Rock Doc Reviews for Nov1st

MTV UNPLUGGED: DELUXE EDITION Eric Clapton (Reprise) *****This is a deluxe reissue of one of the most popular MTV Unplugged sessions, originally released in 1992.  With outtakes, alternate versions and a DVD of the show itself along with rehearsal footage, UDE is a textbook case of how a re-issue should be done.Unplugged came out originally at a time when Clapton’s musical future was in doubt- his young son Conor had died in a tragic accident, and fans waited to see if Eric would make music again.  First came the soundtrack album for a cop movie called Rush, which included the electrifying duet with Buddy Guy on Willie Dixon’s Don’t Know Which Way To Go, along with the song written to express his anguish, Tears In Heaven.The majority of songs included on the original release, disc 1 in this decently priced 3 disc package, are covers of some of Clapton’s favorite blues numbers such as Hey, Hey, Alberta and Malted Milk.  The hit from this is an acoustic reworking of Layla, a song he famously wrote for George Harrison’s wife in 1970.  He speaks little throughout the performance, instead preferring to let the music do the talking- and if you listen, it tells you everything you need to know about how he was doing at the time.Even if you own the original release, the record company has made the deluxe reissue very much worth having.  Aside from the original album there is a bonus disc with 6 tracks; different takes of Running On Faith and Walkin’ Blues, plus a terrific version of Worried Life Blues. The songs Circus and My Father’s Eyes, performed here, are early versions of songs that that would appear on Pilgrim in 1998.  As with Tears In Heaven, both are about Conor- the sound of a bereaved father working through his grief.  Disc 3 is a DVD of the original Unplugged broadcast, featuring all the songs that were included on the CD in 1992, plus some rehearsal footage.  The sonic and visual quality is stunning.I hadn’t listened to the original album in quite awhile but when I heard a couple of months ago that this deluxe reissue was coming, I got genuinely excited.   Surely a high point in the series, Eric Clapton’s MTV Unplugged: Deluxe Edition is essential listening and viewing, and a crucial addition to any fan’s collection.COOL CUTS:  Running On Faith, Alberta, Layla, Circus ANGELS & CLOWNS Nuno Mindelis (Shining Stone)  *****Here is the first North American release for this stunning Brazilian blues guitarist, though he’s recorded numerous albums in his native country.  Produced by Duke Robillard and backed by Duke’s band, Angels & Clowns is one of THE finds of the year.I know nothing of Mindelis, other than what the bio tells me- born in Angola, fled to Brazil with his family at age 17, wowing blues festivals all over the world and he’s been compared to Jimmy Page by Guitar Player magazine, and also named as “best blues guitarist” in the mag’s 30th anniversary competition.  Some guitarists play so naturally that the instrument seems to be a part of them, and Nuno is one of those guys.  His leads are smooth, passionate, fluid and bursting with blues power.Angels & Clowns has a beautifully warm sound too.  “We recorded Nuno with an ‘old school’ approach in mind, using analog for basic tracks, vintage mics and tube gear to capture the essence of his soulful approach to the blues” notes engineer John Paul Gauthier.  Of the songs themselves Mindelis says “I wanted to reach for something that is within the world of the blues, yet could reach beyond it to speak to as many people as possible.”  Each track is full of soulful, insistent playing- not the sort of thing that grabs you by the collar and throws you up against the wall, but rather it throws an arm over your shoulder to casually steer you into the corner for some deep conversation.To sum up Angels & Clowns in a phrase, it’s ‘sweetly seductive’ with a pulsating blues heart.  This record is wonderful, and I can’t wait to share it on my radio show.COOL CUTS:  Miss Louise, Angels & Clowns, Perfect Blues NO MORE HELL TO PAY Stryper (Frontiers) ****Hard rock (or metal) and religion has always seemed a sketchy mix- if Jesus were to come back I get the impression he’d be more into Steely Dan or Sting, but this is the path Stryper has chosen.  The road to hell may be paved with good intentions, but No More Hell To Pay rocks harder and better than I ever expected.I was never a fan before, particularly- if you were to ask, I couldn’t name any of their old songs.  When I mentioned a couple of days ago on Facebook that this disc was quite enjoyable, the reaction was consistent;  “Yuck!”  “No, not another Stryper album!”  Such built in resentment (call it ‘The Nickelback Effect if you like) is unfortunate, because this is a really solid album. “(This) is the record we needed to make as a follow-up to To Hell With The Devil” says singer/ guitarist Michael Sweet.  “Every song has a hooky guitar riff. Everything is in minor keys, so it’s a little darker sounding and a little tougher.  