Posts Tagged ‘ Bluesrock ’

Album of the Week 21-2018: Dana Fuchs – Love Lives On


Not unlike Beth Hart, Dana Fuchs has both the fortune and the misfortune of kind of sounding like Janis Joplin. In fact, both of them were cast to play Joplin in the musical ‘Love, Janis’. The comparison is a compliment, but also sells them short. Fuchs’ new album ‘Love Lives On’ is the ultimate proof of that. Musically, the album is much more reminiscent of the great southern soul records put out by Stax Records than any album Joplin ever was a part of. ‘Love Lives On’ is not a hollow exercies in nostalgia though; this is beautiful, timeless music.

Fuchs’ backing band on ‘Love Lives On’ features a a couple of soul veterans, among which drummer Steve Potts and organist Reverend Charles Hodges. They certainly add to the album’s authentic soul vibe, but what really makes the whole thing work is the excellent songwriting courtesy of Fuchs and her long-time guitarist Jon Diamond. While a lot of contemporary albums in this style rely heavily on the grooves and musical interaction, every song on ‘Love Lives On’ stands out and will stick to your memory. Fuchs’ smokey, raw-edged, yet highly melodic vocals are the icing on that delicious cake.

Another thing that makes ‘Love Lives On’ a pleasure to listen to is its nearly flawless flow. It makes you want to listen to the album all the way through. There are a couple of more americana-tinged songs grouped together near the end of the record that, while good – ‘Battle Lines’ is gorgeous – would have worked better if they were distributed more evenly across the album. The rest of the tracks vary nicely in tempo and intensity, moving pleasantly between upbeat soul tracks like opening track ‘Backstreet Baby’ and powerful ballads like the purring organ-based gospel of ‘Faithful Sinner’.

Traditional soul tracks like the horn-heavy ‘Callin’ Angels’, the euphoric ‘Same Sunlight’ and the relaxed ‘Sittin’ On’ would not have sounded out of place on one of Otis Redding’s records. Fuchs even made Redding’s ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ her own completely. Standout tracks for me are ‘Sad Solution’ and ‘Sedative’, both of which are built upon an insistent, almost dangerous, yet not too propulsive groove. It is possible that the underlying sense of anger appeals to the hardrocker in me. The supreme build-up from its subdued verses to its triumphant chorus turns ‘Ready To Rise’ into a highlight as well. So does its guitar solo.

‘Love Lives On’ is slightly less “rocky” in approach than ‘Love To Beg’ and the blues influences aren’t as pronounced as on ‘Bliss Avenue’, but that should not be a turn-off. This is one of the best soul albums released in many years. It has simply everything you could wish for if you like the genre. Each song features spirited grooves, intensely passionate vocals and a musical interaction that is of complete and total service to the well-written songs. Anyone who longs for the late sixties and early seventies records of Stax and Hi Records should definitely give this excellent record a spin.

Recommended tracks: ‘Sad Solution’, ‘Ready To Rise’, ‘Sedative’

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Album of the Week 35-2017: Living Colour – Shade


With ‘Shade’ only being the third album in the 17 years since Living Colour reformed – and the first in eight years – expectations were high. What exactly I expected, I don’t actually know, but it certainly wasn’t an album that sounds as raw and “live” as ‘Shade’ does, as ‘Collideøscope’ and ‘The Chair In The Doorway’ were both albums with a notable emphasis on the production. This shift in approach has pros and cons, which makes ‘Shade’ a bit of a confusing record, but it is a fact that Living Colour hasn’t made a record this lively since their early nineties heyday.

There is a bit of a drawback here, as the looser arrangements sacrifice a bit of memorability of Living Colour’s earlier work. None of these choruses will stay with you as long as ‘Cult Of Personality’ did. In addition, some of the songs are just too long. The bluesier tracks ‘Invisible’, ‘Who’s That’ and the Robert Johnson cover ‘Preachin’ Blues’ in particular outstay their welcome, all of which would have been fine tracks had they been a minute and half shorter. Especially the unlikely marriage of New Orleans music and grooving heavy metal riffs on ‘Who’s That’ is interesting enough.

