No band has based their entire career more on one album than Rush. Not only their best album, Moving Pictures is the only one worth listening to all the way through. First of all, it’s their best collection of songs, beginning with their crowning achievement, “Tom Sawyer,” a perfect blend of hard rock and the progressive metal they had been tinkering with over their previous albums. “Red Barchetta” shows off drummer Neil Peart’s lyrcism.
And, “Limelight” ranks as one of the best “playing in a band songs.” Even though leader Geddy Lee played a great deal of keyboards on the record, it’s still not as dominant a force as it would become on future releases. And the production here is meaty, the band sounds real for the last time. With their next album, Signals, and beyond, the band would favor a slick, over-produced sound that made the band feel cold and robotic. Grace Under Pressure, Hold Your Fire, Power Windows, Roll the Bones; these albums are all interchangeable. There’s no progression or maturing, it’s the same song written over and over. Yet, because of the success of Moving Pictures, rabid Rush fans bought these and subsequent releases ad nauseum. –Tony Peters
A perfect storm of an album, Back in Black is an uncanny blend of metal and pop, and it still sells as if it were brand new. Recorded right after the death of original singer Bon Scott, this could have been a real downer. Instead, the remaining members regrouped with singer Brian Johnson and turned in the most inspired album of their career.
Johnson adds a level of toughness that was lacking with Scott. He screams, but never averts to the hysterionics of other heavy metal singers. The songs are propelled by simple, repetitive hypnotic guitar riffs and an incessant backbeat that’s reminiscent of the early rock of the 50’s. The same goes for the guitar work, many of the solos are blistering, yet they never overstay their welcome. And, the production, by Robert “Mutt” Lange, who would later go onto even bigger success with Def Leppard and Shania Twain, is equally important. The guitars are just gritty enough and the drums are upfront so you can feel the kick drum.
The album opens with the ominous “Hells Bells,” which starts out slow and picks up speed. “You Shook Me All Night Long” proved that there could be metal for the masses. Above all, this album does the impossible, it makes heavy metal that’s actually danceable. This is body music, and whether that’s manifested in banging your head, shaking your ass, or swinging from a pole, it will get you one way or another. –Tony Peters
One of the biggest selling albums of all-time is also one of the strangest. An LP based largely on themes of isolation and paranoia, the Dark Side of the Moon nevertheless continues to strike a chord with record buyers. Despite the chilly lyrics, this is a very human album.
Everyday sounds morph into rhythms of several songs: the heartbeat and clocks that begin “Time,” and the cash register at the beginning of “Money,” add a very real element to these otherwise detached songs. The intermittent random talking over the tracks also adds an element making the listener seem closer to the music. The quality of the production cannot be overlooked. Produced by the band and engineered by Alan Parsons, Dark Side is pristine, and despite its heavy reliance on keyboards, still doesn’t sound dated.
Even more amazing is the lack of any image; the cover contained no text and no mention of Pink Floyd or the songs listed within, only a prism illustration, adding to the eerie quality of the album. Pink Floyd would go on to record more heady music, but this is their shining moment. –Tony Peters
Paul McCartney & Wings – Wings Over America (1976) – CD review –
Paul McCartney has always been a perfectionist; it’s certainly one of the factors that contributed to the breakup of the Beatles. And, while his 70’s hits with Wings are great, many of them sound stuffy, as if they’ve been cooked too long. That’s what makes Wings Over America such a revelation.
McCartney is out of the studio and into a live band setting where things can really heat up, and he doesn’t have a chance to add overdub after overdub. The Wings’ hits sound more lively; “Jet,” “Silly Love Songs,” and “Let “Em In” all benefit from the concert setting. Paul had a tendency to play most of the instruments on his records. Here, he has to put his faith in the band, and they deliver. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch is a real highlight, injecting some slinky solos into Paul’s songs.
