Monthly Archives: November 2010

Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3 – Northern Aggression

January 01, 1970

(Yep Roc)


Devils went down to Georgia – Virginia,
actually; and proceeded to deploy their own version of rock ‘n’ roll scorched
earth policy. Those devils would be: Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3, a/k/a guitarist
Jason Victor, drummer Linda Pitmon and bassist Dave Decastro. And the scene of
the crime would be Richmond’s
Montrose studios, where Wynn & Co. held father-son engineering team Bruce
and Adrian Olsen at gunpoint until they’d wrung every last ounce of sweat outta
the console. Small wonder the resulting album was titled Northern Aggression, which is rumored to be what some
unreconstructed rebels living below the Mason-Dixon line
still call the Civil War. That General Wynn, he means business.


Okay, dubious battle metaphors aside, the first new studio
album from Wynn and the M3 in five years does find the songwriter at his most
vital, both songwriting- and performance-wise, since the very first M3 release,
2001’s Here Come the Miracles, and
possibly since his Dream Syndicate glory days. Earlier this year when I
interviewed Wynn
(primarily about the remastered reissue of D.S. classic Medicine Show), he was clearly stoked,
saying, “I think you’re going to like the new record… I hate to do hype,
because everyone does that, but it really is the best Miracle 3 [to date], and
hopefully it’ll make it to the finish line as much as I like it now.”


With material this strong, he’s got good reason to feel that
way. The sonics are sumptuous from the get-go, with opening track “Resolution”
shuddering into view like snaky heat lines hovering over summer asphalt, the feedback-laced
thrumming rocker gradually turning widescreen in the grand psychedelic
tradition, equal parts MC5, Spacemen 3 and Echo & the Bunnymen, but
filtered through a thoroughly contemporary cranium-crunching sieve. This
then-meets-now aesthetic is a trick they pull off repeatedly: the
dreamy-yet-propulsive “No One Ever Drowns,” with its fat bottom end, resonant
guitar twang and droning mellotron, is sci-fi ‘60s surf for the 21st century; the pedal steel-powered cosmic cowboy rocker “Cloud Splitter” is like
an opening credits theme for a contemporary western noir flick; in “Colored Lights” Wynn works a kind of Dylan vocal
angle (Dylan’s influence on him as a songwriter has been evident since early
Dream Syndicate days) while the band churns up a zinging, zooming
shoegaze-worthy wall of sound.


Oh, and that noir reference
above wasn’t random; Wynn has always written for the cast of characters in his
head, and here they arrive onstage decked out in full regalia. On the one hand,
there’s the slowly-crumbling, hard-luck cat of bluesy minimalist sketch “The
Death of Donny B” (adapted from the soundtrack of late-sixties anti-drug
docudrama A Day in the Death of Donny B,
about a heroin addict in NYC), who’s depicted scrabbling and scrambling with
such palpable desperation you can nearly smell his urine-stained trousers and
his filthy rotting teeth. Then there’s the swaggering, street-smart narrator of
the edgy, funky “We Don’t Talk About It,” slinging epistles and spouting jive,
keeping one eye on the prize and the other over his shoulder. And in the brutal
“On The Mend” Wynn essentially updates the C.V. of one of his recurring protagonists
(perhaps the conflicted arsonist of the Dream Syndicate’s “Burn”?), who
recounts having perched on the edge of the abyss once upon a time but now
urges, not necessarily all that convincingly, “look into my soul, you can see
I’m on the mend.”


Also in Wynn’s lyrical toolbox are reflective reveries and
confessional interludes, and it’s this attention to thematic balance, along
with an exquisite ear for sequencing the songs, that helps elevate Northern Aggression to classic status.
Throughout, the album finds Wynn and the band firing on all cylinders on all
fronts, which either suggests that the five-year layoff between albums
recharged their studio batteries, or simply made ‘em hungry to get cracking on the songs. Probably both.


That smell in the air? Pure brimstone, my friends.


DOWNLOAD: “Resolution,” “The Death of Donny B,” “We Don’t Talk About It” FRED MILLS



Fern Knight – Castings

January 01, 1970



If you’re going to do a song cycle inspired by the way the
archetypes represented by the Tarot suffuse contemporary life, you’re not going
to use chirpy power pop or 150 bpm synth fluff to do it, right? Certainly not
if you’re Fern Knight. The Philadelphia band’s
fourth album Castings continues in
the musical vein of its previous work, fusing the haunted folk of foggy British isles and unlit castles with the dark psychedelia
and progressive rock of late ‘60s acts like King Crimson. (In fact, the band
covers “Epitaph” from Crimson’s debut album, just to underscore the debt.)


