THE ROCK DOCTORS HOT WAX ALBUM REVIEWS – WEEK OF DEC 4

1962-1966 (2023 REMASTER) The Beatles (Universal/ Apple) *****

I’ve fallen for this before with Kiss, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin; buy the re-mastered albums only to find little difference between the old and new.  I also bought the Beatles catalog on CD when they were re-released in 2009.  Nope, not gonna get suckered again.  AND YET… after chatting online with deejay colleagues in the UK and being assured these new mixes are worth it, I bought an I Tunes card, took the plunge and dammit, they were right.

Most people my age have had this set and its companion, 1967-1970 (both originally released in 1973)in their music collection at some point.  If you have all the other Beatles albums on cd then, why bother?  Two words; Giles Martin.  The son of late Beatles producer George Martin rebuilt the tracks using AI technology to transform the sonics of the original tunes in spectacular fashion, creating genuine stereo mixes, placing the vocals in the middle of the spectrum where they should be, and Ringo’s drums sound great.  As the www.loudersound.com review rightly states, “guitar subtleties astound and vocal harmonies soar in surprisingly spacious mixes leaving 2009’s stereo remasters sounding weedy and gutless.” If Giles does the same for the source albums too (and why wouldn’t he), my bank account is about to take a beating.

The 1962-1966 2023 Remaster and the 1967-1970 I will purchase at a later date come with extra tracks and while they fit on 2 discs, the vinyl is 3 LP sets.  The aforementioned louder sound review takes issue with the sequencing as on the 2023 versions it is strictly chronological.  I understand their point but disagree… sequencing is a matter of choice, we all build our own compilations (or playlists) how we see fit, and what I hear when it put this on is 38 great songs.

This reissue is no scam- with 1962-1966 2023 remaster Giles Martin has done a legendary job that I’m sure his dad would approve of; Paul and Ringo must be chuffed with how this turned out.  I look forward to diving into the 1967-1970 2023 remaster set when time and budget allow.

www.thebeatles.com

HOT TRACKS:

  • DISC ONE: She Loves You, Ticket To Ride, You Really Got A Hold On Me
  • DISC TWO:  Day Tripper, Nowhere Man, In My Life (my favorite Beatles song)

LIVE AT HARVELLE’S John Geiger (independent) ****+

Jon Geiger has been called one of Southern California’s hardest working bluesmen; he always seems to be on stage.  It’s fitting, then, that his new album is Live At Harvelle’s. The blues/rock guitarist and singer is in fine form on this slightly rough around the edges performance with an appealing rawness that isn’t afraid of the occasional bum note. It’s the real deal.

A veteran of the Austin music scene, Geiger grew up in New York, becoming a brown belt in Jiu Jitsu just to make it home safely from school on the mean streets of Harlem.  BB King’s Live At The Regal and also Eric Clapton’s intense guitar playing were watershed encounters for Jon… playing guitar became his reason for living.  The trio presented on Live At Harvelle’s also includes bassist Chad Watson and drummer Peter Buck, who supply the waves for Jon Geiger’s voice and guitar to surf on. Not unlike BB King Jon has mastered the from-a-whisper-to-a-scream vocal style, and the intensity of his playing gets feral and expressive.  When he’s soloing that’s very noticeable, particularly against the jazzy runs of bassist Watson… Jon doesn’t go so much for speed or flash as emotional content, letting the notes fall where they may.

As with some of the live albums I’ve reviewed recently we don’t hear much of the audience on this disc and I think that’s a mistake.  Some of my favorite live rock albums such as Deep Purple’s Made In Japan or Kiss’s Alive records strive to include the audience as part of the show, which is an important component of creating a more ‘real’ listening experience for us.

