Archive for the ‘ Classic Rock ’ Category

Cream “Wheels of Fire / In the Studio”

Although The Rising Storm’s principal premise is to play the spotlight on fine obscure albums, it’s fun occasionally to review something well-known from a (hopefully) new personal perspective, so here’s my take, forty-two years on, on Cream’s most uncharacteristic album.

The historical context for Wheels Of Fire needs no repetition here, as Cream’s history is so well documented. Suffice to mention that by the time they began recording it in early 1968 the wheels, so to speak, were already coming off, with a disillusioned Eric Clapton’s original vision of a purist blues trio with himself in the Buddy Guy role just a distant dream, Jack Bruce firmly in the driving seat as both composer and vocalist, and Bruce and Ginger Baker well and truly back at each other’s throats just as they had been in their Graham Bond days. The decision to break up the band had already been taken before the album’s completion, with just contractual live engagements and the makeshift fourth album to fulfil.

Despite all this antipathy the studio component of Wheels is a surprisingly high-quality collection which, as we all know, hit the shelves accompanied by a frankly turgid live set. The studio half – which in most countries was also released as a single album in its own right – is exhilarating proto-progressive rock with the odd bluesy afterthought and some stealthy jazz and classical overtones. Hardcore head-banging blues-rock aficionados may still wince when comparing it to Cream’s earlier studio efforts, and to the extended guitar jams on those songs that continued to make up most of their live set – only “White Room”, “Sitting On Top Of The World” and “Politician” from Wheels ever seeing the stage – but fans of Jack Bruce will acknowledge it as a worthy precursor to his highly successful solo career. What may come as a surprise is that three of the most leftfield numbers weren’t composed by Bruce, though he makes two of them his own both vocally and instrumentally, but by ill-fated British jazz composer and pianist Mike Taylor, with Baker providing the lyrics. Add to this the astonishingly diverse multi-instrumental talents of producer Felix Pappalardi, and you’ve got an engaging musical stew comparable to the Fabs’ White Album in its variation and experimentation.

All the tracks are well-known, but possibly overlooked highlights to listen out for in retrospective plays are Clapton’s eerie, brittle, reverbed guitar sound on “Sitting On Top Of The World”, produced from his single-pickup Gibson Firebird; Bruce’s hypnotic droning cello and modal acoustic guitar on “As You Said”; the instrumental break on “Politician” in which Bruce’s sludgy, rumbling bass underpins no fewer than three overdubbed intertwining guitar lead lines; Pappalardi’s gorgeous baroque trumpet figures which rescue the weakest track, Baker’s recitative “Pressed Rat And Warthog”, from mediocrity; and the splendid tuned percussion by Baker and Pappalardi on the sinuous, shifting “Those Were The Days”. Bruce’s near-operatic vocals on this album were among the best of his career.

I guess the live set should be mentioned in passing. Only the crisp, driving four minutes of “Crossroads” makes the grade, with Bruce’s tedious harmonica exposition “Traintime” and Baker’s formless sixteen-minute drum solo on “Toad” being of interest only to completists. (IMHO, the only rock drummer ever to warrant a solo is Jon Hiseman.) Oh, and for those wondering what a tonette is, as credited to Pappalardi on “Pressed Rat”, it’s a cheap plastic recorder-like instrument commonly used in elementary schools. It took me forty-two years to find that out: thanks, Wikipedia.

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“Those Were the Days”

:D CD Reissue | 2CD | 98 | Polydor | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl |  1968 | Polydor | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Joe Walsh “Barnstorm”

Joe Walsh is one of those artists that will always be remembered for classic rock radio hits “Funk #49,” “Rocky Mountain Way,” and ”Life’s Been Good.”  Then of course was his memorable stint in the Eagles, which yielded the highly successful Hotel California album.  He was one of the prime architects of the classic rock sound and his radio smashes are stilled played every day at the top of each hour.   Prior to the Eagles and “Rocky Mountain Way,” Joe Walsh made great music with the James Gang (Rides Again is one of the great classic rock LPs) and this, his first solo album from 1972, Barnstorm (the group is often referred to as the Barnstormers).

