Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dead Testaments: “231 MLK” (2014) CD Review

Dead Testaments are about to release a new CD, Mississippi Ave. It is their first release in three years, after the band took a break when drummer Matt Livingston had surgery to remove a non-malignant brain tumor. And if you think the darker feel of the new material is because of Matt’s experience, well, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The music of the band’s first release, 231 MLK, released in 2014, has a similar feel. Rather than, say, the bright feel of back porch folk, this is like late-night basement folk, with the lights down low – and  perhaps a purple lava lamp in the corner – and it is seriously good. The band includes Abe Houck on guitar and vocals, Matt Livingston on drums, Dave Maki on bass, Jeremy Southern on guitar and Allie Stafford on violin. Joining them are Drew Hamilton on trombone, Margaret Houck on vocals, Lorin Jones on trumpet, Ethan Key on saxophone and Stacy Newman on euphonium.

The EP opens with “Eyes In The Leaves.” It eases in, establishing a mellow, but intriguing atmosphere and vibe. It is intriguing, because at moments it has almost a comforting warmth, while at other moments it holds the possibility of danger, so you’re not certain if you’re safe in the world of this song. Interestingly, it is the work on drums that makes us feel that perhaps we’ll be all right. Also, there is a cool, late 1960s feel to the guitar at certain points. “Eyes In The Leaves” is followed by “Walking Backwards,” and right away it is the vocals that pull you in, the first lines delivered in deep, thoughtful, quiet tones, almost spoken, almost whispered. When the song then kicks in, it has already grabbed hold of you. Throughout the song, it is the vocal work that stands out, but I also really love the violin. This song has an interesting ending, with some unusual vocal play.

“Death Of Houston” has a good rock groove and delicious, deep vocals. There is something strangely catchy about this song, the repeated lines and sections make themselves a home in our heads, clearing out a spot in a corner and claiming it. And hey, we’re happy to have this music stay with us. I should point out that even the darker feel of certain sections isn’t depressing. Is it possible to be dark and uplifting? It seems so. My favorite track on this disc is “Cold Cold Lake,” in large part because of the vocals. There is something gorgeous and moving about this song. And after a minute or so, it kicks in with a haunting force that I love. Then halfway through, it goes in a different direction, the violin lighting the way, and this part is beautiful and emotional and it seems to create a strange landscape where the weight of people is rendered ineffective, and characters, rocks, trees float above the ground, and we can move slowly through them, or stand back if we wish. Everything is in motion around us. This is an excellent song to conclude the CD.

CD Track List
  1. Eyes In The Leaves
  2. Walking Backwards
  3. Death Of Houston
  4. Cold Cold Lake
231 MLK was released on March 22, 2014.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dead Testaments: “Mississippi Ave.” (2017) CD Review

Dead Testaments is a band based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, consisting of Isaac “Abe” Houck on guitar and vocals, Matt Livingston on drums, and Allie Stafford on violin and keys. They’ve been playing together since 2013, and in 2014 released their first CD, an EP titled 231 MLK. Now they’re following it up with another EP, Mississippi Ave. Why the three-year gap between CDs? Well, Matt had a brain tumor in 2015, and that required a couple of operations and a recovery period. But now that he’s back to health, the band is ready to continue, and this new CD contains four original songs. The sound of this album is mainly a kind of haunting folk rock, music that will draw you in and make you pay attention.

The EP opens with “Under The Sun,” a song that approaches you like some strange craft in a night when maybe you’ve had a bit too much to drink, or not quite enough – but regardless, you’re ready for whatever comes, be it answers or oblivion – for whatever it is, it promises to be interesting and different. Soon the song takes on a cool, dark groove, and the lyrics are offered quietly, simply, without unnecessary effort to reach us, for we’re already there: “We lit out for the west/Came back to the place where we began/Under the sun, under the sun.” And then that guitar part is just perfect. In the second half of the song, you find yourself drifting through the tunnel of a kaleidoscope where the colors are all deep shades of blue and purple and red. And voices remind you, over and over, “What has been will be again,” until past and future become meaningless, and you trust the groove, the voice, implicitly to carry you through.

