Rhino Records – “Sounds of the Summer” – Now Playing – Van Morrison (review)

Van Morrison – Now Playing (Rhino)

While there have been several Van Morrison “best of’s,” this new Now Playing collection concentrates on the Irishman’s best three LP’s: Astral Weeks (3 tracks), Moondance (4), and His Band and the Street Choir (3), picking the highlights of each album.  

Opening with the hypnotic “Sweet Thing,”  moving to the baroque “Cypress Avenue,” then the tense waltz of “The Way Young Lovers Do” (love the horns here), the LP grabs many of the high points of Morrison’s breakout, Astral Weeks.  Side one ends with two fantastic numbers from Moondance, the gliding, timeless “Into the Mystic,” and the sultry “Crazy Love.”  

Side two continues mining Moondance, with the ode to radio, “Caravan,” and his signature, “Moondance,” which still sounds superb, over 50 years later.  Side two is rounded out by three tracks from His Band and Street Choir, including “Domino,” one of Morrison’s best rockers, the gospel-tinged “Call Me Up in Dreamland,” and the bluesy “Blue Money.”

Van Morrison has always loved using natural instruments: acoustic guitars, piano, and horns, which all sound fabulous in the vinyl format.

While there are better, all-encompassing anthologies of his work, Now Playing spotlights the peak of Van Morrison’s powers.  —Tony Peters

Revival69: Rare John Lennon Live Performance and Rock Pioneers Make This a Must-See (review)

Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World

Now on all streaming platforms – see John Lennon’s first performance outside the Beatles

In 1969, the outdoor concert that got the most publicity was certainly Woodstock.  But, another festival took place less than a month later, up north in Canada, dubbed the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, and it also looms large in rock history. 

It marked the first public performance by John Lennon without the Beatles.  The film also features incredible footage of rock legends like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis, in addition to a wild performance by a then-unknown band called Alice Cooper.

Filmmaker Ron Chapman has put together Revival69: The Concert That Rocked the World, a documentary that features not only the fantastic concert footage (captured by the legendary D.A. Pennebaker, who also filmed Monterey Pop and Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back), but also delves deeper into the show’s planning and unbelievable hurdles that had to be overcome to pull this off. 

Featuring modern day interviews with the show’s original creator, John Brower, as well as Alice Cooper, Robbie Krieger of the Doors (who played that day, but was inexplicably not filmed), and both Klaus Voorman and Alan White, who played bass and drums respectively, backing John Lennon.  

Pennebaker did release a film of the event in 1973, titled Sweet Toronto – but that was just concert footage.  While that movie is worth seeing, Revival69 is so much better because it tells the whole, crazy story.  For one thing, the concert was almost cancelled numerous times, due to poor ticket sales, and radio indifference.  Then, in an act of sheer desperation, the day before the event, the promoters placed a Hail Mary call to the London offices of Apple Records, in hopes of persuading John Lennon to attend the show and possibly host it.  Lennon had publicly shown his love for the Fifties artists on the bill, so it was worth a shot.

Not only did Lennon say YES, but he also said he wanted to PERFORM live.

Lennon played exactly TWO concerts after the Beatles.  This is one of them.  

Revival69 is definitive proof that these rock and roll pioneers were still at the top of their game.  Chuck Berry does his signature duck walk, while Bo Diddley was punk before punk, with his homemade guitar and primitive beat. Jerry Lee Lewis works up a sweat, and Little Richard is simply spellbinding.  

There’s footage of Alice Cooper, and it’s just…crazy.  Performance art at it’s best.

Then, there’s Lennon, backed by Voorman, White, and buddy Eric Clapton on guitar.  With zero actual rehearsal, the band jammed through mostly old Fifties’ hits, the kind of stuff you run through at an open jam night at a local bar, like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Money.” 

Lennon seems rusty and self-deprecating, but still turns in a fine performance.  That is, until his wife, Yoko Ono, comes out of the bag she was sitting in on stage (you read that right).  She begins screeching at the end of “Cold Turkey” and the crowd is dumbfounded into silence.  Thankfully, Chapman only shows a little of Ono’s solo “performance” (for the full set, track down Sweet Toronto, if you dare).  

