Tenology (CD Box Set) by 10cc

December 8, 2012

10cc had some commercial success in the United States, but in their native United Kingdom they achieved close to superstar status. While there have been several reunions and break-ups, their classic and most creative period occurred 1972-1983. Their new four-CD box set, Tenology, covers that period as 62 of the 64 tracks contains all of their hit singles, B-sides, some deep album cuts, and a few unreleased tracks from that era. (A fifth disc, a DVD, finishes off the box set but will not be the focus of this review.) It is a fine way to celebrate the band’s 40th anniversary.

The one constant for 10cc has been Graham Gouldman. He began his career as a prolific songwriter. He wrote such songs as “For Your Love” and “Heart Full Of Soul” for the Yardbirds, “Bus Stop” and “Look Through Any Window” for The Hollies, and “Listen People” and “No Milk Today” for Herman’s Hermits. In 1971 he formed the band Hotlegs with Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley, and Lol Crème. After one hit song, “Neanderthal Man,” they changed their name to 10cc.

Unless you want to seek out their original albums, Tenology is the best compilation of their music I have seen and heard. It is a fine overview of their early career, as it presents the band in all their idiosyncratic glory.

The first two discs are devoted to their singles. The sound is significantly different from track to track. It may have been this lack of a cohesive sound and the unusual or avant garde quality of many of their releases that prevented extensive radio airplay in the U.S. when compared to their native country. “I’m Not in Love” and “The Things We Do for Love” were their only significant American hits.

The 32 tracks on the first two discs are presented in chronological order beginning with 1972’s “Donna” and ending with 1992’s “Women in Love” and “Welcome to Paradise” (the only two tracks released after 1983). Whether it be the Phil Spector-type wall of sound style of “I’m Not in Love,” where their voices are overdubbed into a virtual choir, the reggae of “Dreadlock Holiday,” or the quirky rock sound of “Rubber Bullets,” or the pop leanings of “The Things We Do for Love,” it is never boring.

The third disc is reserved for album tracks. The 18 songs cover their six studio albums released in 1973-1978. The drug pusher song “Flying Junk,” the brutal religious commentary of “The Second Sitting for the Last Supper,” and love’s failings dealt with in “Don’t Hang Up” are all highlights.

The fourth disc is labeled B-sides and rarities. It is a hit-and-miss disc, as many songs consigned to the B-sides of singles were done so for a reason. “Channel Swimmer” is more accessible than many of their A-side material, but a track like “Don’t Squeeze Me Like Toothpaste” sums up their eclectic nature. The only two previously unreleased tracks, “People in Love (The Voodoo Boogie)” and “The Recording of Dean and I” are more interesting than essential.

The DVD contained a number of music videos and television appearances, so if you are a hardcore 10cc fan, then buyer beware.

10cc has always been a fascinating band worth exploring. Tenology is an excellent introduction to the classic period of an oft-overlooked band.

Article first published as Music Review: 10cc – Tenology [Box Set] on Blogcritics.

Strange Euphoria (3 CD + 1 DVD Box Set) by Heart

June 25, 2012

There have probably been thousands of box sets released during the last three decades. Heart has taken the road less traveled with their Strange Euphoria set. It is not just a regurgitation of their greatest hits, but also includes some deep album cuts and a number of true rarities. It you just want their best or most popular tunes, there are a number of greatest hits sets available. If you are a hardcore fan of the band or want to dig a little deeper into their history, then this is a set worth owning.

The career of Heart, with Ann and Nancy Wilson, has reached the four decade mark. They have released 13 studio albums and over a dozen live and compilation albums. Strange Euphoria represents the first time the Wilson sisters have opened up the vaults for demos and obscure material. The set also includes song-by-song annotations, anecdotes, and commentary by the Wilson sisters.

Disc one contains six previously unreleased demos and two early live performances. “Magic Man” is almost like a folk song and it’s interesting to compare it to what it would eventually become. “Crazy On You” contains some of the best acoustic guitar playing of Nancy Wilson’s career and this demo makes it available for the first time. The acoustic demo of “Dog & Butterfly” is another early song that serves as a history lesson for the version that would finally be released.

Unreleased live versions of “White Lightning and Wine” and “Barracuda” are included. The first was one of the foundations of their early concerts as it contained serious lyrics encased in music that makes you want to get up and dance.

