Saturday, December 29, 2012

Eric Clapton - Slowhand 35th Anniversary: A Job Very Well Done and An Era Reconsidered

I don't spend much time on reissues and remasters for the simple reason that most generally they are not worthy of my time, nor yours. However, Eric Clapton's Slowhand 35th Anniversary is a huge exception to this rule. This set has been done right, and represents a very worthwhile new look at mid-period Clapton and his excellent band.

Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight, and Lay Down Sally open the album, and they haven't sounded this cool since they were released on vinyl in 1977. Remastered (in 24/96 High Resolution Stereo and 5:1 Surround Sound for the highly recommended Super Deluxe Edition) by Kevin Reeves at Sterling Sound, one of the world's most revered mastering facilities, these classics have a clarity and detail that has been lost for decades. I have to be honest here, and state for the record that I had really hoped to never hear any of these tracks again, but I'm glad I took the chance. I'm looking at the whole thing through different eyes, hearing the tracks as they were intended to be heard. Even the less expensive Deluxe Edition sounds fantastically better than what has been previously available on CD, and is absolutely worth repurchasing in this iteration.

I keep going back and forth between this new edition and an earlier CD version, and the difference is astounding. What was bleary, blurry and fogged is now punchy and crisp, and I have to admit that Clapton's band of the mid '70s was amongst his finest. George Terry and Clapton's guitars are a great matching - perfect Fender clean tones, and as tasteful as you could ever hope to hear. Terry never really got his due, though he played the prefect foil, firing off red hot shards of slide guitar (wait until you hear Tell The Truth from the live set, recorded at London's Hammersmith Odeon), trading leads with the boss, or supplying loads of cool rhythm playing. Carl Radle and Jamie Oldaker were a tremendous rhythm section, explosive and driving - Radle may have been the best American rock bassist of his era. He's like a combination of Motown's James Jamerson and Jerry Jemmott. Dick Sims organ and piano playing fit like gloves to every groove, Marcy Levy and Yvonne Elliman were perfect at their gig, though I've always suspected that their presence never sat well with Clapton's harder rock fans.

It's always been a bone of contention in the music community - whether Clapton's love of The Band and American rock spoiled him, or set free a whole other side of his musicality. Listening to this record decades later, I will admit that I was both young and somewhat full of shit in 1977. I firmly sided with the hard rock crowd, and I was pretty much dead wrong. It may not have been where I wanted to see Clapton go at the time, but this is fabulously written and performed music.

Glyn Johns did a fantastic job with the original production, and again Reeves work on the remastering is like giving eyesight to the blind. The instrumental Peaches and Diesel is a prime example - every note, every beat is a sublime textbook example of how musical instruments should be recorded, mixed, and mastered. I love it when cymbals actually sound like the musical instruments they are. Reeves remastered the studio album from the original Olympic Studios analog master tapes, and the live set and the unreleased studio tracks have been remixed from the original 2" analog masters, and you can almost hear the tape sliding across the damned capstans - amazingly sweet sounding.

The previously unreleased material (four songs) sounds unfinished, but with a few more hours work, any could have made it onto the album proper - they are miles ahead of most outtakes, and are all solid additions to the catalogue. One track, Stars, Strays, and Ashtrays, pre-dates the alt-country/rock movement by about two decades, and sounds like a lost classic.

The live set recorded on April 27, 1977 is a revelation - this could have easily made a quality release at the time of recording, and it stands well next to any live Clapton. The band is razor sharp, especially co-guitarist George Terry - his fiery reprisal of Layla (playing the role of Duane Allman) is stunning, maybe the best live rendition I've heard. Again, Carl Radle was an American gem - every bassist should throw this on and check out how your chops size up - his playing on Layla is a masterpiece, but he's equally captivating on every track. There's nothing laid back about this band, except when they choose to lay back - their take on Marley's I Shot The Sheriff being a perfect example - it simmers, it cooks, and it damned well satisfies. Clapton breaks out the wah pedal, and his solo is gorgeous, and I wonder just how I could have ever had my head so far up my ass as to not dig this the first time around.

As reissues go, this one is clearly a winner, and I wholeheartedly congratulate Clapton on doing it right. I now wish I had seen this band live, they were a great outfit, and I would have learned a boatload about being a total musician - even if you aren't enamored of Clapton's stylistic changes, you can't but admire the skills on display here. He may not be as on fire as he was in Cream, but then who can kick him for being true to his musical self - what would you do if you could do exactly as you pleased?

This is a great set, in either edition - I highly recommend it, and who knows, you may even find yourself enjoying those first three cuts again, or maybe even for the first time.     

Friday, December 28, 2012

Jeremiah - 21st Century Man: You Heard It Here First

Some things arrive on my desk so early that I can't even tell you where to find it yet, but sometimes stuff is so cool that I can't wait to talk about it. Jeremiah's 21st Century Man is one of these things.

