Friday, May 19, 2023

Luther Grosvenor - Under Open Skies, Remastered & Expanded

Luther Grosvenor got his start playing in various bands in England in the sixties including Deep Feeling, which he formed with Jim Capaldi, later of Traffic, and then The VIP’s, featuring Keith Emerson on keys.  In 1967, following the departure of Emerson, The VIP’s recorded the album Supernatural Fairy Tales, but then changed their name to Art after Chris Blackwell, the head of Island Records, said he thought their name was dull.  After that album’s release, Gary Wright joined the band on keys, they renamed themselves Spooky Tooth, and released four albums before breaking up in 1970 (the band did reunite with a largely new lineup in late 1972, but Grosvenor had moved on).  At this point Blackwell asked Grosvenor if he would like to record a solo album for Island.  He accepted the opportunity, and since Wright had been the main songwriter for Spooky Tooth, this gave him the chance to write his own songs.  The resulting album was Open Under Skies, which has now been remastered from the Island master tapes and includes two bonus tracks that were originally released on singles.  In addition to contributing all the songwriting (with Githa Grosvenor contributing on three tracks), Grosvenor also co-produced the album with Tony Platt.  Platt was an engineer for Island and while this was his first producing credit, his future production and engineering credits include the likes of Bob Marley, AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, Cheap Trick, Dio, Foreigner and many, many more.  Grosvenor also played guitar on all the tracks and bass on four, and surrounded himself with some other notable musicians including former Spooky Tooth bandmates Mike Kellie on drums and John Hawken on piano.  The original King Crimson drummer Mike Giles played on one track and bassist Trevor Burton from The Move played on two.  While there is a nice diversity to the the album, it is still a very cohesive collection.  “Ride On” is a great opening track that alternates between an infectious jazz groove with a hint of funk and choruses that are more rock before closing with a great party-like singalong that features harmony vocals from Jim Capaldi and Mick Ralphs, who he ended up replacing in Mott The Hoople a few years later.  Rerecorded later on by his band Widowmaker for their Too Late To Cry album, and also performed live by Mott The Hoople during his stint with the band, “Here Comes The Queen” is an extremely catchy, laid-back track with a country rock feel that features some nice slide guitar.  Also rerecorded by Widowmaker (this time for their eponymous debut), “When I Met You” is a tasty upbeat rocker with a bit of a bluesy side, a touch of country rock and some stellar guitar work.  With Grosvenor playing everything himself, including guitar, tambourine, cymbal, wood scraper and shaker, “Love The Way” is a gorgeous, acoustic love song, while “Waiting” is a really nice, laid-back rootsy track that at times brings to mind The Band.  Setting itself apart from the rest of album, “Rocket” is a standout song with a dark, somewhat bluesy, psychedelic swagger and a heavier edge that breaks down into a Hendrix-like acid rock closing.  The title track closes the album and is an anthemic cut that is a bit bluesy with a strong rock edge especially in the guitar department.  This expanded version also includes a couple of bonus tracks that were originally released on singles.  Starting with a horn section and then shifting back and forth between a more pop oriented sound and the horns, “Heavy Day” has some really strong guitar solos, but overall is a little disjointed.  The horns also show up on “All The People” an extremely hook-heavy track with an infectious funk beat.  Also included is a very comprehensive booklet with an essay on the album and an interview with Grosvener.  Under Open Skies is an outstanding release that allowed Grosvenor to showcase his songwriting, musicianship and singing.  It would have been interesting to see where he went from here as a solo artist, but instead of going that route he replaced Gerry Rafferty in Stealers Wheel for a short while, joined Mott The Hoople under the stage name Ariel Bender and then formed the band Widowmaker who released two albums.  Following Widowmaker, he left the music industry behind for the next nineteen years before releasing his second solo album Floodgates in 1996.  Since then he has continued to work as a musician including participating in Spooky Tooth and Mott the Hoople reunions.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Old Dirty Buzzard - What A Weird Hill To Die On

Featuring ex-members of the bands Holy Terror, Zeke, Agent Steel, Mind Shaker and The Kings of Cavalier, the Washington based trio Old Dirty Buzzard have hit the ground running with their impressive full-length debut What A Weird Hill To Die On.  As soon as you hit play (or drop the needle) and the thick, lumbering chords of their cover of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “Long Haired Country Boy” hit your speakers, you know you are in for a treat.  Somewhat reminiscent of Black Label Society, their version is slow, doomy, dirty and sleazy, and above all, heavy.  Picking up the pace for the next couple of tracks, “Coughing On The House Of Cards” comes across like a dirtier, sleazier Motorhead with a bit of stoner rock, while “Lies” screams pure Motorhead 101.  Following the lumbering, yet powerful, slow and sludgy instrumental “Paleozoic” is the gritty rocker “Corpse Shoveler”, which is enhanced by some great fuzzed out guitar.  Another cover is up next in the form of Junior Brown’s “Highway Patrol”, an all-out hard rocker with a hint of the original’s honky tonk swagger.  Providing a real showcase for the guitar work (which is actually top notch throughout the album) is “Hammer Coming Down”, a powerful track that is as heavy as its title would imply.  While the band has managed to keep things diverse and fresh up to here, they manage to go even further with the last two tracks, both of which differ a bit from the rest of the album.  “Path Of The Dead”, at over seven minutes long, is a darker track with a bit of a black metal mystique and more of a percussive foundation.  Closing out the album perfectly is “The Reckoning”, which clocks in at over eleven minutes, and has the hard charging power and shifting tempos of an Iron Maiden epic, but musically is much darker and grittier.  What A Weird Hill To Die On is a fantastic introduction to a band that I hope to be hearing a lot more from in the future.  

