Wednesday, July 26, 2023

The Money War - I Don't Hear You Anymore

I Don’t Hear You Anymore, the latest EP from The Money War, the Western Australian-based duo of Dylan Ollivierre and Carmen Pepper (also a married couple) is an absolutely stunning set of tunes that’s only drawback is it goes by way too quick.  The gorgeous title track kicks things off and is driven by gentle, finger-picked acoustic guitar with Dylan singing and then Carmen harmonizing with him in the chorus.  It has moments that reminds me of the gentler songs of Kurt Vile.  “Was It Ever Really Anything” is a collaboration with Melbourne’s FEELD, and is a really cool, kinda dreamy track with huge hooks and a bit of a lazy shuffle.  The duo trade off vocals throughout the track which is highlighted with bluesy guitar, slide guitar and keys.  For “Ride” they wanted a sound that was a little rough, like an underproduced demo, and they achieved that perfectly with the simple, stripped down guitar under Dylan’s lead vocals joined by Carmen on harmonies.  They close the EP out on an upbeat note with the hooky “Somebody Loves You”, that’s like a modern day take on 70’s sunshine pop with a bit of a rock edge.  With just four songs coming in at a little under twelve minutes I can guarantee you will be quick to be hitting the repeat over and over on this one.  

(The Money War / The Money War - Facebook)

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Robin George - Ace In My Hand

Back in 1984, after reading a glowing review in Kerrang magazine, I tracked down a copy of Robin George’s full-length debut Dangerous Music, and was hooked.  The entire album is a great collection of George’s distinctive take on hook-heavy melodic rock, and while it deserved to do better, lead single “Heartline” did hit number sixty-eight on the UK singles charts, ninety-two in the US Hot 100 and forty on the US Mainstream Rock chart (he had also released an EP a year earlier called The History).  Over the years he has released numerous other albums, both as a solo artist and as a member of several bands, including Notorious with ex Diamond Head vocalist Sean Harris, and Damage Control with Spike, Pete Way and Chris Slade.  He has also worked with an impressive array of musicians including Robert Plant, Phil Lynott, Glenn Hughes and John Wetton.  While The History EP marked his solo debut, he spent several years prior to that, from 1979 to 1981, recording tracks at a studio called the Old Smithy, in Worcester, England.  The tracks, twenty-four of which are included here, were recorded during studio downtime when paying customers weren’t there.  Although they have been remastered for this collection, the majority of the tracks are largely demos and sound pretty much the same as they did back then.  The liner notes are unfortunately a little thin on the details of who played on what, but the list of contributors is quite impressive, including drummers Dave Holland (Trapeze, Judas Priest) and Charlie Morgan (Elton John, Kate Bush, Paul McCartney), a young Pino Palladino on bass (around 21 at the time and future collaborator with The Who, Nine Inch Nails, Gary Numan, Jeff Beck, Elton John, Eric Clapton and many more), keyboardist Mark Stanway (Magnum), saxophonist Mel Collins (King Crimson, Camel) and backing vocals from Chris Thompson (Manfred Mann’s Earth Band) and Daniel Boone.  

A lot of the tracks contained here have the classic Robin George AOR sound that was so prominent on Dangerous Music, including an early version of the classic “Heartline”, here in a rawer, more stripped down demo form that has all the pieces in place.  Some of the other cuts that really showcase that sound include “Chance Of A Lifetime”, written with Peter Goalby, formerly of Uriah Heep and Trapeze, who recently released his own version, “Go Down Fighting”, which has some really interesting keyboard passages and a thumping bass (this was one of three tracks here that ended up on The History EP) and “Never Too Late”.  Elements of glam show up in “Ace In My Hand”, which also is a bit bluesy and has a really catchy groove, and “Streetwise”, an all out stomping glam rocker.  A few tracks find him really experimenting with other styles like the reggae rock of “Too Late” (another track that ended up on The History) and more keyboard and synth heavy songs like “Lying On My Telephone”, which is very reminiscent of MTV artists like Nik Kershaw, “Machine” and “Losing You”.  “She Plays Computer Games” is also more on the electronic side of things, but is darker, heavier and also has some vocal effects.  While there are a few weaker tracks, the majority of the remaining songs are really quite good.  The soulful “Castles In The Sky” is slow and laid-back with a bit of a lazy jazz groove.  “Get On Your Knees and Pray” is a heavier rocker with crunching guitars, a big pounding drum beat and some proggy keyboard flourishes (this one is a little rough and I would love to be able to hear a finished studio recording).  The power ballad “I Believed In You” starts with acoustic guitar and then shifts to electric with some really great harmonies and a strong guitar solo.  With the exception of some short bursts of the full electric band, “Johnny” is a highlight that is largely acoustic guitar and vocals and has some really good finger picking guitar with a hint of a Spanish guitar flair.  “Looks Better In Daylight” opens with some really nice acoustic guitar work and is another standout that is a very catchy, radio-friendly tune with a sound all its own.  The super catchy “Private Lives” has a hint of a funk groove and some great guitar work.  Very much in the vein of Boston, “She Really Blew My Mind” is an arena rocker with some great sax from Collins and some really beautiful ringing guitar work, and “Run In The Dark” is a nice, laid-back bluesy track with some great gospel chorus backing vocals.  During the recording of these sessions, Daniel Boone introduced George to ex-Uriah Heep vocalist David Byron, which led to the formation of The Byron Band, and in turn shifted his career direction.  While we will never know where George’s career would have gone had these sessions been properly finished, now thanks to Cherry Red and HNE, we are lucky enough to get the chance to hear what might have been.  

