Saturday, March 25, 2017

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 31: Margo Price live

The 31st set of exclusive vinyl items offered to Platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in March of 2017. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its Platinum members every three months.

The thirty-first Vault package featured three items by Margo Price, the Illinois-born, Nashville-based country singer whose moving debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter was released by Third Man Records one year ago today, on March 25, 2016. It’s easy to understand why Jack White’s label became the album’s distributor, because it has an authentic old-school country sound that recalls Loretta Lynn, but with a modern lyrical outlook. Price has a pretty voice that suggests vulnerability, but her brutally honest lyrics reveal the type of emotional toughness that comes from hard living.

The album has had limited commercial success – as of this writing, it has sold approximately 48,000 copies – but it has received much critical acclaim, appearing on many best-of-the-year lists. In the eyes of Third Man Records, Price rates her very own limited edition Vault package. The package contains a 7-inch single with two live-in-the-studio cuts, a 2-LP live album, and a DVD featuring a live concert at Austin City Limits. The album’s cardboard sleeve is housed in a vellum optical sleeve.

The live double-LP Live At The Hamilton in Washington, D.C. on 11/09/2016, pressed in one transparent green 180-gram disc and one white 180-gram disc, documents a concert performed by Price and her band the Pricetags in America’s capital the night after the 2016 Presidential election. Only four of the eleven songs are drawn from her album. The other tracks reveal more about Price’s musical influences, as well as those of her band.

The first side starts the concert off in an expected way with “Hands of Time”, the powerful autobiographical song that also opens the studio album. In this song, Price describes the hard life experiences that have shaped her, up until the time she recorded her self-financed album. Price follows this with an earthy and intrepid cover of Billy Joe Shaver’s 1973 outlaw country tune “Black Rose”. When she follows that song with her own “Tennessee Song”, it seems to add an extra edge to her song about hitting the road and living off the land.

The second side goes off in pleasantly surprising directions. Price’s non-album track “Paper Cowboy” deceptively begins as an old-fashioned country ballad, then turns into a sprightly honky-tonk stomp, then ends up as a slightly spacey alt-country jam. The Pricetags then cover the Meters’ funk instrumental “Yeah, You’re Right”, before Price returns to perform her B-side “Desperate and Depressed”, in which she sings about the travails of a struggling musician.

The third side opens with “Weekender”, a song Price wrote about prison while doing time herself. The other two songs are covers: Merle Haggard’s “Red Bandana” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Me And Bobby McGee”. That makes an interesting pair, since the former contains a lyrical reference to the latter. However, any female vocalist who covers “Me And Bobby McGee” risks being compared to Janis Joplin. Fortunately, Price and her band give the song a downhome country sound that helps to avoid that potential pitfall, and it works well to her advantage.

The fourth side ends the concert with two edgy honky tonk numbers: Price’s own indignant “Four Years Of Chances”, and a cover of Rodney Crowell’s “I Ain’t Living Long Like This” (another song about being in jail).

The 7-inch single, pressed in transparent blue vinyl, contains two spontaneous live-in-the-studio tracks recorded direct to acetate in the Third Man Records Blue Room. The A-side track is an original Price co-composition titled “You Told Me With Your Eyes”. It resembles a 1950’s Grand Ole Opry ballad, with Price’s aching lyrics and vocals reflecting on a bad relationship that left lasting scars, sung against a gently weeping piano-and-pedal-steel backdrop. The B-side shows her lighter side, by way of a cover of Billy Grammer’s 1959 hit song “Gotta Travel On”. This track displays the funkier side of her band, who add a Southern-fried r&b flavor to the song with their lively instrumentation. If Dolly Parton had covered this song in the ‘70’s, it might have sounded something like this rendition.

The best part of the package is the DVD Austin City Limits: Live 10/03/2016, which documents the complete concert performed by Price and her band at that place and date. The episode of Austin City Limits broadcast by PBS on January 20, 2017 featured five songs from the concert (marked with an asterisk in the track listing below). This DVD contains all 18 songs and all 80 minutes. This DVD gives Price a full star-treatment showcase, as she performs eight songs from the album, five cover songs (including “Black Rose” and “Gotta Travel On”), and four other non-album songs (including “Desperate and Depressed” and “Paper Cowboy”). In this medium, we get to see as well as hear the evidence that Price and her band are engaging performers; both the concert and the visual presentation are excellent. A new song called “Learning To Lose” is top notch; Price also works in an acoustic number titled “It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding A Horse”, written by her unknown musician friend Steven Knudson. It’s hardly surprising to hear Price cover a country rock icon like Gram Parsons (“Ooh Las Vegas”), but it is less expected to hear her cover Doug Sahm’s “I Wanna Be Your Mama Again” (at least one Texan in the audience can be seen singing along with that 1969 song) and Neil Young’s obscure ‘80’s country tune “Old Ways”. The DVD also contains a bonus interview segment conducted after the concert by executive producer Terry Lickona. It’s an illuminating 11 minutes, as Price tells of her beginnings, about her studio album (she says about 98% of the lyrics are based on her life experiences), and how she incorporates small bits of other genres into her style of traditional country. And, yes, she confirms that Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline are among her influences.

