Are You Shakespearienced By Trip Shakespeare

March 29, 2015


Before they signed to the national A&M label, the Harvard University born Trip Shakespeare issued two well received and critically acclaimed independent albums. The first, Applehead Man (1986), (see my review), found the band’s music in an embryonic stage. Are You Shakespearienced (1989), is a mature effort, where the music has been honed by hundreds of live performances. Omnivore Recordings has now re-issued both albums, complete with bonus tracks.

The band had expanded to a foursome with guitarist/keyboardist Dan Wilson joining original member’s guitar/vocalist Matt Wilson, bassist John Munson, and drummer Elaine Harris. His presence created a fuller sound and expanded the vocal harmonies. The nearly three year period between albums allowed the band to create many of what would become their signature songs. It all adds up to their masterpiece. When they signed to a label with national distribution, some of their creative edge was silenced as they tried to fit in to the mainstream a bit too much.

Their live shows tended to have an improvisational nature where they linked songs together in a chain. While some of that approach is lost in the studio, the songs still present a cohesive whole as they meander and flow into each other. “Swing,” “Two Wheeler Four Wheeler,” “Spirit,” and “Reception” present Trip Shakespeare at their quirky rocking best.

The nine track original album is enhanced by nine more previously unreleased bonus songs. The live favorite “Look At The Lady” emerges as a sonic studio track alongside such lost songs as “Earth,” “By Revolving,” “Car,” “Black Road,” “Stories End,” and “10,000 Watt Searching Light,” which were all originally recorded about the same time.

Are You Shakesperienced finds a powerful, creative, and wonderfully eclectic rock band at their best. It is a trip worth taking.

The Solo Years 1995-2014 (3-CD Set) By Michael Stanley

March 29, 2015


Michael Stanley is one of those artists who has produced quality rock and roll for over four decades but never received the huge commercial success that he deserved.

He began his recording career in 1969 as a member of the band Silk. By 1974, he was fronting the Michael Stanley Band, with whom he toured and recorded until 1976. After taking some time off, he began recording as a solo artist in 1995. He has now issued a three-CD, 43 track set that focus’ on the best from his solo releases.

He is at heart an American heartland rocker. Whether in slow or up-tempo mode, he is able to create melodic grooves that fit into the musical mainstream. He has always been a talented songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist who has remained in touch with the basics of rock and roll.

The tracks are taken from 12 albums issued during the past 20 years. It was originally planned as a two disc set. Disc One contains “The Rousers” and Disc Two “The Weepies.”

Disc one has been playing constantly in my car stereo system for the last couple of days. They are the songs that present Stanley at his best. It is in your face rock and roll. There is a power to the songs and when taken together form a strong and cohesive body of work.

“The Weepies” move at a slower pace. There is passion and emotion present but when I think of Stanley’s sound, these are not the songs that usually come to mind. Having said that, combining them all together presents a different side of his creative process.

Stanley sent some of his choices to friend and producer Bill Szymczyk, nickname Crispy, for his comments. He sent back his thoughts for a third disc, complete with notes, which evolved into Disc Three: “Crispy’s Critters.” It is an eclectic group of songs that move in a number of directions. Songs range from “Coming Up For Air,” which is about his heart attack to an odd journey through The Beatles “Eleanor Rigby.”

Stanley may not be destined to become a superstar. Instead he is a veteran musician who has honed his craft and gained the ability to produce some of the best rock and roll of the past 20 years. The Solo Years: 1995-2014 is not only a fine introduction to his music but presents the essence of rock and roll.


Oh, Pretty Woman By Roy Orbison

March 21, 2015

Roy Orbison and one of his songwriting partners, Bill Dees, were sitting at the kitchen table as Orbison’s wife was leaving the house to go shopping. Orbison asked her if she needed any money and Dees responded with the line, “A pretty woman never needs any money.” By the time his wife returned home, the biggest hit of his career had been written.

“Oh Pretty Woman” reached the tops of the BILLBOARD Pop Chart, September 26, 1964, and there it remained for three weeks. It also topped the charts in Great Britain as well.

It was his 9th top ten single in a row in the United States but would prove to be the last one of his career. He switched from the Monument label to MGM and his commercial success came to a halt until a comeback 15 years later.

“Oh Pretty Woman” remains one of the definitive American rock songs of the 1960’s.

Through The Looking Glass By Siouxsie And The Banshees

March 12, 2015


Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin formed Siouxsie & The Banshees in England during 1976. While initially influenced by the English punk movement, they quickly moved beyond that sound by adding experimental chord progressions and off-beat melodies to their music. For two decades, 1976-1996, they explored the outer edges of rock and roll through what can be called their post punk approach.

Universal Music has just reissued their last four studio albums, of which Through The Looking Glass is the first. Issued in 1987, it is a unique album in their catalogue as all the songs are covers rather than originals. The other members of the band are drummer Budgie and keyboardist John Carruthers.

It is an eclectic group of material as the songs range from Billie Holiday, to Bob Dylan, to Iggy Pop, with a stop in Walt Disney’s Jungle Book. They depart a little more from the norm with the addition of some brass and strings.

