I have darkened the room to cave like proportions in an effort to staunch the most oppressive aspects of a 100-degree heat wave while listening to the latest dance grooves by… the Queens of the Stone Age? One event is as unlikely as the next, and yet here we are. Sweating to the Mark Ronson- produced lead track from Villains while doing nothing so much as lying on a bed with a cold bottle of fermented liquid pressed against my forehead. Get a little picture of that, readers. This is 2017. Things aren’t what they were in 2016. That is great news for Queens Fans. Hadn’t heard from them in a bit. And I didn’t expect this welcome sonic blast of fun to come screaming back from the abyss at a time like now. Set your lasers to “stun.” We will carry them back alive. All of them.
I was surprised to find out that I liked the Queens of the Stone Age when a friend suggested that I give their last long player …Like Clockwork, a go. I jumped & kept jumping. I’ve seen them play live in a variety of cities & settings since then. I can’t imagine how explosive and large these songs are going to sound onstage. The thing I admire most about the Queens is that they truly are a Hard Rock ’n Roll band. Unlike virtually all of their contemporaries, they did not forsake the Roll. And, as such, they don’t really have any contemporaries to speak of. On Villains, the Roll has taken the lead. There’s plenty of Rock, don’t you fret. The frets, in fact, are plentiful, and Josh Homme finds them all with alacrity. I’ve not explored the band’s entire back catalog, but I’d be curious to know if there’s another tune like “Fortress” in there anywhere. There is a ’80s synth-pop element to it, replete with shimmering falsetto vocal melodies and the whole nine yards. It’s not my favorite on the record, but its fun to explore. Currently, I’m stuck on “Un-Reborn Again.” I’d listen to it on repeat for the rest of my life. It is a full-blown homage to T. Rex’s “Telegram Sam” along with a hilarious lyrical nod to the Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands to Yourself.” The damn thing devolves into a weird little orchestral bit and I still can’t get enough. The shot callers probably did the right thing by leading the promotional efforts with “The Way You Used to Do” and “The Evil Has Landed.” They’re super groovy. I’d be happy to hang out with them any old time. (But you really should check out that “Un-Reborn Again” song. Whew! What fun…)
If you’re a QOTSA fan and you’re into big vinyl packages, I’d recommend the deluxe version. I think the band has found their visual foil in Boneface’s artwork, and there’s plenty of that to explore when you go for the big edition. Fourteen album-sized prints (a lyric sheet for each song, plus the band members’ “portraits”), printed inner sleeves, and a full-color gatefold package. Download code included. The 180-gram discs were pressed (well) at Pallas. I had to buy three copies of …Like Clockwork to find one to suit me, but no such efforts were required for Villains. If you’re a fan, your time is now. Hope you like dancing…
Speaking of Rock ’n Roll music with an emphasis on “Roll,” Mobile Fidelity just released their take on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. We can dispense with any pretense and mystery right now. If you love classic Rock ’n Roll and you somehow missed this album, a second chance has been benevolently bestowed upon you. For the love of all that is right in the world, don’t blow it. We looked at Leon Russell’s debut last month, which shined a light on some of the talent that he was able to recruit from the remnants of Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. Some of those Friends formed Derek and the Dominos with Eric Clapton and Duane “by God” Allman. Their one studio album is a masterwork of electric guitar majesty. This is it. An Original Master Recording. It’s great to be alive.
I had some manner of anniversary edition of this album from the early ‘90s. It came in a (redundant) box and included three compact laser discs. Seems like the second disc was alternate versions and outtakes, maybe, while the third contained “the jams.” None of that is essential. The original album is where it’s. And this is the version to have, as far as I’m concerned. The originals I’ve seen have always suggested that the Dominos fans partied as hard as the musicians did. Partied on top of the records themselves. I’ve never seen a passable copy, and so I don’t have an original for comparison. But I know the MoFi version’s bass is more prominent and somehow better balanced than any version I’ve heard to date. This album was made to be played loud, but legend has it that the recordings were made at a shockingly low volume. Tiny amps, big distortion. Tom Dowd was behind the boards, and that should be all the info you need about production. The band was a quartet until they caught the Allman Brothers live in Miami. Then, Duane Allman was recruited as a fifth member, and here we are. To say that this is Eric Clapton’s best work would be like saying that today’s political climate is a little bit divisive. It’s his best by far. True Clapton fans might argue that, and I’d be happy to consider their position on the whole thing. But I’m not a true Clapton fan, and I’ve always thought he shone most brightly just outside the spotlight’s heat. He’s the Dominos’ "Derek," there’s no doubt. But Duane Allman is like one of those futuristic sci-fi drones that space explorers send ahead of them to do reconnaissance on supposedly uninhabited planets in the movies. Except he was the movie. Mercy, that guy could play. It would be hyperbole to say that he blows Clapton out of the water, but I suspect that he pushed him to greater heights than Clapton would have achieved as the group’s sole guitarist. Add Bobby Whitlock’s organ and wild-ass vocals to the mix on top of the Radle/Gordon rhythm section, and you get… this. Everyone knows the title track, but I get more mileage out of “Tell The Truth,” and “Anyday.” You can almost feel the creative energy and the perfect storm of musicianship converging to birth this crazy monster. The whole record seems like an all-too-brief giant wave that miraculously made itself available for you to crash the shore with. MoFi captured that wave as well as anyone could have. Don’t sleep on this one.
