Category Archives: Reissue

A HEAP O’ FUN: Uriah Heep

Hop into the WayBack machine to 1971-72, and reconsider three key remastered reissues from Hensley, Byron, Box, and the gang. Bullets optional; more cowbell!

BY BILL KOPP

Critical consensus has not been overly kind to Uriah Heep. The British heavy progressive rockers released a string of commercially successful albums in the 1970s – and persist in greatly altered form to this very day – but they often got short shrift from tastemakers. A typical summation of the group and its work can be found in a worn and dog-eared copy of The Rolling Stone Record Guide: “A mutant version of Deep Purple, Uriah Heep has to be considered one of the worst commercially successful bands of the Seventies.” The Guide gives 11 of 14 Uriah Heep albums rated a bullet (“worthless”) while the other three each earn one star (“poor”).

I’m here to call bullshit on that. Uriah Heep hit a creative peak that extended (at least) across three albums: Look at Yourself (1971), Demons and Wizards and The Magician’s Birthday (both 1972). Scored on sincerity and profusion of imaginative melodies/riffs, that musical triptych is in fact an exemplar of the era’s hard rock.

And the albums have worn better than one might expect. Though the band’s lineup shifted often (even in the period when these records were made, there were personnel changes), at their peak Uriah Heep had a distinctive sound that was – while perhaps not quite all their own (they did sound a bit like Deep Purple) – identifiable and appealing.

Today, Look at Yourself is the least-remembered of the three records, but it’s filled with memorable hooks, and nobody could ever question the passion with which the band delivered its music. BMG’s recent expanded reissue of the album includes the original seven-cut album on the first CD, with a bonus disc full of 11 tracks – all previously unreleased – including alternate takes/mixes, leftover tracks, single edits and the like.

Even better – much better, in fact, is 1972’s Demons and Wizards. Yes, it includes the band’s most well-known tune, the pile-driving “Easy Livin’,” a number that isn’t especially representative of Uriah Heep’s sound. More typical of the group’s output in that era is “The Wizard” (not the Black Sabbath tune), a number that features David Byron’s dramatic lead vocals, Mick Box’s always inventive guitar work, Ken Hensley’s delightfully grandiloquent and often heavily distorted organ, and an arrangement that wrings every bit of theatricality out of the music. Sure, it’s easy to parody this kind of thing, focused lyrically on Tolkiensque themes yet without the occasional preciousness of, say Jon Anderson’s lyrics. Spinal Tap made a career out of poking fun at the proto-metal, proto-power balladeering of groups like Uriah Heep. But these songs rock in their own way, and are deserving of respect.

The expanded reissue of Demons and Wizards is truly a revelation. The bonus cuts are easily as good as the previously-released ones, suggesting that had Uriah Heep been so bold as to have made Demons and Wizards a double album, it would have been quite a good one. A non-LP cut, “Why” was originally the flip side of “The Wizard.” The new set includes a nearly eight-minute edit of the song that features a thunderous, corkscrew bass line that is truly a hard-rocking thing of beauty. And it’s just one of many tasty tracks on the set. Demons and Wizards would be Uriah Heep’s first Gold Award album in the USA.

And while it didn’t include a hit single on the scale of “Easy Livin’,” The Magician’s Birthday is nearly the equal of Demons and Wizards. For whatever reason, the band was firing on all cylinders in 1971 and ’72, cranking out more quality material than it had space to release. So the 2CD reissue of The Magician’s Birthday features no less than 15 bonus tracks. Most are alternate versions – which, admittedly can get a bit tiring after a while – but they’re all worthwhile. And like the other two reissue sets, it features excellent and informative liner note essays by Joel McIver, based on band interviews.

Was Uriah Heep’s music over the top? Sure; I’ll grant you that. Was it silly? Sometimes, yeah. C’mon: this is rock ‘n’ roll we’re talking about here. Was it fun? Absolutely, without a doubt. Is it still all of those things? You bet. Call it a guilty pleasure if you must – I for one wear my Heep fandom proudly – but if you value the heavier end of what would come to be known as classic rock, you need these albums in your collection. And if you only have the originals, these 2CD sets are a worthwhile upgrade/addition.

