I Am The Cosmos By Chris Bell

February 14, 2018

Since Alex Chilton’s death, everything Big Star and everything associated with Big Star is being reissued. The latest entry in the Big Star sweepstakes is a two-disc expanded version of Chris Bell’s I Am The Cosmos.

Bell was a founding member of Big Star but left the band after their first release. His contributions helped establish the sound that made the band a cult favorite. His solo career came to an abrupt end in 1978 at the age of 27 when he died in motor vehicle accident.

Recently his pre-Big Star material was gathered together and issued as Looking Forward. It was a hit or miss affair of a young artist leaning his craft. I Am The Cosmos is a fully realized release. It finds Bell experimenting, not always successfully, and looking to the future, which never came. As such, it remains his best album and a treat for any fan of Bell or Big Star.

It is an album that moves in a number of directions. “Speed Of Sound,” “Get Away,” “I Don’t Know” and “I Got Kinda Lost” fit the Big Star sound and would have fit any of their albums. “You And Your Sister,” both the single version and the acoustic version find him moving in a different direction and show off his guitar work. The title track is a well thought out and mature recording of his thoughts at the time.

There are some misses but they are apart of a musician moving from a band setting to becoming a solo artist.

The second disc is comprised of 19 alternate versions of songs, unreleased material, and outtakes. It all holds together well and hints at what his musical future may have looked like.

Chris Bell remains an artist whose career was cut all too short. I Am The Cosmos is a look at his defining moment.


Rhythmland By Dennis Johnson & Mississippi Ramblers

February 14, 2018

I have a soft spot in my musical heart for slide guitarists. They are individualistic and each have their own unique sound.

One of the current leading proponents of the slide guitar style is Dennis Johnson, who with his backing band, The Mississippi Ramblers, has returned with their latest album Rhythmland.

What makes Johnson unique is while he has an easily identifiable sound, he is able to adapt it to a number of varied styles. Whether it be touches of folk, rock, roots, Americana, or straight blues, he is able to add his slide guitar sound over and through their rhythms. His approach is interesting in that he approaches a song from the basic rhythms and builds his leads from there.

Nine of the ten tracks are original and like any good blues artist they deal with life’s journeys through a story. The only non-original track is a unique interpretation of “Walkin’ Blues,” enhanced by his 12 string dobro. A counterpoint to that track is the laid-back acoustic performance on the jazz laden “My Love Is Here For You.”

Johnson is one of those master musicians who many times floats under the radar to all but a select few blues and slide guitar aficionados. He is also one of those guitarists who creates the illusion of playing the rhythm and lead parts on the same guitar.

Rhythmland is a creative piece of blues presented through the slide guitar sound. It is well worth exploring.

Milligan Vaughn Projct By The Milligan Vaughn Project

February 14, 2018

It all starts in Texas, at least for the Milligan Vaughan Project. Vocalist Malford Milligan and guitarist Tyrone Vaughan are Texans to their core and their joining together serves up a helping of dynamic rock and blues with their debut album MVP..

Milligan has a soulful voice and when it joins together with Vaughan’s guitar work, the sound emerges as a fusion of rock and blues.

The album was recorded in the studio except for the last two live tracks. “What Passes For Love” and the classic Freddy King song “Palace Of The King” represent the heart of their sound, which has been honed by constant touring.

They travel in a different direction with the ballad “Here I Am,” which is a nice counterpoint to their usual upfront, in your face approach.

MVP is a fine debit album from two music veterans who compliment each other well. Recommended for anypne who likes their modern days blues powerful and Texas style.


To The Moon And Back By Blackmore’s Night

February 14, 2018

Who could have guessed 20 years ago that Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame guitarist Ritchie Blackmore would find love and happiness as a front man for a Renaissance/Rock fusion band, but here we are two decades later. He and partner Candice Night are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Blackmore’s Night with a 2-disc release titled To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond.

The first disc is basically a compilation of their better known material. To my ear, the mix on some of the songs appears different. The sound level on Blackmore’s acoustic work on the mandolin and guitar has been turned up and it shares equal billing with Night’s vocals. It allows the listener to hear just how intricate many of the songs are and how good a guitarist Blackmore is when everything is stripped to basics. There is also a 9 minute version of “Home Again’ that presents the  band at its best.

