Category Archives: Reviews

Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (film review)

Bee Gees – How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (film review)

A definitive look at an under-appreciated band

There are a handful of music documentaries that not only embody the artists that they portray, they become something bigger – essential viewing for any fan of popular music.  Muscle Shoals, The Wrecking Crew, The Sound of My Voice and 20 Feet From Stardom are all on this short list.  So, now should be How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, a brand-new documentary on the Bee Gees, currently only available through the HBO Max subscription service.

The almost two hour film does such a good job of summing up the entire career of the three Brothers Gibb that I would call it the definitive Bee Gees retrospective, hands down.

Barry is the last of the surviving Gibb’s (Maurice died in 2003, while Robin passed in 2012), yet the movie manages to weave in interviews with all three brothers, so that they really do tell their own story.  They manage to track down just about everyone that was a part of their band over the years, along with many of the brothers’ wives.  Brother Andy Gibb, who was swept up in the Bee Gees’ frenzy, is also given ample time in the movie.

The film traces the family’s humble beginnings in Australia, to Britain, where they became hitmakers in the wake of the Beatles, with hits like “NY Mining Disaster 1941,” and “Massachusetts.”  A great deal of time is spent on the brothers’ late-Sixties split, yet they never mention the album Odessa, which was the catalyst for their 18-month separation.  The brothers then reunite and meld their sound to the soft, early Seventies for “Lonely Days” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” but find sustaining that momentum difficult. 

Extremely fascinating is how the group stumbled into reinventing themselves as an R&B outfit, and how, believe it or not, we have Eric Clapton to thank for it.  They touch on the “Disco Sucks” backlash, which now seems really unfair, especially considering that Bee Gees’ music still gets played wherever there’s dancing going on.  Once their own hits dried up, the trio started writing hits for others, adapting once more.  Eventually, the brothers found success on the Pop Charts again in the late 80’s.  Oddly enough, their comeback hit “One” was not included at all in the film.

They flesh out the story of the Bee Gees by tracking down newer artists.  Nick Jonas and Noel Gallagher both offer some really good insight from being in a band with your brothers, while Mark Ronson and Chris Martin offer perspectives on the Bee Gees’ influence on current music.  But, it’s Justin Timberlake who steals the show in his summation of the band (you’ll just have to watch the film to see it).  

There is so much love put into this documentary.  You can see it in the multiple performances that they weave together for a single song. You see it in the home movies that they intersperse throughout.  And, you hear it in the studio chatter and isolated tracks of Bee Gees’ tunes that they unearth, which add to the story’s depth.  There’s a cassette demo of “How Deep Is Your Love” that is just spine-tingling.  

Above all, we’re left with a deeper appreciation for Barry, Robin and Maurice, not just as progenitors of disco as in the movie Saturday Night Fever, but as brilliant artists who were able to change with pop trends (multiple times), writing timeless hits both for themselves and for many other artists as well.  The Bee Gees’ deserve a great documentary and How Can You Mend a Broken Heart is it.

A note about how to watch: right now, the film is only available through HBO Max, which is a subscription service.  While $14.95 a month makes it one of the most expensive of the streaming platforms, word out of Hollywood is that several blockbuster movies will be released on HBO Max the same day they go to theaters. If you’re willing to stay home to watch these new releases, it’s worth the plunge.  —Tony Peters

Allman Brothers Band – The Final Note (review)

Allman Brothers Band – The Final Note – Painters Mill Music Fair – Owings Mills, MD – 10/17/71 (Allman Brothers Band Records)

Recently discovered cassette of the final performance of the great Duane Allman

Duane Allman was just 24 years old when he was killed in a motorcycle accident in October of 1971.  After many years of stellar work as a session guitarist, his own Allman Brothers Band was just starting to achieve their full potential when his life was snuffed out.  Over the years, virtually every second of his brief performance career has been issued in some form or another.  But, The Final Note is something completely unique – here, for the first time ever, is Allman’s final concert performance before he passed away, just 10 days later. 

We have Sam Idas, an Allman fan and former DJ, to thank for unearthing this gem. He was given permission to interview Gregg Allman after this show and brought along his cassette recorder.  While sitting in the audience, he decided, what the heck, and pressed record.  Little did he know that he was documenting Duane’s final show. He’d forgotten all about this tape until a friend asked if he still had it.  