Time will tell if Price will have a prosperous career in the future, or if she is just a critic’s darling of the moment. But this Vault package certainly shows that she is a very good live performer.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The double LP has “Instant classic”, “reigning strain”, “Kris caught on”, and “Nelson Knows” carved in its respective sides. The single has “in fifteen minutes” carved in the A-side, and “I’ll Be There…” carved in the B-side.

Margo Price “Live At The Hamilton in Washington, D.C. on 11/09/2016” (Third Man TMR-432) 2017

Track Listing:


1. Hands Of Time
2. Black Rose (Billy Joe Shaver)
3. Tennessee Song


4. Paper Cowboy
5. Yeah, You’re Right
6. Desperate and Depressed


7. Weekender
8. Red Bandana (Merle Haggard)
9. Me And Bobby McGee (Kris Kristofferson)


10. Four Years Of Chances
11. I Ain’t Living Long Like This (Rodney Crowell)

Margo Price “You Told Me With Your Eyes” b/w “Gotta Travel On” (Third Man single TMR-433) 2017

a. You Told Me With Your Eyes
b. Gotta Travel On (Billy Grammer)

Margo Price “Austin City Limits: Live 10/03/2016” (Third Man DVD) 2017

Track Listing:

1. Swarmin’ (instrumental intro)
2. About To Find Out *
3. Tennessee Song
4. Learning To Lose *
5. Black Rose (Billy Joe Shaver)
6. Weekender
7. Since You Put Me Down
8. Desperate and Depressed *
9. It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding A Horse
10. Hands Of Time *
11. Four Years Of Chances
12. This Town Gets Around
13. I Wanna Be Your Mama Again (Sir Douglas Quintet)
14. Paper Cowboy
15. Hurtin’ On The Bottle *
16. Gotta Travel On (Billy Grammer)
17. Old Ways (Neil Young)
18. Ooh Las Vegas (Gram Parsons)
19. Outro / Band Exit

* Shown on Austin City Limits on January 20, 2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017

David Bowie "Bowpromo" (2017 Record Store Day special release)

As of this writing, we are still awaiting the complete official list of special releases for Record Store Day 2017. However, details of some of the releases have been reported. Two David Bowie recordings have been excavated from the vaults, and will be issued on limited edition vinyl by Parlophone. One of them, titled Cracked Actor, is a previously unreleased 3-LP set documenting a 1974 live show performed in Los Angeles. (The concert figured into a 1974 Bowie documentary film of the same title, which was never released commercially). The other Record Store Day item is a reissue of a rare 1971 promo LP called Bowpromo.

Thr RSD edition of Bowpromo is a single-sided 12-inch LP, limited to 5,000 copies, containing alternate mixes of seven Bowie songs from the early ‘70’s: five songs that were released on his classic 1971 album Hunky Dory, an outtake (“Bombers”) from that same album, and “It Ain’t Easy”, Bowie’s glam-rock rendition of Ron Davies’ blues song which was released on the 1972 Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars album.

“It Ain’t Easy” sounds the same to my ears as the Ziggy Stardust version, but the Hunky Dory songs are notably different than the versions on the album. “Oh! You Pretty Things” and especially “Eight Line Poem” have “unfinished” sounds, noticeably missing a production layer or two: the difference in the former is not significant, but the latter has a different vocal track, and has a Velvet Underground-like feel without its production sheen. On this mix of “Kooks”, Bowie’s vocals and the instrumentation both sound farther away – not necessarily a bad thing, because this version of the song has a warmer sound than the album version, and has its own Kinks-like likability. Bowie’s vocals on “Queen Bitch” also have a farther-away sound – not exactly a good thing, because he is overpowered by Mick Ronson’s guitar raunch and the song loses a bit of its attitude.

