Monthly Archives: June 2016

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE LINES AND YOUR HANDS UPON THE… Steve Gunn

Steve Gunn

A culmination and a celebration from the indie-rock maverick guitarist. Smiles not optional. Check out some video clips, below.

BY FRED MILLS

Why so serious? Thus did a great philosopher once utter. It comes to mind now, a few minutes into the latest album from indie-rock guitarist—hold that thought; some qualifications will be applied in a sec—Steve Gunn. In addition to fronting his own combo of late, Gunn, who has collaborated with the likes of Kurt Vile, Hiss Golden Messenger and Black Twig Pickers, makes it clear from the get-go that his new album is all about the joy one gets from the groove.

Indeed, the lead track on his stunning new Eyes On the Lines (Matador), “Ancient Jules,” is easily the most joyous-sounding slice of git-tar music I’ve heard since, I dunno, take your pick: “Shake Some Action,” by the Flamin’ Groovies; or “Black and White,” the dB’s; or “Takin’ Care of Business,” BTO; or even “Sugar Magnolia” by that little ol’ hippie band from the Bay Area, what was their name? (Hold that thought, too…) The tune commences with a rippling, instantly infectious modal riff from Gunn, which is quickly answered by a fuzztone-laced lick and then in turn by yet another fretboard lead, this time in a lower register. Soon enough, they’re all riffing in tandem, spiraling off momentarily then circling back to the main theme while the rhythm section choogles along reassuringly; and the listener, assuming he or she is even remotely sentient, is up and doing a little spiraling of his/her own across the room.

You’d swear the Velvet Underground had suddenly bumped into the Grateful Dead and decided to convene for a jam session in your own personal domicile.

As a rollicking celebration of rock ‘n’ roll, Eyes On the Lines hits sweet spot after sweet spot, from the extended raveup powering “Full Moon Tide” and the swampy vibe and ethereal peels of steel guitar for “The Drop” (whose sweet, tingly melody brings to mind Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”); to the intertwining acoustic guitars of “Nature Driver” and the hypnotic drones rumbling through “Park Bench Smile.” Oh, and there’s a little something called “Conditions Wild” you might find interesting as well:

Gunn, it should be noted, has built his reputation largely on the basis of his mastery of fingerstyle guitar as pioneered by the likes of John Fahey, Robbie Basho and Michael Chapman, so that “indie-rock” notation above is somewhat misleading. Too, and as suggested above, he’s cut a broad range of material to date, everything from Delta blues to free jazz to blazing psychedelia.

All that and more surface at various points on Eyes On the Lines, ultimately making the album a culmination and a celebration. Nothing but smiles from this fan.

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Steve Gunn had a number of shows recently cancelled. Consult the Matador website for the rescheduled dates as they are announced. Below, watch Gunn and his band live 3/6/16 at the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona, followed by a clip from Paris in May.

REALITY PROGRAM: The Avett Brothers

Avetts

New album True Sadness is a confessional set of songs, revealing in many ways and vulnerable in many others, and featuring a heady though straightforward sound that emphasizes the basics – acoustic guitars, bass, cello, drums and keyboards. 

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

Over the course of their career, the Avett Brothers evolved from their unassuming North Carolina origins to major label success, accompanied by a rabid following that’s made them festival staples and affirmed their populist appeal. Their much anticipated new album, True Sadness, released last week on Republic, boasts a heady though straightforward sound that emphasizes the basics – acoustic guitars, bass, cello, drums and keyboards.

Nevertheless, the band has been expanded (in addition to core members Seth and Scott Avett and bassist Bob Crawford, the group currently includes, cellist Joe Kwon, Paul Defiglia on keys, drummer Mike Marsh and fiddler/violinist Tania Elizabeth), and the sound that results is, by turns, both effusive and heartbreaking, flush with remorse and reflection.

With legendary wunderkind Rick Rubin overseeing the proceedings once again, True Sadness finds the Avetts wistful, no-frills approach further heightened by the irresistible strains of cascading choruses that seep deep into the consciousness and linger long after the last notes finally fade away. Nevertheless, there are undeniable strains of sadness seeping into this new set of songs, due in part to the severing of Seth Avett’s marriage and the travails that resulted in its wake. The evidence is apparent, not only in the title of the album, but also in the names of songs, “Divorce Separation Blues,” “No Hard Feelings” and “Victims of Life,” among them. If there’s self-pity present — and there are hints to be sure — the melodies provide adequate compensation, whether it’s in the affecting embrace of “Mama, I Don’t Believe,” the homespun sentiment of “Smithsonian” or simply the honesty and affection that pervades “I Wish I Was” and “Fisher Road To Hollywood.”

Ultimately, True Sadness is a confessional set of songs, revealing in many ways and vulnerable in many others. However, honesty has always been an inherent element in their sound, so in that sense this album’s no different.

Still, for all the joy they once seemed to celebrate, True Sadness documents the realities of life, and the need for perseverance as well as purpose.

 

THEY WERE THERE (AND THEY HAD A GOOD TIME): The Monkees

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Hey, hey, it’s The Monkees – they are back with a surprisingly strong album that successfully turns back the clock to 1967.

BY MICHAEL BERICK

There are many reasons to be dismissive of a new Monkees album. For one thing, the release is timed to celebrate the band’s 50th anniversary. Several songs are donations from well-known musicians, while other tracks incorporate material recorded in the 1960s, including one with Davy Jones, who died in 2012, singing lead. Plus, when was the last time the Monkees released a memorable album? [That would be 1968, with Head, not so coincidentally the last time the complete original lineup would record together for nearly three decades.Fanboy Ed]

However, all of this sardonic skepticism disappears once you play the album. Far from an embarrassment, Good Times!, surprisingly, is good stuff.  Released via Rhino, it is really quite an achievement that Mickey Dolenz, Peter Tork and Mike Nesmith—these 70-somethings—have made an album that exudes the same youthful joy they had in their heyday.

A good deal of credit goes to producer Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne co-founder). He has impressively crafted an album that sounds like a better-produced version of something the Monkees might have done in 1967, although (happily) without the goofy novelty numbers.

Schlesinger smartly solicited songs from musicians who are Monkees’ fans: XTC’s Andy Partridge, Weezer’s River Cuomo and Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. Partridge’s “You Bring The Summer” and Cuomo’s “She Makes Me Laugh” both help get the album off to a strong start and these fun, catchy tunes well serve Dolenz’s cheerful vocals.

Gibbard’s “Me & Magdalena” provides Nesmith a chance to contribute a quieter, more acoustic moment to Good Times!. He later teams with Dolenz for the Noel Gallagher/Paul Weller number “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster,” a swirly ditty that distills all of the Monkees’ psychedelic musical trips into 3 ½ delightful minutes. Schlesinger himself contributes “Our Own World,” which battles “Laugh” for the album’s hookiest tune (even if it taps a Sesame Street riff).

Another of Schlesinger’s major achievements is how he resurrected demos from 1967-69, added on newly recorded tracks, and made them fit seamlessly with the CD’s wholly new songs. It is a bit of shock to hear a “new” Davy Jones tune, but the Neil Diamond number “Love To Love” does feel like a classic Davy love song, along with serving as an affectionate tribute to their old bandmate. Similarly, the appearance of the late, great Harry Nilsson dueting with Dolenz (who was pals with Nilsson) on the lively Nilsson-penned title track provides a touching nod to this departed friend.

The other “new old songs” also come from the Monkees’ original stable of tunesmiths. The Jeff Barry/Jerry Levine number “Gotta Give It Time” is a little garage pop nugget and Tork gives a nice reading on a lightly trippy take of Gerry Goffin/Carole King’s “Wasn’t Born To Born,” which was made famous by the Byrds on the Easy Rider soundtrack. The Monkees’ main songwriting duo, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, are represented here too and, while their “Whatever’s Right” isn’t one of album’s resurrection jobs, it does stand as two minutes of ‘60s AM radio goodness.

Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz each contribute songs, and none are fillers. In fact, Nesmith’s “I Know What I Know” and Tork’s “Little Girl” are gentle, heartfelt love odes that add an emotional soulfulness to the album. Dolenz’s “I Was There (And I Was Told I Had A Good Time),” a co-write with Schlesinger, nicely wraps up Good Times! on a light, humorous note. While suggesting a look back to the Monkees’ glory days, the song also works more universally as a morning-after-an-epic-party tune.