Chapman also tracks down people who attended the show, including Rush bassist, Geddy Lee, rock critic, Robert Christgau, Claudja Barry and Shep Gordon.

Seven days after performing at this show, John Lennon would quit the Beatles forever.  Perhaps the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival was the proof he needed that he could do it on his own.

The concert also helped kickstart the 50’s resurgence that would continue with nostalgia concerts at Madison Square Garden, films like American Graffiti and Let the Good Times Roll, bands like Sha Na Na, and even TV shows like Happy Days.  

The sad thing is that Lennon performed only a handful of shows in the last 10 years of his life, making his performance in this film even more special.  

Revival69 sheds new light on an important, but mostly-forgotten, event in rock n’ roll.  The footage of Lennon, Alice Cooper, and especially the rock pioneers, make this essential viewing for any music fan.  —Tony Peters

429 – Peter Holsapple of the dB’s – Reissue of Their Debut Album, Stands For Decibels (podcast)

The dB’s, originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, issued a pair of albums in the early Eighties that were at times both jangly and melodic, and quirky and inventive. Unfortunately, neither album saw a release in America at the time – instead getting issued by the UK label Albion. 

Now, over 40 years later, they’re issuing the dB’s debut record, Stands for Decibels, on Propeller Sound Recordings, streaming, CD, and for the first time ever in the US, vinyl. 

From the band, we chat with singer/guitarist Peter Holsapple, who talks about what went into reissuing this lost classic, recorded on a shoe-string budget over 4 decades ago, and the clever packaging of the CD. He also reveals plans for their second album, Repercussion, to get reissued as well.

Holsapple toured with R.E.M. as a multi instrumentalist in the 1990’s. He talks about watching the band’s interview on CBS Sunday Morning, commemorating their induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame

Silver Convention – Get Up and Boogie! (review)

Silver Convention – Get Up & Boogie – The Worldwide Singles (Omnivore Recordings)

Gleefully good fun

Only in the Seventies. 

The German studio band, Silver Convention, had two gargantuan hits with “Fly, Robin Fly” (#1, 1975), and “Get Up and Boogie” (#2, 1976).  Neither song was deep lyrically.  In fact, both tracks had the dubious distinction of only containing SIX words each.  Yet, the combination of seductive female voices, prominent strings and an insistent, disco beat, made these two songs irresistible dance numbers.  Omnivore Recordings has assembled the first-ever, fully-sanctioned collection of the band’s work.

The real draw of this compilation is the inclusion of rare single mixes and edits, many of which have never appeared digitally.  

Silver Convention was the brainchild of Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze, who assembled a rotating lineup of female singers for their unique blend of orchestrated dance music.  “Save Me” was their first single – and it would introduce all the important ingredients: a fat bassline, pounding piano, and strings that were front and center.  Truthfully, the strings ARE the verses, with the girls just providing the backup.  “Save Me” is showcased here in its rare, 3:04 single edit.

That’s followed by their first mega hit, “Fly Robin Fly.”  This is pure confection.  The kick drum is loud, providing the backbeat, while the piano provides the counter beat.  The girls sing, “Fly, Robin Fly / Up up to the sky,” but it’s the strings that do most of the talking.  This rare version is slower than what we had on CD here in the office and is about 30 seconds longer.

Oh, there’s plenty of schmaltz here too.  “Tiger Baby,” replete with cringe-worthy growls.  There’s a point, as the singing stops, that the backing sounds like “More, More, More” from the Andrea True Connection (which wouldn’t be released until the following year).  I dig “San Francisco Hustle,” which features a back and forth between the girls and a male voice.  

“(There’s) Always Another Girl” actually features a more typical set of lyrics, and glides along on a sinewy hi hat-infused rhythm.  “Get Up and Boogie (That’s Right)” returns to the six-words-per-song formula, and is arguably their finest moment.  The song has a driving bassline and clever clavinet accents, while the strings, once again, take care of most of the melody.

