LANDSLIDE RECORDS 40TH ANNIVERSARY Various Artists (Landslide) *****+
There is so much great music happening outside of the major record label system, always has been. Out in the wilderness we find outfits like Landslide Records. Based in Atlanta, Landslide is celebrating their 40th year with a double disc helping of notable artists that have appeared on the label like The Derek Trucks Band, Widespread Panic, Tinsley Ellis and Webb Wilder. If you think the south is just about country and blues this 33 song collection will set the record straight- pun fully intended.
“You should start a label, man” said Atlanta’s Bruce Hampton to Michael Rothschild during one of their many conversations about music. “(He) was coaxing me into producing the other-worldly material he’d been creating with his musical partner Billy McPherson, who were known professionally as The Bronze Age” Michael recalls. “Making a record with these talented characters promised to be an entertaining sideline from my corporate job. Hampton also assured me that consequently ‘we would all be riding around in limousines.’ Even if the truth fell short of his assessment, it was the beginning of Landslide Records.”
Not knowing much about Landslide I was expecting a couple of hours of decent quality blues, but the label’s vision is so much wider than that. There is that yes, but they market an abundance of high quality roots-oriented Southern artists. Early on, they released debut albums from Webb Wilder & The Beatnecks, Widespread Panic, Cigar Store Indians, The Lost Continentals and The Derek Trucks Band. From early tracks like Webb Wilder’s rockabilly confection Dance For Daddy to the dark jazz of Mike Mattison’s Midnight In Harlem and everything in between, there’s a lot more to southern music than drawlin’ and twangin’. From blues to country to boogie to jazz to rock & roll, they leave no stone unturned.
“Moving forward, Hampton helped point the label towards a jazz-based roster” Rothschild says of his label’s early days. Today, he notes that “It’s been a great ride so far. We’ve coped with all the music business changes along the way… from vinyl records to cassettes to compact discs, to digital downloads and streaming, all of which presented new challenges. Currently, we look forward to moving ahead with a new slate of releases scheduled for 2022.” The sound quality on some of these tunes varies, sometimes dramatically, but if you step back and take it in as part of the larger narrative it makes for an entertaining listening experience. Landslide Records 40th Anniversary is the sound of a South I barely knew existed and thanks to this set, I’m eager to learn more. www.landsliderecords.com
Disc One: Coolest Fools (Delta Moon), Drivin’ Woman (Tinsley Ellis & The Heartfixers), Dance For Daddy (Webb Wilder &The Beatnecks)
Disc Two: Woman your Guitar (Jan Smith), Notorious (The Lost Continentals), Mr. PC (The Derek Trucks Band)
AMERICAN STATIC, VOL.1 Andrew Leahey & The Homestead (Mule Kick Records) ****
“Sharp storytelling and fist-pumping rock & roll” is what rolling Stone says about this band and, after listening to their new album, I can hear what they’re saying. American Static, Vol.1 is the first half of a double album project, with the second half due early next year. Part Tom Petty, George Harrison and Cheap Trick, this is Americana the likes of which we haven’t really heard since The Heartbreakers.
Of course, American Static is yet another record that owes much to the circumstances of the pandemic. “This project came together while we were all stuck at home” says Leahey, who wrote all of the songs for Vol.1 and the forthcoming Vol.2. “I certainly felt like a static American, shut indoors for a year. But there’s a real sense of movement to that title too. Imagine a radio dial that’s being turned, with static occurring between stations. That static is simply the noise you have to hear before you find something better. American Static is an album about immobility and transition… about the things that linger in our way and the paths we take past them.”
There’s a certain earthiness, a grounded in reality-ness that fans of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers will find familiar and comfortable. Doing a double record and releasing the discs one at a time is a ballsy move, and that’s just one of the things you gotta like about Andrew Leahey & The Homestead. The obvious question to ask them would by “why?” I suspect their answer might be a short and sweet “why not?” When they rock out there’s a life affirming swagger to the proceedings, and piano-based ballads like Disco Ball are quite affecting in a different way. Electric guitars, vocal harmonies, melancholic piano and cinematic hooks make this feel like a cross between Tom Petty and maybe early Eagles… in other words, great “thinkin’ about stuff” music that transcends genres and generations. This one really sticks with you. www.andrewleaheymusic.com
BEST CUTS: Shadows That Still Stretch, Disco Ball, Good At Gone
REFLECTIONS: 50 HEAVY METAL YEARS OF MUSIC Judas Priest (Epic) *** ½
On October 15th, Judas Priest released an insanely epic 42 disc box set including all of their studio records, live albums, and several discs of previously unreleased live material. Impressive, but with a suggested price of $479.98 it is out of reach for many of us, including me. Realizing that not everyone’s pockets are that deep, Sony Music wisely issued this highlights collection. This 2 LP version of Reflections includes an album of select studio cuts and official live recordings, and an album of live tracks culled from the bonus material included in the ginormous box set. It’s a decent balance of power.
