25 years Of Rock ‘N’ Roll by The Bopcats

October 17, 2012

The Bopcats have been rocking since the 1980s. They managed to release two vinyl albums during the first few years of their existence but then disappeared onto the bar circuit, literally performing thousands of times during the course of more than a quarter of a century. Their other recordings have been limited to promo tapes and self-issued releases.

They were in the first wave of the rockabilly revival movement and while they may expand in a blues or a straight rock and roll direction at times, The Bopcats have stayed true to their original intent and roots.

While today the band consists of a basic trio of guitarist/vocalist Lindy Fralin, drummer/vocalist Paul Hammond, and bassist/vocalist Steve Hudgins, a number of musicians have passed through. At times, there have been keyboardists and horn players, which have given the band a fuller sound.

They have finally raided the vaults to issue 25 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll. The 17 tracks trace their history from near the beginning to the present day. A number of musicians meander in an out but the one constant is Fralin’s guitar work, which can twang with the best of the rockabilly guitarists of yesteryear.

Unlike many bar bands, they are proficient at writing their own material. “I Don’t Wanna Be Alone,” “Sweet Thing,” “On A Roll,” “Wheels of Mine,” and “Dark Train” are perfect for a smoky bar or just cruising down the highway as they channel the likes of Elvis, Eddie Cochran, and Chuck Berry.

The Bopcats also fold in a number of cover songs. They pay tribute to Robert Gordon and Bob Luman with a scintillating version of “Red Cadillac,” and amp up the tempo and volume with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Get Rhythm.” The group also strips The Rolling Stones’ “Ventilator Blues” down to the basics as they move it over to a straight rockabilly presentation, and adds some keyboard lines to Dave Bartholomew’s “Who Drank My Beer,” which expands the band’s sound.

There is a lot of good music out there and The Bopcats represent years of hard work and determination, which have resulted in a mature and well-developed sound. If you like old style rock and roll, then The Bopcats should be a band for you. Their new album was 25 years in the making, so turn the stereo volume up, the lights down low, and grab your favorite beverage as The Bopcats rock and wail away.

Article first published as Music Review: The Bopcats – 25 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll on Blogcritics.

The Blanco Sessions by Janis Martin

September 8, 2012

Janis Martin (1940-2007) proved during the mid-to-late-’50s that she could hang with the big boys. She was a rare female rock and roller in a world dominated by males. Her rockabilly style and on stage antics earned her the label of the female Elvis. Her career came to a halt during 1960 when she got pregnant but she returned during the ’70s and remained active until her death.

Enter Rosie Flores, born 1950. She is a country singer in the rockabilly vein and crossed paths with Martin when she sang on Flores’ album, Rockabilly Filly. That experience led Flores to set the goal of getting Martin into the studio to record an album. It took a decade but during April of 2007, she and her sidekick Bobby Trimble produced 11 tracks by Martin in Blanco, Texas in two days. Several months later Martin was dead from cancer. Those sessions now form Martin’s last musical will and testament. They were released September 18 as The Blanco Sessions.

Janis Martin has always had the perfect rockabilly vice. It is dynamic and just explodes out of the speakers. They kept the sound fairly simple, which keeps the focus on that voice. They also have a nice mix of classic rockabilly songs and newer material from mostly the same genre.

The album begins with the old Ruth Brown rhythm & blues hit, “As Long As I’m Movin.’” Written by Jesse Stone under his pen name of Charles Calhoun, the name he also used to write “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” Martin returned it to its rock roots.

The next two tracks found her in in an all-out rock attack mode. “Wham Bam Jam” and The Blasters “Long White Cadillac” are perfect vehicles for her style and make you realize the tragedy of the fact that she will never perform them live.

“Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine” was originally a Bill Monroe bluegrass tune but Martin modeled her take after the Kentucky Headhunters version. Kelly Willis provided the duet vocals. “Oh Lonesome Me” is a legendary country song that she re-works in a straightforward manner. The two best songs are the Johnny and Dorsey Burnette song, “I Believe What You Say,” also recorded by Ricky Nelson, and the obscure southern beach music tune, “Roll Around Rockin’” with some nice harmonica work by Walter Daniels.