Surprisingly, the last two tracks actually sound far superior to the versions that were released. The ballad “Quicksand” has a mix that draws more attention to the orchestration and to Rick Wakeman’s piano, giving the song a whole new level of ethereal beauty. The outtake “Bombers”, which has a faster tempo than most Hunky Dory tracks, eventually turned up as a CD bonus track on the 1990 Rykodisc edition of that album. The Bowpromo mix has clearer and more appealing sound than that other version, and the added effects help Bowie’s final high note come across better at the end. A snippet of the intro from “Andy Warhol” can briefly be heard at the end.

So, why are all seven tracks crammed onto one side of this LP? The original pressing of Bowpromo dates back to 1971. It originally had no official title, although "Rough Mix" was scrawled on the plain white sleeve; "Bowpromo" was part of the matrix number imprinted in the dead wax. The disc reportedly only had 500 copies pressed, and was used to promote Bowie’s work to record labels before he was signed to RCA. The seven Bowie tracks were contained on the first side, while the second side contained five tracks by English singer/actress Dana Gillespie. These five songs turned up on Gillespie’s 1973 album Weren’t Born A Man and/or her 1994 compilation CD Andy Warhol: The Best of the Mainman Years.

It may seem exploitative to turn the disc into a strictly-Bowie title for this Record Store Day edition, but Gillespie’s tracks were not likely to be of much interest to Bowie fans, especially in America, where Gillespie is not well known. The exception would be the song “Andy Warhol”, which Bowie wrote for Gillespie. Gillespie’s version of the song is livelier and more straightforward than the odd version Bowie recorded for Hunky Dory, and the Bowpromo mix was even better, without the excessive production effects of her album version.

How were Gillespie’s other Bowpromo tracks? “Mother Don’t Be Frightened” sounded the same as her album version (which was produced by Bowie and Mick Ronson); it’s a heartfelt ballad built on piano and strings, made strong by Gillespie’s soulful vocals. The same description applies to her album version of “Never Knew”, although the Bowpromo mix sounded like a demo, with piano but no orchestration. The Bowpromo mix of “Lavender Hill” also sounds like a piano-based demo, with awkward vocals; the much-improved studio version was not heard until it was released on the Andy Warhol compilation in 1994.

David Bowie - Bowpromo

David Bowie “Bowpromo” (Parlophone) 2017

Track Listing:

1. Oh! You Pretty Things
2. Eight Line Poem
3. Kooks
4. It Ain't Easy
5. Queen Bitch
6. Quicksand
7. Bombers / Andy Warhol Intro

David Bowie & Dana Gillespie “Rough Mix” (Gem BOWPROMO 1A-1/1B-1) 1971

Track Listing:

1. Oh, You Pretty Thing/Eight Line Poem (Bowie)
2. Kooks (Bowie)
3. It Ain’t Easy (Davis)
4. Queen Bitch (Bowie)
5. Quicksand (Bowie)
6. Bomber (Bowie)
7. Mother Don’t Be Frightened (Gillespie)
8. Andy Warhol (Bowie)
9. Never Knew (Gillespie)
10. All Cut Up On You (Gillespie)
11. Lavender Hill (Gillespie)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Distractions "Kindly Leave The Stage" and "Go Dark" (2017)

The Distractions were an unjustly overlooked band from Manchester, England, who recorded only one full-length album, 1980's Nobody's Perfect, during their original run. They broke up in 1981 after failing to achieve commercial success, but there have been a number of Distractions reunions in recent years, featuring original singer Mike Finney and original guitarist Steve Perrin. A new lineup released a second Distractions album, titled The End Of The Pier, in 2012 -- 32 years after the debut album. And now, the Distractions are about to issue their third -- and, they say, final -- album, titled Kindly Leave The Stage, on May 12, 2017.

Although the album’s official release date is two months away, the album can be pre-ordered from the Occultation Recordings website. Some of the packages offered also include a 10-inch vinyl EP called Go Dark, which is limited to 250 copies. There might still be time to obtain one!

Kindly Leave The Stage was recorded over the course of three days in September of 2015. It was produced by Nick Halliwell, the head of Occultation Recordings, who also played guitar. The rhythm section consisted of Arash Torabi from Granite Shore on bass, and Ian Henderson from The Puddle on drums.

