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Talk about killer albums.  A metal classic found on any headbangers rack, the 1980 release British Steel by metal masters Judas Priest.

The band’s sixth studio album it repeated the sound they had brought out on Killing Machine in  1978.  With Rob Halford on vocals, K.K. Downing & Glenn Tipton on guitars, Ian Hill on bass, and their new drummer at the time Dave Holland, Priest cemented their status as heavy metal gods in the UK and around the globe.
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Judas Priest – in more recent times

I wouldn’t call myself a huge Judas Priest fan.  They get a lot of respect but as my heavy metal tastes run more to Zeppelin, I only play them from time to time.  What I like about them more than most metal bands are that they aren’t afraid of being melodic and tackling songs that you wouldn’t expect them to cover.  I mean Rob Halford (pictured below) covers the Joan Baez classic “Diamonds and Rust” and the band does a great version of the Spooky Tooth classic “Better By You, Better Than Me” on some of their other releases.  Well done.

RI like the music but I think it’s time for a costume change.  I can only think of Spinal Tap when I watch the live videos.

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Rob Halford

In 2009, Priest covered the British Steel album in its entirety to open their 30th Anniversary tour. If you’re a new metal fan or an older one looking to upgrade your collection, British Steel is a good place to start.

  1. “Breaking The Law”
  2. “Living After Midnight”
  3. “Grinder”
  4. “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise”

Enjoy….

 

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Pink Floyd’s first studio album in more than 20 years has been released.  The Endless River hit the shelves on November 10th and is a stunning work by the band that is the definition of British progressive rock.  As reported previously, the album was originally recorded as more than 20 hours worth of material during the sessions for The Division Bell in 1994.

The album, 18 tracks with another 9 on the deluxe edition, is part of the Pink Floyd lore.  The one that was recorded and put on the studio shelf to get dusty while the band went off to live their lives.  The album that some fans thought would have been finally released at the 25th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon or perhaps as outtakes from The Divison Bell.  In the end, it stands on its own entirely and is a tribute to keyboardist Rick Wright who passed away in 2008 from cancer.  Wright wrote about two-thirds of the songs on the The Endless River but for me, the guitar work by David Gilmour is what makes this album so good. I find it reminiscent of his haunting work on Wish You Were Here.

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Rick Wright (1943 – 2008)

Floyd historians will recall that when the band was first cobbled together as a full-tilt blues band fashioned after The Stones, but with a tendency towards extended solos performed at high volume levels (it certainly beat learning more songs), they actually were developing the chops that brought them to the forefront of what was later tagged progressive rock.

I covered their history on a series of earlier posts here in anticipation of The Endless River being released.

http://timbrosnan.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/the-pink-floyd-retrospective-chapter-three-1978-1985/

The tracks on Endless River run the full gamut of what fans have come to expect from a Pink Floyd album in the Gilmour/Wright/Mason configuration (with help given by a wide assortment of studio musicians).  So we’re treated to Gilmour’s always tasteful melodic solos winding their way around Wright’s melody lines.  There’s the obligatory sax solo ala Wish You Were Here performed stunningly by Gilad Atzmon on the track “The Lost Art of Conversation”.  There’s the string section too (not synthesized but actual strings) added to the closing track “Louder Than Words”.  Some reviewers took this approach as “lazy” but I disagree.  This is musical brilliance at it’s very best.

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Mr. Gilmour, CBE – looking very proper

  1. “Louder Than Word” (Gilmour, Samson)
  2. “It’s What We Do” (Gilmour, Wright)
  3. “Nervana” (Gilmour ) – bonus track
  4. “Things Left Unsaid” (Gilmour, Wright)
  5. “Lost Art of Conversation” (Wright)

Enjoy….

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Awhile back I blogged about The Strangeloves hit “Night Time” in my review of the Nuggets compilation set.  The set also includes the pop gem “I Want Candy“. The song is probably most famously known for the cover version by new wave artists Bow Wow Wow in 1982.