The Barnstorm group was put together shortly after Walsh left the James Gang.  The songs were recorded in Nederland, CO with the help of bassist Kenny Passarelli and drummer Joe Vitale, the latter had played with Walsh in 60s garage band the Measles.  The trio recorded an album that rocks hard at times but also has a strong roots/country flavor.  It’s a unique disc in Walsh’s varied discography, as he would never record anything like Barnstorm again.  “Turn To Stone,” the hardest rocker on the album, holds up pretty well and is similar to something the James Gang might have recorded in 1970.  Walsh would revisit this excellent track on 75’s So What but I feel the version heard here sounds best.  Most of the album is earthy roots rock that retains powerful classic rock-like hooks, just listen to the album’s closing cut “Comin’ Down.”  Here you have just Walsh’s vocals, guitar and harmonica but moving stuff nonetheless.  My favorite cuts on the album are “Home,” “I’ll Tell The World About You,” the psychedelic country rocker “Midnight Visitor” and the classic Americana of “Birdcall Morning.”   The latter is truly amazing, highlighted by sparkling acoustic guitars and some rustic slide work – it should have been a radio anthem.

Barnstorm contains imaginative music, wonderful guitar solos, unique songwriting, great ensemble playing and sharp humor – really Joe Walsh at his best.  Some songs have synth and hit a more experimental vibe but they work well in the context of this album.  Barnstorm is a masterpiece, a must hear for fans of country influenced hard rock.  Every track is worth multiple spins and listeners will immediately identify with the amount of thought and care put into each song and guitar solo.  It goes without saying that this record is a lost classic.


mp3: Comin’ Down
mp3: Midnight Visitor

Rides Again (1970)

mp3: There I Go Again

:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Hip-O | buy at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | Dunhill | search ebay ]

Moby Grape “Live”

Something tells me, if I had been at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in June of ’67 to witness Moby Grape at the height of their powers, scorching through their set of two-minute pop blasts, blaring triple-guitar action and five-part harmonies soaring, I might not have survived the night. None was the match of the mighty Grape in those days; the band was “flying musically” and easily the toughest act around. Moby Grape Live is the first official release to afford a glimpse into the raucous and entrancing stage performances of one of the most exciting, original, and underappreciated bands of the ’60s.

Separated into four sides, this double LP takes us to performances from the same weeks their infamously overhyped masterpiece Moby Grape was released, to their few high-octane minutes at the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival, jumping forward to a 1969 performance in Amsterdam featuring cuts from Wow and ’69, and ending back at the start: a full side of  “Dark Magic,” recorded New Years Eve, 1966. This one’s worth the purchase for Side 1 alone. The rabid energy of the band, issuing rapid-fire gems like “Rounder” and “Looper,”  hits a high point in “Changes” into “Indifference” featuring Jerry Miller’s careening lead guitar. Skip Spence turns in a beautifully honest vocal to cap the blistering set with “Someday.” The highlight for me, however, are the post-Skip tracks from 1969 on Side 3. “Murder in my Heart for the Judge” shows the band at their loosest, the slack and soul of the rootsier Grape a refreshing contrast. “I am Not Willing,” one of their best songs, gets a grooving drawn out treatment and it’s interesting to hear a matured group attack earlier hits “Fall on You” and “Omaha.” The closing 17-minute raga, “Dark Magic,” is more than a piece of rock music history, an actually listenable and fascinating performance, it features inspiring guitar leads, primitive electronic squeals, Skip’s far out vocal, and the driving force of sound that made Moby Grape one of the hottest band of the era.

Sundazed has curated an important document here. Hardcore Grape addicts should note much of this material has been featured on bootlegs over the years (notably the tracks from Monterey Pop and “Dark Magic”) but none of this has ever been officially released, and never with such pristine sound quality. David Fricke’s notes are the icing on the cake. After the essential debut record, this is the Moby Grape record I would recommend next.