(Luckily, this record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)
It’s time to start gearing up for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival around the Bay Area. Hell, around the world, I reckon. This has become the definition of a “destination event.” I’m to understand that folks come from all over. It’s nice to only have to make a 4 mile commute. Especially when the roster involves artists as talented as David Rawlings who is scheduled to accompany his partner, Gillian Welch, this year. Welch and Rawlings are like Roots Music Royalty, as far as I’m concerned. Doesn’t bother me in the least that the former is from NYC and the latter from Rhode Island. Feels a little like buying the world’s best burrito from a bunch of white folks, but the burrito is the focus, not the cooks in the kitchen. The duo just released Poor David’s Almanack under Rawlings’ name. It comes with the following message: “Traditional stories and songs were used as the basis for several songs in this collection. These are our versions; feel free to create your own.” Okay.
But why would you? These versions are going to be tough to top. To me, the highlight of the single disc is the one, two punch of “Cumberland Gap” and “Airplane” on side one. Good night, Americana. These folks can create a mood. “Cumberland Gap” oozes a bit of danger into the air, while “Airplane” sails through that air and wipes the danger clean. You’ll squint at the majesty of the whole thing. Like looking at the sun. Or an eclipse of the sun without adequate eye protection, if you’re the leader of the free world. “Airplane” has that weeping beauty thing that makes you wonder why a song so pretty can make you feel so wistful. The whole record has that effect, really. It’s so nice to know that folks are out there making true to the bone roots music, and that it’s genuine. Rawlings and Welch met at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. They had the skills and talent to carry their music to the forefront of this “Roots movement,” and then they went and did it. If you doubt the existence of such a movement, one trip to Golden Gate Park during the first full weekend of October will confirm it for you, if you care to make the trip. I highly recommend it. And I suggest Poor David’s Almanack as a fine point of entry if you want to explore the outer limits of what’s possible within the musical confines of Appalachia, country, and bluegrass. On second thought, that language is a little sloppy. These folks don’t sound confined at all. They’ve found a way of working within this framework while keeping things fresh. There’s plenty of humor in these tunes, and more musicianship than the ears can handle at once. It’s a quick listen, and a brilliant document. This is what real music sounds like in the hands and hearts of true musicians. They sound like they could get by comfortably without electricity. Like they’ve been churning their own butter or something.
And they really have been making their own records as of late. They bought their own lathe, apparently, because they were dissatisfied with the quality of modern vinyl production. They mastered Almanack from the analogue tapes, and the full-bodied sound and deep sonic textures reveal that. Unfortunately, I’ve got what sounds like about 25 seconds worth of “no fill” during “Good God A Woman.” I will not be withdrawing my support on account of that. I hope they get it right. I can’t wait for more.