It’s the perfect setting for leader Margaret Ayres’ Tarot
tales – the melodic, mysterious tunes caress the imagery in “Cups + Wands,”
“From 0 to ∞” and “Pentacles” like soft fingers expertly handling the cards. Cellist
Ayres and violinist James Wolf weave in and out of the electric rock
arrangements with the unsettling grace of a snake moving through the grass.  On “The Eye of the Queen” and “The Poisoner,”
the combination of psychedelic guitar, wild-eyed strings and Ayers’ austere
moan is as potent as the spell cast by sirens on a sailor. An enigmatic and
beautiful record.


Poisoner,” “The Eye of the Queen,” “Long Dark Century” MICHAEL TOLAND

Pipettes – Earth Vs. The Pipettes

January 01, 1970

Dot Sounds/Fortuna Pop)


three lovely ladies made a splash a few years back with the terrific ‘50s/’60s
pop influenced debut, We Are The Pipettes.
Well, fast forward a few years and out of the original three, Gwenno, Rose and
Becki only one, Gwenno (the blond) is still around. Gone are the polka dot
dresses and as for the ‘60s sound, well , it hasn’t entirely been abandoned but
has been cast to the side for a more dance pop (think St. Etienne).


changes and a change in sound could spell disaster for most bands. However, with
a batch of terrific songs and help from producer Martin Rushent (the Human League
dude), Earth Vs. The Pipettes turns
out to be a winner. They waste no time jumping in with the bouncy “Call Me”
(siren and all) and then leap into the snappy, funky “Ain’t No Talkin'”  – and then right into the dreamy bounce of “Thank You.”


want more? Fine, because the hits keep comin’: “I Need a Little Time” could be
dance floor hit in the U.K.
(assuming they are more on the ball than American music fans) as could the
super-catchy “History.” And those are just the first 5 songs. It doesn’t stop
there; the rest of the record is just as strong, with the band slowing down
momentarily to catch their breath on the slower “I Vibe U.” Admittedly, there
isn’t a ton of variation in these tunes, but who care about variation when
you’re having this much fun! The album was originally import only but was recently picked up for US distribution via Cargo/Red Eye Distribution.


DOWNLOAD: “I Need a Little Time,”

Stooges – Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s

January 01, 1970

(Rhino Handmade)


Imagine the astonishment experienced by a Stooges fan from
the mid/late ‘80s if he were suddenly transported to 2010 and deposited
directly in front of the “S” section of a well-stocked record store. There he
would confront, among numerous Stoogeoid artifacts of contemporary vintage:


**2-CD “Collector’s
Edition” of 1969’s
The Stooges,
packaged in a 7″ x 7″ hardbound book and containing a bonus 7″ single, on

**Oversized 7-CD (w/7″
single) box
Complete Fun House Sessions (Rhino Handmade), a new (November ‘10) re-release of Handmade’s out-of-print,
limited edition box from 1999;

**the sprawling Raw
Power: Deluxe Edition, Columbia/Legacy’s
3-CD/1-DVD/1-7″ single box containing outtakes, alternate mixes, a 1973 live
recording and a documentary on the making of
Raw Power;

**a remastered edition
of Iggy Pop & James Williamson’s 1977 post-Stooges effort
Kill City, on Alive/Bomp!


And that’s just the most recent titles; still in print are
the 2-CD expanded versions of the first two Stooges albums, the “Iggy remix” of
Raw Power and the officially
sanctioned Heavy Liquid box of
outtakes and live material – most of which appeared in just the last half-decade
or so. Clearly, somebody out there has ascertained that there is a demand for all
things Iggy & the Stooges, and it’s not just because the band finally got
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, or because Williamson and Iggy
reconnected after the passing of Ron Asheton and resumed touring as the


Our friend from the past would indeed be impressed, because
while the ‘80s saw some considerable action in the Stooges archival world, what
with bootleggers cranking out assorted illicit goods and European labels such
as France’s Revenge label issuing semi-legit titles (many of them with
overlapping content culled from heavily-traded tapes of Raw Power and Kill City sessions), there was never much consistency in terms of sonic quality and
attention to annotation. A colored vinyl LP of Raw Power outtakes is nice enough, but serious collectors insist on
also knowing the material’s provenance, details frequently in short supply back
in the ‘80s, as anyone who ever bought one of the platters only to learn it was
a repro of one they’d bought earlier will ruefully tell you.


