Category: Grade: B

Dead Confederate – Wrecking Ball

ARTIST: Dead Confederate 

TITLE: Wrecking Ball

YEAR RELEASED: 2008

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: The Rat (#39 Alternative), Start Me Laughing

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Heavy Petting

LINEUP: Hardy Morris, Bradley Senn, Walter Howle, John Watkins, Jason Scarboro

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut album from a grungier southern alt-country-rock band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After stints as a jam band that played long long songs, Dead Confederate regrouped themselves as an alt-rock band with a country tinge and some grungy influences from My Morning Jacket and other southerny rock bands.

The songs are split between guitarist Hardy Morris and bassist Bradley Senn, with Senn having the more melodic voice and more hookish tracks. (He wrote “The Rat” which was a minor radio hit). They still linger on songs for a bit too long – can’t take the jam band out of the band I guess.

Because of their tendency to meander on a track, the album rather much stands still at times. Some tracks are worthy, and the moody sound can entrance you, kind of a Southern Gothic. It’s a decent debut that’s worth a spin.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They used to be called Redbelly or The Redbelly Band. Ick.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A bonus track on iTunes. Remember when that was a thig?

 GRADE: B: Some tracks go on a bit long, but it’s a decent listen.

Saxon – Wheels of Steel

ARTIST: Saxon

TITLE: Wheels of Steel

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION:  #5 UK

SINGLES: Wheels of Steel (#20 UK), 747 (Strangers in the Night) (#13 UK), Suzie Hold On

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not around these parts

LINEUP: Biff Byford, Graham Oliver, Paul Quinn, Steve Dawson, Pete Gill

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from UK band becomes a NWOBHM classic and showed the commercial potential of that genre in the UK.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Saxon’s second album was a revelation to the UK music business. It hit #5 and spun off two singles, showing that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal could be a commercial force.

The album is full of riffs, guitar interplay, melodic solos, driving tempos – you know, the usual NWOBHM menu. Not only do they have riffs and guitars all over the place (the title track riff – my goodness), they also can write hooks on occasion.

A lot of the record is at a quick tempo, but I think the detriment of singer Biff Byford. His high-pitched vocals don’t have a lot of power when he’s got to sing ultra fast. When he slows down a bit, his vocals really work, and that’s why “747 (Strangers in the Night)” is such an effective track.

I can see why this was a hit in the UK – the US music industry didn’t have the machine to bring this out to the general public, so it became a underground metal community gem.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “747 (Strangers in the Night)” was written about the Northeast Blackout in 1965 and how a Scandanavian airliner had to land in the dark.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, demos and live cuts and a b-side

GRADE: B+: One of the hard-to-get albums (in the US) that kick started the tape-trading era of metal, which then developed into a full-out metal scene.

ZZ Top – Tejas

ARTIST: ZZ Top 

TITLE: Tejas

YEAR RELEASED: 1976

CHART ACTION:  #17

SINGLES: It’s Only Love (#44), Arrested for Driving While Blind (#91), Enjoy and Get It On (#105)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Probably not

LINEUP: Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A mediocre record from a tired-sounding band.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: ZZ Top had been touring basically non stop since their founding, and seemingly lost its mojo when they went into the studio to record their fourth (and a half) studio album.

The album is more country and blues based than much of their previous efforts, and utilized a shuffle rhythm more than anything. The songs seem less adventurous and lascivious, repeating many of the same things. Only some interesting wordplay saves some of the tracks (“I’ve gotten good at missing her / I practice all the time” from “Pan Am Highway Blues”) and Gibbons uses his deeper growl for “El Diablo”. The tracks also seem padded out a bit with extended outros on some tracks.

It’s not to say that it’s a horrible album, it’s just flat and uninspired for the most part. After this album and another tour, the band took a 90-day-into-two-year break and came back with a revitalized crowd pleasing album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: On the abomination that was the Six Pack (remixed versions of six of their first seven albums with ‘updated’ Eliminator-like drums and mixes – avoid!), the geniuses cut out the first line to “Arrested for Driving While Blind”. Get the real version.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

 GRADE: B-: They were worn out here.