However, ultimately ‘Shade’ is a successful album. There are not many hard rock bands that groove as mercilessly as Living Colour does, as evidenced by songs like the excellent ‘Program’ and the Notorious B.I.G. cover – no, seriously – ‘Who Shot Ya’. ‘Come On’ seems to successfully blend the visceral live feel and the more produced nature of the previous two records and ‘Always Wrong’ sort of shifts back and forth between a psychedelic rock song based on a driving bass line by Doug Wimbish and a power ballad. Again, the combination of styles seems unlikely, but works miraculously well. And that is, of course, Living Colour’s trademark.

Moreover, the album takes an interesting turn about halfway through. There are a bunch of really cool experimental tracks on the second half of the record, starting with ‘Blak Out’, which seems to have developed from a dubby jam of Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun until Vernon Reid’s massive guitar riff takes over. Reid also really shines on the dreamy, almost spacey closing track ‘Two Sides’. And to keep that part of the album from losing itself in experimentation, there are heavier tracks like ‘Pattern In Time’ and ‘Glass Teeth’ to restore the balance. The latter in particular is an awesome track, even with its borderline silly chorus.

In the end, there is an excellent 40 minute record in ‘Shade’. The only problem is that it is almost ten minutes longer. The performances are as good as you would expect from this group of geniuses. Corey Glover still sings as good as he did on ‘Vivid’ almost three decades ago and Vernon Reid has a surprisingly bluesy, melodic approach here. It’s amazing how much he still sounds like himself even without all the atonality he has extensively toyed with. Avid fans of Living Colour can blindly purchase ‘Shade’. Casual fans may want to give it a listen before purchasing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blak Out’, ‘Two Sides’, ‘Glass Teeth’

Album of the Week 31-2017: The Joe Perry Project – Let The Music Do The Talking


Guitarist Joe Perry is often seen as the one who guards Aerosmith’s musical integrity next to Steven Tyler’s showmanship. Anyone with some in-depth knowledge about Aerosmith knows that grossly oversimplifies the band’s complicated dynamic, but it is a fact that during the Perry’s time away from the band, Perry released two excellent albums with The Joe Perry Project while Aerosmith released one mediocre record. And while sophomore album ‘I’ve Got The Rock ‘n’ Rolls Again’ of Perry’s project may have higher peaks, ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ is one of the most consistently engaging bluesrock records of the early eighties.

First off, the title of the album is not without meaning, of course. It could be interpreted as a provocation towards Aerosmith, but it could also just represent the fact that Perry burned all the bridges behind him and decided to just focus on what he likes doing best in the first place: making music. Regardless, Perry sounds like a man unburdened on ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’. There is a spontaneity to this debut that some of the late seventies Aerosmith albums lacked, no matter how good they were. The songs sound raw and energetic, but not underdeveloped.

Another reason why ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ sounds so fresh and spirited is the fact that Perry put together an excellent band. Nowhere is this more obvious than during the short, high octane instrumental ‘Break Song’. Drummer Ronnie Stewart and bassist David Hull are perfectly in sync with each other and Perry, ending up sounding positively on fire. The upbeat, uptempo closer ‘Life At A Glance’, the massive and somewhat dark ‘Shooting Star’, the swinging boogie of ‘Discount Dogs’ and especially the powerful, catchy title track that opens the record profit from the tight, spirited interplay of The Joe Perry Project.

In addition, adding a lead singer to his project was a great idea from Perry. His own voice is cool and a perfect fit for the dark, bluesy ‘The Mist Is Rising’ and the sarcastic tone of the strong rocker ‘Conflict Of Interest’, but his range is not particularly wide. The higher, more powerful registers of Ralph Morman are the perfect fit for songs that demand some more vocal prowess. His clean voice has a slight raw edge, which really lifts songs like ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ and the otherwise somewhat mundane ‘Ready On The Firing Line’ to higher level. His duets with Perry work remarkably well too and should maybe have been featured more prominently here.

Without the big budget and the business acumen of Aerosmith’s management, ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’ never quite took off the way it should have, but the album is still available and very much worth checking out. Somehow, the record still sounds fresh today and I suspect that Perry’s drive is largely to blame for that. It may be a cliché, but the debut album of his Project – capital P – does actually let the music do the talking. There may be some bitterness in a few of the lyrics, but it does not dominate the record. The strong bluesrock songs and excellent performances do.