The latest entry into the archival canon is Have Some Fun: Live at Ungano’s, another
smartly-conceived release from Rhino Handmade. (The Complete Fun House Sessions reissue mentioned above was released concurrently
by Handmade, and if you didn’t pick it up the first time around and
subsequently watched prices skyrocket on eBay, now’s your chance.)  Ungano’s is relatively brief, clocking in at just under 40 minutes, and the sound
quality of the audience recording could charitably be described as “bootleg
worthy”; the ’73 show included with the “Deluxe Edition” of Raw Power mentioned above is probably a
“7” compared to this set’s “5” in terms of audio ratings. Stooges collectors,
though, already versed in what’s in circulation, are probably very forgiving in
that respect. Plus, it’s an incendiary performance, by any measure well-worth
dialing in to. Purists will want to know that the lineup at the time was a
unique Stooges ensemble as well, one rarely documented on bootlegs in the past:
Iggy and Ron and Scott Asheton, of course, plus sax man Steve Mackay, new
bassist Zeke Zettner (a former roadie for the band who replaced original
bassist Dave Alexander), and additional guitarist Bill Cheatham.


As liner notesman Lenny Kaye, who was in attendance during
the Stooges August 18-20, 1970, residency at tiny NYC dive Ungano’s, points
out, the show was “as uncompromising and adrenalin-drenched a set as the band –
ever a band, especially since this concert docudrama allows the instruments
much time to interplay while the Ig wanders the crowd – had yet delivered.”


The disc opens with “Going to Ungano’s,” a couple of
minutes’ worth of rambling testimonials offered, apparently, by fans on the
street headed to the venue. Then it’s headlong into the bulk of Fun House, released a month earlier by
Elektra, performed start-to-finish, with the only real deviation being a
flip-flop of “Loose” and “Down On the Street.” It’s pretty ferocious stuff; the
latter song manifests itself as an early peak, with Scott Asheton’s thuggish
drumming powering the machine and Iggy commanding the stage like the proverbial
streetwalkin’ cheetah. Hold that thought: by the time “Dirt” cues up, Iggy’s veering
from a gasp to a sneer, a croon to a snarl, more animalistic than ever, Ron
Asheton unleashing unholy peals of guitar behind him in an erotic dance of
fretboard and voice. The chaos gene begins to kick in around the time of “1970”
as Mackay enters the fray, his unhinged honking mirrored by Iggy’s unintelligible
shrieks and gurgles. Next is “Funhouse,” which duly segues (possibly due to a
judicious tape edit) into “Have Some Fun”/”My Dream Is Dead,” an 11-minute
freeform orgy of sax/guitar dissonance subbing for the studio-born “L.A.
Blues,” and it’s about as skronkerific as any long-suffering Stooges fan could
ask for, from Scott Asheton’s modified/mangled Bo Diddley beat and the churning
Ron Asheton-Bill Cheatham guitars to Mackay’s squawks and blats (which actually
drown out the guitars in most places) and Iggy’s extemporaneous rants that
finally get snuffed out with about 4 minutes to go.


Exhaustion or exhilaration on the part of the vocalist? Who
knows; one imagines Iggy spread eagled and flat on his face in the middle of
the dance floor at this point, patron standing in a circle around him, gaping.


Ungano’s comes
housed in a 5″ x 6″ hinged box and includes a fold-out poster with a photo of
Iggy flipping twin birds on one side and Kaye’s colorful liner notes on the
other. Also tucked into the package is a repro of the original August 1970
newspaper ad for the club plus two black and white snapshots of a shirtless,
dog collar-clad, mic-wielding Iggy crawling around in the middle of the
audience. That spread-eagled mental image might not be all that different from
what actually happened…


What else is in the vaults? If the past couple of years is
any indication, hopefully plenty.