Kindly Leave The Stage lies in the same basic mellow pop vein as The End Of The Pier, but is even more laid back, suggesting that Finney and Perrin had mellowed even further with age during the few years in between. The first two tracks (“A Few Miles More” and “Last To Leave”) have just a minimum of adult-alternative vigor. The rest of the tracks have a mostly understated tone, a middle ground between American country music and indie pop. The instrumentation moves at a relaxed and deliberate pace for most of the album. Aside from one striking side trip into baroque pop territory (“Wake Up And Kiss Me Goodbye”), most of the songs are of a melancholy nature, which has always been the Distractions' forte. But where vocalist Mike Finney once came across like a heartbroken young man, he now seems to sing from the point of view of an older man who has lived and learned, and who now realizes that heartaches will eventually pass. On songs such as “The Fire” and “Nowhere”, Finney sounds calmly accepting of the fact that passion fades away over time. The latter song possibly alludes to one of the early Distractions singles, with the lyrics: “I know we used to think that time went by too slow, Now there’s nothing left to do and there’s nowhere left to go”. Finney comes on like a moody Johnny Cash on “The Connection’s Dropped Again”, whose title sounds like a modern variation on “Still It Doesn’t Ring”. The overall tone of the album does support the claim that it is meant to be the Distractions' swan song, but it is not an overly emotional goodbye. Rather, it is painted as a sad but expected part of life. When the opening track contains a line like “I haven’t felt like this since Elvis Presley died”, it would suggest that Finney and Perrin certainly do hate to see the Distractions come to its final end, but they seem grateful to have been given the opportunity to issue a proper farewell. True to its title, Kindly Leave The Stage serves as a quiet and graceful exit.

Go Dark is a 10-inch vinyl-only EP limited to 250 copies, sold only through internet orders by Occultation and the New Zealand label Fishrider Records. The three songs on Side A are Kindly Leave The Stage outtakes, recorded in September 2015. Surprisingly, those three tracks sound quite reminiscent of the original Distractions. In fact, “Nothing Lasts” was written by original member Adrian Wright, shortly before the band’s 1981 dissolution; it has a throbbing bass line that gives it a new-wave-like tension, and it brings out some of the old emotional intensity in Finney’s singing. Finney shows some of that same zest in the 18-string version of “Last To Leave”, which has a faster tempo and a fuller, more jangly guitar sound than the version on the album. An even bigger surprise comes when Perrin takes the lead vocal on the moody ‘60’s-style ballad “Skin”; he doesn’t have Finney’s soul, but Perrin’s crooning does have a haunting quality of its own.

The three songs on Side B are acoustic renditions of songs from The End Of The Pier, recorded in June 2011 by Finney, Perrin, and Halliwell. Former Spooky Tooth drummer Mike Kellie (who passed away this past January) played a bodhrán on “Too Late To Change”, giving this rendition a distinct Celtic flavor. The acoustic version of “Girl Of The Year” is equally as effective as the album version at conveying the loneliness of the title character. “Wise”, which was written by Halliwell, is sung as a duet between Finney and Perrin, making them sound like gently bickering bandmates.

If you’ve been wishing that the newer Distractions material sounded a little more like the older stuff, then the Go Dark EP may be just what you're looking for.

The Distractions "Kindly Leave The Stage" (Occultation YMIR7E1050) 2017

Track Listing:

1. A Few Miles More (Perrin)
2. Last To Leave (Perrin)
3. Talking To Myself (Perrin)
4. What The Night Does (Halliwell)
5. The Fire (Perrin/Halliwell)
6. Wake Up And Kiss me Goodbye (Perrin/Halliwell)
7. Nowhere (Perrin)
8. The Connection's Dropped Again (Halliwell)
9. Tell Them I'm Not Here (Perrin)
10. The End Of The Pier (Halliwell)

The Distractions "Go Dark" EP (Occultation YMIR7E1051) 2017

Track Listing:

1. Last To Leave (18-string version)
2. Nothing Lasts
3. Skin
4. Too Late To Change (acoustic)
5. Girl Of The Year (acoustic)
6. Wise (acoustic)

Monday, February 27, 2017

INXS B-sides and rarities 1980 - 2012

As an adjunct to my INXS rarity reviews page, I’ve put together a YouTube playlist of even more obscure INXS songs, spanning their entire recording career from their first single in 1980 to their apparent last recording in 2012. Most of these songs were B-sides to the band’s singles. The surprising thing is that many of these songs did not feature their late frontman Michael Hutchence – not necessarily because they were recorded after his death, because 32 of these 37 tracks were recorded before Hutchence’s 1997 passing. Many of INXS’ little-known B-sides were written, produced, and performed by one member of the band. Some were instrumentals, while others featured vocals by band members who usually did not sing the lead.

Beneath the embedded playlist below, I’ve written short explanations for each track. I hope you enjoy this playlist as much as I do.

