Month: June 2019

Stellastarr* – Harmonies for the Haunted

ARTIST: Stellastarr*

TITLE: Harmonies for the Haunted

YEAR RELEASED: 2005

CHART ACTION: #12 Heatseeker

SINGLES: Sweet Troubled Soul (#37 Dance)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: None

LINEUP: Arthur Kremer, Shawn Christensen, Amanda Tannen, Michael Jurin

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from NY band finds them in a more dance-oriented mood rhythmically, but still has a foot into the alt-rock scene.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Perhaps taking a nod from the trends in NYC happening at the time (with Interpol and the Rapture), Stellastarr moved themselves toward a dance-oriented rhythm, while still blasting guitars out to the fore, and singer Shawn Christensen still over-singing a bit. His enunciation on the pre-chorus to “The Diver” is cringe-worthy for sure.

What this album has is “Sweet Troubled Soul”, an all-timer of a track and head-and-shoulders above everything on this record. The other tracks are OK, but without that track the album would just be a trend-hopping exercise by a band that never really knew what it wanted to be anyway.

Still, “Sweet Troubled Soul” is worthwhile and the other tracks are decent enough to keep. So, one track saves the day.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This album was first issued with the blasted Media Max software that kept legit buyers from ripping a copy for their iPod.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No, but the copies streaming now don’t have the hidden track. So an anti-deluxe?

GRADE B+: It’s really a regression with one track pumping the grade up two notches.

Candlemass – Nightfall

ARTIST: Candlemass

TITLE: Nightfall

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Samarthin, At the Gallows End

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Bewitched, The Well of Souls

LINEUP: Messiah Marcolin, Lars Johansson, Mats Bjorkman, Leif Edling, Jan Lindh. Mike Wead helped as well.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Finding their vocalist, Candlemass releases a classic Swedish doom metal record.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: It didn’t take long for Messiah Marcolin to make his mark with Candlemass. The first verse of “Well of Souls” showed his power, range, and dramatics. Coupled with classic doom metal riffs, the stage was set for a doom metal classic.

Bassist Leif Edling’s songs improved from their first record as well, and the tight playing of the band, veering from pure doomy sludge to taut thrash. “The Well of Souls” was an instant classic (though not a single, for whatever reason).

The rest of the songs suffer a bit by comparison to the outstanding beginning, and there are some instrumentals to set the mood between songs (which is fine, really). The whole album coheres and it’s great for anyone who wants some dramatic doom in their life. And who doesn’t?

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Guitarist Lars Johansson broke his arm and was replaced for a few tracks by Mike Wead. Wead joined Candlemass in the 90’s.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Demos and live tracks.

 GRADE A-: Just listen to the glory of “The Well of Souls”

Big Brother and the Holding Company – Big Brother and the Holding Company Featuring Janis Joplin

ARTIST: Big Brother and the Holding Company   

TITLE: Big Brother and the Holding Company Featuring Janis Joplin

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION: #60, #28 R&B

SINGLES: Bye Bye Baby (#118), Down on Me (#43), Blindman (#110), Coo Coo (#84)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Doubtful that you have, really.

LINEUP: Janis Joplin, Peter Albin, Sam Andrew, David Getz, James Gurley

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A rushed debut recorded before they (and Janis Joplin) hit it big at Monterrey. Eh.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Say what you want about Janis Joplin (me, I think she’s overrated, but that’s just me again), she deserved better than this band and this album.

There are flashes on goodness here. “Intruder” is first rate, and “Down on Me” would become a staple for her in her career. But the band here falters in both material (the originals, and even Joplin’s originals are meh), and performance (they really should have just picked songs that highlighted Janis). It’s also very skimpy – 23 minutes on first release.

If she didn’t wow the audiences wherever they played live, and then had a cult build around her, this would be a forgotten footnote.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They recorded two tracks in Chicago, then ten others in three days in LA. It sounds rushed for sure.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Originally 10 tracks on Mainstream – when Columbia picked it up they added two sides of a single and ramped the running time to 28:03! Score!

GRADE C-: For diehards. For the diehards of the diehards.

Three Dog Night – Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story

ARTIST: Three Dog Night 

TITLE: Celebrate: The Three Dog Night Story

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 10: One (#5 US), Easy to Be Hard (#4 US), Eli’s Coming (#10 US), Mama Told Me Not to Come (#1 US, #3 UK), Joy to the World (#1 US, #24 UK), Liar (#7 US), An Old Fashioned Love Song (#4 US), Never Been to Spain (#5 US), Black and White (#1 US), Shambala (#3 US0, The Show Must Go On (#4 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Celebrate (#15 US), Try a Little Tenderness (#29 US) Sure As I’m Sittin’ Here (#16 US)

LINEUP: Chuck Negron, Danny Hutton, Cory Wells. The band usually was Jimmy Greenspoon, Floyd Sneed, Joe Schermie, and Michael Allsup

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Titanic hit makers in the late 60’s and early 70’s are featured in a pretty comprehensive collection, for better or worse.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Three Dog Night’s reign as a band that everyone could like (hippies, squares, and their parents) went from 1969 through 1974, with a top 5 record in each of those years. They had a tight band and a unique vocal blend, and they and their producers found great songs from unknown (and later known) songwriters.