The baffling thing is, Silver Convention arrived before the disco boom of the late Seventies.  Yet, they were never able to have another hit after their two smashes.  “Telegram” sounds like a lost ABBA track.  The excellent “Spend the Night With Me” (featured here in the rare, promo single version) features a really good vocal by Zenda Jacks, and should’ve been a big hit.  “Get Up” features a funky groove and horns, and was the band’s final single.

The excellent liner notes by Joe Marchese really give insight to the curious history of a relatively unknown band, Silver Convention.  Get Up and Boogie is good fun throughout.  —Tony Peters

Genesis – Turn It On: The Hits (vinyl edition)

Genesis – Turn it On Again: The Hits (Rhino)

Double-album compilation makes its vinyl debut 

Phil Collins and Genesis were hit-making machines during their heyday, from the late-Seventies to the mid-Nineties.  The drummer-turned reluctant frontman took the reins after mercurial leader Peter Gabriel left for a solo career in 1975. After a few albums that tried to mimic the progressive rock the band had originally pursued, they began adding more pop-friendly material and the results landed positively with a wide audience.

Turn it On Again chronicles most (but not all) the high points of Genesis’ career.  It originally came out on CD in 1999. This marks the first time the collection is available on vinyl.

The set leads off with the infectious “Turn it On Again,” from 1980’s Duke album, which is in a very odd time signature (13/4).  That’s a followed by the ebullient, “Invisible Touch.”  

One of the selling points of this compilation is the inclusion of single mixes and edits.  The lengthy “Mama,” off the 1984 Genesis album, benefits from the truncated, radio edit.  Rounding out side one is the politically-charged rocker, “Land of Confusion,” and the completely ridiculous “I Can’t Dance,” which really doesn’t stand up now.

Side two opens with “Follow You, Follow Me,” the band’s 1978 breakout single (peaking at #23 in the US). I’m surprised they did not use the single mix here.  That’s followed by another ballad, “Hold on My Heart,” one of the few redeeming qualities of the goofy, 1991 We Can’t Dance album.  The excellent, “ABACAB,” gets things rocking again.  This is a radio edit, that omits the lengthy jam at the end.  “In Your Wardrobe (I Know What I Like)” is one of the most-commercial of the Peter Gabriel- era (but does it really qualify as a “hit”? More on that later).  

Side three starts with “No Son of Mine.”  It had been a long time since I’d heard this one, and it sounded good.  That’s followed by a heavily-edited (thankfully), “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight” (originally a 9-minute piece from Invisible Touch, shortened to a more palatable 4:30)  Next, is one of their best ballads, “In Too Deep.”  “Congo,” from 1997, was an ill-fated attempt to carry on without Collins with new vocalist Ray Wilson.  It’s a weak song, and it sounds out of place amongst all these much stronger tracks.

Side four begins with another throw away single, “Jesus He Knows Me” – it’s just not a terribly great song.  No Genesis video got more airplay on MTV than “That’s All”; the mid-tempo track still sounds fantastic.  “Misunderstanding” is one of Genesis’ best rockers – one of many songs Collins’ wrote about his deteriorating marriage.  Then comes  “Throwing It All Away,” another decent ballad off Invisible Touch.  

The real treat of the entire collection is an entirely new recording of “The Carpet Crawlers” (dubbed “The Carpet Crawlers 1999”) featuring all original members, including Gabriel.  He and Collins share lead vocals on this new version, which actually gives the song a fresh coat of paint.

Subtitling this collection “The Hits” is an odd decision. There’s so many “hits” not on here – the biggest one being the horn-driven, “No Reply at All.”  But, “Man on the Corner,” “Paperlate,” “Illegal Alien,” “Taking It All Too Hard,” and “Never a Time” are all curiously left off.

This new analog edition is pressed on clear, “Invisible Touch” vinyl.  The inner sleeves have the credits for each song on one side and a collage of fragments of many of their album covers on the other.

