Posts Tagged ‘ Blues Rock ’

Album of the Week 19-2017: Led Zeppelin – Presence

For some reason, ‘Presence’ turned out to be Led Zeppelin’s slowest selling studio album. Maybe because its sounds significantly more stripped down than ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and ‘Physical Graffiti’, but ultimately, I prefer it even to some of the band’s classic albums. The record shows Led Zeppelin reconnecting with its roots, attempting to capture the essence of what made them so good in the first place. And succeeding at it surprisingly well. ‘Presence’ is a muscular hard rock record with excellent songwriting and an unusually strong emphasis on Zeppelin’s brilliant rhythm section. It is simply everything I’d want from them.

‘Presence’ was written and recorded during a tumultuous time for Led Zeppelin. Singer Robert Plant was seriously injured due to a car accident and the recordings had to be rushed due to the studio being booked by The Rolling Stones, which may be why the album isn’t loaded with extra touches like its two predecessors were. Instead, it focuses on the power within band and has the distinct live feel that made the debut so exciting seven years prior as a result. Drummer John Bonham and bassist John Paul Jones sound bigger than ever and the compositions truly focus on the band’s strengths.

The album is bookended by two of the best songs the band has ever recorded. ‘Achilles Last Stand’ is probably the most carefully arranged song on the album and basically feels like proto-heavy metal, due to its propulsive, galloping rhythm and Jimmy Page’s almost orchestral-sounding, layered guitar work. It feels significantly shorter than just over ten minutes. The other masterpiece is ‘Tea For One’, which – after a misleading intro – is essentially a minimalistic slow blues, into which Page’s sparse riffs inject a dark, almost doomy vibe. It’s number one on my list of Zeppelin songs that don’t get the love they deserve.

While those two tracks take up almost half of the album’s running time, they are hardly the only enjoyable songs on the record. The band’s adaptation of Blind Willie Johnson’s gospel blues song ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ quickly became a live staple, which is easily justified by its drive and strong build-up. ‘For Your Life’ has a spontaneity that brings back memories of the self-titled debut, though with a cleaner production and the sleazy, dirty fifties groove of ‘Candy Store Rock’ makes the song a true hidden gem. The other two songs are just good, but figuring that this is Led Zeppelin, “just good” is still far above average.

Although ‘Presence’ never enjoyed the same classic status, it is every bit as good and consistent as ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ was. In the end, the most important reason why I prefer ‘Physical Graffiti’ to this is really that it has twice as much Led Zeppelin. On ‘Presence’, the band strikes a better balance between spontaneous jams and meticulously arranged songs than they have done before or since. I can understand why it’s somewhat lost between the sprawling majesty its predecessor and the confusing experimentalism of its follow-up, but the fact is that this is the band’s final masterpiece and a treat to fans of Zeppelin’s trademark rock sound.

Recommended tracks: ‘Achilles Last Stand’, ‘Tea For One’, ‘Candy Store Rock’


Album of the Week 04-2017: Navarone – Oscillation

When you listen to ‘Oscillation’ for the first time, you’ll immediately notice something has changed. The music is still instantly recognizable as Navarone; the big, beefy hardrock riffs are still there and Merijn van Haren’s magnificent voice hasn’t lost any of its force, but in terms of production, ‘Oscillation’ is a whole different beast than its two predecessors. As a result, the separate songs sound a little more streamlined, but the scope and variation that made Navarone’s previous records so great are also still here. And so, this fresh record proves that a rock band can expand upon its style without sacrificing its excitement and energy.

In a way, ‘Oscillation’ sounds a little more modern than what the quintet has done before. Navarone always found a nice balance between the relative complexity and riffiness of seventies rock and the directness of nineties rock. This time, some more contemporary influences have been brought to the table. The delightfully catchy ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’ has a very modern, poppy rock vibe, while opening track ‘Snake’ brings some of the stoner rock influences that were always beneath the surface front and center. The climax of the latter also sounds like nothing the band has ever done before, but it’s incredibly powerful.