This duality represents what makes Good Times! such a terrific CD. Dolenz, Tork and Nesmith have created an album that evokes those golden days when they were “Micky, Peter and Mike,” while also filling it with songs that sound good today, stripped of any nostalgic bias. [Below: Micky and Peter, currently on tour; Nesmith had a prior commitment and could not tour at this time.]

THROWING HORNS: Blurt’s Metal Roundup Pt. 666.9

Cobalt

Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Cobalt (above),  Melvins, Death Angel, Candlemass, Dust Moth, Lord Mantis, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5here for 666.6, here for 666.7 and here for 666.8—if you dare. Incidentally, following the text are links to audio and video of the bands discussed, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

As cult as cult can be, Colorado’s Cobalt records infrequently and tours even less, so the metal community can be forgiven for forgetting the duo still exists. But records like Eater of Birds and Gin are prized by fans like slivers of the true cross (and are about as rare at this point), so any new release comes with the kind of reverential anticipation usually reserved for a Tom Waits album. Slow Forever (Profound Lore), the band’s fourth LP, comes with its own black cloud – singer and founding member Phil McSorley was fired after using racist slurs in an interview, then replaced with Charlie Fell, whose own lyrics with his previous band Lord Mantis have been accused of racial insensitivity. (If you want to know the full tit-for-tat story, Google is your friend.) Regardless of one’s feelings for its creators’ past actions, the album is an exceptional piece of work. Multi-instrumentalist Erik Wunder paints an ugly picture, but not one without appeal. Thanks to a tight grasp on arrangements and just enough melody to focus the violence, he spreads the band’s doom-ridden progressive black metal over two disks with no listener fatigue. Fell brings his bloodthirsty A-game to the mic, slashing his larynx with ferocity and slotting into songs intended for McSorley as if the latter had never been present. Psychedelic, dynamic and brutal, “Hunt the Buffalo,” “Slow Forever” and the massive “King Rust” and “Final Will” smash and burn with the best extreme metal of the past decade. Expect Slow Forever to top a lot of 2016 best-of lists.

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Speaking of Lord Mantis, the band’s latest EP Nice Teeth Whore (New Density) is also the debut of its latest iteration, with Indian’s Dylan O’Toole and Will Lindsay joining Mantis’ Andrew Markuszewski and Bill Baumgardner. (The drama surrounding this particular mind-meld, which also tangentially involves Abigail Williams and the disgraced Nachtmystium, is worthy of a soap opera, but we’ll skip it – Google that shit if you gotta know.) Given that both outfits indulged in some of the most angry, hateful and nihilistic death metal ever made by anyone anywhere, it’s not a shock that the four songs here are the same, but moreso. The grinding closer “Final Division” isn’t just the key track on the EP, but practically a primer on this poisonous strain of Chi-town extreme metal.

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Undoubtedly one of the best metal acts going, Tombs follows up 2014’s masterful Savage Gold with the all-too-brief EP All Empires Fall (Relapse). The Brooklyn quintet ostensibly plays black metal, but happily incorporates wild-eyed acid doom, spooky gothic drama and Neurosis-like poundcrunch into its violent aesthetic, always layering in just enough melody to keep from being mere cacophony. Synthesist Fade Kainer adds a new touch to the band’s usual deathcrush, but it’s still visionary Mike Hill’s show via the brilliant, eccentric “Last Days of Sunlight” and “V.” Former Emperor leader Ihsahn has long used black metal merely as a jumping off point – his last album found him hitting a new peak in that regard, and his latest Arktis (Candlelight/Spinefarm) keeps that momentum going. Few artists incorporate prog and psych into extreme metal as well as this Norwegian genius – he effortlessly makes “Pressure,” “My Heart is in the North” and “Mass Darkness” sweeping, jagged, melodic, dissonant and beautiful all at once. Though it has no toes in the extreme metal pool, Canadian duo Sierra also ranges all over the map on its new EP 72 (self-released). The difference is that singer/guitarist Jason Taylor and multi-instrumentalist Robbie Carvalho (plus drummer Sam Hill) hop from 70s metal to prog to psych to folk and back within a single beautifully written, arranged and performed 22-minute song.

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The Cavern, the last album from Inter Arma, was also a single( 45-minute) song.The Richmond quintet doesn’t revisit that idea on its new record Paradise Gallows (Relapse), but it throws all its others into this 70-minute epic. IA carefully and considerately combines black metal dissonance, death metal brutality, doom metal dynamics and psychedelic sonic fuckery into lumbering constructions of artful agony and dark power. The band knows when to leaven the mood, via the ethereal arpeggios of “Nomini,” the gothic drama of “Primordial Wound,”the acoustic shimmer of “When the Earth Meets the Sky,” the prog rock majesty of “Potomac.” But that just makes the noise noisier and the loathing more potent – the eclectic journeys of the title track, “Transfiguration” and “The Summer Drones” blaze loudly with horror at humanity’s inhumanity to, well, everything. That the band hits the low points and does it in an artful way puts Inter Arma on its way to rewrite the rules of extreme metal someday. Seattle’s Dust Moth gets just as eclectic, if not as heavy on its first full-length album Scale (The Mylene Sheath). The band’s tricky blend of shimmering gauze pop, melancholy post-prog and psychedelic doom reaches full, expressive flower on the darkly flowing “Up Into Blackness,” the powerful “Corrections” and the enigmatically unwinding “Lift.”

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The Melvins don’t fit comfortably in any bag (King Buzzo’s distinctive hairstyle would stick out, for one thing) under normal circumstances, and on Basses Loaded (Ipecac) it ain’t normal circumstances. With six different bass players (including Krist Novoselic, JD Pinkus of Honky and the Butthole Surfers and Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald, who’s filling the slot on tour) aiding and abetting the bottom-challenged trio, the band traverses all over its personal heavy rock territory, from spacey doom (“Captain Come Down”) and roiling acid metal (“Phyllis Dillard”) to thick grunge (“War Pussy”) and near-pop (“Choco Plumbing”). New Zealand’s Beastwars spins its own metallic web on third LP The Death of All Things (Destroy), plunging neck-deep into a thick ooze blended from doom, sludge, psych, thrash and biker metal. Guitars and rhythms mind-meld in pursuit of massive riffs; Matt Hyde’s carnivorous vocals rain visions of worldwide apocalypse down from the thunderclouds. “Witches,” “The Devil Took Her” and the mighty “Call of the Mountain” reveal meticulous craft under the nearly overwhelming power.

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The future of doom titan Candlemass has looked uncertain for a few years, with singer Robert Lowe’s dismissal and rumors the band had no plans to record again. Clearly, though, any lingering issues have been sorted, as evidenced by  EP Death Thy Lover (Napalm), the Swedish quintet’s first record in four years and first with veteran metal singer Mats Levén. Just in time for its 30th anniversary, the band proves it hasn’t lost a jot of its touch on lumbering blasters “Sleeping Giant” and the title track. Japan’s Church of Misery also could’ve thrown in the towel after losing every member but mastermind Tatsu Mikami following 2013’s Thy Kingdom Scum. The surprising choice to replace his countrymen with Americans (metal vets all) seems to have given the serial killer-obsessed outfit new, uh, life – And Then There Were None… (Rise Above) expertly balances melody and groove with brutality and heaviness for one of the long-running quartet’s most accessible LPs.

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Miss Lava pushes its doomcrunch far out into the space/time continuum on Sonic Debris (Small Stone). The Lisbon trio swirls cosmic trippiness into ribcage-crushing doom, going from cruising speed (“Another Beast is Born”) to warp speed (“The Silent Ghost of Doom”) in a heartbeat, pausing to orbit both groovy (“Symptomatic”) and acoustically (“In a Sonic We Shall Burn”) along the way. Brontosaurus licks meet heavenly melodies, and it’s all shaken down until it burns. Dallas’ Wo Fat continues its blues-inflected, acid-soaked odyssey through the doom metal cosmos with Midnight Cometh (Ripple). The threesome’s seventh LP gets groovy (“Le Dilemme De Detenu”), rockin’ (the appropriately-titled “Riffborn”) and, most of all, smoky (“Nightcomer,” “Of Smoke and Fog”) if you know what we mean. Fresno trio Beastmaker brings together two countries’ worth of doom on its debut album Lusus Naturæ (Rise Above), drawing as much from Stateside pioneer Pentagram as from originator Black Sabbath. “Mask of Satan,” “Eyes Are Watching” and the title track do 70s heavy as well as anybody.