By choosing two of the most accessible Peter Gabriel tracks, and most of the Phil Collins highlights, the Hits is a good distillation of the entire career of Genesis, one of the most successful bands of the classic rock era.  It’s good to finally have it available on vinyl  —Tony Peters

Pretenders – Learning To Crawl (vinyl edition)

Pretenders – Learning to Crawl (Rhino)

Pivotal album from Chrissie Hynde & Co gets vinyl reissue

The third Pretenders album arrived in 1984.  It was their biggest success, but it was also shrouded in sadness.  The band was carrying on after the deaths of both guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon (both from drug overdoses).  What emerged was a more mature sound, but not sacrificing any of the grit of their previous two LP’s.  Learning to Crawl has just been reissued on vinyl featuring a 2018 remaster by original producer, Chris Thomas.

The album leads off with the biting, “Middle of the Road” – drummer Martin Chambers sounds like he’s firing bullets from his snare as he starts a frenetic tempo.  The track also features a stellar, off-kilter guitar solo from Robbie McIntosh, and a great bass solo from Malcolm Foster, both new members of the band for this album.  Next up is the tender, jangly masterpiece, “Back on the Chain Gang,” originally issued two years before featuring Billy Bremner on guitar and Tony Butler on bass.  It’s a fitting tribute to Honeyman-Scott, and is the band’s biggest hit.

The maturity definitely shows in the character sketch, “Time the Avenger” – Hynde’s writing was becoming more nuanced.  Of course, there’s nothing subtle about “Watching the Clothes Go Round,” a revved-up piece about the boredom of domestic life.  Side one closes with one of Hynde’s greatest ballads, “Show Me.” The guitars here just shimmer and her vocals are gorgeous.

Side two opens with the country shuffle of “Thumbelina,” before another of the band’s most-famous tracks, “My City Was Gone” – Hynde spits out lyrics bemoaning her return to her hometown of Akron, and how things had changed, over a cleverly echoed drumbeat. The band has often included at least one cover song, and “Thin Line Between Love and Hate” is an interesting choice.  Hynde turns in a soulful vocal that rivals the original, done by the Persuasions.  Paul Carrack guests on piano on this track.

“I Hurt You” is maybe the weakest song here.  Hynde’s vocals have a heavy flange effect on them, and there are multiple tracks of her singing at the same time.  It doesn’t really go anywhere (but does feature a nice McIntosh solo at the end).  The album closes with the wistful, “2000 Miles,” which has received heavy airplay as a holiday single.

As for the fidelity of this new, vinyl remaster – in a side-by-side comparison with my original, 40-year old copy, the new pressing seems more balanced (my original has too much high end). On  “Back on the Chain Gang,” the bass is more prominent.  “Show Me” has a lot more low and high end on the new version.

This is about as faithful a reissue you can get. There’s no new liner notes, and the only difference in the front and back cover is the absence of the Sire records logo.  They also reproduced the inner sleeve, which features some cool band photos.  Another nice touch is the actual label on the LP record also correctly reproduces the original, which had composites of both the front and back cover on it.  

Learning to Crawl is a great album from one of the Eighties most under appreciated bands, the Pretenders.  — Tony Peters

428 – Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds – 50th Anniversary & New Album, Struck Down, Featuring Billy Gibbons, Bonnie Raitt, & More (podcast)

The Fabulous Thunderbirds are an American treasure, formed in Austin, Texas in 1974, the band developed an infectious blend of blues and rock that hit pay dirt with songs like “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap it Up” from 1986. 

The group is celebrating their 50th anniversary with the release of Struck Down, their first new material in eight years.  The record features contributions from big name artists like Billy Gibbons, Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Taj Mahal and Elvin Bishop.  The one constant over the 50 years has been powerhouse vocalist Kim Wilson. 

He tells us why he thinks this is the band’s best album to date, plus how he hooked up with the famous guests on the album. And, how he loves that this new album is available on vinyl

A 1970’s Little Richard album rescued from obscurity (review)

Little Richard – Right Now! (Omnivore Recordings)

Little-known album from 1973 makes its digital debut

The folks at Omnivore have really helped to enhance the legacy of Little Richard by reissuing many of his lesser-known albums from the early Seventies (read our review here).  These showed that not only was the rock n’ roll pioneer still active, he was putting out some of the best music of his entire career.  