“Under The Sun” is followed by “Ghosts Of The Civil War Trees,” which was the first single released from the EP, and was the song that got me interested in the band. It has a happier folk sound, a more positive feel right from the beginning, with light, playful touches, as if to reach out to the child in us all. Like a waltz from some collective past that we all dreamed one warm afternoon and then forgot.  And here suddenly it is again, beautiful and unnerving. “They are still swaying/Swinging low/Deep roots/Gorged on young blood/Full of seeds/Opening.” This is a wonderful song.

“Washed Up” is an interesting mix of folk and a kind of moody rock, with that electric guitar giving the song a kind of 1960s rock thing, at one point sounding almost like surf guitar. “There’s gold in those hills/I would take my bones and lay them in holes.” The EP then concludes with “Good Union Man,” which quickly creates a dark mood and atmosphere with its slow, nearly hypnotic groove.

CD Track List
  1. Under The Sun
  2. Ghosts Of The Civil War Trees
  3. Washed Up
  4. Good Union Man
Mississippi Ave. is scheduled to be released on April 30, 2017.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! DVD Review

In 1984, Stay Hungry was released. I got it, loved it, played that cassette over and over, especially “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I turned up the volume and shouted the lyrics along with Twisted Sister lead singer Dee Snider, aiming my voice at my parents, at the world. I was twelve years old. Like a lot of people, I thought Twisted Sister was a new band. I was wrong. So wrong. The band was twelve years old too.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! (and, yes, that’s the title that appears on screen – fuck those bloody asterisks on the DVD cover) tells the story of this band’s long, slow rise to fame. Twisted Sister was essentially a bar band for a decade – the most determined, hardest working bar band ever, perhaps. It is a fascinating story for any music fan (no, you don’t have to be a Twisted Sister fan to enjoy this documentary), and for anyone who appreciates an overcoming-the-odds type of story. When the film opens, we hear an audio warning over a black screen: “The act you’re about to see is not for the faint of heart. Twisted Sister has been accused of using foul, indecent and profane language during the course of their show.” And then we’re treated to some concert footage from 1982. After a moment, a title card reads “3267 shows earlier,” and we’re back in New York in 1972. Yeah, holy shit! That’s more shows than the Grateful Dead played in thirty years, and that band toured all the time.

The documentary features interviews with the band members, focusing on guitarist Jay Jay French and lead singer Dee Snider. Jay Jay French takes us back to the earliest days of the band, when the lineup was different, including a different singer, telling us about the band’s first gig playing to an audience made up of soldiers. Among the lineup changes in those early times was the addition of Dee Snider, who had been in a band called Peacock. There is information on the New York music scene of the 1970s, and how the clubs didn’t want bands to play original music. For a while, Twisted Sister was a cover band, and the film treats us to footage of them covering David Bowie’s “Suffragette City” and “Rebel Rebel,” as well as Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” (which had an interesting audience participation moment).

In addition to interviews with band members (including original members), this documentary includes interviews with the band’s managers, club owners and fans. And Suzette Snider (Dee’s wife) talks about seeing the band for the first time, and tells some funny anecdotes, like about what got her to start making clothes for Dee and the rest of the band. The band’s look was important, and the documentary gets into some detail about the clothes and makeup and so on, with the band members offering their own thoughts on it.

But what is fascinating is the lengths they would go in their determination to make it, and the number of times they got so close only to have something go wrong. Like the time they sold out the Palladium in 1979 without a record contract, and then had to postpone the show after a band member had a seizure. And the idea of putting on an entire rock concert for one record label executive is insane. Even after they finally recorded some music, they couldn’t get a record deal, so they put out the music as singles on their own label. These guys even bought air time on the radio, ad spots for their shows, but with one of their songs playing throughout the ads so that it was almost like the song got airplay. Brilliant. And even after they signed with a British label and recorded an album in the UK, things still went wrong.

