheffield rock nightclub. He was loitering inconspicuously around the toilets, wearing an Alkaline Trio shirt, and I thought, “that’s a man I want to be friends with”. We got talking and drunkenly decided to form a band.  It was nothing serious at first, but the more we played, the more we got into the local scene, and the bigger the ideas we had above our station. We’ve had a lot of work to do, but since then, we’ve built an identity for our music and can’t wait to see where it all goes!

I see a lot of references to pop-punk and emo when talking about the band and while I occasionally hear that, there is a lot more to your sound with big power chords and anthemic choruses, but also more of an edge and rawness.  I really feel like just saying pop-punk and emo really shortchanges the band.  What’s your take on that?

The rawness is definitely something we try to cling on to! We take a lot of influence from the 90’s and early 00’s pop-punk and emo scenes; the likes of Alkaline Trio, The Wonder Years, Finch etc, as well as the Midwestern-emo scene in the US. Being a band in the UK in 2023, I’m not exactly sure where we fit into all that. We’re not one of those “we don’t like to compartmentalize our sound” bands, and we’re not a genre-purist band either, so I suppose we just gave up trying to give our music a label. Maybe we have short-changed ourselves?

What kind of impact has the pandemic had on the band?

I think we’ve taken quite a few positives from the pandemic. Feeling like you’ve wasted 2 years of your life really gives you a sense of urgency after you come out the other end of it, and it really gave us the kick we needed to knuckle down to create an album. We were also fueled by a lot of personal events caused by the pandemic. We all had to rebuild a sense of identity after a lot of big losses while being locked away from the world, and writing an album in the year that followed to me is like a time capsule of the progression made out of that period.

How does your songwriting process tend to work?

It varies from track to track - the bulk of songs come from throwing ideas around in our rehearsal room until something sticks. I think if there’s any strengths to our band, it comes from our drummer’s ability to write these insane, quite complex beats out of thin air. The man plays with a jazz grip for Christ’s sake, he’s not messing about. That’s always a good place to start.  On the more personal tracks, it’s come from an acoustic guitar in my bedroom, just feeling out rough chords and melodies.

Lyrically, I remember a friend telling me that Brian Sella from the Front Bottoms notes down snippets of conversations he’s had or things he’s overheard, and since I’ve tried a similar thing; any ideas I have or things I hear that I like, I note down, and over time I have a bank of ideas that I can start to piece together around a surrounding theme.

“Kick In The Sun” opens with an announcer introducing the band and it sounds like he calls you “Colon”.  Is there a story behind that?  Also I hear a little bit of The Killers in that song.  Would you agree with that?

That’s actually a sample from a 90's sketch show The Fast Show! I was watching a lot of it at the time of writing the album. In fear of explaining the joke, the sketch is essentially a bait-and-switch where an announcer hams up a heavy, gritty act, only to reveal a soft, loved-up indie band (with their song "Kick in the Sun"). Our namesake track is the only love song I’ve ever written, so we thought it’d be a nice little nod to that, and old-school comedy that we all love. The album is a complete revolution of our older sound, so the “everything you know is wrong '' seemed a fitting statement to re-introduce ourselves as the new and improved Crooked Smiles.

Sheffield is a big indie-rock city, and we all grew up going to indie gigs like Catfish and the Bottleman and The Arctic Monkeys, and The Killers are a big part of that too. You could almost guarantee that the last song played at a nightclub before closing was "Mr Brightside", so I think it’s impossible to stop that influence bleeding in.

Can you tell me about “Bedroom Eyes” and “Unforgivable Curse #3”?  Both songs have a really cool, kind of offbeat sound that sets them apart from the rest of the album.

So, the main riff in "Bedroom Eyes" was originally an idea we had as a bridge for the previous track, "The Sound of Your Intonation", but the groove in that riff felt so different to the rest of the album we thought it deserved more of a spotlight in its own track, so we did the unthinkable, and the unheard of, and made one song that transitions into another song. But yeah, "Bedroom Eyes" is just as much a self-criticism as it is a criticism of others when it comes to looking for love. Being angry at unrequited love is a cornerstone in pop-punk music, and I hoped to expand on that a little in "Bedroom Eyes". Sure, it’s okay to be disappointed and hurt when you’ve been led on, used or manipulated, but I think it’s good to take a step back and look at your own shortcomings, and why and how you misplace investment in someone who doesn't feel the same for so long.