On a more superficial level, ‘Oscillation’ is a typical Navarone record in the way it moves back and forth between powerful rock tracks and strong ballads with remarkable ease. The former category has the awesome ‘Step By Step’, probably the most “typical” Navarone song on the record, and the relentlessly pounding ‘Lonely Nights’, which is likely the heaviest track the band has recorded yet. ‘Free Together’, ‘Unmistakably Everything’ and closing track ‘Don’t Belong’ are all beautiful, delicate ballads with more acoustic work than the band has yet used and a more interesting approach than the well-known calm verse, big chorus contrast, which truly enhances the songs.

But most notable are the songs that don’t fit either category. The atmospheric ‘Chrome’ has an acoustic fundament, but is hardly a ballad. Progressive acoustic rock? Maybe. The song works its way through several distinctive movements that shouldn’t work together, but miraculously do. ‘Shadow’ is a little darker and has a psychedelic middle section somewhat reminiscent of ‘Sage’ from the debut album. However, the real winner here is the mindblowing ‘Days Of Yore’. From its monumental opening riff to Kees Lewiszong’s amazing blues solo, the song is a masterpiece that brings to mind Led Zeppelin’s ‘Tea For One’. The verses are very minimalistic, but serve as a perfect vehicle for Van Haren’s incredible voice. This is a song that needs to be heard to be believed.

The cliché is that when rock bands mature, their sound becomes calmer and more interesting. ‘Oscillation’ proves that this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, Navarone seems to have been exploring the extremes of their sound here, which makes the record heavier, more progressive, more melodic and more accessible all at the same time. It may need a little more time to sink in than the band’s previous two records, but once it does, you’ll realize that they have made another masterpiece. Their third in a row. And if that’s not impressive, I don’t know what is.

Recommended tracks: ‘Days Of Yore’, ‘Soon I’ll Be Home’, ‘Lonely Nights’

Album of the Week 29-2016: Golden Earring – Moontan

Outside of the Netherlands, Golden Earring is known as that band from ‘Radar Love’ and maybe ‘Twilight Zone’. For any Dutchman, they are the biggest Rock band in the country and have been so for a majority of their fifty-five years of existence. Yes, fifty-five uninterrupted years. Their mind blowing 1973 record ‘Moontan’ was even voted the best Dutch album by readers of the music magazine Oor. And even though I suspect the presence of their worldwide hit ‘Radar Love’ plays a part in that vote, its powerful musicianship and at time surprising songwriting make it one of the most enjoyable records made in the glorious seventies.

If there’s one thing you can criticize the Golden Earring on, it’s that they have been relatively sensitive to trends. Back in the early seventies, however, they were pretty much their own thing. Their riffs and rhythms had a Stonesy boogie feel, but the band mixed that with influences from the psychedlic and progressive Rock scenes as well as little flourishes of Americana and Soul. And while they released a couple of excellent albums since, the combination of styles was never as catchy and effective as on ‘Moontan’. Masterfully arranged and moreso, forcefully executed.

So by now, I’m assuming you all know ‘Radar Love’. Rightfully a popular song – it’s quite cleverly arranged; it’s got a steady tempo but feels like it’s moving through tempo changes and the horn-driven middle section is explosive – but it’s hardly the only good thing here. The most straightforward Rocker ‘Just Like Vince Taylor’ is an Earring live classic to this day, but opening track ‘Candy’s Going Bad’ is even better; it builds from a sleazy Bluesrocker with great vocal interplay between Barry Hay and guitarist George Kooymans to an almost spacey middle section without losing any of its power.

Highlighting the album – and Golden Earring’s entire discography, for that matter – is the haunting closer ‘The Vanilla Queen’. It’s a true exercise in climaxes; from the subdued verses to the bigger chorus and from the psychedelic middle section to the unbelievable finale, where the band’s best riff works its magic with the horns. The guitar break between the second and third choruses brings to mind vintage Rush, despite predating it by a few years. The other long track, ‘Are You Receiving Me’ is simpler, but profits from Cesar Zuiderwijk’s unconventional drums and – again – fantastic vocal harmonies.