(Rotten Records)

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Warfare - The Lemmy Sessions

After stints in several bands including Major Accident, The Blood and Angelic Upstarts, drummer and vocalist Evo wanted to form a band who fused “heavy metal riffs with punk lyrics”.  In 1984 he left the Angelic Upstarts, recruited bassist Falken and guitarist Gunnar, and formed Warfare, releasing their debut album later that year.  In January of 1985, during a show by Tank at Dingwall’s in London, Evo approached Lemmy and told him that he would be producing the next Warfare album (there was some asking too, as detailed in the essay included here).  The resulting CD, Metal Anarchy, is considered by many to be the pinnacle of their career.  In addition to a newly remastered version of that release, this new three CD set, The Lemmy Sessions, includes the recently discovered and previously unreleased “rough mix” by Lemmy taken from the original cassette given to Evo to approve before the final mix, and a third disc containing the Two Tribes and Total Death EPs and bonus track “Two Tribes (From Hell Mix)” (all also newly remastered) that were released prior to recording the album.  

Following a short distorted musical snippet from The Sound Of Music, Metal Anarchy (disc two here) gets going with “Electric Mayhem”, a pummeling tune that sets the tone for the rest of the album, with equal parts raw garage rock, early punk and plenty of Motorhead influenced rock.  While there are variations like the slower passages in “Warfare”, the super heavy drums, raw rock and punk vocal delivery of “Disgrace” and the gorgeous jangly guitar opening of “Military Shadow”, which then hits you upside the head, for the most part they stick pretty close to the core sound of the opener.  Ironically, even though the songs are heavy and a bit ragged, they almost always maintain a strong sense of melody. In addition to production by Lemmy, W├╝rzel (Motorhead guitarist at that time) plays guitar on the title track.  With it being an almost forty year old cassette the rough mixes found on disc one do have some tape dropouts from time to time, but overall the sound quality is surprisingly good.  All nine tracks from the album are here and it makes for interesting glimpse behind the curtain.

Disc three kicks off with The Two Tribes EP and their take on the Frankie Goes To Hollywood title track.  They definitely give it the brutal Warfare punch, but still maintain the hooks of the original.  The other two tracks on the EP were songs that had been in their live set for a while, the hard charging “Hell” and “Blown To Bits”, the latter of which was originally written for their debut album.  Next up is the Total Death EP, which was produced by Algy Ward, founder of the band Tank and former member of the Damned.  The EP opens with an early version of “Metal Anarchy”, which is a strong version, just a little less polished. Even though the remaining three EP tracks are remastered they still sound fairly muddy and musically seem a little repetitive and are definitely the weak point of this collection.  Closing out the disc is the From Hell mix of “Two Tribes”.  The Lemmy Sessions is an outstanding box set covering this high point in Warfare's history and also includes a great booklet with photos and a very informative interview with Evo.    

(HNE Recordings)

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Jah Wobble - Dark Luminosity - The 21st Century Collection

After making his recording debut as bassist for Public Image on their first two releases, Jah Wobble moved onto what has become an extremely fascinating career with a dizzying array of solo releases and collaborations.  Over the course of sixty-six tracks taken from thirty-two releases (plus a digital single), Dark Luminosity - The 21st Century Collection is an impressive four CD box covering an extremely diverse array of styles.  With the exception of spoken word tracks taken from his Odds, Sods and Epilogues release, that open each disc (and close two), all the songs are presented in chronological order and are taken from the years 2000 on, when he and his family moved from the East of London, where he was born and raised, to Stockport in order to be closer to his in-laws.  

Disc one kicks off perfectly with the limerick "There Was A Young Man With A Bass".  Musically a lot of the tracks on this disc have a Middle Eastern slant to them.  He incorporates it into the slow, dreamy psychedelia of “As Night Falls: Part 1” (and Part 2), dub with two versions of “Lam Tang Way”, the noisy jazz of “Full On” and the slow trance of “La Citadelle”, which along with “Shout At The Devil” features vocals from Natasha Atlas.  Other highlights on disc one includes “Fly 3” and “Fly 9”, a couple of ambient tracks, the first more of a chill track with a slow funk groove, while the other has an upbeat trance beat with a hint of the Middle Eastern vibe popping up again, plus two tracks from the soundtrack to the French film Le Fureur.  Closing out disc one and opening disc two (not including the two spoken words tracks) are a couple of songs from English Roots Music, Wobble’s foray into English Folk music.  Featuring Liz Carter on vocals, “Cannily Cannily”, is a Ewan MaColl tune that has a foundation in English Folk but is given a bit of a funky Jah Wobble treatment (his bass work really delivers on this cut), while “Unquite Grave” is an absolutely gorgeous song that sticks pretty close to the traditional English Folk sound.     