Yet they were true singles artists. I don’t think they tried to just do hits + filler – but it seemed that the songs not chosen to be singles were definitely of lesser quality, and the originals (mostly instrumentals) were just…there. So a compilation is definitely the way to go. This one finds early material from Danny Hutton and Cory Wells, as well as a track when they were Brian Wilson’s protégés as Redwood.

Three Dog Night’s weaknesses (a bit bombastic, a bit rote in some arrangements) also come to fore in a long collection. There’s also some diminishing returns (drug abuse and staleness really laid the band out after 1972). Yet you can’t deny that when they were on, they made memorable hits and were a powerful, and uniting, commercial force.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Danny Hutton’s son was the tour drummer for Haim until 2017.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE A-: It may seem long for a casual fan (43 tracks), but it’s probably the best kind of overview for a band like this. All of the hits are here, and then people can pick and those the deep cuts they like.

 

Brave Belt – Brave Belt

ARTIST: Brave Belt  R-6067485-1410234025-6141.jpeg

TITLE: Brave Belt

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Rock and Roll Band, Crazy Arms Crazy Eyes

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not unless you were in Canada in 1971 or so

LINEUP: Randy Bachman, Chad Allan, Rob Bachman. C. F. Turner, not a member yet, sings backup a couple of times.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After leaving the Guess Who, Randy Bachman joins with former Guess Who singer Chad Allan and his brother Rob to form a country-tinged band based in Winnipeg.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Fans still shocked about Randy Bachman leaving the Guess Who were also surprised when he formed Brave Belt with his brother as the drummer and the former lead singer of the Guess Who, Chad Allan.

More shock came to fans when the band was more of a country-rock flavored outfit than the harder edged Guess Who.

There are some rockers here for sure. But Allan was turning more toward a country-folk sound with his songs. Randy Bachman was also singing in his gentle falsetto. This was a transitional band, as Bachman was finding his bearings after leaving the hit machine of the Guess Who. It’s not that exciting, but it’s interesting as a minor point of rock history.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: C. F. Turner joined as the bass player after the basic tracks (Randy Bachman played the bass) but did sing backup on a few tracks.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE B-: Most of the songs are OK. They are well played, of course, thanks to Randy Bachman’s virtuosity. But you can take this or leave it.

Scorpions – Tokyo Tapes

ARTIST: The Scorpions

TITLE: Tokyo Tapes

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: All Night Long

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Maybe, if you’re a fan of early Scorps

LINEUP: Klaus Meine, Uli Jon Roth, Rudolf Schenker, Francis Buchholz, Herman Raraebell

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Capping the Uli Jon Roth album with a double live in front of an adoring fan base in Japan, the Scorps play their hits, and indulge in double-live album excesses. It was the 70’s.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The double live album. What would rock fans in the 70’s do without it? This one is perfect to check out the various Scorpions’ 70’s tracks that are scattered over several compilations.

The Scorpions iteration with Uli Jon Roth was a little more arty as Roth liked to extend songs with guitar solos. The bad news is that Roth also sang a few tracks, and he’s no Klaus Meine. Not even close. His vocals kill “Polar Nights”, but dang he can play.

There are some indulgences (of course), including two covers of old rock songs and an old Japanese song, along with a lot of soloing (including a drum solo in “Top of the Bill”). Still, this is a prime collection of 70’s Scorpions.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The first re-issue of the CD left off “Polar Nights” since they wanted it on one disc.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, they restored “Polar Nights” and added more live tracks, including the Japanese anthem and four repeat tracks from another show.

 GRADE B: It’s a 70’s live double, so it is long and indulgent. But it’s still a good overview and the playing is great.

 

Loggins & Messina – The Best: Sittin’ In Again

ARTIST: Loggins & Messina 

TITLE: The Best: Sittin’ In Again

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Vahevala (#84), Nobody but You (#86), You’re Mama Don’t Dance (#4), Watching the River Run (#71), Changes (#84)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: House at Pooh Corner, Danny’s Song, Long Tail Cat

LINEUP: Kenny Loggins, Jim Messina, session pros.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pop and folk rock duo compilation is released to support their 2005 tour.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Jim Messina, formerly of Poco and Buffalo Springfield, mentored youngster Kenny Loggins and they formed a duo that sold a lot of records and mellowed out a lot of people in the mid 70’s. You know them, and you may know their big songs.

Yet, for the fond memories of a few, most everything they did was mellow to the point of boredom, complete with cringy or way-too sentimental lyrics (“Danny’s Song”, oy!). Sometimes they extend a song way past it’s sell-by date (jammin’ man). Their mix of rock and country was interesting at times, but had all of the rough edges sanded off to the point of slickness.

