Krokus – Hoodoo (Sony International) – CD review –
Hoodoo may be Krokus’ best album ever. Consider this: back in metal’s heyday, bands were concerned with how many high notes their singer could hit and how much hairspray they should use. Now, three decades removed for all that, they’ve stripped away all the bullshit. What remains is a blistering set of the most straight-ahead rock that Krokus has ever laid down.
They’ve reunited with a lineup that last played together way back in 1982 It begs the question “if Krokus could’ve been this good, what the hell took them so long”? There’s no effects, no big 80’s drums, just in-your-face guitar with a driving beat. Most of the record is based around the same kind of catchy riffs that made early AC/DC so much fun. The fact that these guys are pulling this off this late in their career is astonishing. “Keep Me Rollin’” has that insistent guitar riff that makes you want to pump your fist high in the air, while “In the Blood” flat-out rocks.
The most telling song, “Rock n’ Roll Handshake,” is about getting the old guys back together: “Breakin the fight / With an old song./ Makin it right / Cause it was wrong.” Grizzled and back with a vengeance; let’s hope this lineup can continue putting out records as good as this one. –Tony Peters
John Mellencamp – No Better Than This (Rounder) – CD review –
John Mellencamp has scored ten Top 10 hits over his long career. But, rather than try and compete with the Lady Gagas of the world, he’s chosen to go in the complete opposite direction, and in doing so, he’s created a dream album. Plenty of artists have attempted to go “back to their roots;” Springsteen did it for “Nebraska,” Elvis did it for his “Memphis” album, but no one has done it with as much authenticity as John Mellencamp.
The bulk of the record was done at the legendary Sun studios in Memphis, once the home to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King. Sure, recording there isn’t anything new. But, Mellencamp chose to lay everything down on No Better Than This live to a vintage reel to reel tape machine using only a single microphone. Now, how’s that for old school? All thirteen tracks were penned by Mellencamp, yet many sound closer to the guys who originally recorded in these studios. “Coming Down the Road” has that early Johnny Cash feel, complete with slapback bass and clean guitar sound.
The title track sounds like a Billy Lee Riley outtake, while “Each Day of Sorrow” recalls John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer.” The one track that music geeks will surely fawn over is “Right Behind Me,” actually recorded in the very same hotel room in San Antonio that Robert Johnson laid down his cryptic tracks, some 80 years previous. That song, with its echoey fiddle and lyrics about the devil add to the creepy surroundings. By stripping away all but the bare necessities of music, Mellencamp has turned in an album worthy of a classic. –Tony Peters
Utopia began life as a Todd Rundgren side project to indulge his progressive rock leanings. But as his solo work became more esoteric, the music he made with Utopia began leaning more toward the pop side of rock. Utopia is the band’s peak. Originally released with a “bonus disc” containing five extra songs, all fifteen now fit nicely on a single CD. While Something / Anything was Rundgren’s high point for pop songwriting, this record comes in a close second.
Any longtime follower of Rundgren’s career knows his catalog is littered with half-baked experiments, heavy on over-indulgent studio trickery and concepts. That’s what makes Utopia such a joy: for once, Rundgren and company deliver an entire album of tight, catchy pop songs, sung with gleeful abandon, and with no subplot. What’s more, the experimentation is almost completely absent; the entire disc sounds like it could’ve been recorded in a single session.
The disc opens with the pounding “Libertine,” sung by bassist Kasim Sulton with a feaux-guitar keyboard solo from Roger Powell. All four members contribute lead vocals, with drummer Willie Wilcox turning in the surprise rocker “Princess of the Universe.” Sulton and Rundgren duet for the Beatles-ish “Say Yeah,” and Rundgren turns in a great ballad “I’m Looking At Your But I’m Talking To Myself.” Powell’s “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now” actually reached the lower rungs of the charts. Not as groundbreaking as earlier or later material, Utopia provides a more simple pleasure. –Tony Peters
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
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 (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
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
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 (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
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