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Speaking of that oft-maligned decade, airbrush that Ford Econoline and strap your mane down with a headband, because La Chinga hits town with second record Freewheelin’ (Small Stone). The Vancouver trio giddily grooves up its Me Decade riff rock – while nothing here goes full-on disco (it’s not that 70s), it’s not hard to imagine booties getting shaken during “War Cry” and “Gone Gypsy.” Guitarist Ben Yardley sparks fire with tough but melodic riffs and economic solos, while bassist Carl Spackler keeps the party rolling with beer-and-reefer vocal performances. Song titles “Mother of All Snakeheads” and “White Witchy Black Magic” (that’s the chorus!) nod to a certain self-aware sense of humor, but you’ll be too busy rawking out to acknowledge it.

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Death Angel rose during the original wave of Bay Area thrash in the early 80s, but tends to be overlooked, possibly because the quintet didn’t release an album until 1987. If The Evil Divide (Nuclear Blast) is any indication, it’s also because the band doesn’t much care for the word “compromise.” Death Angel’s eighth album rarely bothers with anthemic hooks, catchy choruses or any of the commercial concessions peers like Metallica and Megadeth eventually traded in. With the exception of the incongruous lighter waver “Lost,” stalwarts Mark Osgueda (vox) and Rob Cavestany (guit) and their current cohorts thrash their fornicating brains out, spraying more squealing solos, savage singing and chuggachug guitar over the landscape than their pals have in twenty years. “The Electric Cell,” “Cause For Alarm” and “Hell to Pay” deftly mix precision strikes and blunt force trauma for old-school thrash that doesn’t sound nostalgic.

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Though it doesn’t have the history that Death Angel does, the Australia-borne/Europe-based Destroyer 666 is no spring chicken, having released its first album in 1997. Wildfire (Season of Mist), the fearsome foursome’s fifth LP and first in seven years, blends fist-pumping melody, charred vokills and whipcrack thrash into a most impressive wall of glaargh on “Live and Burn” and “Hymn to Dionysus.” Philadelphia’s Vektor is even younger, but no less accomplished. Indeed, Terminal Redux (Earache), the quartet’s third record, shows off an impressive level of sheer musicianship without compromising tonnage. Leader Daniel DiSanto’s black metal screech conveys a science fiction story of some sort, but his and Erik Nelson’s python coils-tight six-string work remains the primary attraction.

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A key influence on the early thrash bands, particularly Metallica, England’s Diamond Head has let long periods of inactivity shape its legend, so when it makes yet another comeback, it’s an event. Only the band’s seventh album since its 1979 recorded debut (the “Shoot Out the Lights” single), the quintet’s self-titled LP (Dissonance Productions) keeps the faith with its primary virtues: strong riffs, clear vocals (by Danish-born newcomer Rasmus Bom Anderson) and melodies for miles. Leader Brian Tatler still has the fleetest of fingers and a bottomless bag of licks, but it’s his dedication to hummable tunes that has made the band stand out all these years – of their peers, only Iron Maiden boasts the same devotion. “See You Rise,” “Diamonds” and “Shout at the Devil” boast catchy hooks as well as epic power,while the chugging “Our Time is Now” and “Wizard Sleeve” crank the headbanging energy while still keeping tunesmithery alive. Some might consider Diamond Head old-fashioned, but we prefer the word timeless.

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Grand Magus waves a familiar flag on Sword Songs (Nuclear Blast), the Swedish trio’s eighth album. “We are warriors,” roars singer/guitarist JB on “Varangian,” “defenders of steel!” The band continues the quest exemplified by its last LP Triumph and Power, raising its blades high and conquering all who cross its path. The macho battlelust would be ridiculous if not for Magus’ burly riffology and relentless energy – “Last One to Fall” and “Forged in Iron – Crowned in Steel” would rampage even if the lyrics were about kittens and angels. “Every Day There’s a Battle to Fight” even works up a nice lighter-waving head of steam.

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NYC legend Prong keeps blasting away from its own unique corner of the metal universe with X: No Absolutes (Steamhammer/SPV). For the most part it follows the usual Prong pattern of headbanging up 80s New Yawk hardcore – “Ultimate Authority,” “Worth Pursuing” and  “Belief System” hit as hard and deadly as ever. But attempts to make the trio’s bashcore singalong friendly on songs like “No Absolutes” lead it to resemble Helmet, while “Do Nothing” and “With Dignity” sound like attempts to slot in late 90s radio alongside Breaking Benjamin and Shinedown. Artistic development should always be encouraged, but maybe Prong should just sound like Prong. Further down the East Coast, Miami’s Wrong has more than a little Prong (and Helmet) in ‘em, thanks to hardcore-influenced breakdowns and steely chunkachunk. But on its self-titled debut (Relapse), the quartet – made up of former members of Kylesa, Torche and Capsule – also wallows in drillbit noise metal in the Unsane tradition. The combo of teeth-gritting riffcrack and grinding screeblast reaches maximum potency on the pounding “Boil” and “Stasis” and the blazing “Entourage” and  “Turn In.”

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None more black: Savannah powerhouse Black Tusk had a major obstacle to overcome on the way to releasing Pillars of Ash (Relapse) – the death of bassist/vocalist/co-founder Jonathan Athon. Fortunately for band and fans its fifth album was finished before Athon’s untimely motorcycle accident, and it’s a ripper. The trio’s distinctive blend of steely thrash and shoutalong punk – sort of a Southern re-imagining of what Prong does – sets fire to the landscape via blazers “ Beyond the Divide,” “Still Not Well” and “God’s On Vacation.” Out on the other coast, Black Cobra kicks up a sludge-covered ruckus on Imperium Simulacra (Season of Mist) that wouldn’t sound out of place in Tusk’s hometown. The San Fran duo of guitarist/vocalist Jason Landeman and drummer Rafael Martinez digs deep into rifftastic rumblers “Challenger Deep” and “Dark Shine.” Rolling out of Vancouver,

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Black Wizard goes straight for the doom jugular with New Waste (Listenable), leaving no power chord unstroked nor bong unsmoked on “Eliminator,” “Harsh Time” and “The Priest.” Though it didn’t get the chromatic memo, Red Wizard might be Black Wizard’s California cousins, and not just for being similarly inclined toward sorcery. The San Diego quintet’s debut Cosmosis (Ripple) sinks even deeper into the sticky grass of Sabbath worship – check the mighty “Temple of Tennitus” and the monstrous title tune.

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Tucson, Arizona may be best known for eccentric root rock & roll, but a darker power lurks underneath the surface. Or so it seems with North, who slowly and painfully unleash Light the Way (Prosthetic). The trio’s follow-up to its “Through Raven’s Eyes” single imagines the epic progressive doom of Neurosis as post rock, roaring hoarsely over waves of riff that are almost symphonic in their grandeur. Tunes like “Weight of All Thoughts,” “Primal Bloom” and the powerhouse “From This Soil” come off kind of like Isis as interpreted by Explosions in the Sky, all furrowed-brow power and ugly beauty. Speaking of Isis, former leader of that band Aaron Turner returns swiftly with What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey) from his new outfit Sumac. The sequel to last year’s debut The Deal, the hour-long monsterpiece pushes Turner, bassist Brian Cook (also of Russian Circles) and drummer Nick Yacyshyn (Baptists) into uglier, meaner territory – the leader in particular sounds nearly livid with rage and loathing. But the trio does it without losing the experimental edge and melodic undercurrent that Turner carries with him to all his projects. “Rigid Man” and the 18-minute, nearly overwhelming “Blackout” prove that art, atmosphere and blackened doom can mix.