This is NOT a professional recording.  In fact, one of the first things you hear as “Statesboro Blues” begins is Idas saying “testing, testing.”  The microphone was built in to the recorder, so it isn’t great fidelity.  At first, you’ll probably be put off by the low fi quality.  But, give your ears a few minutes to adjust and you’ll be amazed at what’s here.  

At first, there seems to be a problem with the house sound, as Duane asks “are the mics louder than the music”?  Be patient, the sound actually gets better as the night goes on.   Duane seems to be in a jovial mood as he clowns between songs (accusing the crowd of being on Qualudes) and verbally sings the count-offs of several tunes.

“Trouble No More” features some fantastic interplay between Allman’s slide work and Dickey Betts equally liquid fretwork.  “One Way Out” is just blistering, one of the finest versions I’ve ever heard – both guitars seem to be going for broke, while Gregg wails through an extended ending.  

Things go up a notch when they invite saxophonist Juicy Carter up for the final three songs.  

This addition really makes “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” sound more like Ornette Coleman than Southern rock.  Both drummers add aspects that I’ve never heard on any other rendition.  Too bad this fantastic version gets cut off (Idas had to turn over the cassette!)

For the encore, Duane asks “what would you like to hear”? Even in those early days, the crowd roared for “Whippin’ Post,” which must’ve have come at a point where the band was running out of time…because he then says, “a ten minute ‘Whippin’ Post,’ the man says.  Some things you just have no control over.”  The version they do is ferocious – still clocking in at over 12 minutes, hard rock devolving into freeform near the end.

Sure, this is a bootleg quality recording.  But, it’s also a holy grail for fans:  a final glimpse of the mastery of Duane Allman, and the swan song of the first incarnation of the Allman Brothers Band.  —Tony Peters

Van Duren – Idiot Optimism (review)

Van Duren – Idiot Optimism (Omnivore Recordings)

His sophomore album gets its first official release

Van Duren’s debut album, Are You Serious? garnered enough critical acclaim and radio airplay in the late Seventies for his then-label to ask for a followup.  In many ways, things were different this time around.  For one, Duren played just about everything but drums on his debut.  For Idiot Optimism, he enlists an actual band, and the results are more cohesive, especially with the rhythm section.  Also, there was a concerted effort to rock more – some of the ballads on the first LP hadn’t gone over well in the live setting.

The album opens with the excellent “Bear With Me All the Way,” which features some fine, hi hat-led drumming by Mickey Curry, and great interplay between the two guitarists, Tom MacGregor and Freddie Tane.  That’s followed by the Chris Bell song, “Make a Scene.” While Bell was certainly a genius, this rendition is superior – Steve Buslowe’s bass is all over the place, the drums meaty and Duren’s vocals are raw (dig those groovy keyboards near the end too!).

“Tennessee, I’m Trying” is a mid tempo number that deals with homesickness, while “Convincing Convictions” is another example of Duren showing off his rock vocal skills.  “That” has a funk feel, somewhat Steely Dan-esque to it, and the band is up to the task.  Duren didn’t write too many sing a long choruses, but “Life in Layers” is an exception.  

Sonically, this album sounds great, although songs like “Torn in Half” and “Hand Over Hand” do have keyboards that certain date the music.  Duren revisits “Andy, Please,” a track he co-wrote and recorded with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens several years earlier.  This version is decent, it just doesn’t live up to the original, which is thankfully available on the Waiting soundtrack.

The album drags a little near the end – “Woman Needs Man Needs Woman” and “Reminds Me of Me” try too hard to rock and could use a little more melody, while “Mabel (I’m Amazed),” despite its clever title, kinda plods along. The album redeems at the end for the medley of “Love at the Heart of it/Mad at the Moon.”  Honestly, chop of few of these off and this would’ve made a great single LP.

Any momentum that Duren had was derailed when his label demanded that he take out a loan to cover promotion and pressing of the album (hmmm…isn’t that what a label is for???).  Instead of agreeing to those terms, Duren walked, leaving these fine recordings sitting on the shelf for years (Idiot Optimism did get a semi-official release in 1999 on a Japanese label, but this version has superior sound).  

