Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (vinyl edition)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Willy and the Poor Boys (180 Gram Vinyl Edition) (Fantasy/Concord)

This new version blows the original vinyl away

As a lifelong collector of vinyl, I will often tell you that “older is better.”  I’d rather search out an original pressing of an album than buy some new version.  The reason is that, in my experience, a lot of new vinyl is done with very little quality control.  Well, here comes Craft Recordings to, once again, prove me wrong.

Craft Recordings has recently re-issued both Green River and Willy and the Poor Boys on vinyl in celebration of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 50th anniversary.  They sent us Willy and the Poor Boys and we compared it to an original vinyl copy in our library.

The results are stunning.

While the original vinyl sounds pretty good, this new, 180-gram, edition is far superior in every way.  First, this new version is very quiet – the pressing was done with a great deal of care.  Second, and really the biggest difference, is that there is so much more depth to this new pressing.  The guitar at the beginning of “Down on the Corner” is rich, there’s more punch to the drums on “It Came Out of the Sky,” and the acoustic guitars on “Cottonfields” are warm.  

The album was created using the half-speed mastering process, meaning the original audio was played back at half the speed and the cutting lathe was also slowed down, allowing the grooves to be cut more precisely.  

Everything from “Fortunate Son” to “The Midnight Special” jumps out of the speakers.  These classic recordings have never sounded this good on their original, vinyl format.

As an added bonus, the album comes packaged in a heavy weight cardboard sleeve, replicating the original, tip-on jacket.  

CCR were one of the original, roots-rock American bands.  It makes sense then, that they should be enjoyed in analog.  

I sincerely wish that all vinyl reissues were given the same treatment as this Willy and the Poor Boys edition.  Vinyl fans rejoice!  —Tony Peters

348 – Franke Previte – The Knockouts Complete & Dirty Dancing

Franke Previte was a founding member of Franke & the Knockouts, who had a top ten smash in 1981 with “Sweetheart.”  “You’re My Girl” and “Without You,” also charted on the Top 40, plus the songs “Come Back” and “Never Had it Better” got significant play on rock radio back in the day.  In all, the band issued three albums for major labels, two on Millennium and one for MCA. 

After the band’s demise, Previte worked on his songwriting craft, co-writing the two big hits off the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes” (the former hit won an Academy Award for Best Song in 1987).

If you try and find any of the Franke & the Knockouts albums online, you’ll find that they’re fetching a lot of money.  That motivated Previte to issue Franke & the Knockouts – The Complete Collection from Friday Music. 

Featuring all three albums, plus some choice bonus tracks – this fantastic music is back in print.  Plus, part of the proceeds from each collection will go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network in honor of his friend, Patrick Swayze, who succumbed to the disease.

347 – Kim Simmonds of Savoy Brown – City Night

I know that at any moment…this could stop

Savoy Brown, one of the longest-running British Blues Rock bands.  Formed in 1965 by guitarist Kim Simmonds, the band achieved success with songs like “Train to Nowhere,” “I’m Tired,” and “Hellbound Train.”  Former band members have gone on to success with groups like Yes, Fleetwood Mac, and several members forming Foghat.  But, through all this, Simmonds has remained the one constant, guiding force. 

The band’s 40th album, City Night, has just come out on Quarto Valley Records, and Simmonds searing guitar is once again, front and center, augmented by Pat DeSalvo on bass and Garnett Grimm on drums, the most consistent lineup in the group’s history  The band is also in the midst of a US tour.

We chat about how Simmonds saw the Rolling Stones very early in their career, plus how he was influenced by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, and why he doesn’t play his signature Flying V guitar much anymore.

346 – Robert Rodriguez – 50th Anniversary of The Beatles’ Abbey Road

It’s been 50 years since the Beatles issued their final studio album, Abbey Road, and to celebrate, Apple Records has just released several deluxe versions.  The biggest selling point is a brand-new remix of the original album by Giles Martin, son of Beatles’ producer George Martin.  Also included are various demos and alternate versions that give us a peek behind the scenes of the Fab Four’s final masterpiece. 

And, to talk about it, we welcome back Rob Rodriguez, who has written many books on the Beatles, including Fab Four FAQ 2.0, Revolver: How the Beatles Reimagined Rock n’ Roll, and Solo in the Seventies.  He also hosts a podcast called Something About the Beatles.

345 – Louis Price – The Temptations, When Doves Cry Re-imagined

Louis Price was the lead singer of the legendary Temptations in the late 1970’s. He also spent time in the Drifters after that.  Price recently teamed with pianist Starr Parodi for an emotionally-charged update of Prince’s 1984 hit, “When Doves Cry.” 

The duo strip away the synths and heavy percussion of the original recording, leaving just voice and piano. This scaled-back approach places a stronger emphasis on the lyrics, especially the line, “why do we scream at each other,” which Price repeats, again and again near the end, to incredible, spine-tingling, effect. This re-imagined version is an attempt to bring peace through the power of music. 