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Funny how some bands find favor mainly with metal audiences, despite a relationship with the genre that’s tangential at best. Thus it is with Great Britain’s Purson. The quintet released its head-turning debut on Cathedral/With the Dead singer Lee Dorrian’s Rise Above label, which seems to have cemented its standing with headbanger audiences. Desire’s Magic Theatre (Spinefarm), the long-awaited follow-up, deftly swirls the same distinctive blend of psych rock, prog, electric folk and boogie as its prior platter, but with an even keener edge. Leader Rosalie Cunningham has clearly been honing her songcraft, and it shows on eccentric delights “Dead Dodo Down,” The Window Cleaner” and the striking single “Electric Landlady.” Toronto’s Blood Ceremony connects a bit more firmly to the metal tradition via harder rocking performances and an obsessive interest in the occult. But fourth LP Lord of Misrule (Rise Above) still portrays a band not easily categorized, with progressive rock elements (including frequent use of singer/keyboardist Alia O’Brien’s flute) and a 70s classic rock vibe that puts the heaviness on the lyrics. Regardless, “Flower Phantoms,” “Half Moon Street” and “The Devil’s Widow” rule.

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Columnist Michael Toland lives and works in Austin, TX, where he acts “somewhat suspiciously at times,” according to his Lone Star State accomplices, which include media heavy hitters The Austin Chronicle and KLRU-TV. Coincidentally or not, the BLURT editor once lived in Tucson, which is a kind of sister city to Austin, where similarly strange happenings have taken place over the years. Note that a Tucson metal band is profiled in Toland’s latest column. Perhaps the work of the Illuminati? You be the judge…. Toland can be reached at michael.toland@gmail.com.


Audio/Video:

Beastmaker – “Mask of Satan”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPGzqslFVm4

 

Beastwars – The Death of All Things bandcamp:

https://beastwars.bandcamp.com/

 

Black Cobra – Imperium Simulacra bandcamp:

https://blackcobra.bandcamp.com/album/imperium-simulacra

 

Black Tusk – Pillars of Ash bandcamp:

https://blacktusk.bandcamp.com/album/pillars-of-ash

 

Black Wizard – New Waste bandcamp:

http://blackwizard.bandcamp.com/album/new-waste

 

Candlemass – “Death Thy Lover”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKXP0RIDf6g

 

Cobalt – Slow Forever bandcamp:

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/slow-forever

 

Death Angel – “Cause For Alarm”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N0UcnswlUQ

 

Destroyer 666 Wildfire bandcamp:

https://destroyer666.bandcamp.com/album/wildfire

 

Diamond Head preview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rFmFG9b0Jjs

 

Dust Moth – Scale bandcamp:

http://dustmoth.bandcamp.com/album/scale

 

Grand Magus – “Varangian”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A_9jrowMBz0

 

Ihsahn – “Pressure”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHx2ryUzDx4

 

Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows bandcamp:

https://interarma.bandcamp.com/album/paradise-gallows-2

 

La Chinga – Freewheelin’ bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/freewheelin

 

Lord Mantis – Nice Teeth Whore preview:

https://lordmantis.bandcamp.com/

 

The Melvins – “Hideous Woman”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4w7yVR27RHA

 

Miss Lava – Sonic Debris bandcamp:

https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/sonic-debris

 

North – Light the Way bandcamp:

https://north-official.bandcamp.com/album/light-the-way

 

Prong – X: No Absolutes teaser:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HboZDhXdek

 

Purson – “Electric Landlady”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boscR_9EE5Q

 

Red Wizard – Cosmosis bandcamp:

http://ripplemusic.bandcamp.com/album/cosmosis

 

Sierra – 72 bandcamp:

https://sierrariff.bandcamp.com/album/72

 

Sumac – “Rigid Man”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIBZi7G-sSU

 

Tombs – All Empires Fall bandcamp:

https://tombsbklyn.bandcamp.com/album/all-empires-fall

 

Vektor – “Charging the Void”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4e5Jw9T5Zk

 

Wrong – “Boil”:

https://soundcloud.com/relapserecords/wrong-boil

 

TANGLED UP IN OL’ BLUE EYES: Bob Dylan

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Fallen Angels, another trip by the Bard through the great American songbook, holds up well enough, although it’s hardly ambitious and is, in places, suggestive of a songwriter putting his muse to rest. It may ultimately leave you in a melancholy mood.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It’s hard to say if Fallen Angels, Bob Dylan’s latest take on the classics, is a novelty, a vanity project or an album meant to be taken seriously. As a successor to Shadows in the Night, the collection that found him first making waves by delving into the American songbook, it holds up well, although many better songs were already mined the first time around.

Not that there’s any shortage of classics here; indeed, “Come Rain Or Come Shine,” “It Had To Be You,” “Young At Heart,” “All Or Nothing At All” and “All The Way” represent some of the best examples of post war popular fare. But then again, so did Dylan given the music he brought to the baby boomer generation via his revolutionary work of the early sixties and well beyond. So why does he vacate his throne and mire himself in the same milieu that other ageing artists like Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart, have fallen into? Maybe because he’s Dylan, and at age 75 he can basically do as he likes. Dylan will be Dylan, as odd and eccentric as he’s often prone to be.

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The better answer may be that at this phase of his career, he feels he’s said all he wants to say on his own.  True, he was still making great records as recently as the turn of the millennium and writing songs that, if they didn’t seem to boast the gravitas of a “Blowin’ In The Wind” or “Tangled Up In Blue,” still expressed weightier ambition while providing the fodder for covers and critical praise. It would be sad to think that his creative well has dried up to the point where he needs to recycle songs made famous by others, but after earlier efforts based on blues and traditional standards, it’s not out of the question to believe that that might indeed be the case. After the hundreds of songs he’s etched into the popular soundtrack of the past 55 years, is it possible that Dylan’s simply refuse to recycle himself?

Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s now at the age where being a venerable elder draws him closer to others who were once of that age, and considered artists of the ages. The fact that these songs have him emulating Frank Sinatra in particular may reflect the fact that he identifies with Sinatra in spirit, as well as intent. Granted, Bob is no Ol’ Blue Eyes. His voice is, at best, more a croak than a croon, and while he manages to carry a tune, it often seems more by suggestion than by actual enunciation. Dylan’s never been known as a polished singer of course, but Bob being Bob, his voice is an odd but effective trademark. The Dylan of Nashville Skyline with his rich, liberated vocal, may have been better suited to these songs, but both the vulnerability and lack of reserve are admirable, even if unintended.

Thankfully, its his long-time band that is really responsible for its success. Yes, Dylan chose the songs (presumably), but here he only songs, leaving the instrumental chores entirely to his band. And indeed, here again they perform like the seasoned pros they are, be it guitarists Charlie Sexton, Stu Kimball and Dean Parks’ supple sway, the steady anchor of Tony Garnier’s bass or the soft brush work that comes courtesy of drummer George Recile. Their efforts allow the arrangements to do justice to the mood as well as the music, mooting Dylan’s coarse vocals and adding the midnight ambiance so essential to the spirit and sentiment these songs evoke.

Naturally there will be those who wish Dylan would have exorcised his ambitions after only one album. They may lament the fact that the bard is either simply marking time or putting his muse to rest forever. Some may consider it a mere curiosity, and choose to ignore it until Bob gets back on his own road. And yet the real devotees will appreciate it for what it is, just another of the many side roads Dylan has followed throughout the entire course of his career, no less shocking than the aforementioned Nashville Skyline or the much maligned and now fully redeemed Self Portrait.

Love it, hate it or merely tolerate it, the once unthinkable is now a reality so it’s best to at least accept it.  In the end, Fallen Angel still finds the Bobster plotting his own course.

VALENTINE FOR ROY: Roy Buchanan

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The guitar virtuoso passed away, tragically, in 1988, but his music remains eternal. An appreciation.

BY JAMES TIGHE

I’d rather not count the years that have gone by since my crew and I used to catch Roy Buchanan and his guitar at the Crossroads in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Next door was a crab shack, and the thing to do on a Saturday night, after sitting down to a newspaper-covered table of steamed Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and pitchers of National Bohemian beer, was pile into the Crossroads to hear Roy. We saw him play there, initially on the strength of fake I.D.s, countless times.

A character by the name of Danny Denver fronted the band in those days. Besides sporting a world-class beer belly, hopeless polyester threads, and a repertoire of George Jones, Charley Pride, and Elvis Presley imitations, Danny Denver had a habit of shooting his cuff on his hand holding the microphone and surreptitiously stealing a glance at his wristwatch, anticipating the upcoming break, usually during the vocal crescendo of whatever impassioned country aria he happened to be singing. But behind him, as far out of the spotlight as he could manage, there was Roy, his shy Ozark face sprouting the dark overgrown goatee of an old-time beatnik, a smoldering cigarette fretted in the strings of his Telecaster, his Schlitz cans stacking up on the undersized amp next to him. We thought the world of him.

