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

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

427 – Tommy James – New Tour, Plus Updates on the Movie, Book, and Broadway musical

Tommy James has sold over 100 million records, and his impressive string of hits continue to live on in movies, TV shows and commercials – “Hanky Panky,” “Mony, Mony,” “I Think We’re Alone Now,” “Crimson & Clover,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” and many more.  His excellent autobiography, “Me, the Mob and the Music” is one of the greatest music books ever written, and is in preproduction to be turned into a major Hollywood movie and Broadway musical.

James was our very first guest on Icon Fetch back in April of 2010.  In our new conversation, he gives us updates on the movie, book and musical.  Plus, he talks about unearthing his very first recording, “Long Pony Tail,” that even predates “Hanky Panky” by two years.  He also discusses recently recording songs by the Beatles and Supremes.

Tommy James is currently on the road – tour dates and more information can be found at tommyjames.com 

Skeeter Davis & NRBQ – She Sings, They Play (review)

Skeeter Davis & NRBQ – She Sings, They Play (Omnivore Recordings)

Great fun – truly a lost classic – back in print

On paper, this might be one of the strangest pairings in popular music: country star Skeeter Davis and genre-hopping bandits NRBQ.  Yet, after a closer look, it makes perfect sense.  Davis remains the only artist in the history of the Billboard singles to have a Top 5 hit on four distinctively different charts at the same time: Country, Pop, Easy Listening, and, most impressively, R&B.  The song in question was “The End of the World,” and it became Davis’ signature song.

One might expect that NRBQ might tone things down in the presence of country royalty, but you’d be wrong.  One of the reasons this pairing works so well is that both artists get to be totally themselves. 

The album opens with “Things to You,” a song originally included on the Q’s album All Hopped Up from 1977.  This version has a more relaxed feel and Skeeter’s vocal and harmonies elevate it to new levels. That’s followed by the very funny Davis original, “Everybody Wants a Cowboy,” – I love the lyric “I just saw John Travolty / now he’s a cowboy too.”  It’s a juiced-up, twangy good time.  

Next is the Joey Spampinato composition, “I Can’t Stop Loving You Now,” which despite the pedal steel, is still an NRBQ song through and through (Davis and Spampinato would eventually marry).  “Heart to Heart” is an excellent duet between Davis and Al Anderson, then she teams with Terry Anderson on “Ain’t Nice To Talk Like That,” complete with a trombone solo!

Davis wrote the autobiographical “Everybody’s Clown,” which hits pretty close to anyone that’s been a musician, it’s very lonely on the road.  Any fan of NRBQ knows that each album contains at least one curveball – and in this case, a hopped up, 4/4 reading of the jazz standard, “Someday My Prince Will Come.”  Then comes the acoustic, Adams’ ballad, “How Many Tears.”  

There are several bonus tracks that really enhance things.  “I Want You Bad” shows off Davis’ versatility  – she really rocks up this track that first appeared on NRBQ’s At Yankee Stadium album.  There’s also several bonus live cuts from a Bottom Line concert from 1985.  It’s cute to hear Skeeter surprised that anyone in the audience remembers her “Gonna Get Along Without You Now” song from 1964.

Above all, there’s humor that runs throughout the proceedings – you can tell that everyone was having a blast.  This pairing worked so well, it’s a shame it only happened once.  But She Sings, They Play marks one of the greatest achievements for both Skeeter Davis and NRBQ.  —Tony Peters

JM Stevens – Nowhere to Land (review)

JM Stevens – Nowhere to Land (East Austin Recording)

Excellent second album from Texas songwriter

Simplicity is difficult to master in songwriting. Being able to say something in a conversational manner is a gift few artists do well.  Tom Petty was perhaps the greatest at this.  John Mellencamp also comes to mind.  Add Austin native JM Stevens to that list.  His sophomore album, Nowhere to Land, is full of gentle, yet infectious songs that are immediately relatable.  

The album starts with “Dry Creek.”  Fueled by a slinky beat and great guitar work, it certainly could be his “Covid song,” as he sings “as I lay in wait / for what is sure to come / uncertainty everywhere / got a hold on everyone.”  But that “dry creek was once water under the bridge.”