Rockabilly has always occupied a niche in the modern music world but during the ’50s, it was an important element in the development of rock and roll. Janis Martin may have had only brief commercial success but she remains an important figure in the history of American rock music. While she may be gone, she has left behind one last testament to her talent.

Article first published as Music Review: Janis Martin – The Blanco Sessions on Blogcritics.

Fun On Saturday Night by The Blasters

August 11, 2012

I had sort of lost track of The Blasters during the last couple of decades or so but during the early 1980s their American Music and self-titled 1981 albums received a lot of time on my turntable. Now original vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist, and harmonica player Phil Alvin, bassist John Bazz, and drummer Bill Bateman are joined by guitarist Keith Wyatt on their just released new studio album, Fun on Saturday Night.

The Blasters may not explore much new ground here but they cover the old very well. They have always been firmly rooted in the rock/rockabilly tradition, and that remains the case here but they take a side trip into a blues sound and country direction every now and then. If there is any difference from their past releases, it is that the production has given them a smoother sound.

The album’s first song, Tiny Bradshaw’s jump-blues, “Well Oh Well,” establishes the fact that this group is back and on familiar musical ground. They move it in a harder direction though, as they turn up the bass and drums. The old Magic Sam classic, “Love Me With a Feeling” receives a similar treatment.

They travel in a different direction with a re-working of Dave Alvin’s “Maria Maria,” which can best be described as Tex-Mex south of the border rockabilly. “The Yodeling Mountaineer” finds the band veering in a country direction, and the band incorporates some blues with “No Nights By Myself.”

Every once in a while a band does the unexpected, and their cover of the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra hit “Jackson” fills that role. Exene Cervenka of X shares the vocal duties with Alvin as the song percolates along.

The 12 tracks contained on Fun on Saturday Night comprise a fine welcome back album from The Blasters. If you have not been exposed to their music before, then this is a good introduction. After all, anyone who records for the Rip Cat label can’t be all that bad.

Article first published as Music Review: The Blasters – Fun on Saturday Night on Blogcritics.

Mean Woman Blues/Blue Bayou 45 by Roy Orbison

June 15, 2012

“Mean Woamn Blues/Blue Bayou” was one of the great two-sided singles in American pop history.

Roy Orbison would produce a number of rockabilly type singles and a number of soaring ballads that would become hits. “Mean Woman Blues/Blue Bayou” presented the best of both types.

“Mean Woman Blues” looked backed to his Sun Label rockabilly days and was about as hard as Orbison would ever rock. Released during August of 1963, it reached number five on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

“Blue Bayou” was the flip side and reached number 29, yet remains one of his signature songs. It was one of those smooth ballads that Orbison was so adept at producing. The vocal is effortless and travels to places very few singers can ever hope to visit.

Roy Orbison at his best.

Never Be Anyone Else But You/It’s Late 45 by Rick Nelson

December 11, 2011

During the early part of his career, Ricky Nelson released a number of double-sided hit singles. Many of them had a ballad side and a rock side.

“Never Be Anyone Else But You/It’s Late” was released during late February of 1959. The A side reached number six and the B side number nine on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

“Never Be Anyone Else But You” was a gentle ballad that appeled to his large female fan base at the time. “It’s Late” was the rocker and looked back to his rockabilly roots; a style that would disappear as his career progressed.

The single received an award for over one million copies sold.

Bound For Bakersfield 1953-1956: The Complete Pre-Capital Collection by Buck Owens

October 1, 2011

Many people today remember Buck Owens as the co-host and star of the long running television show Hee Haw, which ran from 1969-1992, although he left the series during 1986 after 18 seasons with the show.

During the 1960s, while signed to the Capital label, he was one of the superstars of country music. He had 20 number one singles, including 14 in a row for the label, and 12 albums that reached the top of the country charts.