So did a lot of other people. Donald Kinsey, who played with Bob Marley, called Roy “the king of the flash guitar.” Jerry Garcia talked of how he went to school on Roy’s licks. Robbie Robertson said of him, “He was my first main man. His imagination on the instrument was amazing. . .” Roy briefly played in Toronto with Ronnie Hawkins’ band that included Robertson and Levon Helm and later evolved into The Band. The rumor persists to this day that when Brian Jones died, the Stones offered the job to Roy.

We knew he didn’t deserve this scene at the Crossroads. That he had already paid his dues. That Danny Denver couldn’t lift the pennies in Roy’s loafers. It was obvious to us Roy was punching a time-clock night after night, toting a Fender Telecaster instead of a lunch bucket to work. After all, he had seven children to feed. You might have to see him play half a dozen times before he’d strut his stuff. But when he did, his ringing kickoff to “Johnny B. Goode” was guaranteed to start any joint rocking. And when he launched into his own “The Messiah Will Come Again,” with its tragic, soaring, matador’s notes, everyone in the place, from the waitresses with beehive hair that Danny Denver was forever hitting on, to the weekend cowboys who’d never been west of West Virginia, looked up and wondered who was this man playing an old guitar like his life depended on it?

And maybe it did. Roy died more than twenty-five years ago at the age of 48 in a Fairfax County, Virginia, jail cell, where his death was ruled an alcohol-related suicide.

It is not unusual for artists of exceptional talent like Roy Buchanan to be engaged in a daily war to stay alive—that’s what their art is all about. Art, whether it be the blues or a novel, is a weapon—sometimes the only one an artist has to fight his or her demons. When asked by a studio musician how he could play with such fire, yet seem so calm, Roy answered, “Because I’m screaming inside.” The artist Chuck Close said of his contemporary, Robert Rauschenberg, “He’s like a shark—he has to keep swimming [creating art] or he dies.”

Booze or drugs when mistaken for allied weapons in this war for spiritual survival are a fearful choice, because in the end they can turn on you and become demons themselves, one more dragon to be slain. As Ken Kesey’s heroic character in One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chief Bromden, says of his alcoholic father, “[E]very time I see him put the bottle to his mouth he don’t suck out of it, it sucks out of him. . .”

I read of Roy’s sad death a month or so after I had returned to Washington D.C., my hometown, to work on the subway still under construction. The newspaper article mentioned a benefit for his wife and family at the old Crossroads. After work that Sunday (I was working a seven day work week) I stopped by there on my way home. The bouncer looked me up and down, saying he couldn’t let me in because it was a coat and tie affair. I was dressed in work clothes. I didn’t argue with him. I looked past him into the dark bar where the crowd and band were in full swing. I would have loved to have joined them. I gave him the cover anyway, saying I wanted to contribute a little something to Roy’s family. He thanked me and I left.

After Roy cut loose from the Crossroads way back when, I saw him play other places, other times, even upscale venues like the Kennedy Center. Years after his death his music continues to crop up in unexpected places. During the ’92 winter Olympics a Canadian figure skating couple performed their routine on television to The Messiah Will Come Again. I’ve heard his Telecaster pouring from the tape deck of a carload of teenage longhairs in a Pascagoula, Mississippi, Sonic Burger, and from the jukebox of a French Quarter bar at dusk while a Springtime flock of little unseen birds squabbled in the treetops. It does my heart good to know his music lives on.

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James Tighe is the author of Following the Water, Working the Land, a collection of outdoor articles, published by Quail Ridge Press of Brandon, Miss. He lives in Lafayette County, Miss., and can be reached at jwtighe17@gmail.com. Below, watch a complete Buchanan concert from 1985, live on Germany’s “Rockpalast” show.

RED LIPSTICK-STAINED KISS: The Cure Tour 2016

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Onstage June 8 at Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre for the smartly-titled “The Cure Tour 2016,” Robert Smith & Co. romped through the back catalogue for three hours and 31 songs of good ol’ Goth fun. Check out some video clips from the show below as well.

BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS

My struggle to see The Cure (the all-time greatest “Goth” band… The Smiths and Bauhaus can suck it) has been a long and tenuous one—whether a matter of geography, financial collapse, surgery (my Cerebral Palsy and the accompanying shit have ruined at least two of my chances), or a wife who told me no last time Bob and the boys were in town. (Now an ex-wife, it should be noted.)

Therefore, with the June 8 tour stop in Kansas City, MO, my drive was resolute, my goal was in sight and it would not be taken away from me.  For months, I contacted PR people, the venue, anyone I could reach to get me in the door.  Divorce had taken the buying a ticket option off the table so it was press clearance or ingenuity.

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Upon arrival, I discovered that the clearance was not there, not a surprise.  I would have to watch, listen, imagine from behind the black steel bars, like Johnny hearing a train rolling by but he can’t be saved; I would not be allowed to see The Promised Land.  I sat on the stone bench, smoked a cigarette, took out my notebook and wrote of my defeat.  As “Pictures of You,” “Plainsong,” and “High” travelled across the air, I sat near tears scribbling in my notebook, cursing luck, the ground, the security guards, anything within ear shot; making my exclusion from the show even bitterer.

However, it would seem that the real show was out front.  A firetruck and an ambulance parked directly in front of me, the red and blue lights flashing away in the darkness, apparently will be my only chance at a light show on this night.  It seemed someone called 911 on what was believed to be a dying homeless man (he was overheated and drank too much).  In the midst of all this chaos stood the Goth Tinkerbell, a gorgeous woman in black, makeup streaked by tears and worry, waiting for her boyfriend, pacing on a grass covered hill, clearly trying desperately to hold back tears and worried thoughts.  She told her story to security (she was openly weeping at this point), finally giving in and going to watch the concert.  I watched her walk away alone, over the hill, past the crowd, and gone.

Just as the band was laying down the first notes of “Lovesong,” the long lost boyfriend burst forth from the parking lot. Jesse, I learned, had to work, he was worried… she cried as she listened from a distance. Was she crying for her man or losing faith that she would ever see Smith.  I do not know if they found one another,r but I do have hope against hope that their story ends beautifully, not in a crash of despair and loneliness; fodder for yet another Cure song.

Then, after about 30 minutes of lamenting my fate, relegated to the outer limits, to parts so near yet so far, a saint swooped down and eased my pain.  “If you take the snacks to the car, you can go in,” I was advised. This show would be monumental in the fact that I, no Rhythm Jones, actually danced in public at a concert, and I refuse shame.  It was amazingly freeing.  I’ll probably never do it again.

The saint, the triumphant hero, the coolest security guard I’ve ever dealt with—an absolute fucking gem.

I was in, I was there.  Robert Smith in the flesh, one of the finest lyricists of my generation, was there on the stage, smiling a big red smile and singing of moonlight, spiders, identity crisis, and the urge to cry and laugh as the world burns down.

Admittedly, the set list was one of the weakest on the tour.  No “Killing an Arab,” no “Letter to Elise,” no “Friday I’m in Love.” However, I did get to experience “Kyoto Song,” “In Between Days,” and I song that I’ve loved endlessly, the fantastic “Burn” from the original soundtrack of The Crow.

The Cure were excellent, all I dreamt of. They were at the top of the game and, with a three hour, 31 song, four encore setlist, the show did feel like a joyous goodbye and a long, breathtaking red lipstick-stained farewell kiss. [Below: The Cure posted a fan-sourced montage of video clips to their YouTube channel of the Kansas City show.]

 

SETLIST

Plainsong

Pictures of You

Closedown

High

A Night Like This

In Between Days

The Last Day of Summer

Cold

Stranger Day

Lullaby

Kyoto Song

The Caterpillar

Lovesong

Just Like Heaven

2 Late

Last Dance

Prayers of Rain

Disintegration

-ENCORE-

It Can Never Be the Same

-ENCORE-

Want

Shake Dog Shake

Never Enough

Burn

-ENCORE-

A Forest

Encore

Hot Hot Hot

The Walk

Let’s Go To Bed

Close to Me

Why Can’t I be You?

