Rick Galusha's Pacific St. Blues and Americana

Since inception (1989), Pacific St. Blues & Americana strives to be a discerning voice helping roots fans sift through the mountains of music released every year. We are not for everyone; we want to engage active, critical listeners that hear beyond d'jour. Interviews include: Johnny Winter, Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jerry Wexler, Tommy Shannon & Chris Layton, B.B. King, Dr. John, Robin Trower, Robben Ford, Mato Nanji, Joe Bonamassa, Harry Manx, Sue Foley, Marshall Chess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Louvin, Kim Richey, Radney Foster, Eric Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Al Kooper, Phil Chen (Wired, Blow By Blow), Ian McLagan, Art Neville, Southside Johnny, Miami Steve Van Zant, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Iglauer, Charlie Musselwhite, Studebaker John, Chris Duarte, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Hamilton Loomis, Peter Karp, Roomful of Blues, James Harman, Hadden Sayers, Malford Milligan, Melvin Taylor, Otis Taylor, Dave Alvin, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Marsha Ball, Maria Muldaur, Shelby Lynne, Magic Dick & J. Geils, Lil' Milton, BuddyGuy, Aynsley Lister, Matt Schofield, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, James Cotton, Robin & Jesse Davey, Hugh Coltman (Hoax), Sean Kelly (Samples), John Entwistle (The Who), Mark Olson (Jayhawks), Walter Wolfman Washington, Anthony Gomes, Bob Malone, Chubby Carrier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Murali Coryell, David Jacob Strain, DeAnna Bogart, Michael Lee Firkins, Guy Davis, Jason Ricci, John Doe, Little Feat, Matt Woods, MikeZito, Peter Buffett, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Corky Siegel, Todd Park Mohr, Watermelon Slim, Magic Slim, Corey Harris,- - - - - - ------------------------Radio archives: http://www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com/. Playlists: http://www.omahablues.com/ Reviews featured in http://www.blueswax.com/. Email: KIWRblues@gmail.com Live online; Sundays 9 a.m. (-6 GMT) http://www.897theriver.com/

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Album Review: Ian McLagan, Here Comes Trouble

Artist: Ian McLagan
Title: Here Comes Trouble
Rating: 9
Writer: Rick Galusha

Okay, I love this guy – always have. He’s the ‘pocket guy’ on so many albums from the ‘60’s and 70’s that are the foundation for my love of rock music including the Rolling Stone’s, ‘Some Girls’ album or the organ line from Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May.” Whether as a member of the Small Faces (“Itchycoo Park”) or a founding member of that great band, ‘The Faces,’ (who picked up Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones) after they’d left the Jeff Beck Group) Ian McLagan was smack dab in the middle of rock’s golden era. A quick glance at the great English rock-come-blues movement and Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan is playing on Stewart’s and Wood’s solo albums or appearing on Ronnie Lane’s projects or as an long term addition to the Rolling Stones. Ian McLagan has also lent the benefit of his talents for touring to prestigious acts like Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt and currently Billy Bragg. His, is an amazing rock n’ roll life.

McLagan’s web-only (www.MacsPages.com) release, ‘Here Comes Trouble,’ is an amalgamation of two previously released albums; ‘Troublemaker’ and ‘Last Chance to Dance’ along with a cover of The Who’s ‘Picture’s of Lilly,’ an extended version of ‘Truly,’ and another version of the song, ‘Last Chance to Dance.’ In all there are seventeen tracks.

While most fans are aware of the “big” albums surrounding the English pop-rock blues movement; ‘Exile on Main Street’ by the Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart’s albums on the Mercury label and all those rollicking Faces albums, there is a deep niche of lesser know but equally compelling albums such as the first three Ron Wood solo records, ‘Rough Mix’ by Ronnie Lane & The Who’s Peter Townshend, and McLagan’s ‘Troublemaker.’

In 1977 Keith Richards was busted for drug violations in Canada. One of the off-shoots of that was Ronnie Wood’s New Barbarian’s band which included Richards, McLagan, and Zigaboo Modeliste (The Meters) and jazz bassist Stanley Clarke as well as long time Stone’s sax player, and Texan, Bobby Keys. When the tour ended the band ended up in Rob Fraboni’s ‘Shangri-La Studios and recorded a total of five tracks; one for each member of the band including ‘Truly’ which ended up on the Mac’s ‘Troublemaker’ album. Interestingly an extended version of the track is included on this package clocking in at nearly 12 minutes. (In mid-2007 a double CD set of the New Barbarians Live was released on Wood’s, Wooden Records). ‘Troublemaker’ ends with McLagan covering Ron Wood’s Mystifies Me. Devoid of pop catering tunes the album is pure and beautiful – the type of album that today could resurrect the Stone’s current lackluster recordings.