On the Street,” “Dirt” FRED MILLS







Giant Sand – Blurry Blue Mountain

January 01, 1970

(Fire Records


The über-prolific recording/releasing machine that is Giant
Sand mainman Howe Gelb rolls on. Over the past year he’s issued several records
under his own name, including a flamenco guitar album called Alegrias (read our interview with Gelb
about that project here) and the brand-new, pay-what-you-want download-only Melted Wires (details here). Meanwhile,
he and his new label, Fire Records, have embarked upon an ambitious
remaster/reissue program
that started this fall with Giant Sand’s 1985 debut Valley Of Rain plus 1986’s Ballad of A Thin Line Man and 1988’s Storm, the plan being to ultimately
reissue 30 Sand/Gelb-related titles before the end of 2011.


In the middle of all this, then, arrives a fresh Giant Sand
release, although it’s hardly just another entry in a bulging Gelb discography
that stretches back nearly three decades. In fact, at the risk of slipping into
journalistic hyperbole, it’s the strongest and most cohesive GS album since
2000’s masterful Chore of Enchantment,
and before that, 1992’s blazing epic Center
of the Universe
, the title that helped bring Gelb to the attention of the
flannel-clad denizens of the then-exploding alterna-nation. You can ascribe the
aesthetic success of Blurry Blue Mountain to a number of things, from the actual tunes (featuring some of Gelb’s most
directly affecting lyrics in years, plus wonderfully fleshed-out arrangements)
and their sequencing (which deftly balances the yin/yang of rockers and
ballads, guitar-centric numbers and piano-based ones, to craft an aural journey
of sorts); to the overall recording quality and the performances themselves.


The album was cut mostly in Denmark with Gelb’s Danish group
of musicians – Thøger T. Lund on bass, Peter Dombernowsky on drums, Anders
Pedersen on slide and steel guitars and Nikolaj Heyman on guitar, plus Lonna
Kelley on guest vocals – all clearly at home and in their element, playing with
a mixture of relaxed determination and Gelb-approved free-wheeling abandon.
These performances contain a palpable spark and spontaneity – check how the
funky, bluesy “Brand New Swamp Thing,” slips through alternate-dimension-like
changes while retaining a definable, irresistible groove – yet it’s clear that
no one assembled in the studio did so with the expectations of zipping through
a few takes then calling things “a wrap.” Gelb, abetted by co-producer/engineer
Kent Olsen, got everyone to zero in on the material’s core, which is
essentially a freeing exercise, and in doing so, bestowed implicit permission
to the musicians to stretch their creative wings as they orbited the core. And
yes, that’s a kind of vague concept to put down on the printed page, but it’s
the best way I know to highlight the notion of a record’s “vibe.” If there’s
one thing about Giant Sand records, it’s that each has its own specific vibe. Blurry Blue Mountain‘s shimmers and
shivers in the best possible way.


It’s also quintessential Gelb, who meditates at length upon
the vicissitudes, good and bad, of getting older and how that changes one’s
perspective in both subtle and profound ways. Right from the get-go, with
opening track “Fields of Green,” he sings about transitioning into his fifties
and expresses amazement over how he’s sometimes viewed now by younger musicians
(“They’ve been killing off all my heroes since I was 17… the bleeding
trailblazers… Now I’m approached by those in need of reminder, confusing me
with path finder…”). This theme resurfaces several times over the course of the
album, such as in “Erosion” in which the “reaper” checks in to see “how you’re
holdin’ on/ and how much of you is already gone”), although it’s
counterbalanced by a series of testimonials about how finding and holding on to
a true love is what nurtures the soul, and how love and family are what
ultimately count. “Now kiss your girl/ Like it’s the last time/ Now kiss your
kid/ Like it’s the last time,” is the timely message in “The Last One,” while in
“Spellbound” Gelb utters one of his most memorable, and timeless, lines ever: “When
you’re in love with a beautiful woman… there inside her whisper is a lyric that
can’t be forgotten.”


As is the songwriter’s habit, little musical flourishes and
lyric asides dot the songs. For example, early in “Fields of Green” he
whisper-sings into the mic, “There’s a kind of hush/ All over the world, all
over the world,” as if he’d just noticed that the gentle guitar melody he’d
been plucking out resembles the progression in the early ‘60s Herman’s Hermits
hit “There’s A Kind of Hush (All Over the World)”; elsewhere in another song, he
namechecks both Merle Haggard and Thunderclap Newman, not necessarily because
either artist is particularly relevant to the song’s narrative but possibly
because a few lines earlier he’d sung the words “underneath the thunder
clappin'”  and it seemed like a nice way
to bring some symmetry into the lyrics. If you’re a longtime Gelb watcher, it’s
odd and serendipitous moments like this that add to the overall delight.


