Category Archives: Reviews

Classic Album – Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive! (CD review)

Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive (1976) – CD review –

One of the most bizarre success stories in rock: how did little known Peter Frampton become a household name with this mega-selling record?  A closer look to Frampton Comes Alive! reveals the answers. 

For one, Framp was easy on the eyes, making him an instant hit with the ladies.  But, he also could play the hell out of the guitar, making him a hit with the dudes as well.  But, Frampton had had zero success with his previous solo efforts.

What makes this all work is the excitement oozing from the grooves of this record; you truly feel like you’re part of the show.  His charisma is contagious and the songs all have a level of energy only hinted at in the studio versions.  Adding to the fervor is Frampton’s use of the “talk box,” a device that allows him to make his guitar “speak,” most apparent in the hits “Show Me the Way” and the stoner anthem “Do You Feel Like We Do.”  The other hit, “Baby I Love Your Way,” was a ballad for the ladies.

While most double-live efforts lose steam, the record’s clever pacing helps keep things interesting: there’s an acoustic set right in the middle of a couple of long jams.  He also throws in a raucous cover of the Stones’ “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for good measure.  A final note about the audience: Frampton was not yet a big star when these concerts were recorded, yet he must’ve had a cult following.  The crowd is worked up to a frenzy by the band’s performances, adding another element to the already great songs.  There was no way this crazy, runaway success could ever have been followed up.  Not surprisingly, he quickly faded back to cult status.  Still, Frampton Comes Alive continues to be the benchmark for electrifying live albums. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Rick Nelson – Garden Party (CD review)

Rick Nelson – Garden Party (1972) – CD review –

Most people know the “Garden Party” song, but little else of the album it comes from.  Rick Nelson had been trying to shed his teenage idol status for several years; forming the Stone Canyon Band, and mixing healthy doses of folk and country into rock.  Garden Party effortlessly blends all of these styles and shows sides of Nelson seldom seen.

The album opens with “Let it Bring You Along,” which starts as gentle folk, then morphs into a hard rocker. The twangy “So Long Mama” is one of the best kiss-off songs ever.  He even revisits Chuck Berry’s “I’m Talkin’ About You,” which he first recorded back in 1964.  Here, he turns it into a fierce rocker with a jazzy middle section.  Of course, the title track is the real highlight; the countrified true story of Nelson’s experience at an oldies revival show, where his audience was upset at his updated looks and sound.  The single put him at the top of the charts for one last time, but its parent album only reached #32.  It is truly an under-appreciated gem of the early 70’s (so much so, it is currently not in print in the US). –Tony Peters

Foghat – Last Train Home (CD review)

Foghat – Last Train Home (Foghat Records) – CD review –

After the death of original lead singer “Lonesome Dave” Peverett in 2000, the one remaining founding member, drummer Roger Earl, assembled a new lineup of Foghat and hit the road.  While you can’t blame him for still touring, you might be skeptical about them releasing a new CD.  Well, be prepared to be surprised.

Last Train Home is an entire album of blues songs, something the band has wanted to do for years, and it’s a disc worthy of sitting right next to their best ones, like Fool For the City and Live.  The key here is that Foghat always had one foot in the blues; even if the other one was firmly planted in boogie woogie rock n’ roll, so this isn’t really a stretch for these guys.  The addition of lead guitarist Bryan Bassett gives Foghat a focal point, and he keeps things nice n’ tasty, especially his fine slide work.

Thankfully, new vocalist Charlie Huhn is not a clone of the former singer (like that new guy in Journey); he’s got a similar range as Peverett, but he’s not trying to imitate either.  The band even revisits several blues numbers from earlier albums, like “Feel So Bad” from their second album and “It Hurts Me Too” from Stone Blue.  There’s a treat at the end of the disc for those who stick around; two songs featuring the vocals and guitar of blues legend Eddie “Bluesman” Kirkland.  At an age when most classic rockers have ceased recording a long time ago, Foghat has turned in another album worthy of a classic. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Neil Young – Archives vol one (1963-1972) Blu Ray

Neil Young – Archives vol one (1963-1972)- Blu Ray edition (2009) – CD review –

Good call, Neil. Work on this set for 20 years, then release it at a time when no one can afford it. Anyone who plops $300 on this 10-disc box is obviously not being hurt by the recession. Or, maybe they don’t feel like eating for a month.

For all the hype about how interactive this set is, it’s mostly novelty. Are you really going to look at lyrics & photos over and over? No, you’re going to enjoy it once and then tuck it away. It’s the music that bears repeated listening, and I don’t know of anyone that has a Blu-Ray car stereo. So, it’s not even portable in that way.