The story of the efforts to get them signed to Atlantic is also wild. This documentary tells the tale of the band leading up to Stay Hungry, but ends without getting into that record or mentioning that memorable music video for “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (with its ties to Animal House). In fact, neither of the band’s two biggest hits – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” – are heard or even mentioned in the film. The documentary is really about the band getting there, not being there.

Special Features

This two-disc set contains plenty of bonus material. The first disc features a commentary track by director Andrew Horn. He mentions that the disclaimer at the beginning was from a live tape from Vermont. He also says he wasn’t a Twisted Sister fan (interestingly, he was a Deadhead in high school), and tells the story of how he got the idea for doing this project, and how the project grew as he learned more about the band. It’s surprising that he had trouble getting financing for this film. The first disc also includes the film’s trailer.

The second disc is all bonus footage, deleted and extended scenes, arranged by subject, including more concert footage (they play “Train Kept A-Rollin’”) as well as more interview footage. Dee Snider talks a lot about connecting with the audience. He even mentions that a Twisted Sister concert was like The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as far as audience participation. He also talks about singling out people who didn’t seem like they were enjoying themselves. There is also stuff about how Jay Jay and Dee would pretend they were high or drunk at concerts, even though neither of them ever drank or did drugs. They even sing, “Hey, hey, we’re the junkies,” a play on “(Theme From The) Monkees.” There is a funny anecdote about Jay Jay’s former teacher wanting a Twisted Sister T-shirt, and some hilarious stage banter about a new Olympic event. Jay Jay also tells a funny story about a stint as a waiter. There is plenty of interesting information in this bonus material. One fan mentions that Dee Snider would sit out the third set, and the band would just jam. There is approximately two and a half hours of bonus footage on this disc.

We Are Twisted Fucking Sister! is available as a two-disc DVD through Music Box Films.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Grateful Dead: “P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada” (2017) Record Review

Yes, it’s Record Store Day. I hadn’t realized Record Store Day has been going on for ten years, but the banner outside the record store assures me it has. Boy, time sure does fly. And, perhaps because of the anniversary, the list of releases this time around was impressive. There were plenty of records that I wanted, though only a few that I ended up purchasing. One of the releases I was most excited about is this live Grateful Dead recording from 1966, P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada, featuring, the band’s first gig ever outside of the U.S. They played a few nights in Vancouver, British Columbia, doing fairly short sets. I admittedly get excited about all Grateful Dead releases, but I am always particularly excited to hear a record that contains songs that other releases don’t have (or that few releases have). And this one contains a tune called “Cardboard Cowboy” that Phil Lesh wrote. The song is known by a few other titles, such as “No Left Turn Unstoned” (which is the first title I ever heard for this one, and is how Bob Weir introduces it at this show), but by any title it wasn’t played all that much by the band. This two-record set contains a few other early gems that the Dead soon stopped playing. On the Record Store Day official web site, it says this release is limited to 4,000 copies, but on the actual record cover it lists the number as 6,600.

This set opens with an original tune, “Standing On The Corner,” a song the Grateful Dead didn’t play all that much. Actually, there is a brief introduction, after which you can hear Phil say, “Our fame has preceded us.” “Standing On The Corner” is one of the songs on this release that the band only played in 1966. “I was standing on the corner, wondering what’s become of me/Well, things don’t seem to be the way they used to seem to be.”  It’s followed by a short version of “I Know You Rider,” played faster than they’d later play it, and with that extra verse. You know, the one that goes, “I drink muddy water, sleep in a hollow log.” “Next Time You See Me” is a fun Pigpen song with plenty of organ. Yeah, the organ was prominent in the mix in these early shows. That is followed by an energetic rendition of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World,” a song the band played often in the early days (and included on the band’s first record). The first side concludes with “You Don’t Have To Ask,” another fun original number. There is a bit of jamming on this one, a jam to get you dancing, the first jamming of the evening. But really, there isn’t a whole of exploration at this show (except of course during “Viola Lee Blues,” but more on that in a bit).

