Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Judas Priest "Stained Class"

Priest Coalesced
4 Out Of 5 Stars

For Judas Priest, "Stained Class" was the album where the band's sound coalesced into what became the classic priest. Glenn Tipton and KK Downing began their speed-metal roar, while Rob Halford's operatic wail began reaching new heights of aggression. From the thunderous opener of "Exciter" to the gothic morbidity of "Beyond The Realms of Death," the new wave of British Heavy Metal used this album as the eye to their mammoth hurricane. Any band who wants to claim otherwise (with the possible exception of Motorhead) can - as "Exciter" puts it - "fall to your knees and repent if you please."

There was a real sense of purpose the "Stained Class," as the band ditched any previous blues references and proggy ballads to just ram home their heavy metal vision. The music is often violent and macabre ("Savages" tales of citizens' revolts) or just anthems of rock-helmets everywhere ("White Heat, Red Hot"). There's even the song that put the band in front of a ludicrous court trial when "Better By You Better Than Me" was accused of causing a teen to commit suicide via backwards masking of a lyric telling him to "do it." Even crazier, it was one of Priest's journey into the realm of odd choices for cover songs, this one from Spooky Tooth. Like their cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust," "Better By You" gets turned inside out and gets a bonus dose of heavy metal drama.

The real drama is "Beyond The Realms of Death," where Halford really pours on the dramatics. He cries about living in a world full of sin that he no longer wants any part of, and taunts the listener with his desire to leave. (Funny how this song wasn't the one on trial.) Tipton and Downing let loose with a Sabbath worthy riff behind Halford until the song hits its climax...and leads into "Hero's End," where Halford poses the question "Why do you have to die to be a hero?" There's a lot of power between these two songs, a formula that Priest would refine even more come "Hell Bent For Leather." But if you need to pinpoint the record where Priest reached critical mass, "Stained Class" is it.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Alabama Shakes "Boys and Girls"

8.5 On the Richter Scale
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The debut from Alabama Shakes is a wall rattler. Fronted by a rock wailer named Brittany Howard, the band kicks in with a (sadly) low-fi amplifier buzz and a Tyrannosaurus stomp. Even with the primitive recording, there's no escaping that these four folks are the real deal, mixing their rock with R'n'B and Howard's force 10 voice. I was fortunate enough to catch them live at 2012's Newport Folk Festival and was so blown away that I had to get the CD as soon as I got home. They've got that much dynamism live, and "Boys and Girls" catches the better part of it.

Alabama Shakes are not a band you'll walk away from without an opinion. From the thunderous "Rise to The Sun" and the bluesy first single "Hold On," they exude personality and muscle. They also know how to work up a sweat (the Stones-like "Be Mine") or tease some Jack White humor (the brief story of a night gone hinky on "After The Party"). One almost hopes Jack White, who always seems to work magic with strong women in rootsy settings, gets a hold of them before someone slickens the band up for the sophomore effort. I'm already worried that the fans who have discovered this raw and young band (they've only been together for a couple of years) will be screaming sell-out once they get some polish. Frankly, that's something I think they need a little more of.

Just don't let that stop you from enjoying "Boys and Girls" now. Alabama Shakes make the most of their youth and Howard's raw talent. i am already wondering and hoping for what they grow into over time.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Grateful Dead "Wake of The Flood"

Weather Report
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I've often thought that the Grateful Dead entered the sessions for "Wake of The Flood" with an attitude of having something to prove. They'd ended a long standing deal with Warner Brothers records and decided to start their own record label (the initial catalog number was GD01), Ron "Pigpen" McKernan had passed away, and it had been some years since their last studio album "American Beauty." New keyboardist Keith Godchaux, and his wife Donna on backing vocals were in the studio for the first time as Dead Members (they'd already been featured on the two prior live albums). This was a new era for the band and they kicked it off with a stellar set.

"Wake of The Flood" continues the Dead's psychedelic folk-rock, with the team of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter locking up five of the disc's seven numbers, Keith joins Hunter for "Let Me Sing Your Blues Away" and Bob Weir delivers the epic "Weather Report Suite," one of the loveliest songs the group has ever done. "Stella Blue" features a passionate yet sad vocal from Garcia, and the chipper "Eyes of the World" has since become a deserved Dead Classic.