The ‘Last Chance to Dance’ EP (1985) is only four songs long and while obscure is a fine examples of up-tempo abandoned rock n’ roll with the obvious heavy English interpretation. ‘You’re My Girl,’ (the opening track off his solo effort, ‘Rise and Shine’) originally came out on this EP.

In all, Ian McLagan is an advocate for rock music and this solo effort is an amazing unrealized gem where the guitars of Keith Richards and Ron Wood are unleashed; where Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner and Ringo Starr all contribute. It is a fine if heretofore unrecognized piece of the best of British music available.

Just for the record McLagan has also guested on albums by; Bruce Springsteen, Frank Black, Patty Griffin, Taj Mahal, Melissa Etheridge, Robyn Hitchcock, Mary Gauthier, Robert Earl Keen, Kelly Willis, Paul Westerberg, John Hiatt, Tom Russell, Midge Ure, The Georgia Satellites, Izzy Stradlin (Guns n’ Roses), Toni Price, Chris Gaffney (Dave Alvin), LeRoi Brothers, James McMurtry, Joe Cocker and others. Recently McLagan has settled in Austin – the former home of the late Ronnie Lane. In 2006 McLagan released the highly regarded tribute album, ‘Spiritual Boy’ which comprised covers of songs written by former Faces & Small Faces band-mate Ronnie Lane. McLagan’s book, ‘All the Rage’ chronicles his musical life.

Album Review: Anthony Gomes, Live

Artist: Anthony Gomes
Title: Live

Writer: Rick Galusha

Rock is dead – long live ‘the blues.’ Perhaps since the guitar was plugged into an amplifier or maybe it was when Nirvana signed to a major label, either way “rock” has been sliding into the obscurity of numerous niches categories and “the blues” has become a codeword for screaming guitars and loud drums. To some degree you have to know the code in order to fully understand the nuisance of the statement. Yes, there are still Blues records being put out but many of the ‘the blues’ records being released are actually “rock” records. So what? Indeed, so what. Really it only matters when you consider Blues to be a traditional American artform – after than, it’s just music and the affixed genre label is little more than a marketing effort.

Anthony Gomes is the Pete Rose of ‘the blues;’ a fighter that just is not going to give up. The latest effort by showman Anthony Gomes is a live album recorded at Seattle’s Triple Door venue in February 2007. It is a high energy ruckus affair that showcases Gomes’ aptitude toward abandoned ‘twang bar king’ playing. And it has absolutely no connection to Blues but will be readily identified as ‘the blues.’ Much like Joe Bonamassa before him, Gomes ties in Classic Rock licks that sharp ears and sober minds will pick up on. For example, on the track, ‘Bluebird’ keyboardist Todd Hamric melds in an organ line by The Doors’ Ray Manzerak’s from the famed song, ‘Riders on the Storm.’ Again, it’s a fun, tasty gesture.

By the fourth track the band jumps into Led Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker’ including a bombastic extended guitar solo. What’s not fun about a well played cover? After all, some Blues artists are anchored to playing songs thirty years their senior.

The sixth track, ‘When the Right Woman Does You Wrong’ is a slow bluesy number that bear up to crescendo after crescendo giving Gomes a slow burning simmer that explodes amid a cliché warning the he is, “about to lose control.” And so the platform for yet another guitar solo is set and like a lemming to the sea Gomes knows that it is pyrotechniques that butters the bread on his roadshow.

“Falling” is a U2-like track that pulls in sentimental mood as Gomes’ sings “At this moment I am humble and I surrender to your voice. I’m falling. You know its hard to walk on water with broken bones and worn out shoes, I’ve thrown every punch, I’ve run every road, I’ve got nothing else to lose.” Clearly a contemporary radio friendly track that end with the sound of Helicopter’s and John F. Kennedy saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country” before melding into the anti-conflict track from his previous album, ‘War on War.’ “Talk about a revolution, a soul solution, something worth fighting for…My name is Anthony Gomes Ladies and Gentlemen and I believe in Love.”