There is some more Pigpen to open the second side of the first record, “Big Boss Man,” Pigpen playing harmonica. That’s followed by “Stealin’,” one I am always happy to hear. This is another the band played a lot in the early days, then dropped from their repertoire. There’s a bit of humorous stage banter before “Cardboard Cowboy,” which Bob introduces as “No Left Turn Unstoned.” Apparently, it was most often referred to as “The Monster.” It’s certainly not among the band’s best material (in an interview, Phil Lesh called it an awful song; it has lines like “Watching mashed potatoes dribble in the heat of reality’s earth,” though in this version it sounds like “Watching mashed potatoes shrivel”), but it is a total delight to hear this rare number. The Grateful Dead covered Bob Dylan songs throughout their career, and on this release we get an early rendition of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.” “Cream Puff War” is a song that Jerry Garcia wrote the lyrics for as well as the music, and it ended up on the band’s first album. This version has a good, solid jam. After this song, Bob says, “We’ll be back, and we’re probably gonna play the last set tonight, and there’s gonna be a lot of entertainment in between, so stick around.” And he offers an unenthusiastic “Yippie.”

The real treat as far as jamming goes is of course the ten-minute “Viola Lee Blues” that opens Side 3, and it includes that odd little intro that they didn’t do too often. I love this song, and this is a really good version, with the jam getting pretty wild. The lines that often get stuck in my head are “I wrote a letter, mailed in the, mailed it in the air indeed/I wrote a letter, mailed it in the air/You may know by that letter I’ve got a friend somewhere.” Then “Beat It On Down The Line” comes on fast and strong. This version seems faster than most, or perhaps I’m getting slower. Who knows? Pigpen then delivers “Good Morning Little School Girl.” This is definitely not the best version of this song, with the sound of the vocals sounding less than perfect, and it seems we are missing something from the end. The band gets quieter at the end, but then it seems to quickly fade out. It’s weird, especially as the fourth side of this album is apparently from the following night. So the Dead came back, and just played three songs (or two, if “Viola Lee Blues” is actually from the first set)? I’ve read online that the show might actually be longer, but Owsley’s tape ran out. That seems odd too.

The fourth side of this album is from the following night, July 30th, at the same venue. From what I can gather, these four tracks were not played consecutively that night. It looks like “Cold Rain And Snow” was the second song of the night, “One Kind Favor” was the fourth, “Hey Little One” was the sixth, and “New Minglewood Blues” was the ninth and final song of the set. (Also, it looks like a lot of folks’ tapes of the 29th are incorrectly labeled as the 30th.) This “Cold Rain And Snow” has a lot of energy right from the start, and the organ is prominent. Jerry then gets bluesy with “One Kind Favor,” a song the Dead did just a few times in 1966. There is a little stage banter before they go into “Hey Little One,” another song the band only did in 1966. This two-LP set ends with “New Minglewood Blues” (which in the early days was listed as “New, New Minglewood Blues,” as it is here and on the band’s first album). The lyrics are delivered almost as a shout, and there’s a bit of stage banter at the end.

Record Track List

Side A
  1. Standing On The Corner
  2. I Know You Rider
  3. Next Time You See Me
  4. Sittin’ On Top Of The World
  5. You Don’t Have To Ask 
Side B
  1. Big Boss Man
  2. Stealin’
  3. Cardboard Cowboy
  4. It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
  5. Cream Puff War 
Side C
  1. Viola Lee Blues
  2. Beat It On Down The Line
  3. Good Mornin’ Little School Girl 
Side D
  1. Cold Rain And Snow
  2. One Kind Favor
  3. Hey Little One
  4. New, New Minglewood Blues
P.N.E. Garden Aud. Vancouver Canada was released on vinyl on April 22, 2017. By the way, as it turns out, all of these tracks were released on the second disc of the fiftieth anniversary deluxe edition two-CD set of the Grateful Dead’s first album. So if you missed out on the Record Store Day edition, you can still own the music on CD.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Mick Kolassa & Mark Telesca: “You Can’t Do That!” (2017) CD Review

