The Record Box for Monday, November 3rd

IV RE-MASTERED Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)The second wave of 2014 Led Zeppelin re-masters has hit the shores.  This album, untitled but referred to as Zep 4 by most fans, is their most popular record and mightiest creative achievement.  Available in various formats, from single disc vinyl and CD releases up to deluxe box sets (hilariously expensive to those of us on less than spectacular budgets), I have once again chosen the 2 CD version- the standard album re-mastered and a disc of various extras- it makes financial sense and satisfies my curiosity.The entire catalogue has been treated in this way by guitarist/ producer Jimmy Page, after combing the vaults and trolling for bootlegs to present a more complete version of each record- we get the album we all know and love, plus a succession of demos, work tracks, and songs in various stages of completion.IV has been re-detailed with loving attention by Page, giving his life’s work its due.  The songs are more robust and vibrant than even the previous re-mastering from the 90’s.  Bonham’s drum kit is more detailed sonically, Pages riffs more powerful, and there’s more chunk to John Paul Jones’ fluid bass lines.  Plant’s vocals are so much cleaner than before, I swear I can hear the spit on his lips when he sings.The bonus disc for IV contains different versions, in order, of each of the tracks from the album proper, such as a different mix of Stairway To Heaven done at Sunset Sound in LA and a mandolin/ guitar mix of Going To California.  While enjoyable to completists and music nerds, disc 2 is hardly revelatory.  Yeah, it’s cool to hear the songs you know so well at various stages of completion but if you’re the casual sort of fan that knows the tunes from hearing them on the radio, then the single disc version is for you.I got soured on the box set experience by the immersion set for Pink Floyd’s The Wall, paying a high price for extra gew-gaws when all I really wanted was a decent version of the album.  Mind you, I’m a bigger Zeppelin fan than I ever was a Floyd fan, so the extra tracks here are of definite interest-I just think of them as excellent quality bootleg material.  IV is an excellent album to begin with and, all these years later, it’s fair to think of this as the definitive version.ESSENTIAL:THE ALBUM: Rock & Roll, Misty Mountain Hop. When The Levee Breaks            BONUS DISC:  Four Sticks (alternate mix), Going To California (mandolin/ guitar mix) HOUSES OF THE HOLY RE-MASTERED Led Zeppelin (Atlantic)This is the follow up to IV, treated in much the same way for the re-mastering- a markedly improved version of the original album and a companion disc of extra tracks.  For the money it’s a pretty solid deal to the musically curious.I remember getting this album for my birthday when it first came out, and hating it for about a year.  To this day I’m not sure why- perhaps because it wasn’t as rockin’ and adventurous as its predecessor or, for the first time, I could understand every word Robert Plant was singing.  That took away some of the mystique and, frankly, some of the lyrics were stupid- “I saw a lion he was standing alone/ with a tadpole in a jar”- really, Robert?.  Whatever the reasons in my impressionable teenaged 70’s mind, Houses has grown over the years to become one of my favorites in the Zeppelin canon.This is the best this album will ever sound on CD.  It’s hard to not to fall in love with each of the 8 songs, and The Rain Song is one of the finest ballads ever written.  As with the bonus discs in most of the other re-issues, we are presented here tracks from the album in varied stages of completion, different mixes that occasionally  shed another fraction of light on songs we already know in our sleep.  The No Quarter overdub with no vocals and extra keyboards from JPJ is kinda cool, as is the rough mix of The Crunge with keyboards up.  Again nothing revelatory here (Plant is right on that score), but fans can extract more enjoyment out of hearing these songs on their journey to completion.No undiscovered gems from these sessions, but Page is spot on by including these alternate mixes, giving the fans something extra for the standard price instead of just saying “I tweaked the EQ again, so here you go.”  I never met a Zeppelin album I didn’t like (eventually), and that goes double for Houses of The Holy. I griped when I reviewed the last set of re-masters about tracks like Hey, Hey What Can I Do and Baby Please Come Home not being included, so I’m quietly hoping they’ll show up at the end of the line with Coda, and Page seems to be implying that they will.  In the meantime, turn this up- it’s the least you can do.  According to my rudimentary math skills the next re-masters should appear around the end of February or so, but don’t hold me to that- it’s just a guess.ESSENTIALS: ALBUM- The Rain Song, The Ocean, The Song Remains The SameBONUS-       No Quarter (rough mix w/ no vocal), Over The Hills & Far                                      Away (guitar mix backing track) LIVE Sabina Weeks & Swing Cat Bounce (independent)This is the live document of a gig at The Blackwell Hall in Kamloops, BC on October 11th, 2013.  