To make it to this point Jon Geiger has traveled some hard roads. After an auto accident he was told he’d never walk again, so he rehabilitated himself and, five years later, ran his first marathon.  A subsequent accident left him with no feeling in one hand but he resolved to do whatever was necessary to play again; now he’s turning heads on the LA scene and no doubt savoring every moment.  I like knowing that’s the kind of guy behind the songs I’ve been listening to all afternoon.  Live At Harvelle’s isn’t the prettiest sounding album you’ll ever hear, there’s definitely some dirt under the fingernails… but that’s the way I like it.

www.jongeiger.com

HOT TRACKS:  Ain’t No Sunshine, Don’t Hang Me Up To Dry, Feeling Good


HALLUCINATE Bees Deluxe (independent) *****+

This is what Steely Dan would sound like if they played the blues.  Bees Deluxe is a British/ American acid blues band and Hallucinate is their 4th time out (if I read the ‘disc’ section of their website correctly), and it’s fair to say I’m smitten with their atmospheric magic.

“Acid blues” is how the band describes their music, and the appropriately titled Hallucinate is a set of tales about aliens, French bread, guitars, gambling and asteroids.  It’s been decades since I’ve taken an acid trip- around Christmas of 1980- but something about this music and these songs is resonating on a deep level.  The grooves and textures, led by the angular guitar playing of British bandleader Conrad Warre, really seem to open you up spiritually.  The band is essentially a duo that also includes Carol Band on keyboards and harmonica, with a slew of Boston-based friends and musicians also talked into lending their voices and instrumental talents, 

While respecting the traditions of Chicago blues of the 60’s Bees Deluxe tread where others fear to go.  On Hallucinate they see where the boundaries are and step boldly into the uncharted wilds of the musical world at their fingertips.  That goes for the lyrics too.  A verse from When Is Yesterday goes “The air in your tires smells like French wine/ the gas in your tank smells like burnt French toast/You know the things we eat and drink/ turn into thoughts in your head.” Had I not heard a single note of this disc, those lines would have me curious enough to jump in with both feet.  On the rare occasions when I dare call myself a writer, that kind of stuff rocks me.

Some records are weird for the sake of being weird and are difficult to listen to, leaving you with a “what the fuck did I just hear” feeling, but not Bees Deluxe.  Hallucinate is a beautifully produced disc with a rich, juicy sound and crystal clear attention paid to Conrad Warre’s guitar.  Tom Waits once said “I like beautiful melodies that tell me terrible things”, and that’s likely how this album will make you feel- just substitute ‘terrible’ with ‘odd’ or ‘interesting’.  Hallucinate is a transcendent experience, and it’s the possibility of coming across records like this that have kept me writing reviews for nearly 34 years.

www.beesdeluxe.com

HOT TRACKS:  When Is Yesterday, Houdini, Sharkskin Suit


TIME TO SHINE Garnetta Cromwell (bandcamp) *****

Every now and then an album comes along that lifts you up and just makes life feel better, and Time To Shine is just such a record.  This is Garnetta Cromwell’s debut and it’s a lively, soulful adventure with the energy of Gladys Knight and The Jackson Five.  The songs are as deep as they are effervescent, what Maple Blues Magazine calls “A delightful musical tale that weaves through time, resilience, passion and the transformative power of music.”

A little backstory will help you appreciate Ms. Cromwell’s music more.  Garnetta’s story began in Montreal as a bilingual Afro-Metis Canadian, the youngest of six daughters born to a strong woman who used music to survive, thrive, heal and grow.  As a child, Garnetta had a hearing impairment that left her temporarily deaf and required surgery to repair, and music gave her the impetus to keep going strong.  Time To Shine is practically bursting with life… I don’t know if we should call the album autobiographical, but the songs are certainly informed by the struggles she faced growing up dealing with losing loved ones and facing systemic racism.

This disc is wall-to-wall classic 70’s-style funk/ soul grooves as Garnetta’s amazing voice soars over her 5-piece band DaGroovmasters, an appropriately named backing band if there ever was one.  Recorded mostly live off the floor Time To Shine was produced by Canadian roots ‘n’ blues legend Ken Whiteley, who says “Garnetta Cromwell is the real deal and this album rides the heartfelt blue waves of her story. (She) is blessed with the passion, sincerity and wisdom that distinguishes great blues voices from all the rest.”  Indeed it’s her voice that quickly grabs your attention, and as you get further into the record you marvel at the depth of what she has to say.