In the end, only ‘Suzy Lunacy (Mental Rock)’ stands out like a sore thumb, but that’s rather because its sixties Pop vibe clashes with the sprawling character of rest of the record. It’s quite a decent song on its own. Apart from that, ‘Moontan’ is an unlikely, but ultimately highly infectious mix of early progressive Rock and classic Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s not surprising that it got voted the best Dutch album – really, only Urban Dance Squad’s ‘Mental Floss For the Globe’ and maybe Bettie Serveert’s ‘Palomine’ are serious contenders – but it may be surprising that the record still sounds so fresh today, 43 years after its release. Highly recommended to fans of seventies Stones, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and early Rush.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Vanilla Queen’, ‘Candy’s Going Bad’, ‘Are You Receiving Me’

Album of the Week 14-2016: Ted Nugent – Ted Nugent

Sure, we could spend all day discussing how obnoxious Ted Nugent can be as a person, though I suspect him of making it seem much worse than it actually is, but let’s not forget that his debut album is easily the best Hard Rock album from 1976 – a year that also spawned Aerosmith’s ‘Rocks’ and the amazing debut album of Mother’s Finest, no less! Nugent himself has been quoted saying that it’s the only album you’ll ever need if you want to know what Rock ‘n’ Roll is all about, but for once, he might actually hit the nail on the head.

Nugent’s debut album certainly profits from the fact that it’s not yet “Ted Nugent the solo artist”, but rather “Ted Nugent the band”. Derek St. Holmes’ blue-eyed Soul voice definitely makes the songs better than they would have been without him and Nugent has yet to find a better singer to work with, but let’s not forget the work of the rhythm section. Nugent’s former Amboy Dukes bandmate Rob Grange may not stand out immediately, but leaves an indelible mark on the album with his at times unconventional bass lines. Nugent himself is in super overdrive, but his solos are remarkably memorable as well. After a few spins, you’ll remember every note.

Luckily, Derek St. Holmes sings almost all the songs on this album. Don’t get me wrong, Nugent’s vocal insanity is especially what ‘Motor City Madhouse’ asks for – hence the title – but it’s St. Holmes who adds a distinctive melodic edge to the high octane Blues Rock riffs. His own composition ‘Hey Baby’ has a very strong fifties R&B vibe, but his high range is indispensable for material like ‘Queen Of The Forest’ or the downright amazing and nostalgic ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’. A yin to Nugent’s yang, if you will.

Despite the album being consistently great, two tracks stand out for me. First of all, ‘Snakeskin Cowboys’ has a surprisingly large number of hooks for a four and a half minute song, seems to be tailor-made for St. Holmes’ voice and has a downright irresistible groove. The latter also is true for the epic monster that is opening track ‘Stranglehold’. Dark and menacing, with powerful performances by both Nugent and St. Holmes it’s a masterpiece. I have even heard someone call that riff the number one Rock guitar riff of all time. Okay, it was Nugent himself, but again: he may be right.

All subsequent albums – with the possible exception of ‘Cat Scratch Fever’ – were plagued by consistency issues. Then again, how many musicians release an album as intensely and consistently awesome as Nugent’s untitled debut album? Every riff is classic Bluesy Hard Rock, every song is memorable and the production is just about as perfect as it gets for the mid-nineties, both capturing and cultivating the band’s ferocious prowess. Like “Uncle Ted” himself, the album is loud, brash and immodest, but it’s also a work that many Rock musicians should pay very close attention to. Easily the finest hour of everyone involved.

Recommended tracks: ‘Stranglehold’, ‘Snakeskin Cowboys’, ‘Just What The Doctor Ordered’

Album of the Week 23-2015: The Allman Brothers Band – Shades Of Two Worlds

In the history of The Allman Brothers Band, there’s two eras that I truly love. First, there was the raw Blues era when Duane Allman – to this day one of the most incredible talents ever to touch a guitar – was still alive and then, there’s the period that Warren Haynes dialed the Rock factor back up for the band. No disrespect to the legacy of guitarist Dickey Betts and singer/organist Gregg Allman, but the latter was when the band got its songwriting focus back and the extended jams regained their fire. ‘Shades Of Two Worlds’ shows the band’s fearless multi-genre approach as well as their most passionate studio playing since ‘Idlewild South’.