He also gives us the crazy story of how he became lead singer of the Temptations, one of the most revered vocal groups of all-time.

America – 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits (review)

America – 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits (Rhino)

Celebrating their semi centennial with a solid career overview

For any band, reaching the half-century mark is a monumental achievement.  Years of touring, success, lack of success and friction of inter-personal relationships have caused the end of many a great band over the years.  The fact that America is still a working group, playing shows, year after year, is a testament to the dedication of both Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell to the same ideals that brought them together over 50 years ago.

A new collection, 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits, celebrates the high points of a long career.

The set opens with their first, and most recognizable hit, “A Horse With No Name,” a combination of CSN harmonies and Neil Young-like lead vocals, over a gentle, pulsing acoustic backdrop, that somehow manages to make a statement of the dying ecology; it still jumps out of the speakers, almost five decades later.  

What made America such a juggernaut is that back in their heyday, they had three capable vocalists and songwriters all adding their own elements to the band (Dan Peek was the third original member).  Beckley’s piano ballad “I Need You” was a counterpoint to Bunnell’s ominous “Sandman.”  

Three songs from their second album, Homecoming, show off their versatility.  Peek turned in the countryfied, 12-string jangle of “Don’t Cross the River,” which features some goose-bump-inducing harmonies on the chorus, while Bunnell gave us the iconic, acoustic-flavored “Ventura Highway” (with the crazy “alligator lizards in the air” lyric), while Beckley gives us another, McCartney-esque, “Only in Your Heart.”    

After the somewhat lackluster Hat Trick (I mean, if Captain & Tennille outdo your “Muskrat Love,” you might want to regroup and come up with a better plan, right?).  That plan was to bring in Beatles’ guru/producer George Martin.  This partnership brought immediate dividends in the gentle simplicity of Bunnell’s “Tin Man” and the absolutely gorgeous “Lonely People” (a highlight of Peek’s songwriting talents).  

Beckley gives us another great ballad in “Daisy Jane,” while Peek turns in the reggae-infused “Woman Tonight,” a forgotten track off of the album Hearts.  The real highlight off that album was the smash hit, written by Beckley, “Sister Golden Hair,” one of their finest singles.  

Another lost single, Bunnell’s “Amber Cascades,” was one of the high points of the album Hideaway.  Their final album as a trio, Hideaway, yielded the minor single, “God of the Sun.” After that, Dan Peek left for a solo career, reducing America to a duo.  They returned in 1982 with the Russ Ballard-penned “You Can Do Magic.”  

There’s also a 3-disc version of this collection that delves deep into their catalog.

The strength of 50th Anniversary – Golden Hits is that it’s concise (six less tracks than the somewhat bloated Complete Greatest Hits), but also contains all the highlights of the band’s career (something that the original America’s Greatest Hits does not).  Although there are plenty of great songs throughout America’s vast catalog, 50th Anniversary is a great starting point.  —Tony Peters

The Beatles – Abbey Road (50th Anniversary) (Review)

Beatles – Abbey Road (50th Anniversary Edition Remix) (Apple)

So good…it will make you cry

Abbey Road has always been my favorite Beatles’ album.  It’s the one I remember begging my mom to play again and again on our console stereo system, while I lay in between the large wooden speakers, basking in the glow.  The original album got so much love, it eventually developed skips, which I knew by heart.  

But, as much as I love that album, it always bothered me sonically.

The original version kind of sounded like shit.

While that statement certainly smacks of blasphemy, let’s examine things a little closer.  The original vinyl was mastered at a low volume, meaning all but absolute pristine copies are marred by pops and scratches, which overpower the music.  There’s also tape hiss that even shows up on those original pressings (just replay a vinyl copy of “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” for proof).  

Things only got worse when the band’s catalog eventually moved to compact disc.  Not only was all that tape hiss louder, but many of the tracks sounded tinny and brittle.  How did this once-great album come to sound so lifeless?

All of that has been fixed with this glorious new remix by Giles Martin.

As the son of Beatles’ original producer George Martin states in his new liner notes, the goal of this project was to “peel back the layers and be as pure as we can.”  They have done that and more.

Sonically, it is a massive upgrade.  While we were critical of the somewhat heavy-handed approach of The White Album remix, there seemed to be a reverence surrounding this new project.  The result is something that all but the pickiest of Beatles’ fanatics will be thrilled with.  

One of the greatest triumphs is the spine-tingling remix of George Harrison’s “Something.”  His vocals and guitar are warm, the bass – big and fat, and the strings engulf you.  

