Thursday, October 28, 2010

Music Review: Alice Cooper -- Love it to Death

Article first published as Music Review: Alice Cooper - Love It to Death on Blogcritics.

It is Halloween week, after all, and who better to review than dear ol' Alice? Here is an excerpt:
From a personal standpoint, my adoration for The Coop started in 1972, when I was snuck out of my house under false pretenses and brought surreptitiously to an Alice Cooper concert by my older (and infinitely cool) cousins. As a naïve and rather nerdy twelve-year-old at the time, Cooper gave me a vision of what one could do with Rock-and-Roll. He sang to a boa constrictor! He hacked up baby dolls! He was hung upon a gibbet in the middle of the stage! Oh, good lord, I had seen the Promised Land!

Upon returning home after the concert, I drew Alice Cooper eyes on all my sister's dolls, started growing my hair and borrowed money from my parents to buy a guitar, a used $35 Silvertone acoustic with strings about a half-inch off the fret board—my fingers bled for weeks! Life ain't been the same since, and I sincerely thank Alice Cooper for my blessed conversion to the dark side!

Have an ominous All Hallows' Eve, everyone!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Great Acoustic Rock Songs -- The Next Fifty

I wish to thank everyone for the positive feedback regarding my first list of Fifty Great Acoustic Rock Songs. Based on your suggestions, I threw caution to the wind and added a second fifty acoustic tunes for your listening edification. As with the first fifty, I chose songs with a minimum of electronic instruments, or at the least ones that have an acoustic guitar going through the entire song. I cheated here and there on that specific caveat, but it is a subjective list, after all, and not based on a pie-in-the-sky critical model designed by some twat New York reviewer like Marsh or Christgau, who claim objectivity but haven't a shred of it (having researched their critiques at length, I find I am usually diametrically opposed to what they think is important, or even listenable). In any case, who wants a list of critic's darlings, the kind that reviewers extol but no one actually listens to? Go elsewhere for wanker music.

-- Melissa is sweet, isn't she? An honorable mention from brother Gregg Allman is his masterful acoustic reworking of Midnight Rambler.

-- Perhaps the best song ever penned by Paul Rodgers and Mick Ralphs. "Seagull" has more emotion and feeling than whole Bad Company albums, or perhaps it is so much less formulaic than the usual Bad Company fare.

The Weight
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
-- Two great slices of authentic Americana that could only be composed by a primarily Canadian band (only drummer Levon Helm hales from south of the 49th parallel). I want to wave the maple leaf every time I hear them.

-- Well, I could list another ten or twenty Beatles' songs, but I would be accused of being ridiculously subjective. So here's one from Paul and one from John.

She Talks to Angels
-- Whatever happened to the Black Crowes? It seems that after Chris Robinson married Goldie Hawn's daughter, the band went to hell. Shades of Yoko Ono!

Rock and Roll Suicide
-- A delightfully deranged classic. I love the strident strings at the end.

Fast Car
-- There was nothing like this song on the music scene in 1988. The frank and almost brutal tale of quiet desperation and lost hope is breathtaking.

-- How does one improve on a classic? Well, if you're Eric Clapton, it's rather simple: Take the best song from your greatest album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970) and rework it as an acoustic piece. It was simple for Eric, but for the rest of us? Not so much.

Thorn Tree in the Garden
-- Speaking of Eric Clapton, here's another song from the same album that didn't require reworking, because it was an acoustic song to begin with. 'Domino' Bobby Whitlock wrote and sang this melancholy tune.

Black Water
-- You simply cannot feel down listening to this song. And admit it, you can't help singing along to the harmonies at the end of the song, can you? Do you sing the "I wanna honky-tonk", "Take me by the hand", or the "with you all night long" part? Or do you simply mumble them all together?

Catch The Wind
-- A beautifully simple song. That's all that needs to be said.

It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding
-- I am still irritated that I can't get the original studio version of Dylan songs on YouTube because of Sony 'Corpse' greed. I don't think it'd make a damn bit of difference if all of Dylan's songs were available to listen to; in fact, they probably even sell more songs and albums with folks like me advertising their product. Dumb asses.

