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!

Adam & the Ants – Prince Charming

ARTIST: Adam & the Ants            220px-Adam_and_the_Ants_Prince_Charming

TITLE: Prince Charming

YEAR RELEASED: 1981

CHART ACTION: #94 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Stand and Deliver (#38 Dance, #1 UK), Prince Charming (#1 UK), Ant Rap (#3 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Adam Ant, Marco Pirroni, Merrick, Terry Lee Miall, Gary Tibbs

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Oof. What a disappointment.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Starting with horn charts, “Scorpios” kicks off the record on a hopeful note, but soon, as the song devolves into a cluttered mess, you know something was up.

What was up? Instead of a record chock full of fun and exuberant songs, Prince Charming became a vehicle to deliver a great single (“Stand and Deliver”), a so-so single (the title track, way too repetitive), a good deep cut with a goofy name “Picasso Visita El Planeta De Los Simios”, and unfished, hacky gunk and what sounds like leftovers from his previous albums.

On what planet would “Ant Rap” work? Not this one.

The songs are slight, repetitive, and unfocused. The production is messy. The second side grinds to a boring halt. Adam & the Ants weren’t supposed to be boring, but there’s even a song about sex that puts you to sleep.

The Ants split soon after, with Adam taking Marco along for a solo career. Thank goodness he had “Stand and Deliver”.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: There’s a hidden cut called “The Lost Hawaiians” which isn’t really worth the mystery surrounding it.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. Demos. Joy. Unpolished demos of unfinished songs. Hooray!

 GRADE D+: Two good tracks, one fair track, dreck, and the mother-f’n “Ant Rap”.

 

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

ARTIST: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown   220px-ArthurBrownTheCrazyWorldofArthurBrown

TITLE: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #7 US, #2 UK

SINGLES: Fire (#2 US, #1 UK), Nightmare

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They do cover I Put a Spell on You

LINEUP: Arthur Brown, Vincent Crane, Nick Greenwood, Drachen Theaker. John Marshall drummed on two songs.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Wild, out-of-nowhere hit by jazz-psychedelic-proggy group led by one of the most unique individuals in rock music.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There are so many rock and metal musicians that owe a debt to Arthur Brown, thanks to the makeup, the costume changes, the flaming helmet, and his heavy, spooky sound. Listening to the debut, they also learned a few things outside of trying to match “Fire”, too.

Brown and his band were a definite must see for a few years thanks to his dramatics, and the album definitely ups the drama as well. There’s spoken word pieces, insane cackles, Brown’s multi-octave voice, and the screams. All that in front of a mostly competent keyboard-based kinda-jazzy group led by Vincent Crane. (Crane was definitely competent, drummer Drachen Theaker was always on the chopping block to be replaced.)

This record is definitely a period piece (how could it not be) yet it’s an enjoyable trip back to the time where somehow this was a hit.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This group was a favored opening act for many bands in the UK and the US. However, in 1969, Carl Palmer was on drums because of Theaker’s fear of flying. Palmer and Crane soon left after the tour to form Atomic Rooster, which led to Palmer being poached by Keith Emerson to form…well..you know.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. There’s the mono mix appended, and a few early singles (which are more hippy-dippy than anything).

 GRADE B: Oh, there’s pretention here and head scratching things, but it’s fun and Brown’s voice is pretty unique.

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.

 

Karla Bonoff – The Best of Karla Bonoff: All My Life

ARTIST: Karla Bonoff                   512D5ZEjtjL._SX425_

TITLE: The Best of Karla Bonoff

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: No

SINGLES: I Can’t Hold On (#76), Baby Don’t Go (#69), Personally (#19)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not by her. Several artists covered her stuff.

LINEUP: Karla Bonoff and some of the best session players in LA

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Singer songwriter really had the songs, but somehow didn’t quite make it big – unlike her compatriot Linda Ronstadt.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: More known as a songwriter, unless you have “Personally” stuck in your head, Karla Bonoff’s recording career was beset by bad luck or bad timing or something. From the start of her career (with a band featuring Andrew Gold, Kenny Edwards, and Wendy Waldman) to the end, it just didn’t happen for her as it should.

