Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Headstone - Bad Habits / Headstone

Headstone were formed in 1974 by Mark Ashton, drummer with Rare Bird, and Steve "Boltz" Bolton, who had spent the previous eighteen months as guitarist for Atomic Rooster.  When they met at a show where they were both playing, Ashton had stepped out from behind the drums and was working on some stuff as more of a singer/songwriter.  Ashton told Bolton he had a deal with EMI and had a bunch of songs already written, so he turned in his notice to Atomic Rooster and Headstone was born.  The band was only in existence for two short years, but they did release two solid albums that have now been remastered from the original tapes and released in a new two CD set from Esoteric Recordings.

For their debut Bad Habits the band consisted of just Ashton and Bolton along with a session rhythm section of Phil Chen on bass and Daryl “Chili” Charles on percussion.  The album opens strongly with the multi-dimensional “Don’t Turn Your Back”, which has a bit of a Bad Company classic rock vibe, but with a lot of tempo shifts that give it a funky groove at times and even a glimmer of Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy” during the chorus.  The slow and easygoing “Take Me Down” has a moody prog vibe that’s largely built around acoustic guitar, swirling synths and violin.  “High On You” is a very hook-heavy cut that is on the poppier side of things, complete with handclaps, while “Love You Too” is gentle and laid-back acoustic song that sounds like something you would hear at the beach on a lazy afternoon.  After starting off as a slinky cut driven by a funk-tinged bass and rapid-fire cymbals, “3 O B”, one of the album’s standout tracks, shifts into a heavier rocker with some great fuzzed out guitar and driving percussion.  The twenty-nine second long “Open Your Eyes” is a jaunty little acoustic guitar and vocal track that I wish they would have recorded as a full-fledged three-minute song.  The upbeat “Live For Each Other” has an infectious Caribbean flavored beat along with a bit of a rock edge and some great guitar work.  “You’ve Heard It All Before” is a beautiful acoustic guitar driven track with a tasty bluesy electric guitar solo.  The title track is a laid-back cut touching on a rootsier rock sound and is fleshed out with some great piano work from Rare Bird’s Dave Kaffinetti, while "Take A Plane” is a classic rocker with a bluesy party feel featuring guest harmony vocals from Carl Douglas of “Kung Fu Fighting” fame, Juanita Franklin and Rare Bird’s Steve Gould (they also contribute vocals to “Don’t Turn Your Back).  Closing the disc is “D M T”, a rocker that’s kind of a loose jam and has more great guitar work.  

Following the release of the debut, they needed new musicians for touring and to record the follow-up, so replacing Chen and Charles were drummer Peter Van Hooke, bassist Jerome Rimson and violinist Joe O’Donnell.  Unlike the debut, which with the exception of one song, was all written by Ashton, for their self-titled sophomore release the band contributed more, with Bolton writing three and Rimson also contributing a track.  The album opens with a couple of laid-back rockers in “Eastern Wind”, with its extremely catchy beat and some great Joe Walsh like guitar, and “Warm Sunny Days”, which has some very prominent bass work giving it a hint of funk along with some nice violin work.  “Turn Your Head” is a midtempo track with more thumping bass and nice guitar work that is a little reminiscent of yacht rock but with a bit more of an edge.  The mellow “Gyrosame” features Bolton on vocals and has a strong country rock feel and great interplay between the guitar and violin.  With guest appearances from Ian Dury and The Blockheads’ Chas Jankel on rhythm guitar and Max Middleton on piano, “Karma” is a bouncy, more upbeat rocker with a soulful funk groove.  They kick thing up a little on “Hard Road”, a powerful bluesy, hard rocker with some great feedback and reverb laden guitar along with some screaming violin.  “Large Weather We’re Having, Lucy” is a funky track driven by some great bass work and wah-wah guitar.  Bolton is back on vocals on “Searching Light” a laid-back bluesy track with strong vocal harmonies and a Mexican influence in the guitar work and the sound of castanets (make sure to listen for the strange Porky Pig like backing vocals towards the end).  “Get Through To You” is an everchanging track that starts off in a very pop vein before shifting into a dirty, blues-tinged rocker and then some funk.  The acoustic ballad “All I Ask” has a nice country rock vibe to it and features some great vocals from Juanita Franklin.  The disc closes out perfectly with “Someone’s Gotta Give”, a catchy, straight-ahead rocker that does a great job of showcasing everyone’s musicianship.  Following the album's release, the band did some touring in the UK supporting John Cale, Rory Gallagher and Roy Harper, but then broke up a short time later.  Despite getting good reviews, Headstone unfortunately never had much commercial success, but thankfully Esoteric is giving them a chance to be heard again.  The release is rounded out with a very informative CD booklet featuring an exclusive interview with Bolton.

(Esoteric Recordings)

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