“Cherry Sunburst” might sound like a love song, but it’s in fact about falling in love with a guitar and “caressing your curves.”  Nice!  While “Someday I Will See You” deals with the chance of running into an old lover at various places.  The rhythm and wordplay are reminiscent of Jackson Browne’s best work.

Every one of us has stared at our phone wondering “Why Won’t You Call.”  I absolutely love the lines “I heard you sneakin in / Guess you forgot to WD40 the hinge.”  Stevens voice is particularly strong and clear on the harmony-laden “Nowhere to Land” which features the excellent words of wisdom “it’s hard to find the words to say / so I’m gonna do less looking and more listening today.”  We all could learn more from this.  

Each song has a little extra something to give it a boost.  Take “After the Storm,” another song about carrying on after tragedy, which features great National guitar and accordion, while there’s excellent pedal steel on “Makin’ the Rounds.” 

“With You in the Morning” has a soulful groove and is one of the strongest tracks here.  The album closes with a sentiment we all can relate to, time moving “Too Fast For Me.”  

Nowhere to Land features 10 songs that never overstay their welcome, yet their songs linger long after you’ve hit the stop button.  —Tony Peters

426 – Marshall Chess – New Moves: The Chess Project, and New YouTube Channel & Podcast

Marshall Chess has a long history in the blues.  His father, Leonard, was one of the co-founders of Chess Records, the influential record label responsible for exposing the music of artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson to larger audience.  Marshall produced the trailblazing Electric Mud from Muddy Waters, and the Howlin’ Wolf Album, both were attempts to reinterpret the blues to then current psychedelic rock era.  He was the first president of Rolling Stones Records, and worked on several films, including Cadillac Records, which was based on his family’s record label. 

Now comes New Moves – The Chess Project, several decades in the making.  Once again, Marshall is reinterpreting the music his family helped nurture, this time for the modern age.  With Keith LeBlanc producing, they’ve assembled a top-notch collection of musicians, reimagining songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and more. 

Marshall also has a YouTube Channel celebrating the Chess history, and a podcast, where he tells many of the great stories of his life. 

Craft Recordings Has an Impressive Lineup For Record Store Day (review)

Highlights include Bill Evans, Collective Soul, Filter, and the Orca Soundtrack!

With the the return of vinyl, Craft Recordings have distanced themselves from the pack, both in attention to detail and diversity. Their 2024 offerings for Record Store Day are no exception.

Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans 

Certainly the crown jewel of the four releases, Everybody Digs Bill Evans is not just one of the pianist’s best LPs, it’s also considered one of the greatest jazz albums of all time.  Widely available only in stereo, Craft has tracked down the rare, mono mix, and it’s available in limited quantities for Record Store Day. 

The mono mix gives everything a unique feel – more cohesive.  The bass is more felt than heard.  There’s also subtle differences in a few of the songs, not different takes, but edited differently.  Right away with the first track, “Minority,” there’s a drum part at the beginning that is not present on the common, stereo mix.  And, oddly, “Night and Day” is actually shorter.

Featuring Sam Jones on bass and Philly Jo Jones on drums, Everybody Digs was Evans’ second album as bandleader, recorded the same year that Evans participated in the groundbreaking Kind of Blue sessions for Miles Davis.  

The album jacket is also a curiosity – featuring praise from Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal and Cannonball Adderley on the front cover.  This edition was transferred totally in analog and features a heavy-grade, tip on jacket.

Collective Soul – Dosage

This marks the first-ever vinyl release of the platinum, fourth album from Collective Soul.  Stylistically a shift from their previous releases, there was an emphasis on more intricate arrangements, loops, and a heavier use of strings.  

With all the success Collective Soul had achieved on Rock radio, especially with their second album, and singles like “December,” “The World I Know,” and “Gel,” you could say that the band was getting over-exposed.  Which is a shame, because Dosage may be their best album.  

The record opens with the trippy, “Tremble For My Beloved,” which reminds me of “Zoo Station” by U2 in the looping percussion and slashing guitars. That’s followed by the album’s first single, “Heavy,” which set a record (at the time) for most weeks at #1 (15).  