Finally, the unreleased material, the cornerstone of this entire project, is sorely lacking. More than 50 percent of this is stuff any diehard fan already owns. Yeah yeah, the sound is phenomenal. Maybe you’ve got time to critique the finer nuances on your audiophile sound system. Not me, I got mouths to feed. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Marshall Crenshaw – debut (CD review)

Marshall Crenshaw – Marshall Crenshaw (review) – CD review

Want a little sunshine in your Ipod?  Marshall Crenshaw’s debut CD is full of simple, yet infectious pop tunes.  Both his voice and chord progressions are reminiscent of Buddy Holly’s best work.  Jangly guitars and soaring harmonies are everywhere.  What makes this such a joy is the lack of any image or attitude.

Most bands attempting something like this would hide behind a cool sneer or haircut (like Elvis Costello or Graham Parker, perhaps), while Crenshaw is content to play it straight in all it’s geeky charm.  The album’s best known track, “Someday Someway,” borrows some from Holly’s “Peggy Sue,” while “Mary Anne” has the same simplicity of “Sweet Jane.”    The album’s lone cover song, Arthur Alexander’s “Soldier of Love,” sounds right at home with all the other vintage-sounding tunes.

The production is also very clean and sparse, without any keyboards or electronic instruments, letting the songs stand on their own.  Be sure to hunt out the “deluxe edition,” featuring several bonus tracks, including the excellent b-side “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time.”  His followup, Field Day, would be full of bombastic drums and layered instruments, but Marshall Crenshaw’s debut still sounds as fresh as the day it came out.  Guaranteed to get you humming along. –Tony Peters

Jimmie Vaughan – Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites (CD review)

Jimmie Vaughan – Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites (Shout Factory) – CD review –

Jimmie Vaughan has recorded sporadically since he left the Fabulous Thunderbirds two decades ago; Plays Blues, Ballads & Favorites is only his fourth solo album, and his first since 2001.  Vaughan has assembled a collection of his favorite tunes, and recorded them in a loose, live-in-the-studio environment.

It truly sounds like someone held up a single microphone in front of the band and they went to work.  Most of the album moves along at a pleasant simmer, never really cooking hot, but always bringing some heat.  Sax, trumpet, organ and harmonica mix in with the usual instruments to keep things interesting. The best tracks feature vocalist Lou Ann Barton dueting with Vaughan on songs like “I Miss You So.”  Vaughan’s guitar playing is relaxed, with his signature clean tone still intact.  Most of his solos aren’t flashy, but that’s the point; Vaughan is strolling down memory lane and we’ve been lucky enough to come along. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Asia – debut (CD review)

Asia – Asia (1982) – CD review –

The progressive rock movement peaked in the early 1970’s, with albums like Fragile from Yes and the debut from Emerson Lake and Palmer.  As the Seventies wore on, people grew tired of the endless noodling and the movement stalled.  That’s what makes Asia such a surprise: four veterans of prog rock turning in a great pop record.

The key here is the delicate balance between virtuosity and melody; a classical guitar lick or keyboard flourish, a little drum fill, helps link the pieces of songs together, but unlike the old days, they get to the point much quicker (no song clocks in at over 6 minutes).  The secret weapon here is guitarist Steve Howe; his clever fretwork adds an element of excitement to these tracks.

“Heat of the Moment,” the album’s most famous track, starts with his guitar, then the band answers with a double thud.  “Only Time Will Tell,” begins with keyboards, then a soaring guitar, but deep down it’s a great ballad.  The only dull moments are the bland “One Step Closer,” and the piano coda to “Cutting it Fine.”  One of the strangest success stories of the early eighties. –Tony Peters

Beatles – Stereo Remasters (CD review)

Beatles – Stereo remasters (Apple) – CD review

Over the last 20 years, the Beatles’ camp has done a great job of getting us to buy things that we really don’t need.  Take for example the Anthology series; a total of six CD’s were released over three volumes, when the best material could’ve easily fit on a single disc.  Or, how about the Yellow Submarine Songtrack?  Or Let It Be…Naked? – all released with great fanfare, and now collecting dust on CD shelves worldwide.

Now comes the remastered individual Beatles albums, something fans have been clamoring for for years.

Once again, the publicity machine lauded these as being “revolutionary, like hearing Beatles music for the first time.”  Truth is, after a great deal of side by side comparison, I can’t tell a significant difference between these and their 1987 originals.  And, I dare anyone with an audio system under $2,000 to do the same.  The reason these “sound so good,” as many reviewers have noted, is that they didn’t sound bad in the first place! Unlike discs by the Rolling Stones, the Doors and the Who, whose albums were rushed out on CD to meet public demand, and therefore sounded terrible, the Beatles catalog was one of the last to come out on compact disc because great care was taken in the mastering process.