I think Are You Serious? is the better album (I, for one, enjoy the ballads on that one mixed in the with rockers).  That being said, Idiot Optimism still has plenty of great songs to recommend to any fan of melodic rock n’ roll. –Tony Peters

Van Duren – Are You Serious? (review)

Van Duren – Are You Serious? (Omnivore Recordings)

A power pop masterpiece gets its long-overdue respect

A lot of us were introduced to Van Duren’s music through the excellent documentary soundtrack Waiting: The Van Duren Story, which came out in 2019 (read our review here).  Now, Omnivore Recordings has reissued his first two solo records, Are You Serious? and Idiot Optimism – and there’s a lot of great music to discover here.

The debut opens with “Chemical Fire,” which features a crazy effect on the vocals, and a frenetic guitar solo.  There’s also excellent interplay between the guitars.  “The Love Inside” is fueled by strummed acoustic guitars and contains a catchy, Beatle-esque chorus.  On “Oh Babe,” Duren sounds like Emit Rhodes through his gentle vocal delivery and melodic chord changes.  

His inner Eric Carmen emerges on the piano-led “Waiting,” which features a clever use of pounding drums, and a somewhat dated keyboard solo. “New Year’s Eve” is a killer rocker, with a gritty Duren vocal.  

The standout is “Grow Yourself Up” – kind of a hybrid of Todd Rundgen melodicism and Steely Dan sophistication, it was the song that inspired the Australian filmmakers to contact Duren for a documentary.  The ethereal “Guaranteed” echoes Chris Bell of Big Star, whom Duren played with after that band’s breakup, while Rundgren definitely seems the influence on “Stupid Enough.”

One great aspect of this record is that it’s got a great mix of elements, from the gentle “Good To Me (For the Time Being),” with its descending guitar line, to the Caribbean-flavored, slightly-off kilter “For a While.”  The album closes with the only song not completely written by Duren, “The Love That I Love,” co-penned by Big Star alumn Jody Stephens.

Even more impressive is the fact that Duren played virtually every instrument sans drums, yet it still sounds like a band effort – nothing stuffy or overproduced.

Are You Serious? is a fantastic debut album – arguably a stronger effort than those by similar artists like the Raspberries or Artful Dodger.  The one thing Van Duren didn’t have that those two groups did was a major record deal.  Now that this is finally being made available from Omnivore, we can truly appreciate this killer power pop album.  –Tony Peters

Little Richard – The Rill Thing and King of Rock n’ Roll (review)

Little Richard – The Rill Thing

Little Richard – King of Rock n’ Roll (Omnivore Recordings)

Little Richard recorded in Muscle Shoals lives up to the hype!

There is only one Little Richard.  His 1950’s singles for Specialty Records stand as some of the most electrifying music ever put to tape (we gush about them in this article).  

Of course, part of his mystique is that he kept swearing off rock n’ roll as “devil’s music,” only to return with one comeback after another over the years.  In 1970, Richard signed with Reprise Records and began one such resurgence.  Omnivore Recordings has just reissued a pair of albums from that time period, The Rill Thing and King of Rock n’ Roll, both long out of print.

For The Rill Thing, Little Richard ventured down to FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Those hallowed walls had given birth to countless soul classics from artists like Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin and Clarence Carter.  But, Richard isn’t really a soul singer.  So, in order for this to work, he still needs to be Little Richard.  Thankfully, he does.

The opening of “Freedom Blues” is sung acapella, before being joined by the funky rhythm section.  This simple plea for peace and harmony was recorded 50 years ago, but the message still needs heeded (it also features a great sax solo).  That’s followed by the phenomenal “Greenwood, Mississippi,” penned by guitarist Travis Wommack, a member of these sessions.  The churning track has a Creedence feel to it, but grooves harder than anything Fogerty and Co. ever laid down.