It’s definitely an LA singer/songwriter album, with Bonoff leading a group of the best session players at the time through their paces. A lot of the songs have a tinge of melancholy and heartache – some resignation and loss also sneak in there. But her sense of melody and her voice is strong and the arrangements are spot on.

“Personally” is the one you probably knpw, but most of this is quite decent. If you’re into the LA scene of the late 70’s, you could do worse. And you probably did.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: In one of the biggest ironies in music, “Personally” wasn’t written by her. A performer more known for songwriting had her only success with a song she didn’t write. Hmmm.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE B: There are a few things I exiled, and the whole thing isn’t streaming as a unit (but you can put it together if you wish).

Coven – Witchcraft Destroys Minds and Reaps Souls

ARTIST: Coven                                                                                                                                                                                                     

TITLE: Witchcraft Destroys Minds & Reaps Souls           

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: Nope

SINGLES: Wicked Woman

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Black Sabbath (oh, wait, this is a different one)

LINEUP: Jinx Dawson, Greg ‘Oz’ Osbourne, Jim Donelson, Rick Durrett, Steve Ross

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The first really Satanic-themed record.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Forever known as the purveyors of “One Tin Soldier”, and known by some as the band that threw up the “Devil Horns” first, Coven was, well, a band composing of followers of the occult.


Singer Jinx Dawson is the star. She can belt out these devilish tunes with great fervor. But there’s some cringe-worthy moments (the chanting in some songs is almost funny, really) and when Jim Donelson sings (a hired gun by Dunhill Records) he’s so wimpy compared to Dawson, especially when he sings “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”.

Dawson herself saves a lot of the material, which is rather much warmed-over organ-driven psychedelic rock instead of proto-metal (though there’s some tasty guitar here and there, especially on “Choke, Thirst, Die”). But thanks to bad press due to Manson, Mercury pulled this record before the publicity could help sales.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Despite them being actual members of a coven, the core group (Dawson, Osbourne, Ross) didn’t write much of their first album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE C: I exiled some of this, and it’s really more of a curio than anything.

Matchbox Twenty – Exile on Mainstream

ARTIST: Matchbox Twenty  Exile_on_Mainstream

TITLE: Exile on Mainstream

YEAR RELEASED: 2007 (it’s half new, half comp)

CHART ACTION: #3 US, #1 Alternative, #53 UK

SINGLES: New songs; How Far We’ve Come (#11 US, #157 UK), All Your Reasons, These Hard Times; Charting comp songs: Push (#38 UK), 3AM (#64 UK), Real World (#38 US, #92 UK), Back 2 Good (#24 US), Bent (#1 US), If You’re Gone (#5 US), Mad Season (#48 US, #76 UK), Disease (#29 US, #50 UK), Unwell (#5 US, #83 UK), Bright Lights (#23 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Long Day

LINEUP: Rob Thomas, Brian Yale, Paul Doucette, Kyle Cook, Adam Gaynor. Ryan MacMillan played drums on the new cuts, as Gaynor left and Doucette went to guitar from drums.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Six new songs, 11 old ones. They’re pretty indistinguishable from each other.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: You look up at the singles, and you notice that “3 AM”, and “Push” aren’t charting on the Billboard chart. Well, they were just radio promo singles here. And did they get airplay! Matchbox Twenty were a safe rock alternative from all of the detuned downer mopers. Safe is the word.

Somehow labeled as “Alternative”, Matchbox Twenty is about as straightforward of mainstream rock as you got in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. They are what they are – crafted for airplay among many radio formats with the loud / soft dynamic, the acoustic to electric, the semi-acappela parts, and enough hooks to fill a fishing supply company.