***

Bill “Lord Byron” Kopp is the BLURT Jazz Desk Editor, additionally vying this month to be our official Prog God Bureau correspondent. Submit your votes, comments, and sundry submissions to his Musoscribe music magazine blog.

REDD KROSS – Hot Issue LP (grey vinyl)

Album: Hot Issue LP

Artist: Redd Kross

Label: Bang!

Release Date: May 12, 2017

www.bangrecords.com

The Upshot: Power pop, glam, bubblegum and more on limited edition colored wax.

BY UNCLE BLURT

What would you say to a limited-to-600-copies, 150-gm./grey-vinyl-only LP from Redd Kross? Why, you’d say “Boy howdy!” without hesitating, natch. So what we have with Hot Issue is a collector’s item of a collector’s item—it was originally released a year ago on the band’s Fashion Records label, quickly sold out, and subsequently hit prices as high as a hundred bucks on eBay. Enter Spain’s Bang! Label to the reissue with the limited edition at hand.

What does it sound like? Who cares! You’re too busy scrambling to find a copy before Bang!’s iteration disappears! Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you to close the other tabs on your browser… Meanwhile, let’s just note that the 12 songs here are dated as having been “recorded in Hollywood between 1980-2007” but we are advised that most date from the mid/late ‘90s. Highlights range from the pure glam-slam that is “Insatiable Kind” and the Beatles-meet-Plimsouls power pop of “That Girl,” to the bubblegum romp of “Puss n Boots” and the stately, Roger Manning-produced, Queen-like ballad “Born to Love You.” Diverse, eh?

Musically speaking, it’s definitely a mixed bag, with the above-mentioned standouts countered somewhat by a number of throwaways. And compared to the band’s regular releases, it’s hardly essential except for completists, hence the only 2-star rating here. But if you happen to be a never-say-die fan….

DOWNLOAD: Don’t be silly. You can’t download grey vinyl!

IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO TODAY: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Fifty years on – technically, 50 years and a week – Pepper’s still prospers.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

There’s no small risk involved in tampering with a classic, and the Beatles in particular. The Love spectacular by Cirque de Soleil aside, any attempt to enhance the Fabs’ original intents takes history down a rabbit hole where the producers’ vision threatens to supersede the Beatles’ intents with their own vision of how history should be represented

Naturally then, those concerns are magnified when it comes to a near perfect masterpiece like the immortal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rated by most as the best rock album of all time, it would be hard to improve upon, at least so far as content is concerned. Still, given the limited sound capabilities that existed in 1967, that does allow for the fact that some essential upgrade in the sonics could be effected, especially if the individual assigned the task is Giles Martin, son of George and perhaps the closest participant to the original recording sessions other than Paul and Ringo themselves.

So let’s cut to the chase. Is there a discernible difference in terms of aural enhancement? The immediate answer is yes. The sound is clearer, less muddy and far punchier than before. The little nuances offer evidence enough, from the clarity of the strings and vocal fades to the rich sheen that surrounds the instruments overall. Granted, a passive listen might not bring these differences to the fore, but with a concentrated hearing it’s quite clear.

Still, that’s not the biggest bonanza, and for the hefty price tag, one wouldn’t expect that it would be. The various takes of “Strawberry Fields Forever” spotlight the song’s evolution and Lennon’s early vocals offer an intimacy that’s far removed from the darker trappings of the finished version. Other early takes of “Penny Lane,” “A Day in the Life,” the “Sgt. Pepper’s” theme, “Good Morning, Good Morning” and all the other tracks are similarly revealing, taking the listener from skeletal origins with minimal instrumentation to the final build up that results in the songs’ finished versions. (Simply listen to Paul McCartney humming and hand clapping in an early demo of “Penny Lane” to imagine what it must have been like to actually be present for the proceedings.) It makes for a remarkable revelation, far surpassing any of the bootleg versions that have popped up over the years. It is, in fact, a coup—the world’s most famous album divvied up and dissected in a most remarkable and revealing way.