Michael Jeremiah has been to more than a few rodeos. He spent over ten years in the trenches with X Davis, a New York City band who garnered a great reputation for great rock, and the ability to not be a pain in the ass - a value that was rewarded by opening slots for everyone from The Stray Cats, Big Country, Squeeze, and many others. Rolling Stone magazine described the band as "a cross between The Clash and Cream." X Davis were last seen recording their third long player, and being produced by Bowie main man Mick Ronson:

X Davis (1984)
X DavisX Davis hailed from New York City and started out as a quartet called Honey Davis consisting Joe Loretta (vocals), Michael Jeremiah (guitar), James Damone (bass) and Bruce Michael (drums). When Ken Parente replaced Joe Loretta, it prompted a name change to X Davis. The group recorded their first single in 1980 which attracted some radio play, and hooked up with booking agency ATI who placed them as the support act for the Stray Cats. When Parente left, the band stayed a trio with Jeremiah taking over the vocals. The group later hooked up with producer Glenn Rosenstein and manager David Hemming, and before long two LPs had been released: Dancing In The Dark (1983) and Summer of Fire (1984). In June 1984, the group hired Mick Ronson to produce their next sessions.
Michael Jeremiah, to Colin Blade: 'I remember seeing Mick's huge picture on the side of a NYC building for the Slaughter on 10th Avenue album, I was moved to pursue my musical career with that album. We found out through some mutual friends that Mick was going to be available for a few weeks in April, so we reached out and struck a deal with him. We rehearsed for a week, then recorded for another week or two in a studio on 48th Street in NYC. We started five songs, but only completed four ('Stillwell Avenue', 'Crossfire', 'Trust In Me', 'In The City').'
'Mick played guitar on 'Crossfire', and acoustic guitar on 'In the City' - which he loved, and asked me twice if I wrote it. Then, on 'Stillwell Avenue' he played acoustic guitar, piano and that cute little funky flute synth during the solo. He also schooled us on drum delay. On 'Stillwell Avenue' we had Kool and the Gang's trombone and trumpet players, and Sam and Dave's sax man. I had the right people working with me! There was a cat named Gary Corbet on keyboards, still a good friend who's played with everyone.'
'It was a good run and I got to London three times. Ronno got us drunk on one trip, took us to all the good spots where he and David Bowie got into trouble. We had drinks with Bowie one night at CBGB's when he came to see us. I stay in touch with Suzi, and go to watch Lisa's band in NYC, she looks so much like her Dad. Having had Mick in my life, even for a short time will always be a lifetime treasure. 'Stillwell Avenue' is the street that I grew up on and to have Mick give it the 'All The Young Dudes' feel is still warming to my heart, I just gave that track a good listen to and feel like I'm back in the studio with Mick.'

These last few years have seen Jeremiah in front of the camera more than on the stage, as he has become an in demand film actor, appearing in over fifty movies, and television appearances.

Now he's back in the recording studio, and the results so far are exemplary. He's just sent me the first CD single, a two song sampler that seems to pre-date his '80s output stylistically, while showing the maturity of his songwriting and singing chops.

21st Century Man instantly takes us back to 1973 in the best possible way. The guitars are sublime - acoustics ring out, and the electrics are ballsy bursts of Marshall grit. The song is very today, but the sounds are straight out of the '70s world of analog sweetness. Guitarist Mike DoCampo is a taste master, whether he's playing soaring distorted slide, rhythmic fills, or his solo work which is melodic in the extreme. Produced by Tony Ungaro, who has worked alongside Bowie, Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, and many others.

Jeremiah's vocals are not unlike his acting. The minute you hear him, you feel like you know him. He's one of those rare, instantly identifiable types. The single's second track sounds like a modern combination of early Zep, and Ten Years After - but with a very modern vocal sound. DoCampo's wah soaked solos and fills will have you grinning from ear to ear, as if you're being reunited with an old friend for the first time. This might put him back in front of the microphone for a while.

Jeremiah tells me that he's got another 8-10 songs just waiting to be finished up, and if they are on par with what I'm hearing here, 2013 will have another high water mark. Great songs, killer production, and musical integrity always find their place in the world, and Jeremiah has them in spades.

Like I said, I know this is early, but this single has got me excited enough to speak confidently about the prospects for a full album.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Twelve for '12 - My Top Albums Of The Year

My favorite albums of 2012 - one is six years old, another is a re-recording of songs that are almost four decades old, four are by new groups, not a one is on a major label, and my number one album of the year is by a band which may, or may not ever play another note. In a year of re-entrenchment and re-evaluation in the recording industry, I've decided that this was a good year, and one that seems to promise much for the future. A year of transition and growth. You can find the links to each record's full review below my comments - thanks for reading!

12)  Nothin But Love - Robert Cray Band: Robert Cray and his
       band got together with super producer Kevin Shirley and
       created an album that sounds like a greatest hits record filled
       with tunes you've never heard. Cray's writing, singing, and
       guitar playing have never sounded better, and Shirley pulled
       an incredibly simpatico performance out of the band. If you've
       always loved Cray, but haven't known where to begin, this is  
       the perfect place.