It’s definitely our heaviest record, and I think people will be pleasantly surprised.”No More Hell is such a great sounding album I have to think that the time Sweet spent involved with Boston after Brad Delp’s suicide has rubbed off.  I haven’t really listened to the lyrics yet, but the song titles seem to indicate Styrper are still on the same vibe;  Water Into Wine, Renewed and a pretty good remake of the Doobies’ classic Jesus Is Just Alright.  Still, who’s to say that songs about bangin’ sluts and getting wasted are better?Forget what you know about Stryper and the music they have made previously. No More Hell To Pay is a hell of an album (pun certainly intended) and is worthy of many listens- you might find yourself pleasantly surprised too.COOL CUTS:  No More Hell To Pay, Legacy, The One NORMAL HUMAN FEELINGS Little Suns (Divergent)  **** It’s the debut album for this Montreal-based indie folk band and, like a friend told me when recommending this set, it’s impossible to feel down when listening to such brazenly cheerful music. Emotionally complex and musically uplifting, I really like this.The oblique blurb on the True North website (they distribute Divergent stuff) tells us nothing useful about the band other than the members’ names, but I get that- Little Suns would rather keep a sense of mystery about them and let the music speak for itself.  Though labeled an ‘indie-folk’ band, this sound more like gauzy pop music to me…piano, strings, synthesizers and echo on the vocals blend together to hypnotic effect, recalling some of the best of the 80’s.  A song like Where Do People Go When They Go Away sounds positively epic, though it is substantially shorter than Sunboat, the over 7 minute track that welcomes you into the album.One of the things I like best about Normal Human Feelings is that it will be whatever it damn well wants to be, regardless of what you or I might think.  I hear so many echoes of other music, artists and eras in these songs that it’s almost impossible to list them all and, quite frankly, I’m too lazy for that.  There’s kind of a jazz feel to these songs too, a sophistication to the instrumentation and use of the studio itself as an un-credited instrument that can be easy to miss on the first pass.Overall, Normal Human Feelings has a hypnotic vibe- the music is often trance-like, inviting you to relax and open up to a larger experience as the lyrics begin to infiltrate your understanding… at least, that’s what I’m getting from this.  I don’t think this will make it into the car for playback I can’t wait to try it out in the music room at home- lights off, curtains drawn, slouched in the beat up recliner and ready to drift away- hopefully onto a different plane.COOL CUTS:  Where Do People Go When They Go Away, Black Elephant, Sunboat VIVA! HYSTERIA Def Leppard (Frontiers) ***This is a live set- 2 discs and a DVD recorded during a residency this past spring at The Joint in Las Vegas.  Though I don’t have the visual component to check out here I’m listening to the 2 disc set as I type this- disc one contains a live performance, in full, of the album Hysteria while disc 2 holds a litany of hits and groovy album tracks.Though missing the sterile perfection of Leppard studio outings, you can’t beat the sheer muscle of a live performance and that’s where Viva excels.  My own history with Def Leppard is complicated- I’ve bought, sold and re-purchased most of their catalogue more than once.  When the wolves are at the door, their CD’s are among the first to go into the box to take down to the 2nd hand store, but then I always seem to end up buying new copies.  Any relevance Def Leppard has as a creative force is well in the past, which is often the case for a band this far into their career.What we have on our hands, then, is a celebration of the band’s history, and of the Hysteria album in particular.  I’m not a fan of the obvious synthesized bits used to fill out the sound, but the muscular guitar interplay between Phil Collen and Vivian Campbell is  enjoyable, Rick Allen wails pretty nicely for a one-armed drummer as Rick Savage lays down bass lines that even I could play, and I must say that Joe Elliot’s voice has aged  well- he sounds more like a rock singer now than he did back in the beginning.Reproducing a studio creation like Hysteria can be a double edged sword- you can’t recreate Mutt Lange’s obsessively perfect final result, but then I enjoy these songs as living, breathing pieces of music.  Only a fan will give a shit about Viva Hysteria, so the final act here is to quibble over the track selection for the remainder of the album.  I’d like to hear songs like Paper Sun or Tear It Down, the B-side of Women (the first single from Hysteria back in the 80’s) but this is a pretty balanced set as is, good company on a highway trip.  