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Monday, August 31, 2015

Swallow - Swallow (1973 us, awesome brass blues roots rock, 2010 issue)

Duke and the Drivers had fun living out their fantasy on ABC Records but, under the aegis of the redoubtable Buddy Buie and with help from the Atlanta Rhythm Section, Boston's Swallow were very serious about their craft, and it shows on this collection of understated blues-rock. Vern Miller, Jr. of the Remains, George Leh, and New England personalties Parker Wheeler and Phil Greene (the extra "e" is missing from the legendary engineer's name on this disc) are four of the nine musicians who make up the large outfit. 

On one of the all-time worst album covers -- a green martian hand holding the nose of the man in the moon (presumably, so he can swallow) -- the nine musicians are displayed above a moonscape, their names out of order with the photos. In 1973, the Atlanta Rhythm Section emerged from the remnants of the Classics IV and, with J.R. Cobb and Barry Bailey of that group on this disc, along with B.J. Thomas/Friend & Lover/Billie Joe Royal producer Buie, one would think Warner Bros. would have been more serious about this outing. Most of the titles are by Miller, making the album a statement by the man Danny Klein of the J. Geils Band calls his favorite bass player. Two co-writes by Leh are included, along with two Randy Newman songs, "Illinois" and the often covered "I'll Be Home." Although Buie co-wrote all the hits of the Atlanta Rhythm Section, his magic is not added here, and perhaps that is what is missing.

The record is better than decent -- it is very good -- despite the fact there is no hit to launch it from obscurity. Greene went on to engineer Beaver Brown, New Kids on the Block, and the sessions this writer did with Buddy Guy in 1986, while blind singer Leh developed a following and great reputation performing around the Boston area. "Georgia, Pack My Bags" isn't a hit, nor is "Rockin' Shoes"; perhaps the closest thing to a potential chart climber is "Don't Tell Mama," some kind of answer, not to Etta James, but to Savoy Brown's minor hit from their 1971 Street Corner Talking album, "Tell Mama." At least they showed respect for their elders! There was much potential here; it's too bad the label and/or management mishandled the look of the album, and failed to give this large group a couple of songs their musicianship could work with to reach the masses. But, for fans of the legendary Remains, it is another chapter in the career of Vern Miller and an essential item in order for their collections to be complete.
by Joe Viglione

1. Georgia, Pack My Bags - 3:35
2. Rockin' Shoes - 4:47
3. Illinois (R. Newman) - 2:17
4. I Get My Rocks Off Rockin' (G. Leh, V. Miller) - 2:46
5. I'll Be Home - 4:21
6. Don't Tell Mama - 3:35
7. Let It Roll (G. Leh, V. Miller) - 2:33
8. That's What My Love Is For - 2:56
9. I Was Born To Sit Back - 5:01
10.Helping Hand - 4:43
All songs by Vern Miller except where stated

*George Leh - Lead Vocals  
*Parker Wheeler - Vocals, Harp
*Vern Miller Jr - Bass, Guitar, Vocals
*David Woodford - Tenor Sax
*Phil Green - Guitar  
*Mick Aranda - Drums
*Bob Camacho - Keyboards  
*Jay Dewald - Trumpet
*Andy Harp - Trumpet
*Kerry Blount - Sax
*Gordan Kennedy - Trombone

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Climax Blues Band - Sense Of Direction (1974 uk, magnificent blues funky rock, 2013 remaster and expanded)

On their 1974 studio album, Sense of Direction, Pete Haycock (guitars, vocals), Colin Cooper (sax, flute, clarinet, vocals, rhythm guitar), Derek Holt (bass, vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards), and John Cuffley (drums) wrote a bunch of songs that seemed to distance themselves from the more Chicago blues flavored material they had come up with previously, a trend that actually started on 1972's Rich Man album and continued more and more with each successive record.