11)  Spectrum Road: This self titled debut is the result of Jack
       Bruce, Cindy Blackman-Santana, Vernon Reid, and John
       Medeski putting together a tribute band to honor jazz great
       Tony Williams, and this disc of covers mixed with a few
       select originals is a brilliant return to a time when the term
       fusion wasn't a dirty word. All four players are at the top of
       their game, especially Vernon Reid, who seems more
       interested in melody than speed in this setting (Though there is
       no shortage of fiery fretwork). Spectacular instrumental
       interplay, and some truly inspired performances.

10)  Elemental Journey - Sonny Landreth: Offering a few firsts for
       Landreth, Elemental Journey is an all instrumental outing that
       may be the slide guitar genius's best record yet. Featuring the
       amazing string arrangements of Sam Broussard, this set of
       complex compositions allow Landreth to take his virtuosic
       guitar work to dizzying heights. Untethered from singing and
       blues structures, Landreth becomes more than just an ace six
       stringer - he blossoms into a great composer.

 9)  Carnaby Street - Michael Des Barres: Coming out of nowhere,
      Carnaby Street sees Des Barres and his crack band of veteran
      rockers (led by guitarist Eric Schermerhorn) tearing down the
      house - this is like hearing Rod & The Faces for the first
      time all over again. Straight up rockers mixed in with a softer
      song or two, and a bit of the blues, this one blew my mind, and
      you should let it blow yours.

 8)  Flying Colors: When Steve Morse told me this record was
      great, I took it with a grain of salt, especially as he said that it
      was done in just nine days. Dummy me - I should have known
      better. Morse, the unrelated Neil Morse, Mike Portnoy, and
      Casey McPherson uncorked on of the finest debut records I've
      heard in decades. What really got me was the songwriting - I
      knew the playing would be great, I didn't expect such a great
      set of songs.

 7)  Steamroller - Philip Sayce: Calling Philip Sayce a blues rock
      guitarist is to paint an unfinished picture. He's a great guitar
      player period, but he's also bloomed into an excellent
      songwriter, and he's a helluva singer to boot. Steamroller is an
      exceptional dose of big, bold arena rock, and should succeed in  
      turning in the veteran sideman into a headlining frontman.

 6)  The Last Of The Analogues - T. Wilson King: "Jimi would've
      dug it." That's what I said about this disc, and I'm sticking to it.
      This record is another one that defies easy description - I called
      it, 'Blade Runner Blues', and King agreed. It covers a
      tremendous amount of territory, with stops in the realms of Syd
      Barrett, later Floyd, the aforementioned Hendrix, and even a
      dose or two some later U2. Those are signposts, but don't be
      fooled - this is one hell of an original sounding record.

 5)  Scarlet - The Director's Cut - Dave Kilminster: This record is
      over six years old, but it's just seeing official release, and it is a
      thing of unexpurgated beauty. Kilminster's soul shines through
      in every played note, and every utterance. This is a record that
      you'll want to sit back and truly absorb - let it crash over you,
      and envelop you, it's a wonderful ride.

 4)  (Tied) Nomads - Mos Generator/Burning On The Wings Of
      Desire - Blood Of The Sun: These two records are both Tony
      Reed productions - the hard rock renaissance man is the
      creative visionary for Mos Generator, and Nomads, their first
      record in half a decade, and it's the finest slice of metal to cross
      my desk in 2012. Burning On The Wings Of Desire sees Reed
      producing, playing bass, and contributing much guitar work,        
      and a good deal of songwriting as well. Reed also leads Stone
      Axe - their Captured Live album is another stellar disc that
      easily could have made this list. In short, if you like hard rock
      and aren't hip to Tony Reed, you need to be - he's become a
      good housekeeping seal of approval for anything heavy.

 3)  Something Unto Nothing - S.U.N. : Sass Jordan finally got her
      a bad assed rock and roll band, and S.U.N. is the record she's
      always promised to make. This is an epic sized rock and roll
      record, and when you hear the depth and breadth of Brian
      Tichy's guitar work, you'll wonder how he stayed behind the  
      drum kit for so long. He's not just got a great set of hands, he's
      an excellent songwriter, and a very tasty soloist. I hope this
      bunch makes a go of it, they are too special to fall between the
      cracks, as can happen in these days of realignment.

 2)  Genesis Revisited II - Steve Hackett: I'd call thin nothing less
      than a grand achievement. I crept up on this one slowly, and it
      knocked me silly, still. This two disc set hasn't been off my
      turntable since it arrived several months ago. Of course, you
      can't replace Peter Gabriel, or Phil Collins, but that's not what
      this is about at all. Hackett celebrates the catalogue in a heroic
      manor. He's spared no expense to completely update the sonic
      qualities beyond what a struggling prog rock band could do in
      the early 1970s, and in many cases, he's has even transcended
      instrumental performances. This should be taken on its own
      merits - it requires no comparisons, and holds its own as a
      musical achievement. Perhaps the finest production I've heard
      in a decade. Forget that the songs are as much as four decades
      old. Hackett has created a masterpiece.