Still, it's Weir's three part and thirteen minute epic "Weather Report" that makes "Wake of The Flood" a keeper for me. Weir lays down a great vocal and Keith adds impeccable piano to the track, and the "Prelude" is simply beautiful. Ending with the jazzy "Let it Grow," the band previewed the kind of epic/suite styled recording that would come to full bloom on "Terrapin Station." Of the bonus tracks, the live rendition of "Eyes of The World" is the best of the three, and the early version of "China Doll" (released in a completed version on "From The Mars Hotel"). As a whole, "Wake of The Flood" found the band ever evolving, with a little jazzier side than before and a mellow groove over all. Even though it produced no real "hits" for the band, it remains a hidden gem in their discography.


Monday, September 24, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: The Darkness "Hot Cakes"

Seas of Sleeveless T-Shirts
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Cheesy, Sleazy and Tongue in cheekily, The Darkness make their return with their third CD, "Hot Cakes." (No, not the Carly Simon album from 1974...). From the pseudo-seventies sexism of the cover art to the glammy Queen-sized vocals and AC/DC guitar chunks, they sounds like they've not missed a beat since "One Way Ticket To Hell...And Back." They're half hard rock tribute and half inside joke, with the terrific part that Justin Hawkins knows that they can rock as hard as they wannabe and that they're 100% cool with being in on the joke.

Take the opening track, "Every Inch of You." Telling a semi-autobiographical tale of a "English man with a very high voice" who discovers Led Zepplin who went from "loser" to the man for whom all audience members want to suck in a protruding body part...wailed in that very high voice. Then you get the total Queen ripoff, "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us" and the Angus slamming guitars of "Everybody Have a Good Time." Derivative stuff all, and every inch of it pure fun. Even the hoary power ballads come off with a wink. The Darkness are smart enough to know that they possess about as much menace as a litter of puppies and subtlety of any given British Tabloid.

It's that they have this much obvious glee in doing what they do that makes them so likeable. "Hot Cakes" won't break any new ground, but don't let that stop you. I'd take the self-informed fun of The Darkness over the parodied self importance of a cookie-monster vocal-led rock band any day of the week.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Camping Out!

Camp was a delight this year. I had a four guests with me this time around and several folks who stayed over with me and Joel before the weekend even started. You could also add that I had several new members attending that I'd sponsored from last year and a bunch of new friends that were there for the first time.

I had some nice, if sporadic play this year, including two very intense sessions (one with one of my guests). But I also had to fight back my depression, even there. Despite being in the woods with 250 kinky men, my anxieties were really getting the better of me and I kept running back to my cabin and hiding. There was always a reason to venture back out, including some book sales, and to see people as they wandered around Command Central.

I really missed my friend Robert (from Copenhagen), who was not there this year, but will visit the states in October. Looking forward to that. I did retain my post on the board and will be continuing my role as secretary. The general meeting and first new board meeting minutes are already in the bag and awaiting approval. (Being severely unemployed has some perks.) Now we start planning for 2013!

I have to add to that. I have a part time job lately. I work at an FYE Music and Video store at the local mall, a mere ten minutes away. When I say part time, I really mean it. 10 hours a week over two days, at minimum wage. Beats nuthin'. I do get a discount though. I bought the new ZZ Top (really good), but can't afford to really take advantage of the savings. Such is life.

My Amazon Reviews: A-Ha "East of The Sun, West of The Moon"

4 Out Of 5 Stars

A slight comeback from the uneven "Stay On These Roads," A-Ha's "East of The Sun West of The Moon" started with the clap of a thunderstorm and ends with a fading rainstorm and more thunder. That should be enough to warn us all that the disc is off to some pretty moody territories, and you'd be correct in that assumption. It also was A-ha's total fade out from the American market, failing to break onto the US charts, although the terrific cover of "Crying In The Rain" did get some adult contemporary airplay. It doesn't diminish the band's chemistry in the slightest, though. Core duo of Morten Harket's falsetto vocals and Pal Waaktaar's guitar with Magne Furuholmen keyboards maintain the trio's overall sound.