(HNE Recordings)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Frijid Pink - The Deram Recordings 1970-1971

Frijid Pink formed in Detroit in the late sixties and after releasing a couple of singles things took off with single number three, their cover of “House Of The Rising Sun”, which hit number four in the UK and number seven in the US (it was also number one in Germany).  Consisting of vocalist Tom Beaudry (aka Kelly Green), guitarist Gary Thompson, bassist Tom Harris and drummer Richard Stevers, they released their eponymous debut album in January 1970, followed five months later by the follow-up Defrosted, both on the Decca Records imprint Deram (for some reason while Larry Zelanka played keyboards on both albums, he wasn’t considered an official band member at this time).  The Deram Recordings 1970-1971 is great new two CD release that collects remastered versions of both of these along with the single tracks from this era of the band.   

Largely due to the success of that hit single, their self-titled album ended up peaking at number eleven on the US Charts (it was also number five in Canada).  “God Gave You Me” kicks the things off and is a solid midtempo bluesy rocker reminiscent of Free and is complemented nicely with Zelanka’s keys.  “Crying Shame” is a heavier rocker with some really good fuzzed out guitars and some extremely heavy drums that is at times strongly reminiscent of Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”.  The bluesier side of things is in the forefront of the next couple songs with the hard driving boogie woogie of “I’m On My Way” (check out the slide guitar on this one) and the straight-ahead blues rock of “Drivin’ Blues”.  Up next is one of the weaker tracks, “Tell Me Why”, which is full of more fuzzy guitars and hard-hitting drums but is a little disjointed and a bit of a mess.  Zeppelin comes to mind with “End Of The Line”, another heavy, hard-driving track with a bluesy undertone that really showcases Stever’s drumming.   Their cover of “House Of The Rising Sun” takes the song and darkens it up a bit into a somewhat haunting, heavy psychedelic rendition with more fuzz guitars, a throbbing bass line and a powerful vocal performance from Beaudry.  It’s a mystery to me how this version could be so successful then but seems to be virtually unknown today.  Clocking in at just over seven and a half minutes, “I Want To Be Your Lover” is a hard driving bluesy psychedelic rocker but has a minute long drum solo in the middle that while good, really messes up the flow of the song.  The album closes nicely with the reflective “Boozin’ Blues”, a slow, laid-back track with more strong guitar work and gentle piano.  Disc one also includes a couple of non-album tracks that were released on singles in late 1970 and early 1971.  While their bluesy rock take on “Heartbreak Hotel” has some solid honky tonk guitar it really isn’t very good and seems like it may have been a misguided attempt at following up “House Of The Rising Sun”.  “Music For The People” on the other hand is a really pretty ballad that utilizes a gospel choir and pushes the organ more to the front.  It is a definite standout and really different than anything else they’d done before.  