It was interesting that the six new songs were appended to a greatest hits release. I didn’t say it was a good decision, since about half of those new songs are just…there.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: After this album, they took five years to release another. In fact, they released 4 ½ records in 16 years.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

GRADE C+: It’s Matchbox Twenty. It’s mostly nostalgia now, and it’s oh, so safe.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – The Firstborn Is Dead

ARTIST: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds       220px-The_Firstborn_Is_Dead

TITLE: The Firstborn Is Dead

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: #53 UK

SINGLES: Tupelo

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover Wanted Man

LINEUP: Nick Cave, Blixa Bargeld, Barry Adamson, Mick Harvey

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: For their second album, Nick Cave leads his Bad Seeds into a blues exploration. A scary, dark, demon-laced blues exploration.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: “Tupelo”, based on a John Lee Hooker song, with some parts lifted from Lead Belly, and lyrics about Elvis Presley and Christ, is a perfect opener to this record. It’s a classic Nick Cave performance, with his voice evoking all kinds of emotions, and his band playing the menacing licks while singing the backing vocals as they were a cowboy band.

But the rest of the record doesn’t let up, either, with the blues and early rock-and-roll getting the Bad Seeds treatment. The band contributes greatly as well and it all concludes “Blind Lemon Jefferson”, a tribute to the old bluesman.

There’s not a lot wrong with this album, though their cover of “Wanted Man” isn’t as effective and “Black Crow King” overstays its welcome. Still, for “Tupelo” alone, it’s worthwhile.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title refers to Elvis Presley’s stillborn twin Jesse.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A CD vesion has a B-side

 GRADE A-: Creepy blues record thrills and chills.

The Mekons – Fear and Whiskey

ARTIST: The Mekons             R-1048893-1423850467-5698.jpeg

TITLE: Fear and Whiskey

YEAR RELEASED: 1985

CHART ACTION: None (sniff…)

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sadly, no

LINEUP: Jon Langford, Tom Greenhalgh, Sally Timms, Susie Honeyman, Lu Edmonds, Rico Bell, Steve Goulding, Mark White

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The Mekons, mark 2, trade anarcho-punk for anarcho-alt-country-before-its-time.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: After a couple of albums and a classic single or two, the original band of the Mekons petered out in 1982. But during the Coal Strike of 1984, the core of the group decided the time was nigh for a reboot, and The Mekons rode again.

But, there was a new sound. Instead of clattering punk rock, there was fiddle, slide guitar, and a country tilt to the entire sound. Now, there was still some anarcho-wierdness (“Trouble Down South”), and some experimental tracks (the spoken word “Psycho Cupid”) but traditional sounding songs like “Flitcraft” exist in this universe too, along with the fantastic lead cut “Chivalry”.

They’re still loose, they’re still political, but God love ‘em, they came back with a strong record that defied expectations.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: I’ll cover the early version of the band when I review their compilation, which will cover the entire gamut of the band. The classic mid-80’s and early-90’s albums will be reviewed in whole, though.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No

 GRADE A: The Mekons definitely started some of the alt-Country movement, and they didn’t even know it.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Take Them On, On Your Own

ARTIST: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club          220px-TTOOYO

TITLE: Take Them On, On Your Own

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: #47 US, #3 UK

SINGLES: Stop (#19 UK), We’re All in Love (#45 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not here, maybe over there.

LINEUP: Robert Turner, Nick Jago, Peter Hayes

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: BRMC avoids the sophomore slump with a solid album that shows more diversity in sound and motifs.

 SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There’s a fire and a snarl to this, the second album by the US born and UK loved (at the time) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. The sound is by parts more hard rock, yet more sonically adventurous, and also more in your face about subjects and riffs.

The trio coalesces as a true unit here, with everyone contributing to the overall shape of the song and the dynamic tension involved. It’s really a good step for the band to not just repeat the formula than won them UK fans and accolades.

Others in the critic-sphere didn’t appreciate this record as much, but to my ears, this is a worthy followup.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The title track was a B-side, not on the album.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Japan, of course.

 GRADE A-: They showed some growth and consistency here