The opening medley of “Venus & Mars / Rockshow / Jet” is as breathtaking a performance as Paul has ever done. He’d not yet made peace with his Beatles past, so the Fab Four songs are minimal; mostly leaning toward ballads like “Yesterday,” and “the Long & Winding Road.” Paul used this as a proving ground for his current band to be taken seriously, and he pulls it off. Even the album cuts, like “Time to Hide” and “Beware My Love” are enjoyable. A triple-LP set when it was first issued, Wings Over America stands as a pinnacle of McCartney’s solo work. –Tony Peters
There have been some bizarre cover albums over the years, and this is certainly one of them. Coverage finds pop princess Mandy Moore tackling a music geek’s Ipod playlist. The strangest thing about it is that she actually pulls it off.
The disc opens with her take on “Senses Working Overtime,” for shock purposes, I’m sure. Moore doing alternative stalwarts XTC…seems like a good chuckle. Yet, Moore turns this classic staple of college radio into the pop gem it probably should have been, if only it’s original lead singer (Andy Partridge) could actually sing. She handles other obscure songs by the Waterboys and Joan Armatrading equally well.
The rest of the album is made up of brainy hits by classic rock icons like Joni Mitchell and Elton John. “Anticipation” from Carly Simon is given a twangy edge, while Moore actually matches the ethereal feel of Todd Rundgren’s original of “Can We Still Be Friends.” A key here is that there are several opportunities to over-sing, but Moore never takes the bait. She simply shows that she’s got a great voice and a pretty good intuition for offering the right approach to these hallowed songs.
This should have been a laugh-fest. Instead, it’s a fun listen.
Coverage was supposed to have been her breakthrough into the serious adult market. She’s since released two albums of totally original music, but has been met with the same public indifference. Too bad, maybe they should put on this disc and lighten up a little. –Tony Peters
Bettye LaVette – Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti) – CD review –
Bettye is like a fine wine – she had to get good and old before people would start to enjoy her. The singer, now aged 64, is having the biggest success of her career. A video of her performing the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors became a Youtube sensation. LaVette didn’t just sing the song, she reinvented it and made it her own. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook asks the question: “can she do it again”?
The answer is a resounding “yes”! Interpretations is an excellent name for this collection, because of the 13 tracks, she rarely plays the arrangements straight. If you don’t look at the track listing, you might find yourself going through half of the song before recognizing it. To say that she breathes new life into these tired old rock classics is an understatement. Bettye recreates these songs, often times singing behind the melody, turning every one of these into spine chilling soul classics.
The arrangements are sparse: slinky Stax-infused guitars, Hi-records strings and Lavette’s gravelly but powerful voice cutting through. “It Don’t Come Easy” the jangly Ringo Starr song, is transformed into an acoustic-based blues, “Maybe I’m Amazed” becomes a sermon for her to sing from the pulpit, even Zeppelin’s “All My Love” becomes a soul shouter. Plenty of artists have tried similar projects and wind up sounding like bad karaoke. LaVette not only pulls it off, she begs the question: “where the hell has she been all these years”? — Tony Peters
Scorpions – Sting In The Tail (Universal) – CD review –
Yes, there is still venom left in the band from Hannover, Germany. The Scorpions have decided to call it quits after their current tour and if Sting in the Tail (Universal) is indeed their final studio record, (17th to be exact) it is worth the purchase. This album of 12 songs could have easily fallen somewhere between their best known album of the 80’s “Love At First Sting” and their most commercially successful foyer into the 90’s “Crazy World”.
Beginning with the current radio hit “Raised On Rock”, which has a definite “Rock You Like A Hurricane” feel, guitarists Rudolf Schenker and Matthias Jabs deliver crunchy riffs and some solid solos to please any rocker. 62 year old Klaus Meine (yes that’s right, he’s 62), sounds in great vocal form on tracks like “Slave Me”, “Rock Zone”, and “Turn You On”. “The Good Die Young”, featuring the Finnish symphonic metal singer Tarja Turunen, is the weakest of the bunch, suffering from some less than stellar verses lyrically, but rebounds during the chorus.