With their sophomore release following so close on the heels of the debut you would think that, like so many other bands, they might fall victim to it being a virtual clone, but to their credit that was not the case.  On Defrosted they did away with a lot of the psychedelia and fuzz guitars, often moving in a heavier, more stripped down sound, with the hard rock of opening track “Black Lace” being a great example of where they were heading.  “Sing A Song Of Freedom” is a blues rocker that sounds like a cross between Led Zeppelin and the Guess Who (the guitar solo is actually almost a little too close to “American Woman”).  They also fall into that trap on “I’ll Never Be Lonely”, an organ heavy track that is extremely reminiscent of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.  “Bye Bye Blues” is a powerful cut with some moodier guitar work that shifts between slow, bluesier sections and the heavy rock of Led Zeppelin.  The centerpiece of the album is “Pain In My Heart”, an eight minute plus heavy blues rock barnstormer with another great vocal and guitar performance and an extremely catchy groove.  They shift gears a bit on the instrumental “Sloony”, an interesting cut that’s basically a guitar solo played over a fast paced, jazzed tinged boogie.  “I’m Movin’” is another straight-ahead bluesy rocker that is a little more mainstream than anything else here, while “I Haven’t Got The Time” is the last song on the album and finds them moving in a harder Southern Rock direction, not so unlike The Allman Brothers.  Disc two also contains four more bonus tracks that were originally released on singles in June and December of 1971.  Most definitely the strangest of the four is “We’re Gonna Be There (When Johnny Comes Marchin’ Home)”, their take on the American Civil War song “When Johnny Comes Marchin’ Home” that harkens back to the harder edged psychedelia of their debut and is enhanced with female backing vocalists.  For some reason they also renamed it and somehow got away with crediting it to themselves.  On the flipside of that single was “Shorty Kline”, a bouncy track with more of a funk rock groove, a little glam and female backing vocalists once again. The tracks from the final single are “Lost Son”, a powerful ballad that’s a little heavier with a soulful blues side and a driving piano, and “I Love Her”, which has a Stones-like swagger, but with a little more of a glam pop feel.  Even though it was another strong release, Defrosted wasn’t a success like their debut.  In late 1971 the band left Decca and by the time their third album, Earth Omen, was released in 1972, Stevers and Harris were the only remaining original members (ironically this album also found Zelanka finally listed as a band member).  Over the years there have been various incarnations of the band including one that was a completely new lineup with no prior members.  The band still exists today with drummer Stevers as the only original member.  Sadly, Beaudry passed away in 2021. The Deram Recordings 1970-1971 is rounded out with a very informative booklet and is well worth diving into. 

(Esoteric Recordings)              

Sunday, July 09, 2023

California Man - Love Is Where Your Life Begins

I first came across John Aguon around 1992 after hearing the incredible Heads EP from his band Dead, White and Blue, and then having the chance to see them live.  They were getting ready to head into the studio to record their debut album Sonic Medicine For A Sick Nation for MCA Records, which unfortunately ended up being shelved by the label.  Having finally been able to hear that incredible album years later I firmly believe the band and album would have been huge (check it out here - Dead, White and Blue).  While they were recording that debut, he met Stephen DeBoard, drummer for the band Slammin’ Gladys, who was living in the apartment upstairs from him.  Over the ensuing years the two of them worked together in different bands, including a later incarnation of Dead, White and Blue, the alt country rock band Gypsy Sons and now California Man.  The roots of California Man started in approximately 2017 when Aguon called up DeBoard and said he’d been listening to songs Stephen had written over the years and wanted to know if they could record some of them with John singing.  He also wanted the freedom to do them in a way that worked for him stylewise and as a band with Thomas Ross Johansen on keys and Thom Arthur Richards on bass.  The resulting EP, Love Is Where Your Life Begins, contains three originals and a cover of Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, and is outstanding from start to finish, with well-crafted and arranged songs and great sounding production.  The musicianship is top-notch and John’s guitar work tends to give the songs an element that really sets them apart.  Kicking the EP off is “Positive Flow”, a strong rock track with an infectious psychedelic groove that is not so unlike a heavier version of the best of Enuff Z’Nuff.  There is also a really cool bass line that pops up at times through the song that gives it an unusual, yet catchy, thump.  “Eternal Dynamite” is a solid straight-ahead rocker with a bouncy, head-bopping beat, and the acoustic “Hey Man” has some killer vocal harmonies that give it a bit of a King’s X feel with some nice guitar flourishes and gentle piano (DeBoard also released a somewhat different version of this on his 2019 solo album).  They close the EP with their take on “Like A Rolling Stone”, which maintains the vibe of the original but gives it a bit of an edge, highlighted with Aguon's distinctive vocals and some great guitar work.  While only four songs, there is plenty of diversity here to keep thing fresh, which gives them unlimited potential for future releases.    

(California Man - Facebook)

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

Gamma - What’s Gone Is Gone - Complete Elektra Recordings 1979-1982

Following the demise of Montrose in 1977 and an instrumental solo album in 1978, guitarist Ronnie Montrose formed Gamma.  The band was initially rounded out with vocalist Davey Pattison, drummer Skip Gillette and former Montrose band members Alan Fitzgerald on bass and Jim Alcivar on synthesizers, both of whom had also played on Montrose’s solo album.  Over the course of five years, along with a few lineup changes, Gamma released the three albums found in the box set What’s Gone Is Gone - Complete Elektra Recordings 1979-1982, before breaking up in 1983.  The band also released another album in 2000, but that was not on Elektra Records, and is not included here.  

