Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review of The Good Rats' "Play Dum"

I posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: The best album from The Good Rats' Marchello-and-sons period.

The Good Rats had two fairly discreet periods to their career. The first was their rise and fall as a burgeoning national band era, which ran from the mid-1970s through 1981. To the extent that they are known and remembered by rock fans in general, it was for their albums released during this period -- including Tasty (1974), Ratcity in Blue (1976), From Rats to Riches (1978) and Birth Comes to Us All (1979) -- and for their corresponding live shows during this decade. This was when the Good Rats performed with -- and often headlined over -- bands such as KISS, Rush, Aerosmith and Journey, all the while playing in some of the larger arenas in the US. 

Beginning in the mid-1990s, though, The Good Rats re-formed and reinvented themselves as something of a family business, with singer/songwriter Peppi Marchello fronting a new version of the band that featured his now-grown sons Gene and Stefan (and often found his middle-son Spencer selling merch) in shows at clubs throughout the New York Tri-state area. The Rats released a number of albums independently during this period of their existence, the best of which, arguably, was Play Dum.

Play Dum is hard to classify. It contains re-recorded versions of several songs first recorded by earlier incarnations of the band, including "Beethoven", "Joey Ferrari", "Mr. Mechanic", and "Mean Mother"; a few songs originally released on their 1996 Tasty Seconds album ("Thunder Rocks My Soul", "She's Stayin' Home Tonight" and "Football Madness"); and some songs that had first been placed on a very limited release (mostly to radio stations) LP called Let's Have Another Beer (2000). The album is also something of an anomaly, in that it was originally put out under the band name "Dum", in an experiment to see if they could attract a younger crowd by dispensing with the "Good Rats" moniker. 

For Good Rats fans, and rock fans in general, there's a lot to love about Play Dum, whether you consider it to be more of a studio release or a compilation album. Specifically, there is a troika of songs that are absolutely among the best tracks the Rats ever recorded, and a second-tier of very good songs just a level or so below these.

The aforementioned trio of honor includes "Ashes to Ashes", "World Party Anthem" and "The Springer Singalong". Think of the classic hard rock groups of the 1970s -- bands like Rush, AC/DC, Aerosmith, Mountain and even Led Zeppelin. "Ashes to Ashes" is a rock anthem in the same league as many of these bands' top works. It's a song about the cycle of life, and in typical Good Rats fashion, it's sung from the point of view of those of us who strive every day, but always feel we're somehow playing a losing game: "You play the wheel/You lose on black, so you switch to the red/Your horse was good/But he breaks down the stretch." It's a hard driving, dramatic track that features some of Gene Marchello's best guitar work.

The other two top songs on Play Dum are both of a more comedic nature. "World Party Anthem" (also sometimes known as "Let's Have Another Beer") is a mid-tempo number that advocates for massive alcohol consumption as the only real balm for life's many indignities. "Close their eyes and in a flash/Bills and wives have all their cash/And their sons are lazy boors/And their daughters all are whores". It shares a lot thematically with Jethro Tull's "Too Old to Rock 'N Roll: Too Young to Die", and maybe with the TV show Married With Children, except that this is more the drunkard's version of each. The other novelty number, "The Springer Singalong" has some fun with the Jerry Springer show, and other daytime television programs of the same ilk. It captures the essence of the kind of human train wrecks who populate these programs and make us all feel better about our own lives: "You sleep with your wife/You sleep with your dog/You sleep with your sisters, your cousins, and brothers-in-law/You're just a loser with no shame/Who needs his fifteen minutes of fame/Your time is now, you got the call!"

The second-tier numbers include several more good ones, including "Elbo", which pokes fun at some of the old blues singers who are much-revered in certain circles, in spite of the indifference of the public at large, and "6000 Days" which pays tribute to a young woman who passed away much too young. (I thought at first it was about Joan of Arc, but the lyrics make reference to her lovers and passions of the flesh, so I guess not.) It's also nice to have newly recorded versions of tracks such as "Beethoven", which had only previously been released in a live version, and "Joey Ferrari", which was one of the only worthwhile tracks on The Good Rats' primitive self-titled debut album in 1969. 

There are some misses here as well -- "Football Madness" was really nothing but an attempt by Marchello to try to market his way into a deal with the NFL -- and all told, I prefer the original versions of "Mr. Mechanic" and "Mean Mother" -- but this is nitpicking. In general, Play Dum is a very strong album. If you're a fan of the classic version of The Good Rats, you'll want to give this a listen. And if you're a devotee of 1970s-style hard rock who somehow wasn't previously familiar with The Good Rats, while I'd suggest that you start by listening to some of their classic albums like Tasty and From Rats to Riches, you're probably going to enjoy Play Dum as well.


Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Monday, November 19, 2018

Review of Procol Harum's "Procol's Ninth"

I posted this review this morning on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: Procol Harum meets Leiber and Stoller = Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein.


The Universal Horror film franchises of the 1930s followed a predictable arc. They'd release a movie like Frankenstein, and it would be cutting edge. The story would be strong, the characters would be well-defined, and the monster would be terrifying. Then they'd make a sequel or two, and that would be fine. In some cases, such as Bride of Frankenstein, people would consider the follow-up even better than the original. But inevitably, as the novelty wore off, it would be hard to keep the monster frightening. Soon, Frankenstein would be teaming up with other fading horror icons, like Dracula and The Wolf Man. There was fun to be had in these films, but let's face it -- the scares were growing more and more infrequent. And finally, sadly, when there wasn't any other way to make money on the franchise, where would it end up? Playing straight man to Abbott and Costello. 