 1)  Afterglow - Black Country Communion: Halloween was truly
      the perfect time for Afterglow to be released. It's a little scary,
      to say the least. It is also a tremendous slab of rock and roll.
      Glenn Hughes knew he was on his own for the writing of this
      record, and he exceeded all expectations. This is classic hard
      rock at its finest - full of swagger, bluster, beauty, and pain.  
      Jason Bonham contributes several stellar tracks as a writer, and
      plays the drums as if his father was standing behind him
      watching. Kevin Shirley finally pulls keyboardist Derek
      Sherinian up in the mix, and we see why he's been the busiest
      ivory tinkler in rock for the last twenty years. Finally, Joe
      Bonamassa plays the role of brooding six string slasher so well,
      you'd have thought the ghost of the elder Bonham had been
      chauffeured to the sessions by Blackmore himself - this is the
      finest example of pissed off guitar wizardry I've heard in ages,
      and it fits perfectly. I'm not guessing we'll see this lot together
      again, but goddamn, I sure will miss and mourn them if that is
      the case. In any case, Glenn Hughes wrote and performed the
      record of a lifetime.

There you have it - it you agree with me on all twelve, I'd be awfully surprised. If I could make this list up again tomorrow, I'd be damned surprised, but as I sit here today, this is my top dozen for 2012. Following are links to full reviews of all twelve.

65amps and Dan Boul - A Bold Move Forward

Dan Boul is boldly taking 65amps to places the boutique guitar amplifier business has never gone, and his excitement and pride is palpable. He's exhausted from moving his factory, he's bubbling with enthusiasm at the prospect of taking his company and his amps to greater glories, and he's a little pissed!

I've been following the story of 65amps since 2007 - the year Dan Boul left his garage and became a full time builder. Boul's business partner, 65 Vice President Peter Stroud, Sheryl Crow's long time musical director raved about the amps when we met backstage at some faceless outdoor shed before a sold out show that year. He not only told me about these sublime tone machines, he showed me. His words were true, and the amps sounded like fire breathing 100 watters at a manageable stage volume. They defined tone in their time.

Moving forward to the present, Boul and 65amps have partnered with Boutique Amps Distribution, a company that has invested substantially into 65's future - a future that to Boul's mind has never been brighter.

In the years I've been following Boul and Stroud, here's what I've discovered. 65amps have never followed the pack. They have always had a vision and they have stuck to it with the tenacity of a religious zealot. They ruthlessly pursue the hallowed tones of the finest amps of the '60s and '70s, yet have been unwilling to remain tethered to the concepts of the past. Both are veterans of countless bands and have weathered the volume wars of years gone by, only to come to the realization that guitar amplification had to change. No longer is it viable (nor advisable) to submit your audience and yourself to deafening stage volume, yet the tones of tube amps turned to ten are still the apex of guitar tone. These fellows have completely changed the way amps are built, and have managed to capture amazing tone at reasonable volumes. Endorsees ranging from Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, Elvis Costello, Richie Sambora, Peter Frampton, to Saturday Night Live's Jared Scharff testify to the brand's versatility and quality.

So - why is Boul pissed off?

As is sometimes the case, when a competitor gets scared, they will resort to rumor manufacturing and spreading false scuttlebutt to discourage the progress of another builder. In recent days, some of Dan's competitors have taken to the amp and guitar gear forums with false rumors and innuendo. They're saying things like Dan has sold his company, the amps are being sent overseas, and that the new 'owners' will inevitably weaken the product. None of this is true, but let's look a bit deeper.

First off, Dan Boul still owns 65amps, Peter Stroud is still their VP, the staff building the amps is the same, and even Myles Rose, perhaps the planet's foremost authority on guitar tubes and tube amps is still on-board. That's the most important info I can impart - the patient is intact.

Yes, their shop is relocating to a much larger facility in downtown Los Angeles - they need the extra square footage to increase production. True, they have entered into an agreement with another company - this allows 65 to do things like maintain an inventory to meet dealers needs, increase their product line, buy parts and components at much better prices, and even decrease their retail prices - when was the last time you heard of a manufacturer doing that?

It could even be that Boul's detractors are just mistaken - they are assuming that what Dan has done is what has been done by boutique builders in the past. Quite often, builders have raised their brands to a certain level and then found themselves financially hamstrung, and unable to continue growing. 65amps, once again, has never been a follower - they have doggedly followed their hearts in their quest for tone. Dan Boul has put the quality of his product so far ahead of his own financial well being that it has consistently boggled my mind. I've spoken to him about this balancing act, and he has stayed the course and is now further delivering on his promises, and appears on the brink of doing something which only one manufacturer I can think of has ever done. He's about to make a boutique amp line a major player on a very unlevel playing field. It could actually be that the detractors are simply assuming that history is repeating. At least I'd like to think that, and not think that they are just sniveling shits. What's somewhat bothersome is the fact that those casting these aspersions are the same people who criticized Boul's decision to offer 65amps via Musician's Friend - a decision which made it easier on his customers, and not a bit harder on his dealers. They'll most likely carp no matter what he does.