There’s more to the package, however. Far more. A hardbound coffee table book provides extraordinary commentary and insights, along with reproductions of handwritten lyrics, photos, notes and essays that provide background and context. The book itself would be well worth the price of admission, but taken in tandem with the recordings and a Blu-ray of a making-of documentary that’s rarely been seen since its first appearance 25 years ago, it’s a sumptuous package to be sure, one well worthy of the Sgt. Pepper’s pedigree.

It may have been 50 years ago, but Pepper’s still prospers.

JEAN-JACQUES PERREY – Moog Indigo LP

Album: Moog Indigo LP

Artist: Jean-Jacques Perry

Label: Vanguard

Release Date: March 03, 2017

www.vanguardrecords.com

The Upshot: On one level, a demonstration record, a document of just what can be done with Moog analog synthesizers in 1970. But it’s also a collection of impossibly catchy tunes, delivered in the most playful manner imaginable.

BY BILL KOPP

Perhaps Jean-Jacques Perrey shouldn’t be thought of in the same context as Jean-Michel Jarre, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and other early pioneers of the synthesizer-as-musical-instrument. His work wasn’t as edgy and experimental as that of those other guys. But here’s the thing: a half-century on, spinning a Perrey album is far more likely to bring a smile to the listener’s lips than most anything by those other, more “serious” artists.

On one level, Moog Indigo is a demonstration record. It’s a document of just what can be done with Moog analog synthesizers in 1970. But it’s also a collection of impossibly catchy tunes, delivered in the most playful manner imaginable. Perrey was no dour experimentalist; he made records that were fun, full stop.

The sound textures brought forth on Moog Indigo are so dated, so frozen-in-time, that it’s difficult to listen without chuckling. Wah-wah guitars about. Churchy organ lines find their way into pop tunes. Bloops and bleeps of every imaginable texture flit in and out of the mix.

Most of the dozen tracks on Moog Indigo – now lovingly reissued on 180-gram vinyl in an extra-sturdy reproduction sleeve – are originals composed specifically for the record. Perrey himself had a hand in composing about half of them. Gilbert Sigrist’s “The Rose and the Cross” is one of the few “serious” tunes on the set, so it feels a bit out of context. Yet it’s still lovely. “Cat in the Night” sounds very much like Emerson, Lake and Palmer in a particularly goofy moment; the lead synth sweeps have a distinctly Emersonian texture to them.

“Flight of the Bumblebee” has a synthesizer tone that – while inevitably annoying – exquisitely suits the song. It’s pretty clear that Perrey and his unnamed musical associates took these sessions very seriously, but also manage to have a lot of fun in the process. Listeners open to this kind of thing should appreciate their efforts. “Gossipo Perpetuo” is the strangest cut on the disc; it sounds uncannily like someone’s playing sampled male and female voices. But such technology simply didn’t exist in 1970, so it’s up to the listener to sort out what might be happening. In any case, it’s delightfully weird.

If you’ve ever seen the old comedy/variety television show Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, then you might recall those bits in which the entire cast was dancing to some way-out instrumental music, punctuated every few seconds by some freeze-frame and comedic one-liners. Well, leave the jokes out and keep the dancing going, and Moog Indigo would make a perfect soundtrack. Try it for your next party, too.

SWANS – The Great Annihilator/Drainland

Album: The Great Annihilator/Drainland

Artist: Swans

Label: Young God

Release Date: May 05, 2017

www.younggodrecords.com

The Upshot: Final Swans meets first Gira solo album in reissue coupling.