You see where I'm going here. Procol Harum, in the beginning, was a weird and wonderful band. The music was frequently strange, Gary Brooker's voice was musky and unique, and Keith Reid's lyrics were like Greek and Roman legends. By their middle period, say around the point of Grand Hotel and Exotic Birds and Fruit, they were still making a lot of excellent music, but some of it was maybe a bit of a self-parody. And especially because Exotic Birds and Fruit didn't sell nearly as well as the band's previous LPs, by the time they starting making Procol's Ninth (which was actually their eighth studio album - it was their ninth counting the live album), they were looking for fresh ideas. Enter Leiber and Stoller.

Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were one of the most popular songwriting teams of the 1950s. Between them, they wrote or co-wrote over 70 charting singles, including several of Elvis Presley's best-loved songs. By the 1970s, they had reinvented themselves as successful record producers. In a way, it made sense that when Procol started looking for a fresh approach, they'd look to these two songsmiths for help, as there was actually some history between them - The Paramounts, Procol Harum's precursor band, had their one hit single with a cover of the songwriting duo's classic, "Poison Ivy" (originally made famous by The Coasters).

Unfortunately, it wasn't a great fit. While Procol had always had some powerful blues-rock roots, the band's real strength was in their oddness. Leiber and Stoller's instincts were to move them back in a more basic direction. The result wasn't a total disaster, but it wasn't really a success either. 

Far and away, the highlight of Procol's Ninth is the first track, "Pandora's Box". This one is a slow, cool jam with lyrics that encompass Snow White, flying horses, the composer Handel, and pirates crossing the Spanish Main. It was, to date, the band's last charting single. It was also their last truly great song.

Beyond that, you have to take your pleasures where you find them. One of mine is the LP's final song, a cover of The Beatles' "Eight Days a Week" that finds Brooker singing the song's counter-melody every other line or so. Some critics have complained that it throws off the album's general vibe, and feels out of place, but I see it more as a breath of fresh air on a project that just isn't that consistently interesting. I also like "The Final Thrust", which is kind of like a bizarre military march, and "The Piper's Tune", which was the B-side of the "Pandora's Box" single. Of the more basic rock fare, "Fool's Gold" and "Typewriter Torment" (the latter of which is Reid's fairly amusing take on writer's block) seem to me to be the most interesting efforts.

Procol's Ninth is probably best seen in retrospect as an effort by a band that was running out of steam, but still had a few tricks up its sleeve. In comparison to previous Procol albums, it's kind of colorless (as exemplified by the cover art - a basic photo of the band inserted against a plain gray background). But sadly, it's still better than the LPs that were to follow. It's the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein of Procol Harum albums.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Filthy Twolips, Chesty Malone and The Slice 'Em Ups, Jones Crusher -- Warning: Explicit Language!

It was another one of those weeks. I've been having so many of them lately that I won't bore you by going into it anymore. I bring it up only because I almost didn't go out last night, except that the last time I was supposed to go see Jones Crusher, I punked out (pun intended) and stayed home that night. So this time, I was determined to get my butt out the door to support one of Long Island's treasures, the mighty Crusher. And in the end, I'm glad I did.

I had run into Sean and Dan Crusher a couple of months ago at the Gary Numan show, and that was when Sean had told me that Crusher was doing a Thanksgiving show at Mr. Beery's in November. This sounded good to me, so I put it on my calendar.

I've had some computer problems recently, so I haven't been able to get onto Denise's Facebook page as easily as before. However, during the week, Sean contacted Denise and asked if I'd be willing to join him onstage to sing my song with him (more on that later), and what key was it in? I sent the info back, but told her to let him know I'd had a bad cold all week, so I wasn't sure if I'd have any voice come Saturday.

By Saturday, I still wasn't sure. I'd spent the last few days drinking hot teas and eating chicken soup, but I definitely wasn't in peak condition.

Originally, I kind of planned this as a group outing. I was hoping Denise would be able to come with me, although part of me was relieved that she'd be at home, so if there were any problems on that front, she'd be there to handle it. I was also hoping our friend Rich the drummer could join us, but he also had a busy day planned, which I think ended at Bartini's (or maybe a different venue?) to see our friend Chris play in the band Media Crime. So I was on my own.

I actually found Mr. Beery's after one false move (I always forget if I should be looking to get off the Southern State at Route 106 or 107. Turns out there is no exit for 106 -- I think it sprouts out of Route 107 somewhere further up north.) I should remember how to get there, but it's been about ten years since the last time I was there. (Life flies by when you're a Dad.)

It turns out the show was a benefit show that Sean put together for his friend (and longtime Crusher fan) Kevin Williams. Kevin is a frequent world traveler, but recently, he had a horrific auto accident in Germany. From what I understand, this was further complicated by a botched surgery after the wreck, which has left Kevin paralyzed from the hips down. And because of his condition, it's going to cost $50 or $60,000 just to fly him back to the States. So the show was put together to at least help with this.

Now a word about Mr. Beery's: Steve Beery has been one of the foremost supporters of the original music scene on Long Island for decades now. He's also always Johnny-on-the-spot for benefit shows. Look at his calendar almost any month, and chances are, there's a benefit going on at Beery's.

I arrived at Beery's at about 9PM, parked in front of the nearby Dunkin' Donuts (which is blessedly always open late if you need a cup of coffee or a donut before your ride home), and came in. I found a seat at the very end of the bar, which worked for me. I settled in, as Sean set up the musical equipment onstage.