Those albums came out on Reprise, a major label. Richard’s next album was an odd one – a budget label release on the tiny United Records that went straight to the cut-out bin, called Right Now!  Omnivore has rescued this from the junk pile and it’s a revelation.

Furthering the album’s mystery is the fact that there were no liner notes, and no songwriting credits.  So, we’re not even sure who actually played on these tracks, where it was recorded, etc.  The label even mislabeled several songs.

From the excellent liner notes that accompany this new reissue, writer Bill Dahl uncovers that Right Now! was recorded in one evening, a lot of it live to tape.  “Bumps” Blackwell, Richard’s longtime manager, made a one album deal with United to help fund an upcoming tour.  

The album opens with “In the Name” – an odd choice, since he’d already recorded this song in 1971 for one of his Reprise albums.  But, there’s a definite improvement here.  While the earlier recording was more of a shuffle beat, this one chugs along, has superior horns, and Richard’s vocal is more spirited.  I love the fat bassline on “Mississippi” – his band is really cooking here.  

Another curious element is that some of the songs seem too short, while others overstay their welcome.  Take, for instance, “Don’t You Know I” – an impassioned ballad with a strange second Richard vocal in the right channel (perhaps not erased properly?).  It just gets going and then fades out.  It clocks in at just 3 minutes, and could really use some soloing to flesh it out.  There’s also a definite fidelity difference – it’s obvious that Richard overdubbed his vocal here.

One of the mislabeled tracks, “Chain Chain Chain” is, in fact, Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools.”  This sounds like a spontaneous jam, as Richard repeats the song’s first verse, over and over.  And, I love the way Richard says “fooool” at the 2:17 mark.

“Gerald Jones” is one that is just too long – Richard is obviously ad libbing the vocals on the spot and it’s definitely funky.  There’s some great stinging guitar and frenetic piano on the solos.  But, it just doesn’t need to be SIX minutes long.   Also: Richard is obviously saying “Geraldine Jones,” but once again, the label mislabeled things.

“(Sitting on the) Dock of the Bay” is another curiosity – while Otis Redding’s original version is contemplative, in Richard’s hands, it’s like he just robbed a bank and is looking for a boat to get him outta there fast.  Another example of a song being too brief.

“Chains of Love” is a slow blues number that runs over eight minutes.  Here, it’s great to hear Richard directing the band – he says “relax yourself drummer” at the start, then, he shouts “play the blues Glen!” before the guitar solo, and then, he even implores himself  “alright, settle Little Richard” at one point.  

The final cut, “Hot Nuts,”  is fueled by bongos and a groovin’ bassline, and is full of innuendos.  But, Richard’s growling vocal is the real highlight.

The common narrative on Little Richard is that he helped pioneer rock n’ roll in the Fifties, joined the ministry in the Sixties and ended up on oldies circuit in the Seventies.  Omnivore Recordings continues to disprove this by reissuing albums that add to his legacy. Little Richard was a force of nature.  Right Now! proves that he still had it, years after his hits dried up.  —Tony Peters

The Beatles & Barry White Were Both Influenced By This Underrated Singer (review)

Freddie Scott – The Very Best of (Playback Records)

Most comprehensive, multi-label compilation from an influential artist

Cited by both the Beatles and Barry White as a major influence, Freddie Scott is, nevertheless, still a relatively obscure soul artist.  Playback Records out of Australia has put together a 26-track set called The Very Best of, which grabs material from many different record labels, painting a clear picture of a powerhouse singer that needs to be heard.  

The disc opens with perhaps Scott’s most famous song.  “Hey Girl” has that undeniable, mid-Sixties soul sound, complete with echoed drums, fat bass, smooth strings, even the Cookies on background vocals.  Then, there’s Scott’s impassioned pleading for three minutes. It wedged its way into the US Top Ten in 1963.  As a followup, “I Got a Woman” is the Ray Charles’ standard, but slowed down and sweetened.  