As for the DVD or Blu-Ray of the concert, I’ll leave that up to you.COOL CUTS:  Gods Of War, Hysteria, High ‘n’ Dry, Action DADDY TOLD ME Shawn Holt & The Teardrops (Blind Pig) *** ½ Despite the death of Magic Slim last spring, it would seem there is a future for The Teardrops after all.  It’s easy to see that Shawn got that booming voice from his father and, as the torch passes from one generation to the next if there is a heaven, then surely Magic is watching this unfold with a big old smile on his face as his boy carries on.Daddy is a tight, enjoyable album, electric Chicago blues that makes it all but impossible to sit and just listen- let alone tap on a computer keyboard!   Shawn Holt’s guitar playing, while similar to his father’s, displays a broader mix of classic and contemporary influences.  Of the 12 songs on this disc 5 are Holt originals, 2 were written by his father, with the remainder being tracks associated with Slim in one way or another.  Blues freaks will also want to note that John Primer- a former teardrop and a blues luminary in his own right- sits in one a couple of numbers here as well.While I enjoy acoustic back porch-style blues, there’s just something about the greasy, electric Chicago style that gets me where I live.  Could be a generational thing I suppose (most of my teen years were in the 70’s) but this stuff, easily kissing cousins to rock & roll, really gets my mojo workin’.  The spirit, the energy and even the history in the writing and playing here is simply captivating.In many ways Daddy Told Me is unabashedly traditional blues, perhaps old fashioned to some, but Holt has a fire in his belly and quite a legacy to live up to.  I’m sure his daddy told him all about the blues, and showed him some tricks on the guitar as well.  This disc is the sound of The Windy City and a welcome vibe in my music room anytime.COOL CUTS:  Fannie Mae, get Your Business Straight, Love Got Me Walkin’ SNOWBIRD: THE SONGS OF GENE MaCLELLAN Various (True North) *****This is a live album, a tribute to one of our country’s legendary songwriters.  The show takes place at The Zion Presbyterian Church, the same building that hosted MacLellan’s funeral after he took his own life 1995.  All that aside Snowbird is a bunch of great songs.These tracks come from the tribute concert that was recorded and broadcast by CBC TV & Radio, performed by such artists as Gene’s daughter Catherine (a wildly talented songwriter and artist as well), plus iconic east coast songwriters Ron Hynes and Lennie Gallant, both of whom had performed with Gene back in the day.Perhaps it suited MacLellan’s personality- he was famously uncomfortable in the spotlight- that others would have country-wide and world-wide hits with his songs. Anne Murray’s first hit of note was the title song to this collection, and anyone that’s listened to radio in the last 3 or 4 decades will recognize Put The Hand In The Hand, famously a hit for the band Ocean.Each artist takes these songs and makes them his or her own.  I was surprised and delighted by Catherine MacLellan’s version of Snowbird, rendered a melancholy prayer here as a counterpoint to Murray’s famously  jubilant hit version, and Lennie Gallant’s take on The Call sounded familiar and fresh at the same time.I can’t pretend to know all the demons that ultimately led Gene MacLellan to exit stage left before his time was up, though I’m certainly on a first name basis with some of them. We may have been robbed of a couple of decades or so of more great songs, but at least we can be grateful for the tunes he left behind.  As tributes go, Snowbird is one of the very best and a lesson in how to write great songs- enjoy.COOL CUTS: Snowbird (Catherine MacLellan), The Call (Lennie Gallant), Put Your hand In The Hand (everybody!) THE ROCK HOUSE SESSIONS Sean Chambers (Burnside) *****++No more callers please, we have a winner!  If Stevie Ray had played guitar for The Rolling Stones, I imagine they would have sounded like this.  I haven’t heard a blues/rock album this powerful in… maybe ever.The Rock House Sessions is one of those albums that roughs you up before you even know what’s happening.  A mix of three Chambers originals and covers by guys like Gary Moore and Alvin Lee.  Powered by bluesy, greasy licks and hairy knuckled solos, it a muscular concoction that works in every way.  This is also Chambers’ solo debut, as opposed to fronting The Sean Chambers Band or his other gig, as the new front man for Blackfoot.  Man, he should have stepped out sooner!TRHS was produced by and features the playing ex-SRV keyboard player Reese Wynans, who knows a thing or two about how blues/ rock should sound.  Even on my crappy computer speakers, this album is an absolute smoker- I’m surprised the poor little plastic bastards didn’t spontaneously combust.  As a singer, Chambers has buckets of soul too, a gruff “been there, done that” kind of vibe that perfectly sets up his blazing solos.  