I hoped to run into a few familiar faces from the music scene, but except for the Crushers and Steve Beery himself, that didn't happen. (Weirdly enough, the only familiar person I did run into was someone who recognized me from the Patchogue Weight Watchers meetings.) So I spent most of the night simply listening to the music, and texting with my family.

The first band up was a punk rock band from Long Beach, called the Filthy Twolips. They played a fairly long set (which I suspect was longer than they intended -- at one point, Sean asked them to stretch it out a little, probably indicating that the second band was stuck in traffic.) Their songs were short, and often kind of funny. One song was called "Sex Offender", and seemed to be at least partially about Penn State football coaches. It was hard to understand everything, as I was a little bit removed from the action, but I'd swear that another was about "choking on a dick." Still a third was called "Gimme Gimme VD Baby". For obvious reasons, I don't think they'd be my first choice to play an all-ages party at your local community center. But for a bar, on a Saturday night, I thought they were pretty enjoyable. (They also did a couple of hockey-themed songs, possibly as a homage to the well-loved Long Island punk band Two Man Advantage. Or possibly not.)

As the next band set up, there were a bunch a raffle tickets sold for the benefit, and shot girls wandered around with trays of jello shots. As usual, I sat there with my Diet Coke. I'd have ordered food to support the place (and my belly), but the only food Beery's sells themselves are bags of chips. (Although for the starving, they will, as a courtesy, put in a call to order something from the diner next door.) They drew the 50-50 raffle. I didn't win, but the guy who did was nice enough to donate the money back into Kevin's relief fund.

Sean served as Master of Ceremonies throughout the night, sometimes wearing a top hat, sometimes a London bobby hat (looking for all the world as if he was about to blurt out, "Here now, what's all this, then?"). He also entertained the crowd with his best Rodney Dangerfield impersonation and Henny Youngman jokes.

The next band up was a high-energy act from Brooklyn, called Chesty Malone and the Slice 'Em Ups. This was more of a biker/serial killer punk rock band with a female lead singer. In some ways , they made me think of the old '80s horror flick Alone in the Dark, which featured a rock band called the Sic Fucks, who brandished axes and sang a song called "Chop Up Your Mother". Chesty and the boys entertained the crowd with touching little ditties such as "Fucking and Killing" (which I suspect was their version of that lovely Sound of Music song, "My Favorite Things"). They also did a number called "Everybody Hurts", although somehow, their song sounded a lot more painful than the R.E.M. song of the same name (which they referenced in their intro). These guys have apparently been around since 2006, and it shows (in a good way). They're lively, and polished, and they know how to keep a crowd's attention.

By the time Chesty Malone finished, it was almost 11PM, and things were getting dicey. I hadn't really planned to stay too late, as I'd promised my son I'd give his friend a ride home. But I came out to see Jones Crusher, and I certainly intended to see at least some of their set. Luckily, my son is always delighted if his friends can stay over later. I definitely felt under a bit of time pressure, though.

This time pressure got even worse, as Sean and the band were then obliged to not only set up their gear, but also to draw tickets for an incredible number of raffles. They raffled off an acoustic guitar, tickets to the Beery's New Year's show, tickets to some other show on the following night (which I can't even remember whose show it was), band march from the Twolips, band merch from Chesty Malone, band march from bands I'd never heard of who weren't even there, and so on and so forth. And half of the numbers that were drawn had to be drawn again, as the winner had either left for the evening, or was too blasted to read his (or her) ticket. I munched nervously on a chocolate cup cake provided for the show by one of Sean's baker friends, and kept an eye on the time. The last couple of raffle items, I think, were just lobbed gently into the crowd, without even being won, so that Crusher could get their set started. And finally, at about 11:45, they did.

Jones Crusher always puts on an enjoyable show. I haven't seen the band in a while, so I was surprised to see that Sean and Dan's new bandmate is a young female bass player, Marissa Tres Crusher. (At one point, Sean said she was from Romania, but I'm pretty sure he was joking, as he also claimed that Dan was from Hungary.) They then blazed into a set that included a lot of material I wasn't previously familiar with (such as "Move to Brooklyn", "Intimidation Room" and Doctor Winston"), plus a few Crusher classics that I definitely knew (including "Arm Chair Vampire" and one of my personal favorites, "Chinese Buffet"). At one point, I thought I was definitely going to have to leave mid-set, and I even put my jacket on. But like an FBI hostage negotiator, I was able to work it out with my son that his friend would stay until 2. (At this point, it was about 12:15, and the ride home is about an hour). So I knew I'd be able to stay for the full set. A song or two later, Sean called out from the stage, and asked if I was still in the house. And so, in my secret identity as blues singer Howlin' Hughes, I made my way towards the front of the room, where Steve Beery and I joined The Crusher for an abrupt change in musical direction.

Most artists have their greatest hits. Overkill! I have one, singular, greatest hit. And God forbid it doesn't go over, because after that, I've got nothin'.

Now bear in mind, in real life, I'm a musical idiot who happens to love music. I can play just a little bit of acoustic guitar, and that's the extent of my musicianship. When I write about music, I write about what I hear, and how it affects me, but I don't have a great deal of technical knowledge to draw from. But somewhere along the way, some kindly real musician taught me that if I told a band of musicians who actually knew what they were doing to play "12-bar blues in the key of G", I'd most likely get some approximation of what I needed in order to sing my song with them. So with Steve warming up his key of G harmonica, and the mighty Crusher preparing to accompany me, for the first time in about ten years, I prepared to reach for my blues voice and see if I could manage to croak something out that wouldn't just embarrass the hell out of all of us.