I have friends and family in that town and, after listening to this disc, I wish I had been there.  This swingin’ energetic set of live blues is also their third release.Lots of styles represented here over 5 cover tracks and 7 originals, from the ZZ Top style rock of Slide On Over Here to the haunting first single Tarantino, written about the famous indie filmmaker, and a funky cover of Randy Newman’s You Can Leave Your Hat On.  Overall the disc is a party looking for a place to happen with Weeks’ voice sounding at home no matter what the groove, going from soft and sultry to powerful and commanding.The band itself is worthy of mention; Bill White on rhythm guitar, Terry Strudwick on bass, Ed Hilliard on drums, and Mike Hilliard (a brother, I assume) on lead guitar.  I’m really digging his leads over the rock solid grooves- an excellent player that puts just enough pizzazz into his solos without showboating, something blues guitarists in particular are prone to do.The audience, while enthusiastic, doesn’t participate as much as other live records I know- which is fine because, truth be told, it can get in the way.  Live is a crisp but meaty live album, extremely well recorded, very nearly studio quality- which is nice, but if it felt like a sweaty club gig, I’d probably like it even more. As is though, Live is a pretty good time.ESSENTIALS:  Slide On Over Here, You Can Leave Your Hat On, Happy Home WALK AWAY Jimmy Carpenter (Vizztone)It’s the second time out on his own for the New Orleans-based sax player here, after working with guys like Walter Wolfman Washington and one of my favorites, Mike Zito.”This collection of songs comes from the most prolific 6 months of my life” Jimmy says on the inner sleeve.  “There was a woman involved- actually, several past, present and future.  My unrequited passions, and my sometimes obsessive preoccupation with them, fueled song after song- it was quite extraordinary.”  Some good sax playing on this but Jimmy focuses more on his singing, and he has a pretty good set of pipes.  Great sounding record overall with hair on its knuckles.Not a lot of details in the liner notes beyond Carpenter’s various thank yous- being the music geek that I am, I like knowing who did what, even when I don’t recognize the names.  Some really tasty soloing from Carpenter, and whomever is playing guitar on this is fantastic- he knows when to lay back in the weeds and when to step up and blast out a nice, beefy solo.Walk Away definitely sounds like a New Orleans album- the town Jimmy has called home since ’04- mixing elements of blues, jazz and funk, quite often at the same time.  The rhythm section has an impeccable sense of groove, and the record has a bit of a downtown vibe on it, particularly on stuff like the instrumental 7th Street Shuffle– but not downtown where the glass tower office buildings are, I mean the neighborhood south of that where some of the buildings have paint peeling off the sides, maybe a few of ’em are boarded up- you know, where you go to hear the really good music.ESSENTIALS:  Walk Away, Hard To Be Cool, 7th Street ShuffleSTORYTONE Neil Young (Reprise)This is Young’s 2nd album of the year. Storytone is available in solo acoustic and orchestral/ big band configurations.  Same album, same songs, different versions- talk about a quintessential Neil Young move.The glory of Neil Young is that he is constantly changing and yet always seems to stay the same. Storytone, a record created in 2014, sounds like it would have been comfortable coming out in ’68 or ’69 with its anthems of peace, love and environmentalism.  The lead-off single Who’s Gonna Stand Up was inspired by his visit to the Alberta Tar Sands and informed by his views on the consumption of fossil fuels.  Many of my fellow Albertans took exception to his stance but really, are you surprised?  And further to that, is the money better spent extracting oil from the tar sands in an expensive process, or should we be exploring cleaner, renewable resources for generating power?With the recent upheavals in Young’s life, you have to wonder if songs such as Like You Used To, which sounds like the intro to Zeppelin’s Bring It On Home, is about the recent disintegration of his marriage to Peggi, and is he talking about her, or himself?  And are the songs that immediately follow it about the new love he’s found in actress Darryl Hanna?  It would seem so but I’d rather he not tell us directly- it’s more fun to speculate.The acoustic versions of these songs give us the vulnerable heart-on-his-sleeve Neil Young, the sensitive troubadour we’ve come to know over the years.  As for the big band/ orchestral version of the album the results are decidedly mixed.  I love the energy of I Wanna To Drive My Car as it swaggers and rages down the highway,  recalling another favorite Young album This Note’s For You  The orchestral stuff is real hit and miss- coming off, more often than not, like overwrought soundtrack music.So, that’s it.  The solo acoustic performances here are clearly the star of Storytone with the big band stuff spicing things up in just the right way.  