AUGUST 30, 1999:
LOS ZAFIROS Bossa Cubana (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
Kids, it seems, will be kids. So little of the boilerplate tensions accompanying the Cuban missile crisis crept into the American pop charts that it seemed as though doo-wop and R&B sprung from another place; one where the friction between vocalist Tony Williams and his group the Platters meant a lot more than any tiff between Kennedy and Kruschev. Such was the escapist and youthful appeal of early Sixties pop music, and happily, it was no different for the Cubans. Credit producer Nick Gold, the World Circuit label, and the market success of their Buena Vista Social Club recordings for finally landing Los Zafiros on American shores. Aside from a single track on one of David Byrne's Cuban compilations, little was previously heard in this country by the group that enchanted Cuba and much of Europe beginning in 1962. Yet their story is familiar to the point of cliche: success, excess, internal friction, rapid decline, untimely deaths. The specter of American vocal groups, whose hits wormed their way through blockades to Cuba, looms on Bossa Cubana (a version of the Platters' "My Prayer" is included). Yet what makes the Zafiros' music so peerless is its delicate weaving of doo-wop with everything from bossa nova to calypso, to even son; all sung by four remarkable voices, Miguel "Miguelito" Cancio, Leoncio "Kike" Morua, Eduardo Elio "El Chino" Hernandez, and especially, the chilling tenor of Ignacio Elejaide. Bossa Cubana culls material from the group's prime, when they wowed audiences (including in Paris, the Beatles) worldwide. It's not hard to see why. Their recordings prove impossible to resist. Skirting the pitfalls that diminished so much music of the time, the group's harmonies and leads are clear and effortless, no one over sings; this is dramatic and catchy music that never veers in a hackneyed or cornball direction. Much of this is due to the fifth Zafiro, veteran Manuel Galban, their musical director, whose sparse and eloquent backing on electric guitar and piano complemented the vocals in a minimalist style. Finally fed up with their antics, Galban's departure in 1972 began the final tailspin for the group. Years of hard drinking and bitter fighting took their toll; sadly, Galban and Cancio remain the group's only survivors. In their stead is Bossa Cubana, one of the year's unexpected treasures; moving, authentic, and all-but-forgotten music from an era of great pretenders.
4.5 stars --Jeff McCord
Although Rhino's 2-CD Ramones anthology is low on surprises, Hey Ho Let's Go! nails the rollercoaster exhilaration of the Queens quartet's 22-year career. It's not enough to say the Ramones codified most of punk's musical and stylistic conventions; they also saved the larger school of rock from its bloated self by melding raw power to a golden ear for poptones, a trait most of their successors lack. In this respect, the first three albums -- Ramones (1976), Leave Home, and Rocket to Russia (both '77) -- are the holy grail equivalent for anyone who dares to dream of a world free of fatuous guitar wank-a-thons. Classic should've-been-hits like "Rockaway Beach," "Teenage Lobotomy," and "Blitzkrieg Bop" abound in heroic, K-Tel proportions. The most jarring example of the band's agility comes when the love letter "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" gives way to "53rd & 3rd," a song about turning tricks to score dope money. One of the anthology's only rarities is "Carbona Not Glue," a catchy ode to inhalant abuse that was pulled from Leave Home when the makers of Carbona cleaning solvent took umbrage. Starting with '78's Road to Ruin, the Ramones began tinkering with their sound to find a formula for commercial success. Despite a few head-scratchers (e.g., the lilting "Don't Come Close"), "I Wanna Be Sedated" proved their penchant for chainsaw pop was still intact. After starring in the hilarious teensploitation parody Rock 'N' Roll High School, the band recorded End of the Century ('80) in a tumultuous session with Phil Spector. "Do You Remember Rock 'N' Roll Radio?" and "Chinese Rock" became instant Ramones classics, but Spector's Wall of Sound proved largely unsuitable for the band. Some have argued that the Ramones never recovered from End of the Century. Although the 16 years covered on Disc 2 are nowhere near as groundbreaking as the six covered on Disc 1, much of the quartet's post-'80 output remains compelling. "The KKK Took My Baby Away," "Psycho Therapy," and "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg" all hold their own in comparison to earlier material. After '84's underrated Too Tough to Die, the returns diminished with each subsequent album. The band's swan song, Adios Amigos ('95), offered redemption with an improbably excellent take on Tom Waits' "I Don't Wanna Grow Up." While Hey Ho Let's Go! is comprehensive, it doesn't offer much to the superfans and it completely ignores the Ramones' formidable live presence (see '79's It's Alive). Nevertheless, much like Bob Marley's Legend, this required reading-style overview packs the kind of arsenal that could potentially convert legions of the vaguely interested into disciples.