"Alien Anal Probe Blues", my aforementioned "greatest hit", was inspired equally from three things. The first was from the stories of Michael McMullen, the creator and lead singer/guitarist of the space rock band Argon and the Flying Saucers. Mike created Argon because as a young man growing up in Selden in the eighties, he spent a lot of time watching the skies. And according to him, the Island was a hotbed of UFO activity at that time. This is likely true, because what Mike didn't know then was that there was some sort of Air Force base on the South Shore that was obviously the source of a goodly percentage of the night lights in the sky he was witnessing. But Mike's stories led me to always associate the Selden and Stony Brook area with space aliens.

The second inspiration was the blues. I have to admit, I'm not really a big blues fan, although Long Island has quite a good (and an active) blues scene. But I've always kind of teased my blues friends about the simple structures of some blues songs, and argued that they were all interchangeable -- that you could sing any blues song over the chords of just about any other blues song. (I know this is a vast oversimplification, but I'm kind of a dick that way. I also used to argue straight-facedly with my hip-hop fan friends that rap was invented by Deborah Harry.)

And although I wasn't consciously aware of it at the time, I'm sure that the third inspiration for my song was the show South Park, and in particular, the episode "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe".

Anyway, one night, while driving home on Nicolls Road and listening to a blues show on WUSB, the Stony Brook University radio station, I started making up lyrics to the song that was playing. Then I sang them again to the next song they played. And I continued entertaining myself all the way home in this manner. When I got home, I wrote down some of the lyrics I'd made up, and that's how my one "greatest hit", "Alien Anal Probe Blues" was born.

Back to the Jones Crusher performance. Sean started playing - and for any of you guys who think Sean is "just" a punk guitarist, think again, because the man is a super talented musician. His love is punk, but he can play pretty much anything. He gave me an enthusiastic intro, as the rest of the band kicked in behind him. Then Steve started chiming in with this great harmonica intro. It was now or never, so I reached for my voice, fully expecting to hoc up a lung instead. But amazingly, it was there!

I could see a lot of people standing up front, and laughing. We played the song a little faster than I'm used to, but it was a raucous version that held the crowd's attention. Steve's harmonica solo was excellent (I never knew he played before tonight). A couple of times, I had to go low instead of high -- could have been because of the cold, or could have been that my voice has dropped half a key over the last ten years -- but in any event, the song worked, so that's all I could have hoped for. When we finished, there was a great response from the crowd, and a chant went up for "one more song!" I jumped off the stage as quickly as I could, because I definitely didn't have another song, but I knew the Crusher would.

I'm embarrassed to tell you how much I enjoyed that. I'd like to be the cool guy, and just play it off like, "It was all right", but I'd be lying. After a rough week (and a rough year), I have to admit that performing my song with Jones Crusher and having it go over well really cheered me up immensely. (I'm also a little embarrassed that I devoted about six paragraphs of this write-up to my dopey alien song, and about one paragraph each for the bands that actually knew what they were doing. But not so embarrassed that I'm going to delete them. That's the benefit of it being my blog.)

Crusher played their one last song, as I made my way back to gather up my jacket and my water bottle. (That's right -- I started out drinking Diet Coke, the switched to bottled water -- because I live on the edge, baby!) I said my goodnights to Steve, Sean, and the band. There was another band scheduled to play the last set of the night -- and a pretty good one, from what I hear -- called Flake. But I had promises to keep, as Robert Frost would say.  So I scooted out to my car, drove back home to Patchogue, and got my son's friend where he needed to go.

Anyway, thanks to Sean and Jones Crusher, Steve Beery, The Filthy Twolips, and Chesty Malone and the Slice 'Em Ups, for a fun night of music.




Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review of Eliza Gilkyson's "Secularia"

I posted this review on the Sputnik Music website a few minutes ago:


Review Summary: A beautiful album of spiritual folk music.

This album has been one of the more pleasant surprises of 2018. Eliza Gilkyson is an American folk artist who released her first album back in 1969. Overall, she has more than twenty LPs under her belt. She's one of those musicians who is cherished within folk circles, but almost completely unknown to the public at large. As best I can tell, she's based out of Austin, TX, although she seems to have also spent significant parts of her career in Los Angeles (and at one time, was a singer/composer for Disney films) and in Santa Fe, NM. She's also one of these people who grew up around music - her father Terry Gilkyson was a folk musician, and her brother Tony is an L.A.-based rock musician.

On Secularia, Gilkyson's latest release, her style is basic folk, with light elements of country and gospel. The album is an exploration of spirituality, but not in the traditional, organized religion sense. (The CD case includes a quote from Woody Guthrie: "My religion is so big, no matter who you are, you're in it, and no matter what you do you can't get out of it.") Upon first listen, I assumed that a number of these songs were covers of standards, including a track called "Emmanuelle", which I supposed to be a traditional Scottish song. As it turns out, though, I was mistaken. Of the album's 12 songs, the only cover is her gentle version of the old spiritual song "Down by the Riverside".

Gilkyson has quite a pleasant voice, and while several of the tunes make it clear that she's horrified by many of the actions people have taken throughout history that have been justified by religion (e.g., "In the Name of the Lord"), it's not at all a preachy album. Instead, it's humble, and personal, and mostly peaceful. The first track, "Solitary Singer", sets the tone. This one was written by her father, based on a poem written by her grandmother. It's a quiet, slightly sad song, about doing one's best singing alone, late at night, when no one can hear.