Opener "Amerita/Sense of Direction" combined not only some fiery blues, but also hard rock & jazz fusion, as Haycock's guitar and Cooper's sax blast off into a complex, unison burst of energy over tricky rhythms, then settle into an dreamy atmospheric section that segues into the slide guitar blues of "Losin' the Humbles". Cooper's laid back vocal drives the alluring blues/pop of "Shopping Bag People", another piece filled with Haycock's tasty slide guitar solos, while "Nogales" is catchy rock 'n' roll, not unlike what the Steve Miller Band was creating right around the same time. Haycock's shimmering lead guitar lines introduce "Reaching Out", a funky, jazzy rocker with great vocals, tight rhythms, smoky sax, and crisp guitar work. "Right Now" is a smoldering blues number, led by Haycock's stinging guitar lines and Cooper's lazy vocals & smoky horns. The album reaches its climax with the groove laden hard rocker "Before You Reach the Grave" and the rootsy, bluesy, almost Grateful Dead sounding " Milwaukee Truckin' Blues (Chipper's Song)".

As with all the other Esoteric/Cherry Red reissues, Sense of Direction features remastered sound (well done as always), and a selection of bonus tracks, of which the BBC Radio One tracks are the highlights. The booklet here is filled with photos and a nice long essay from Malcolm Dome, who talks about the bands history and the album itself. With the death of Colin Cooper a few years ago and Pete Haycock just days ago, all these Climax Blues Band reissues couldn't have come at a better time. If your only memory of this band is "Couldn't Get it Right", trust me, you need to explore them further. 
by Pete Pardo

1. Amerita / Sense Of Direction - 6:07
2. Losin' The Humbles - 2:38
3. Shopping Bag People - 4:02
4. Nogales - 4:10
5. Reaching Out - 5:17
6. Right Now - 6:33
7. Before You Reach The Grave - 3:13
8. Milwaukee Truckin' Blues (Chipper's Song) - 1:43
9. A Sense Of Direction - 3:32
10.Shopping Bag People - 3:58
11.Amerita / Sense Of Direction - 6:23
12.Right Now - 6:13
13.Milwaukee Truck Song Blues - 2:46
14.Losin' The Humbles - 4:32
All songs written by Climax Blues Band
Bonus Tracks 9-14

The Climax Blues Band
*Colin Cooper - Vocals, Alto, Tenor Saxes, Rhythm Guitra, Clarinet
*Pete Haycock - Vocals, Lead Guitar. Slide, Acoustic Guitars
*Derek Holt - Vocals, Bass Guitar, Rhythm Guitar, Electric Piano
*John Cuffley - Drums, Percussion

1969  The Climax Chicago Blues Band (2013 remaster and expanded)
1970  A Lot Of Bottle (2013 remaster and expanded)
1971  Tightly Knit (2013 remastered with bonus tracks)
1972  Climax Chicago - Rich Man (2013 bonus track remaster) 
1973-79  Climax Blues Band - Live Rare And Raw (2014 Release)

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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Michael Fennelly - Lane Changer (1973 us, superb individual rockin' heart 'n' soul, 2015 issue)

Signed to Epic Records on the strength of his demo songs, Fennelly would record his long-anticipated solo debut album, 1973’s Lane Changer, in England. Produced by former Zombies bassist Chris White, Fennelly was backed by a number of England’s best, tho’ admittedly underrated musicians of the era, including bassists Dave Wintour (who had played with Rick Wakeman) and Jim Rodford (Argent, and later with the Kinks); and drummers Robert Henrit (Argent, and another future alum of the Kinks) and Henry Spinetti (who would later play with both Eric Clapton and George Harrison). Argent’s Russ Ballard added backing vocals on several tracks. In-demand U.K. session horn players Mike Cotton and Alan Holmes augment a number of performances on the album with their immense sound, and Fennelly’s former Crabby Appleton bandmate Casey Foutz brought his keyboard prowess to the party.

In many ways, Lane Changer continues in a similar vein to Crabby Appleton’s Rotten To The Core; that is, hard-charging rock ‘n’ roll with pop and psychedelic undertones. The album-opening title track is an engaging slab o’ slippery hard rock featuring Fennelly’s lofty vocals, a busy arrangement with chaotic instrumentation, and rapidly-shifting changes in musical direction, all held together by Fennelly’s wiry fretwork which runs throughout the song. By contrast, “Touch My Soul” is a gentle, slow-paced ballad that mixes a folkish lyrical construction with touched of gospel grandeur and Fennelly’s soaring vocals. The highlight of the song, however, is Fennelly’s underrated guitar playing, which bolsters a wonderful vocal performance with both emotion and imagination.