He shifts gears easily on the gospel-y ballad Holding On, delivering a smooth vocal and a tasty solo that really hits the spot.On The Rock House Sessions Sean Chambers really burns it to the ground, fronting an able cast of Nashville session vets, along with Wynans, producing one of the most urgent blues albums you’ll hear all this year and next too, making even Stevie Ray seem a bit tame by comparison.  This is one of the best records I’ve heard in any genre in at least the last couple of years if not longer.  Buy it- now.COOL CUTS:  Healing Ground, Holding On, World On Fire ULTRALIVE BALLISTICROCK Ted Nugent (Frontiers) *****This is Uncle Ted’s second live album in a row, following up 2009’s Motor City Mayhem but in his defense, Nugent is always at his peak on stage- which he certainly is here.Ultralive was recorded on the “I Still Believe” tour in Pennsylvania, with Ted’s near constant onstage patter lifting the audience higher and higher, often reaching states of manic nirvana (apologies to Robert Plant).  Same band as last time, and this combo is nigh impossible to beat- holding down the fort with Nuge are Derek St. Holmes on vocals and guitar, Greg Smith on bass and Mick Brown on drums, whom he refers to repeatedly as The Funk Brothers.  The energy these three men project in this one show could easily power a small city for an entire year. This man and his band have true red, white & blue rock and roll soul like no other, pure Detroit muscle infused with just the right amounts of Motown and blues.  He also happens to play the hell out of that guitar.When it comes to the set list, Uncle Ted is no idiot.  While a music geek like me might want to hear more recent stuff in the set too, Nugent cranks up the classics like Wang Dang Sweet Poontang and Cat Scratch Fever, satisfying his constituency.  Playing aside, Nugent’s manic enthusiasm for life in general and rock & roll in particular is frankly infectious… I’m getting a contact high just from listening to this, I can only imagine what it must be like to be in the audience at one of his gigs!With 2 discs of blistering rock & roll to immerse yourself in- I DARE you not to speed while this is playing on your car stereo.  It bothers me that when you mention Ted Nugent, most bring up his politics before the music.  Yeah, he hunts- yeah, he’s no fan of the current administration- but after listening to him for 90 minutes last week on Rockline, my favorite syndicated radio show, he’s anything but a gonzo right wing nut job. No rock & roll casualty, he says he’s “65 years clean and sober”. Ted is passionate about what he believes- how many of us can say the same?  Corrupt politics drive him nuts, and while I don’t agree with everything he says, I defend his right to say it.But we’re here about the music, and Ultralive Ballistic Rock is a muscular performance of epic proportions, unrelenting in the amount of energy spent and masterful in its execution.  ULBR is one of the brawniest, fiercest sets of two fisted rock & roll that sometimes works outside the law that you will ever hear- a savage, beautiful thing.COOL CUTS:  Wang Tang Sweet Poontang, Dog Eat Dog, Hey Baby, Stranglehold FIVE FINGER DISCOUNT Soul Stack (Independent) *****+It’s the second time out for this southern Ontario roots n blues outfit, a deep and layered excursion with boatloads of soul.  It’s a good sign when, as the band is just climbing into the opening number you start nodding your head and go “Yeah… yeah..FFD takes the gritty, greasy approach of Big Red, the band’s debut, further on down the road.  Soulstack faithfully walks the path laid down by those that have gone before in the fields of roots, blues, soul and rock & roll.  Although each of those labels applies to this album, none of them fits, exactly- it’s more a combination of each at all times, though a blues or soul flavor tends to be the dominant taste at any given time.With the addition of Chris Latta on guitars, Harpo Peterson and Josh Knight taking turns on bass and Tom Bona in the engine room on drums, these guys are unstoppable.  I could sum up Five Finger Discount in just two words; great groove.  From rockers like Not The Only One to a heart breaking ballad like Born To Make Me Cry the record displays a wide range of emotion.  No matter how you feel at any given time, chances are pretty good that there’s a song amongst these 12 that will speak directly to you.Five Finger Discount was produced by singer/ guitarist Jonathan Knight, returning to the scene of the crime (Canterbury Music Studio) where Big Red was recorded, with engineer Jeremy Darby in tow.  Such a move might have been tempting fate but as luck would have it, lightning struck again- as much as I dig the first album, I like this one even more.Duane Verh of Roots Music Report praises Soulstack as “the most righteous sounding this side of Sunday” and that feels about right.  If you’re into stuff like Little Feat, The Band and Otis Redding, these guys are speaking your language.COOL CUTS:  Warm Bed To Sleep On, Long Way Down, Born To Make Me Cry


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