It doesn’t hurt, either, that the songs, already strong,
grow stronger with each successive listen. Among the best tracks: “Thin Line
Man,” originally a thumping garage-rock number appearing on Ballad of a Thin Line Man, is here
remade into a psychedelic spaghetti western epic; “Chunk of Coal,” with its
Floyd Cramer-like piano line, is honky-tonk-worthy country jazz; “Better Man
Than Me” picks up a similar thread as “Thin Line Man,” a churning, throbbing
slice of noirish space rock featuring a ferocious guitar duel; and 7 ½ minute “Monk’s
Mountain,” with its twangy, tremolo-flecked riffs, undulating boxcar rhythm and
part-muttered, part-crooned vocals, is an eleventh-hour entry for Year’s Best
Americana Song. As noted above, the sequencing of the tunes is key; at times in
the past, a Giant Sand album has been just as likely to meander as to progress,
which isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, but for Blurry Blue Mountain there’s a steady, purposeful sense of forward
motion, and like the comment about “vibe” above, it’s a perceptual thing that’s
nevertheless very much real.


“Real” it is, then, daddy-o. You’re invited to come climb
Giant Sand’s blurry blue mountain. The closer you get, the more in focus things
start to become.


Mountain,” “Thin Line Man,” “Fields of Green” FRED MILLS

Bill Leverty – Deep South

January 01, 1970

(Leverty Music)


Bill Leverty is a familiar name on the American hard rock
scene; his lead guitar work has been a crucial component of Charlotte, NC,
hitmakers FireHouse since the late ‘80s. It’s been seven years since the band
released a new studio album, however, and while FireHouse appears to still be
officially active, Leverty has busied himself in the interim with a series of
solo releases, of which Deep South is the most recent. (It was initially
released in 2009 but has subsequently gotten a more extensive national rollout
this year.)


Deep South is a
remarkable departure, in fashion, for Leverty, as it comprises traditional and
public domain tunes, the result of Leverty putting in a good deal of time
researching folk, bluegrass and old-time music and gaining a newfound
appreciation of his own musical roots. To seal the deal, he found woodcut
artwork that his grandfather, William G. Leverty, had created many years earlier;
the cover depicts a horse-drawn wagon bearing a load of cotton.


And in truth, although fans of Leverty’s FireHouse work will
find hat-tips here and there on the album – “Boll Weevil,” for example, with
its doomy minor chord progression, slashing guitars and undulating keyboards,
is definitely arena-ready – Deep South does live up to the mandate Leverty set for himself. The bluesy, anthemic
“Trouble So Hard” (previously covered by Moby) is modern in feel, yet true to
its origins, while “Run On” is delivered with class and style and can stand up
proudly alongside earlier versions by Odetta and Johnny Cash (Leverty’s
tastefully spare banjo picking is a treat, too). Another winner is “Samson And
Delilah,” which is more Gov’t Mule than Grateful Dead and boasts some searing,
cosmic cowboy lap steel. And both “Wade in the Water” and “Man of Constant
Sorrow” have their eye-opening moments too, from the former’s marriage of
gospel vocals and metal guitar to the latter’s Southern rock update of Ralph
Stanley (by way of Dan Tyminski).


O, brother Bill, where art thou? Here’s hoping for a Deep South Vol. 2, because there’s something both
cheeky and compelling about approaching traditional tunes with the intention of
giving ‘em a thoroughly modern twist. Some purists may be aghast at first
listen, but repeated spins simply reveal the inherent timelessness of the
material. Paying tribute to one’s roots doesn’t necessarily mean studiously and
reverently copying what’s come before.


On,” “Samson and Delilah,” “Wade in the Water” FRED MILLS


Cheap Time – Fantastic Explanations (and Similar Situations)

January 01, 1970

(In The Red)


Explanations (and Similar Situations)
is quite an impressive
evolution from its feral predecessor. When going back to review Cheap Time’s
self-titled debut album from ’08, after listening to their latest, I was struck
by several differences: the earlier release’s stripped-down, raw production
values, how lots of songs sounded alike, and how some reviewers had a slightly
higher opinion of it than I did. That said, Cheap
was far from awful; rather, just generic, glam-garage-punk, and fans
of the Black Lips and Jay Reatard surely embraced it, while furry-faced
garage-punkster Nobunny is known to be a big fan.