Boys Don’t Cry

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GOOD GUYS FINISH FIRST: Bun E. Carlos

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The erstwhile Cheap Truck drummer talks about the origins of his stage name, a new solo album and what’s been going on between him and his estranged bandmates.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

It would be easy for Bun E. Carlos to rest on his laurels. After all, as the long-time drummer for Cheap Trick, he helped create the band’s unique stage persona and power their way to spectacular sales numbering in the hundreds of millions With his stocky frame draped in a white short sleeved shirt, loosened tie and black-rimmed glasses, Carlos—or, as he was known at birth, Brad M. Carlson—looked less like a rock musician and more a rumpled college professor.

Although Carlos is celebrating the upcoming release of Greetings From Bunezuela!, a new album comprising classic cover songs and featuring special guests Robert Pollard, Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum, Alejandro Escovedo, and Alex Dezen of the Damnwells, it’s certainly not his first venture beyond the realms of Cheap Trick. He’s played with several ensembles over the years, among them, Tinted Windows (below; featuring Hanson’s Taylor Hanson, former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, and Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger), Candy Golde (with John Stirratt of Wilco, Rick Rizzo of Eleventh Dream Day, Mark Greenburg and Nicholas Tremulis) and, most surprisingly, the band he formed in high school, a combo called The Paegans.

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Nevertheless, it’s his tempestuous relationship with his former colleagues that have grabbed the headlines in recent years. In 2013 Carlos sued the other members of Cheap Trick for his share of the band’s royalties after he was tossed from his drum kit in favor of Nielsen’s son Daxx, a scenario that found him a “technical” member of the partnership but no longer a working member. His three former colleagues—Nielsen, singer Robin Zander and bassist Tom Petersson countersued, but to no avail. Nevertheless, the band that had become a foremost proponent of American power pop was devoured by its internal schisms and a divisive power struggle that dismayed its fans and altered the brand decisively.

The four musicians reunited, albeit briefly, for this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, an honor that was long overdue, but future prospects for reconciliation seem dim at best. [Ed. Note: Some of this we detailed in our recent interview with the Trick’s Nielsen, who declined to dish in that instance but had done so, with Zander, fairly exhaustively in interviews leading up to the RARHOF ceremony (such as this one with The Guardian). The official party line now appears to be, as Nielsen told Uncut, “What’s the situation with Bun E. Carlos? Well, what we say is that he is in the group, but he doesn’t record, he doesn’t tour, and he’s not in photos.” Carlos has made his own feelings pretty clear at his Facebook page, however.]

BLURT spoke to Carlos about these and other matters recently as he prepared for the release of his upcoming album.

BLURT: the new album shows that you do indeed have a great ear for classic rock and power pop.
CARLOS: I’m a big song fan, especially when it comes to good rock songs, good pop tunes. The guys I got to work with on the record are all good guys. We all shared in the production really. I had a lot of help with the project. I like these songs, we did good versions of them, and I want to show them off to people. That’s why we did the covers record. It’s like a great mix tape.

Share with us the story behind your stage name, Bun E. Carlos?
I was about four years old when my parents got me this book about Paul Bunyan. So everyone would call me “Bunyan,” or “Bun” for short. So when we moved to Philadelphia—me, Rick, Tom and Stookey from the band the Nazz, everyone started called me “Bunny,” so I thought, okay, I’ll be Bun E., with E. being like a middle initial for my stage name.

So is your name now officially Bun E. Carlos?
No, it’s still Brad Carlson. When I go to the post office they’re surprised that I have two names. And I tell them, yeah I do. One’s a professional name and one’s a legal name. I get checks written to both names and they’re both me.

Tell us about the new album? How did it come to fruition?
We were talking about doing a covers album as far back as the ‘70s, but of course we never got around to it. And when the Hall of Fame called, I decided that was a good time to do it. I work with a couple of different bands. One in Rockford here and one in Chicago, so I figured I could get those guys to play on it. Then it was a matter of calling singers, and the people I called were people that were well represented in my record collection, singers I liked. I started out with Alejandro (Escovedo) and I let him know I wanted to do one of his songs and a Stones song, and he said yes. Then I got hold of Robert Pollard from Guided By Voices. We had worked together around 15 years ago. So it kind of ended up like that.

So the new album will definitely mark a new beginning for you. Is this your new day job going forward?
Right now I’ve got a covers record that I’ve always talked about doing and I finally went out and did one. I produced it and that was something new for me because I had never produced a record before, so we’ll see how it does when it comes out. If something goes great, then yeah, there will definitely be another one and I’ll get a band together to tour. We just have to see how it goes.

Let’s talk about your better known band. Cheap Trick’s success seemed to come about almost by accident. The Live at Budokan album initially didn’t come out here, right?
Yeah, it came out only as an import. CBS Japan was splitting into two company—CBS Japan and Sony Japan. So to commemorate this, they asked a bunch of their artists to do live albums. Bob Dylan did a live album, and then they decided Cheap Trick would do a live album, and whatever bands came over, they would do a live in Japan album as well. Initially they wanted a double album, but we told them, no, we don’t have time to mix a double album. So we decided to do a single album because we had a new album coming out in America. It started getting imported to America and then we told them, look, you have to put this out in America. Plus the foreign royalty rate was only about half of what it is in America. So even though it was selling over here, we weren’t making any money on it. So finally they decided to put it out in America and boom, it took off.

Did you have any idea how huge that album would become?
No. It was a big surprise. We put out Dream Police before Budokan came out and the general plan was to put it out in the spring. But the record company was saying, this is going to be the one that puts you over the top. But of course they said that with every record. In early ’79, we had a tour of Europe and another tour of Japan lined up. We were going to be out of the country for about 60 days. And the record said that when we returned they’d put the Dream Police album out, but while we’re gone, they’d release the live record. It had been imported like crazy. But they figured that if they put it out here it would sell 200,000 or 300,000 copies to the Cheap Trick fans because that’s what it was selling here. But back in those days, even 50,000 was a bomb. So when we came back, the record company was telling us, this thing had blown up. We’re going to put a single out and it’s going to be a hit record. And everything changed after that.

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You guys got the opportunity to work with the late George Martin. What was that like?
One of the nice parts was that we got to fly down to Montserrat, this beautiful island in the Caribbean. We got to go down there for three weeks and make a record and relax. That was fun. And we got to work with George and Geoff Emerick, the greatest engineer in the world. That was nice too. And we got all our Beatle questions answered. It was lot of fun, one of the highlights of my career.

So what was Sir George like to work with?
He was a real gentleman. I remember asking him, “Can I get my snare drum to sound a little fatter?” and he turned to Geoff Emerick and said, “Bun would like to get his snare drum a little fatter,” and Geoff Emerick walks in and moves the mike a little closer, about two inches. They did a lot of stuff by ear. They didn’t use a lot of toys in the studio. They got the sounds the good old fashion way. It was a real pleasure to work with Sir George, as we would call him.

What was the give and take like? Did you come in with certain ideas, or was he prone to making suggestions?
He came to pre-production in Rockford with me, Rick and Robin, Tom didn’t show up. So George came and asked about the chords and the song structures. And then maybe he’s have a suggestion. He’d say, “I could come up with a good string part for this,” and he did. We would just discuss the song and go back and forth. He took the stuff we did and made it sound great.

It was wonderful to see the band reunite at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. So considering all the stuff that had gone down between you, how did you guys pull it off?
Rick had been interviewed and he suggested that maybe there will be two drummers that night, me and his son Daxx who’s working with them now. But the Hall of Fame said, “Don’t bring any extra people to play. We want the four of you guys. We don’t want the extra drummer, we don’t want the keyboard player. We just want the four of you guys up there.” They didn’t want to hear about it. If the original guys aren’t able to do it, they’ll figure something else out like they did with Deep Purple and Chicago. They had guys that had passed on. But with Cheap Trick, the four guys are still around.

So who made the call? Did Rick call and say, “Hey Bun, I hope you’ll be there?”
I didn’t hear a word from those guys until I saw them at the sound check. The Hall of Fame called all the shots. They called their management and said, “Look, if Bun isn’t playing with them, they’re not playing.” They called my management and said, “Are you ready for the gig?” And I said, yeah, no problem.

So when you showed up for the sound check, it had to be a bit awkward, no?
Yeah. A bit. Last time I saw those guys we were in settlement talks as the result of a lawsuit I had filed against them. It was definitely different circumstances.