Much of the album is written or co-written by Richard himself, showing that he wasn’t short on ideas.  “Somebody Saw You” finds a funky groove, while his shouts elicit goosebumps on “Spreadin’ Natta, What’s the Matter” – this is the same guy that did “Tutti Frutti” 15 years earlier – yet, no time sounds like it has passed.  The title track, “The Rill Thing,” was the result of a single-take jam, with Richard directing each musician to take a solo; the entire thing lasts over ten minutes, but really shows off the talents of each player.

“Dew Drop Inn” starts with a drum fill from Richard’s classic “Keep a Knockin’” before launching into a stop/start rocker that really wouldn’t sound out of place back in 1955.  Richard was a fan of classic country music – still, Hank Williams’ “Lovesick Blues” is a surprise.  Here, he slows down the pace, really letting the track simmer.  He also covers the Beatles on “I Saw Her Standing There” (Paul McCartney has been a lifelong Richard fan).  The horns here are a nice touch.

There’s an interesting variety of bonus material here too.  “Shake a Hand (If You Can)” was originally recorded by Specialty Records’ labelmate Faye Adams way back in 1953.  Here, Richard teamed with Atlantic Records’ guru Jerry Wexler.  The result is a little less funky than Muscle Shoals, but still a winner.  There’s also a truncated version of “I Saw Her Standing There” in mono.  But, the real treat is a pair of radio ads that Richard records himself, and it’s Little Richard through and through – he says “it’s the best thing I’ve ever done” and he sure sounds convincing!

The bottom line – The Rill Thing shows Little Richard at the top of his game backed by fantastic players from Muscle Shoals.  It is a real diamond in the rough in his catalog.

After the surprise success of The Rill Thing, Richard went right back to work, issuing King of Rock n’ Roll the following year.  Honestly, this is more what you might expect from him.  Produced by H.B. Barnum, everything is over the top, and I do mean over the top – from the front cover, depicting Richard sitting high on a throne, to the tracks, which are full of cheesy horns and backup singers.  Yes, he even talks inbetween the songs, telling the “crowd” to “shut up.”  

The main issue here is that the backing is just meh – it doesn’t cook, and after the previous year’s success of Muscle Shoals, this sounds like Buddha Records fare, like “Yummy Yummy Yummy” – like the opposite of soul.  A perfect example here is Richard’s cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” – he sings pretty well, but the backup band sounds like a novelty act.  Too bad they didn’t try this at FAME studios.

For “Dancing in the Street” – just compare the drum sound here to what was on The Rill Thing.  These drums sound like milk jugs – flat.  “Midnight Special” has a train-like rhythm, but never really takes off, while “Born on the Bayou” comes of as “Chick a Boom” instead of sincere. 

The one exception is his version of “The Way You Do The Things You Do” – it’s ragged, Richard’s voice is flat at times, but the arrangement is sparse, with the bass upfront.

Richard did write a couple of songs here – “In the Name” is a decent, mid-tempo soul number, while “Green Power,” co-written by Barnum, is a so-so funk track – again, nothing spectacular.

Is the King of Rock n’ Roll still a good time, yes.  But compared to what proceeded it, it’s a little bit of a letdown.

Both reissues have insightful liner notes written by the great Bill Dahl, giving some historical relevance to these mostly-forgotten tracks.

We tend to lean on Little Richard’s early recordings.  Let’s hear it for Omnivore for reissuing these albums, showing us that Little Richard was still making great music in the 1970’s.   —Tony Peters

Ronnie Milsap – The Best of (review)

Ronnie Milsap – The Best of Ronnie Milsap (Craft Recordings)

An excellent, easy to digest overview of one of country music’s biggest crossover stars

Ronnie Milsap is one of the biggest-selling country music artists of all time, scoring an unbelievable 35 #1 hits on the country charts, placing him third all time, behind George Strait and Conway Twitty.  But Milsap’s true gift was his ability to cross over to other charts (something neither Strait or Twitty were particularly good at).  This puts him more in line with similar artists like Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.  

Craft Recordings has just acquired a big chunk of Milsap’s catalog from the late 70’s to the early 90’s and intend on giving this legendary artist the proper reissue treatment.  While there have been a plethora of albums that have tried to compile his long career, The Best of is a mere dozen songs – concentrating on his crossover pop chart successes of the late Seventies and Early Eighties, arguably his most important period.  