There are a number of guest appearances on this LP. Folk icon Shawn Colvin joins Gilkyson for some harmonies on a track called "Conservation", while The Tosca String Quartet plays on a slow, ravishingly lovely piano number named "Reunion". The late Jimmy LaFave also sings a duet with her on the "Down by the Riverside" cover, while Gospel singer Sam Butler joins Gilkyson, tenor David Hurst and bass singer Darryl Boudreaux for four-part harmony on another exquisite track called "Sanctuary". 

Nevertheless, some of the most powerful tracks on Secularia are also some of the sparsest. The (almost) title track, "Seculare" is a simple song of gratitude, wherein Gilkyson thanks her God not only for miracles of nature such as the stars and the rivers, and for the things that have gone well in her life, but also for the hardships: "Thank you for the my tears/Loved ones who forgave me/Thank you for my darkest years/All the sorrows that made me/And the beauty that saved me." And "Instrument" ends the LP on something of a bittersweet note, as she sings, "I'm your unworthy instrument/Come strike my final tones/And blow your horn magnificent/Through the hollow of my bones."

Secularia is an album of rare sincerity and beauty. If you let it in, it's likely to grow on you.


Rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Renaissance

So for me, it was two nights, two concerts in a row at the Boulton Center in Bay Shore. As soon as I saw that Renaissance was coming to Long Island, I picked up some tickets right away. They're a band I've always liked a lot, but never seen live before. (Mind you, as is the case with so many iconic '70s bands, when I say "Renaissance", I mean lead singer Annie Haslam singing a bunch of Renaissance music with a band of more-or-less newbies. I can't even say she's the only original member, because technically, she didn't even join until the band's third album.)

Now after seeing Leslie West last night, I was a little worried about what Haslam had left in the tank. I had heard rumors twenty years ago that she had blown her voice out with hard living. But as she has still continued to earn a living as a musician for most of the years since then (although she's also become known for her paintings), I figured that must have been an exaggeration.

As it turns out, I'm really glad I bought the tickets.

My back was feeling much better today. (I must have slept it back into the right position). I spent a fairly quiet day at home, watching some TV, listening to some music, and catching up on some proofreading work. Denise, who abhors loud rock groups like Mountain, but who also isn't usually that big on progressive rock, was coming with me tonight. It's kind of weird -- she loves Renaissance, and has seen them live several times before. But the only other progressive rock bands she has any affection for are Jethro Tull (who she's seen with me several times now) and The Who (to the extent you consider them to be progressive rock). Even a band like Yes she has no interest in. So she and I were going together tonight, and were meeting our friend Rich the drummer as well.

We met Rich for an excellent pre-show dinner at the Chinese restaurant down the block, and were in our seats by 6:45pm (15 minutes prior to showtime). We had excellent third row seats for this show, because I jumped on the tickets right away when they went on sail.

At 7pm, the usual opening announcements occurred, and a few moments later, the band took the stage.

A few points of interest: 1. Renaissance played as a 6-piece tonight - Haslam, a (mostly acoustic) guitarist, a bass player, two keyboard players, and a drummer; 2. Frank Pagano, the aforementioned drummer, must have been terrified of assassination, because they had him and his drum kit safely hidden behind a (probably bulletproof) plexiglass wall; and 3. The current tour is listed as the "Day of the Dreamer Tour", which is weird, because Day of the Dreamer is a 2000 live album, but whatever.

Anyway, the band came out, and went right into "Prologue". Here's a little-known fact. I actually wrote the lyrics for that song, but do they ever give me credit for it? No! Now Annie seemed a little stern during most of this number, which concerned me, because I wondered if that's how she'd be for the whole night. It must have been just a need for concentration as she warmed up, though, because as soon as the song was ever, it became apparent that she has kind of a silly, and delightfully girlish (she's 71 years old) personality. She was wearing an ankle-length silk-looking dress, that apparently bore the design from one of her paintings. There was a black corset thingy on top, and early on, she told us all that although we couldn't see it, underneath the corset thingy, the top of her dress bore a picture of a little space-alien boy (who she proceeded to talk to for the rest of the night).

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard "Prologue", because although they had her voice just a little low in the mix for this song - the guitarist's voice drowned her out a little - I could hear enough to be sure that she still had plenty of voice left. And as the night wore on, it became apparent that although her voice tends to wander a bit in her lower register, when she starts reaching for those ridiculous high notes of hers, it's all aces.

Overall, the band played for a solid two hours. Their songs tend to be a little long, so this only encompassed an 11-song setlist (including the encore), but I can't say they cheated the audience in any way. My only minor complaint of the night (and it really is a minor one) is that after the first few songs, they tended to play a lot of relatively obscure material at the expense of some of their most popular songs. So at one point, when someone in the audience shouted out "Play Mother Russia!", Haslam kind of snapped at him, "Oh, sod off!" even though they were including it in their setlist as recently as this past September. She later explained that sometimes the band needs to give certain songs a rest, and then come back to them on a later tour. (Which I get, from the artist's perspective. But from the audience's perspective, it's more like, "Hey, but I'm here tonight!") In any event, they didn't play anything at all from Turn of the Cards, one of their most popular albums. On the other hand, pretty much everything they did play was delightful, including a song called "Symphony of Light", about Leonardo da Vinci, and "Renaissance Man", a song written in honor of the late Renaissance guitarist Michael Dunford. Still, I wouldn't have minded hearing some favorites like "Mother Russia", "Ashes Are Burning" and "Black Flame".

Anyway, this was one show that was well worth the ticket price. My year of live music is now winding down -- I only have two planned live shows left between now and the end of the year. One is a local act, and the other a national classic rocker. So I'll tell you about them after I've seen them.