BY MICHAEL TOLAND

Originally released in 1995, The Great Annihilator was the last Swans studio album before the band’s dissolution for fifteen years. (1996’s Soundtracks For the Blind was comprised of multiple recordings from various sources and time periods.) With the regular band (leader Michael Gira and stalwarts Jarboe, Norman Westberg, Algis Kizys, Clinton Steele and Ted Parsons) joined by then-Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin, the music is at its most percussive, as might be expected with drummers as hard-hitting as Rieflin and Parsons. Yet, at the same time, the record also finds the band at its most symphonic, with sweeping arrangements combining the repetition of minimalism with the bombast of gothic expressionism. Which is a fancy way of saying Swans has refined its sense of dynamics, so the shifts from ambience to explosion feel more like natural progressions and less like shock treatments. Though the record continues the group’s drift in and out of accessibility, Gira’s love of drone and obsession with the effects of addictive personalities keep the songs from coming close to mainstream alternative. Though mostly ranging from brooding ballads like “Blood Promise” and “Killing For Company” to thundering doom rockers a la “I Am the Sun” and “Mind/Body/Light/Sound,” the record also stops off for the sarcastic social commentary of “Celebrity Lifestyle,” the ethereal wisp of “Mother’s Milk” and the primal scream of “Mother/Father.” Ambitious, varied and imaginative, The Great Annihilator is one of Swans’ very best.

While recording The Great Annihilator, Gira simultaneously worked with Jarboe and Rieflin on Drainland, his first solo album. Though the record features prominent acoustic guitars, atmospheric keyboards and percussion low in the mix, the contrast with its sibling isn’t as stark as you might think. “Low Life Form,” “If You…” and “I See Them All Lined Up” run on similar fuel as TGA, with noisy drones and Gira’s frazzled moan right up front. “Blind” and “Unreal” crank the volume and chaos levels down for a take on gothic balladry rooted in twentieth century urban tension instead of nineteenth century drama. There’s also another sore-thumb swipe at celebrity culture with the sneering “Fan Letter,” but it’s easily balanced with dark nights of the soul like “Why I Ate My Wife.” Though technically a solo album, the music could easily slide into The Great Annihilator without disruption, making this reissued coupling perfect sense.

DOWNLOAD: “I Am the Sun,” “Killing For Company,” “Why I Ate My Wife”

 

GUY DARRELL – I’ve Been Hurt: The Complete 1960s Recordings

Album: I’ve Been Hurt: The Complete 1960s Recordings

Artist: Guy Darrell

Label: Cherry Red

Release Date: March 24, 2017

www.cherryred.co.uk

The Upshot: British popster gets the anthology treatment.

TIM HINELY

Wow, I can’t even call this guy a blast from that past as that would imply that I’d heard of him before, which I hadn’t (sorry, had to come clean). Shame for me too, ‘cos he’s really good and this 28-song collection goes through all of his bands: Guy Darrell & the Midniters, GD and the Winds of Change, but most of the songs are under just his own name, plus a few as the Guy Darrell Syndicate.

His biggest hit was 1966’s “I’ve Been Hurt,” which was a cover of American beach music avatars Bill Deal and The Rondels; reissued in 1973, Darrell’s version struck gold a second time. But no matter the incarnation, the guy’s stuff is all solid, and most of it isn’t just solid but very good. Just nice rock/pop songs and if he reminded me a bit of anyone on our shores maybe a touch o’ Del Shannon, especially on dreamier cuts like “Blessed” and “My Way of Thinking.” Later on you’ll hear covers of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” plus a few numbers written by the songwriting team of Elton John and Bernie Taupen (you might have heard of them), Paul Simon and even a cover of  Dylan song (“It Take a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry”).

If you’ve yet to hear this guy check him out, an underground gem to be sure and of course longtime fans need this one as well. Go!

DOWNLOAD: “I’ve Been Hirt,” “Blessed,” “My Way of Thinking”

JOHN LEE HOOKER – Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest (LP)

Album: Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker's Finest (LP)

Artist: John Lee Hooker

Label: Vee Jay

Release Date: March 31, 2017

www.veejayrecords.net

The Upshot: Monumental and a hell of a lot of fun!

BY BILL KOPP

John Lee Hooker was one of the most important blues artists of his – or any other – generation. With a style that managed at once to be thoroughly authentic and somehow commercial, Hooker’s output has become part of the American musical lexicon.

After a stint on a smaller label, Hooker signed with Vee-Jay, for whom he recorded a substantial number of singles, including the 1962 hit “Boom Boom.” But – as best as I can tell, and I could be wrong on this – Hooker didn’t seem to have had his Vee-Jay era work compiled on an album, at least not during the time he was signed to the label.

Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest corrects that. And even if I’m wrong – even if there’s a Vee-Jay album release in the period 1955-1965 that spans this material – the vinyl LP Whisky & Wimmen is an essential compilation. In addition to excellent sound – clearly drawn from master tapes, which is never a given when we’re talking about the work of classic blues artists – the set boasts detailed annotation (who played on what, release date, chart position if any). And if that weren’t enough, a nice essay from blues historian Bill Dahl, plus some vintage photographs, rounds out a winning set packaged in a study gatefold sleeve.

The instrumental accompaniment on some of the tracks – “I Love You Honey” from 1958, for example – is delightfully loose-limbed. But that quality only adds to its appeal. Whether he’s backed by a band, or (as on several cuts) only by brother Earl on bass, John Lee Hooker delivers tour-de-force performances on vocal and guitar. The music on Whiskey & Wimmen is both historically monumental and a hell of a lot of fun. If you appreciate Hooker even a little bit, and if you own a turntable, this record should be a no-brainer purchase.

GRATEFUL DEAD – Get Shown The Light (Cornell 5/8/77)

Album: Grateful Dead

Label: Get Shown The Light (Cornell 5/8/77)

Release Date: May 05, 2017

www.rhino.com / www.dead.net

BY HAL BIENSTOCK

In 1976, the Grateful Dead returned from a more than year-long hiatus, when they didn’t tour and played only a few shows. As most people do after a lengthy vacation, they came back re-energized and ready to take on new challenges. The group was working on what would be its poppiest album to date, Terrapin Station, had a slew of new songs that would become Dead standards, and was tighter than usual from all the studio time.

All of this culminated in a legendary run of shows in May 1977, four of which are captured in a new 11-CD set Get Shown the Light, that many fans cite as being among the best they’ve ever played.  The selling point is the first commercial release of the band’s performance at Cornell University’s Barton Hall on May 8, 1977, which is also available as its own 3-CD package. This concert was one of the better sounding and more easily available shows of the pre-Internet tape trading days, so for many fans who grew up with the Dead in the ‘70s and ‘80s, it became the epitome of a what a great Dead show sounds like. To this day, it still tops many lists of the band’s best performances, although there are others who say that has as much to do with its ubiquity as its quality.

Get Shown the Light, gives each side ammunition for their argument. There’s no doubt Cornell is a great show. The version of “Morning Dew” that closes the second set is one of the Dead’s most powerful performances. Energy is high throughout and there are also excellent versions of Dead classics like “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain,” “Not Fade Away,” and “Jack Straw,” among others.

But every show in this set has equally strong highlights, from “Terrapin Station” and “The Music Never Stopped” at Boston Garden the night before Cornell to “Help on the Way/Slipknot/Franklin’s Tower,” “Comes a Time” and “Sugar Magnolia” in Buffalo the night after. All of the shows in this set could easily become a part of any Deadhead’s regular rotation. A concert in New Haven on May 5, 1977, which is often seen as a prelude to the other three shows in the box, would be a career highlight for many bands, featuring a fiery version of “Sugaree” and a gorgeous “Peggy-O.”

With this set, these four landmark shows are given the treatment they deserve. It sounds great, with separation between the instruments that allow you to hear what each member is doing and how the parts lock together. If there’s a revelation here, it’s Keith Godchaux’s piano, which I don’t remember ever hearing so clearly before.

Forty years later, with nearly every Dead show available at your fingertips, these four performances still stand out.

DOWNLOAD: “Morning Dew,” “Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain”

 

CERVERIS – Dog Eared 2LP

Album: dog eared 2LP

Artist: cerveris

Label: Azucar

Release Date: April 21, 2017

www.azucarrecords.com

The Upshot: Timeless-sounding pristine pop and indie rock revived for limited edition vinyl.