There are even a few ballads, which the Scorpions always did well, (ala “Still Loving You” and “Winds Of Change”) in the songs, “Lorelei” and the album closer “The Best Is Yet To Come”. The lyrics are at times, unsophisticated. But, that’s not the reason anyone has ever listened to the Scorpions, right? The band have stated that the reason for their impending retirement is that “they want to end the Scorpions’ extraordinary career on a high note”, and they’ve done a pretty decent job with this CD. They are currently on the road in the U.S. and Canada through the end of August, so get out there and GET YOUR STING AND BLACKOUT before these guys call it quits. More info at the-scorpions.com. – Allen Roenker
AC/DC – Iron Man 2 Soundtrack (Columbia) – CD review –
AC/DC has long had an aversion to doing a “Greatest Hits” album. That stance has paid off in the continued success of their albums Back in Black and Highway to Hell. They have, however, allowed soundtracks to be created entirely made up of their music. The first one, Who Made Who, came out in 1986 as the soundtrack to the Stephen King flop Maximum Overdrive.
That collection seemed to have no rhyme or reason, and only contained eight tracks. The Iron Man 2 Soundtrack is completely different. This is AC/DC at their balls-out, fist-pumping best. Of the 15 songs, eight are from Brian Johnson and seven from original leader Bon Scott. The one omitted song that prevents this from being a “hits” package is of course, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” the song that even grandma will get up and dance to. But, that slice of pop-metal would sound out of place here.
Also missing are any of the joke songs like “The Jack” or “Big Balls.” This is serious rock n’ roll fun. Incidentally, it makes a great driving album. Oh, and it works as a soundtrack too. One final note: for fans looking to buy as little AC/DC as possible, if you pick up this collection AND Who Made Who, there is no overlap between the two and you’ve got yourself just about every essential AC/DC track. — Tony Peters
For ten years, various record companies tried to put Shelby Lynne into some kind of category so they could market her to the masses, failing miserably in the process. The fact is, Lynne’s music defies categorization; there’s country, soul, rock and folk in most of what she does. To remedy this problem, she’s formed her own label, Everso Records, finally giving herself the freedom she has so badly wanted for years. Her new album, Tears, Lies & Alibis, is her first self-released disc, and it’s a more stripped-down affair, with Lynne’s guitar work at the forefront.
There are clues that a major label was forbidden to touch these tracks. Take for instance the fine “Why Didn’t You Call Me,” which clocks in at a mere 1:40. Certainly a corporate exec would’ve had her write another verse, and repeat the chorus several times, just to make it a more palatable 3:00. But, that’s just it, the song sounds fine in its brief form. Or “Something to Be Said About Airstreams,” which comes off more like a phrase someone would utter, rather than a song. “Alibi” is utterly beautiful; a flanged-out guitar adds a simple accompaniment to her sultry delivery of unfaithful love. In someone else’s hands, this would be a tear-jerker, but with Lynne, it’s self-affirming and matter-of-fact. “I guess I’ll have to meet / Your alibi.” Another in a long line of great ones from Shelby Lynne. — Tony Peters
Elvin Bishop – Red Dog Speaks (Delta Groove) – CD review –
Elvin Bishop has been making music for almost 50 years, and his latest CD, Red Dog Speaks, is a reflection of the twists and turns he’s taken throughout his career. The title refers to Elvin’s vintage Gibson guitar, which has become his axe of choice. Some tracks on the disc are sung by him, others by John Nemeth (the best of which, “Neighbor, Neighbor,” is a blistering cover of an old Jimmy Hughes song).
While Bishop has never been much of a singer, he does make the best of it by turning his songs into conversations, as in “Fat & Sassy,” where he bemoans a trip to the doctor, where he’s told all the things he can no longer eat; or “Clean Livin,’” where he wonders how he “ever got this old / It sure wasn’t clean livin.” There are several tasty instrumentals, including the “Doo Wop Medley” which melds “In the Still of the Night” with “Maybe,” two Fifties classics that let Bishop’s slide work really shine.
There’s also “Blues Cruise,” which was actually recorded on the boat of the same name, featuring many of the other musicians who were part of the trip. The real surprise is that despite the album’s hodge podge of styles, nothing comes off as a stretch; it all works. This dog might be old, but he’s still capable of surprises like this one. — Tony Peters