Wanting to remain vital, as the music of the times was changing, and the use of keyboards was becoming more predominant, Gamma 1 found him moving in more of an AOR direction and relied a lot more on synths.  As always, Montrose’s guitar playing is stellar throughout and while overall the album is really good, there are times when you can tell they were still working out adding the extra element to their music.  “Thunder and Lightning” gets things going and is a strong rocker reminiscent of Bad Company, but with vocoder and a lot more synths.  Next up is “I’m Alive”, originally recorded by The Hollies and the first of two covers on the album.  It starts with synths and vocoder and evolves into a meaty rocker that is very catchy.  Probably the high point of the release is “Razor King”, a dynamic track that still has that Bad Company / Foreigner sound, but with great synth passages that take it into prog territory and one of the album’s strongest guitar solos.  Starting off with almost video game sounding keys, which today definitely sound a bit dated, “No Tears” has a bit of a Rod Stewart feel and is one of the album’s weaker tracks.  The instrumental “Solar Heat” shows their more experimental side with spacey synths and a great Montrose solo.  Another album highlight is “Ready For Action”, a really catchy, muscular rocker with a bit of a bounce to the beat.  The second cover is their take on Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame singer-songwriter Mickey Newbury’s “Wish I Was” which adds a little diversity to the album, and is a really nice, laid-back bluesy version.  The album closes out strongly with “Fight To The Finish”, a tempo shifting rocker that at times shows some traces of Foreigner’s “Juke Box Hero”, which is of course the better-known track but was actually released a couple years later.  

Album number two, Gamma 2, found the band with two new members, Glenn Letsch on bass and Denny Carmasi (another former member of Montrose) on drums.  By this time they also seemed to figure out how to better incorporate the synths and the result is a more cohesive release, something that is evident immediately with the first two tracks, the muscular “Mean Streak” and “Four Horseman”, which blasts off with a fast-paced opening and turns into a solid rocker reminiscent of Rainbow.  While “Dirty City” is just a so-so track, sounding a lot like early Foreigner, “Voyager” is one of the album’s best, with a really nice, laid-back blues rock groove and a touch of soul.  Maintaining the catchy spirit of the original, their cover of Thunderclap Newman’s “Something In The Air” gives the song a bit of a rock kick.  “Cat on a Leash” is another album highlight, starting with synths before the guitar kicks in to create a solid rocker that sounds like a new wave version of Montrose.  The Montrose vibe continues on the meaty “Skin and Bone”, an interesting cut with synth flourishes and a bit of an experimental side.  Closer “Mayday” opens with crunching power chords before chirping synths and drums kick in to create a whirling dervish of guitars and synths swirling around each other to create an infectious rocker.  

Gamma 3 was the final album from the band until they reunited eighteen years later.  In addition to another member change with Mitchell Froom now taking over on keys (not synths which is what Alvicar was credited with on the first two), they moved a lot further into keyboard heavy AOR.  Montrose’s guitar work is still outstanding, but it's not in the forefront as much as before.  Openers “What’s Gone Is Gone” and “Right The First Time” display this perfectly.  While they are both very catchy, they are more melodic with the synths definitely pushed to the front and even Pattison’s vocals seem to have lost some of their bite.  Ironically this shift gave them their biggest hit with “Right The First Time”, hitting seventy-seven on the US charts and twenty-seven in Canada.  “Moving Violation” is one of the better songs, bringing to mind the heavier sound of Foreigner, but with a lot more synths.  The six and a half minutes plus “Mobile Devotion” is an album highlight and while still a little synth heavy, they are more rapid fire, and the track is a bit more on the hard rock end of things with a lot of shifting tempos and moods.   Carmassi’s drums are really heavy with some machine gun sections and Montrose’s soloing is back and better.  “Stranger” is a simple AOR rocker with a little more of a laid-back groove, and the instrumental “Condition Yellow” is a bouncy synth rock tune that has some good soloing from Montrose who shares the spotlight a lot more here than on previous instrumentals.  The light and breezy “Modern Girl” is a really nice laid-back track with an infectious groove, largely driven by Montrose's acoustic guitar.  Following “No Way Out”, another synth and vocoder heavy AOR track, is closer “Third Degree”, an album highlight that is darker and moodier with a hint of spacey prog thanks to Froom’s keys. The box also includes six bonus tracks that are all single edits of album tracks.  What’s Gone Is Gone - Complete Elektra Recordings 1979-1982 represents an interesting chapter in Montrose's career and is definitely worth picking up.  

(HNE Recordings)