Yet that sound, while unmistakeably A-ha (due mainly to Harket's incredible voice) is reaching out the bounds of synth pop. There's the moody and extended "Sycamore Leaves" and the guitar driven "Cold River." The harmonies of "Crying in The Rain" are more subdued than soaring, and the title track is a great story of looking for lost love. "Rolling Thunder" always felt like the end of the album to me, but there's a melancholy coda to follow..."Seemingly Nonstop July" ends the disc on a barebones acoustic guitar and modest keyboard line as Harket croons a hopeful, if brief, paean to younger lovers while a voice in the background yells "You better wise up, endless pain!"

It makes "East of the Sun" a middling A-Ha album, on a par with "Scoundrel Days", maybe a little under the follow-up "Memorial Beach." They were still making decent albums, even if the US had stopped paying attention.


Monday, September 10, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Fleetwood Mac "Tango In The Night"

Dance into the sunset
4 Out Of 5 Stars

While not as widely heralded as the band's always lauded "Rumours," "Tango In The Night" could easily be the best of their post "Rumours" efforts. This was the last album recorded by the Christine/John McVie, Stevie Nicks, Lindsay Buckingham and Mick Fleetwood Lineup (Buckingham split afterwards), The album peaked at number 7 and dropped two top ten singles in the twisted "Big Love" and "Little Lies," with "Seven Wonders" and "Everywhere" being substantial hits.

Starting off life as a Buckingham solo album, "Tango" morphed into a Fleetwood Mac group disc. Produced by Buckingham and longtime cohort Richard Dashut, he brought his edginess to a great portion of the disc, from the push and pull of "Big Love" to the quirky "Family Man." Nicks revisits her love songs to strong women theme with "Welcome to The Room (Sara)" and Christine McVie scored with the lovely "Everywhere." Mick gets to do more with his drums that usual, like the middle eastern vibe of "Caroline," and the title song. Buckingham is still in charge, though, his signature vocals are dominant throughout.

Even with that, this still sounds like a group effort thanks to the contributions from McVie and Nicks. It allows Buckingham to exit on a solid plain, while the rest of the band have offered him a gratifying curtain call. Still one of their best efforts. (Given the collapse that followed, that's worth repeating. "Behind The Mask" peaked at 33 and had one top 40 single;"Time" failed to even hot the top 100.)


Sunday, September 9, 2012

My Amazon Reviews: Queen "The Miracle"

Royal Therapy
3 Out of 5 Stars

Queen was in a personal impasse at the time of The Miracle. Brian May was dealing with a tempestuous divorce and Freddie Mercury had been diagnosed with AIDS. Most bands would have found a corner to crawl into and curled up into a fetal position. Queen took it as a chance to regroup and have each others' backs while pouring their hearts into the new album.

"The one thing we're all waiting for
Is peace on Earth - an end to war
It's a miracle we need, the miracle."

Kind of giving the album a purpose, the title song was pure Freddie gold. It bogs in the end with a cacophony before rising back up with a unified and gorgeous harmony front, before tearing into a riff monster from Brian, "I Want It All" (with the single mix on the bonus disc). It's kind of a polar opposite from "The Miracle"; instead of harmony and good will towards men, "I Want It All" let it rip with guitar solos and a lyric that literally demands that you give it up, and give it up now.

There was a little of Queen's issues popping through. It's easy to interpret "Scandal" as Brian having a go at the British Press over treatment of his private life while the marriage was coming apart, and "Was It All Worth It" sounds like Freddie beginning his questioning of life with AIDS, a topic that would dominate "Innuendo" two years later. (Freddie's health also prevented the bad from touring behind this album, despite it being their most successful US album since "The Game." There was a bit of silliness courtesy of Roger Taylor's "Invisible Man," a total 80's dance track (included in a 12-inch mix on the bonus CD). Queen may have been searching for a Miracle as the 80's were drawing to a close, and this CD did a good job of proving the band still could deliver.