Hotel California (Live)
-- I've never been a great fan of the Eagles, but I can appreciate their legacy of finely-crafted country-rock tunes. I included the live version of "Hotel California" from the Hell Freezes Over set because, like Clapton's reworking of "Layla", it gives the song a whole other dimension and tonal quality.

NOTE: It seems Warner, like Sony, pull the plug on studio versions of artist's songs, so Desperado has been deleted. Oh well, I won't be looking for another version. Funny thing, great and important bands like Zeppelin and the Beatles have all their songs accessible on line and they sell millions of albums yearly. Oh yeah, the Eagles sell their stuff at Walmart. I won't be advertising for them further. Fuck 'em.

Who Knows Where The Time Goes
-- Sandy Denny is the most underappreciated female singer in the rock pantheon. The ethereal quality of her voice casts a spell over the listener. Quietly, calmly, she weaves her spell, with a depth and sincerity few can match. Oh yes, and I've heard that former Fairport frontman Richard Thompson is quite a guitarist as well.

From the Beginning
C'est la Vie
-- ELP finally disintegrated under the weight of its own pretension, but not before leaving some undeniably beautiful compositions. Here are two songs from two different ELP eras: "From the Beginning" from Trilogy (1972), and "C'est la Vie" from the incredibly over-the-top Works, Vol. 1 (1977).

Blood on the Rooftops
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
-- I don't think Peter Gabriel leaving Genesis was necessarily the root cause for the band's descent into a campy, commercial quagmire. The two albums that followed Gabriel's departure, A Trick of the Tail (1976) and Wind & Wuthering (also 1976), were both sterling examples of Genesis' eccentrically progressive style. However, when guitarist Steve Hackett left after Wind & Wuthering the band seemed to lose its moral and creative compass, opting for crass radio-friendliness as opposed to the classically-influenced rock fusion style for which the band should rightly receive accolades. But they weren't elected to the asinine Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the brilliant "Supper's Ready" or "Dance on a Volcano", but rather for such inane blandities as "We Can't Dance" or "Abacab".

Crazy on You
-- Yes, this song is perhaps too suffused with electric guitar to make it strictly an acoustic song, but the stunning and memorable acoustic intro by guitarist Nancy Wilson is worth the price of admission.

The Witch's Promise
Life's a Long Song
-- Two sublime acoustic songs from that phenomenal album of odds and ends Living in the Past (1972), the most unconventional conglomeration of B-sides, almost greatest hits and live performances ever created. I had a tough time just choosing two from Ian Anderson and Company, so here's another from Songs From The Wood (1977), The Whistler. Oh, and One Brown Mouse, a bit of Robert Burnsian musing from Heavy Horses (1978).

Mercedes Benz
-- Not just acoustic, it's a cappella! Very few singers have displayed the emotion Janis did on nearly every song. Gut-wrenching comes to mind as a descriptor. You may not like her voice, but you can't deny the passion.

Dust in the Wind
-- Possibly the most morose #1 hit from any band since The Beatles' ode to loneliness and depression "Eleanor Rigby". But "Dust in the Wind" carried the seeds of composer/guitarist's Kerry Livgren's subsequent conversion to evangelical Christianity. It is a very religious work if one listens closely. Not that any pot-smoking rockers in the 70's actually noticed.

Going to California
Black Country Woman
-- For a band known as the quintessential hard rock group, Zeppelin was equally adept at composing exquisite acoustic ballads and blues songs, and it is this dichotomy that really left its imprint on rock-and-roll. The list of great Led Zep acoustic tunes is manifold and illustrious. Another example is Babe I'm Gonna Leave You from their first album.

A House is not a Motel
-- Arthur Lee would've given Syd Barrett a run for his money in an acid-dropping contest. Syd eventually lost his band, Pink Floyd, and also his mind (not necessarily in that order), and Albert Lee took the same long, strange trip, losing his band 'Love', along with various other assorted catastrophes (like going to prison for twelve years on weapons charges). But before departing stage left, Lee and Love recorded the remarkable album Forever Changes, from whence the song "A House is not a Motel" appears. The best description of the music is psychedelic-era Pink Floyd meets The Moody Blues while playing acoustic guitars at a love-in. Don't bogart the joint, dude.