1. Simple Simon (1980) -- The A-side of the first INXS single, released in Australia the same year as the band's self-titled debut album (which did not include this single's two tracks). It has the sort of Joe Jackson-like new wave sound that dominated that album. It’s a good, fast-moving song to start off a recording career with.

2. We Are The Vegetables (1980) -- The B-side to "Simple Simon". A decent two-minute hard rock song infused with the punk attitude.

3. Scratch (1980) -- The B-side to the single "Just Keep Walking". An adequate song that would have fit in well on the first album.

4. Lacavocal (1981) -- The B-side of the 1981 Australian single "Stay Young" is a mellow electronic instrumental version of that song. A good piece of experimentation.

5. The Loved One (1981) -- The A-side of another early non-LP single. Remake of a 1966 song by the Loved Ones, which INXS later remade again on the 1987 Kick album. Not exactly as primitive as the Loved Ones' original, but not as posh as the Kick version.

6. The Unloved One (1981) -- Pointlessly strange, jazzy instrumental B-side to "The Loved One". It doesn't go anywhere.

7. Prehistoria (1981) -- The B-side of the "Underneath The Colours" single. A better, more atmospheric instrumental experiment.

8. Phantim Of The Opera (1982) -- One of two B-side tracks for the single "The One Thing". Written and produced by Tim Farris, the track places recordings of film dialogue and operatic voices on top of a languid instrumental groove.

9. Space Shuttle (1982) -- The other B-side track from "The One Thing", an odd Talking Heads-like recording. Andrew Farris is rumored to have contributed some vocals to the track; there is also a female present.

10. Go West (1982) -- The B-side of the Australian "Don't Change" single. Not the Village People song, but a fairly straightforward rock ballad that is unlike most other INXS songs.

11. The Sax Thing (1983) -- A B-side for the single "To Look At You". An old-fashioned jazz instrumental written and produced by Kirk Pengilly. Good stuff, though not very INXS-like.

12. You Never Used To Cry (1983) -- Written, produced and sung by drummer Jon Farris, this song appeared on an Australian limited-edition two-single set with "To Look At You". It's an oddball doo-wop number, apparently recorded with no other instruments besides drums. This song was used in the 1984 film No Small Affair, which was the film debut of actor Jon Cryer.

13. Long In Tooth (1982) -- B-side of the U.S. "Don't Change" single. A mellow synth-pop song with a xylophone.

14. Any Day But Sunday (1983) -- Another song written by Tim Farris, who also talk-sang it. A wispy dance-club number, nothing more. This was also used in the movie No Small Affair.

15. Mechanical (1984) -- B-side for the single "I Send A Message". A pointless synth-pop experiment, "mechanical" indeed.

16. The Harbour (1984) -- The B-side of "Dancing On The Jetty". An ambient piece with Eastern-style instrumentation and sea sound effects. Very unusual for INXS, but it's nice and serene.

17. Merry Christmas (1984) -- A fan-club-only 7-inch single, sung by Kirk Pengilly. A very '80's holiday song, with electronic bells and slickly produced guitar strumming.

18. I'm Over You (1985) -- B-side to "This Time". Likable enough mid-tempo synth-pop.

19. Six Knots (1986) -- On the B-side of "Kiss The Dirt (Falling Down The Mountain)". A one-minute trifle, written, produced, and sung by Kirk Pengilly.

20. Begotten (1986) -- A jazz instrumental number, written and performed by Pengilly. Pleasant and relaxing.

21. I'm Coming Home (1987) -- B-side of "Need You Tonight". Amusing dance club track composed by Tim Farriss, who presumably provides the filtered diabolical talk-singing.

22. On The Rocks (1987) -- B-side of "Devil Inside". Another likable jazz instrumental from Pengilly.

23. Move On (1987) -- B-side track on the U.S. 12-inch single and Japanese CD-single "Never Tear Us Apart". A good Hutchence-sung track that would have fit in well on Kick or X.

24. Everybody Wants U Tonight (1990) -- B-side of "Suicide Blonde". Five minutes of electronic noodling and doodling. It sounds more like Hutchence's 1989 Max Q side project than like INXS.

25. Soothe Me (1990) -- B-side of "Bitter Tears". A fun song sung by Andrew Farriss, who sounds like he's mimicking Hutchence.

26. The Other Side (1990) -- B-side of "By My Side" and the "Bitter Tears" CD single. Sort of an electronic classical instrumental by Kirk Pengilly, dominated by an organ sound.

27. It Ain't Easy (1992) -- B-side track from "Heaven Sent" CD-single. A slinky track co-sung by Hutchence and Andrew Farriss.