In defense of the studio guys, there’s really not much that could be done with these, except for maybe using noise reduction and hiss elimination.  They were using the original album masters. To explain here, when a band is done adding all the instruments to a song, they “blend” them into a master tape.  The reason it’s called a master, is that this is what the song will sound like from now on.  All records, tapes, CDs, and mp3s will be made from it.  Imagine that you and three of your buddies sang into your Iphone.  You can’t bring up or lower one of your voices after you’ve recorded it, right? Same goes for this, which means you can’t bring up the vocals or lower the drums and guitars; that sort of thing requires the session tapes, which were not used in this series.  So, you basically get what you get here.

So, if the discs don’t sound any better, is there a reason to buy these?  Well, for one, each disc comes with a nice booklet filled with unreleased photos and an essay about the recording history of each LP.  Every album also contains a short mini documentary on the making of that record, something you’ll probably watch once and put away.  Each disc is housed in a paper sleeve that faithfully replicates the front and back of each original album.  While that might be a nice touch, they are done with paper material, which means you’ve got to be ultra-careful not to get these wet or dirty.  Also, the paper cases are poorly designed and sometimes scratch the discs while taking them in and out of the cases.

Another complaint with this series is that many of the discs, especially the early ones, barely clock in at 30 minutes, yet you pay the full price for every album.  There was plenty of room to put the complete stereo AND mono versions of each album, especially in the early ones.  Instead, for those interested in hearing the mono mixes, you’ll have to buy “The Mono Masters” box set, a pricey collection, that’s nonetheless worth every penny (see separate review).

In conclusion, it’s great that these Beatles albums are back in the public eye again.  With this remastering series, the entire Beatles catalog is again plentiful in every place that sells music around the country.  That’s indeed a good thing.  However, I do not enjoy being duped into buying something that is no better than what I already currently own. –Tony Peters

Marc Cohn – Listening Booth: 1970 (CD review)

Marc Cohn – Listening Booth: 1970 (Saguaro Road) – CD review

When an artist does an entire album of covers, it’s usually a sign that they’ve run out of ideas.  But when it’s done in such earnest, as is Listening Booth: 1970, you have to take notice.  Every big music fan has a particular time in their life when the world was exploding musically.  For me, it was 1978, with LP’s by ELO, Todd Rundgren, and the Cars.  For Marc Cohn, that time was 1970 and he’s put together an album of twelve tracks that were released that year.

Typically, when an artist does an album like this, they either stay faithful to the original or attempt to drastically reinvent each song.  Cohn actually does neither, instead he filters these songs through his own musical skin.  So, they’re not note for note copies, but they all manage to sound comfortable.  There’s no “oh sheesh” moment where you realize how he’s reworked something.  Take the opener, “Wild World,” originally done by Cat Stevens.  Here, he gives it a marching beat, which is a novel idea, yet it’s accompanied by acoustic instruments and great harmonies, as was the original.

The cheesy Bread number “Make it With You” sounds like an Al Green outtake, with it’s slinky guitar and Rhodes piano.   “After Midnight” is fairly faithful to the JJ Cale original, yet there’s room for a little lick from Clapton’s “Layla,” and some swamp guitar accents.  And, the Badfinger power pop classic, “No Matter What,” is slowed down and twanged up, with a guest vocal from Aimee Mann.  While all of this might seem blasphemous on paper, once you hear the tracks, you realize how much love and respect went into this project.  For once, a covers album that doesn’t make you want to go listen to the originals; instead you want to hit the repeat button. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (CD review)

Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (1979) – CD review –

Trying to follow up the biggest-selling album of all time is impossible.  If that record, Rumours, was a window into the band’s failing relationships, then Tusk shows us what happened next; how they handled the over-blown success.  Where Rumours was a slick, cohesive affair, Tusk is wildly erratic and many of the tracks sound unfinished.

The album opens with the muted, Christine McVie song, “Over and Over,” an odd choice to start the record; no doubt used to signal that this is not “Rumours II.” That’s followed by “The Ledge,” with distorted guitars and cavernous percussion played at double-speed; it sounds like nothing Fleetwood Mac has ever done.  And, that’s the point.  After the runaway success of the previous record, leader Lindsey Buckingham tried very hard to sabotage the album.  His tracks are full of bile and fury.  This is not to say that Tusk doesn’t have its moments.  Christine McVie turns in the closest thing to a hit single in “Think About Me,” and the transcendent “Brown Eyes,” a song that’s barely there, but stark and beautiful.

Stevie Nicks delivers a couple of her most grandiose statements, in “Sara” and “Sisters of the Moon.”  Even Buckingham has his moments, in the sinister “Tusk,” and the ethereal “That’s All For Everyone.”  The real problem with Tusk is that it’s just too long (originally released as a 20-track, double LP).  Pull off, say eight of the tracks, and you’ve got yourself a much better and focused album.  Instead, Tusk lies somewhere between a masterpiece and an all out mess. –Tony Peters