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“Murder in My Heart for the Judge” (1969, Amsterdam)

:) 180 Gram Vinyl | 2-LP | 2010 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]
:D CD | 2010 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]

Eggs Over Easy “Good ‘N’ Cheap”

Here’s another one for the wish-this-wasn’t-it list. Eggs Over Easy were virtually unknown but recorded an incredibly solid album and have a cool story to boot.

Credited with launching the genre of pub rock, these hard working American road warriors brought the sound of Americana/country rock to the pubs in England during an ill-fated recording trip, and ended up gigging around until their visas ran up, inspiring the likes of Brinsley Schwarz, Bees Make Honey, and Frankie Miller. They had amassed an impressive repertoire of original and cover material upon their return to the states, and recorded Good ‘N’ Cheap out in Tuscon, AZ with Link Wray producing. Sadly, it’s about all they recorded.

You can tell the Eggs were seasoned performers the instant their record hits. These fun, good-natured country tunes have a smooth, Steely Dan vibe, sounding at times squeaky clean, loose & tight, honest and raw. All but one are originals, with writing and singing duties equally distributed between members Austin Delone, Jack O’Hara, and Brien Hopkins. The songs are surprisingly versatile: “Party, Party” is a pure sweet ’70s treat,  just what the title says, “Arkansas” is a gorgeous, foot-tapping roots ballad, “Runnin’ Down to Memphis” is straight country, and a couple harder blues numbers round things out (though “The Factory” is my one skippable track and I’m not too big on “Night Flight” despite its Bowie-tinged flavor). I originally thought the record was a little top-heavy, considering how the first three tracks seem to climax during the anthemic chorus to “Henry Morgan,” but Good ‘N’ Cheap is loaded with gems. These are pretty advanced compositions for a bar band, “Home To You” and the nearly epic “Pistol On A Shelf” are unmissable tracks. Same with “Face Down In The Meadow” and “Don’t Let Nobody,” which feel like instant classics.

It’s the kind of record where you savor the bonus cuts. “111 Avenue C” gives us a taste of the live Eggs act, featuring some intense scatting at the back of this swinging blues number. Also included is the infamous “Bar In My Car” (“put a bar in the back of my car and drive my self to drink”) and is actually one of the band’s catchiest moments.

There is reportedly a 2nd album out there, recorded in 1982 called Fear of Frying. I have yet to track it down but based on this debut, it’s a joke it hasn’t been properly reissued. In any case, Good ‘N’ Cheap is no doubt essential to any fan of Americana and pub rock. Sincere, sweet, feel-good music.

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:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | A&M | search ebay ]

Hoyt Axton “Joy to the World”

After too many years over-exposure to the words “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” I thought I would never make it all the way through another version of “Joy to the World.” Hoyt Axton’s original delivers the goods though, and much more to dig on this 1971 gem, his most celebrated and “hits” filled record.

In quotations since none of the “hits” were from his own version. Before any research, it sounds like a collection of covers, but I was surprised to learn he actually wrote “Joy to the World,” “Never Been to Spain” (both as made famous by 3 Dog),  and “The Pusher” (Steppenwolf). Clearly a talented songwriter but a damn fine performer at that, seeing as how his originals endure better today than their played-out cover versions. These productions are raw, but layered and textured, a bit twangy and sometimes pumped up with an overdriven gospel chorus. It’s a kind of sound that could even sound good on blown out speakers.

Axton’s vocal varies track to track: sometimes it’s a little unconvincing, like on the swampy “California Women” (great work with the blues harp on this one), but a couple lines in he’ll hook you back. The payoff is in the growl and squonk when his voice is most worn.

This record’s worth it for some key moments. The panning moog (or distorted bass guitar, sax? can anybody call it?) on “Alice in Wonderland’s” addicting chorus.  The first verse of “Lightnin’ Bar Blues” (another song so good I can’t believe it’s original) before the bar fight sound effects nearly ruin the track. And “Have a Nice Day,” now that’s my kind of tune, it’s like the content of a R. Davies track with some J. Sebastian feel.