Improved production values
aside, all the songs on the new album are grabbers and the writing has matured
greatly. The music itself has shifted time periods, sounding more like the British
post-punk of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, in this case the Soft Boys’ Can of Bees album, right down to Robyn
Hitchcock’s drone-y, curdled snarl, but without the cryptic lyrics.
Singer/songwriter Jeffrey Novak’s songwriting here is now more complex and
melodic, and his vocals more confident and deliberate. The Nashville trio has
artfully transcended its sound with this album, hopefully making it their
break-out release.


FESS nearly didn’t see the light of day due to an incident at the
recording studio when the engineer cracked up and booted the band out at
gunpoint. Luckily the tapes were later recovered and the sessions finished when
top-notch producer Earle Mankey was recruited for the final mix. The record
could have been named Funtastic
, as it surely goes places the first album never dreamed of.
“Showboat” is an excellent example of how the music has transcended its earlier
small-town bar band, basic budget-rock songwriting. The thick, rich guitar work
swirls and howls in the breaks and the thumping drum beat recalls  classic rock of the early ‘70s. “I’d Rather
Be Alone” and “Waiting Too Long” really stand out as Soft Boys wannabes. You
taste a little flavor of the Kinks in “June Child” and “Lazy Days.”  Who can say if the boys will shape-shift
again for their next album, but the changes they’ve undergone for this effort
insures that all informed indie-music fans should be looking forward to it.


DOWNLOAD: “Showboat”, “Waiting Too Long.”  BARRY ST. VITUS

Nicki Minaj – Pink Friday

January 01, 1970

(Universal Motown / Young Money Entertainment)


Forget about the hit mixtapes (Beam Me Up Scotty, Barbie
) and the contributions to every hip-soul-rap-hop CD in the last four
years (Usher and Kanye at the very least). When I saw Nicki Minaj do her thing
live at a recent radio station showcase in Philly, she proved that she had
chops for days. She was mean, alluring, ferocious, and like no other rapper –
female or male – that I’ve witnessed since Missy Elliot. Add to that her
wig-switching personas and overall silliness and Minaj is quite a package.


Not a lot of that passion, aggression or oddness is on her
official label debut Pink Friday – a
pop hop charmer if ever there was. Like a haughtier Rihanna, the Sri Lanka lass
shows off her elegant vocalese atop much of Friday‘s
electro R&B fluffy stuff like “Fly” (with Rihanna as guest) and “Last
Chance” (with Natasha Bedingfield on the hooks). Those are cute tunes – just
not the cutting ones you expected, though “Roman’s Revenge” comes close
with its bitch-bashing raps and Eminem doing his “Stan” bit again. Minaj hits
it best on the bangers – the foreign intrigue of “Did It on ‘Em,” the
raucous “Blow Ya’ Mind” and the Drake take on the mirthful “Moment 4


You get a sense that Minaj wanted to break through hard to
the mainstream with this album after setting on the side for so long – and so
damn well. If she wanted to make a pop R&B hop CD that would’ve been fine
and she could’ve found more dynamic melodies to suit her subtly dramatic voice.
If she wanted to make a party rap record, she could’ve set to ballin’ and
that’d been that. Instead, Minaj did something in-between. Her prerogative, for
sure. But like Bobby Brown did long ago, she could’ve found a more potent
middle ground. Still, this is a bright Pink debut and she should be proud now. Then next week, she should start work on the
real debut we know she’s capable of.


the Best” “Did It on ‘Em,” “Muny” A.D. AMOROSI


A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio

January 01, 1970





For a musician who’s been so prolific… and so persistent…
over the past 40 years or so, there’s been surprisingly little written about
Todd Rundgren and the course of his career. So while A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio can’t be
considered a formal biography per se, it is one of the most expansive narratives
that’s been penned so far.


Written by Paul Myers — an author credited with more
obscure tomes about Long John Baldry and Barenaked Ladies – the book thoroughly
dissects Todd’s studio exploits, tossing in a generous sampling of outside
observations and intriguing insights into his studio regimen. Clearly, Rundgren’s
assertive stance and authoritative personality have occasionally left his
charges grumbling with discontent. And yet, there’s little doubt that he’s also
boosted any number of artists that were in desperate need of guidance. In fact,
if there’s been any single strand in Rundgren’s trajectory, it’s his
willingness to work with a staggering array of artists, a remarkably diverse
mesh of styles and personalities. Indeed, there’s little common ground between
XTC and Grand Funk Railroad, or Meatloaf and the New York Dolls. Yet even so,
Rundgren’s always manages to ratchet up the hooks and harness the melodies to ensure
an accessible sound.