Buck Owens, 1929-2006, moved to Bakersfield, California, at the age of 21 after spending his formative years growing up in Texas and Arizona. Bakersfield had been a hotbed of west coast country music during the 1940s but the sound would eventually become associated with Owens. While he used traditional country instruments, such as a fiddle and pedal steel guitar, and sang with a twang, he also incorporated elements of rock ‘n’ roll into his music, creating a fusion that was unique at the time and influential in the evolution of country music.

Bound For Bakersfield 1953-1956: The Complete Pre-Capital Collection is, as the title suggests, a collection of his early career tracks from his pre-superstardom years. Much of the material had been released in the past on the 2001 album, Young Buck: The Pre-Capital Recordings. If you don’t have that release and are a Buck Owens and/or country fan, then this latest release would be a good and interesting purchase.

As with many famous music artists, Owens began his career recording for a number of small labels. His releases on the Pep, Chesterfield, and La Brea labels were raw, sparse, loud, short, and interesting, and after receiving little commercial success, they quickly disappeared. Now these singles, alternate takes, and tracks from his album The Fabulous Country Sound Of Buck Owens are waiting to be re-discovered.

His first solo recording from 1953, the demo of “Blue Love,” is included. He explored rockabilly with the driving “Hot Dog” and the quirky “Rhythm and Booze.” The first was a little too close to a rock sound, so to mislead his small but growing fan base, he released the song under the pseudonym “Corky Jones.”

His album for the La Brea label showed that his music was evolving. The rhythms contained on “Honeysuckle” would form the basis of many of his future songs. “Country Girl (Leaving Dirty Tracks)” and “Why Don’t My Mommy Stay With My Daddy” were ballads that would have fit in fine with his later work.

Today, Buck Owens is safely enshrined in the Country Music Hall Of Fame. During his career he produced dozens of albums and almost 100 singles. While the music contained on Bound For Bakersfield 1953-1956 may not have the polish or sophistication of his later output, they still are very listenable for any fan of country music as they catch one of country music’s superstars in the formative stages of his career.

Article first published as Music Review: Buck Owens – Bound For Bakersfield 1953-1956: The Complete Pre-Capital Collection on Blogcritics.

Bluebirds Over The Mountain 45 by The Beach Boys

September 25, 2011

“Bluebirds Over The Mountain” was not one of my favorite Beach Boys single releases. Relesed December 14, 1968, it stalled at number 61 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

The song was originally released as a single by rockabilly singer Ersel Hickey back in 1958. His sparse version fit the song better as the Beach Boys harmonies just could’t match the songs original tempo.

There are not many Beach Boys singles on the Capital Label that didn’t make it, but this was one.

Get The Water Boiling 45 by Billy Riley

March 18, 2011

When one thinks of the Sun label, artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins come quickly to mind.

There were a large number of other artists who recorded for Sun, but did not go on to fame and fortune.

Billy Lee Riley was primarily a session musician, but from 1956-1959, produced some excellent Rockabilly music for the Sun Label.

An excellent example of his style was “Get The Water Boiling.” Sometimes fate is not fair and it received no chart action. It remains one of the finer examples of the southern Rockabilly style of music.

The Party Ain’t Over by Wanda Jackson

March 13, 2011

Wanda Jackson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during 2009 as an early influence. I feel she should have been inducted in the Performer Category. Whatever the circumstance, the honor was long overdue for one of the early women of rock ‘n’ roll who is still going strong after over 50 years.

Wanda Jackson was signed to the Capitol label during 1956 and in the years that followed became known as the queen or first lady of rockabilly, which led to her eventual induction into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. She toured regularly with Elvis Presley, 1955-1956, and even dated him for a short time.

Her best known song was “Let’s Have A Party,” on which she was backed by Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps. It is a blast of up-tempo energy and a nice introduction to the rockabilly style of music. It was a top 40 single during the second half of 1960. During the mid-1960s she began releasing country material and would place dozens of recordings on the United States Country charts during the next quarter of a century.