Get this any way you can find it, but the Raven CD reissue comes as a 2fer with his previous recording, Country Anthem, another great one.

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“Alice in Wonderland”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Capitol | search ebay ]
:D CD reissue | 2001 | Raven | 2fer | at amazon ]

Morgen “Morgen”

Morgen was a hard rock/psych band that hailed from Long Island, NY.  They were fronted by guitarist/vocalist/wild man Steve Morgen but also included drummer Bob Maiman and guitarists Barry Stock and Rennie Genossa.  In 1969, record label Probe (ABC) released the group’s sole offering.

The album’s best known track is the classic “Welcome To The Void.”  40+ years later this cut’s over the top acid guitar work and pounding drums still shred the best of speakers.  Certainly a unique mixture of acid garage and hard rock, “Welcome To The Void” is essential listening.  There are other great cuts to be found on Morgen, like the stealth rocker “Purple” and the freaky fuzz corker “Of Dreams.”  “Eternity In Between,” probably influenced by the Who, is another excellent track that begins with ringing guitars and crashing drums.  This 5 minute song is nearly ruined by a two and a half minute drum solo.

Steve Morgen’s sexually charged lyrics and over the top vocals will irritate some listeners but that’s really a minor complaint as most of Morgen is full of great fuzz guitar solos and solid songs.  No beads or flowers for these guys, Morgen is straight up brooding hard rock psych.  A mini gem of a record that will reward patient listeners.

Over the years Morgen has been reissued by grey area bootleggers Eva and Radioactive.  Originals may set you back a few hundred dollars.

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“Welcome To The Void”

:) Original Vinyl |1969 | Probe | search ebay ]

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band “Manfred Mann’s Earth Band”

The Small Faces, the Pretty Things, the Zombies and the Move have seen numerous write-ups, send offs, and press in all the big-time (and small-time) classic rock publications.  But of all the major British Invasion acts, none has been as ill-served and neglected in rock critic circles and the collector circuit as Manfred Mann.  Mann and his group are usually thought of as a singles act, which is a cryin’ shame as many of their albums are great if not better than that.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band followed the excellent jazz rock explorations of Chapter Three (Volume 1 is a stone cold classic).  The self-titled Earth Band debut remains one of the forgotten progressive rock masterpieces.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band is an LP that’s actually worth hearing as it’s one of the best albums of its time and a fan favorite of sorts.

Originally the Earth Band had been working on Stepping Sideways, a rootsy album that was scrapped in favor of newer, more challenging material, which had been part of their live act at the time.  Many of the Stepping Sideways tracks are as good as much of what ended up on the Earth Band’s debut.  Most of the lost Stepping Sideways sessions later appeared on the Earth Band’s outtake box set, Odds & Sods.

On Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, the group take the best aspects of pop and progressive music and meld them into something original and distinctive.  Manfred Mann’s Earth Band came out in 1972, the height of the progressive rock boom.  The album is half covers, half originals.  There are no long, wanky keyboard solos, everything here is well structured and tight – the band cooks throughout.  Mann still kept some of the rootsy singer songwriter material from the earlier, Stepping Sideways sessions.  “Part Time Man,” a cover of Dylan’s “Please Mrs. Henry,” and “I’m Up and I’m Leaving” are all wonderful, underrated cuts that hold up to repeated plays. Other worthy tracks are “Captain Bobby Scout” which features a cool middle synth section, “Tribute,” a mysterious space rock instrumental and the great, hard rocking “Prayer.” Mann’s use of the Minimoog/synth/keyboards is inventive and often overlooked, he never loses focus or falls prey to mindless self-indulgence.  The album’s centerpiece, a cover of Randy Newman’s “Living Without You,” was a minor US hit and is perhaps the best version of this song you’re likely to hear.  The Moog work on this track is subtle but powerful while the hooks are huge.  “Living Withou You” is one of those great early 70s singles that wasn’t a big hit, but truly deserved to be.  Overall, not a wasted note or duff track to be found on this lost classic.