How do you cover a band’s 50+ year career in one double album package? You gotta pick some tunes and let the chips fall where they may- no matter what you do, someone is going to be pissed off. I applaud Epic for going mostly outside the tried, true and tired list of hits and well known songs to find deeper cuts in the Priest canon. Album #1 covers the band’s history from Sin After Sin (1977, their 3rd album and first with Columbia) to 2018’s Firepower, plus it includes cuts from Unleashed In The East (arguably one of the best live rock records) and Priest… Live! As a fan of some 43 years it’s all stuff I’m familiar with, but it’s always a kick to hear it again.
Where Reflections gets fun for me is on the 2nd record with cuts pulled from the bonus discs in the box set. Producer Tom Allom gathered live tapes from many different sources- many of them soundboard tapes I would assume- and cleaned ‘em up to give us what would rightly be described as excellent quality bootlegs. Of course any Judas Priest fan worth his metal (see what I did there?) will recognize the songs, but these are recordings and versions we’re hearing for the first time. Of particular historical interest is material from early shows, such as Beyond The Realms Of Death, recorded at The Mudd Club in New York on the Hell Bent For Leather tour. I’ve only been able to see the band in recent years, so I wasn’t there.
Judas Priest didn’t invent heavy metal, but they’ve spent their entire career championing the cause and playing the music. Reflections offers a brief glimpse at what makes them mighty; it’s also a love letter to their fans. What would have made this better would be including even one track from the Ripper era when Tim Owens replaced Halford at the mic. Even though those albums are included in the 50 Heavy Metal Years Of Music box set they were issued on different labels, so perhaps the licensing deal Sony struck didn’t cover a compilation like Reflections. Can’t afford the humungous box set? Hey, you’re not alone… but this offers a chance to enjoy and celebrate the music once again. www.judaspriest.com
ALBUM #1: Eat Me Alive, Never The Heroes, Running Wild (live)
ALBUM #2: Bloodstone, Beyond The Realms of Death, Sinner
KISBEE RING Abby Posner (independent) ******
Sometimes it takes effort to get into an album. Other times you like a record right away, but the latest from Abby Posner is a different proposition altogether; I was captivated and entranced immediately. Kisbee Ring (slang for a life preserver) with Abby’s delicate acoustic guitar picking and gorgeous vocal harmonies deliver dark lyrical themes that speak directly to the heart and make a soul connection that leaves you breathless.
Abby Posner is a multi-instrumentalist from Los Angeles, and is known for her ability to play nearly any instrument she can get her hands on as she blends folk, pop and roots into what she calls “genre fluid” music. She produced this disc and played every instrument; the very definition of a solo album. Kisbee Ring’s multi-tracked vocals and harmonies make this feel like an old Simon & Garfunkel record, and like Simon’s lyrics, she’s not afraid of the dark. Her songs, while often delightful to the ear, deal with subjects like depression, racial unrest, and getting help when you find yourself in a dark place.
Maybe it’s my own familiarity with such places that makes Kisbee Ring a monumental experience for me. I’ve been there several times and in fact go more often than I would like, so this feels almost like a soundtrack for those journeys. It’s a relief to know that someone gets it, that someone understands, and as Kisbee Ring is another term for a life preserver, it’s an appropriate metaphor to carry through the intensely personal lyrics of these ten songs. To me, this is about facing your darkness and dealing with it as best you can, finding your own way out the other side.