The touring group The English Roots Band followed that album and is represented on disc two with the instrumental “And There Was The Sea” and “No No No”, a cover of Dawn Penn’s hit.  Both have a nice rocksteady beat, the latter of which has a slow, infectious groove and some fuzzy bass work from Wobble.  “Elevator Music 4” is a really good instrumental that sounds like it is from a movie soundtrack, while “Elevator Music 9” is more of an experimental soundscape.  Taken from the album MU (meaning emptiness in Japanese), where he worked with engineer Mark Lusardi, who also worked with PiL on some early tracks, “Mu” is an interesting mixture of ethereal and dub.  The experimental side of things comes to the forefront again on the dance beat driven “Looking Up At The Sky Again” and there is a hint of the rocksteady groove in the cold electronic sounds of the breezy dance tune “And Some May Say” and “Whatever Happens”.  A good representation of Wobble’s work in world music can be found on disc two starting with “Solitude”, taken from his Chinese Dub album, where he worked with a 22-piece group of Mao and Tibetan musicians and dancers, Sichuan opera mask changers and an Anglo-Chinese dub band mixing dub rhythms, electronica and Chinese instrumentation.  There are also two tracks, “Kokiriko” and “Ma” from his Japanese Dub album where he worked with the Nippon Dub Ensemble. Lastly, there is “Brazil”, a hypnotic track with a driving samba beat.  

Following the spoken word track “Air”, disc three kicks into full gear with the percussive blast of “Blowout” followed by the laid-back, horn enhanced “City Meets Country”.   The hook-heavy “Psychic Life” finds him teaming up with his former Public Image bandmate, the late Keith Levene, and vocalist Julie Campbell from the band Lonelylady, for what is probably the most accessible track here.  “Wealth” and “Terminus” are nice ambient tracks that do a great job of setting a mood.  Featuring Bill Sharpe from the group Shakatak on keys and some really nice trumpet from Sean Corby, "Spanish Place" is a really strong jazz tune.  He then meshes jazz and funk with “Cosmic Blueprint”, which also has some spacy keys, and “Mandala”, once again showcasing some great bass work.  Next up are two tracks from his collaboration with the Moroccan duo MoMo.  “Sabri = Patience” is an absolutely gorgeous, laid-back song driven by some great piano, meshing North African music with jazz and funk, while “Sudani Manayo” is a more upbeat track that adds some dub to the mix.  Sounding like it should be bouncing off the walls of dance clubs everywhere, “Chunk Of Funk” is an absolute killer funky dance track with more of that thumping bass, while the salsa tinged jazz and dub of “Cuban Dub” is just as spritely and infectious.  Closing out disc three is “L’autoroute Sans Fin”, which starts off like a Kraftwerk tune but then turns into a hypnotic piano driven track with trip hop beats and swells of synths.  

Harkening back to his earlier days, the music on disc four kicks off with the taut, aggressive, and a little chaotic, punk of “Mind In Turmoil” and “Humans Are Full Of It”, which has a low funk groove and a vocal delivery reminiscent of Ian Dury.  Teaming up again with Bill Laswell “The Perfect Beat” and “Dark Luminosity” are strong experimental jazzy tunes with driving beats, a bit of funk and dub and some effects.  “Fly Away” is really nice, laid-back jazz and “Take My Hand” is intense, but somehow laid-back at the same time, with a bit of jazz and funk and a subtle reggae beat.  The next three tracks are from the album Nocturne In The City, which was recorded during lockdown.  They all have an experimental ambient jazz groove, with “Mooching About” adding a spacey electronic element and “Lockdown 7 (Reprise)” a bit of a funk beat.  “End of Lockdown Dub” is the first of two tracks taken from the album of the same name (released of course at the end of lockdown) and is an upbeat instrumental that sounds like it would be the perfect accompaniment to people dancing in the streets after a lockdown, while “Choral Ocean Dub” is another uplifting cut but takes it down just a notch and adds an infectious reggae beat.  Next up are tracks from the Jah Wobble & Family album Guanyin, featuring his sons Charlie on er-hu (Chinese violin) and John T. on western drums, Chinese drums and Chinese zither, and his wife Zilan on Chinese Harp.  The Chinese instrumentation and influence are very strong on both cuts with “Dim Sum”, which also contains vocals from Charlie, a massively infectious hip hop tune that has should’ve been a hit written all over it, and “Guangzhou Funk” of course adds some funk to the mix.  Closing everything out is “Tyson Dub”, a really solid dub track that’s a little dark and heavy, with some great bass work.  It was originally released in 2021 as a digital single to commemorate their Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who passed away that year, and is a fitting final track.   While I was familiar with Wobble before listening to this box set, I have to say I was not prepared to be as mesmerized by what I heard as I ended up being. As I made my way through, I found myself looking up the individual releases over and over and have already expanded my collection.  

(30 Hertz Records / Jah Wobble)