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When you were all on stage and making the acceptance speeches, and then later performing together, it seemed like there was no ill will whatsoever. It seemed very natural.
Well, we have known each other almost 50 years, so when we are in the same room together, everything’s pretty cordial. “Hey, how are you doing? What’s going on?” That kind of stuff. It’s when we’re in different rooms, things change. People came up to me and it was like, “Did you hear what those guys said about you on the radio yesterday? Did you read what they said about you in Rolling Stone? It was like, I know. I was getting called names, them saying I was a bad guy or whatever. But face to face, it’s like, “Hey, how’s it going?” It was pretty cordial. My management let them know ahead of time that at the Hall of Fame we should all play nice. We don’t need to air our dirty laundry in front of the whole world or get up there and piss and moan.

How about in private? Did you try and clear the air?
No.

So was there any talk about reuniting as the foursome going forward?
Nah. Daxx, Rick’s kid, has a job. He doesn’t have to support his kid anymore and that’s a good thing. Rick’s a good father. He helps his kids out. And with this youngest one, Daxx, he’s got a good gig now. So Rick’s a happy camper.

***

Below: Watch Carlos in 2011 doing “A History of Drum Licks,” and Cheap Trick in 1979 during happier times for the foursome.

 

 

 

 

 

RUNNING DOWN SOME DREAMS: Mudcrutch Live

Mudcrutch Blurt John Boydston Tabernacle 2016-4

Onstage at Atlanta’s Tabernacle last week (June 2), it was a far more than a mere sentimental romp for some old friends and fans. Likewise with the May 26 show in Denver at the Ogden Theatre, of which we have a bonus review following the main text.

TEXT & PHOTOS BY JOHN BOYDSTON

So there was Tom Petty and the boys at the Tabernacle in Atlanta, Ga – smiling and waving and looking so fine.  I don’t think any of them knew they would be in this song in 2016.

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It is pretty amazing Tom Petty and some of the Heartbreakers could ‘get back’ together after more years than I can count and actually sound so eff’n great, but this is what he and Mudcrutch have accomplished.  Now touring thru June to support their brand new release “2”, they sound like the world’s best bar band at the top of their game, playing to sold out theaters in 2016 instead of beer taverns in 1972.  This is not just a sentimental romp, although there is obviously some of that going on too.  More country-tinged southern rock-sounding that the HB’s.  But tight as hell.  That and great vocals, songs, ringing guitar tone heaven and some cool covers too – all makes for a fun night of music.

They re-formed to record their first post-‘70s record in 2008, which critics and fans loved, but only did a handful of club shows apparently.  So this expanded tour is a treat for fans.  And the band is clearly having a good time too.

Mudcrutch Blurt John Boydston Tabernacle 2016

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Mudcrutch is:  Tom Petty (on bass for the tour, just like in the old days), Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, original singer/guitarist Tom Leadon, and drummer Randall Marsh.  Acclaimed sideman Herb Pederson is supporting the band for this tour (far right in the photos) on guitar and vocals.

***

On this night opening band The Shelters (below) from LA were worth catching.   I’d like to hear more, and with the release this week of their full-length LP I could get the chance.  Maybe they’ll send me a vinyl copy in exchange for the great photos I sent them.  (There is always a first time.)

The Shelters Blurt John Boydston Tabernacle 2016
The Shelters Blurt John Boydston Tabernacle 2016-2

More John Boydston photos can be seen at jobo.smugmug.com

 *****

 

Mudcrutch – 5/26/16, Ogden Theatre, Denver CO

Meanwhile,  Petty and his pals also took over the Ogden Theatre a few nights earlier for a couple of fun-filled hours for fans.

 BY CHERYL HINELY

It’s not often that Tom Petty fans get to see him in a more intimate club (ok theatre) atmosphere and they made the most of it, both the band and the fans. The place was jammed to the rafters  as Mudcrutch played for coupla fun-filled hours. This band was Petty’s pre-Heartbreakers group from the ‘70s in Gainesville, FL that made a little noise back then, moved out to California, released a single and then called it a day.

Petty got the band back together seemingly for fun back in 2008 with Heartbreaker co-horts Mike Campbell and Bemont Tench plus Randall Marsh and Tom Leadon and they released their debut album that same year. This year saw the release of the band’s sophomore effort, 2 so the band is in the midst of a tour for the record and made a stop here in the Mile High city.

They opened with traditional song ‘Shady Grove” and then into “Orphan of the Storm,” “Six Days on the Road” and “Scare Easy.” From there we heard a Heartbreakers’ song (“Trailer”) plus a Byrds cover (“Lover of the Bayou”). It all sounded perfectly tuneful, like what the Byrds might’ve sounded like in their prime.

From 2 we heard “Beautiful World,” “Dreams of Flying,” “Hungry No More,” “Welcome to Hell” and “Save Your Water” (which they brought out a banjo player), all of which swounded excellent. The band seemed completely comfortable together (no surprise there) as the packed house bobbed and weaved all night (with a strong smell of THC in the air).

They ended the set with “Bootleg Flyer” (from the debut) and came out for exactly one encore, a cover of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic “High School Confidential” and called it a night. I’m imagining that Petty and crew are really liking these smaller shows and we are too. Thanks Mudcrutch.

 

BACK WITH A BANG!: Cheap Trick

C Trick by David McLister

Hello there, ladies and gentleman—are you ready to rock with Rockford’s favorite sons and recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees? Guitarist Rick Nielsen talks about that, how the Republican Party tried to hire them to perform at the RNC Convention, the making of their new album, the recent passing of producer George Martin, and more. Above photo by David McLister.

BY DAVE STEINFELD

In the late ’70s, when punk rock and arena rock were at odds with each other, Cheap Trick was one of the few bands that had fans in both camps. The Rockford, Illinois, combo played a unique brand of hard rock that combined Beatlesque melodies with power chords and lyrics that were by turns dark and witty. In addition, each member of the band was recognizable and had something to contribute.  Guitarist and main songwriter Rick Nielsen was rock star as class clown: an excellent axeman and tireless stage presence who favored funny faces and baseball caps. In contrast, heartthrob lead singer Robin Zander was known early on as “the man of a thousand voices” — and for good reason. He could deliver a sensitive ballad or tortured screams equally convincingly. Tom Petersson, the band’s other heartthrob, pioneered the idea of a 12-string bass. And heavy-set drummer Bun E. Carlos provided a rock solid backbeat — usually while wearing a blank expression and glasses.

Cheap Trick’s first three studio albums were critically acclaimed but they remained more or less an underground phenomenon until their fourth effort, Live at Budokan, launched them into the pop stratosphere. It’s rare that a live disc becomes a band’s breakthrough album but Budokan was the exception to the rule, spawning two hits: the original “I Want You to Want Me” and a manic version of the Fats Domino standard “Ain’t That a Shame.” The band capitalized on Budokan‘s popularity in late 1979 with their fifth album, Dream Police, which gave them another pair of smashes in the ballad “Voices” and the rocking, dramatic title track.

Admittedly, I myself didn’t really start to worship at the church of Cheap Trick until the ’90s. Although I was certainly aware of them before that time, I didn’t have a strong feeling about the band one way or the other until one weekend when I was on a business trip in New Orleans. While I was there, my friend (and former boss) Frank convinced me to skip a work-related function and hang out with him and some of my other former co-workers, who were going to see Cheap Trick perform. I decided to join them and was rewarded with one of the most entertaining — and loudest — shows I’d ever seen! I caught hell from my then-boss for not attending the work function. But if I had it to do all over again, I would make the same decision.

If Cheap Trick hasn’t maintained their initial level of popularity in the last three decades and change, they have still recorded frequently, toured incessantly, inspired a ton of bands and even scored a number-one hit in 1988 with “The Flame,” an uncharacteristically commercial love song. And 2016 is shaping up to be a big year for them. April 1st saw the release of Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello, the band’s 17th studio release and their first since 2009. Bang, Zoom is highlighted by the rockers “No Direction Home” and “The Sun Never Sets,” the more reflective “When I Wake Up Tomorrow” (the first single) and a cover of the Dobie Gray oldie “The In Crowd.”