There have been a lot of tributes to the Beatles released over the years. The reason for that, of course, is that the music is so damn good. Like songs in the Great American Songbook, the music of the Beatles lends itself to a wide variety of interpretations. On You Can’t Do That! blues singers and guitarists Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca team up to deliver some wonderful acoustic blues renditions of Beatles songs. Their choices include some of the band’s most well-known numbers, such as “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Feel Fine,” and also some songs that aren’t covered as often, such as “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and “Mean Mr. Mustard” into “Polythene Pam.” Joining Mick Kolassa (also known as Mississippi Mick) and Mark Telesca on this release are Jeff Jensen on guitar (Jensen also produced the album) and James Cunningham on drums and percussion. There are a few guest musicians who play on certain tracks.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca open with the album with “I’ll Cry Instead,” which of course is a perfect blues title. The song was originally on A Hard Day’s Night. And on this CD, this song is given a cool groove, with some wonderful touches by Marc Franklin on trumpet. Yeah, it’s blues, but it’s blues with a positive, happy sound. “I’ll Cry Instead” is followed by another song included on A Hard Day’s Night, “Can’t Buy Me Love.” This song was also released as a single in 1964, and reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Also a #1 hit for The Beatles in 1964 was “I Feel Fine.” Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a very cool, slow rendition of this one. Eric Hughes adds some good work on harmonica.

They then dip into some later Beatles material with a powerful and moving rendition of “Fixing A Hole,” a song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. On this version, they repeat “Where it will go” at the end of a stanza (well, that, or whichever line ends the stanza). They then go back to earlier material with “You Can’t Do That,” which was the flip side to “Can’t Buy Me Love” (and used as the title to this CD). And wow, listening to this version, it’s plain to see that this really is a blues song. It works so well. Seriously, it makes much more sense in a blues context than it does in rock or pop, with its theme of jealousy and with its threats of ending the relationship. Plus, there is some cool guitar work here. Eric Hughes plays both harmonica and guitar on this track. This is one of the album’s highlights.

Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca deliver a groovy interpretation of “Got To Get You Into My Life,” and an interesting rendition of “Lady Madonna.” I love the addition of fiddle to the latter. That’s Tommy Boroughs on fiddle. No horns on this version. This is a laid-back, slow version of “Lady Madonna,” a song that was originally released as a single in 1968, another #1 single for The Beatles. This is another of the highlights of You Can’t Do That! It’s followed by “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road,” another song from 1968, this one appearing on The Beatles (the White Album). I like this version a lot; there is something kind of catchy about it. They then return to the earlier days with “She’s A Woman,” which had been the flip side to “I Feel Fine.” It’s interesting that Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca include both sides of the “I Feel Fine” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” singles. I dig the rhythm to this rendition of “She’s A Woman.” Marc Franklin plays flugelhorn on this track.

They then conclude this acoustic blues tribute to The Beatles with three songs from the second side of Abbey Road: “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Polythene Pam” and “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” The first two are presented as a single track, “Mean Mr. Mustard” having a good rock feel. Toward the end of “Mean Mr. Mustard,” when he sings, “Lord, he’s a dirty old man,” I can’t help but think he’s talking about Donald Trump. Something in the way the line is delivered. The pace is then slowed for “Polythene Pam,” giving it a very different vibe from the original version. On Abbey Road, this song leads straight into “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window.” Interestingly, though that song also follows “Polythene Pam” here, “Polythene Pam” actually fades out at the end. And then “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” comes on strong, a delightful mix of blues and bluegrass, with Tommy Boroughs on mandolin. The vocals have a kind of amused, playful vibe, particularly on a line like “She could steal but she could not rob.” Though my favorite cover of this song is still that by Joe Cocker, I absolutely love what Mick Kolassa and Mark Telesca do with it here.