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

ARTIST: Genesis 

TITLE: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #41 US, #10 UK

SINGLES: Counting Out Time (#53 UK), The Carpet Crawlers (#54 UK),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

LINEUP: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Phil Collins

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Expansive rock-opera with a hard-to-follow and confusing storyline, and some ingenious music that expanded Genesis’ musical palette.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Despite the renown of this album, this is not the place to start to explore Peter Gabriel-era Genesis.

The album shows Genesis at its most experimental, with some soundscapes, effects, and interesting noise. Working with the libretto and lyrics that Gabriel came up with was a challenge, and the band pulled together and made the record as concise and listenable as possible.

Yet, the story…my goodness gracious. The mid-70’s gave us a lot of impenetrable rock operas and storylines, and this one was right there with them. It’s not a story that you can get right away, or even after a few listens. It’s dense, and sometimes makes no sense. I don’t know what the hell Gabriel was trying to say. But he said it anyway. It probably could have been pared down a bit, especially on the back half. A good story editor could have done that.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They toured this by just doing the entire album plus encores of a couple of their past epic songs. It lost money due to the production. Also, Brian Eno helped with production adding effects.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B: The music is good, but it’s too long and dense.

Genesis – Selling England by the Pound

ARTIST: Genesis

TITLE: Selling England by the Pound

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION:  #70 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) (#21 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Dancing with the Moonlight Knight

LINEUP: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett, Phil Collins

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Pop chart breakthrough for Genesis doesn’t mean they’ve gone pop.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After staging successful tours for Foxtrot in both the US and UK, and improved record sales, Genesis was ready to take the next step commercially. After a few months of working some ideas to death, they settled on the tracks and created this album, which contained longer suites with an actual honest-to-goodness pop song (well, proggy pop song).

“I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” was destined to be a hit in 1974, and it was deserving. It had enough progressive elements to keep fans from crying sellout, but had hooks enough for chart success. “Dancing with the Moonlight Knight” and “Firth of Fifth” are also strong instrumentally.

The star of this record to my ears is guitarist Steve Hackett, whose inventive use of distortion and tapping added some fire to the somewhat placid epics and his instrumental piece is top notch. Tony Banks’ keyboards overwhelm some of the songs at times, and the two longer songs on the second side are just overly complicated lyrically.

Overall, except for the pop success, this doesn’t break new ground. Good enough for prog fans.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Phil Collins sang “More Fool Me”, which hearkens to the softness of his solo career a decade later.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B+: A great first three tracks, and some interesting bits and pieces later on.

Love – Da Capo

ARTIST: Love 

TITLE: Da Capo

YEAR RELEASED: 1967

CHART ACTION:  #80

SINGLES: 7 and 7 Is (#33), She Comes in Colors, Que Vida

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Orange Skies

LINEUP: Arthur Lee, Brian MacLean, Johnny Echols, Ken Forssi, Snoopy Pfisterer, Tjay Cantrelli, Michael Stuart

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Second album from LA scensters reveals a lot about themselves and their eclecticism.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The second album from Love shows a band that was confident in many motifs. The big single (“7 and 7 Is”) was hard rock for 1966, “Que Vida” was an amalgam of styles, and “Orange Skies” and “She Comes in Colors” were brilliant sunshine pop.

The first side was a brilliant 1967 psychedelic pop-rock record. I’d maybe resequence it, but that’s a quibble. Then there’s the second side.

“Revelations” was the only cut on side two. Dylan and Zappa had done in 1966, but those were on double albums. Here, Love devoted an entire side to a rambling, long, jam that started out with Bach, and then incorporated Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker. It had everything a 60’s psychedelic band threw at their audiences – drum solos, woodwind excursions, harmonicas, guitar solos, meandering jams. The works.