The Iggy Pop composition “The Passenger” is twisted a bit out of shape with the addition of some brass. The lyrics retain their power but the music has a very different feel from the original. The Bob Dylan/Rick Danko composition “This Wheel’s On Fire” and Billie Holiday’s ”Strange Fruit” both keep the emphasis on Siouxsie’s voice. Her annunciation and the change in tempos completely re-make the two songs.

The Sherman Brothers wrote “Trust In Me” for a Disney film but probably couldn’t have imagined what Siouxsie and her band would do with the song. There is a subtle but ominous vibe to it that is mesmerizing.

The reissue comes with four bonus tracks. “This Wheel’s On Fire” and “The Passenger” are different mixes and while nice to have are not essential. On the other hand the 7 inch version of “Song From The Edge of The World” and the 7 inch B side “She Cracked” are fine additions to the album.

Through The Looking Glass is probably not the place to start if you have not been exposed to the music of Siouxsie and The Banshees as it is best appreciated after listening to their original material. It effectiveness is in the road less traveled for the band.


If I Was A River (CD) By Willie Nile

March 12, 2015


For close to the last 40 years, Willie Nile has been an American rocker, pure and simple. That’s what makes his latest studio album so unique and ultimately interesting. He has traveled in a different direction as his new studio release is an album of original piano tunes.

During the course of his career he has been one of the more passionate rock and rollers on the music scene but now his emphasis shifts to a gentle and melodic sound that keeps the focus directly on his lyrics.

His approach is sitting at the piano, with minimal accompaniment and presenting his songs in a laid back and intimate fashion. It is basically keeping it as simple as possible, which benefits the material. His chief contributors are guitarist/keyboardist Steuart Smith and mandolin/acoustic guitarist/violinist David Mansfield. They are experienced enough to provide support, yet at the same time wise enough not intrude upon the subtle nature of his performances.

While most people probably picture Nile with a guitar in his hands, he proves to be a more than capable pianist. The lyrics are strong as he explores love, loss, joy, hope, and peace but the music is softer than what he usually produces.

The use of the word river in the album title is appropriate as songs such as “Song of A Soldier,” “The Ones You Used To Love,” “Let Me Be The River,” “Lullaby Loon,” and the poignant title track meander along. The music does not overwhelm the listener but rather ebbs and flows.

Only a mature and confident artist would issue album so different from his usual norm. If I Was A River finds Nile taking the road less traveled and he and his fans are the better for it.

The House Of The Rising Sun By The Animals

March 9, 2015

“The House Of The Rising Sun” is a traditional folk song made famous by Josh White. It’s most famous incarnation was by the Animals who took it to number one on September 5, 1964, where it remained for three weeks.

The Animals were the bluesy side of the 1960s British Invasion. They evolved from the Alan Price Combo, which in 1960 included keyboardist Price, lead guitarist Hilton Valentine, bassist Chas Chandler, and drummer John Steel. When Burdon joined the band in 1962, the original Animals line-up was complete.

“House Of The Rising Sun” was their second single and the only number one in a career that eventually led to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.


Somewhere Over Paris 1977 By Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band

March 3, 2015


For the last 25 years of his life, Don Glen Vliet, 1941-2010, was a noted expressionist painter and sculptor whose works are now highly collectable and very valuable. From 1964-1982 he was known as Captain Beefheart and was one of the more avant-garde musicians to ever grace rock music.

He formed his Magic band in 1964 and their 1969 album, Trout Mask Replica, was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Albums Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. His music was almost free form in style, combining elements of rock & roll, jazz, classical, and blues. It all added up to a form of music that explored the outer edges of rock and of music itself. Today he is recognized as an innovator who influenced punk, new wave, and many types of experimental rock. His problem at the time was his music was well outside the mainstream and had little commercial viability. Due to his over bearing nature and the lack of success, his whole band quit during the mid-1970’s.

When he arrived at Le Nouvel Hippodrome at the Paris Sorbonne University, November 19, 1977, he had formed a brand new Magic Band consisting of bassist/keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, guitarist Denny Walley, guitarist Jeff Morris Tepper, and drummer Robert Williams. Beefheart provides the vocals, saxophone, and Chinese gongs.

The Captain Beefheart sound in concert is somewhat different from their studio albums. There are no layering or studio tricks. The music moves toward the mainstream and the use of two guitars provides a rock foundation.  Vliet’s vocals are always an adventure and they remain inside and outside accepted norms.

The performance is presented complete and extends over two discs. The songs are drawn from many of his studio albums are well-known, at least to Captain Beefheart fans. “A Carrot Is As Close As A Rabbit Gets To A Diamond,” “China Pig,” “Bat Chain Puller,” “The Dust Blows Forward And The Dust Blows Back,” and the immortal “Big Eyed Beans From Venus” all emerge with new textures and interpretations.

The music of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, whether in the studio or alive on stage, is always an adventure and is not for the unadventurous soul.

Somewhere Over Paris 1977 is a good look at the second incarnation of the Magic Band. It will not appeal to many music fans because of its eclectic nature but for followers of “The Captain,” it is a welcome addition to his musical legacy.