California Dreamin'
-- One of the finest pop-rock tunes ever crafted, and one of my favorite songs.

-- I know how to play this song. I know the chord structure, the lyrics and the subtle nuances of the composition. I just can't keep up with Justin Hayward's frenetic fretwork. The wrist strength required for the manic strum on this song is phenomenal. Which is probably one reason (of many) why The Moody Blues have accrued platinum albums in three different decades, and I have not. Bugger.

Into the Mystic
Sweet Thing
-- One of the those eccentric performers that the critics rave about, but which I heartily agree upon, Van Morrison is a musical treasure. And I'm not saying that because I think he should be buried.

Pigs on the Wing
-- Hey, it's Floyd. You! Yes, you! You can't have a bloody list of songs without mentioning Floyd! How can you not mention Floyd on your bloody list of songs?

Good Company
-- Hey, what can one say about a ukulele rock tune? It cracks me up! But if "Good Company" is too esoteric for you, musically-speaking, then there is always the infectious Elvicide of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which is much more radio-friendly.

Fake Plastic Trees
-- The best tune from my favorite Radiohead album, The Bends. What? You prefer OK Computer? Write your own damn list on your own damn blog then!

Fall on Me
-- One of my favorite REM songs (and purportedly Michael Stipe's favorite as well). Very moving. And the lyrics are almost intelligible. I also like Don't Go Back to Rockville. And I promise I won't go back there. Ever.

Kathy's Song
The Sound of Silence
-- When compiling lists of great acoustic songs, one could just itemize numerous Simon and Garfunkel tunes and be done with it. The acoustic version of "The Sound of Silence" found here is from their first album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. (1964), before some clever record producer decided it would sell better with electric guitars dubbed in. He was right, of course, but that's beside the point.

Nature's Way
-- Hastily written in a single afternoon prior to a concert at the Fillmore West, "Nature's Way" is an anthemic ode to ecology, and the ill effects the human parasite is having on Mother Earth.

-- Once again, Sony Corpse goes about YouTube deleting another major star's important songs. No studio versions available for Bruce, sorry. "Nebraska" is a rather sympathetic first-person narrative of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, who in 1958 went on an unexplainable two-month killing spree through Nebraska and Wyoming. In the end, Starkweather was found guilty of murdering 11 people and was promptly executed, while Fugate, who was only 14 years-old at the time, received a 17 year prison sentence.

Wild World
Miles From Nowhere
-- When I was a teenager, Cat Stevens wrote how I felt. Unless, of course, I was more in a Black Sabbath mood, and then they wrote how I felt. In any case, Cat had a deep and instinctive perception of youth's hopes and fears. Then he became a Muslim, approved of the fatwa called down upon Salman Rushdie, and I have ignored him since. Once again, religion fucks up a perfectly good thing.

(Roamin' Thro' the Gloamin with) 40,000 Headmen
-- A drug-induced dream. It makes little sense. I guess you had to be there. I know I was at one time. What were we talking about again? Are you going to eat that brownie? Can I have it?

Lady in Black
-- Often mocked and derided, Uriah Heep still managed to compose many poignant and meaningful tunes in spite of critical contempt, "Lady in Black" being one of their best.

Rude Mood
-- Like Jimi Hendrix, there are few Stevie Ray acoustic recordings available. But it's certainly a riot listening to Vaughan shred the blues...on a twelve-string, no less. RIP SRV, you are missed.

California Stars
-- What could be better than hearing previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics put to music? Nothing, save for the exceptional way the band Wilco and Brit guitarist Billy Bragg caught just the right feeling for the composition. Get the album Mermaid Avenue, you'll enjoy it!

Old Man
After the Goldrush
-- My favorite Martian. Well, if he is not an extraterrestrial, then Neil is certainly surreal, particularly in the post-apocalyptic "After the Goldrush", where the chosen few at world's end fly "Mother natures' silver seed to a new home in the sun".

