Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Two for Tuesday - Bits o' Metal!

Hello? Ok, we’re back…new month, new Two for Tuesday series. This one is inspired by my love of That Metal Show, your home for all things hard rock and heavy metal. I’ve been going through a resurgence of heavier stuff the past few years, initially as a nostalgia thing, but now just thoroughly enjoying it to the point of exploring some of the new acts out there. We’ll look into some of those later, but for now let’s jump back a bunch of years and to another continent.

I think I’ve mentioned my fondness for German group Scorpions and particularly their earlier stuff from the 70s. Their first long-time lead guitarist was Uli Jon Roth, one of the proponents of neo-classical metal and inventor of the Sky Guitar. He was with Scorpions from ’74-’77, participating in four albums, writing several classic tunes, delivering some great solos and even some lead vocals. None of the songs from this era are ones you’ll likely hear on even hard rock or hair metal stations, but they certainly set the stage for signature tunes to come and the universal success that Scorpions would enjoy in the 80s. After leaving Scorpions, Roth formed Electric Sun, which released three great albums of sometimes straightforward, sometimes experimental guitar rock, and after that he began composing classical music…none of which I’ve heard, but I’m sure it, you know, rocks.

Anyway, here’s a couple of standouts for me, the title track from Scorpion’s 1976 album Virgin Killer, written by Roth with some insane vocals from Klaus Meine and a blistering solo from Roth. Also, here’s my current favorite (it changes with each listen) from Electric Sun’s Earthquake (1979), the rockin’ Sundown.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two for Tuesday

I'm a bit behind with these, but that's how it goes sometimes.

At any rate, today's 24T comes from Ohio's Afghan Whigs, whose brand of Motown punk made albums like Congregation and 1965 critical high points of 90s alt-rock, even though they were scandalously overlooked by the public in favor of more watered down flavors associated with the "grunge" movement. Greg Dulli, if half of what he sings about is true, is a bad dude, but not so much in a sinister way than a realist one. He got to the dirt of the matter with relationships, wailing his smoky lungs out while the band chugged and slashed furiously behind him. Even in their more subdued moods the danger was always present, an unsettling reminder that the quietest moments can be wrecked by a human presence.

Today's offerings come from their early and mid career - Retarded from 1990's Up In It, which was the first indication of the fury to come (Dulli's yelling on this song gives Black Francis a run for his money), and the title track from 1994's Gentlemen - quite possibly the meanest, nastiest album ever written (if you're a girl).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Birthday Salute

In celebration of Uncle Bob's b'day, it's all Dylan, all day.

Let me get you started with a song that inspired a band name, the Birthday Salutes, the nobody would agree to.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Two for Tuesday

Of all the most strangely enigmatic groups to exist, Felt has got to be in the top 10 or so. Helmed by the equally mysterious Lawrence (aka Lawrence Hayward), they crafted a brand of music that started as minimalist “art rock” (their first single was simply Lawrence banging on a guitar and moaning into a tape recorder) and evolved into lush and intricate pop that dabbled in folk, dance and jazz. 

Lawrence’s vision was to produce ten albums and ten singles in ten years, which he did, and then broke up the band. So absolute was his power that, according to legend, he dismissed an early drummer for having curly hair, albums could only have an even numbers of songs (which isn’t always the case, but mostly) and there are absolutely no cymbals on any of the first three albums. And yet having said that, their album Train Above the City is an instrumental album of essentially lounge jazz workouts where he performed in absolutely no capacity – but did name all the songs.


Their first several albums, including their most popular (and somewhat least interesting), Ignite the Seven Cannons, were released on the Cherry Red label. But mid-career until nearly the end, including the aforementioned Train Above the City, everything came out on Creation.

Three of their most brilliant albums are Forever Breathes the Lonely World (1986), Poem of the River (1987) and The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988), when the elaborate noodling of classically trained guitarist Maurice Deebank was replaced by the sweeping organs of Martin Duffy (later of Primal Scream fame). Imagine the Cocteau Twins, musically, with Lou Reed on vocals and you’ve pretty much got the sound of Felt. But don’t let that run you off, because while Lawrence’s voice is rather deadpan, it’s also highly expressive and he gets into your head (and heart) before you know it.

It’s hard to whittle things down to just two, but I’ll give it a shot with All the People I Like are Those That are Dead and She Lives by the Castle

RIP - Ray Manzarek

Yesterday the music world lost a titan with the passing of Ray Manzarek, organist, pianist, harpsichordist, bassist and sometimes vocalist for legendary 60s group, the Doors. While it can’t be argued that Jim Morrison was the iconic focal point of the band, the face that everyone conjures from the mist whenever the icy organ of Light My Fire cuts through the airwaves, I think it’s pretty safe to say that without Ray Manzarek playing that organ, nobody would have ever known Jim Morrison’s name.

Ray’s technical prowess was unquestionable, but his ability to maintain both lead and rhythm instruments, to accent and augment Jim’s wild antics (especially live) and to arrange with fluidity tunes that other members were bringing to the group, is often overlooked by all but the deepest of Doors fans. And honestly, that’s the breaks when you’re not the singer, and Ray always seemed content enough over near the drums, pounding away liked a stooped madman, a little twinkle of “Oh, I know the truth…” ever present in his eye.

His playing is unmistakable, eerie and majestic, a demented carnival musician wrapping the listener in a web of spine tingling seduction. There are moments, particularly late at night, when certain Doors tunes can absolutely give me the willies, and 98% of the time it’s all because of Ray’s playing. And while it’s doubtless that his influence and legacy will continue to stretch for generations to come, his style and sound were impossible to duplicate, and if anyone ever sounded like Ray – likely it was Ray.

After the end of the Doors, which did not end with Jim’s death, as they produced two more (moderately successful) albums with Ray at the lead, he continued to work as producer with bands he influenced, including X, Echo and the Bunnymen and the equally iconic Iggy Pop (who was actually considered to replace Jim at one point). 

Here are a few standout tracks where Ray's bit was integral.