Category Archives: Reviews

Classic Album – Raspberries – Side 3 (CD review)

Raspberries – Side 3 (1973) – CD review –

Although misunderstood during their brief time together, the Raspberries have grown in stature and are now considered pioneers of the “power pop” genre.  Side 3, their third album of four, is their most consistent.  The record opens with the blistering “Tonight,” featuring the frenetic drumming of Jim Bonfanti (sounding very much like Keith Moon) and some very Who-like power chords.

Eric Carmen turns in his usual high points with the aforementioned “Tonight,” “Ecstasy,” with its Beach Boys chorus and more Who-inspired drumming, and the jangly “On the Beach.”  But, what makes Side 3 so great is that the other members finally turn in material worthy of Carmen’s .  Bryson’s “Last Dance” is breezy, with a surprising countrified middle section, while bassist Dave Smalley supplies the fantastic rocker “Hard to Get Over a Heartbreak,” and the acoustic “Should I Wait,” featuring an excellent chorus. Unfortunately at this peak, the band was falling apart and by the next album, Smalley and Bonfanti would exit.  The Raspberries soldiered on for one more album before calling it quits, but Side 3 still stands as their finest moment. –Tony Peters

You Don’t Know Me – Ray Charles Jr. (book review)

You Don’t Know Me – Reflections of My Father, Ray CharlesRay Charles Robinson, Jr. (Harmony Books) – book review

The movie “Ray” (2004) told the world the story of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.  But, as with most film biographies, “Ray” glossed over a lot of Ray Charles’ life; he was a notorious womanizer and, through part of his life, a drug addict.  These transgressions had a profound effect on his family, not covered in the movie. That’s where “You Don’t Know Me” comes in.

Ray Charles Jr. give a firsthand account of what is was like growing up as the son of the famous performer, going deeper than any movie could.  Some of the details are touching, as in the time, one Christmas, when the sightless Charles attempted to assemble a bicycle for the younger Ray, succeeding in everything but the slightly crooked seat.  But, oftentimes, the tales are not so flattering, as in the multiple times other women would contact Charles for child support, or in a pivotal moment in the book, where the young Ray Jr. finds his dad overdosing on drugs and bleeding profusely in his home office.  There are times when the book is frustrating; Charles was simply not around through Ray Jr.’s early life, so much of the reflections early on are secondhand.  The author does delve deeper into the past of his father than the movie did, offering some glimpse of where he came from, through conversations with relatives, most notably Ray Jr.’s mother.

Despite seeing the evils of drugs in his very own family, Ray Jr. inexplicably followed in his dad’s footsteps toward addiction.  Even though the main focus of the book is Ray Charles, You Don’t Know Me is as much about Charles’ family, and how success and the perils that comes with it, affected each member.  It is also a tale of personal tragedy and redemption, as the younger Charles attempts to free himself from chemical dependency.

Those looking for an introduction to the life of Ray Charles should certainly start with the excellent “Ray” movie for a more concise picture of the musical legend.  But, after watching that, “You Don’t Know Me” is an excellent path for those seeking more of the story

 

The Beatles – Mono Box Set (CD review)

Beatles – Mono Masters (2009) – CD review –

It’s a shame that the only way to get these versions is through this Mono Masters box set.  The Beatles recorded in an era when stereo was a novelty and mono was the norm.  Songs were mixed first in mono, then put in stereo as an afterthought.  Case in point: the Beatles spent two weeks mixing their landmark Sgt. Pepper in mono, then handed the tapes over to an engineer, who mixed the entire album in stereo in a single day.  Yet, stereo is how we now hear most Beatles music.

These mono mixes are really the way the Beatles intended their songs to sound.  Sometimes, the differences are staggering.  Much of their early albums in stereo have the voice in one speaker and the instruments in the other, which is just plain goofy.  On the Mono Masters, everything is front and center, the way it should be.