Posner has composed music for commercials, TV and film all over the world, appeared in an episode of Glee, and won a songwriting award through The Topanga Folk Festival last year for her original song Blind Spots, included on this album. The heavy emotional content of Kisbee Ring coupled with Abby’s supple musicianship is good medicine. www.abbyposner.com
BEST CUTS: Emergency Use Only, Kisbee Ring, Is It Wrong
JOSEPH AND THE VELOZIANS Joseph Veloz (Big O Records) *****
If there’s a place called Groovetown and they have a mayor, it would have to be this guy. Joseph & The Velozians, his new album, is a swanky and steaming blend of blues, funk, R&B, roots and rock & roll. This is energetic, captivating and thoroughly wonderful.
As a bassist and producer, Joseph is virtually in a class by himself. On his website he says “I have strived to accomplish a high level of skill as a bassist by creating and developing deep organic grooves along with strong song and melodic sensitivity”, which he does easily on The Velozians. Whether playing an original song or covering a blues standard like I Got My Mojo Working this new disc grooves with a relaxed fierceness that I find inspiring- both as a novice bass player and a listener.
Lots of people make up The Velozians, too many to mention here, but Thornetta Davis is worth singling out for her soulful vocals on I Got My Mojo Working and Crazy. She really brings the heat but she doesn’t overdo it by lapsing into vocal histrionics; she has soul, taste and power as she exercises magnificent control of her considerable instrument.
It’s tough to talk about Joseph & The Velozians in terms of any one genre, but the dominant feel here is a combination of R&B and old school funk. Veloz exercises great taste throughout, both in his own compositions and the numbers he has elected to cover with his band. I can imagine him saying “if we can’t feel it we can’t play it”, and by gum you get a little jolt of something from every note, passage, solo and groove you come across in these 8 tracks. I get a similar thing from this as I do from old school Commodores or Booker T. & The MG’s. This is music you feel as much as you hear.
I was right in 2019 when, in a review of Joseph Veloz’s album Offerings, I called him “a bassist of uncommon skill and taste”, and that’s even more true on his latest record. So put on Joseph & The Velozians, groove, and enjoy. www.jmveloz.com
BEST CUTS: I Got My Mojo Working, Crazy, The Velozian Shuffle
BLACKLIST UPTOPIA David Reece (El Puerto Records) *** ½
The one time voice of Accept (he replaced Udo Dirkschneider in ’88 for the album Eat The Heat) follows up last year’s Cacophony Of Souls with another slab of scorching hard rock. If you’re expecting shades of Accept then maybe this isn’t for you; but if hard charging riffery and compelling musicianship are your thing, Blacklist Utopia is for you.
As a singer Reece is no more like Dirkschneider than Accept’s current howler Mark Tornillo, but David has a solid voice that seems cut out for this kind of work. He’s also used his talents in groups like Bangalore Choir, Bonfire and most recently The Sainted Sinners. On Blacklist Utopia Reece’s creative partner is guitarist Andy Susemihl, whose riffs occupy a space between mainstream metal and, let’s say, Sabbath. He also scorches the fret board with solos on songs like Civil War. David matches Andy’s playing with some fairly inventive vocal lines, which makes this album a whole lot of fun to listen to. Gotta love that galloping sense of tension from the rhythm section of Malte Frederik Burkert on bass and ex- Primal Fear and U.D.O. drummer Francesco Jovino.
David Reece is an American singer, so it’s no surprise to find a track like American Dream on Blacklist Utopia, but it’s a mid-tempo acoustically based ballad that breaks the relentless hard rockin’ metal bravado quite nicely; if this was the 80’s we’d be calling it a ‘power ballad’. I also dig the way Burkert’s bass takes the lead on Hindsight Is 2020. Overall this is a good, solid album with a real journeyman ‘let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work’ vibe. The production is competent, but I find myself wondering how the disc might have turned out with a superstar producer like Bob Rock, Tom Allom or Andy Sneap working their magic to take something good and make it great.
Blacklist Utopia is, at the end of the day, fairly standard denim ‘n’ leather rock & roll, and people that dig mid-period Judas Priest will enjoy it a great deal. Despite solid songs and some damn good playing, it needs a nudge to lift it above the fray, an ingredient that I can’t readily put my finger on, to go from good to great. Solid stuff, this, but at times it comes across a bit ordinary. All things considered though, good driving music. www.davidreeceofficial.info
BEST CUTS: Civil War, Hindsight is 2020, Save Me