Gomes’ band rocks and, as his career progresses, his playing becomes finer and more nuisanced. That said, it is unlikely he’ll cut any new ground or create a school of protégées. His albums are readily apparent. None-the-less he is a personable barroom brawler that can write a good song, play a mean guitar and put together a well constructed album that will stand up to repeated listens and bring the fan enjoyment. He is an entertainer first and foremost and there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving folks what they came to hear.

Album Review: Randy McAllister, Duck Slap Soup

Artist: Randy McAllister
Title: Duck Slap Soup
Writer: Rick Galusha

It’s been my experience that the Texas brand of “blues” allows for great deviation from the traditional 12 bar call-call-response. No doubt the genre is a respected giant within the scene. Drummer, singer, songwriter and harp player Randy McAllister hails from Texas. While he has yet to place his stamp upon the national scene for his pop-orientated Texas blues sound, it is fresh and gathering momentum. McAllister’s songwriting is creative albeit unchallenged and like many contemporary blues players he wanders from tradition while embracing “blues” sounds and textures.

The album opens with a most pleasant, ‘Clear My Head.’ Very Delbert McClinton like this song has a powerful melody line and tasty slide guitar licks interspersed. It modulates up; building slowly into a song about the complexities of modern life. Predictably the opening track is also the most radio friendly.

McAllister turns to a Memphis soul sounds with the song, ‘When I Get Back Home’ that is Otis Redding like in its melody and arrangement. Emotionally the song fails to fully grasp the style and thus the album begins to crack.

In the 70’s Boston’s, ‘J. Geils Band’ was putting out some of the finest blues based rock n’ roll records of the era. McAllister’s ‘I Have to Set You Free,’ written by Mike Morgan, is very Geils like minus the inherent energetic mayhem interplay that Wolf and the band excelled at. Nonetheless it’s a solid ballad that becomes a door to opening up the rest of this album.

In his vocals on ‘The Girl Ain’t Right’ McAllister uses guitarist Mike Morgan to echo his slurred vocal line while Benita Arterberry-Burns sings a ‘gospel’ like back-up. It’s a rumbling tune with high energy that some fans will find appealing.

‘Close Your Eyes’ harkens to a stripped down soul song of the late ‘60’s with a strong melody line and spacious backdrop. The song ‘$127.00 Sandwich’ couldn’t end fast enough for this listener. The album closes with the AC/DC riffed, ‘Steady Decline.’ Mike Hanna’s organ lines and background vocals support the song as Mike Morgan steps up to take the guitar solo.

If success is an album that appeals to a wide audience, sells well and engages the listener this is an average effort by a promising artist. McAllister’s singing is average and this album, while entertaining, is not groundbreaking – leaning too heavily on trite riffs. Like many blues artists McAllister is a likeable character who gives glimpses of a promising future but just doesn’t seem to able to lift the album off the ground. All the pieces are in place but it fails to meld into a cohesive entertaining recording unable to set the world on fire. Committed fans will adore this record; however, for the uninitiated I would suggest waiting for the next effort.

Album Review: Vee Jay Records boxset

Vee Jay Records boxset
Various Artists
Writer: Rick Galusha

The landscape of music recording is littered with now legendary recording labels including; Sun, Chess, Stax and Atlantic. Long before Gary, Indiana’s Jackson Five became a Motown phenomenon, Vee-Jay Records was making history as a successful label owned and operated by a married African-American couple; Vivian Carter and James Bracken; much like Stax the label name is an amalgamation of the owner’s names.

Eventually the label would move down-the-road to Chicago. Within the blues idiom perhaps their most significant signing was also their best; Jimmy Reed who got 17 charted singles with Vee-Jay. According to their website (www.vee-jay.net), “When we first met Jimmy Reed in 1953, he was actually working in Chicago in the stockyards, where he was cutting up cattle. ..one day and we heard Jimmy play. We asked him, “Do you have any songs that you have written?” And he says, "No, but I’ve got some I made up.” And that was how we got Jimmy Reed…Jimmy was something else. He’d get drunk the day of the session, so I had a police officer that I’d get to “arrest” him the night before and take him to jail. I’d come down the next morning and pick him up and take him to the studio. I never told him that, because I don’t think he would have appreciated it that I put him in the tank overnight. That was the only way I could get him down to the studio sober. On most of his dates, he was dead drunk. If you notice, he slurred very badly. He could read, but he was playing guitar at the same time, so his wife would have to whisper the lyric in his ear. Sometimes, you could hear her leaking through on the microphone.”

