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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gun Club Revisited 3 - Promise Me

Promise Me, the sole "slow" song on side one of the LP version of Fire of Love was bracketed by a pair of rave-ups, both before and after. Back in the day I didn't have much use for it or any of the other laid back Gun Club songs. But they began to grow on me over the years. It's a fairly straightforward effort, for the most part, with a heavy guitar part that plods along throughout and ominous lyrics adding to the dark undertone. The icing on the cake is a violin part by Tito Larriva (who co-produced the album, along with Chris D. - once of the Flesheaters) that's more drone than tune and which recalls John Cale's viola playing with the Velvet Underground.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Gun Club Revisited 2 - Preachin' the Blues

The Gun Club released their version of Robert Johnson's Preachin' Blues (Up Jumped the Devil) as Preaching the Blues, in 1981. The late bluesman's star had not ascended to its current lofty heights at the time but English bluesmen and others had been doing their part to keep his music in front of the public since the Sixties.

This greatly altered version of the song kicks off with all of the rip-roaring, out of control goodness of a train about to run off the tracks and keeps up the pace pretty much throughout, with a few lulls tossed in for dramatic effect. It works and really well. Wailing slide guitar opens the proceedings, the rhythm section kicks in at a frenetic pace, and Pierce, hardly the most restrained of all vocalists, turns in an especially forceful performance, complete with wailing and howling. Which puts it in my Gun Club top 10, for sure.


Gun Club Revisited 1 - Sex Beat

The Gun Club released their first album, Fire of Love, in late summer of 1981. Over the course of a decade and a half or so until the death of core member, Jeffrey Lee Pierce, their output included seven studio albums and an EP, assorted and sundry bootlegs and a smattering of this, that and the other. While there's plenty of good stuff to be found in all of this, some (myself included) would make the argument that their debut album was also their finest moment.

Lots of ink has been spilled trying to describe what The Gun Club actually did. My take would be punked-up blues with a decidedly dark bent, though the overt blues influences seemed to dwindle a bit as the years passed.

Sex Beat - the opener on the album and The Gun Club song your grandma and other non-fans are probably most likely to have heard - owes a great deal to punk and not so much to blues. The stop and go bits provide a bit of drama and the lyrics, well...they're lyrics. Overall I find that the appeal of this one has waned some as the years have passed, while songs on the album that I used to skip over have become much more appealing.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

(Now Hear This) Jethro Tull - Songs From the Wood

(Now Hear This)
Jethro Tull
Songs From the Wood
1977

Songs From the Wood, in particular, is an album that, for all the band members, was a reaffirmation of our Britishness. (Ian Anderson)

Praise be to the distant sister sun. (Ring Out, Solstice Bells)

Quick - name two popular hard rock bands that incorporated the flute as an integral part of their sound. If you're like me you probably got as far as Jethro Tull and gave up. Maybe I'm missing an obvious one.

Jethro Tull became something of a punchline for a while after the 1989 Grammys, when their Crest of a Knave album beat Metallica's ...And Justice for All in the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance category. It was a ridiculous development that surprised the members of both bands and anyone else who had a notion of what heavy metal actually was. None of which should overshadow the achievements of a band that gave the world such rock milestones as Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play, and of course, Aqualung.

By 1989, I had already moved on and my Jethro Tull years were about a decade past. I remembered Songs From the Wood as being a pretty good album and one that I listened to quite often back when. But until recently I hadn't sat down and listened to it after a gap of nearly forty years. Like so many things that seemed nifty keen back when I figured it wouldn't hold up. So it came as something of a surprise as the album unspooled (on YouTube on a Kindle Fire - my well-worn vinyl copy parked on the shelf about three feet away) and I realized that it was much, much, much better than I had remembered it. So good that it might even merit a fourth "much". A Rolling Stone reviewer once remarked that this "may well have been the group's best record ever". I haven't heard all of the band's albums but I can't imagine one that might top this one.

Jethro Tull was no stranger to concept albums, having already turned out several by this time. Songs From the Wood wasn't quite a concept album, in the sense that it told one coherent story from start to finish. But the songs therein were all focused on a specific theme, which you could boil down to English country life, with the emphasis on folklore and mythology. It was the England of solstice celebrations, standing stones, May Day parades, wicker men, druids, fertility rites, and whatnot.