Wanda Jackson has released over 30 studio albums during her long career. She has released albums of rock ‘n’ roll, country, rockabilly, and gospel music. At the age of 73, she has returned with a new album, The Party Ain’t Over, which cuts across several musical styles. Like a fine wine, she and her music have aged well.

Very few artists are able to cover songs by such diverse people as Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Amy Winehouse, and the Andrews Sisters all on the same release. Having said that, she may have been better served to have stuck with one style throughout the album. The individual performances are consistently excellent but the album as a whole does not hang together at times.

When I think of Wanda Jackson, I think of high energy, up-tempo rock. Little Richard’s “Rip It Up” was made for her and presents her at her best. I saw her perform “Shakin’ All Over” on Letterman, and she quickly proved that she still had it at an age when most people are quietly retired.

She travels a different route on the old Andrews Sisters tune, “Rum and Coca-Cola,” as she brings a modern interpretation to the song. Her covers of “Dust On The Bible” and “Blue Yodel #6” are also treats.

While her takes on Dylan’s “Thunder On The Mountain” and Winehouse’s “You Know That I’m No Good” are credible, they are a little outside her comfort zone. She has returned with a very good album, though, proving that she belongs in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. For Wanda Jackson, the party continues.

Article as first published on Blogcritics: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-wanda-jackson-the-party/page-2/#ixzz1GcV3SF2C

Mojo Man/Arkansas Rockpile by Ronnie Hawkins

February 8, 2009

Every once in awhile a music company executive has a good idea. Such was the case with the reissue of two classic Ronnie Hawkins albums. Mojo Man and Arkansas Rockpile, recorded in the early ’60s and released several years later, were never issued in the United States and have been out of print for decades. Best of all they are paired together on this 2008 CD release.

Ronnie Hawkins was born in Arkansas in 1935 and moved to Canada in 1959. He came out the southern rockabilly tradition and has practiced that early form of rock & roll for most of his career. His steadfast loyalty to this musical form has limited his commercial appeal but his infectiousness and raw style has allowed him to survive in the music business for fifty years.

Ronnie Hawkins is also remembered for his backing band, The Hawks, which consisted of members Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. It was this group that accompanied Hawkins on Mojo Man and Arkansas Rockpile. This group would go on to back Bob Dylan and then as The Band would become one of the most respected rock groups in history and be elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

There have been many Ronnie Hawkins re-issues over the years. They mostly concentrate on his better-known songs. Mojo Man/Arkansas Rockpile are two complete albums which are heard in context and contain many obscure tracks that have not seen the light of day in a long time.

Mojo Man is the weaker of the two albums. It contains a number of mellow releases that border on pop which is not Ronnie Hawkins strength. “One Out Of A Hundred,” “Lonely Hours” and even “Your Cheatin’ Heart” are moved in a pop direction as Hawkins croons the vocals. The primitive production and emphasis on Hawkins voice give them a Holiday Inn bar feel.

Hawkins is on much firmer ground when his is screaming the vocals against an up-tempo musical background. The old Carl Perkins Sun Label hit “Match Box” features Hawkins frenetic vocals laid against Robbie Robertson’s guitar lines. “Suzy-Q” is almost primordial and features great sax runs by King Curtis. “Further Up The Road” is taken in a blues direction and features some more excellent guitar work by Robertson.

Arkansas Rockpile is a more consistent album. “Dizzy Miss Lizzy” is stripped down to its basics. Vocal and guitar change places until a sax run and pumping piano enter the mix. “Red Hot” features exuberant piano runs by Richard Manuel. “Arkansas” features Hawkins great vocals set against harmonica backing by the great Sonny Terry. “Who Do You Love?” becomes a wild tour de force for Hawkins vocals. No album of this type would be complete with the great song “Bo Diddley.”

Mojo Man/Arkansas Rock Pile may not be for everyone. If you are not a fan of early rock & roll and particularly rockabilly this release may not appeal to you. But if you do have those inclinations or just want to explore some of the roots of rock & roll this release will be an essential addition to your music collection.