The Sgt. Pepper album probably has the most noticeable differences: the crowd comes in at different points during the first song, while “She’s Leaving Home” is sped way up, and many of the songs crossfade at different points as well.  The entire record has a different, richer feel in mono.  The “White Album” has subtle differences in mono for almost every song.  And, many of the singles have more punch in mono.  The guitar from “Revolution” comes on like a chain saw in mono, while “Paperback Writer” has some extra echo effects.

The packaging differs on the mono box as well.  While the stereo discs were done in tri-fold paper, making the discs difficult to remove, this set has an oversized, single sleeve format with no folds, reproducing faithfully the front and back covers of the original LP’s and making the discs easy for removal.  The discs themselves are housed in little plastic sleeves, with paper sleeves replicating the vinyl release thrown in for good measure.  There is also a booklet that talks about some of the differences between the stereo and mono versions.

My only real complaint is that these albums should be made available individually.  This 13-CD box set retails for over $200, making it impossible for anyone but the crazed fan (that’s me) to own.  Yet, as stated before, these are the way Beatles’ music was intended to sound.  So much more care and scrutiny were taken in mixing the mono versions.  Perhaps someday they’ll be made available individually. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (CD review)

Talk Talk – Spirit of Eden (1988) – CD review – This album is certainly in the running for “weirdest record by an established band.”  Talk Talk began life as a somewhat indistinguishable synth- pop group in 1982 with their hit “Talk Talk.”  But after three albums, lead singer Martin Hollis decided to take the band into different territory, and I DO mean different.

The album he came up with, Spirit of Eden, is nearly impossible to describe: there are elements of jazz and classical, and large sections of near-quiet, with a single droning instrument, in some cases followed by a screaming guitar.  It is both haunting and jarring to the ears.  There are no real song structures here.  Instead, several verses are followed by long instrumental passages.  The average song length is around 7 minutes, with the first track clocking in at over 9.  The best way to describe this album might be to say it’s the ambient equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon; it’s another record that sounds better in the dark.  If you’re looking for something totally off the beaten path, look no further. –Tony Peters

Classic Album – Beach Boys – Sounds of Summer (CD review)

Beach Boys – Sounds of Summer (best of) (2003) – CD review – No other American band’s music is woven into the fabric of our culture quite like the Beach Boys.  It’s still all over the place: in movies, commercials and on the radio.  Everyone knows at least one of their songs.  Yet, they don’t get anywhere near the credit of that quartet from across the big pond.  Sounds of Summer makes a pretty good case for these guys to be taken a little more seriously.

And, while there have been way too many Beach Boys’ compilations over the years, if you’re going to own just one…this is definitely the one.  Jam packed with 30 (yes, you read right, 30) songs on one single disc, all the major periods of their music are represented. There’s the great early surf and car songs (“Surfin’ USA,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Shut Down,” “Little Deuce Coupe”), the harmony-filled  ballads (“Surfer Girl,” “In My Room,” “Don’t Worry Baby”), the Pet Sounds-era singles (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” “God Only Knows,” and “Sloop John B”), and the experimental stuff (“Good Vibrations,” “Heroes and Villains”).

There’s even a smattering of their latter years with their so-so cover of Chuck Berry’s “Rock n’ Roll Music,” and the much better take on the Del Viking’s “Come Go With Me.”  Unfortunately, they had to include the downright embarrassing 1988 “comeback” hit in “Kokomo.”  There’s really not much to quibble about: all the major chart hits are here and some of the lesser, but still good songs as well.  For casual fans, this is the collection to get. As a side note, for those who prefer to download the mp3s: do the math – 30 tracks for a single album download is an absolute steal for the Sounds of Summer in digital form.

For those looking for more, there’s actually a companion piece to this disc, The Warmth of the Sun, with yet another 30 tracks.  While certainly not as hit-packed as this collection, it does get into the lesser-known, yet equally satisfying tracks from the Beach Boys.  –Tony Peters

Asia – Omega (CD review)

Asia – Omega (Frontiers Records) – CD review – Supergroups aren’t usually built to last. The original lineup of Asia stuck around two short years, producing 1982’s Asia, and 1983’s Alpha, before splitting up.  In 2007, the original members got back together and recorded Phoenix, their first new record in 25 years.  Even more surprising, they’ve stayed together this time to record a follow up, Omega.