"Unforgivable Curse" is actually a cover! It’s a track that I hold close to my heart and usually plays in my headphones on drunken walks home or in general down periods. We thought it was perfectly fitting in tone for the rest of the album, and a recurring track we play at our gigs, so we reached out and got permission to do our own rendition.

You rerecorded “Pins and Needles” and “Leeches” (previously “Leech”) for the album.  Why did you decide to revisit those tracks and do you think we will be hearing rerecorded versions of any of your other earlier tracks?

"Pins and Needles" was the first track we ever recorded and has followed us around ever since. When we first started out I’d get a bit of stick from my mates for my sub-par vocal performance, but we kept working to develop a sound we were proud of. We’d always dreamed of making a full-length album, so when that did come we thought it would only be fair to bring the track along for the ride, and hopefully do it a little more justice than the first time round! We developed such a strong bond with our producer, Heartwork, who really brought to life the sound we were going for with the album and asked if he’d do the honour of featuring on the track. It’s a blend of where we’ve come from and where we hope to go, and because of that I like to think of it as a cornerstone of the band.

"Leech" on the other hand was one of the last tracks we released pre-pandemic, and as one of our strongest songs, we used it as the groundwork for the tone of Tears in the Palace. Our sound chopped and changed, but again, it’s a breakneck track that never lets up and we wanted to revamp it with a new producer and a heavier, fuller sounding tone.

I really like “Rotting Roses”, which starts out acoustic and then about halfway through goes heavy and electric?  Can you tell me a little about that track?

Thank you! "Rotting Roses" was the last track we wrote for the album. I’ve always loved tracks that hit you with a heavy, anthemic chorus after a delicate bulk of a song, like Enter Shikari’s "Adieu". It was also a good excuse to blow out my voice after a long weekend of recording. The track is centered around the idea of loss and grief as a whole, whether it stems from a break up, or a death of a friend or family member, there’s a lot of feelings that overlap. I tried to blend a lot of imagery associated with both to try and tackle the overarching emotions of anger, acceptance, denial etc. Hopefully that comes across, and if it doesn’t, I hope people can draw similar feelings from the track.

A few of the songs have some effects and what sounds like possibly keys in the background.  What else am I hearing mixed in there?

You’re hearing all the bells and whistles. Well, there is a bell in there at least, and a lot of us fucking around (or messing around, depending on if we’re allowed to swear) with reverb, pinch harmonics and feedback. My favourite has to be the ambient noise in "Leeches", which came from pitch-shifting noise from various plug-ins - really adds to the chaos and angst in that track.

You’ve released two EP’s and now a full-length with Tears in the Palace, but I didn’t see any physical copies of any of them anywhere.  Are there copies available?

We have a boxload of CD’s for Tears in the Palace that are always available at our gigs - I’d say they’re glorified beermats, but we also have TITP beer mats for sale too. We’re looking to get these online sometime soon. We’ve also got a limited edition, special surprise release of the album coming up, but you didn’t hear that from us.

What kind of plans do you have for supporting Tears in the Palace?

We’ve spent a lot of time in the studio, out in fields recording a music video, now we’re raring to get on stage! We’ve played a few gigs since as well as an album release show - but if you’re reading this and are a gig promoter, have a house party coming up, or a wedding, a funeral, whatever. We will play. Anytime, anywhere. There’s a couple of ideas floating around too about more music videos, acoustic tracks, and more, but again, you didn’t hear that from us.

Anything else you would like to share with readers?

Keep your eyes out for us! We’re far from done after our first album. That was a shake up, but with the things we’ve got planned in the future, things are about to be shaken up even more. If you like Tears in the Palace, you’re going to want to stick around for what’s to come.  