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“Part Time Man”

:D CD Reissue | 2009 | Polydor | at amzn ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1972 | search ebay ]

Creedence Clearwater Revival “Bayou Country”

For a long time I wondered why four guys from the musical wellhead that was late ‘60s San Fran set out to sound like a swamp’n’roll band from the backwoods of Louisiana, whilst accepting as perfectly natural that five young long-haired white boys from London, England should have bust their guts to emulate a black 1950s Chicago bar band. Eventually I stopped wondering and started trying to pin down why this album has remained Creedence’s most underestimated, least discussed collection, despite coming closest to the ideal they sought. Not that it didn’t sell; just that nobody ever seems to mention it till near the end of a CCR conversation, if at all. And at the time of writing it’s running a distant fourth in The Rising Storm’s Creedence discography uReview vote.

The undeniable ability of John Fogerty’s outfit to produce immaculate three-minute power-pop singles shines throughout CCR’s oeuvre, from “Suzie Q” to “Sweet Hitch Hiker”. But this album finds the band stretching out on what is to all purposes a live stage set performed in the studio: raw and honest, high energy, no discernable overdubs. The three long, sweaty, riffing jams – “Born On The Bayou”, “Graveyard Train” and “Keep On Chooglin’” – and the shorter but similar “Bootleg” get as close as CCR ever did to the authentic swamp-rock of Tony Joe White. On the mandatory classic rock’n’roll cover “Good Golly Miss Molly” John does what Paul McCartney did on the Fabs’ version of “Long Tall Sally”: his eviscerating vocal simply leaves the original for dead. “Proud Mary” is the hit single, but despite its prettiness it’s the weakest cut on the album, as the pace and energy level dip temporarily. The real surprise, and true gem, of the whole collection is “Penthouse Pauper”, an uncharacteristic twelve-bar blues on which both John’s voice and his Telecaster are fit to strip wallpaper.

The straightforward, no-frills nature of Creedence’s music enabled them to record and release an astonishing six albums in two-and-a-half years, from July 1968 to December 1970. (Think on that, Coldplay.) Whilst on an extended vacation in western Canada in 2007 I got to talk to and play with a number of young musicians who weren’t born till years after these albums came out. I was surprised to find that CCR was right up there as one of their favourite acts to cover. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised: the simple but irresistable songs, the natural, unaffected guitar sound and that unique banshee voice have a genuinely timeless quality.

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“Penthouse Pauper”

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Fantasy | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Fantasy | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Download | at amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Beach Boys “Landlocked Sessions”

The Landlocked Sessions were recordings made in 1969/1970 after the Beach Boys left Capitol records and signed on to the Warner/Reprise roster.  The Boys’ new label rejected these recordings, feeling they did not capture the group at their best (in a purely commercial sense).  So fans miss out on great quirky tracks like “Loop De Loop,” “I Just Got My Pay,” “San Miguel,” “Suzie Cincinnati,” and the gorgeous Dennis Wilson penned gem “Lady.”  Some tracks would appear on later albums Surf’s Up and Holland (check out the great version of “Big Sur” or the 5 minute “Till I Die”).  In response to major label demands, the Beach Boys fired back by releasing the masterful Sunflower in 1970, followed by 71’s classic Surf’s Up.  These records were special not only for their quality but because they represented a creative rebirth of sorts – the material on hand was excellent, abundant and cutting edge.  Landlocked is the very beginnings of this early 70s renaissance.  Much of it has never been officially released but it’s all great stuff that’s worth hearing.

Copies (bootlegs) of Landlocked are usually coupled with another unreleased Beach Boy’s album, Adult Child.  Also, some bootlegs of Landlocked include the glorious Brian Wilson penned “Soulful Old Man Sunshine.”  This track was cut in 1969 and eventually/officially released on 1998’s Endless Harmony.  Its unique brass arrangement gives it a blue-eyed soul sound.