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Music Review: The Moody Blues -- Days of Future Passed

Article first published as Music Review: The Moody Blues — Days of Future Passed on Blogcritics. Another album from the Dark Elf Essential Performances series.

Here is an excerpt from the review for your edification:
This is why there will never be another Days of Future Passed. Beauty, it would seem, is fast shuffling of this mortal coil. In this incredibly shrinking world of Twitter, Blackberry, and faceless friendships on Facebook, there is little time to stop and smell the roses, because many of us haven’t ventured outside the environs of the Internet since last April. Even what is sold as music currently is conveniently sequenced into repetitive digital sound-bytes – white noise on purple iPods – that leaves little room for considering the distinctive production and compositional prowess required to develop conceptual music in an album format. Why bother with an album when one can purchase greatest hits at .99 cents a download from Amazon or iTunes? If you have the time between tweets, chirps, and other fowl noises, I shall endeavor to explain it to you.


Music Review: The Pogues -- If I Should Fall From Grace With God

Article first published as Music Review: The Pogues — If I Should Fall From Grace With God on Blogcritics. Another in my Dark Elf Essential Performances series.

Sure'n, here's a bit of the blarney to wet yer whistle, me boyo:
But rather than focus on Shane MacGowan’s manic insistence on assuming the mantle of the stereotypical tortured Irish artist in search of a besotted Gaelic muse — following, like Brendan Behan before him, a wanton path to an early death — let us instead focus on the music. Because, after all, MacGowan is not dead yet, and perhaps he, along with Keith Richards and cockroaches, will survive global warming, nuclear detonations, or whatever disaster will consume the rest of humanity.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

'Friday Night in San Francisco' Music Review

Available for your perusal at, another album review in my Dark Elf Essential Performances series:

Music Review: Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco DeLucia — Friday Night in San Francisco

Here is an excerpt from the review:
As a longtime guitarist and bar-band blues bludgeoner, all I can tell you is that I am in awe of the technical ferocity, incredible dexterity, and concordant reciprocity by which these three musicians blend and bend. And to make this album all the more intriguing, these virtuoso guitarists are not shredding the old-fashioned way, with the ubiquitous and almost obligatory Stratocaster or Les Paul; on the contrary, they are frying the frets of acoustic guitars! This “unplugged” concert predates the staged versions on MTV by nearly a decade, and 'Friday Night' certainly eclipses anything from that overrated, overblown series, save perhaps the outstanding performance by Eric Clapton. But alas, poor Eric! For all his vaunted "Slowhand" moves, he couldn’t keep up with these three players with a vast quantity of anabolic steroids and an eight ball of coke.


Post-script: The reviews for Friday Night in San Francisco and Will the Circle Be Unbroken have both been selected as an 'eds-pick' (editor's selection) over at! I thank the editors for their sagacity and evident good taste.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Album Reviews For Jethro Tull's 'Aqualung' and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken'

I've recently joined in order to spread my snarky, but devilishly charismatic, curmudgeonliness further across the tediously tepid World Wide Web. After all, the crabbed and constipated Internet is need of an expository enema -- or perhaps a peripatetic pimp slap upside the blogoshpere. In either case, I will be doing long-form album reviews over there, essays on this blog and shorter reviews on  .

I will be strictly reviewing albums I deem important to their genres or music in general over at, in a series entitled Dark Elf Essential Performances (or, if you prefer snazzy acronyms, DEEP). The series will touch on a wide range of music (rock, country, jazz, classical, blues, etc.), with the defining factors being the uniqueness, the virtuosity, the excellence of the concept or thematic continuity, and the compositional excellence of the recordings -- all the things that make these sublime albums worthwhile for you to listen to, even if you have been living the life of an ascetic ensconced in a hermetic cell within a desert monastic community and have yet to hear them. Consider it an ascetic emetic.So, without further ado, the first two reviews for you:

Jethro Tull -- Aqualung
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band -- Will the Circle Be Unbroken