Recommended tracks: ‘Let The Music Do The Talking’, ‘Life At A Glance’, ‘Break Song’

Album of the Week 50-2016: Chris Rea – The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes


More than three decades after his biggest successes, Chris Rea only does whatever he wants. Freed from the shackles of label pressure and being given a second chance after pancreatic cancer nearly took his life, Rea went back to the blues that has inspired him since he started playing guitar in his early twenties. Often employing a theme as the framework for his later records, ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ is a tribute to the importance of the relatively cheap Hofner guitars for the development of British sixties music. The music, however, is pure, unadulterated Chris Rea blues.

Rea was always too much of a songwriter – and a really good one at that – to be taken seriously by fans of the delta blues that influenced him strongly, but that’s also what makes his music so interesting. Sure, in the eighties, producers often smoothed his sound to the point that there was more pop than blues, but his slide guitar playing is full of bluesy soul. And then there’s the voice. His sandpaper vocal cords are instantly recognizable and therefore, it’s difficult to categorize ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ as anything else than a Chris Rea record.

However flawed it is as a period piece – save for the Shadows-like instrumentals of the fictional group The Delmonts – the songs are amazing. That’s also where Rea’s songwriting comes in: these aren’t just vehicles for live jamming, a considerable amount of effort has gone into the structure, atmosphere and attention span of these songs. Especially when Rea and his rhythm section of Colin Hodgkinson (bass) and Martin Ditcham (drums) adopt a somewhat more laidback approach, like they do in ‘I Will Be With You’ and ‘The Shadow Of A Fool’, something magic happens. It’s almost as if Rea whispers incantations.

‘Blues For Janice’ is the album’s highlight. In essence, the song isn’t that much different than some of Rea’s eighties hit songs, but the rawer approach gives the song an air of sincerity that you don’t often hear anymore. It’s great how the rawness of Rea’s guitar enhances the dreamy atmosphere of the song rather than clashing with it. Other songs, like ‘Legacy Blues’ and ‘Don’t Give Your Ace Away’ have a rhythmic drive that is a trademark of Rea’s later work. It’s remarkable how much variation there is on the record; there are elements of blues, rock, jazz, pop and soul throughout the record, but the unique sound never really becomes one of each.

Whether you get the trimmed down version on one cd or the huge audio book version where The Delmonts can be heard on one cd and the Hofner Bluenotes on the other – in case it wasn’t clear, it’s all Rea, Hodgkinson and Ditcham – there’s enough variation and good songwriting going on to keep any listener interested all throughout its length. Like any of Chris Rea’s latter day albums, ‘The Return Of The Fabulous Hofner Bluenotes’ is full of great, blues-inspired music that doesn’t care if it’s marketable or if it fits any category. That’s how the best records get made.

Recommended tracks: ‘Blues For Janice’, ‘The Shadow Of A Fool’, ‘Legacy Blues’

Album of the Week 43-2016: Bad Company – Bad Company


Back in the seventies, supergroups sometimes actually were bigger than the sum of their parts. Led Zeppelin could be considered one, but the first band to release an album on their Swan Song label is an even better example. Bad Company combined the talents of Free’s Paul Rodgers (vocals, piano) and Simon Kirke (drums), Mott The Hoople guitarist Mick Ralphs and bassist Boz Burrell, who played on one King Crimson album. Their debut is one of the best albums ever released; practically every track is essential seventies rock with all the riffs and melodies you could wish for. And the album art is iconic.

Maybe this is sacrilege, but as much as I like Free, I have always preferred Bad Company. It’s a matter of performance versus composition. Free had loosely written structures that could be adjusted to the immense improvisational talents of – primarily – their late guitarist Paul Kossoff. Bad Company has tight, concise songs with highly memorable choruses and nice tension and release workings. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any impressive performances; Rodgers is one of the world’s greatest singers and always delivers, while Burrell is one of the very few bass virtuosos whose busy playing works on a bluesy rock record.

Sure, the market was flooded with bluesy hardrock by the time ‘Bad Company’ was released in 1974, but in the midst of excessive, drug-fueled jamming, the quartet brought the genre back to its bare essentials. Armed with a handful of good riffs and a bunch of melodies that will forever stick to the back of your mind, the band recorded a record of which almost every song is still a staple on classic rock stations worldwide. And it makes sense: songs like ‘Can’t Get Enough’ and ‘Movin’ On’ just feel right and have you singing – or at least moving – along during the first spin.