“No More, No Less” is driven by a funky bassline and features a great chorus and guitar solo.  The strings really elevate the ballad, “Needs,” where Ed Rowland shows off his falsetto.  Side one ends with the Sgt. Pepper-sounding, “Dandy Life,” giving lead guitarist Ross Childress a chance to sing. 

I’ve never had an album with a shorter run-out.  The last note of “Dandy” hits, and the needle is immediately is at the end of the record.  The reason is perhaps that this album, clocking in at over 50 minutes, is pretty long for a single, vinyl record.

Side two starts with one of the band’s best singles, the shimmering, acoustic-led, “Run.”  Other highlights include the psychedelic-tinged “Compliment,” and the piano-infused ballad, “Not the One.”  After the final track, “Crown,” there’s a pause, then a hidden track, “She Said,” which was originally included on the Scream 2 Soundtrack.  Honestly, you can really hear a drop in fidelity as I think they’re really squeezing about as much audio as possible in the grooves.

This special, Record Store Day release is pressed on translucent, lemonade vinyl, and includes an inner sleeve with all the lyrics.

While Dosage came at a point where the rock audience may have grown weary of them, giving it a listen 25 years later, it’s an excellent collection of songs, and possibly their best album ever.

Orca Soundtrack (Varese Sarabrande)

Although an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of Jaws by upping the deep sea villain from a shark to a killer whale, and failing badly (the film has a measly 9 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes).  The fact is, the film’s score is pretty interesting. The movie music was helmed by Ennio Morricone, who is best known for his spaghetti western soundtracks, including his most famous composition, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”  

The soundtrack starts with the majestic “Orca (Main Title),” then shifts to ominous foreboding with “Early Ices,” then sad, wordless singing on “Intermezzo.”  Things heat up with “The Fight, the Victory, the Death,” which has a classic, slasher film feel, with cutting sound effects, before giving way to the very odd, lounge feel of “A Ball at Home,” the only track that truly feels dated and out of place.

Side two opens with the lonesome oboe of “Nocturne For a Remorse,” then “Attack and Mistake,” which does have a Jaws’ feel to it, with the deep, brooding strings.  Things close with the majestic, “Orca Finale (End Titles).”  

The soundtrack is making its North American debut on vinyl in a “blood in the water” colored edition.  The set also includes a fold out movie poster (way cool!).

The soundtrack itself sounds fantastic – jumping out of the speakers. If you’re a fan of classic film music, check this one out.

Filter – The Very Best of Things (1995-2008)

First time on vinyl, this collection contains material from Richard Patrick and Co’s first four albums, plus songs only available on movie soundtracks.  Several tracks are the hard-to-find single edits.  

The set opens with the band’s smash debut 1995 single, “Hey Man, Nice Shot,” then weaves through 1999’s “Welcome to the Fold,” and then a pair of soundtrack-only songs, “Jurassitol“ from The Crow: City of Angels, and “(Can’t You) Trip Like I Do” from Spawn: The Album, featuring the Crystal Method.

Side two opens with the surprise ballad, “Take a Picture.”  The collection isn’t sequenced chronologically, and that makes for a more interesting listen.  One surprise is the odd cover of the Three Dog Night hit, “One,” off The X Files.

Pressed on mercury swirl vinyl, it will not only sound good, it will look super cool on your turntable as well. –Tony Peters

425 – Tom Rush – First New Album in Five Years – Gardens Old, Flowers New

Tom Rush pretty much pioneered the folk movement of the early Sixties, issuing his debut album in 1962.  He’s also credited with putting compositions by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor on album for the first time, with his LP The Circle Game in 1968. 

We talked with Tom back in 2018 when he issued his album Voices.  Well, he’s back with his first new record in five years out called Gardens Old, Flowers New.  

He talks about how he unearthed one of the songs on the new album from a live recording from 50 years ago. Also, how he wrote a song for his daughter when she was young (now she’s grown up), and how he never intended that one to be on an album. He also talks about Rockport Sundays, a program he started during Covid, where he invites many of his musical friends to play and tell stories.

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