4 stars --Greg Beets
Don Van Vliet walked away from music just when it had a chance of catching up to him. That was 1982; 17 years later, it's still smacking its parched lips, wondering why it continues chewing on a layer of his dust. Here in 1999, the end of the world seems as fitting a time as any to excrete a slew of reissues and revisit the smarts of the good Captain. And why not? Our creaking culture of recombining all the stuff that didn't work the first time certainly has space for one more pure original, no? In the entertaining and exhaustive liner notes to TheDust Blows Forward, a new 2-CD compilation, Van Vliet denies all influence, characterizing the recognizable part of his cosmic skronk instead as "possession." Okay, so the devil himself, Robert Johnson, handed him a broom, and Beefheart dusted with it, and his patented growls and yowls are scraped right from the Howling /Muddy/Screaming bowels of all those brothers from other planets (especially Sun Ra). He was the freak's freak who fucked with the unfuckable. The recent 5-CD set Grow Fins (Revenant) leans heavy on Trout Mask Replica to assert this. Its radio snippets and rehearsal outtakes confirm some suspicions (the Magic Band was an unlikely convergence of genius) while eschewing others (Van Vliet, while in control of the proceedings, wasn't in total control of the creative process). Dust Blows Forward is a much less specialized account of the Captain's foray into the American musical pop culture, opting instead for balance. "Urgent" and "timeless" apply here, but who would have thought a compilation's context might actually make the mighty Captain seem almost "accessible"? While flatted unresolveds, stutter-step tribal backbeats, and xylofucked mind-mushing arrangements rule this dustbowl, some cuts are pure pop, like 1972's "Too Much Time" -- with its straight take on bedroom blue-eyed soul, no-nonsense Stax horns, Womack licks, and sexy backup singers -- a seemingly gentle offer to lead you to the Captain's Shangri-la. Fret not, however. This is no case for Beefheartian sellout. There are still plenty of Baba tom-tommed recitations of monkey superman decal-licked manifestos to keep it all stubbed deep into any ashtray heart.
5 stars -- Kate X Messer
The peculiar bubble that envelops women like Janis Joplin as a result of fame and celebrity is as fragile as it is transparent. When disappointment or insecurity bursts it, the results can be fatal. During a scant three years starting in 1967, Joplin ascended from Texas Gulf Coast barrooms to rock & roll's top pantheon, its first female superstar. Then, in 1970, with the best years ahead of her, Joplin died of a heroin overdose. The latest in Sony's Expanded Editions series, Box of Pearls includes her four studio recordings, Big Brother & the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, and Pearl -- all lovingly embellished with outtakes and live tracks -- plus a bonus CD called Rare Pearls. That first album on Mainstream Records was notable for Joplin's first single "Down on Me," as well as the lilting "Bye Bye Baby," penned by local songwriter Robert Powell St. John -- a direct link to her Austin days. Bonus tracks on Cheap Thrills include one of the singer's favorite live numbers, "Roadblock," and the plaintive "Flower in the Sun," plus "Catch Me Daddy" and "Magic of Love," rounding the original seven-cut album to very satisfying 11 songs. The 90-degree turn Janis took with Kozmic Blues was not merely a result of then-popular soul music, it was yet another throwback to Joplin's musical history -- this time to Louisiana's horn-driven swamp pop bands like the Boogie Kings. Little seems to remain from the Kozmic Blues sessions besides the original eight songs recorded for vinyl, but the newly remastered album includes extras such as "Summertime" and "Piece of My Heart" from Woodstock, by all accounts one of her best performances ever. Given the country flavor of her following release Pearl and the imminent rise of redneck rock, it's not unthinkable to wonder if Joplin would have ended up back in Austin. Again extra studio cuts seem in short supply; Pearl's four bonus tracks are taken from the Canadian Festival Express tour. The real gem found in Box of Pearls is the Rare Pearls CD, available only in this box set (as opposed to the four album titles, which are available separately). Truly a collector's delight, Rare Pearls features two unreleased songs by Big Brother from the Cheap Thrills session and three live cuts with the Kozmic Blues band, including a rumbling "Bo Diddley." Box of Pearls, as its name suggests, is a treasure of a set, a testament to the power of the woman known as Janis Joplin, and a wistful reminder of what might have been.