Jumping right back into high-octane, hard rock territory, “Won’t You Please Do That” is an unabashed Zep knock-off that expands that band’s classic sound even further with Fennelly’s hypnotizing guitar, explosive rhythms, and a call-and-response chorus that includes Argent, Ballard, and an unnamed “mystery singer” that sounds suspiciously familiar. “Dark Night” is more of a stripped-down affair, with Fennelly’s haunting vocals front and center in front of a simple bass/drums rhythm and flourishes courtesy of Casey Foutz’s Mini-Moog.**** It’s a downright beautiful song, full of texture and complexity, with a lot of musical invention hiding in the grooves beneath Fennelly’s soulful vocals and Foutz’s symphonic swells and electronic sojourning.

The solo performance “Easy To Love” displays Fennelly’s talents nicely, his acoustic guitar strum nestling right nicely up against his expressive vocals, which at times hit a tone not unlike bluesman Skip James’ voice on what is otherwise an engaging folk-rock ballad. “Shine A Light” builds upon its predecessor, adding drums and bass to an unassuming, mid-tempo rocker that offers some of Fennelly’s most inspired fretwork on Lane Changer, his breathless vocals punctuated by a short but lovely solo. On the other hand, “Bad Times” offers up some good ol’ ‘70s-styled dino-stomp with bombastic rhythms and blazing guitar, the song’s lengthy intro leaping, headfirst into a raging boogie-rock with Fennelly’s sly guitar leading the charge.

A stunning, guitar-driven rocker, “Watch Yourself,” features an uncredited Jeff Beck playing lead guitar while Fennelly himself keeps pace with an intricate rhythm guitar performance, his high-flying vocals presaging the rise of the arena-rock godhead. The album ends with a classic fake-out in “Give Me Your Money,” the song starting as a sort of jazz-flecked, late-night torch-song with a dark ambiance and syncopated rhythms driven by Foutz’s tinkling keys before bursting out into a fast ‘n’ furious boogie blast that, once spent, gives way to the song’s darker tones and slower pace. It’s a truly schitzo and altogether wonderful performance to close out the unique musical experience that is Lane Changer.
by Rev. Keith A. Gordon 

1. Lane Changer - 2:28
2. Touch My Soul - 4:04
3. Won't You Please Do That - 3:15
4. Over My Dead Body - 2:38
5. Dark Night - 4:28
6. Easy To Love - 3:04
7. Shine A Light - 3:04
8. Bad Times - 5:53
9. Flyer - 2:52
10.Watch Yourself - 3:32
11.Give Me Your Money - 4:03
All compositions by Michael Fennelly

*Michael Fennelly - Guitar, Vocals
*Russ Ballard - Vocals
*John Beachman - Trombone
*Michael Cotton - Trumpet
*Casey Foutz - Keyboards
*Michael Giles - Drums
*Robert Henrit - Drums
*Alan Holmes - Clarinet, Saxophone
*Gasper Lewel - Percussion
*Nick Newell - Soprano Sax
*Jim Rodford - Vocals
*Henry Spinetti - Drums
*Dave Wintour - Bass

1967-72  Michael Fennelly - Love Can Change Everything (2013 Release)
1970  Crabby Appleton - Crabby Appleton
1971  Crabby Appleton - Rotten To The Core

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Various Artists - Time Machine A Vertigo Retrospective (1969-73 uk, An extraordinary amalgam of jazz prog psych folk hard rock, three disc box set)

So spoke the leading counterculture magazine International Times in a feature on the birth of the new so called "progressive" labels established by the major record labels in 1969 with the intention of tapping in to the rapidly expanding market in "underground" rock music. With the sonic experimentation of The Beatles masterwork "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" came a whole host of acts who wanted to expand their musical horizons by fusing different musical influences. The new "progressive" music was not designed for dancing; it was created with the specific intention of being seriously listened to and appealed to an audience of students, hippies and followers of all things "underground".

The new musical style took many sources of inspiration; jazz, blues, classical music, folk and rock, but it became clear that the commercial appetite of the progressive audience could prove lucrative to the major record companies. In reality, Decca records were first off the mark with the establishment of the Deram label in October 1966, which served as a vehicle in which to place acts that were deemed to have "selective" appeal. One of the earliest bands to create an impression on Deram were The Moody Blues, whose experiments with the Mellotron on the single "Nights in White Satin" and the album "Days of Future Passed" inspired a new generation of imitators, however, the label still lacked a clear direction.