Alrighty, gang. It’s Fruit Bats time again. For our readers who may have missed it: I caught the band’s lead singer sitting in with My Morning Jacket a couple of years ago after missing the Bats’ opening set for that show. I was blown away by dude’s voice. Flash forward, and I have five Fruit Bats records in my collection including the one we’re here to discuss: Live at Pickathon. That’s a fair amount of music, which tells me that Fruit Bats are one of my favorite new bands working. I still haven’t caught them live. I hope to fix that soon because this document is a fun one. Let’s see…
The bulk of the songs on Pickathon were pulled from the band’s newest studio release, Absolute Loser. That one has lots of songs on it that I like. (There are none from the band’s RSD release called The Glory of the Fruit Bats, which might have my favorite material on it, taken all around.) There are three tunes from The Ruminant Band and a couple from Tripper. So, Live at Pickathon focuses mostly on newer material. Good enough. I’ve not explored any of the band’s material that predates these records any old way. I’m like anyone else; I like to hear songs that I’m familiar with in live settings. And I’d have been stoked to have been at this show. Eric D. Johnson has way more grit in his lungs than I’d have guessed based solely on his studio work. That’s something worth knowing. He’s not a growler or a barker, the guy sings like an angel. It’s nice to know he can get down in the dirt with the rest of us when the time comes. His band has a clean sound, but it still cuts the mustard onstage according to what I’m hearing here. I’m not as wild about the synth solo on “Absolute Loser” as I could be, but it’s a sound I can’t outrun. I’m of the opinion that it should be off limits to anyone not named Stevie Wonder or Herbie Hancock, but no one asked me anyway. Overall, this record is lovely. I was most interested to hear the live take on “Baby Bluebird,” and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a solo effort, just like on the original, but Johnson accompanies his voice with an electric guitar on Pickathon as opposed to the studio version’s acoustic. Beyond that, it’s pretty by the book. The beautiful, gut-wrenching book. “Humbug Mountain Song” kicks off side two, and that’s a party for your senses. The studio’s banjo parts sound like they are being played on an electric guitar with banjo effects. There are no liners included with this release so it’s hard to know. The performances pass the ear test though. I can tell y’all that much right now. If you’ve got an ear for well-crafted pop music with a rocker’s bent, you may want to dive in to this band’s catalog. I’m certainly glad that I did. I’ll be set for a while, now. Until they do something new. And I’ll be looking out for that, trust me. I’m all in.
There’s nothing special about this pressing or presentation. No download code. No sonic spectacular. Some of the recordings sound a little distant, some get a little closer. The performances are where it’s at, and this is a fun document of what sounds like a fine show. We are not in the audiophile’s arena. If I were going to suggest a place to start, it would probably be with Tripper or Absolute Loser. Happy hunting…
Sundazed did some smoking Johhny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis greatest hits reissues in mono a few years back. The Cash cover was red, the Lewis art was blue. I hoped like hell for months on end that they’d do a Carl Perkins set in white. But they did not. I had to wait until ORG did a Record Store Day release a couple of years ago to get some Perkins recordings out of my dreams and onto my shelf. More recently, they did Perkins’ Best of Sun Records Sessions. It purports to have been mastered specifically for vinyl.
And surely, it was, but I can all but guarantee that these recordings were sourced digitally. I emailed the label about the RSD release, and was told that the original tapes were not serviceable. The song that I’m here for is Perkins’ take on “Only You.” I weep ever time. I did a quick side-by-side comparison between the RSD release and this newer one, and I actually give the sonic nod to the older title. It sounds slightly fuller, less sharp in the high end. The RSD title also has the advantage of having been a reissue of Perkins’ first actual release from 1957, but it was not advertised as having been mastered for vinyl, I don’t think. I typically don’t go in much for compilations, but the current release is special because I don’t foresee Carl Perkins getting much love in the audiophile arena going forward. I mean, I doubt that MoFi is going to explore his catalog, really. The new release includes 10 songs that were not on the RSD title (4 that were). Totally worth it to have both, especially if Perkins really isn’t going to get another look from a reputable label soon. I never hear too much about him in general, but I prefer listening to Perkins over Elvis any time. “All Mama’s Children” is a frigging blast. Perkins’ version of “Roll Over Beethoven” sounds like Perkins covering Jerry Lee covering Chuck Berry, but it’s cool, daddy-o. “Put Your Cat Clothes On” sounds exactly like the kind of thing that probably scared my grandmother out of her wits, but here’s the rub: That one is on side two. And my side two contains a pronounced hiss throughout its entirety. Something went wrong, y’all. And it is not pretty. Pretty demoralizing, maybe. You’re rocking right along through side one, and you get the wind knocked out of you when you flip the disc. And it stays out of you for an entire album’s side. I hate to report this because I appreciate much of what ORG Music does. They press some of their stuff at Pallas, but this (and the RSD release) was pressed in the Czech Republic, and that plant has a shoddy reputation according to the forums that I’ve visited. Maybe they earned it.
I was excited about this release, and I hate to give a negative report on music I love and labels I respect, but they blew it on this one. Side 2 is not listenable, simple as that. If you want to get some Perkins into your collection, and I suggest you do, go for The Dance Album of Carl Perkins by ORG from a couple of years ago. You’ll have a little better luck there, hopefully…
(Unfortunately, this record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)