The tune was written by Bert Berns, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer in 1965.  Feldman, Goldstein and Gottehrer had already hit the charts with “My Boyfriend’s Back” by The Angels. Although record producers they adopted the fake band name The Strangeloves.  They even went so far as to adopt fake identities (Australian sheep farmers!). That wasn’t so bad until the hit soared up the charts and the public wanted to see them live.  This odd position was solved when four studio musicians (who had played on the record) were drafted into going on tour as The Strangeloves.  What a scam!

 

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Enjoy….

 

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Townes Van Zandt (1944 – 1997)

For the past few weeks I’ve been watching installments of Sonic Highways a HBO show created by Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters that sets out to compose and record a different song in a different city every week.  Their muse along the way is the local music scene and musical heritages found in places like Chicago, Memphis, Austin, or Nashville. It’s highly recommended and is a wonderful insight into the people behind the music in these various cities. Dave Grohl, who has quickly become one of my favorite artists, calls it “a love letter to the history of American music”.

In a recent installment that focused on Nashville, legend after legend remarked that in Nashville it really is all about the songs.  The stories they tell, the emotions they release, and the memories they evoke. The songs are what bring that to a realization that we have this shared consciousness.  This common element that seems unique to us but is, in the end, human nature.

A number of the artists interviewed, including Steve Earle, Dolly Parton, and Emmylou Harris, mentioned the late Townes Van Zandt.   TVZ wasn’t a flashy guy.  Not much glitter but when he put pen to paper, and pick to string, he created some beautifully evocative songs that spoke volumes to anyone who listens.

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I think I first became aware of Townes through the 1993 release of the live album Rear View Mirror.  I had picked it up on the basis that it included his own version of his song “Pancho and Lefty”.  I had heard the tune on a Willie Nelson – Merle Haggard album and wanted to know more about the man who wrote it.  Willie & Merle had a fuller, more orchestrated version complete with Willie’s Spanish guitar solo (and Merle’s voicing is just deadly perfect) but Townes’ version just tears you apart.  You can feel the ominous spectre of death and the life of a fugitive in TVZ’ sparse, matter-of-fact presentation. But, in all due respect, Willie and Merle took the song to the top of the country charts bringing Townes much deserved recognition.

Townes was born in Fort Worth TX in 1944.  The Van Zandt’s were a famous Texas family with a line that ran through the Republic of Texas leadership and the founders of Fort Worth.  His father gave him a guitar for Christmas when he was 12 and, inspired by Elvis, Towne’s knew what he wanted to do.  He went off to college but was brought home by his parents who were worried about his depression and his binge drinking.  Later diagnosed as manic-depressive, Townes struggled with drug abuse and alcoholism until he died on New Year’s Day 1997 at the age of 52.

When Townes first started performing he played in clubs with guys like Jerry Jeff Walker, Doc Watson, and Lightning Hopkins.  He started out with covers but eventually moved on to originals.  He moved to Nashville and began to hone his craft.  He always maintained that Hopkins, along with Dylan and Hank Williams were his primary influences.

The late 60′s and early 70′s were his most prolific years.  Releasing five albums in as many years he also penned some of his most famous tunes “To Live’s to Fly,” “Pancho and Lefty”, and “If I Needed You”.  I’d recommend any of the albums as a place to start listening to TVZ but also consider the 1977 release Live at The Old Quarter, Houston, Texas.

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When the fire dancers finish and leave you alone
With nothing but embers and sacks full of stone
That hang round your neck, slicing through to the bone
Will there still be a place for your laughter?

When all your bright scarlet turns slowly to blue

Will you stop and decide that it’s over?

- from: Sad Cinderella by Townes Van Zandt

 

  1. “Pancho & Lefty” – Townes Van Zandt
  2. “If I Needed You” - Townes Van Zandt
  3. “Nothin’” - Townes Van Zandt
  4. “Dead Flowers” – Towne’s cover of the Rolling Stones song
  5. “Sad Cinderella” – Townes Van Zandt

Enjoy…..

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I’ve been a King Crimson since the early ’80′s when they released the phenomenal “Discipline”.  Although they’ve been creating progressive rock since the late ’60′s, I hadn’t focused on them too much before that point.

I’ve seen them in concert only once – on June 26, 1984 (isn’t the Internet wonderful?) at Pier 84 in NYC.  Pier 84 was the venue that followed the Schaefer Music Festival move from Wollman Rink in Central Park a couple of years earlier.