For as much publicity and fond remembrance of the duo, the honest truth is that they were meh that fit into the too-laid-back 70’s scene that was addled a bit by substances. That’s my story, at least.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The duo also released two live albums, and one isn’t streaming. Neither is their final studio album. This collection also left off a few of Top 100 singles that weren’t going to be performed at their reunion shows.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE C: I exiled about half. I was generous, too.

Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs

ARTIST: Syd Barrett                    Sydbarrett-madcaplaughs

TITLE: The Madcap Laughs

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #40 UK

SINGLES: Octopus (#11 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Terrapin, Dark Globe

LINEUP: Syd Barrett, David Gilmour, Jerry Shirley, Willie Wilson, Robert Wyatt, Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After being excused from Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett records his first solo album in fits and starts, and it’s kind of shambolic, and charming.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Syd Barrett’s story, in fact, the recording of this album, takes a volume or two. So, in short, Barrett took about 18 months to record this, sessions here and there, and finally it took an effort from former bandmates Roger Waters and David Gilmour to get the thing done.

As you can imagine, the albums a bit chaotic. Sometimes, members of the Soft Machine overdubbed onto the tracks. Sometimes it was Gilmour and Jerry Shirley from Humble Pie. Sometimes, it was just Syd.

His voice is shaky at times, the songs seem to be on the verge of breaking apart, and one track shouldn’t have been included at all due to false starts and the like. Still, the songs are charming and playful at times – or at least they sound like it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The Gilmour / Waters sessions had to be fit around their Pink Floyd obligations for touring and recording, so that was some of the delay.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some alternate takes.

GRADE B: Syd’s solo stuff is probably an acquired taste, though there’s quality here.

Jim Steinman – Bad for Good

ARTIST: Jim Steinman          JSteinman_Bad

TITLE: Bad For Good

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #63 US, #7 UK

SINGLES: Rock and Roll Dreams Come True (#32, #14 Mainstream, #52 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Meatloaf did cover a lot of these songs on later albums, and so did other artists.

LINEUP: Jim Steinman, Rory Dodd, Karla DeVito, Todd Rundgren, Davey Johnston, Kasim Sulton, Max Weinberg, Roy Bittan, Roger Powell, Ellen Foley, Larry Fast, and many more.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Meatloaf’s songwriter recorded the planned followup on his own after Mr. Loaf lost his voice. He’s no Meat, that’s for sure.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Jim Steinman was the lunatic that came up with Bat Out of Hell for Meatloaf, and when it came time for the followup Meatloaf was out of commission due to voice issues and drugs. So, not wanting to wait, Steinman gathered musicians and producers and did the damn thing himself.

He should have waited for Meatloaf. Steinman’s vocal limitations are noticeable from the jump, and even with Rory Dodd helping his voice was still a liability. The structure of the record is almost the sing – spoken word pieces, a duet with a hot girl – long winded pieces – a storyline. This one was ostensibly about Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. Yeah, whatever.

It’s bombastic, and would have been a decent Meatloaf vehicle. But here, it’s just bombast without redemption. Only a couple tracks are worthy of keeping, really.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The irony is that later in 1981, Meatloaf’s followup, with Steinman songs, came out. He needed these songs.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Not really, but the single “Rock and Roll Dreams Come True” came packaged as an EP with the original vinyl. The single and B-side are the last two tracks on the CD.

GRADE C-: The importance of a vocalist has never been more apparent than here.

The Idle Race – Back to the Story

ARTIST: The Idle Race                                             

TITLE: Back to the Story

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: No

SINGLES: Imposters of Life’s Magazine, Here We Go ‘Round the Lemon Tree, The End of the Road, The Skeleton and the Roundabout, Come with Me, Days of Broken Arrow, Neanderthal Man, In the Summertime

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only UK pop-psychedelic and ELO zealots, and I mean zealots.

LINEUP: Jeff Lynne, Greg Masters, Dave Pritchard, Roger Spencer. Mike Hopkins and Dave Walker later replaced Lynne.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Jeff Lynne’s band before the Move, and then ELO, shows him mining the exact same ground, but without a production budget.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The production’s not the best (bands that don’t sell singles have to make do with what they got then), and there’s a bit too much music hall (their first album, especially), but when you listen, you can hear Jeff Lynne through and through. The baroque touches, the evocation of the Beatles’ psychedelic era, the melodic sense – it’s Jeff Lynne all the way through.

This collection is a true compendium of the Idle Race. It’s everything they recorded for them, even the album that they put together after Lynne decamped for the Move in 1970. Now for non-zealots, you may want to skip around, and hit the part of the collection with their singles before diving in (the start of CD2), but for those curious in the development of ELO (and to marvel how long Lynne has been doing this – A LONG TIME!) this is good to pick up.

What’s sketchy is that third album, the one after Lynne left. The record company wanted them to release contemporary covers as singles, and they complied, and then gave them another album, but it’s far away from Lynne’s material.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The Idle Race developed from the Nightriders, a popular Birmingham (UK) club band that Lynne joined and soon took over and moved them toward the pop-psychedelic side.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: At first, two Nightriders tracks were on the compilation, but they disappeared when it was reissued.

 GRADE B: It’s got some charms, but you can easily compress it down to a collection of your liking.