Vocalist/bassist John Wetton, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Geoff Downes and drummer Carl Palmer have all returned.  While their first reunion CD was largely a mellow affair, with death as a recurring subject, Omega is surprisingly upbeat.  Usually, when older bands get back together and try and write new material, the hardest part is finding melodies.  Oddly, Asia has absolutely no problem in this department; catchy hooks and choruses fill the disc.

The album opens with “Finger on the Trigger,” which is vintage Asia: a driving beat, big chorus and great solo from Steve Howe.  “Holy War” shows off Carl Palmer’s thunderous drumming, while “There Was a Time” is grandiose, giving keyboardist Geoff Downes a chance to stretch out.  Perhaps if there is one complaint, it’s that Omega is thin on the progressive rock side (their last effort, Phoenix, contained two songs over eight minutes).

On the plus side, the band turns in some of its most melodic songs in years.  “I’m Still the Same” is downright bouncy.  The disc includes a bonus track, “Emily,” which is very lightweight, and features a rather uncomfortable lyric about finding out the girl in question is a lesbian.  The album is surprisingly solid from start to finish. –Tony Peters

Teeny Tucker – Keep the Blues Alive (CD review)

Teeny Tucker – Keep the Blues Alive (TeBo) – CD review –

Teeny is the daughter of blues legend Tommy Tucker, best known for his “Hi Heel Sneakers,” from 1964.  As the title suggests, she’s carrying on in her father’s tradition.  Stylistically, it’s straight-ahead blues.  Heck, if she’s gonna “keep the blues alive,” there ain’t going to be no watering down things on this one, right?

The disc opens with the heavy “Ain’t That the Blues,” a story of a girl she came in contact with, that’s fallen on bad times.  The best songs are the ones that let in a little humor, as in “Old Man Magnet,” the true story of an audience member going after one of her backup singers, or “I Live Alone,” which deals with the unique relationship Tucker has with her husband.   Oddly, the biographical “Make Room For Teeny” was not written by her, but was penned by some friends of hers.

What lifts these tracks to another level is the searing guitar playing of Robert Hughes, who also cowrote many of the tracks, served as executive producer, and even took the photographs on the front and back cover.  At a mere 5 feet 1 inches tall, Teeny still packs a wallop. –Tony Peters

Great Music InterviewsHear the Icon Fetch interview with Teeny Tucker

Derek Trucks Band – roadsongs (CD review)

Derek Trucks Band – roadsongs (Sony Masterworks) – CD review – Derek Trucks can play some guitar;. he’s been honing his craft, in and out of the Allman Brothers for over a decade now.  What the double live roadsongs shows is that he’s taken all those styles and blended them into a comfortable mix he can truly call his own.

Trucks conquers some diverse territory here.  He starts disc one with several cuts from his latest studio effort, Already Free, including the gorgeous “Days is Almost Gone,” then tackles some heady material in the jazzy Mongo Santamaría classic “Afro Blue,” which he stretches to over 14 minutes, and Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Chant,” both featuring some killer flute and percussion.  Throughout, the one constant is Trucks’ succulent fretwork; he’s truly developed a singularly unique sound.  His slidework is so expressive, capable of joyous highs and crying lows, you can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.  In Mike Mattison, he’s finally found a vocalist worthy to trade licks with.

The disc closes with a pair of Derek & the Dominoes album tracks, “Key to the Highway,” and “Anyday,” undoubtedly hold-overs from Trucks teaming with Eric Clapton during a winter live set with the Allmans.  There’s no doubt that Trucks is talented, but with this live set, he truly shows that he’s got the vision to bring everything together into one killer set of tunes. –Tony Peters

Krokus – Hoodoo (CD review)

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 (CD review)

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