Anyone who knows, or has watched 65's development over this last decade should know that:

a)  They are completely mad in their quest for tone.
b)  They have played fair, and are scrupulously honest business
c)  The company's biggest fans are its customers.
d)  If they say they are going to do something, they will most
     likely succeed.

The crazy thing is, I think this is just the beginning - I believe that this move will work very well, that 65amps will continue to be amongst the finest sounding, reliable amps on the planet, they will be easier to find, and perhaps even a bit more affordable - and I think that Boul may have plans that reach even beyond what we've seen, and that his vision may reach into wondrous areas that many haven't even considered.

Like I've said, I have been watching 65amps very closely over the years, and I have come to expect this from the people involved. They have consistently exceeded my expectations (which are almost unbearably high, as a rule), and they have regularly surprised me with their degree of inspiration and perspiration. These are some serious cats, and I think they make the world of guitars and amps a better place. I'm rooting for them to lead the way for many years to come.

I heard Dan say this maybe eight times yesterday - "It is in my contract - the quality of 65amps will never go below what it is today. I am still the owner of my company. The same people will be building the amps, nothing about that is changing!"

I've also learned over the last several years to trust Dan Boul and his vision. He has been a consistent winner, a diligent hard worker, and has earned the industry's trust. I wish I could say that about everyone in this business. However, I'll take what I can get. I think in the case of 65amps, things are just starting to get good - stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Campbell Handmade Guitars: America's Grand Tradition Continues

The Campbell Nelsonic Transitone
In the best news I've received all week, it appears that Campbell American Guitars will not become a memory, but rather will become even more special, even more precious. Dean Campbell has backed away from the frustrations of a Guitar Center nation, and has decided to continue as one of the world's best luthiers of electric guitars - on a handmade, one at a time basis. He builds dreams, and this development should mean the continuance of some beautiful musings.

Hand painted for Bill Nelson by Nicholas DelDrago
It makes sense that I came to know Dean Campbell's guitars through the music of Bill Nelson. Nelson, a long revered British musician, first came to the consciousness of America via his visionary post-Hendrixian glam rock band, Be Bop Deluxe. After being chewed up and spit out by the industry we lovingly call rock and roll, Nelson retreated to his English attic and set to creating a massive discography of handmade music - he may have began at the industrial revolution of rock, but he literally and single handedly invented DIY indie rock. A few years ago I discovered the Cambell Nelsonic Transitone, a collaboration between builder and player that was both a retro beauty and an innovative axe. Campbell may now be at the creation of the DIY guitar era.

Over the last several years I have seen Campbell grow his New England based company to the point of make or break, in terms of output. He could have continued in the direction of more being less - but instead, he has chosen to downsize production and increase quality. In an era in which multi thousand dollar instruments are looking more and more like their Asiatic brethren, this is a breath of fresh air. Beginning in 2013, Campbell and his cohort Bill Colwell will be building their creations one at a time to the order of their customer's imaginations. Colwell was formerly a chief engineer at Guild Guitars in Westerly, RI, and worked with Bob Benedetto on the redesign of the prestigious Artist Award Archtop Guitar.

Campbell American Guitars has consistently been championed by the best of the best. I called the Nelsonic Transitone (Campbell's Bill Nelson signature model, designed by Dean and the aforementioned Bill Nelson) the most original electric guitar design in 30 years back in 2007. Gruhn Guitars in Nashville has long been Campbell's most prestigious dealer, given to the efforts of forward thinking Gruhn employee Billy Jackson. Premier Guitar Magazine has repeatedly given his offerings top marks, and just this month has seen befitting to display the innovative Space Biscuit model on their cover this month. Berklee College of Music professor and tone sculptor/musical innovator David "The Fuze" Fiuczynski has called his double necked Campbell, "The best guitar I've ever owned."

Only a few months ago, it seemed that Campbell American Guitars were at death's door step - Campbell had become fatigued by the notion of building more guitars at the price of their quality, and was considering shuttering his company. However, when Campbell bandied that possibility, his dealers and fans responded loudly enough to get the builder to re-think the future of his exquisite instruments. His decision will make the world of the guitar a better place.

Dean Campbell made me very happy when he revealed to me this morning that there will still be a number of Nelsonic Transitone's coming up for grabs. It's a personal favorite of mine, given to my long standing respect for Bill Nelson, and the fact that when I first played a Transitone at Swamp Dog's Music in Columbus, Ohio, I was sure I was playing the coolest American electric guitar to come out in a quarter of a century.

I'm guessing that this re-birth is a microcosmic version of what the world is about to do on a grander scale. 2012 will most likely not be an ending, but rather a beginning of a more sensible, sober, and responsible time. I'm guessing that 2013 is going to be a wonderful year for us all. Congratulations and thanks to Dean Campbell for continuing and carrying on with his grand American tradition of handbuilt brilliance.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Blood of the Sun - Burning On The Wings Of Desire: Come All Ye Faithful

Blood of the Sun should be headlining big arenas, flying in private jets, and drinking champagne from Tokyo to Helsinki. As it is, they're making great rock in relative anonymity and currently blowing my mind with their brand of organ soaked 70s high octane rock and boogie.