Part of the album’s live energy is due to the fact that the seven-piece band likes to record everything as live as possible. It shows, because the interaction between Haynes and Betts, as well as the shared swing of drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe and percussionist Marc Quiñones is at its absolute best. The glossy early nineties production has a bit too much sheen for the raw sound of the band, but that hardly is a disturbing factor here, because the songwriting is absolutely stunning.

While I would blame Betts’ greater involvement after Allman’s tragic early demise for the “countrying down” of the band’s music – remember ‘Ramblin’ Man’? – he does show what a truly great Bluesrock writer he is here. The absolute highlight here, ‘Nobody Knows’, is from his hand completely and contains the greatest riffs of the album as well as an utterly amazing vocal melody and long, spirited jams with fantastic climaxes. His compositions with Haynes are highlights as well: ‘Kind Of Bird’ finally brings back the Jazz influence of ‘At Fillmore East’, ‘Bad Rain’ has an unbelievable swing and ‘Midnight Man’ has this irresistible swampy feel and ditto riffwork.

Gregg Allman, however, did contribute two great songs to this record. Most typical for him is the slow, passionate Blues of ‘Get On With Your Life’. No white man can sing the Blues like Allman does, look no further than here for proof. Opening track ‘End Of The Line’, which he co-wrote, is another masterpiece. A journeyman lyric typical of the Southern Rock tradition – although I would categorize the Allman Brothers Band as Bluesrock rather than Southern Rock – supported by muscular Rock riffs, brilliant vocal work by Allman and passionate solo trade-offs by Haynes and Betts and as such, a true winner.

During the aforementioned eras, The Allman Brothers Band never really released an album that was any less than very good, but ‘Shades Of Two Worlds’ is one of those moments when all the stars are aligned just right. The septet gained their reputation as a live band and it is the stage where their music comes most alive, but as far as collections of songs go, none of them is better than this unusually inspired album. Where many jam bands forget to write an actual song and many normal Rock bands just aren’t good enough to keep a jam entertaining, this album really brings the best of the two worlds it may refer to in its title.

Recommended tracks: ‘Nobody Knows’, ‘End Of The Line’, ‘Kind Of Bird’, ‘Midnight Man’

Album of the Week 50-2014: Gov’t Mule – Dose

Now that Gov’t Mule has started releasing several recordings to celebrate their twentieth anniversary, it seems the right moment to give some attention to their discography. And although their discography does seem to confirm Gov’t Mule’s reputation as a live band, they have released quite some impressive albums. ‘Dose’ is probably the most impressive one because it doesn’t only highlight the band’s qualities as musicians, but also as songwriters. While the record is all over the map style-wise, it does feel like a whole. Even when the songs get extremely jam-heavy, the trio keeps it concise and interesting.

It’s important to know where Gov’t Mule is coming from to fully understand their brilliance. Original bassist Allen Woody, who sadly passed away in 2000, and guitar slinging frontman Warren Haynes more or less brought The Allman Brothers Band their second youth in the early nineties. They teamed up with drummer Matt Abts to form a power trio and apparently have some more musical freedom. Their live sets contain Blues, Soul, Rock, Jazz, Folk and even some old school Heavy Metal covers and save for the latter, all these influences are represented on ‘Dose’. It seems unlikely, but it works incredibly well.

Why it works so well is because these songs are – despite the room provided for improvisation – extremely well written. The most obvious example is ‘Thorazine Shuffle’: due to its relatively simple structure, there’s plenty of space to solo over, but in the end, it’s Woody’s incredible and surprisingly timed bass line that makes the song. Also, it’s one of the best bass lines ever recorded. Opening track ‘Blind Man In The Dark’ seems relatively concise, but prove to be an excellent vehicle for extended jams in future live shows and on future live albums as well. Maybe that’s what makes Gov’t Mule the best recorded jam band: they know albums and live shows are different sciences.