(SODEH Records)  (The Crooked Smiles - Facebook)


Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Long Ryders - September November

In 1987, after five years together and three outstanding albums, The Long Ryders (Sid Griffin, Stephen McCarthy, Greg Sowders and Tom Stevens) called it a day.  In 2004 the band got back together for some live shows and while they performed together off and on over the following years, they didn't record anything new until 2017 when they released the single “Bear In The Woods” and then finally album number four, Psychedelic Country Soul in 2019.  While they are now back with a new album September November, it’s a bittersweet return due to the death of bassist Tom Stevens in 2021 (McCarthy and Old 97’s bassist Murry Hammond played bass on the album).  His passing had a definite impact on the album with several songs touching on mortality and paying tribute to him.  “Seasons Change”, an introspective rocker with hints of The Byrds and some really strong background harmonies, “Hand Of Fate”, a gentle, laid-back folk flavored track with very emotional vocals, and the country tinged “Flying Down” address topics like the passing of time and death. “Tom Tom”, one of the highlights of the album, is a gorgeous, heartfelt country ballad, that is a fitting tribute to Stevens and even uses lines from a few of his songs.  While his death definitely had an influence on many of the songs, there is still plenty more to the album.  Kicking things off is “September November Sometime” a solid rock tune with an occasional hint of The Byrds jangle in the guitar.  A couple of cuts touch on the current state of affairs here and abroad.  “Elmer Gantry Is Alive And Well” is a tense and taut track that’s at times reminiscent of the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For The Man” with very topical lyrics dealing with January 6 and the chaotic state of things today, while “Song For Ukraine” is a gentle acoustic folk instrumental with some touches of classical thanks in part to the violin of Kerenza Peacock, who among many other things was a member of Griffin’s bluegrass band Coal Porters (X drummer DJ Bonebrake also contributes vibes on this track).  Following the ragged rock of “To The Manor Born” they showcase their versatility with the infectious bounce of “That’s What They Say About Love”, a shuffling, old school cowboy song, the soulful country blues of the aptly titled “Country Blues (Kitchen)”, highlighted by some stellar acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano, and “Until God Takes Me Away”, a pretty acoustic track with hints of The Beatles’ “Blackbird”.  As one final tip of the hat to their late bandmate the album closes with the gorgeously haunting “Flying Out Of London In The Rain”, a track that was originally written and performed by Stevens on his 2007 solo album Home and has now been fleshed out by the band with more instrumentation along with backing vocals from his daughter Sarah.  The resulting track in an absolutely gorgeous tribute.  Throughout their career The Long Ryders have never been a band that disappoints and with September November they prove that once again.  

Miller Anderson - Bright City (Remastered Edition)

