Category: Grade: A

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”

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.

 

The Fiery Furnaces – EP

ARTIST: Fiery Furnaces                                 

TITLE: EP

YEAR RELEASED: 2005

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Single Again, Tropical Ice-Land

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nah

LINEUP: Matthew Friedberger, Eleanor Friedberger with others on drums

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A stop gap release with singles and b-sides

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The UK wanted something to play on the radio, so the Fiery Furnaces recorded “Single Again”, a modern take on folk songs (which was chilling and gave me a lot of pause), then released this full of B-sides and new tracks. It’s called EP, but it’s really 41 minutes, so that’s a misnomer.

Always challenging and inventive, the songs aren’t just tossed off B-sides and extras, but well-crafted and musically challenging songs, with the siblings working together and Matthew even singing a few cuts as well.

The songs mostly link together, which is good, but a little frustrating for mix-tape or playlist makers. But as a stop-gap, this works well, and allowed the Furnaces to create challenging works later.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: I’m counting this as a 2005 release since the singles were new enough and the album cohered enough to be a contemporary release.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE A-: “Single Again” gives me chills. The rest are good examples of the tuneful oddness of the Furnaces.

Meryn Caddell – Angel Food for Thought

ARTIST: Meryn Caddell                              

TITLE: Angel Food for Thought

YEAR RELEASED: 1992

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: The Sweater, Barbie

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Oh, no.

LINEUP: Meryn Caddell with contributions from Tim Vesely, John Gzowski, Dave Clark, Jim Creeggan, Stepehn Taub, Curtis Wehfritz, Bruce Evans and Tom Third

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Avant garde spoken word album got some airplay, somehow, thanks to its inventiveness.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Meryn Caddell, a Canadian performance artist, released this work in the early 90’s with 20 tracks of poetry and prose. Somehow “The Sweater” got to the Canadian Top 40 and was on college radio in the US, and inspired Rivers Cuomo to write “Undone (The Sweater Song)”. That’s quite true.

The sounds behind the poems and prose is inventive – and some are just solo recitations. Cadell used to perform in a heating duct for reverb, so the sounds were something already in mind. There are a couple of ‘traditional’ songs but they fit the atmosphere. This may not be a ‘put on every day’ record, but it’s a good listen if you need some performance art poetry.

Cadell is now a professor of song lyrics and libretto writing at the University of Bristish Columbia, which is pert near perfect.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: KROQ used to play “The Sweater” and “Undone” by Weezer back-to-back.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A couple of bonus tracks now.

 GRADE A-: Despite my reservations, this is a good listen, poignant and entertaining.

Lush – Gala

ARTIST: Lush                                    220px-Lushgalalpcoverjpg

TITLE: Gala

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None – though Scar hit #3 UK Indie and Mad Love #55 UK Singles chart

SINGLES: Sweetness and Light  (#4 Modern Rock, #47 UK), De-Luxe (#14 Modern Rock)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Hey Hey Helen 220px-Sweetness_and_Light_-_Lush

LINEUP: Miki Berenyi, Emma Anderson, Steve Rippon, Chris Acland. Phil Overhead helps on percussion.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the best of the first wave of shoegaze bands combines its early EPs into a compilation album.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Lush came out with several EPs before they recorded their first full-length, which was a pretty genius move since it allowed them quality control and development of their sound and material.

At first a UK Indie chart phenomenon, later they achieved mainstream success of sorts with “Sweetness and Light”and the Mad Love EP (which contained “De-Luxe”. The interlocking, hazy guitars of Miki Berenyi and Emma Anderson give Lush a distinctive sound, coupled with the ethereal vocals of Berenyi. Unlike other shoegaze bands, the guitars are gentler, but still a wash of chords and distortion.  220px-Mad_Love_-_Lush

This collection whetted the indie rock appetite for Lush, as the shoegaze movement was gaining ground in the underground of the US even as grunge was taking over the alt-rock airwaves. It definitely is good to hear what the shoegaze fuss was about.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The collection is in reverse chronological order. 220px-Scar_-_Lush

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Some cuts are a bit draggy but when they’re focused they make excellent, gentle, clatter.

Jen Trynin – Cockamamie

ARTIST: Jen Trynin           220px-Cockamamie

TITLE: Cockamamie

YEAR RELEASED: 1994

CHART ACTION: None (sigh…)

SINGLES: Better Than Nothing (#15 Alternative, #40 Mainstream), Happier

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not really, unless you knew me then.

LINEUP: Jennifer Trynin, Paul Bryan, Jerry Deupree, David Gregory, Mike Levesque, Michael Rivard. Aimee Mann sang backup.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Boston based solo artists records a rockin’ alternative power pop-ish solo album with great songs and no reaction from the public for the most part.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Coming out of Boston, Warner Brothers released this album after local Squint Records put it out to raves in 1994. It deserved the accolades – it didn’t deserve the commercial freeze-out.

MTV played the video for “Better Than Nothing” at times, and that garnered some airplay. Yet the album has several great tracks like “One Year Down”, “Too Bad You’re Such a Loser”, “Knock Me Down and “Happier”. Her guitar tone is fantastically meaty and raw, which adds to the overall sound and mood. The production and her work with the rotating drummers is strong as well.

There are few dull spots or subpar tracks. It’s just a shame it didn’t resonate with the public or radio.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: She later married her producer Mike Denneen.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A+: Unfairly ignored by the powers that be, it deserved a lot of play.