The aforementioned songs, along ‘Game Face’ and ‘Larger Than Life’, became Gov’t Mule live staples through the years, and rightfully so, but there’s so much more to hear on this album. My personal favorite being ‘Towering Fool’, a surprisingly sparse and heartfelt power ballad with an incredible build-up. It does help that Haynes isn’t only a world class guitarist, but also a fantastic, soulful singer. It’s one of those ballads that cuts through your soul. Obligated listening. Other notable moments are the acoustic and folky ‘Raven Black Night’ and the gospel-like closer ‘I Shall Return’.

While Gov’t Mule has at least as many fantastic live albums as studio records and most of them are worth having, their studio albums generally are very pleasant listening experiences as well. ‘Dose’ is probably the one that captures them best without going all overboard on jamming, something that obviously works better live than on an album. Instead, it’s a collection of strong Rock songs, expert musicianship and Warren Haynes’ fantastic voice. And while Allen Woody is sadly no longer with us and the band has since expanded to a quartet, the legacy of the band lives on. Hopefully for much, much longer.

Recommended tracks: ‘Towering Fool’, ‘Thorazine Shuffle’, ‘Blind Man In The Dark’

Album of the Week 22-2014: Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

Explaining why ‘Physical Graffiti’ is my favorite out of all the amazing albums that Led Zeppelin recorded is quite easy. First of all, there’s the quantitative argument: it’s a double album, so there’s twice as much Zeppelin to enjoy. But even when you look at the quality of the material, it’s hard to love any Led Zeppelin album more than this one, though I can certainly see where the people who prefer ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ come from. On these two records, Zeppelin cultivates the wild experimentalism of ‘Houses Of The Holy’ without abandoning their heavy Blues roots.

Of course, everyone who knows their Rock music is familiar with the orchestral eastern mysticism of the downright amazing ‘Kashmir’, if only because it is quite likely the most imitated song in music history. The monolithic Blues of the 11-minute ‘In My Time Of Dying’ and the metallic Funk of ‘Trampled Under Foot’ quickly found their way into the regular live set of the British quartet, but there is so much more to enjoy here. Though the recording history of the album – where the band recorded more than an album’s worth of material and decided to include songs from earlier sessions – may suggest an odds and sods record, the consistency of the material is unbelievable.

While the first disc contains the most familiar material, taking a dive into the second one will prove just as rewarding. It’s where the obscure classics are hiding. For instance, not many people know ‘The Wanton Song’, but the contrast between Jimmy Page’s root note-octave riff, the awesome solo section and the melodic Leslie speaker driven riffs makes it irresistable. The epic ‘In The Light’, which is lead alternately by John Paul Jones’ synthesizer and Page’s enormous riff, brings together the best sections The Doors and Black Sabbath never dared to record and the beautifully complex ‘Ten Years Gone’ captures romanticism and melancholy in a way unheard of at the time.

Like many of the greatest bands in music history, Led Zeppelin was bigger than the sum of its parts. The thing is that even the sum of Zep’s members was already bigger than any other band at the time. The incomparable Robert Plant has the unique talent to conjure up more emotions than the words of the songs are stating and John Bonham’s only contender to the drumming throne at the time was Deep Purple’s Ian Paice. His power and performance in ‘Kashmir’ have yet to be matched. Page may have been a tad sloppy, but that gave his music its life. His ideas speak for themselves. Jones’ compositions on the album prove that he is the secret weapon to the group’s depth.

Though each and every one of the band’s first seven albums is as close to perfection as music can possibly get, ‘Physical Graffiti’ to me is just that little bit extra. It’s true that part of that is the album’s length, but that wouldn’t make much sense if the actual material didn’t back up the duration of the record. What Led Zeppelin gives the listener here is almost an hour and a half of the best material they could capture on vinyl a the time and every last minute of it is incredible. This is one of those albums that needs to be heard to be believed.

Recommended tracks: ‘Kashmir’, ‘Ten Years Gone’, ‘The Wanton Song’, ‘In My Time Of Dying’