The set opens with the lush “Smoky Mountain Rain,” which is a brilliant mix of country and pop – just listen to the way the strings enhance the song.  “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me,” with its slinky guitar and mellow delivery, hide the darker lyrics of a scorned lover – it became his biggest Pop hit (#5).  His excellent cover of Chuck Jackson’s “Any Day Now” yielded Milsap a crossover, Top 20 hit as well.  

“Lost in the Fifties Tonight (In the Still of the Night)” is another clever reworking of an old standard, borrowing the chorus of the classic song, but making something nostalgic, yet fresh, in the process.  “Don’t You Know How Much I Love You” is pure, bouncy pop, yet it wasn’t as big a hit.  Milsap had a knack for tooling things for a larger audience – just listen to the drums that pound on “He Got You” for proof.

“Stranger in My House” is a definite stand out – led by a pounding Rhodes piano and featuring a riff reminiscent of “Layla,” it stretched the boundaries of what was considered “country” at the time (and was actually banned on certain stations for sounding “too much like Led Zeppelin”). It does feature a fantastic guitar solo by Bruce Dees. 

While there have been more complete compilations of Ronnie Milsap’s music, Craft Recordings’ lean Best of is guaranteed to keep your attention, and offers a great introduction to more great reissues, hopefully coming soon. Tony Peters

CoEd Records – Great Doo Wop Reissues From Omnivore Recordings

The Crests  – The Best of the Crests Featuring Johnny Mastro (Omnivore)

The Duprees – The Coed Singles (Omnivore)

The Duprees – The Coed Albums (Omnivore)

The Rivieras – The Coed Singles (Omnivore)

Adam Wade – The Coed Albums (Omnivore)

This fantastic music is back in print – sounding better than ever

Doo Wop is hallowed music.  Mostly issued on small, independent record labels, original copies of this genre continue to trade hands for top dollar.  And, enthusiasts are very picky when it comes to reissues.  Never fear, Omnivore Recordings has just signed a deal with one such label, Coed Records out of New York – home to artists like the Crests, Duprees and Rivieras.

Omnivore has built a reputation for doing things right, and this is no exception.  For the Duprees and Adam Wade, there are sets that compile a pair of albums by each, while the Crests set is a straight reissue of a classic, “best of” from back in the day.  And, the sound quality and liner notes are phenomenal.  No matter which one you choose, if you’re a fan of Doo Wop, you’ll be impressed.

Our favorite here is 16 Fabulous Hits from the Crests, who weren’t the first racially integrated group, but they were one of the first to have big success.  Led by Johnny Mastro, of Italian-American descent, he was joined by African American first tenor Talmadge “Tommy” Gough and bass singer J.T. Carterand second tenor Harold “Chico” Torres, who was of Puerto Rican heritage.

Of the 16 tracks, only their cover of the Penguins’ classic “Earth Angel” was not included on one of the groups many Coed singles.  The running order keeps things interesting, interspersing sweet ballads with more upbeat material.  “16 Candles” was certainly their most enduring hit, peaking nationally at #2 on the Billboard charts.  However, “Step By Step” cracked the Top 20 and should be familiar to any oldies fan, while “Six Nights a Week” and “The Angels Listened In” are both considered Doo Wop classics.

But there’s still more to this one.  “Flower of Love” is a great number about a fickle young girl, while “Always You” really shows off Mastro’s vocal prowess (listen how he sings “forever more”).  

Of the other sets, there’s plenty to love too.  One of the original owners of CoEd was George Paxton, who was more of a fan of the big band/standards era that came before rock n’ roll.  So, you get a fair amount of that material mixed in too.  The Duprees’ do a clever reworking of “As Time Goes By,” while the Rivieras (not to be confused with the later group that did “California Sun”), do an interesting cover of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” while Adam Wade’s set is full of standards like “Tenderly” and “Witchcraft,” but man, he had a great voice!