CD Track List
  1. I’ll Cry Instead
  2. Can’t Buy Me Love
  3. I Feel Fine
  4. Fixing A Hole
  5. You Can’t Do That
  6. Got To Get You Into My Life
  7. Lady Madonna
  8. Why Don’t We Do It In The Road
  9. She’s A Woman
  10. Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam
  11. She Came In Through The Bathroom Window 
You Can’t Do That! is scheduled to be released on May 5, 2017 on Swing Suit Records.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop (2017) CD Review

Sometimes it seems there is nothing better in the world than 1960s female vocal groups and solo acts. If you’ve got a hankering for some delicious, and largely forgotten, girl group gems, there is a new compilation that should totally delight you. Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop collects nineteen tracks from various artists, some of which you probably know, but several of which you may not have heard before. One of these songs was actually never before released. And Star Trek fans will be interested to know that what is probably the best track of this disc is a recording by Nichelle Nichols. Yes, Lt. Uhura. She does a fantastic rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” But more on that in a bit. The folks that put together this compilation obviously have a lot of love and passion for the music, and in the extensive liner notes, information on each of the songs and artists is included, along with photos.

This CD gets off to a good start with “I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy” by The What Four. First of all, The What Four might be the best name for a quartet I’ve ever heard. And this song is a lot of fun, with some cool work on guitar. This track seems to be as much about the groove as it is about the vocals. It has a sudden ending. This song was released as a single in 1966. It’s followed by “You’re My Loving Baby” by The Sweet Things. And true to the band’s name, this song has a sweet sound. This one was also released in 1966. “Don’t Monkey With Me” is a bit on the silly side, with those “nah nah nah” vocals. They sound so young, so it’s strange when they sing “I’ve been hurt so many times before/I can’t take that kind of heartache anymore.” But I really like this track. There is a youthful joy and excitement and innocence that is wonderful.

One of my favorite tracks is Linda Carr’s “Sweet Hunk Of Misery.” The song definitely has a Surpremes-like sound, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s a twisted sort of love song, in which the woman knows her man isn’t a catch, particularly as he’s mean to her, but loves him all the same. The song opens with these lines: “He’s my big hunk of misery/And I love him/’Cause I can’t help myself.” Linda Carr gives us a somewhat playful vocal performance which helps make this an enjoyable tune. The title alone is amusing. “Sweet Hunk Of Misery” is followed by “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice,” a catchy song from Gia Mateo. Sandi Sheldon’s “Baby You’re Mine” was released as the flip side to her single “You’re Gonna Make Me Love You,” and it features a pretty vocal performance.

Skeeter Davis is one of the artists on this album that you’re likely familiar with. Known for her country albums, she began recording pop songs as well, including “I Can’t Stay Mad At You,” written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. This song was a hit and was included on her Let Me Get Close To You LP. It’s a fun, bright pop tune, but is also about a woman staying with a man who’s probably not good for her. “You can run around/You can tell me lies/But there’s nothing I can do/I’ll never say goodbye/Because I can’t stay mad at you.” She even promises, “I’ll love you ‘til I die.” Poor girl. That one is followed by a song by another artist that you likely know, Erma Franklin. Sure, her sister Aretha became much more famous, but Erma recorded that phenomenal original version of “Piece Of My Heart” a year before Big Brother And The Holding Company also had a hit with it. On this compilation she sings “I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy,” and it is her excellent, powerful vocal delivery that elevates this tune to something special.

“The Rider” is one of the most interesting tracks on the album. It’s by a band called The Pussycats, whom you might not have heard of. But you almost certainly have heard of band member Abigail Haness. She was later in the band Jo Mama, and also sang with James Taylor and Carly Simon, among others. She also played Janet in the original U.S. production of The Rocky Horror Show, and according to one book I read provided Janet’s vocals on the soundtrack to the film The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Anyway, “The Rider” is a cool, strangely haunting tune. This song is another with a sudden ending. In fact, because it’s so abrupt, I assumed the actual ending was missing. Fortunately, that’s cleared up in the liner notes to this collection.