Other famed blues artists aligned with Vee-Jay included; Billy Boy Arnold, Eddie Taylor, Elmore James, Jay McShann, John Lee Hooker, Camille Howard, Hank Ballard, Pee Wee Crayton, Snooky Prior, The Staple Singers, Jerry Butler, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, Betty Everett, Little Richard and Billy Preston. An observant eye will notice a significant overlap with the New Orleans/ Los Angles based ‘Specialty Record’ label.

Specifically tracks that blues fans will enjoy include; Jimmy Reed’s, ‘Ain’t that Loving You Baby,’ John Lee Hooker’s, ‘Dimples,’ Gene Allison’s, ‘You Can Make It If You Try,’ Elmore James’ ‘It Hurts Me Too,’ and Betty Everett’s, ‘You’re No Good’ as later covered by Linda Ronstadt or Gloria Jones’ ‘Tainted Love’ as later covered by Soft Cell.

Most rock fans will favor a faint memory that it was Vee-Jay that released the first four American singles for the Fab Four as Beatlemania kicked off in the United States. However their reaches into pop music included, The Four Seasons and their song, ‘Sherry,’ The Dell’s, ‘Oh What a Nite,’ Hank Ballard’s original version of, ‘The Twist,’ Dee Clark’s ‘Raindrops,’ and Gene Chandler’s, ‘Duke of Earl.’

In general this is a very interesting snapshot of a successful regional record company that for a brief moment lived in the crux where ‘the blues’ melded into ‘rock n’ roll.’ It is clearly not a collection of songs that everyone is going to “must own” but it is a very tasty supplement to a healthy collection or at the very least a fine foundation from which to begin a musicological exploration into the history of modern American music.

Album Review: Marah, Angels of Destruction

Rock n’ Roll used to be about “down” with the man and “up” the establishment. It’s used to be a young man’s game. Like it or not I have matured into the establishment. Consequently I shy away from reviewing rock records. However Marah, the band, have released their seventh album, ‘Angels of Destruction’ and it is compelling.

Based in Philadelphia, Marah has seen more than its fair share of personnel changes over the past fifteen years. Entertainment Weekly columnist Stephen King described Marah as, ‘the best rock band in America that nobody knows about.” Since their initial national release, “Kids in Philly” Marah have been a critic’s darling but seen little success outside of hipsters and record geeks. In spite of that horrible handicap, their latest album, “Angels of Destruction” is a superb example of an exceptionally well thought out rootsy based rock that brings together of bit of Springsteen’s “Wild & Innocent” album instrumentation together with an earthy Subdudes-like Americana sound and a Patti Smith or Velvet Underground street sense into an immediately accessible rock record. Heavy on pop-like melody lines the band leans on obscure lyrics amid layered arrangements. Its clear this band has a rock-n-roll heart; a sense of history as they steal from the best and make it their own. On first blush the listener can easily get into the songs and, with repeated listens, dig in deeper to the vast textures. All the songs on the album were written by the band with brothers David and Serge Bielanko contributing the most.

On the opening track, ‘Coughing Up Blood’ the band uses an up-tempo beat that carries throughout the album. This panoramic tune is propelled across a sonic landscape by drummer Dave Petersen brushes on the snare emulating a purring engine. ‘Angles on a Passing Train’ is a cityscape epic that slowly builds into a beautiful near ballad of movement amid an urban setting where David Bielanko sings, “Here we go, its just around the corner, Angles on a passing train, Step into the light” Throughout the album the band uses Christian imagery at arms length much like early and now later period Springsteen records. While the overt texture of the album is roots rock there is a faint underbelly of electronic sound effects that come to presence towards the end of the song.

By the firth track, ‘Blue but Cool’ the band is in the pocket of an exceptionally strong album. Amid a heart achingly moving melody line Bielanko sings, “Reelin’ from a tongue kiss on the outskirts of foreverness…I wonder what they think of this back at infatuationess. Now that we are home darling, how come we both keep starin’ at the front door?”

This should be Marah’s long predicted breakthrough album. Early in 1998 Lucinda Williams’ album, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road’ came out very early in the year under Spin Magazine’s declaration that it was destine to be “the album of the year.” While Willliams is an enigmatic figure, Spin’s gesture came off as a premature bandwagon gaff. Marah’s ‘Angels of Destruction’ will be this year’s opening calling card that shines among a rather otherwise dreary release schedule.