Disc two moves in a number of directions. They have re-imagined a number of their classic songs and “Writing On The Wall,” “Coming Home,” and particularly the bonus track “I Surrender” emerge as hard rock classics. They are more akin to Blackmore’s work with Rainbow with a female vocalist. While they are outside the usual norm for Blackmore’s Night; they are an interesting turn for the band.

Disc one is a fine introduction to their sound, while the second disc hints at possibly new directions.

Blackmore’s Night has carved a unique niche for itself. To The Moon And Back: 20 Years And Beyond brings  a period of their career to a close. Twenty years is a long journey in the world of music but it is one worth taking with the band.


Filet Of Soul By Jan & Dean

January 18, 2018

Jan & Dean are best remembered for their string of surf and car hits during the 1960’s. Jan Berry may not have had the extended musical vision of Brian Wilson, but in the studio he was able to combine the voices of the duo into a melodic choir. In concert they were unable to re-produce their soaring sounds of the studio, so they mixed comedy into their act.

In 1965 they owed the Liberty label one last album. Filet Of Soul was a mixture of live performances, comedy, and studio sound effects. The label promptly rejected it for release. A year later Jan Berry was involved in a car accident that virtually ended the duo’s career for over a decade. The label released Filet Of Soul three weeks after the accident to cash in on the Jan & Dean legacy. They removed the sound effects and most of the comedy. I was a big fan, but even I knew the album was terrible.

Now 52 years later, Filet Of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings has returned in all its fake crowd noises, studio sounds, and some of the lamest comedy ever to grace an album. And yes, it is still terrible but at least for the hard core fan, it is a slice of the 1960’s that mercifully, in this case, will not be revisited.

The best past of the release are the liner notes by Dean Torrence. He gives a full history as to the why of the music. One other strong feature was the backing band on the true live performances. They are all introduced, so I assume they were actually present. The brass section is excellent but how Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame drummer Hal Blaine got involved in all of this is beyond me.

The listener quickly learns that the duo should not sing The Everly Brothers (“Cathy’s Clown”) or the Beatles (“Michelle” and “Norwegian Wood”) and can’t sing many of the hits of the day (“Lightning Strikes” and “Hang On Sloopy”).

The truncated original release was in many ways not their fault but this one was intentional. It is a release only for the hard care fan. If you want their best and most enjoyable, seek out their greatest hits compilation.


Looking Forward By Chris Bell

January 18, 2018

Since the death of Alex Chilton, everything Big Star and anything associated with the band has been or is being released. Latest in the Big Star sweepstakes is Looking Forward by Chris Bell.

Chris Bell’s time with the band was short. He contributed to their terrific debut album #1 Record. His solo career showed promise but he was killed in a car accident in 1978 at the age of 27, leaving him as a “what if” of rock music.

Looking Forward gathers together his unreleased and rarely found pre-Big Star material. His participation in bands such as Rock City, Icewater, and the Wallabys explore his development and thus the roots of Big Star.

Seventeen of the 22 tracks are finished, well-recorded songs by the aforementioned bands. They may sound a bit primitive by today’s standards but Bell’s melodic approach and tight harmonies are present.

The best tracks are from his time with Rock City. The ten tracks have a cohesive feel and should have been placed chronologically on the CD. “The Wind Will Cry For Me,” “I Lost A Love,” “The Answer,” and “Think It’s Time To Say Goodbye” are fairly mature and have a finished feel.  The six Icewater and Wallabys contributions find him not as settled and travelling in a number of directions, including several bluesy vocals.

Bell never really enjoyed any large commercial success during his lifetime. While his post-Big Star material is more polished and focused; Looking Forward is an eclectic look at his early career and is well worth a listen.


Approved By Snakes By Jason Ricci & The Bad Kind

January 18, 2018

Jason Ricci is one of the best harmonica players working today, period. Backed by his band, Bad Kind, he has just released his 11th album Approved By Snakes.

It is not an album for the faint hearted. “My True Love Is A Dope Whore,” “Something Just Arrived,” “Demon Lover,” Terrors Of Night Life,” and “Got Cleaned Up” deal with drugs, the seediness, sexuality, and the darker side of life. His gritty voice compliments the explicit lyrics as he communicates his messages.

Still, any Jason Ricci album revolves around his harp. He and guitarist John Lisi are able to play off of each other and their music comes across as more of a jam band approach.

Ricci’s albums are always musically interesting and creative but many times they have an uncomfortable element to them. Recommended but hold on.