Never one to rest on their laurels, Omnivore enlisted Michael Graves to do the mastering on all the sets and he’s ensured that these treasured tracks sound the best they’ve ever sounded.  Take, for instance, “16 Candles” by the Crests – it’s always had a certain muffled quality to every version out there.  Here, the track is crystal clear.  There’s tape hiss on even Ace’s Golden Age of Rock n’ Roll series versions of “You Belong to Me” and “My Own True Love” from the Duprees.  Here, they’ve managed to isolate that hiss and remove it for even more fidelity.

Word is, there’s more to come from the CoEd vaults, so Doo Wop fans, stay tuned!  —Tony Peters

Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky – Please Leave Your Light On (review)

Paul Kelly & Paul Grabowsky – Please Leave Your Light On (Gawdaggie/Cooking Vinyl)

Forever restless, the underrated Aussie songwriter teams with a piano great for an inviting walk through his extensive catalog

The first word that comes to mind when I hear Paul Kelly is warmth.  There’s something real, honest, and inviting to his music.  With chaos surrounding us, we could all use a little of those traits to soothe our souls.  

The Australian songwriter has been on a hot streak for several years now, releasing a string of fine albums – everything from an electric soul album, to a record where he put music to the poetry of Shakespeare – all of that conveys an artist that is always searching for his next muse.

Throughout his long career, Kelly has mainly used the guitar as the instrument to embody his songs.  With his latest release, Please Leave Your Light On, he joins pianist Paul Grabowsky for a journey through his catalog, with just Kelly’s voice and Grabowsky’s piano.  The pianist has often been compared to the great Bill Evans, who was known for his innate melodicism.  He truly is the perfect companion to breathe new life into Kelly’s songs.

The album opens with “True to You,” the only Kelly composition not to appear on a previous record;  its chord progression and gentle pace harken back to the Great American Songbook.  That’s followed by a reworking of “Petrichor” from 2017’s Life is Fine – while the original has a yearning quality with its steel guitar accompaniment, this new rendition seems less tethered to the ground, giving it an ethereal essence not present in the original.

Ditto for “When a Woman Loves a Man,” a fantastic track off of 2012’s Spring and Fall.  In Grabowski’s hands, he composes this gorgeous intro that just sets up the lyrics perfectly – comparing the two, the new one just gives me chills.

“Sonnet 138,” originally from his 2016 project pairing his melodies with the words of Shakespeare, the song goes from an acoustic blues number to one resembling a Tin Pan Alley tune. 

“Young Lovers” becomes gentle, playful fun, while “You Can Put Your Shoes Under My Bed” is another track that just gets elevated by the gorgeous playing of Grabowski.  “Winter Coat” is one of the few songs that originally had a piano on it, but in this stripped-down setting, the lyrics are pushed to the forefront. 

In addition to all of these original Kelly compositions, he does tackle “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” the old Cole Porter song, which has been done from everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Carly Simon.  

For those wanting even more Paul Kelly – he’s also just issued Forty Days, a collection of stripped numbers done with just voice and guitar while in quarantine.

Paul Kelly has been making music for over four decades – yet he never seems happy to rest on his laurels or past successes.  Please Leave Your Light On is another example of the artist stretching out and delivering a fantastic album.  In a time of great turmoil, this collection of songs offer not only comfort, but hope that we’ll all get out of this in one piece.  —Tony Peters

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory (50th anniversary) (review)

Creedence Clearwater Revival – Cosmo’s Factory (Craft Recordings)

CCR’s best album celebrates 50

1969 had been a whirlwind year for Creedence Clearwater Revival.  The band issued an amazing three studio albums in just twelve months, yielding four Top Five singles, all the while touring the country (including a historic performance at the Woodstock Festival in August of that year).  No one would’ve faulted them for taking some time off.  Yet, the best was yet to come.

Cosmo’s Factory, the band’s fifth album, is also their best-selling, being certified quadruple platinum by the RIAA.  Craft Recordings has just issued a half speed mastered version of the original LP on vinyl, as well as providing a remastered digital version to streaming services.

By the time this album came out in July of 1970, four of the eleven tracks had already been issued as double-sided singles: the furious but brief “Travelin’ Band” backed with the ode to soggy Woodstock “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and one of their best rockers “Up Around the Bend” backed with the spooky, Vietnam anthem “Run Through the Jungle.”  The album would go onto yield another big hit in the good timey “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” backed with the soulfully twangy ballad “Long as I Can See the Light.”