Aside from Garnetta’s band the work of an all-female horn section is felt throughout, giving TTS a delicious vintage 70’s soul feel.  A strong, unforgettable voice and lyrics that aren’t afraid to reveal who Garnetta Cromwell is or where she comes from make this disc real personal.  As producer Ken Whiteley notes, “Whether you want to get down and party or simply lay back and appreciate classic blues and old-school soul, Garnetta Cromwell delivers, big time.”

www.garnettacromwellmusic.com

HOT TRACKS:  Miss Marva Ann (about her mum), Singing The Blues, Hey You Girl


LIONS ROARING IN QUICKSAND Eightlock (Steele Records) ***

This is the debut album for world-famous guitar maker Paul Reed Smith and his band, Eightlock. Their sound is a slick mix of blues, soul, funk, rock, well produced in a way that reminds me of Toto. Slick and smartly played, it can come off a bit cold as well.

The band name is explained by the presence of 3 drummers, a bass player, a chick singer and 3 guitarists.  “This group of highly respected and world-renowned musicians has a lot to say musically and spiritually” PRS says.  “It’s been an absolute joy to be the catalyst for their gifts resulting in the music found in Lions Roaring In Quicksand.”  Bill Nelson, one of the other 2 guitarists, says “the musicianship in Eightlock is extraordinary, but what amazes me most is that the music- both the recordings and live performances- keeps getting better. Locking into an Eightlock groove is a dream.”  Singer Mia Samone Davis observes that “creating this cd reminded me that, ‘peace is the price when the mind is at war’… inner peace is priceless.”

Lions Roaring In Quicksand- a title surely to have us wonder “what the hell does THAT mean- is 14 tracks in all including covers of a Mana song in English, Al Green’s Love And Happiness, Edwin Starr’s War,  plus 99, a European hit for Elliot Moss. Overall this album feels like expertly played exactingly produced pop music on a jazz level and maybe a bit too clean to really be considered rock & roll.  Even with 3 drummers at work the backbeat isn’t nearly as cacophonous as expected, and if a saving grace is required here it would be that Davis has an earthy voice that keeps everyone anchored. 

Spinning LRIQ had me thinking of another group I ran across in 1991 “Animal Logic” which features ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland and legendary bassist Stanley Clark in that I liked the songs well enough on their II  album, but there was something that kept me at arms-length so I never quite warmed to it.  I like Eightlock; ridiculously talented players, yet I have that same feeling here… it’s going to take more spins to work my way inside.

www.eightlockband.com

HOT TRACKS:  Breathe, He’s The One, Look At The Moon


VOL. 1 Bakers Duz’n (bandcamp) *** ½

Some delectable funk here via Halifax of all places. Vol.1 is the first album for Bakers Duz’n, combining Stevie Wonder-worthy grooviness with athletic vocals and a real sense of fun, old school and new school at the same time- it’s quite a trip.

I haven’t heard anything quite like Bakers Duz’n since I first came across Bootsauce wayyy back.  Vol. 1 is a wall to wall party jam of a record with juicy backbeats, punchy horns and an overall vibe that recalls those great Sly & The Family Stone records we grew up on.  This is almost as much a physical experience as a musical one.   Repetitive choruses like in Light It Up are hypnotic.  Aside from its inherent grooviness the best way to describe this disc is ‘thick’… I’m certain when you give this baby a spin you’ll hear that.

Vol.1 is a 13 track (baker’s dozen- get it?) funk ‘n’ psychedelic rock odyssey produced by Tim Jim Baker and lead singer Guy Jay at TJB’s Shed Studio in Nova Scotia.  Not knocking the lyrics here at all, but they kind of take a back seat to the vibe of the music itself which is fair as it seems the songs are built to make you feel as opposed to think.  Of course I can’t be sure if that was Bakers Duz’n’s intent, but that’s the way it hits me right now.

Overall this is a solid, feel-good album, but the production can be a bit uneven.  I’m thinking in particular of Put This In Your Pipe and Smoke It which has a thick, throbbing synth line wandering through that mostly sticks out like a sore thumb, and some of the vocals can be a bit jarring; otherwise a decent tune. 