Perhaps the first British label to establish a clear "underground" identity was Island Records, which had been formed by Chris Blackwell. Begun in 1962, Island had shifted from becoming a label solely dedicated to bringing Jamaican music to the new immigrant West Indian population in Britain to that of a champion of the emerging underground. Scoring early successes with bands such as Traffic, Island successfully appealed to the UK counterculture specifically because they were free of any major "corporate" label trappings. 

With the emphasis now being placed on impressive album sleeve packaging and design, as much as good music, Island took the lead, leaving the major labels with the dilemma of how they should follow. A major problem faced by the major labels was the fact that leading lights of the underground music scene were sharing label imprints with conservative pop acts. In EMI's case artists such as Pink Floyd and The Pretty Things shared a home on Columbia records with Des O'Connor and Lulu. EMI successfully solved this by the formation of Harvest records label in June 1969. Launched in a blaze of publicity with releases by acts such as Michael Chapman and the Edgar Broughton Band, the imprint quickly established a credible reputation in contemporary rock circles. With EMI appearing to take the lead, A&R staff at Philips records quickly took notice. They too had similar issues with artists such as Colosseum, Jimmy Campbell, Mike Absalom and Black Sabbath sharing their Fontana label home with MOR singers such as Nana Mouskouri.

A&R head Olav Wyper found the solution by creating a new identity for existing esoteric acts within the Philips group of companies. The creation of Vertigo records was announced in the Autumn and immediately staff were engaged to seek out new talent that would give EMI. Decca and even Island records a run for their money. Vertigo quickly established a recognizable identity with the design of its distinctive "swirl" logo by Roger Dean that graced the entire label of the "A" side of each album. Album sleeves were almost all gatefold in design and were mostly the work of photographer and designer Marcus Keef (keen eyed observers may note the similarity of design of the sleeves of albums such as Colosseum's "Valentyne Suite", the eponymous debuts of Black Sabbath, Affinity and the cover of the 1970 sampler "The Vertigo Annual").

Vertigo scored chart success with its first two album releases, "Valentyne Suite" by Colosseum and Juicy Lucy's self titled debut. The label quickly expanded its roster of acts in its first six months of operation to include Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, Uriah Heep, Gentle Giant, Manfred Mann's Chapter Three, Affinity, Gracious!, Nucleus, Cressida and many more. 1970 was a particularly good year for the label when albums by Rod Stewart and Black Sabbath became major sellers, allowing Vertigo the luxury of signing acts such as May Blitz, Dr. Z, Tudor Lodge, Ramases and others that failed to perform commercially (Dr. Z's "Three Parts to My Soul" allegedly selling less than 100 copies upon release). These Vertigo albums quickly acquired cult status and became highly desirable collectors' items within a few years of their initial release. 

In 1970, Olav Wyper was approached by RCA Records London office, who were keen to follow on the heels of Philips, EMI and Decca by establishing their own "underground" imprint, Neon. Wyper accepted the invitation and left Vertigo to make Neon records a reality. The Neon label was to be a short lived affair, releasing only a handful of albums, but the identity of the records released on that label followed closely that of Vertigo, with the Neon logo comprising the entire "A" side label and the sleeves being designed and photographed by Marcus Keef.

By contrast Vertigo became more established, and went from strength to strength, but the free attitude of signing any act that boasted vague underground credentials that was present during the labels birth began to wane and with acts such as Status Quo signing to the label and the worldwide success of artists such as Black Sabbath, Vertigo began to take a more guarded approach to its signings. Obscure esoteric acts were quickly dropped in favour of acts more assured of commercial success and the distinctive "swirl" logo was replaced in 1973 by Roger Dean's "spaceship" design. To many, Vertigo began to lose its identity soon after, although the label continued to enjoy huge success with artists such as Thin Lizzy, Status Quo, Graham Parker and the Rumour and latterly Dire Straits. It still continues as an imprint to this day, long after rivals Deram and Harvest ceased to release new product.