If Rundgren’s sometimes guilty of recasting these artists in
his own image in order to make them more agreeable to the masses, he’s also the
first to plead guilty as charged. “If you know what you want, I’ll get it for
you,” he asserts. “If you don’t know what you want, I’ll do it for you.” That unrelenting
attitude underscores the book’s most dramatic revelations, and interviews with the
artists he’s produced bear witness to Todd’s sometimes testy technique. “He’s a
prick in the studio,” Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin notes somewhat sardonically.
“It’s his way or the highway… if you don’t like hearing the truth about your
own shortcomings, don’t talk to Todd. “


While such assessments seem commonplace throughout, the
pertinent details about Rundgren’s life outside the studio are given only a
cursory nod. His relationship with model Bebe Buell is mentioned only in
passing, and his crucial formative years with the Nazz, the band that served as
his springboard to success in writing, producing and performing, is given a
scant six pages. Even his stint with Ringo Starr’s All Starr Band rates nothing
more than a brief mention.


Inevitably though, those become minor complaints. The star
power packed into this book reflects a who’s who of pop music spanning the
course of more than four decades. The remarkable insights into the Rundgren
regimen suggest he’s an artist who could rightfully be considered in the same
category of genius as Brian Wilson, George Martin, Leiber and Stoller, Phil
Spector or any of the other legendary studio stalwarts who etched their sound
in pop’s pantheon.  A fascinating
narrative, A Wizard, A True Star  affirms Rundgren’s an artist for the ages.

John Lennon – The John Lennon Box Of Vision

January 01, 1970

(Box Of Vision)


Let’s face facts; you probably don’t have most of
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s collaborative projects beyond the two studio Plastic
Ono Band albums, Live Peace In Toronto, Double Fantasy and Milk And Honey. Even if you
bought the others back when they came out on vinyl it’s not likely you bought
them again on CD.


That means that several slots in the CD Storage
Book part of the hefty (12 pounds) John Lennon Box Of Vision will remain empty. But that doesn’t mean this attractive
100 dollar plus presentation isn’t worth picking up. It’s a no brainer for
hardcore collectors and Beatles fans. For everyone else it’s still a cleverly
conceived and lovingly crafted and even practical piece with a silver-inked
portrait of John on the front of the outer box and a reproduction of his
line-drawing “Baby Grand” on the back.


The most practical and maybe the best reason to
have it is the LP Artwork Book which features hi res LP size reproductions of
the covers of John’s solo albums as well as the ones he and Yoko made together.
These are much easier to read than micro-printed CD booklets but looking
through them also brings back the emotional rush of picking up a brand new
Beatle LP for the first (and sometimes the hundredth) time. Listening to an
album, a Beatles album especially, while getting lost in the cover art is an
experience that’s much missed by those who remember doing it. When CDs were
first coming onto the market and manufacturers and retailers were looking to quash
the relatively easy shoplifting of these new pocket sized recordings it’s a
mystery why record companies didn’t simply package the new media in standard
sized album covers made with an accommodating CD sized pocket.


Problem solved. In addition, these pictures,
printed on high quality paper, are beautiful. They may not carry the nostalgic
weight of those in the companion set, 2009’s The Beatles Box Of Vision, but this is one area where many of the John and Yoko
albums stand on equal ground with Lennon’s solo releases. The covers are also
reproduced behind the plastic covers of the sleeves for the actual CDs in the
CD Storage Book to make for easy sorting.


The third part of the Box Of Vision is the Catalography which features a full discography
of John’s solo and John and Yoko’s albums. The Catalography also has the album
covers and notes and guide by tax attorney and Beatle-ologist Brice Spizer.


If you have the scratch, The Lennon Box Of Vision is worth the investment
even if you aren’t a Lennon or Beatles fan. It probably won’t be in production
for long and it’s almost certain to increase in value as time goes by. If you
are a Lennon fan/collector the Box will have great practical value and, like
all things Beatles, the emotional worth will be immeasurable. RICK ALLEN