A side-by-side comparison from the original CD version gives some insight into just how improved these songs really are.  Take, for example, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” which on the original album, was full of midrange frequencies and had instruments that were panned hard right and left.  For this new remix, they were able to play Paul’s original piano track through speakers at the original Abbey Road studios, miking the sounds on the edges of the room, giving you the feeling that you are in the room with the band. Ringo’s drums have punch, and everything just sounds more human.  

In this new mix, “Sun King” leaps out of the speakers.  The chirping crickets are everywhere, while Paul’s bass is full, and less distorted, and Ringo’s thumping beat is enormous.  The harmonies in stereo are a nice touch.

What about “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”?  The hiss is gone, and what remains is a testament to just what kind of a blistering band the Beatles could be.  John seems to be working through some of the pains of his eroding band in the gritty vocals.  Not to be outdone, this new remix really shows what a fantastic vocalist Paul was as well on the impassioned “Oh Darling.”  

George’s other masterpiece is “Here Comes the Sun,” and everything, from the acoustic guitar, the strings, even the handclaps, are all upgrades in sound.

That glorious medley of songs that make up the original side two are made even more enjoyable by the new remixes.  Everything seems to build from song to song, cresting with “Carry That Weight,” with the strings and brass really shining through.  The guitar solos on “The End,” by Paul, George and John respectively, are more isolated, giving you a better appreciation for each’s approach to the instrument.  After a lengthy pause, the brief “Her Majesty” brings everything to an abrupt close.

I wouldn’t be a Beatles’ fanatic without a couple of minor quibbles.  There are points where Martin and company insert little “new” bits into things – there’s extra vocals and guitar parts at the end of the new “Come Together,” which to me don’t add anything.  There’s also extra guitar fills at the end of “You Never Give Me Your Money,” even ones that sound like mistakes.  There’s also times where a different effect is used on the vocals, especially apparent on the “one sweet dream” part of “You Never Give Me Your Money.”  

There are several different versions available to purchase.  The two-disc set contains a second CD of rarities.  Of note here is a demo version of “Something,” where you can really hear the song coming together (pun intended).  There’s a fragility to this take which adds to its power.  The other tracks are interesting to hear once, but nothing stands out as revelatory. Either the vocals are rough takes or the instrumentation breaks down.

The real treat on the 4-disc set is “The Long One,” a 16-minute early version of side two, which has “Her Majesty” not at the end of the album, but sandwiched in between “Mean Mr. Mustard” and “Polythene Pam.” There’s also differences in vocals and instrumentation on every song.  This is a nice addition, but you either have to purchase the more expensive version, or just stream it online.  A demo version of “The Ballad of John & Yoko,” proves that just John and Paul played on the track, while Paul’s version of “Come and Get It” is very close to what Badfinger eventually released as their debut single.  

There’s something always bittersweet about listening to Abbey Road.  As great as the music is, it’s also the final recordings by the Beatles.  A great deal of love and care has gone into this new remix.  —Tony Peters

344 – Joe Puerta of Ambrosia – Kurt Vonnegut, Alan Parsons and Yacht Rock

Ambrosia
Photo credit: Manny Dominguez Photography

Ambrosia released five albums and five Top 40 singles during their original chart run.  Their hits included “Holding on To Yesterday,” “How Much I Feel,” “Biggest Part of Me” and “You’re the Only Woman.”  For the band’s last tour, an up and coming musician by the name of Bruce Hornsby played piano for them.  Well bassist Joe Puerta is an original member of Ambrosia, who followed Hornsby and played in the original Bruce Hornsby and the Range as well.  Now, Ambrosia is back out on the road, playing a series of dates.

We talk to Puerta about the what got him playing bass, the origins of Ambrosia, and the struggles they had early on in their career.  A couple of other tidbits of our chat include working with Alan Parsons on their early records, and the story behind “Nice, Nice, Very Nice,” which features words by author Kurt Vonnegut.  

Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow ’78 (review)

Foreigner – Live at the Rainbow 78 (Eagle Rock / Rhino)

Proof they really were THAT good

Foreigner sold millions of records, placed several singles in the Top Ten, and toured incessantly, yet never had a proper live album of the classic lineup of the band – until now.  

It was DEFINITELY worth the wait.  

Live at the Rainbow 78 finds the original six-piece in front of a rabid UK crowd after being on the road for over a year in support of their debut album.  

No covers – no senseless noodling – this is rock n’ roll with a purpose.

The concert kicks off with a rousing version of “Long, Long Way From Home,” fitting as half of the band were from America.  The real highlight on this track is drummer Dennis Elliott, adding frenetic fills throughout and building the excitement.  Guitarist Mick Jones turns in some truly scintillating guitar work on “I Need You.”  Then, he introduces “here’s one for the ladies here tonight, my mum included,” before kicking off “Woman Oh Woman,” with Jones and singer Lou Gramm trading off lead vocal duties.  