Burning On The Wings Of Desire is the band's fourth long player, and it's a beautiful slice of rock - produced by hard rock renaissance man Tony Reed (Stone Axe, Mos Generator) who also supplies all the bass on the album, plays a ton of guitar, and contributed his songwriting and arranging chops, as well. The band is the brainchild of drummer Henry Vasquez (St. Vitus) and keyboard killer Dave Gryder, and it's fronted by the unlikely mixture of two veterans from the Southern Rock legends, Point Blank, vocalist John O' Daniel and six string sizzler Rusty Burns. It's tough to tell the players without a program, but Reed tells me that he's supplying the Gibson toned leads, and Rusty Burns the more Fenderish Strat tones.

If Deep Purple had been born in Texas in 2012, they may well have sounded a lot like Blood of the Sun. Burns and Gryder produced a thick, heavy, viscous roux of rock that satisfies mightily. They manage to avoid stepping on one another's toes as they both play their asses off from start to finish on every tune. The songwriting also exhibits some modern molten touches, while simultaneously making me thing of Blood, Sweat and Tears with a soulfulness mostly missing from modern metal. Yeah, they cover a lot of ground, but they don't really sound like anyone except themselves.

Let It Roll hits the ground running, and O' Daniel's sky high vocal chops keep things from even suggesting retro, his voice still possesses every note he could ever hit, and when he screams in the organ solo, you feel it. After Gryder's B-3 smack down, we're greeted with some Gibbonsesque guitar pentatonics, then Gryder takes the reigns and ups the ante and Burns rides it out in grand fashion before the song's final verse leads us to a happy ending.

The title track is next, and it's a rocket fuel fired organ romp that's joined by Burns excellent shadings of purple - this bunch swaggers more than they swing, but it's Blackmore and Lord who seem to have donated the DNA that drives this engine. There's a familiar instrumental interlude that takes us back to the psychedelic '60s, then Tony Reed's bass nearly shakes the stucco of the walls as again Reed, Burns and Gryder slam out cool solos. Burning On The Wings Of Desire, indeed.

I have to point out Reed's production - I've heard bands with the same instrumentation sound blurry and muddied, but he's managed to keep everything crystal clear and knife edge sharp. Can't Stop My Heart is a number that could suffer without a sympathetic mind behind the board, and this is as crisp as Iron Maiden at their best. Burns rips off a solo that should have his face on guitar magazines, then Gryder pushes him out of the way and it's a Hammond scorched earth.

Bring Me Down is as close as we get to a slow one, and it's riff lies right between London, England and the Rio Grande. It's also the most Southern tune on tap - it's about the only place I can connect the dots between this bunch and Point Blank, but it has a Brit blues  bent that keeps it from ever sounding stilted. Gryder pounds out a honky tonk piano solo that evokes a man trying to elegantly walk down a spiral staircase after a case, and he lands on his feet in time for Burns to slap on a slide solo that stings.

Straight back into high speed drum work from Vasquez and Rock Your Station sounds like a long last track from an album you've never heard from 1976. This one's relentless, and it's the same set of things that have made every track a blast, but these songs never sound same-y, or trite - it just sounds like a great band who did their work and delivered the goods.

Good Feeling is another shotgun blast, and it's full tilt boogie - boogie is a term which seldom rears its head in these days when so many have forgotten that great rock makes you move your ass, as well as your mind. Vasquez keeps this one steaming, and the band hangs on and never misses a step. O' Daniel's voice is incredibly sharp and powerful on this one, and again the soloists kick my silly ass.

The formula remains the same on The Snitch, but it's kind of like the formulas that work for great bands like ZZ Top, The Stones, and their ilk. They keep going back to the same tap and mining gold, not an easy task, but Blood of the Sun do a fantastic job on this record of not wearing thin, or grating - it all sounds fresh, and fiery.

Good and Evil is seven and a half minutes of brilliance, and an excellent way to wind this record up. A great riff from Rusty Burns, and organist Gryder howls in a manner that assures me that Jon Lord is smiling down from his perch in the cosmos. Wino's vocal cameo brings in yet another flavor, and the heaviness is perfect. I can't imagine how beautiful this must come across in a live setting. Yeah, this one gets better and better, right up to the end.

This is going to end up on my favorites list for this year, that's for sure. Is this retro, or just what hard rock should sound like in 2012? I don't care one way, or another - this is a great record of rock, and it should find its way under trees, into stockings, and into CD players. Don't you dare download this - buy it. It deserves to be bought, played, and loved.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Blast of Holiday Cheer from Pavement PR!


This holiday season a number of the great music acts we've had the pleasure of working with this year have been so kind as to offer their own unique holiday-themed songs (both originals & covers) for free downloads. And in the same generous spirit as these talented acts, please feel free to share these great holiday chestnuts with your viewers, listeners, friends and family!
[Just click on the respective band name & song title below to download or stream. Or if you'd rather download all the tracks as a single Pavement PR 2012 Holiday EP click here]

Click here to also watch Glossary's video for their holiday track "All Is Well Tonight" (in all its cheesy public-access Christmas Special splendor).