And while the versions of these tracks- all fine songs, by the way- with orchestra are mostly “meh”, I applaud Young’s willingness to step outside his comfort zone to give it a shot, then release it to the world and let everybody think what they will.  That’s so Neil Young and so very, very cool.ESSENTIALS:  Who’s Gonna Stand Up (acoustic), Say Hello To Chicago (acoustic), I Wanna Drive My Car ((big band) SCARE FORCE ONE Lordi (AFM)Ready for some Finnish heavy metal?  A Heavy, precise, melodic hard rock sound with hard as nails vocals, that’s Scare Force One.  If you think perhaps current day Accept mixed with a wee bit of Dream Theater grandiosity, you’re in the right ballpark here.”The overall sound of the band is more modern, and we’ve tried out some new tricks here and there” Lordi says in comparing Scare Force One to previous albums. “”The basic building blocks are there, so there’s no shortage of melodic hooks in the songs.”  Unlike the last two albums, produced in Nashville by Michael Wagener,  SFO was done in Finland with a Finnish producer.  The singer (Lordi, I assume) sounds a lot like Mark Tornillo of Accept, the guitars are heavy but not brutally so, and the keyboard textures make the record sound like a haunted house.That Nailed By The Hammer Of Frankenstein is the title of the first single, kind of tells you where these guys’ heads are at- it’s a taut, short rocker, big on the palm muted riffing with a following keyboard figure, quite likeable but unlikely to be a radio success on this side of the pond.  Almost feels like Rammstein, but not quite as dense and heavy.Final verdict?  Good heavy metal, but not great, though I will say it’s likely to make the play list on my next long distance drive.ESSENTIALS:  Nailed By The Hammer Of Frankenstein, Hell Sent In The Clowns THE GREAT DIVIDE Allen/Lande (Frontiers)Following on the success of a trilogy this American singer and Norwegian metal shouter are back together again.  Heroic and melodic, The Great Divide is a decent start to their next chapter together.Russell Allen is the singer for Symphony X, while Lande has fronted bands like Masterplan, Ark, Beyond Twilight, Millennium, Vagabond and The Snakes- jeez, the dude gets around!  Nothing particularly tricky about this music- it’s melodically easy to grasp, and lyrically it’s a bit grandiose.  The most telling label I can affix to this is Euro-metal, sounds a little 80’s-ish, kind of calculated, and just a little on the generic side.Guitarist Timo Tolkki, who also plays bass and keys and produced the album, is a former member of Stratovarius, so if this album sounds familiar to you as it did to me, that could be why. He’s a good player and does occasionally shine when he solos, but overall I just don’t find this album particularly distinctive.  It is well played and I do enjoy it, but is has this sort of standard European metal denseness to it that kind of makes it sound like almost everything else from the genre.I suppose all that is damning with faint praise, but I don’t know what else to say.  I like The Great Divide well enough and in some spots it really shines, but it’s just too easy to wander away from.ESSENTIALS:  Lady Of Winter, Come Dream With Me IN THE MAGIC SHOP Sean Costello (Vizztone)This is one of the deepest, most soulful albums I’ve ever heard.  Too bad Sean isn’t here to witness how profoundly his music is touching people.A former child prodigy, Costello also suffered from bi-polar disorder and took his own life on the eve of his 29th birthday in 2008.  In The Magic Shop is a previously unreleased album, recorded in 2005 and produced by Grammy award winner Steve Rosenthal.  As I listened to the first track unfold (It’s My Own Fault), it felt like I was listening to the second coming of BB King- the soloing is gorgeously melodic, with each bend a revelation unto itself.To call In The Magic Shop deep is the understatement of the decade.  Sean wears his heart on his sleeve in You Don’t Know What Love Is but the guy could rock out too, all with an emotional commitment that, frankly, is uncommon.  Of Costello, the late Levon Helm said “He was one of those artists who knew that playing music was a calling.  It wasn’t just a damn job, it was a calling and he had no choice- that’s the kind of music maker he was.”The bio I received with this disc also notes that “in little more than a decade he developed from a teenage talent show winner into an acclaimed and rapidly maturing performer, unshackled by the convention of the (blues) genre.”  In The Magic Shop is deep, rich and righteous, one of those rare albums that you know is going to stay with you before you even get through the first spin.I can’t presume to know the demons that led him to believe that taking his own life was his only choice, but I’m sure I’ve met a couple of them along the way.  That his tortured soul was capable of music like this is no surprise, but he should be at least as famous as Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Time to do some digging and see how much more of his music I can find.ESSENTIALS:  It’s My Own Fault,  Fweel like I Ain’t Got A Home, You Don’t Know What Love Is


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