There’s a pair of tracks that actually pre-date “Hey Girl,” released on the Joy label in 1961.  The fact is, the quality throughout this disc is unbelievable.  There’s a lot of diversity here, from the lush orchestration of  “Brand New World,” to the gritty “Lonely Man,” the Mariachi horns on “Forget Me If You Can,” and the unique percussion on “Mr. Heartache.”  

Scott signed onto Bert Berns’ label Shout in the mid Sixties and recorded some more fantastic tunes, including “Are You Lonely For Me,” which went to #1 on the R&B charts.  “(You) Got What I Need” charted on its own, and was later used by rapper Biz Markie for his 1989 hit, “Just a Friend.”  

I really like the pounding “I’ll Be Gone,” while “Am I Grooving You” has a slower beat and stinging electric guitar and horns.  He takes Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me” and slows it way down to make it his own.

There’s even a previously unissued song, “Why Did I Lose You,” which is just as good as anything else here.

After Burns’ untimely death, Scott jumped to and from various small labels, but the quality here is still amazing – from his searing take on Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” to “Girl, I Love You,” where Scott stretches out a note on the chorus so far you think he’s got to run out of air!  There’s even a more recent track from 1997 called “Watermelon Man” (not the Herbie Hancock song).  

The accompanying booklet features a detailed essay going through Scott’s career, with quotes from the artist himself. 

Freddie Scott may not be a household name, but The Very Best of proves that he deserves a listen.  —Tony Peters

Very Impressive Show from Tommy James (review)

Tommy James and the Shondells – Ludlow Garage – 6/1/24

Do yourself a favor and go see this legendary artist

Let’s get this out of the way first – Tommy James has still got it.  That soaring voice on hits like “Mony Mony” and “Crystal Blue Persuasion”? It’s still very much intact.  And, his band flat out rocks.

In the annals of rock n’ roll, there may be no artist as underrated as Tommy James.  14 Top 40 hits, 2 of them #1’s, and over 100 million records sold.  Yet, he’s still criminally not in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.  

James opened his set with his final hit – “Draggin’ the Line” from 1971, which he recorded without the Shondells, before leading a gorgeous rendition of his flower power staple, “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”  This guy is 77 and still nailing the high-register vocals. 

More hits followed in rapid fashion – the stomper, “Sam I Am,” and the effervescent, “Gettin’ Together,” all in their original, short 45 rpm lengths. Other artists might be tempted to stretch these songs into jams – but James kept them brief, thus retaining their punch.

He took a break to talk about his fantastic autobiography, Me, the Mob & the Music, which is being turned into a Hollywood movie, before launching into a vastly-reworked, acoustic version of “I Think We’re Alone Now,” which is the planned closer to the upcoming film.  The anthemic “Ball of Fire” segued into “Tighter and Tighter,” a song he wrote for Alive & Kicking.

Then came back-to-back number ones – “Crimson & Clover,” complete with the tremelo vocals, then the raucous “Hanky Panky.” Again, neither song overstayed their welcome.  He then revisited  “I Think We’re Alone Now,” this time doing the original arrangement, which definitely benefitted from the muscle of the band.  Even the lesser-known songs, like “Do Something To Me,” sounded fantastic in this setting.

“Mony Mony” was the one time the group stretched out, allowing James to jump into the audience and meet the fans.  He encored with the anti-war “Sweet Cherry Wine,” and another underrated gem, “Mirage,” before reprising “Mony Mony” at the close.

Most classic artists still on the road add cover songs to their show.  Heck, even the Rolling Stones are doing a Dylan song on their latest tour.  But, honestly I don’t go to a concert to have a band do other people’s hits.  James let his own body of work take the spotlight: 15 songs, and every single one was a smash.  

Tommy James is on the road all summer, and he’s got a killer band with him.  Seriously, this is a fantastic show you don’t want to miss.  —Tony Peters

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