Another of my favorites from this album is “No News” by The Glories.  This is a powerful song with passionate vocals, and some cool work on horns. This song was released as a single in 1968, one of the best and most intriguing years for music. Carmen Cole’s rendition of “I Just Don’t Understand” is another of this disc’s highlights. It’s such a cool tune. Ann-Margret’s rendition was included on The Definitive Collection, which was released in March. Carmen Cole delivers an excellent version, and this one too features good work on harmonica. That’s followed by an unusual take on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” by Little Eva. You know Little Eva from her hit “The Loco-motion” (which later was also a hit for Grand Funk Railroad). In 1965, she released this rockin’ rendition of “Stand By Me,” which is another highlight of this collection.

But my favorite track is Nichelle Nichols’ version of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” I’ve heard a lot of covers of this song over the years, and while I don’t think a single one of them has been bad, this one is a total delight. It’s just so much bloody fun, going in some unexpected directions. This one moves at a good pace, and opens with backing vocalists singing “Get out of town, get out of town.” And then Nichelle Nichols clearly has a good time with it. This track was actually the flip side to her single “Know What I Mean,” which was released in 1967, during the time when the original Star Trek series aired. This collection concludes with “Talk That Sweet Talk” by Dorothy Jones, a track that was previously unreleased. You probably know Dorothy Jones from her work with The Cookies. Here she delivers a song written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It was recorded in 1961, and it’s strange that it was never released before, because it’s a really good track, with a strong vocal performance. “Oh baby, you’re kneeling at my feet now/And telling me I’m sweet now/You’re saying things that only time will show/Honey, talk that sweet talk/On Monday morning/Then I might believe that it’s so.”

CD Track List
  1. I’m Gonna Destroy That Boy – The What Four
  2. You’re My Loving Baby – The Sweet Things
  3. Don’t Monkey With Me – The Lollipops
  4. Sweet Hunk Of Misery – Linda Carr
  5. If You Can’t Say Anything Nice – Gia Mateo
  6. Baby You’re Mine – Sandi Sheldon
  7. I Can’t Stay Mad At You – Skeeter Davis
  8. I Don’t Want No Mama’s Boy – Erma Franklin
  9. The Rider – The Pussycats
  10. Gonna Make Him My Baby – April Young
  11. No News – The Glories
  12. Be Good To Your Baby – The Avons
  13. Gee Dad – Andrea Carroll
  14. I Wish I Had Known – Sandra Phillips
  15. I Just Don’t Understand – Carmen Cole
  16. Stand By Me – Little Eva
  17. Why Don’t You Do Right? – Nichelle Nichols
  18. Hangin’ On To My Baby – Tracey Dey
  19. Talk That Sweet Talk – Dorothy Jones 
Honeybeat: Groovy 60s Girl-Pop is scheduled to be released on April 21, 2017 through Real Gone Music.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Cheap Trick: “The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979)” (2017) CD Review

I’ve heard from many different people over the years that Cheap Trick puts on a fantastic concert. Somehow I have never managed to see them perform, even though I’ve been a fan of their music since I was a kid. I remember when I was ten, my family visited a radio station in Los Angeles – an easy listening station where my uncle worked at the time (I think the call letters were KJOI). The woman who gave us the tour could tell I wasn’t into the music playing over the speakers and she said to me, “You probably like Cheap Trick.” I confirmed her suspicions. Well, now with the release of The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979), I get a chance to delve into some rare Cheap Trick tracks, including early demos and live recordings. This compilation includes liner notes with thoughts on the songs by drummer Bun E. Carlos.