Gramm really shines on “Hot Blooded,” a song that wouldn’t be out for several weeks yet (the lead single from their second long player, Double Vision).  He effortlessly hits the high notes while Jones shreds on the solo.

Ed Gagliardi’s bass is intertwined with the keyboards on “The Damage is Done” – the live version has much more power, even grooving in the middle.  “Cold as Ice” opens with a cool stager before briefly pausing, allowing the crowd to roar in approval.  This live take is fueled by the keyboard duo of Ian McDonald and Al Greenwood.  The band had been playing this track for at least a year now, yet it still sounds fresh.  There’s even a nice acapella part, followed by a keyboard solo and a killer ending.

McDonald shows off his multi-instrumentalist skills, breaking out a flute solo on the spacey “Starrider,” featuring Jones on lead vocals.  This extended flute jam might be the only part where things drag just a tad. 

The twin guitar of Jones and McDonald are on display for another new song, “Double Vision” – and great harmonies in the middle and yet another great ending.

If you want proof that Gramm was one of the finest vocalists in rock, look no further than “Fool For You Anyway.”  Sure, he could belt out rockers, but here he’s soulful.  The Rhodes piano gives a gentle approach that the band would explore more fully on ballads like “Waiting For a Girl Like You” a few years later.

“At War With the World” is one of the hardest rockers the band ever played, while the concert closes with an extended take of “Head Knocker,” complete with Gramm getting behind another drumset and battling with Elliott – the entire song crests and whips the UK crowd once again into a frenzy, lasting over 12 minutes.

Live at the Rainbow 78 reminds us that Foreigner were a force to be reckoned with as a touring band.  A phenomenal live set that does nothing but add to this great band’s legacy.  —Tony Peters

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (review)

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (Roadrunner)  

Grizzled Canadians Return to the US City That Embraced Them First

2011 marked the 30th anniversary of Rush’s Moving Pictures album – their biggest, and best album.  To celebrate, the band played that classic record in its entirety, along with an eclectic smattering of album cuts and hits.  Time Machine: Live in Cleveland 2011, the document of that tour, has just been issued for the first time on a 4-LP set on vinyl.

The city of Cleveland played a significant role in the band’s history.  DJ Donna Halper of Cleveland’s WMMS was the first person to play Rush’s music in the States (she’s actually thanked on the back cover of the group’s debut album).  So, it would only be fitting to play in front of fans that believed in them first.

Part of the, er…rush of a Rush concert is hearing the band effortlessly tackle their intricate studio arrangements in a concert setting.  That’s great live and in person, but usually doesn’t work too well on their countless live albums.  What sets Time Machine apart is the amount of humanity that shines through.  Okay, these tracks still mostly sound like the studio versions, but, for one, Geddy Lee’s voice has aged.  More of a squawker than pure singer, his vocals have a deeper, resonating quality to them and there’s a hint of rasp as well, giving some of these songs a “lived to tell about it” feel to them that isn’t apparent on the studio renditions.  

Other times, like in the early part of “Red Barchetta,” the band doesn’t seem to lock in quite like they used to.  Yet, there’s a kinetic sense of playing together for so long, that things don’t ever veer too far off course.  

The show kicks off with “The Spirit of Radio,” a little rough around the edges, and slower than usual, but still rockin’.  This jumps right into “Time Stand Still,” with the band still reprising Aimee Mann’s background vocals, courtesy of a sampler.  Other early highlights include a decent version of moody “Subdivisions” and the seldom played “Presto.”

A minor quibble is that Neal Peart’s drums seem somewhat buried in the mix.  Largely, he’s the main attraction here, as he still sounds in fine form.  Yet, at times he’s lost under the sludge of guitars.  

Moving Pictures comes at the midway point in the concert.  Only problem is, that means the album performance starts on Record two and completes on Record three (again, minor quibbling here).  Just for consistency, it would’ve been nice to have the complete album in live form on a single disc.  “Tom Sawyer” flat out rocks, while there’s some silly carnival sound effects at the start of “Limelight.”  It’s nice to hear songs like “Vital Signs” in a live setting.  

For the remaining tracks, the band digs back to their prog rock roots for the “2112 Overture” and  “La Villa Strangiato.”  At the same time, you also get both “BU2B” and “Caravan,” songs that were brand new and would show up the following year on the album Clockwork Angels.

And what would a Rush concert be without a mammoth drum solo by Neil Peart?  This one, originally titled “Love For Sale,” gets retitled “Moto Perpetuo,” clocking in at over nine minutes in length.

The concert ends on a surprising note, with the band diving into a reggae version of “Working Man” (hmmm…).  Thankfully, it morphs into the real song about 1:30 in.

By showing a band that’s aging, and a little rough around the edges (yet still in fine form), Time Machine is the most human of all Rush live albums, and that’s a good thing.  —Tony Peters

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