BY FRED MILLS

Tony award-winning actor Michael Cerveris (2004’s Assassins, 2016’s Fun Home) initially broke through, public image-wise, starring in Sweeny Todd and Tommy on Broadway and, later, Hedwig and the Angry Inch in London, New York, and Los Angeles. All along, though, he never abandoned his rock ambitions—the latter three plays certainly didn’t do anything to scare him off—and over the years he’s been spotted in British band Hinterlands, American outfit Lame, and Bob Mould’s “Dog and Pony Show” touring band. Most recently, he released solo album Piety and a live record, as Michael Cerveris & Loose Cattle, North of Houston: Live at 54 Below. (The latter is particularly entertaining, loose and twangy, and with a handful of choice covers, among them “Wagon Wheel” and “Pinball Wizard.” Yes, that “Pinball Wizard,” done Americana style.)

2004, however, saw his solo debut, dog eared, which went on to become a critical favorite, notching press kudos everywhere, such as at Magnet magazine, which lauded the “Anglophile balladry and fuzzbox raunch recalling Big Star and Guided By Voices in equal measure…call it sloppy art for sloppy hearts, it’s damned swell.” As produced and mixed by veteran studio whiz Adam Lasus, the album featured the performing talents of Corin Tucker, Janet Weiss, Ken Stringfellow, Steve Shelley, Norman Blake and Joe McGinty, Laura Cantrell, Anders Parker and others, so it was also a bit of an indie rock super session.

Despite all that wattage, it’s clearly Cerveris’ unique musical vision, a gorgeous, at times lush, collection of pristine pop and indie rock that hits the sonic sweet spot over and over. From the gently luminous, strings-laden “Disconnect,” which suggests Miracle Legion teaming with a chamber quartet, and the slow-burn anthemism of the Fannies’ “Can’t Feel My Soul,” with its vivid nods to Big Star and R.E.M. (it includes guests Stringfellow, Shelley, McGinty and Corin Tucker); to the strummy, hummable, giddily upbeat title track that’s powered by a memorable melody and is awash in tingly vocal harmonies (listen to it HERE at Blurt), and seven-minute closing song “Golden” which is pitched as a kind of mini-symphony very much in the vein of Brian Wilson; dog eared is indeed a masterpiece, ultimately timeless and fully justifying its reputation as a cult classic. Should Cerveris ever opt to go the perform-a-full-album touring route, there’s no question it could potentially be one of the year’s most talked-about.

For this reissue, archival label Azucar (which most recently resurrected Ken Stringfellow’s 2001 gem Touched) has pulled out all the stops, pressing it up as a 2LP/180-gram vinyl limited edition (of 400) in a gatefold sleeve. There are also bonus mono mixes of “Two Seconds” and “Disconnect,” not to mention a pair of tracks (“Eleven” and “Monkey Tennis”) that you won’t find on Spotify.

From externals to internals, a 5-out-of-5-stars release, and a must-own.

DOWNLOAD: “Can’t Feel My Soul,” “dog-eared,” “Another Time,” “Disconnect”

THE MUFFS – Happy Birthday To Me

Album: Happy Birthday to Me

Artist: Muffs

Label: Omnivore

Release Date: March 03, 2017

www.omnivorerecordings.com

 

The Upshot: 1997 gem, newly expanded, and loaded with hooks and ‘tude.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

The Muffs may have been out of the spotlight for a decade, but they’re certainly making up for lost time. They turned is an absolutely stellar reunion album in 2014, with Whoop De Doo, and have spent the past couple of years touring, making up for lost time. On top of that, Omnivore Recordings has been religiously re-releasing their earlier efforts, the latest being Happy Birthday To Me.

Originally out in 1997, the songs here hold up remarkably well two decades on. Cramming this record with more hooks than their first two efforts, this was the band’s first album without an outside producer. Turns out they did just as well on their own. On a song like “Pennywhore” (one of the catchiest tracks the band ever wrote) or “You and Your Parrot,” you can’t help but wonder why The Muffs weren’t just as big as their labelmates Green Day (to be honest Kim Shattuck had better lyrics than Billy Joe and the boys).

The re-release, like Omnivore’s earlier offerings, includes a number of previously unreleased tracks. In this case, the UK single “Pace” and half a dozen demo versions. Revisiting their back catalog, The Muffs prove once again that they should be treated like Pop Punk royalty. All hail the monarchy.

DOWNLOAD: “Pennywhore,” “Crush Me” and “You and Your Parrot”