For the setlist for tonight's show, go to www.playmotherrussiayouratbastards.com.

G'night all.






Saturday, November 10, 2018

Leslie West

To be honest, I haven't been having the best couple of months. As I've mentioned, there has been a lot going on at home lately, and it's been getting me down. A couple of times lately, I've had concert tickets that I've decided to eat, and plans to go out for live music that I've blown off on the day of the show. I was supposed to go into the city a while back to see Frankie Cosmos. Anyone who reads this blog on any kind of a consistent basis knows that I don't really like going into Manhattan anymore on the best of days, so I don't know what I was thinking. (Actually, I guess I was thinking that I really like the new Frankie Cosmos album, and I doubt they'll be playing Long Island anytime soon.) Anyway, come the day of the show, and predictably, I decided to pass. (It helped that the ticket was only about 15 bucks.) A few weeks prior to that, I had been also supposed to go into the city to see 888. But that time, the band blew me off, and cancelled the show a day or two beforehand. Which was probably for the best.

Then, a few weeks ago, the folk singer Kate Campbell was supposed to play that Stony Brook concert series that Charlie Backfish of WUSB promotes. I bought a ticket, and right up until the last minute, I intended to go. But a funny thing happened. That Sunday afternoon, everyone was out of the house. And as I ran around doing errands beforehand, the thought suddenly popped into my head -- what if I didn't go? I had her new album, and I wasn't loving it. And the idea of having a peaceful house to myself started to grow on me, especially since I was in the middle of that Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix, and if I didn't go to the show, I could just relax and binge watch the rest of it. As it turned out, it was probably a good thing I stayed home anyway. In the middle of my Hill House marathon, my house's smoke alarm went off, and a bunch of police officers showed up at my house, followed by a bunch of fire fighters who I think might have kicked my door down if I hadn't been there to let them in. (It was nothing -- my boiler must given off a burst of smoke or something. But it scared the crap out of me.)

Then, a week or so ago, I'd been hoping to go out to Bartini's to catch an old friend, The Kevin MacLeod Band. I don't remember exactly what was going on at home that day, but by the time I was done dealing with it, I wasn't going anywhere. (Apologies, Kevin.)

So what I'm saying here is that I'm not exactly functioning at optimal level. And it almost happened again today. I saw the tickets for Leslie West go on sale a few months ago, and figured it would be my last chance to see him. Unfortunately, there's one Saturday every month where I have to get up early and drive into Queens for a staff meeting for my job, which usually leaves me useless for the rest of the day. And somehow, I bought the tickets without realizing it was the same day as that staff meeting. To make matters worse, I must have slept wrong last night, and by this morning, my back was all out of whack. I was hunched over like a human question mark. So very quickly, I started asking myself, "Do I really want to go to this concert?" And if you'd have asked me this afternoon, I'd have told you probably not.

However, after a mid-afternoon nap, my back felt better. And unlike the Frankie Cosmos show, the tickets to see Leslie were 75 Great Fatsby's! Plus, the show was at The Boulton Center, perhaps my favorite venue to see a show. So in the end, I sucked it up and went.

Am I glad I went? Well, no. And yes. It was a mixed bag.

There was no opening act tonight. I got there about 7:45PM, and although I had bought an aisle seat, I wound up sitting next to another hefty gentleman like myself. It wasn't great for my back, and I know I was squashing him. But as the crowd came in, it was obvious that it wasn't going to quite be a sellout, and there was one lone seat with space on either side in the handicap session that seemed to have the lights of heaven over it, with angels flying back and forth around it. I quickly asked the usher if it was sold, who sent me to the box office. And since they ascertained it hadn't been sold, they said I could have it. This was a win-win -- it was a clear win for me, because I now had a comfy seat with a space next to me to put my stuff on the floor. (And although I didn't notice it until the end of the night, I wound up seated right next to John Blenn.) And I guarantee it was a win for the other guy, who got to spread out and enjoy the show.

Then, shortly after 8pm, the announcer came out, followed by the band. Leslie is in rough shape these days. He lost a leg to diabetes a few years ago, he's gained a bunch of weight back, and he's in a wheelchair. He still seems to be in pretty good spirits, though. He had two bandmates for the show, Rev Jones on bass, who I was especially impressed with, and Bobby Rondinelli (of The Blue Oyster Cult and Rondinelli, among many others) on drums.

Here's the thing, though. Leslie is 73 years old now, and he's worse for the wear. He complained through most of the early part of the night that he couldn't see because of the bright stage lights, and when his band mates or anyone else tried to talk to him, it was pretty obvious he can't hear very well either. (No surprise after all of those years of playing loud hard rock.) He was never, to me, a great vocalist anyway. But now, he doesn't have the wind to really belt much out. And while some of the songs went off pretty well, there were a few that he kind of forgot, and noticeably butchered (the most egregious of these, unfortunately, being "Nantucket Sleighride".)

He did tell a couple of good stories, though. He had a brief question-and-answer session where he sent his wife (who's a good three decades younger than him, but I forgave her the whole trophy wife thing because from my seat, I had a good angle to see her on the side of the stage singing along happily with every song like a true fan) into the crowd with a mic to take questions. Poor Leslie, however, could mostly not hear or understand any of the questions, either when the crowd member asked them, or when his wife repeated them. But one question led him into discussing doing recording sessions in New York for the Who's Next album. He had some choice things to say about Who manager Keith Lambert (apparently he had the best dope ever), as well as about Keith Moon (eight dimes short of a dollar, or something like that.) And that led to a story about his brother (who is still Alvie today) overdosing at one of Leslie's concerts when he was very young and having to be hauled out in an ambulance.