The first track is “Through Eyes And Glass” by Ann Wilson & The Daybreaks. It was Ann and Nancy’s first original recorded song, released on the small Topaz label in 1968. It may have not changed the music world, but it is historic as it catches the Wilson sisters at the beginning of their career.

Disc two offers up some familiar and some obscure. Well known songs such as “Bebe le Strange,” “Even It Up,” “These Dreams,” and “Alone” follow Heart’s middle career transition from hard rock to a smoother brand of music that would sell tens of millions of albums and singles. The most unique track is a live version of “Never” with John Paul Jones. This simple and almost unplugged version also features Jones lending a hand on the mandolin.

Disc three contains three songs by the Wilson sisters’ side group, The Lovemongers. It was a different sound and two tracks from their Whirlygig album, “Kiss” and “Sand” are included. The first was left out of the Meg Ryan movie French Kiss and the second was later included on Heart’s 2010 album Red Velvet Car. They present the gentle side of the Wilson sisters. “Friend Meets Friend” is a rare unreleased live Lovemongers track.

The oddest track in the set may be the unreleased demo version of “Boppy’s Back.” It was a tongue in cheek acoustic tale about Ann Wilson’s dog.

The accompanying DVD is a live performance from February-March, 1976, recorded for KWSU, Washington State University. The ten song, 57 minute performance catches the band just after the release of Dreamboat Annie. They are in their developmental phase as a band, but Ann Wilson’s voice still soars on such songs as “Crazy On You,” ”Soul Of The Sea,” “Magic Man,” “Silver Wheels,”, “Devil Delight,” and “Heartless.”

Strange Euphoria is an essential release for Heart fans as 20 of the 51 tracks (not counting the DVD) are previously unreleased. It includes material from all 13 of their studio albums and makes for an interesting and career-spanning listen.

Article first published as Music Review: Heart – Strange Euphoria [3 CD + 1 DVD Box Set] on Blogcritics.

Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Collector’s Box Set by Bill Wyman

November 3, 2011

Bill Wyman brought his 31 year membership in the Rolling Stones to a conclusion during 1991. He had been a part of one of the great rhythm sections in music history and a stalwart in what has been called the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band. Little did he realize at the time that he would be embarking upon another long-term career as the leader of his own band.

He formed The Rhythm Kings as a low key project to fill in the time after his high pressure existence in the Rolling Stones. It provided him with a vehicle to play, write, and produce music on his own terms. The Rhythm Kings have had an ever changing array of superstars lending a hand to assist him. It was a credit to his stature and talent that he has been able to attract such musicians as Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Mark Knopfler, Nicky Hopkins, Paul Carrack, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker, Mick Taylor, Albert Lee, Andy Fairweather-Low, and a host of others to create his music.

The five-disc Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Collector’s Edition Box Set gathers together four studio albums released 1998-2001. The 66 tracks give a complete look into the musical vision of Bill Wyman that had been buried inthe Rolling Stones juggernaut, plus contains some stunning performances by some of rock music’s elite.

Struttin’ Our Stuff was the band’s debut album and in many regards his most hands on in the creation of the music. He wrote or co-wrote 6 of the 12 tracks and then just selected the songs he wanted for the other six tracks. His voice has always been an acquired taste, and here he provides the vocals on a number of tracks including his own “Stuff (Can’t Get Enough),” and “Going Crazy Overnight.” Some of the other vocalists included Paul Carrack, Beverly Skeete, Gary Brooker, and Georgie Fame. It is a good introduction to his music and remains the simplest of his releases as it presents good-time rock ‘n’ roll.

Anyway The Wind Blows is fast paced, fun, and the best of the four albums for sheer enjoyment. He backed off providing the lead vocals and left that chore in the capable hands of Fame, Skeete, and Carrack. The title song by JJ Cale, “Spooky,” Willie Dixon’s “Too Late,” Mose Allison’s “Days Like This,” and “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good To You” were all part of a well thought out but eclectic group of cover songs and the likes of Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Gary Brooker, Albert Lee, and Mick Taylor help bring them to life with a great degree of spontaneity.

Oddly, the title track and old Rascals tune, “Groovin’” was this album’s weakest track. The release went in a lot of directions musically as rockabilly, pop, rock, and jazz shared the stage together. Many of the tracks are excellent but the album never gets into a consistent groove as the title suggests. “Mood Swing” was a rare lead vocal by Albert King, “Hole In The Wall,” written by Wyman and his long-time sidekick Terry Taylor, is a nice rock-romp, and Brooker leads the band through a good cover of the old Lovin’ Spoonful tune, “Daydream.”