There's not really a dud in the bunch but side one (for those of us who grew up listening to those vinyl copies) is probably the better of the two, by a hair. Songs From the Wood kicks things off in fine fashion with a sometimes heavyish and other times folkish approach and topnotch harmonies. Jack-in-the-Green is mostly guitar and flute, with a slightly darker and more acoustic feel and is a keen little snippet of song, while Cup of Wonder hearkens back more closely to the title track. Hunting Girl is the odd song out here being a heavier tune about a wealthy woman who veers from a hunting party to consort with the hired help. Ring Out, Solstice Bells closes out side one with a very catchy paean to the solstice.

Side two kicks off with Velvet Green, which alternates between a lyrical and somewhat darker tone, with subject matter that hearkens back to Hunting Girl. Casual Jethro Tull fans are probably most likely to have heard The Whistler out of all the songs here. Of the few singles that were released from the album it’s the one that seems to have been the most successful. Up next is the longest and perhaps the heaviest song on the album - Pibroch (Cap In Hand). Pibroch being a type of traditional Scottish music and consequently Martin Barre's guitar is made to resemble bagpipes (well, sort of). The proceedings conclude with the quietest song of the bunch, with the aptly reflective title of Fire at Midnight.

Top Tracks
It's tough to narrow it down to a few favorites but if I had to, I'd go with (a near photo-finish) Ring Out, Solstice Bells, very closely followed by Cup of Wonder.


Monday, January 18, 2016

10 "Other" Ramones Songs


When I bought my first Ramones album - Ramones Leave Home - way back in 1977 no one wanted to know about it, including the heavy metal kids I associated with. Never mind that it's arguably one of their heaviest albums. Didn't matter. It was a relatively small circle of Ramones fans back then - or so it seemed. But as time passed the world caught up and came to recognize their innate greatness. For the Ramones it was too little, too late, and of course all of the original members are gone now.

If one were to program a playlist of songs from this other Fab Four (Spin is said to have ranked them 2nd, after the Beatles, on a list of best bands) it would probably consist of many of the usual suspects. Let us review. There's Blitzkrieg Bop, Rockaway Beach, Sheena Is a Punk Rocker, I Wanna Be Sedated, Teenage Lobotomy, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Pet Semetary. These are among the band's best known songs. For good reason, for the most part, though I could do without the last one.

Of course, there are many more Ramones songs that are worth a listen. I've listed some below. Or you could just go with the first three albums, in their entirety. I'd add End of the Century to that list but that may be the minority opinion.

Ramones(1976)
Beat on the Brat
Keep it simple, stupid. About as simple as it gets and yet strangely alluring.

I Don't Wanna Go Down to the Basement
Horror movies meet punk rock and not for the last time.

Leave Home (1977)
Glad to See You Go
The first Ramones song I ever heard. Love at first listen.

Commando
One of the heaviest efforts in the Ramones songbook.

Rocket to Russia (1977)
I Wanna Be Well
You could compile an album (or more) of Ramones songs about mental health. One of the best.

Surfin' Bird
Many have tried (and failed) to capture something of majesty of this song, first recorded by The Trashmen, in 1963. The Ramones were one of the few to pull it off.

End of the Century (1980)
Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?
For their fifth studio album the group teamed up with the legendary and legendarily eccentric producer, Phil Spector. By all accounts it didn't go well. The reception to the album was mixed, but I mostly give it a thumbs up. The song that kicks it off is very Spectoresque and is about as catchy as they come. I rank in my top two of Ramones songs, along with Blitzkrieg Bop.

Danny Says
Because when you think of the Ramones the first thing that springs to mind is a ballad. A catchy one about the rigors of touring, from a foursome who knew that very well.

Pleasant Dreams (1981)
The KKK Took My Baby Away
Not much to recommend from this lackluster album but I'd rank this song in my top three.

Too Tough to Die (1984)
Wart Hog
The excitement of confronting a new Ramones album had dwindled by the time of their eighth studio album. But it was a decent effort and featured this song, a silly take on thrashing hardcore punk.