Glossary will also be heading out for a West Coast Tour this January. Click here for dates.

“With the band's seventh independent album, Long Live All Of Us, Glossary delivers a strong rock 'n' soul collection that leans more pronouncedly towards Memphis and Stax Records than it does to Nashville and Music Row. Lead singer and songwriter Joey Kneiser has long been one of the most underrated scribes in indie rock, and he outdoes himself with a stellar collection of songs on Long Live All Of Us.”  – BLURT

(NEW ORIGINAL TRACK. Recorded, mixed & mastered by Drew Vandenberg at Chase Park Studios, Athens, GA)
"The Bohannons new album, Unaka Rising is a real scorcher. It’s an odd thing to say about a band, but their approach to music makes so much sense that it’s difficult to understand why their particular cocktail of heavy Southern rock jangle hasn’t already been done to death by someone else. A little Two Gallants, a little Black Sabbath, they’re as heavy as they are twangy. They manage their heaviness without venturing into melodrama, which is difficult for many artists that venture into darker territory. Their music begs to serve as a soundtrack to a genre of film that doesn’t currently exist—some kind of violent, stylized-but-gritty (a la Tarantino) Southern road movie patterned after the classic Western model." - OXFORD AMERICAN


“Ohio band Buffalo Killers wave their freak-flag high while keeping things concise on their recent album Dig. Sow. Love. Grow. Despite writing heavy riffs that can turn mountains into volcanoes, they don’t pummel you the way most power trios tend to (we’re looking at you Mountain, Blue Cheer, Gov’t Mule). Songs like 'Blood on Your Hands' and 'I Am Always Here' show a gift for creating memorable, hooky songs that recall the best of Steven Stills, only louder.” – PERFORMER MAGAZINE


Cracker is heading out for a winter tour with Camper Van Beethoven in December and January. Check for dates in your area here.

"David Lowery and Johnny Hickman loosened the songwriting reins for the ninth Cracker album, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey, involving drummer Frank Funaro and bassist Sal Maida from the outset. The result may be their strongest record to date, with punk- and glam-fueled tunes jostling alongside the band's hooky pop-Americana mainstays." - BILLBOARD

Vandaveer will be releasing their fourth full-length studio album Oh, Willie, Please (a collection of traditional folk murder-ballads reinterpreted in their own unique style) in early 2013.

**** "It's taken a year for Mark Charles Heidinger's [Vandaveer] album to find a UK release, the Kentuckian spending the intervening time touring Europe. Here he mixes French chanson with folk and sounds like an updated Leonard Cohen." - Q MAGAZINE


“Jonathan Segel's All Attractions album is both epic and touching.” - QRO MAGAZINE

Camper Van Beethoven co-founder Jonathan Segel is heading out for a winter tour with CVB in December and January. Check for dates in your area here. Camper Van Beethoven will also be releasing their new album, La Costa Perdida, on Jan. 22nd - their first new studio album in nine years!


The Bixby Knolls are set to release their full-length debut, Near & Undear, on December 11th. On it the L.A.-based foursome offer up 11 tracks that blur the lines between indie rock, psychedelia, post-punk, pop and even soulful R&B. At times spastic, surreal and schizophrenic, this is guitar-driven rock'n'roll delivered with conviction, swagger and, above all, attitude.

"The Bixby Knolls' debut Near & Undear is an awesome audio assault that will hopefully get this band the attention and break-out it deserves. Very Highly Recommended." - RUST MAGAZINE







Friday, December 7, 2012

S.U.N. Something Unto Nothing: Big, Brash, Bold Rock

Sass Jordan has been one of rock's best belters for ages, that's not news. But Jordan teaming up with Brian Tichy and Michael Devin of Whitesnake, that's news. S.U.N. is the result of a meeting between Tichy and Jordan twenty years ago that has finally borne fruit. More news is that drummer Tichy is playing guitar and writing the rocking riffs on this, one of the most satisfying hard rock records of 2012.

Turns out that Tichy has been stroking the strings for almost as long as he's been bashing the skins, and his riff writing has the freshness of someone who's not yet jaded by decades and decades of riffage. He's no shredder, but more in the realm of the great Les Paul/Marshall maulers like Billy Gibbons and Mick Ralphs in the Bad Company days, and it all fits perfectly with Jordan's hard blues approach. Bassist Devin brings a thick muscularity that updates the tunes to this century, but you can sure hear why he's made such a great John Paul Jones in Jason Bonham's Led Zeppelin Experience band these last few years. Tichy's drumming is also exemplary, as usual.

I always had the suspicion that if Jordan had a band equal to her superb talents that it would be, as the kids say, epic - and this is just that. Burned is the set opener and it's the perfect primer of what's on tap. This bunch isn't in a hurry, but they are insistent. This is Bad Company bold - Devin's bass operates stealthily before he jumps out with a brief bit of soloing that leads into a sizzling solo from Tichy, and I'm all grins.