28. 11th Revolution (1992) -- B-side track from "Heaven Sent" CD-single. A decent hard-rock instrumental.

29. Deepest Red (1992) -- B-side track from "Heaven Sent" and "Not Enough Time" CD-singles. An album-worthy Hutchence-sung track.

30. Ptar Speaks (1992) -- B-side track from U.K. "Baby Don't Cry" CD-single. A bizarre semi-instrumental creation by Kirk Pengilly.

31. Questions (Instrumental) (1992) -- B-side of "Baby Don't Cry". Longish instrumental version of the short lead-off track from Welcome To Wherever You Are. Good track with a noticeably Eastern influence.

32. Firma Terror (1992) -- B-side track from the U.S. "Not Enough Time" CD single. Sung by bassist Garry Gary Beers, it's the type of tense social commentary that the Clash might have recorded if they were still around in '92.

33. I Get Up (2003) -- A-side of an Australian single, the only studio recording INXS made with singer Jon Stevens (formerly of Noiseworks), who was the first official INXS lead singer after Michael Hutchence's death in 1997. It's an enjoyable song that resembles something from the Listen Like Thieves era. Stevens sang it the same basic way Hutchence probably would have, although he was not an exact soundalike.

34. Easy Easy (2005) -- Sung by JD Fortune, who became the lead singer of INXS after winning on the TV reality show Rock Star: INXS. At the end of the series' final episode, the song "Easy Easy" was introduced as the intended first single from the upcoming album. However, "Easy Easy" never appeared as a single, or even as a track on the subsequent Switch album! It's hard to figure why, because the song has an authentic INXS groove, and Fortune's lead vocal uncannily recalls Hutchence.

35. Let's Ride (2005) -- Another song sung by JD Fortune. It is not included on most versions of the Switch album, but is available on iTunes as a bonus track. This one recalls the X album era, although Fortune's mimicry of Hutchence is less obvious this time. (This track is not to be confused with "Let It Ride", from the 2004 EP Bang The Drum).

36. Tiny Summer (2012) -- During their final 14 months in 2011 and 2012, INXS replaced Fortune with a Northern Irish singer named Ciaran Gribbin, who has also collaborated with Madonna and Snow Patrol. Gribbin had hoped to record new material with INXS, but the band unexpectedly called it quits in November 2012. This demo suggested a U2-like musical direction; Gribbin's vocals resemble Bono's more than Hutchence's.

37. We Are United (live) (2012) -- The only INXS song properly released with Ciaran Gribbin on lead vocals, and it may be their recording swan song. It was written by Gribbin and Andrew Farriss to celebrate Australia Day. It was available by download only on iTunes Australia and the Petrol Electric website. Gribbin proved to be a likable frontman; in this live performance video, he comes on a bit like JD Fortune!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Feelies "Uncovered" (2016 Record Store Day EP)

The Feelies are about to release a new album on February 24th, titled In Between, on Bar/None Records. This is certainly big news for followers of the New Jersey indie-rock band, whose albums are few and far between. In Between is only the sixth full-length Feelies album to be released since 1980 (the year of their debut LP Crazy Rhythms), and it is their first album in six years, since they issued Here Before in 2011 – after a two-decade hiatus.

Although it has been six years since their last full-length album, the Feelies did issue a four-song EP titled Uncovered for Record Store Day 2016. Limited to 1,200 copies, the 12-inch, 45 rpm vinyl EP contained covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, the Doors, and Patti Smith. It’s a decent little record that delivers exactly what it promises, rendering the four covered songs through the Feelies’ guitar-based garage rock sensibilities. Glenn Mercer’s vocals sound less restrained on this EP than on most Feelies album tracks, suggesting that playing the songs of his influences tends to bring out his more intense side.

The EP begins with their cover of Bob Dylan’s “Seven Days”, which has the kind of guitar jangle that the Byrds might have given to the song – that is, if the Byrds had recorded a rendition of the song in a garage. The cover of Neil Young’s “Barstool Blues” is appropriately raw and ragged, with instrumentation that owes as much to the Velvet Underground as it does to Crazy Horse. Their rendition of the Doors’ “Take It As It Comes” is somewhat faithful to the original, except that it substitutes the usual Feelies second guitar in place of the original’s keyboards. The best of the four tracks is the cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot”, sung by bassist Brenda Sauter. Although Sauter’s vocals do not quite have the same haunting quality as Smith’s did on the original, this version has a power of its own, boosted further by a couple of Neil Young-like guitar bursts.