Even more interesting are the moments when the band takes things in a somewhat darker direction. The namesake track is beyond brilliant. From a brooding piano intro, the verses only have the guitar adding atmospheric touches before exploding in the chorus. Rodgers’ vocal is among his most moving performances yet. The same can be said about the subdued, bluesy masterpiece ‘Ready For Love’, which Ralphs took with him from his Mott The Hoople days. ‘Rock Steady’ is fairly straightforward, but has a brilliant, dangerous sounding chorus. And while the album sounds fairly American, the beautiful closer ‘Seagull’ brings the folk of Bad Company’s British home soil to the forefront.

While the original lineup of Bad Company would go on to release more fantastic albums – and even their less impressive records feature a number of mindblowing songs – their debut album is one of those moments where all the stars align and everything sounds just right. Of course it helps to have so much talent in one band, but that alone will not result in a timeless classic that still sounds as fresh today as it must have sounded the day it was release. I’m just assuming there, because I wasn’t born until twelve years after its release. Songwriting as it’s done on ‘Bad Company’ transcends trends and technological development. That’s why it’s still amazing.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bad Company’, ‘Ready For Love’, ‘Seagull’

Album of the Week 37-2016: Led Zeppelin – Presence


Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is generally considered their best work, along their two-disc magnum opus ‘Physical Graffiti’ and possibly the rawness of their debut. Opinions on their seventh studio album ‘Presence’ are a little more divided, but I personally consider it the last of their perfect albums. It’s a relatively heavy affair, which may have been disappointing to those who enjoyed the sprawling nature of ‘Houses Of The Holy’ and ‘Physical Graffiti’, but if you view the album for what it is – an excellent bluesy Hardrock record – it’s thoroughly enjoyable. And a lot more influential than you might think.

‘Presence’ came together in a time of turmoil for Led Zeppelin. The band was more popular than ever – they even outsold the Stones – but the touring machine had stopped because of the injuries Robert Plant sustained from a serious car crash in Greece. He allegedly recorded the entire album from a wheelchair. Maybe the touring hiatus saved the rest of the band some energy, because this is easily their most “live” sounding record. The songs are relatively simple in terms of arrangement, but that’s also where quite a lot of the album’s propulsive spirit stems from; Jimmy Page’s riffs and John Bonhams drums are all over the place.

As a Heavy Metal fan, there’s no way I couldn’t enjoy opener ‘Achilles Last Stand’ (sic). It’s simply impossible. Its galloping rhythm predates Iron Maiden’s debut album by a few years, but it’s consistently strong and works wonders in terms of dynamics. The other book end is another long song and it’s one of Led Zeppelin’s most underrated masterpieces: ‘Tea For One’ starts out with an uptempo Rock feel, but quickly transforms into a slow, brooding, minimalistic blues with excellent riff work and a mindblowing vocal performance even by Plant standards. It’s like a darker, riffier brother to ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’ and should have been valued as least as much as that one.

The shorter songs are every bit as impressive. The band’s take on the traditional gospel song ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ is really their own thing and one of the few songs they took to the stage from this record. ‘For Your Life’ has an irresistible start-stop feel, which almost makes it feel heavier than it actually is. ‘Candy Store Rock’ is one of those forgotten classics of which I really like the restrained, yet powerful rhythm and the fifties R&B licks courtesy of Page. ‘Royal Orleans’ is another one of those unconventional, yet recognizable songs. I think they were shooting for something Funky here. They didn’t quite succeed, but the results are great nonetheless.

While it’s hard, if not impossible, to overstate Led Zeppelin’s brilliance and lasting influence, I feel that music fans generally attach themselves to a limited number of their albums, while really, each and every one of their first seven records is just about perfect. ‘Presence’ is definitely the first one I’d suggest someone who leans towards Hardrock. Sure, some of the songs need some time to sink in, but it’s always been that way with Led Zeppelin. In hindsight, maybe the forced touring hiatus was a blessing in disguise. Whatever the reason, ‘Presence’ should be heard by anyone who loves good Rock music.

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

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’

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