One week after the new album arrived, Cheap Trick was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! And even though Daxx Nielsen, Rick’s son, is the band’s current drummer, they were able to put their differences with Bun E. Carlos aside for the evening and play with their original lineup. [Ed. note: Below, watch the band’s induction by Kid Rock and the members’ respective acceptance speeches, including some semi-pointed comments by Zander about lawsuits. Neither the singer nor the guitarist was exactly complimentary towards their erstwhile drummer in an interview with The Guardian conducted just prior to the induction ceremony, either. Meanwhile, though, for this BLURT interview, Nielsen respectfully declined to dish about Carlos, and in more recent interviews (such as for the May Uncut, he’s offered the official line, saying, “What’s the situation with Bun E. Carlos? Well, what we say is that he is in the group, but he doesn’t record, he doesn’t tour, and he’s not in photos.” Carlos, for his part, in the lead-up to the release of a new solo album Welcome to Bunezuela!, has been candid, albeit in a somewhat diplomatic way, of late, confirming in a post at his Facebook page that while Nielsen’s comment is technically accurate, he feels there’s still some unpleasant and unfinished business to take care of. Wrote Carlos, “I no longer tour or record with Cheap Trick because the other Shareholders asked me to allow them to use a hired drummer instead. I reluctantly agreed provided that I wasn’t thrown out of the businesses we spent our whole lives building together. But then they cleaned house and under the advisement of their new team tried to remove me from our companies… Few bands get along after 40 years but for the sake of Cheap Trick I truly hope that Rick, Tom, & Robin can drop the gloves, stop the ugly name calling, and find a way to live and let live.” Meanwhile, go HERE at BLURT to read our own interview with Carlos.]

2016 has also yielded an intriguing footnote for the group’s trajectory: As you’ll read below they were offered $100,000 by the Republican Party to play a concert at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this July. Cheap Trick declined, however.

Meanwhile, Cheap Trick’s 1998 biography Reputation is a Fragile Thing, by Mike Hayes and Ken Sharp, is getting a limited edition reprint this year (check Sharp’s website for details). Also, their early ’80s discs One on One (featuring the hit “She’s Tight”) and Next Position Please (which failed to chart) were just reissued on one CD.

Tom Petersson, incidentally, was not on board for those albums, as was fired just before the release of 1980 LP All Shook Up; in a recent Uncut interview he cited burnout and “a combination of us fighting with each other and with the management.” He would be replaced by a succession of bassists until returning in 1987 in time for the next year’s Lap of Luxury and has been in the band ever since. He and Nielsen, as you’ll read below, are the best of friends.

I recently had a chance to chat with Rick Nielsen, which was a pleasure. Despite the sarcastic sense of humor and class clown persona, Nielsen can also be sincere when he wants to be. And at no point in our conversation was this more evident than when I asked him about the late George Martin (who produced  All Shook Up).

Cheap Trick will be touring all summer and dates can be found at the group’s official website or Facebook page.

BLURT: I’ll start with the new album, Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. This is your 17th [studio] album. Tell me a little about when and where you started recording this one.
RICK NIELSEN: Well, we started a couple of years ago. We didn’t have a label but we had a bunch of songs we wanted to start recording. So we started in LA. We were out on tour, as usual, and we went to the studio and recorded about eight songs. Then we went back on tour — [but we wanted] to go back. So we went back and recorded another seven! Then we went back on tour [again]. And down in Nashville, we had [the] opportunity to go to another studio. So we went in and recorded another seven or eight there. Before you knew it, we had about 30 songs! And we started polishing ’em up, you know? We approached Chris Lord-Alge, who we’ve worked with before, because he does a great job mixing. And we started whittling it down. I think we whittled it down to — you know, like I say, about 30. Probably from there, we whittled it [further] down.

As we were [doing] the mixes, we got an offer from Big Machine [Records].  [Label head Scott Borchetta] had approached us about four years before that, saying he really liked the band but thought that we needed kind of an overhaul… I think it was [last] October or November, he said, “Fly down here to Nashville.” He heard some of our stuff and basically signed us on the spot.  The people at Big Machine had no idea that since 2007, April 1st has been Cheap Trick Day in the state of Illinois. So they looked up the timetable and said, “That would be perfect. We’d like to get your record out then.” So we started doing art work and all that stuff.

Then we got the phone call about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and found out that was the 8th [of April]! So it was just kind of tied in… All these dates fell in together.

You guys are definitely having a good year.
Yeah, it seems like it!

This is the first year I was on the voting body of the Hall, and the first [name] I checked was you guys. I was psyched to be able to play a small part in you getting in.
Small part? Big part!

I might as well ask you, since we’re [already] talking about it, if you have any specific [thoughts] on that. At this point, we all know what Steve Miller thinks of it. I wanted to get your take on the Hall and what the induction means to you.
Oh, I think it’s the ultimate honor! I thought it was great. I said, if the other bands can’t handle it, we’ll let Peter Cetera [of Chicago] and Ritchie Blackmore [of Deep Purple] play with us. Really! If they’re gonna squabble, forget it. What an honor.

Nobody had any idea what was going on backstage. We were playing when people were doing all the press, don’t forget. And they actually closed the press room down after Steve Miller went back there. It was like, “I wish you would have waited a week or so!” (laughs)  Sure, there’s things he didn’t like. [But] we were just happy to be there, you know? We’re not gonna start complaining about it!

On the new album, the first single is “When I Wake Up Tomorrow.” I [wanted] to ask you a little about the inspiration for that tune.
Actually, Robin came to the studio with that and played — not an acoustic version but like a demo version of it. I just thought it was great to start with…You know, the line “Will you be here when I wake up tomorrow?” How come we didn’t use that before? It had ‘memorable line’ written all over it. And [yet] it’s not some epic song; it gets to the point and [is] over within three minutes.

We’ve always tried to make albums. We’ve never [said], “Alright, we’ve got this single. Now we’re gonna have 10 other songs that aren’t quite as good as the single.”

Switching gears… It’s obviously been a rough year in the rock world in general because a lot of people are leaving us. About two months ago, George Martin passed away… You guys worked with him years ago, on All Shook Up. Not only was he an important producer but I’ve always heard he was a nice man.
He was the greatest musical person that we ever worked with. And he was a friend of mine… At the Rock and Roll Hall, I said that besides my father, he was the greatest man that I’d ever met [and] in the [new album] credits, I mention working with [him]. Every year, I’d get a hand-written Christmas card from George and this past year I didn’t. [I thought] maybe it got lost in the mail, or whatever.

When we worked with him, I never asked him any Beatles stuff, you know? If somebody brought it up, he was always more than willing to talk about it. [But] I never wanted to be that [guy who says], “Hey! What’d John say?” You know, all that kind of stuff…  One of the best stories [was] when we did pre-production for the All Shook Up album, in January or February or something. He and Geoff Emerick came to Madison, Wisconsin. You know, three feet of snow! I mean, you wouldn’t expect — as far as the position he was in — [that] he would travel to see us. But he did! And when we did the Sgt. Pepper stuff, all the shows we did with the orchestra [in Las Vegas], I went to his house and he and [his wife] Judy cooked! And he gave me the original charts, hand-written, [for] Sgt. Pepper. I had those charts to work with. It was pretty amazing.

I recently read that you guys were asked to play at the Republican Convention this year. True?
Yeah, we were actually asked twice! No matter what’s going in politics today — which, of course, is the Clown Car and all that kind of stuff — just being associated with either party, I think, is bad news. Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Independent — whatever you are — I’d vote for who I thought was the best candidate. I would never think ‘straight ticket.’ [That’s] just a joke. They said, “Well, you’re not gonna be on site, you’re gonna be six blocks away.” [But] we don’t need that. We don’t need to be associated with it in any way, shape or form.

Plus, we stayed at the Plaza [Hotel in] New York years ago.  Donald Trump was married to Marla Maples at the time. We came into the hotel, we walked in the lobby and we turned around and he gave us a dirty look! You can tell when people are kinda snotty, like how dare we be there? Well, our money was just as good as anybody else’s. I [still] recall that.

One last question. If I’m not mistaken, you and Tom Petersson go back almost 50 years now, right?
Yup. We first started, I think, in 1967.

That’s what I thought. You played in the band Fuse — even before Cheap Trick — [and] you’re still playing with Tom. I guess I wanted to ask you about your friendship after so long.
[With] Tom, it’s like the unspoken best friend kind of thing, you know? I’d do anything for him, he’d probably do anything for me. There’s a lot of unspoken stuff…. He lives in Nashville. He’s got his own family [and] I’ve got my family. Actually, Tom and I — the first time we went to England was in 1968. It was because of the music we loved…

You know, we had to go the source, together. And we’re still together.