It always amazes me how many great unreleased recordings and false starts the Beach Boys had during their heyday.  Their outtakes and unreleased albums are better than most groups’ best material.

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“San Miguel”

Timebox “Beggin'”

You could say Timebox got a pretty fair deal out of life when compared to other bands we feature here in these pages.  They had a top 40 hit with the Four Seasons’ “Beggin’,” are represented by two terrific cd reissues and their story has been told countless times by all the serious rock n roll magazines/fanzines (Record Collector, Mojo, Shindig, and Ugly Things).   Timebox’s roots lay in the Take 5, a group who came from Southport, England (near Liverpool) and featured talented drummer/guitarist/vibraphonist Peter (Ollie) Halsall.

The group’s classic lineup didn’t really stabilize until early 1968.  By that time Timebox looked something like this: Mike Patto (lead vocals), Ollie Halsall (guitar, vibes and vocals), Chris Holmes (keyboards), Clive Griffiths (bass), and John Halsey (drums).  Prior to these personnel shifts Timbox had released three 45s in 1967.  Piccadilly issued the first two 45s which were largely instrumental efforts but in the cheerful Swingin’ London style.  The A-side of the first 45, “I’ll Always Love You,” was an excellent pop-soul number, similar in style to the early Action or Small Faces – in other words real mod pop.  In late 67 the group switched over to Deram and released one of the jewels in their crown, a superb cover of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” backed by the soulful acid pop of “Walking Through The Streets Of My Mind.”  Timebox’s version of “Don’t Make Promises” was rather special in that Ollie Halsall played sitar and vibes; the song was dramatically rehauled into something imaginative.  The next single was Timebox’s run at the big time.  “Beggin'” topped out at 38, their highest chart entry by some distance but it was again, a great remake of the Four Seasons classic.

By this time the Patto/Halsall songwriting partnership had began to solidify into something productive.  The group began crafting records that were both experimental but also radio friendly.  Timebox needed a hit 45 for survival.  Their next Deram release was a baroque soul pop number titled “Girl, Don’t Make Me Wait.”  While this track was respectable enough,  it was the brilliant, swirling psychedelia of the B-side that caught my attention most.  “Gone Is The Sad Man” is comparable to a really good track off the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour: dense, tripped out psych rock.  This single stiffed as did Timebox’s next two Deram releases.  The best of these were “Baked Jam Roll In Your Eye/Poor Little Heartbreaker.”  The A-side was another slice of skewed psychedelia that recounts the tale of two dozen martians who are led by Galloping Klaus (a German martian?).  It’s flip side edged comfortably toward classic rock and is a fine slice of metallic angst.

After so many failures Timebox finally broke up around 1969/1970.  Out of the ashes of Timebox came Patto, the great progressive rock outfit formed by Mike Patto and Ollie Halsall.  Timebox is usually remembered as a table setter for Patto, who would release 3 classic progressive LPs in the early 70s.  RPM’s Beggin’ (2008-) collects all Timebox’s 45s (including a rare French release) and much of the Moose On The Loose sessions.  These sessions were recorded in 1968/1969 for what would have been a projected Timebox album.  The group recorded about a dozen tracks at Morgan Studios in Willesden.  Decca heard the results and hated it.  They pulled out, leaving this unheard gem in the vaults for many years.   To my ears Moose On The Loose would have been a fascinating album, close in sound to Traffic’s self-titled 2nd LP.  There’s catchy psych pop (“Promises,” “Tree House,” and “Barnabus Swine”), effective Traffic-like forays into roots rock (“Love The Girl,” “Country Dan and City Lil,” and “Stay There”) and blazing hard rock (“Black Dog”) that point to the future direction Patto and Halsall would take with their progressive outfit.  These recordings highlight Patto’s soulful vocal approach and Ollie Halsall’s wizardry on guitar and vibes .  The Moose On The Loose tracks deliver the goods and prove once and for all that Timebox was one of England’s great lost pop groups.

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“Walking Through The Streets Of My Mind”

:D CD Anthology | 2008 | RPM | buy at amazon ]