There seemed to be a lot of filler, though. Besides the Q&A session, there was also some time killed by a bass solo, a drum solo (one of my least favorite '70s traditions), and even a guitar solo by special guest Teddy Rondinelli. And the set ended at 9:30pm, so it wasn't that long a show to begin with.

My highlight of the night was the band's version of "Theme for an Imaginary Western", which they did a pretty good job on, and the requisite closer/encore, "Mississippi Queen", wasn't bad either. For their part, the crowd was with him all the way, obviously loving him sincerely, and filling in the gaps in the music that was actually played with the music from their memories.

So was it worth it? I guess the show itself was worth about a $35 or $40 ticket. And maybe it was worth the rest just to check him off of my bucket list. I left the theater feeling kind of sad, though. Father Time is a real bitch.




Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review of Tom Bailey's "Science Fiction"

I posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: The eighties come to 2018.

A lot of 1980s music is still quite popular today. I don't know if it's simply nostalgia, or because in many ways, musically speaking, it was a period of a return to simpler and more pop-oriented songs. Regardless, here in the 2010's, many '80s bands and artists have caught the wave, and have either revitalized their careers, or have started them anew.

Tom Bailey is best known for his time in the British new wave band Thompson Twins. When that unit finally folded in the early 1990s, he and bandmate Alannah Currie moved on to form an electronic dance music duo called Babble. After releasing two albums, Babble also broke up, and Bailey then formed a dub/electronica outfit called International Observer (which is still ongoing). Strangely enough, though, Bailey never tried to make it as a solo artist. Until now.

Science Fiction is Tom Bailey's first LP under his own moniker, and it's about as solo as an album can get. He played all of the instruments himself, wrote all of the songs (except for "What Kind of World", on which Hal Ritson received a co-writer credit), and sung all of the lead vocals. He also produced the album himself. It seems that the only real help he got with this effort was the addition of some backup vocals. Talk about rugged individualism!

Nevertheless, in many ways, Science Fiction is something of a return to Bailey's eighties days. It's full of hook-laden electro-pop tracks that any fan of Thompson Twins would be likely to adore. The one surprise here is that of the LP's 10 songs, two of them have an unexpected Latin twist to them. "What Kind of World", which in many ways sounds like a synthesized Santana song, is perhaps the strongest track on the album. And another of the LP's better tracks, "If you Need Someone," also has a vague Latino tinge to it. 

The rest of the album is a bit more traditional modern new wave. Winning numbers include a mid-tempo synthpop song called "Shooting Star", and the album-closing "Come So Far", which sounds like a cross between the 1960s pop classic "Love Is Blue" and Sting's "Moon Over Bourbon Street".

I don't know why it took so long for Tom Bailey to release a solo album, but I hope that Science Fiction becomes the first of a series of them. This effort has been one of the more pleasant surprises of 2018.


Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars


Monday, November 5, 2018

Favorite Artists, Part 3: About Pink Floyd

This is Part 3 of my "Favorite Artists" series, a series where I write in-depth about my favorite bands and artists of all time.

In Part 2 of this series, I began by saying that I believed The Who to be the greatest rock band of all time. I have a different claim for this part. I believe that Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here is the greatest album of all time. But we'll come back to that.

The first time I ever heard of Pink Floyd was probably in 1971 on my favorite radio station at the time, WNEW-FM. The song was "One of These Days" from the Meddle album. I can't honestly tell you if Floyd had been getting much (or any) airplay from them up until this point. But the track caught my attention because it was so weird, and psychedelic. I would have been about 14 at the time, I'd never even smoked pot. I wasn't into drugs at all -- pot was the heaviest one I ever used in my life, and I didn't have my first taste of that until I was 20. (And by 25 or so, I was pretty much done with that as well). But in a way, music was my drug. It could inspire me, it could transport me to a different place. And tracks like "One of These Days" or "Amazing Journey" by The Who were mind-altering in the way that I imagined ingesting a drug such as LSD might be.

Still, for many years, I was only a casual fan of Pink Floyd. While I was actively purchasing albums by bands like The Who, Jethro Tull and Yes, I really only listened to Pink Floyd when they came on the radio. Until Mikey's place.

Mike was a friend I met in high school. He wasn't my closest friend there, but we were part of the same group. At some point along the way, after we graduated high school, there was a group of us that used to go over to his place once a week or so to play penny-ante poker. The games were fun (you could always get another dollar's worth!), there was always cold beer and chips, and there was music. Boy was there music.

I had cut my musical teeth while still in grammar school on my friend Bob's older brothers' record collections. I'd gotten into The Who, King Crimson, The Mothers of Invention and Procol Harum from them. Later, once I got my first stereo as a grammar school graduation gift, I started listening to WNEW-FM and listening to more bands I was previously unfamiliar with. But while I had accumulated a decent-sized record collection, it was nothing in comparison to Mike's. And since I cared about music more than did a lot of our friends, often, Mike would let me pick out a stack of his albums to play on his stereo while we settled in for our poker game. It was here that Wish You Were Here quickly became one of my favorites. And Dark Side of the Moon wasn't far behind it.

Before long, I bought copies of both of those albums myself. Then, in 1979,  The Wall came out, and I was completely sold. Pink Floyd officially became one of my top favorite bands.

To this day, my single biggest regret in terms of concerts I missed out on is that I never saw Pink Floyd live. I did eventually pick up every studio album they ever made, though. Which turned out to be weird, because early Floyd is nothing like the Floyd I first became familiar with.