The Raspberries – Capitol Collectors Series

ARTIST: Raspberries           220px-RaspCapColl

TITLE: Capitol Collectors Series

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Charting: Don’t Want to Say Goodbye (#86), Go All the Way (#5), I Wanna Be With You (#16), Let’s Pretend (#35), Tonight (#69), I’m a Rocker (#94), Overnight Sensation (Hit Record) (#18)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Doubtful, but some should be in the consciousness if the world was right.

LINEUP: Eric Carmen, Wally Bryson, Dave Smalley, Jim Bonfanti. Scott McCarl and Michael McBride were on their last album, and played on a few tracks here.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Power-poppers made inconsistent albums, but this one collects the best tracks from each one.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After reviewing one individual album and listening to others, the Raspberries were not consistent track over track and seemed to be more of a singles band. An issue is that Eric Carmen tended to go to maudlin ballads to fill time (just like in his solo career), and the other Raspberries had about a 50-50 chance of writing a dream or a dud.

Still, with this collection, you get the good stuff, and not the dross. (Well, mostly, as there are a couple of draggy ballads still hanging around.) Their hits are fantastic power pop, and the contenders (“Let’s Pretend”, “Tonight”, “Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak”, “Nobody Knows”) are coulda shoulda been hits had they gotten the promotion (or weren’t regulated to a B-side or an album cut).

Power poppers should grab this right away – but they probably already have it. As for the rest of you, you need to experience the depth of Carmen and his group. They were fantastic when they were on.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band formed from the remains of Cleveland bands The Choir and Cyrus Erie with Carmen forming the Quick after Cyrus Erie disbanded.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A: I can take a mawkish ballad or two if it means the rest of this collection exists.

Devo – Freedom of Choice

ARTIST: Devo                                       DevoFreedomofChoice

TITLE: Freedom of Choice

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #22 US, #47 UK

SINGLES: Whip It (#14 US, #8 Dance, #51 UK), Freedom of Choice (#103 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Girl U Want, Gates of Steel

LINEUP: Mark Motherspaugh, Gerald V. Casale, Bob Motherspaugh, Bob Casale, Alan Myers

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The ‘breakthrough’ thanks to a fluky single, but it was a decent album.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Regrouping after a disappointing second album, Devo moved toward a synth pop sound while keeping guitars for flourishes and fills. The heavy lifting was on keyboards and synths.

Starting off strong with “Girl U Want”, the album announced Devo as a vanguard of synth music in the 80’s. “Whip It”, a fluky hit (catchy as heck, and the meaning zoomed past everyone almost). The closest song to the old sound is the title track, a martial call to individualism and a condemnation of complacency. Normal Devo stuff, as it were.

The album has some filler, but there’s no stunning lows or head scrathers as on their last album. The high points, though (including “Gates of Steel” and “Mr. B’s Ballroom” along with the other cuts listed above) raise up the grade.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Gates of Steel” was co-written with two friends from the Akron music scene.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Live versions and demos..

 GRADE A-: There’s some real Devo gold here, as it were!

Jethro Tull – Thick as a Brick

ARTIST: Jethro Tull                                                 220px-DirkvdM_thick_as_a_brick

TITLE: Thick as a Brick

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #5 UK

SINGLES: None (for a good reason)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The opening part of the opening part (“Really Don’t Mind”) has been on comps, and last part of part three (“From the Upper Class”) has been on the radio.

LINEUP: Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, John Evan, Jeffery Hammond-Hammond, Barriemore Barlow

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The record where Jethro Tull says, “You want a concept album? HERE!”

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After denying that Aqualung was a concept album, Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull gave the wankers who claimed that it was what they wanted, a freakin’ concept album with two tracks – and only two tracks (though split into four distinct sections each with interludes).

The story is long (of course, it’s a nearly 44 minute album) and really, the story isn’t what it’s all about in my ears. The lyrics fall into normal Tull-dom with pronouncements and platitudes. What’s impressive, especially on the first side, is the playing. Tull really pulls out the stops on the first part, transitioning to each part seamlessly (also good work from the engineer), and Martin Barre and John Evan shine on guitar and keyboard.

The second side kind of falls flat with some spoken fragments intermixed and the last parts don’t have the same verve and pep that keeps a listener engaged. But it’s a damn audacious record and it works for the most part, and holds up.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original cover opened up as a 12-page newspaper.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Versions with a live track (only 11 minutes!), remixes, and one version that splits the saga into eight parts.

 GRADE A-: An A+ side, and a B side….really. The B-side is a B!

Ex Hex – Rips

ARTIST: Ex Hex                          Ex_Hex_Rips_artwork

TITLE: Rips

YEAR RELEASED: 2014

CHART ACTION: #170, #24 Alternative, #46 Rock

SINGLES: Hot and Cold

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not on radio

LINEUP: Mary Timony, Laura Harris, Betsy Wright

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mary Timony’s new project is a straight-ahead (relatively) rock-and-roll trio. It’s impressive.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: If you’ve been a fan of the underground, true-alternative music scene since the 90’s, you know Mary Timony as the leader of Helium and of her solo work. (One of her albums was called Ex Hex, BTW). She also was a ringleader in Wild Flag, a super-group of female alt-rockers that got fairly popular.

That last experience may have spurred her to abandon the minor key, weird tuning, and oddly structured music she was doing for almost two decades, and move towards the mainstream, albiet the alternative mainstream. The trio she formed kicks up a racket without ‘selling out’ – whatever that means now.

Tweleve tight songs, (10 by Timony and two by Besty Wright), a straight forward sound, and guitars to the fore make this debut a logical add to any alt-rock playlist. The simple pleasures are sometimes the best.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Famous producer Mitch Easter engineered this record.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A-: Good songs, tight arrangements, and rockin’ guitars. Yeah, yeah, yeah.