On the surface, Cosmo’s Factory looks like an album filled with…er, filler.  Four of the eleven tracks were covers – one being the longest studio track the band ever put to tape, an acid rock swamp romp through Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which clocked in at just over eleven minutes!  Add in the album’s psychedelic but sprawling opener, “Ramble Tamble,” and you might think they were just stalling.

Yet, all the cover songs work – Roy Orbison’s “Ooby Dooby,” Elvis’ “My Baby Left Me,” and Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” are all faithful, yet spirited covers, while “Grapevine,” although certainly too long, is still an interesting reworking of the song.  While the band attempted long jams on many of their albums, “Ramble Tamble” builds in a way to keep things interesting throughout.

You could say Cosmo’s Factory showed off the versatility of the group.  Two minute hits rubbing shoulders with 11-minute freakouts, hard rockers, country sing a longs, acid-induced eerie tracks, all present in this fantastic album which featured arguably the finest collection of John Fogerty originals on one album.  CCR would never again soar to these heights.  —Tony Peters

Soul singer Eddie Floyd’s new autobiography is a real page-turner

Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood – My Life in Soul – Eddie Floyd with Tony Fletcher (BMG Books)

One of the most interesting music biographies I’ve read in a very long time

Eddie Floyd is best known for his 1966 soul hit “Knock on Wood,” which also got covered by Amii Stewart in a disco version in 1979.  But, as we find out from Knock! Knock! Knock! On Wood, his new autobiography, he’s had a front-seat view of soul music, from its humble beginnings to its present day revival.

Floyd was signed to the legendary Stax Records and had success both as a solo artist with songs like “Raise Your Hand,” “I’ve Never Found a Girl,” “Big Bird,” and the aforementioned “Knock on Wood,” and as a songwriter, penning Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” and “99 1/2 Won’t Do,” as well as countless others.  

The thing I really like about Floyd is that this book is about the music.  He was at the center of one of the most successful R&B labels of all time, yet doesn’t dwell on the negatives.  Sure, we still get glimpses of just how crazy Wilson Pickett or how eccentric Isaac Hayes really were, but he tends to give the information and let the reader make their own inference.  

Interacting with Hayes, Pickett, along with Otis Redding, Booker T & the MG’s, Carla & Rufus Thomas, William Bell and the Staple Singers would certainly lend Floyd enough credibility for a book’s worth of material.  But there’s so much more to his story.  His early misadventures and subsequent time in reform school are painted not with regret, but with gratitude for the opportunity to start over, and to introduce him to performing.  

Once released, Floyd had a desire to do music, moving to Detroit, and hooking up with his uncle, Robert West.  Oh, one of his uncle’s good friends just happened to be Berry Gordy, Jr – this gave Floyd the opportunity to witness the birth of Motown.  Floyd was also a member of one of the first racially-integrated doo wop groups, the Falcons, who had the classic “You’re So Fine.” That combo also saw the arrival of Pickett, who showed up cocky and never let down his entire career.

After the demise of the Falcons, Floyd went solo and was able to share the stage with the likes of Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.  There’s also a great story about how he met Carla Thomas, while both were living in Washington, DC, before they both relocated to Memphis.

His account of the ups and downs of Stax Records are worth the price alone.  How the label got totally screwed by the bigger and more legal savvy Atlantic Records is truly one of the ugliest tales in all of music.  The fact that Stax survived and managed to soar to even bigger heights for several years after that is a testament to the spirit of the artists involved, including Floyd.  

Another highlight is Floyd’s stories of the Blues Brothers Band, which helped reignite interest in classic soul.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how conversational the text is.  Floyd really tells his story in a way a friend sitting on the backporch with a glass of your favorite beverage might.  He’s done a great deal with his long musical career, yet he always seems humble and thankful for the people surrounding him that helped make it all possible.

Those looking for a tell-all book full of scintillating gossip are going to be disappointed.  What Eddie Floyd gives us is a glimpse of what it’s been like living a long life as an acclaimed songwriter and performer of one of America’s greatest art forms – soul.  If you’re a fan of soul, this book is a must.  —Tony Peters