Double Bill was a long and sprawling album that covers two discs and 24 tracks. It probably could have been divided into two releases as again there was a variety of styles. There was a lot of blues including Delta and Chicago, plus some swing music and a little gospel. George Harrison’s slide guitar on “Love Letters” was a poignant reminder of his talent as a guitarist.

The Rhythm Kings have achieved a fair amount of success but have sort of peaked commercially. This is partly due to Wyman’s aversion to extensive travel. He travels only by bus, train, or ferry and confines himself to Europe. He seems fine with this steady but sure career path.

Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Collector’s Edition Box Set does not contain music that has changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll, but it is a loose affair that is a lot of fun and that seems to be enough for Bill Wyman at this stage of his career.

Article first published as Music Review: Bill Wyman – Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings Collector’s Edition Box Set on Blogcritics.

The Soul Of Rock and Roll (Box Set) by Roy Orbison

May 21, 2009

The Soul Of Rock And Roll is a massive four disc, 107 track compilation that spans the four decade career of Roy Orbison. His widow, Barbara Orbison and son, Roy Jr. were responsible for the selection of the songs and the set’s production.

Roy Orbison (1936-1988) had one of the most distinctive voices in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and used it to leave a legacy of building romantic ballads and up-tempo pop/rock songs that was almost unequaled in American popular music. His quavering tenor was one of the purist vocal instruments ever to grace a recording studio.

Disc one is the most interesting of the four. It gathers together songs from his early groups, The Teen Kings and The Wink Westerners plus Sun Label cuts. The early tracks are particularly interesting as they chronicle the beginning of his musical journey. The oldest track, “Hey! Miss Fannie” by his high school group, The Wink Westerners was recorded in 1955. It presents a young Roy Orbison beginning to fulfill his early dream of leading a country and western band.

His work with The Teen Kings finds him moving toward a rock ‘n’ roll sound. His recording of the Little Richard classic, “Tutti Fruitti” shows him searching for a comfortable niche. The Sun tracks find him squarely in the rockabilly school of music. While the quality of his Sun work would vary, such songs as “Ooby Dooby,” “Mean Little Mama,” “Problem Child,” and “Claudette” remain energetic and vital a half century after their release. The highlight is an unreleased tracked called the “1956 Guitar Pull Medley.” It combined the songs “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You/I Was The One/That’s All Right/Mary Lou/You’re My Baby” into one spectacular track.

Disc two presents Orbison at his most popular as the 29 tracks are part of his Monument label legacy. Songs such as “Only The Lonely,” “In Dreams,” “Crying,” “Candy Man,” “Blue Bayou,” “Dream Baby,” and “Falling” are instantly recognizable as some of the best music that was issued during the first half of the 1960s. There was some thought put into the selection of the tracks as the often forgotten rockers “Lana” and “Working For The Man” as wDisc three brings his Monument recordings to a close. “Mean Woman Blues” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” are rockers and essential to his catalogue. The MGM material is more spotty. While “Ride Away,” “Crawling Back,” “Communication Breakdown,” and “Too Soon To Know” are competent and listenable, it is immediately noticeable that they are inferior to his work with the Monument label. He released ten albums for MGM and the fact that this output is represented by less than one complete disc says a lot for overall quality of the material.

They also inexplicably leave off what may be his best track during that time period, “Cry Softly Lonely One.” The disc does end on a high note, however, as there is a previously unreleased live version of “Land Of A Thousand Dances,” his tribute to Elvis Presley, “Hound Dog Man” and his Grammy Award winning duet with Emmylou Harris, “That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again.”

Disc Four gathers tracks from movie soundtracks, live performances and late career studio work. It is probably the weakest of the four discs as it has a disjointed feel to it. I would have preferred a few more Traveling Wilburys tunes as they were universally excellent. “You Got It” and “A Mystery To Me” are strong songs as is the live recording of “Oh, Pretty Woman.” A live “It’s Over” was recorded near the end of his life and proves that his vocal skills were intact up to the very end.

While the box itself and the cardboard holder in which the discs are stored could have been a little stronger, the 95 page booklet is spectacular and informative. It presents a nice biography of his life, information about each track, rare photos, and thoughts and comments by a number of his associates and artists.

The Soul Of Rock And Roll will no doubt remain the definitive overview of Roy Orbison’s musical career. It is a worthy addition to any music collection.
ell as the unique sounding “Shahdaroba” all make deserved appearances.