Vol. 1 is a combination of vintage funk ‘n’ soul sounds and vibes tied together with modern production techniques designed to lift the spirit, so dive in and enjoy!

https://bandcamp.com/search?q=bakers%2Bduz%27n&item_type

HOT TRACKS:  Lesson #1, Twist The Screw, Light It Up


THE PSZENNY PROJECT The Pszenny Project (independent) *** +

Here is some dirty, knuckle draggin’ blues out of South Carolina. The Pszenny Project is the first album for Mark Pszenny’s namesake band, formed in 2019, recalling the barroom energy of early George Thorogood & The Delaware Destroyers.  The disc has a primitive, muscular appeal that is sure to find its share of fans.

“I’ve been in bands most of my life but really diving head-first into writing my own songs is a recent development” Pszenny notes of the new album. Mark and his band weave elements of Texas, Chicago, Memphis and Detroit blues ‘n’ rock and the mix is mostly satisfying, particularly the guitar solos.  He put the band together after moving to SC from New England, but it took time. “You have to find the guys who share your vision” he says. “It wasn’t easy, but once I started getting into it with some of the guys I’d met in various musical settings, things began to click.” 

Pros?  Overall it’s a pretty beefy mix sound-wise that gives the songs real strength and locomotion.  Cons?  The guitar solos and slide work seem quite buried in the mix behind the drums (which are well recorded), and when Pszenny goes for a growly vocal it sounds like an affectation, not unlike George Thorogood, and to be honest that’s a bit of a turnoff.

Where The Pszenny Project works is bringing so many styles of blues together into a single thing and throwing some funk underneath.  Not sure who produced the album as that isn’t in my notes, but this is a promising start. Great?  No, but the elements are here to create something special. I’d like to hear what these guys are capable of with a seasoned producer.

www.pszennyproject.com

HOT TRACKS:  All Funked Up, 2AM, It’s Up To You


THANK YOU, BROTHER BILL: A TRIBUTE TO BILL WITHERS Kevin Burt & Big Medicine (Gulf Coast Records) ******+

Yup, a 6-plus.  If you’re going to do a tribute record for someone like Bill Withers you’d better have your shit together; and Kevin Burt does.  Along with his band Big Medicine Burt, one of the most soulful singers on the scene today, makes Thank You Brother Bill every bit as good as you’d dare hope it would be.

Label founder Mike Zito notes that “(Kevin’s) voice is commanding and soulful and his songs are honest and from the heart.  On his new album, (he) resonates his soul with the music of Bill Withers… they have a connection deeper than their voices.  This album is a must for Bill Withers fans and will bring Kevin Burt to the masses.”  I think Mike is right too; listening to an album jammed with performances this deep and touching is transformative.

Burt’s style, his voice and career are deeply affected by Withers in more ways than you might expect. “Listening to Bill Withers tell a story or sing a song for me is one and the same” Kevin says, “it instantly attaches itself to my soul.  Mr. Withers told me in a roughly two hour conversation we had many things that I (pardon the pun) lean on today. One of those nuggets of insight was to tell stories that make me feel most vulnerable, that’s what people connect with.  I hope that I did these songs justice.”  I’m certain that if Bill were still with us today (he died in 2020) he would fully approve of how these songs turned out in Kevin’s hands.

Kevin Burt has a warm, smooth, soulful voice that makes the songs on Thank You Brother Bill reach in and give your heart a hug.  He actually sounds quite a bit like Withers so if you’re a fan of his, you will take to Burt’s take on these tunes like a duck to water. I confess I’m not familiar with Bill Withers’ catalog beyond hits like Just The Two Of Us (with Grover Washington Jr.),  Lean On Me or Ain’t No Sunshine that I’ve heard and played on the radio, so TYBB was a journey of blissful discovery. The band is on fire and in the pocket throughout. And Kevin Burt is one of the most righteous singers I’ve heard since Matt Andersen.  This is one of those rare albums, from song selection to performance, that kills on absolutely every single level.

www.kevinburtmusic.net

HOT TRACKS: I’m Her Daddy, Grandma’s Hands, Just The Two Of Us

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