Before the 1971 release of his debut solo album Bright City, Miller Anderson spent time in the mid to late sixties working with Ian Hunter, and also recorded four studio albums and one live album as vocalist and guitarist with the Keef Hartley Band.  After signing with Deram as a solo artist he went into the studio and recorded not only that album, but also a second album that was released in 1973 under the band name Hemlock (that album was reissued by Esoteric Recordings last year -check out my review here - The Music Korner - Hemlock).  Esoteric has now released the remastered and expanded version of Bright City.  Just like with the Hemlock album there are similarities to his work with the Keef Hartley Band, but there is definitely a lot here that stands out on its own.  The album kicks off with a big organ intro at the beginning of “Alice Mercy (To Whom It May Concern)” leading into a soulful six minute plus track that shifts between more laid-back passages and powerful rock before closing like a soft English folk tune with vocals, gentle acoustic guitar and flute courtesy of Lyn Dobson, who played with artists like Keef Hartley, Soft Machine, Nick Drake, The Small Faces and Manfred Mann.  The track does have a slight drawback.  While he is an outstanding vocalist, for some reason there are times in this song where they are a little high and just don’t really work as well as when he settles into his range.  “The Age of Progress” is a beautiful folk tinged tune fleshed out with piano and organ with an extremely powerful, soulful vocal performance from Anderson and some great backing vocals from Madeline Bell, Liza Strike and Tracy Miller.  He kicks things up a notch on “Nothing In This World”, a ragged bluesy rocker that does a great job of showcasing his guitar work and also has a hint of funk, courtesy the organ work.  Junior Campbell, founding member and guitarist of Marmalade, provides orchestral accompaniment on the next two tracks, and while it works brilliantly on the title track, an absolutely gorgeous folk ballad, the same can’t be said for “Grey Morning Broken”, which also incorporates a flugelhorn and is a lightweight ballad that comes across like an attempt at creating an easy listening hit, and is by far the worst track here.  Coming in at eight minutes, “High Tide, High Water" is a killer blues rocker with a bit of a loose jam feel where all the pieces come together perfectly.   Anderson really showcases his vocals and guitar work, and everyone else is given the opportunity to stretch out a bit.  Album closer “Shadows ‘Cross My Wall” starts with a gorgeous acoustic guitar, flute and vocals reminiscent of Nick Drake then adds some congas to create a hypnotic folk tune with a bit of rock.  In addition to the remastered version of the album there are nine bonus tracks starting with “Another Time, Another Place”, which was the b-side to the single for the album’s title track.  The laid-back, acoustic guitar driven ballad is nicely enhanced with some orchestration and flute and has traces of Tim Buckley and Nick Drake.  It a mystery why this track wasn’t included on the album, because it is just as strong as any of them.  The remaining eight bonus tracks were taken from two different sessions that were recorded for the BBC on September 13, 1971.  The first four were recorded in the morning at the BBC Maida Vale Studios in London for the Sounds Of The Seventies Show and the second four were recorded later that day at the Paris Theatre for John Peel.  Both sets open with “To Whom It May Concern”, which is actually the acoustic section at the end of the album’s opening track “Alice Mercy (To Whom It May Concern)”, followed by “Shadows ‘Cross My Wall”.  While they come across sounding pretty close to the album versions, the second set does seem a little sprightlier and "Shadows..." is stretched out more on the second with a little more improvisation from Dobson on the flute.  At the time these shows were recorded the next track “On A Ship To Nowhere” hadn’t yet been released, but would then show up the following year on the aforementioned Hemlock album.  It’s a haunting track with a hint of slow jazz, featuring acoustic guitar, piano, flute and a very heartfelt vocal.  Again, the second version is longer and interestingly while the flute is very prominent here, it didn’t end up on the album version.  After three fairly mellow tracks they close the morning show with an explosive version of “Alice Mercy” and a raw, jam filled “High Tide, High Water” later in the day where the band is absolutely on fire.  The CD booklet includes the original artwork as well as an informative essay.  Another outstanding release from Esoteric made all the better with the fantastic bonus tracks. Following the breakup of Hemlock, Miller went on to play with numerous bands and musicians including Savoy Brown, T Rex, The Spencer Davis Group, Mountain and Deep Purple before finally releasing his next solo album in 1998.  Since that time he has released numerous more solo releases and still performs and releases new music today.  

Friday, March 03, 2023

Fairytale - Army Of Ghosts

Fairytale was founded in Germany in 2000 by guitarist, and only original member, Colin B├╝ttner.  In those twenty-three years they have only released four albums and obviously will never be known as the most prolific band out there.  Their latest Army Of Ghosts is a long time coming (the last one was released in 2017), but for fans of the band who have been waiting, it was well worth the wait.  Drawing a lot of influence from eighties and nineties metal like Saxon and Iron Maiden, they are best described as power metal, but with some touches of prog and anthemic metal, and extremely strong melodies from front to back.  Following a short, mood-setting synth heavy instrumental to get things started, they head into the title track, a hard driving power metal cut woven with big prog-like passages. “Voices From Inside” is a pummeling head banger with some great guitar work and tracks like the extremely impressive “Waxwork”, “1428” and to a lesser degree “Morningside” do a great job of channeling Iron Maiden, especially with hints of the galloping Maiden beat.  “Elizabeth Dane”, probably my favorite song here, is another hard charging track, but has more of a groove rock sound with especially impressive guitar, along with drumming that at times has a bit of a jazz feel.  They also throw in a little thrash with “Horace P” before closing with the heavier prog rocker “Alive”.  Lyrically there is a common theme throughout the album with each track inspired by a well-known horror story or movie.  If old school metal is your thing I would highly recommend giving Army Of Ghosts a listen.