Crazy Head reminds us that Jordan is this generations rock answer to Janis - the intro almost quotes Move Over, but it's more homage than rip, as the band instantly makes it their own, and Jordan brings you right up to today. This must be a barrelhouse in a live setting. This is a head banging, sing along of the first rate - built for big stages and pumping fists. Tichy's wah working solo is some nice icing on the cake - he milks it well, especially on the songs tag - hot damn.

A more modern approach takes us into the desert sun for Nomad - detuned slide sludge is brought up to speed by Devin's super heavy bass, and a Bonzo heavy backbeat. It's a great testament to Jordan that when she finally found her big band of rock bad asses that she still dominates the landscape. Devin's fireball bass break leads into a runaway train of a finale and Tichy breaks out some greasy slide that brings it back into the station. Great grooving on the outro, and it's a take.

For all it's metallic, blues rock bluster, the band can also funk it up, and they do just that on Did Me No Good. I love Tichy's soloing - you can tell he's spent a lot of time with some amazing players, and he's great at playing for the song and not just showing that he can play. Hats off to a guy that can change gears from behind the kit to the front of the stage.

Mobile Again has a great strut of a bass line, and this one lives musically somewhere between Bad Company and The Clash, if you can wrap your brain around that. Jordan struts a bit herself, and when things turn dreamy and melodic for a nice interlude, you cop some of this bunch's smooth sophistication - they shift gears without grinding and the changes are exciting and exquisite. The tag on this one is a Heartbreakers delight.

Tichy is a riff writer of formidable  skill. Writing rock riffs is much tougher than one would imagine, and he sounds like he's given the matter a good deal of thought - most of these riffs have that unfamiliar familiarity that makes great rock work. I'm The One is a straight ahead rock and roller, and some cool hand claps, tamborine shaking, and start-stop syncopations make this one move.

If I Was You is the record's first ballad, and it manages to avoid cliche and ham-handed writing - some big reverberated guitar slides keep lifting this higher, and Tichy gets tasteful with a smooth solo over some angelic harmonies. This one will burn up some butane in a lot of arenas if it gets a chance.

After Tichy's instrumental In The Beginning Of The End, the band turns up the heat for Razed a huge slab of pure metal that has a nice Middle Eastern tempo that always fits heavy rock so well, and Jordan tells a tale that keeps things contemporary and tight. A great drum track (Tichy did play all the drums on the album - live, without a click), that eventually eases into a soothing interlude - an oasis in the mire of metal, but soon enough the riffage returns. Ah, sweet riffage....

Speaking of Tichy's instrumental, you'll see that he's not shown all his cards to this point. He's got chops, and you can hear the drummer's rhythmic sensibilities galore here. His right hand is mad accurate (think of Gary Moore's right hand when he was still a metaller, and of course, EVH circa 1978), and there are flamenco flourishes under his nuclear alternate picking manifesto that will have heels tapping. His detail work is astonishing, and not just that - theoretically, the guy knows what he's doing. Maybe as impressive as his single note lead work is the work he's doing on acoustic underneath the rage. He's told me that he hasn't yet began to fight, that he's got a great deal more to unleash upon the world as a guitarist. Coming from some, I'd take this with a relative grain of salt, but this guy will deliver - he's a serious student of the art, a grand gypsy rocker, and a hell of a good guitar player and songwriter. This is only the beginning of a chapter.

Wide Ocean is just that - it covers a lot of ground with it's big strummed acoustic guitars, hammering drum sound and another tastefully great solo from Tichy.

No Way Home is a brash boogie living somewhere between Pasadena and being trampled underfoot. I wish they had sold this one to the Van Halens and spared us from some demo leftovers last year. I'm so glad they take the time to nod their heads to the legacy of '70s rock - they tip their hats, but they never stay long enough on anything than to make it just that.

Something Unto Nothing is the album's instant classic. This would be great in any decade, and it's a beautiful haunter of a track. Jordan creates her own version of CSN&Y, as Tichy layers guitar on guitar on guitar in a magical fashion. The guy keeps blowing me away with his taste and restraint - he can play his ass off, but he's more musicianly than to ever let it get the best of him. This is one of the coolest tracks I've heard all year, putting me in mind of Glenn Hughes's epic Afterglow from the BCC record of the same name - great rock is being made, and damn I'm glad. I can only imagine the smiles on the face of the band when they heard this mastered. One of those 'worth the price of admission' tracks.

They wrap things up with the bluesy Goodbye, and it's a nice closer. S.U.N. is one of the great surprises of 2012 - not a bad track on the album, and loads of gold to be mined.

Sass Jordan has finally made the record I've expected her to make for ages, and Brian Tichy has shown that he's no one trick pony, and a helluva complete musician. S.U.N. - I hope they get a chance to take this act on the road - I gotta think some festival dates in Europe would be pretty cool, and God knows America needs some decent live hard rock. Oh well, you know I'm a dreamer.

This album's a scorcher - get on it.