This collection celebrates the vision of Olav Wyper and his A&R team during Vertigo's early years, (notably Patrick Campbell-Lyons of UK band Nirvana who produced many of the early Vertigo albums), and celebrates an age when musical creativity was the watch word. Although sometimes the resulting recordings were less than satisfactory, the musicians behind them were brave and hardy souls. Due to the vagaries of the rights reversion of some of the music released on the Vertigo label in its first three years of operation, it has not been possible to include some material by artists whose contributions were of equal merit to those artists featured here. Musicians such as Mike Absalom, Assagai, Graham Bond, Fairfield Parlour et al all deserve attention from aficionados of the "progressive" era. It is to them and the artists featured that this set is dedicated.
by Mark Powell

Disc 1
1. Colosseum - The Kettle (Dick Heckstall Smith, John Phillip Hiseman) - 4:28
2. Juicy Lucy - Who Do You Love? (Ellis McDaniels) - 3:02
3. Clear Blue Sky - My Heaven (Patrick Campbell Lyons, John Simms) - 5:00
4. Manfred Mann Chapter Three - Travelling Lady (Mike Hugg, Manfred Mann) - 5:48
5. Black Sabbath - Behind The Wall Of Sleep (Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward) - 3:37
6. Cressida - To Play Your Little Games (John Heyworth) - 3:17
7. Gracious! - Introduction (Raymond Davis) - 5:51
8. Affinity - Three Sisters (Linda Hoyle, Lynton Naiff) - 4:57
9. Bob Downes - Walking On (Bob Downes) - 4:58
10.May Blitz - I Don't Know (Richard Newman) - 4:45
11.Nucleus - Torrid Zone (Karl Jenkins) - 8:33
12.Rod Stewart - Handbags And Gladrags (Michael d'Abo) - 3:55
13.Gentle Giant - Nothing At All (Kerry Minnear, Derek Shulman, Phil Shulman, Ray Shulman) - 9:08
14.Ben - The Influence (Reid, Davey) - 10:05

Disc 2
1. Dr. Z - Evil Woman's Manly Child (Keith Morris) - 4:47
2. Jade Warrior - Borne On The Solar Wind (Glyn Harvard, Tony Duhig, Jon Field) - 3:01
3. Patto - The Man (Clive Griffiths, Ollie Halsall, John Halsey, Mike Patto) - 6:14
4. Juicy Lucy - Thinking Of My Life (Parch W. Nantlais Williams) - 4:24
5. Jimmy Campbell - Half Baked (Jimmy Campbell) - 4:40
6. May Blitz - For Madmen Only (James W. Black, Richard Newman, William Hudson) - 4:11
7. Tudor Lodge - The Lady's Changing Home (Lyndon Green, John Stannard) - 4:36
8. Beggars Opera - Time Machine (Denis Roderick, Martin Griffiths, Alan James Park) - 8:06
9. Colosseum - Bring Out Your Dead (Dave "Clem" Clempson, Dave Greenslade) - 4:19
10.Warhorse - Mouthpiece (Peter Parks, Mac Poole, Ashley Holt, Nick Simper) - 8:49
11.Uriah Heep - Lady In Black (Ken Hensley) - 4:46
12.Freedom - Through The Years (Roger Saunders) - 4:25
13.Sensational Alex Harvey Band - Midnight Moses (Alex Harvey) - 4:22
14.Magna Carta - Lord Of The Ages (John Chris Simpson) - 10:02

Disc 3
1. Atlantis - Living At The End Of Time (Frank Diez) - 9:05
2. Ramases - Life Child (Eric Stewart, Lol Creme, Kevin Godley, Graham Gouldman, Martin Raphael) - 6:37
3. Beggars Opera - McArthur Park (Jimmy Webb) - 8:20
4. Nucleus - Song For The Bearded Lady (Karl Jenkins) - 7:22
5. Gentle Giant - Pantagruel's Nativity (Kerry Minnear, Derek Shulman, Phil Shulman, Ray Shulman) - 6:49
6. Gravy Train - (A Ballad Of) A Peaceful Man (Norman Barrett, Barry Davenport, J.D. Hughes, Lester Williams) - 7:05
7. Ronno - Powers Of Darkness (Harker Marshall Ronson) - 3:31
8. Status Quo - Paper Plane (Franxcis Rossi, Robert Young) - 2:52
9. Ian Matthews - Little Known (Ian Matthews) - 2:55
10.Vangelis Papathanassiou - Let It Happen (Ricky Dassin, Vangelis Papathanassiou) - 4:12
11.Jade Warrior - Mwenga Sketch (Tony Duhig, John Field) - 8:33
12.Aphrodite's Child - The Four Horsemen (Costas Ferris, Vangelis Papathanassiou) - 5:54
13.Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath (Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne, Bill Ward) - 5:29

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