I don’t have vivid memories of the concert except for watching Adrian Belew come out on the stage first and play his guitar through a looper effect (where notes are recorded and played back in layers), place it back onto the stand while it was still playing, and then leaving to return with the full band a few minutes later.

Considered among the earliest pioneers of progressive rock, a label they don’t like, King Crimson blended very diverse influences into their music.  Everything ranging from heavy metal to pop to electronica – with some gamelan thrown in – made its way into the now fifty year history of the band.

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Early and later Crimson

In the Court of the Crimson King (also titled In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson) was their debut album.  Released in October 1969, it is generally considered to be the seed of progressive rock by shifting the core elements of the songs away from the blues (the basis for almost every rock song prior to that point) to bring in jazz and classical influences.

A musicologist named Edward Macan commented that ITKOTCK “may be the most influential progressive rock album ever released” and Pete Townshend of The Who called it “an uncanny masterpiece”.

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After a rocky start with producer Tony Clarke (of Moody Blues fame), the band laid it down on a 1″ 8-track recorder at Wessex Sound Studios in London. A recording problem with the machine heads being unaligned during mixdown caused some unwanted distortion and loss of high frequencies.  That can still be heard throughout parts of the album and more so on “20th Century Schizoid Man”.  Later releases used 2nd generation master copies that were cleaned.  The original tapes were shelved and considered lost until 2003.  Since then, and with the help of modern technology, the problems have been largely fixed and new releases have benefited from the original sounds being restored.

The album was originally released to mixed reviews (Christgau called it “ersatz shit”) but has since achieved the status of a rock classic.  KC was clearly ahead of their time and paved the way for more progressive rockers to develop their art.

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Lake and Fripp from their Crimson days

  1. “21st Century Schizoid Man”
  2. “I Talk to the Wind”
  3. “The Court of the Crimson King”
  4. “Epitaph”

Enjoy…..

 

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Everybody knows who Fred Astaire is.  Legendary dance man?  Danced on the walls?  It’s hard not to be a fan but over the years I’ve come to realize how much I enjoyed his singing too. Years ago I had a CD of his “greatest hits” but it’s nowhere to be found.  The search is on… unleash the hounds!

Fred was born Frederick Austerlitz in 1899.  His career, which included stage, film, and television spanned a whopping 76 years!  He made 31 musical films.

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Although I’m not a huge aficionado of dance, I will note the Gene Kelly (also no slouch in the dance biz) once said that “the history of dance on film begins with Astaire.”

Fred (and his sister Adele) started dancing around the age of four.  As a young man he eventually landed in Hollywood where one studio bigwig commented “Can’t act, can’t sing. Balding. Can dance a little”.

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Fred’s singing style was relaxed, urbane, and I always found it a pleasure to listen to and I still do from time to time.

Try some of these….

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One my earliest album purchases way back when was a double-record compilation assembled by WNEW-FM 102.7  (back when they still played oldies).  That album introduced me to a small but well thought out sample of the rich history of early American pop and the R&B roots that brought some of the greatest singers of my generation to the forefront.  In addition to gems from Johnny Maestro and The Brooklyn Bridge (“The Worst That Could Happen”), Deep Purple (“Hush”), and The Mamas and The Papas (“Monday, Monday”), the record included “Tears On My Pillow” by the group Little Anthony and The Imperials.

Tears on My Pillow” was written by Sylvester Bradford and Al Lewis in 1958 and released the same year.  (No, not Al Lewis who played Grandpa on The Munsters, another Al Lewis.)

Little Anthony and the Imperials waxed it on End Records and it was their debut recording under that name. They sold a million copies and shot up the charts.  The strength of the song lay in the falsetto vocals of Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine.

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One of the great New York R&B, doo wop groups, The Imperials were formed from a number of local area groups with “Anthony” coming in from The Duponts.   The nickname “Little Anthony” was bestowed by famed rock DJ Alan Freed.

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They topped the charts and followed up the release with “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop” in 1960.

The song was later covered and (also a #1 hit) by Kylie Minogue in 1990.

Enjoy….