This collection opens with three demos from 1975 – “Come On, Come On,” “Southern Girls” and “Taxman, Mr. Thief.” Versions of all three of those songs would end up on the band’s two 1977 releases, Cheap Trick and In Color. (And the demos of “Come On, Come On” and “Southern Girls” were included on the expanded edition of In Color.) Obviously, these early versions have a rawer sound. I especially like “Southern Girls,” one of my favorite early songs. This version of “Taxman, Mr. Thief” is significantly longer than the album version. I love the different intro here, with just drums before the guitar comes in.

“You’re All Talk” is a song that ended up on In Color, but apparently it had originally been recorded for Cheap Trick. That early studio version is included on this release (it was also included on the expanded edition of Cheap Trick). Similar to the official version, this track is really good. (This collection also provides a live version from 1977.) And it’s followed by an early studio version of “I Want You To Want Me,” one of the band’s most popular songs. This song was on In Color, but the version we always heard was the live one from At Budokan. I remember getting At Budokan on cassette. Didn’t we all own that album back then? I think so. It was that live version of “I Want You To Want Me” that got played on the radio. Still is, I think. Well, the song was recorded for the self-titled debut record, and it’s that version that is included here. It includes a slightly longer intro than the studio release version, and playful delivery of some of the lines. “Lookout” is a song that was included on At Budokan, but wasn’t initially included on a studio album, though it was recorded. The studio version is included on this disc. A second version of this song is also included – a live version from April 27, 1978 that was, before now, only available on a promotional CD. It’s a damn good version.

“I Dig Go-Go Girls” is an odd one, and I appreciate Bun E. Carlos’ thoughts on it in the liner notes. The instrumental version of “Oh Boy,” which was used as the flip side to the single of “I Want You To Want Me,” is also included on this release. There are also alternate versions of two songs from Heaven Tonight – “Stiff Competition” (a fun song about erections) and “Surrender.” “Surrender” is, of course, another of the band’s most famous tunes. It was an important song of my youth, one that demanded I crank the volume up on my stereo and dance around like a maniac. Who was I to refuse? This song was also on At Budokan, and it’s that version that I listened to the most when I was growing up. The alternate version included here is a lot of fun, and it includes some variations on the lyrics in the verse about the mommy being in the Women’s Army Corps, plus some additional joking at the end as the song fades out. It’s definitely one of the disc’s highlights. The alternate version of “Dream Police” included on this CD is a rough mix from before the strings were added. I think I actually prefer this version.

There are several live tracks in this collection. In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, there is a great version of “Goodnight Now,” here titled “Goodnight.” It might not have quite the same energy as the version from At Budokan, but it’s still a version definitely worth hearing. The single edit of “Ain’t That A Shame” is included. I’m glad to have this, but it is definitely weird to trim a live performance, and two minutes are cut from the At Budokan version. The last three tracks are all from 1979, and were originally included on Budokan II – “Stiff Competition,” “How Are You” and “On Top Of The World.”

CD Track List
  1. Come On, Come On (Demo)
  2. Southern Girls (Demo)
  3. Taxman, Mr. Thief (Demo)
  4. You’re All Talk (Early Studio Version)
  5. I Want You To Want Me (Early Studio Version)
  6. Lookout (Studio Version)
  7. I Dig Go-Go Girls (Outtake)
  8. Oh Boy (Instrumental Version)
  9. You’re All Talk (Live ’77)
  10. Goodnight (Live ’77)
  11. Stiff Competition (Alternate Version)
  12. Surrender (Alternate Version)
  13. Ain’t That A Shame (Live at Budokan ’78 – Single Edit)
  14. Lookout (Live in Japan ’78)
  15. Dream Police (No Strings Version)
  16. Stiff Competition (Live at Budokan ’79)
  17. How Are You (Live at Budokan ’79)
  18. On Top Of The World (Live at Budokan ’79)
The Epic Archive Vol. 1 (1975-1979) is scheduled to be released on April 28, 2017 through Real Gone Music. It was made available digitally in 2015, though that version is without the second version of “Lookout,” the live version from 1978.