Notes: Although none of these four tracks were available commercially before they were issued on Uncovered, two of them did show up decades earlier on rare discs. “Dancing Barefoot” was on the B-side of the 1988 12-inch promo single “Away” (where Glenn Mercer was credited as the songwriter!), and on a flexi-disc included with Issue #35 of The BOB magazine. “Barstool Blues” appeared on a French two-song promo CD-single in 1990, and on the 12-inch promo single “Doin’ It Again” in 1991.

The Feelies - Uncovered

The Feelies “Uncovered” EP (Bar/None / Coyote BAR-LP-240) 2016

Track Listing:

1. Seven Days (Bob Dylan)
2. Take It As It Comes (The Doors)
3. Dancing Barefoot (Smith/Kral)
4. Barstool Blues (Neil Young)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Andrew Ridgeley “Son Of Albert” (1990)

Sadly, December 25th of 2016 truly was the “Last Christmas” for George Michael. One of many pop icons who passed away that year, Michael was found dead in his Oxfordshire home on Christmas Day at the age of 53. As of this writing, the cause of his death has still not been officially determined. Michael was one of Britain’s biggest music stars, achieving tremendous success as a solo performer and as one-half of Wham!, an '80's pop duo he formed with his former schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley.

And what ever happened to Andrew Ridgeley? After the breakup of Wham! in 1986, Ridgeley recorded only one solo album, titled Son Of Albert, in 1990. The album was a flop, and Ridgeley left the music business shortly after. There were rumors about a possible Wham! reunion during the years just before Michael's passing, but it never happened.

The Son Of Albert album suggests that Ridgeley would rather have been part of Def Leppard or Poison. Its sound is very un-Wham!-like, having more in common with the type of ‘80’s pop-metal that was still popular that year. By turns, Ridgeley’s vocals resembled those of Joe Elliot and Bret Michaels, and the album’s guitar sound was big and loud. Despite the huge successes that Ridgeley's former partner-in-pop had achieved at the time, there was no clear-cut audience to market this album to: its hard-rock sound was not likely to appeal to fans of Wham! or of George Michael, and fans of this type of hard rock probably had no interest due to Ridgeley’s past association.

If Ridgeley had hoped to live down his pretty-boy pop star image and convince the world that he was actually a macho hard-rocker at heart, then he had his work cut out for him, and on Son Of Albert, he didn’t cut it by a long shot. For a guy who wrote and sang head-bangin’ songs about sexy women and fast cars, Ridgeley sounds rather wimpy here, struggling with a weak singing voice that is usually drowned out by loud instrumentation and slick production. The opening track “Red Dress” features George Michael as a guest vocalist, but his presence adds nothing to a song that sounds mainly like a Def Leppard reject. And that sets the formula for most of the album’s other tracks. On “Flame”, Ridgeley attempts a sexy glam-rock vocal, and it might have worked if he wasn’t smothered in so much noisy instrumentation. “Kiss Me” is the worst of the bunch, resembling something lifted out of Poison’s dumpster. Ridgeley fares a bit better with “Mexico”, a Van Halen-like cruncher with an unexpected Latin-dance coda, and a confident Def Lep-flavored cover of the Everly Brothers’ “The Price Of Love”. The not-too-poppy ballad “Baby Jane” is a nice change of pace, but it wants better singing.

Is there anything at all here that might appeal to fans of Wham!? It’s not likely. The cover of Chic’s “Hangin’” is about as dance-poppy as the album gets, but even that track has a sludgy hard-rock sound that renders it unappealing. “Big Machine” is a slightly better pop-song-with-a-metal-edge. The six-minute “Hardcore” version of “Shake” is a dull and repetitive club mix of the album’s ineffectual second track, the sort of thing you’d expect to find on the B-side of a 12-inch single.

Son Of Albert is interesting as an example of a solo album by a recording artist who tried something boldly different from what made him famous, but as a musical work, it’s expendable.

Andrew Ridgeley - Son of Albert

Andrew Ridgeley “Son Of Albert” (Columbia CK 46188) 1990

Track Listing:

1. Red Dress
2. Shake
3. The Price Of Love
4. Flame
5. Hangin’
6. Mexico
7. Big Machine
8. Kiss Me
9. Baby Jane
10. Shake (Hardcore)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Orion The Hunter (1984)

Orion The Hunter was a short-lived band led by Barry Goudreau, who was an original guitarist for Boston. Their only album was the self-titled Orion The Hunter, released in 1984. Boston lead singer Brad Delp sings background vocals on three of the tracks (“All Those Years”, “Stand Up”, and “Joanne”), and had a hand in co-writing five, but you would think his role was bigger than that. Orion’s lead singer was Fran Cosmo, who sounded similar to Delp, but with a higher vocal range. Cosmo had previously sung on Goudreau’s self-titled 1980 solo album, and later joined Boston’s lineup, performing on the albums Walk On (1994) and Corporate America (2002). The quartet was rounded out by bassist Bruce Smith and former Heart drummer Michael De Rosier.