After such a brilliant side one, it was such a come down to flip the record over. That wouldn’t be a problem on their next album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Snoopy Pfisterer moved to harpsichord and keyboards for this album from drums, instruments he was much more comfortable in playing.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A reissue with mono and stereo mixes.

GRADE: B: Six fantastic tracks on side one (even if the sequencing is a bit off for me), then that jam on side two.

Electric Light Orchestra – Eldorado

ARTIST: Electric Light Orchestra

TITLE: Eldorado

YEAR RELEASED: 1974

CHART ACTION:  #16

SINGLES: Can’t Get It Out of My Head (#9), Boy Blue

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Only if you’re an ELO lifer

LINEUP: Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan, Richard Tandy. Mike de Albuquerque left during the recording but was on a few tracks. Mike Edwards, Mik Kaminski, and Hugh McDowell were credited string players, but Lynne hired an orchestra, so good luck picking them out. Peter Forbes-Robinson did a voice over.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A concept album about a dreamer gave ELO its first true US hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a few years of hits in the UK and being an album-rock artist in the US, ELO got its first US hit (and saw it’s UK chart fortunes disappear) in “Can’t Get It Out of My Head”, a nice slice of baroque pop with an orchestra.

The rest of the album was similar, with a shoulda been hit in “Boy Blue” and melodies and orchestrations on every song. It was a concept album, beginning and ending with an overture and a finale. Lynne’s devotion to Beatle melodies comes right to the front, as many cuts sound right from the back pages of Lennon / McCartney’s book of melodies backed by an orchestra. One track, “Mister Kingdom”, is close to an outright appropriation of “Across the Universe” in places.

The sound, with a full orchestra, is much improved, but the synthesizers of Richard Tandy seem obtrusive at times, with odd settings of buzzes and effects where a nice piano or organ setting would have been better. The overall sound makes this a much better listen for casual ELO fans who want to explore beyond the hits.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: de Albuquerque left during the sessions as he felt life on the road was taking away from his family time. Kelly Groucutt joined during the tour for the album and the classic ELO lineup was solidified. Also, the honest to goodness, the full album title is Eldorado: A Symphony by the Electric Light Orchestra.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with a long version of the “Eldorado” suite and tiny snippet of a song.

 GRADE: B: On this album, ELO almost puts all of their elements together. Almost.

My Bloody Valentine – Gilder / Tremolo

ARTIST: My Bloody Valentine

TITLE: Gilder / Tremolo

YEAR RELEASED: 1990; 1991

CHART ACTION:  Glider : #2 UK, Tremolo: #1 UK

SINGLES: Soon (#41 UK), To Here Knows When (#29 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Kevin Shields, Billinda Butcher, Colm Ó Cíosóig, Deb Googe

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Two Eps released between albums that prepped the sound that My Bloody Valentine was going to unleash on the world, and introduced Kevin Shields’ unique tremolo guitar technique.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Glider and Tremolo were apt names for these two Eps (yeah, breaking the rules a bit but they fit together nicely). During the tour and after their first album, Kevin Shields had fully developed his tremolo-guitar technique, where he plays chords while manipulating his tremolo bar, and has a lot of vibrato in his guitar effect as well. The result is, as some put it, a ‘glide’.

The effect is quite noticeable on the track “Glider” where it does sound like the record is warped. The tracks really dig into the tremolo effect, and mostly punt the vocals back to where they’re a melodic hint in the back of the mix, while the guitars move back and forth between channels, and in your ears. “To Here Knows When” made the Top 30 in the UK without any semblance of a traditional song structure, just guitar noise in front of ethereal vocals by Billinda Butcher.They also experimented with drones and raga sounds as well.

These Eps were an agreed to stopgap by the band and Creation Records as it was taking forever to record their next album. It whetted everyone’s appetite and launched even more shoegaze acts in the UK. 