In general, I'd say you could break Pink Floyd's career down to four sometimes overlapping segments.

The first was the Syd Barrett years. These are interesting to me, but more from a historical perspective than anything else. I don't hate this period, but I'd never have become of a huge fan of the band if that was all they offered.

Then you had the post-Barrett years, after David Gilmour joined the band, when Roger Waters was becoming the main creative force. This was pretty hit-and-miss for me. I liked a track here and there, and I still like the two soundtrack albums (More and Obscured By Clouds) better than a lot of people do. But I really don't like Atom Heart Mother, or the studio part of Ummagumma, very much at all.

Segment 3 begins with Meddle, which to me, was Floyd just beginning to hit their stride (with "One of These Days" and "Echoes" being very much the best parts of this album.) What followed Meddle, though, was a ridiculously high-level four-album run that includes Dark Side, Wish, Animals and The Wall, which is as good a streak as any band in history has ever had.

Then you had The Final Cut, which is total crap (sorry, if you like it better than I do), followed by the post-Waters years, when they put out A Momentary Lapse of Reason, The Division Bell and The Endless River. These were OK, but they were nowhere near the level of the Segment 3 albums.

So a few thoughts -- of all of the bands I consider to be my top favorite ones, Pink Floyd is the most inconsistent. They actually released several albums that I don't like at all, but yet their best output is up there with the great albums of rock history. And, as I stated earlier, I believe Wish You Were Here to be the single greatest album in rock history.

Next thought -- Pink Floyd being one of my top favorite bands, you'd think I would have a special affection for the guy considered their main creative force for most of their history, Roger Waters, the way I do for men like Ian Anderson and Pete Townshend. But you'd be wrong. Because as much as I respect Waters' input (and Barrett's creativity at the beginning of their career), for me, my love of Floyd is mostly about David Gilmour.

There are two reasons for this. (Well, maybe three). For one, Gilmour is my favorite guitarist of all time. There are guys who play faster, but for my money, no one plays more distinctly, more expressively and more tastefully.

The second reason is this: I've noticed over the years that the more Gilmour there is on a Pink Floyd album, the better it seems to be, while the more Waters totally dominates things, the worse it seems to be. And Waters with almost no Gilmour (as on The Final Cut or on his solo album from the same era, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking) is pretty lousy (for my taste anyway). Whereas Gilmour with no Waters (as on the last three Floyd studio albums) might not be classic Floyd, but at least it's decent.

(And the third point I mentioned for loving Gilmour more than Waters is the vocals. Gilmour might not be the greatest singer of all time, but I like him a lot better as a vocalist than I do Waters. Waters is effective on some songs, especially when the song is about some kind of madness, but his voice is seldom pleasant. Gilmour doesn't have a huge range, but I at least find his voice to be pleasing.)

As to why I say Wish You Were Here is the greatest album of all time, it's because it's close to being a perfect album. The title track, the two parts of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and the track "Welcome to the Machine" are in the highest echelons of rock classics. They're what I referred to before as "mind-altering" -- they're the promise that was made on Meddle checked off and fully delivered. And "Have a Cigar" is barely a half-step below them -- many would consider it to be a classic in its own right.

I feel like this write-up has been kind of stream-of-consciousness. Which is probably appropriate for a treatise about this band. Maybe at some point, I'll come back and develop it more. But in any event, I hope I've given you at least a feel for why I consider Pink Floyd to be one of my favorite bands (and one of the greatest bands) of all time.


Part 4 in this series, which I'll be posting early in 2019, will be about the music of Yes.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Review of Lori Llyn's "Glastonbury"

I posted this review a few minutes ago on the Sputnik Music website:


Review Summary: Medieval folk music rooted in Arthurian legend.

Lori Llyn (aka Lori Schneider) has demonstrated a variety of interests and influences throughout her musical career. In the mid-1990's, she was known throughout Long Island as one half of the acoustic duo Crystal Rose. In 2004, she showed her progressive rock influences with the release of Legend: A Knight's Opera, a romantic rock opera detailing the exploits of the French Knight Treseblu. In 2007, she released an album of sitar music called Evergreen Heart. Since that time, she has participated in a pagan folk duo known as Afalarian (although the only music ever actually released from that project was a single called "The Loom"), and begun recording solo music under the moniker of Lori Llyn. The Glastonbury EP is her second release under this name, following upon her 2015 full-length album Motherland.

Glastonbury is what I would call medieval folk music. It's a 4-song EP rooted firmly in Arthurian legend, with songs referencing Avalon, the Lady of the Lake, etc. But while the ideas might harken back to projects such as Rick Wakeman's The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the music here is quieter, and more firmly grounded in the period. 

The songs are ethereal, and quite beautiful. In addition to her always-lovely vocals, Llyn contributes acoustic guitar, keyboards and flute to the effort. She is joined by her former Crystal Rose partner Jodi Wexler, who provides backing vocals on two of the tracks, and by Long Island guitar legend Bob Westcott, who in addition to adding both acoustic and electric guitars, co-wrote the title track with Ms. Llyn. Percussionist Akiva the Believer and cellist Jenny Flaum round out the musical lineup.

My only criticism of Glastonbury is that it's too short. I'd have loved for this to have been a full-length album. It contains a lot of elements that I love in my music -- elegant vocals (and vocal harmonies), delicate and interesting instrumentation, and spiritual and mystical lyrics. If you're a fan of bands such as Blackmore's Knight or Steeleye Span, I'd suggest you give this one a try.


Rating: 3.5 stars