Orion The Hunter was cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned solo album by Goudreau, which sounded so Boston-like that it was hard to believe Tom Scholz was not involved with it. Orion The Hunter is just a shade less Boston-like than that album, with a tad less technical sophistication than the better-known band but with no less musical skill on display, offering melodic arena-rock that is nearly equal to that of the first two Boston albums. Goudreau produced the album, and co-wrote eight of the nine songs with Cosmo. “So You Ran” has the most immediate pop appeal, and was a minor radio hit, but “All Those Years”, “Dreamin’”, and the power pop number “Too Much In Love” are almost as good. “Stand Up” has a Jefferson Starship feel, with phasing and sound effects; “Fast Talk” uses some effects as well, but has plenty of hard rock energy. “Dark And Stormy” resembles too much of its decade’s pop-metal, but “Joanne” is a better ballad, co-written and co-sung by Cosmo and Delp. The excited “I Call It Love” gives the album a strong finish.

Any fan of Boston who has not acquired Orion The Hunter is advised to search it out. If you’ve ever wished that an additional Boston album had been recorded during the stretch between Don’t Look Back (1978) and Third Stage (1986), then Orion The Hunter is the second-closest thing you’ll find besides Goudreau’s solo album.

Orion the Hunter - Orion the Hunter

Orion The Hunter “Orion The Hunter” (Portrait BFR 39239) 1984

Track Listing:

1. All Those Years – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp)
2. So You Ran – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
3. Dreamin’ – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
4. Dark And Stormy – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
5. Stand Up – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
6. Fast Talk – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp/Percy)
7. Too Much In Love – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp)
8. Joanne – (Migliacco/Delp/Smith)
9. I Call It Love – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp)

See also RTZ (Return To Zero) .

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Distractions “And Then There’s…” EP (1981)

Great news for the lucky few of us who know of the existence of the Distractions, the Manchester band who recorded only one album in 1980, titled Nobody’s Perfect, before disbanding and being unjustly forgotten. Those of us in the know are aware that the Distractions – led by original singer Mike Finney and original guitarist Steve Perrin – eventually reunited and released a second album titled The End Of The Pier in 2012 – a whole 32 years after their long-lost treasure of a debut album. Now, a third and reportedly final Distractions album – titled Kindly Leave The Stage – has been completed, and is scheduled for release this spring. Also, a much-delayed box set titled Parabolically Yours – which hopefully will contain the tracks from the Nobody’s Perfect album – is now scheduled to be released this summer by the U.K. Hidden Masters label.

After the Nobody’s Perfect album proved to be a commercial failure in 1980, the Distractions were dropped from Island Records, reportedly in favor of a promising young Irish quartet called U2. Original guitarist Steve Perrin left the band, and was replaced by ex-Ludus guitarist Arthur Kadmon. The Distractions were on their last legs, but they did record one more EP titled And Then There’s… This 3-song, 7-inch EP was distributed independently by Rough Trade in 1981.

On this EP, hints of ska and reggae were added to the Distractions' brand of ‘60’s-influenced pop. The guitar and drums exude island-style rhythms, as do the horns on the Kadmon-penned “Ghost Of A Chance”. Although the songs are still not exactly uplifting, they have a less melancholy tone than the songs on the album, with slightly quicker tempos and less sadness suggested in Mike Finney’s vocals. In fact, it’s hard to tell for sure if “Love Is Not For Me” is meant to be sad or funny, as it takes the point of view of a man afraid to enter into a relationship for fear of experiencing real emotions. “Ghost Of A Chance” describes a fear of rejection without sounding quite as hopeless as its lyrics. And the A-side track, “Twenty Four Hours”, actually sounds quite hopeful, if not necessarily confident, that romance may be in store for its main character. How would a full-length album by this Distractions lineup have turned out? Alas, we shall never know.

The Distractions - And Then There's

Distractions “And Then There’s…” EP (Rough Trade THAT1) 1981

Track Listing:

A. Twenty Four Hours
B1. Ghost Of A Chance
B2. Love Is Not For Me