NOTES & MINUTIAE: At this time Shields became immersed in the sound and production of the band. Tremolo was supposed to be seven songs, but three instrumentals were added as codas to the tracks so it fit in the definition of a 12” single or EP

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: There were stand alone singles as well as these Eps, and “Soon” and “Glider” were re-mixed for a 12” version.

 GRADE: B+: A couple cuts don’t quite make the grade but these are important Eps in MBV’s development.

? and the Mysterians – Cameo-Parkway: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

ARTIST: ? and the Mysterians 

TITLE: Cameo-Parkway: The Best of ? and the Mysterians

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION:  None

SINGLES: 96 Tears (#1 US, #37 UK), I Need Somebody (#22 US), Can’t Get Enough of You Baby (#56 US), Girl (You Capitvate Me) (#98 US), Do Something to Me (#110 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Shout.

LINEUP: Rudy Martinez (“?”). Frankie Rodriguez, Bobby Balderrama, Eddie Serrato, Frank Lugo. Fernando Aguilar played bass on their first single.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Sons of migrant workers hit #1 with their organ drenched track “96 Tears” and become legends.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After gigging around Saginaw and vicinity for a couple of years, ? and the Mysterians went into the studio and recorded a single for a small local label. A station in Windsor, Ontario, started to play both sides, Cameo-Parkway licensed it, and “96 Tears (backed with “Midnight Hour” – an original) rocketed to #1.

They then had to make an album, and because they had been gigging for a while, definitely had the songs ready for it. Then a follow up was needed, and they duly cranked out another pretty good album. It was a better album, but didn’t have THAT hit, so it flopped. Overall, they covered just four songs out of 23 on their albums, which for a garage band was definitely unusual, and refreshing.

This compilation combines their two Cameo-Parkway albums, and their follow up single before the label went bust (allegedly taking their royalties with it). While 96 Tears (#66) had the hit, Action was a more cohesive, tighter, and tougher album. It showed more of the garage side of the band. Had “Girl (You Captivate Me)” received its proper attention, they may have been able to make farfisa hits for a while.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Can’t Get Enough of You” is the song that Smashmouth had a big hit with in the 90’s. It originally was a Four Seasons track.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE: B+ This captivates me.

Squeeze – Sweets From a Stranger

ARTIST: Squeeze 

TITLE: Sweets From a Stranger

YEAR RELEASED: 1982

CHART ACTION:  #32 US, #20 UK

SINGLES: Black Coffee in Bed (#103 US, #26 Mainstream, #51 UK), When the Hangover Strikes, I’ve Returned

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: In Quintessence

LINEUP: Glenn Tillbrook, Chris Difford, John Bentley, Don Snow, Gilson Lavis

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Paul Carrack leaves, Difford and Tillbrook don’t have the songs, and while they have a video on heavy rotation, no one is really happy about the record, much less the band.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Almost every track on Sweets From a Stranger seems like it’s been done before. Maybe not by Squeeze, but there isn’t a lot of originality here. You have new wave sounding tracks, arty rock songs that sound a little Broadway-esque, and classic guitar-oriented pop songs. Only “Black Coffee in Bed” rises above the déjà vu feeling of the songs.

This even extends to lyrics, where Chris Difford mines the familiar themes of drinking and cheating, but without the originality and verve before. Glenn Tillbrook tries hard but gets too fancy by half on some tracks, and on others the tunes just seem a bit flat. The production didn’t help either – it was a bit busy in places and didn’t let the songs breathe.

“Black Coffee in Bed” was a classic, and MTV played the video like crazy in 1982 (even with Gilson Lavis dropping a drumstick). It’s not a bad album, but quite disappointing when measured by the preceding three Squeeze records. After this, they released a ‘final’ single (the brilliant “Annie Get Your Gun”) and split up for a bit. When they came back, their sound had morphed.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Some songs sounded like musical theatre tracks, and yes, Difford and Tillbrook did mount a short-lived musical in London in 1983.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Outtakes, demos, and “Annie Get Your Gun (#40 Mainstream, #43 UK)

 GRADE: B- A disappointment to say the least.