3 stars -- Margaret Moser
SPADE COOLEY & THE WESTERN SWING DANCE GANG Shame on You (Bloodshot)
REX ALLEN The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys (Bloodshot)
Hear that lisp? That's Hank Thompson, and that slight sibilance makes any song of his instantly recognizable. Using his WWII radio engineer experience, Thompson set up a studio in his Oklahoma City house and engineered and produced his own recordings; a true innovator, he melded Western swing, pop, lovesick ballads, and honky-tonk into a seamless blend as infectious as anything from his contemporaries. Songs like "Rub-A-Dub," "Simple Simon," and "When You're Lovin', You're Livin'" are so goofily charming and well-played they demand to be listened to over and over again. Thompson's smooth croon and the sound of twin fiddles and a soaring steel guitar in the background assure this. That, and of course, his lisp. Spade Cooley, on the other hand, doesn't quite fit in the Western swing genre; his music is informed too much by polka, schottische, and Gypsy-jazz to be readily pigeonholed. Shame on You includes familiar standards like "Steel Guitar Rag" and "Oklahoma Stomp," but there's many a song here that could almost pass for Django Reinhardt or traditional German beer-barrel music. Certainly though, all these previously unreleased version are marked by very spirited playing; Cooley definitely broke new ground in the big-band Western field, and this release bears that out. Too bad his career was abbreviated by one of the uglier tragedies of country music. Unlike certain Hollywood singing cowboys, Rex Allen was a real cowpuncher and rodeo rider before deciding that music was a safer way to make a living. He eventually found himself in the employ of WLS in Chicago, home of such luminaries as Red Foley, Gene Autry, and the Hoosier Hot Shots. The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys reflects his early WLS days in the postwar era and is comprised mostly of cowboy ballads and velvety pop crooners, but it's certainly not without its surprises. Check out the wild-eyed instrumentals "Arkansas Traveler" and "Raggin' On" or the breakneck pace and hilarious lyrics of "Tyin' Knots in the Devil's Tail." Allen had a voice and talent that could easily adapt to country, western, or ballads, and these prizes point that out. It's music that comes from a more innocent era, when people watched B Westerns like they watch trash sitcoms today. However, the level of talent inherent in these songs makes them far more than quaint musical museum pieces.
(All) 3 stars--Jerry Renshaw
BOB MARLEY & THE WAILERS Wailers and Friends (Studio One/Heart)
KEN BOOTHE A Man and His Hits (Studio One/Heart)
Studio One is the Sun Records of Jamaican popular music. In recording the cream of Jamaican talent throughout the label's ska and rock steady heyday during the Sixties and Seventies, owner Clement "Coxsone" Dodd laid the foundation for seminal reggae riddems that are recycled on hit records to this day. In the beginning, there was ska and the loose knitting of Studio One house band musicians who would ultimately become the Skatalites. Saxophonist Tommy McCook, who died last year, was among the group's co-founders, a featured soloist and its original leader. Tribute to Tommy is a smashing set of ska rave-ups, most of which have never before appeared on CD, that highlight McCook's compositional skills and fine sax playing. Of particular interest is the inclusion of the previously unreleased "Jazz Walking" and the seven-minute-long "The Answer." Both tunes are straight-up jazz numbers featuring a septet that includes legendary Skatalites trombonist Don Drummond and guitarist Ernest Ranglin. Of course, Bob Marley & the Wailers was the most renowned group to record for Studio One, and their output for the label is now well-documented. Besides making records under their own name, Bob, Bunny, and Peter, in various combinations, provided backing vocals on innumerable hits by other Coxsone artists. Wailers and Friends is a collection of ska-era scorchers by some of the label's biggest stars, including Bob Andy, Delroy Wilson, and Marcia Griffiths, that feature the Wailers in a supporting role. There are also tunes by Rita Anderson (soon to be Rita Marley), Lee "Scratch" Perry, and even a couple of obscurities by Marley & Co. Much of the music here is reflective of American R&B from the early-mid Sixties, and although this is an enjoyable set, it might best be appreciated by seasoned Marley/Wailers fans. The trump of this triumvirate of reissues, however, is the long awaited release of A Man and His Hits by Ken Boothe. Possessing an intensely soulful voice, Boothe scored countless hits with perhaps the quintessential Studio One sound, amassing a track record that earned him the title, "Mr. Rock Steady." This collection has some of the Studio One's very best material and is an utter delight from start to finish. This is Studio One with a vengeance!
(McCook) 4 stars
It's much easier to list the big gospel names left off of this 3-CD, 50-song anthology helpfully packaged as the Good Book (complete with bookmark), because there are not many: Soul Stirrers, Bells of Joy, and Kirk Franklin. And even the first two groups are almost there, thanks to the Dixie Hummingbirds' "Let's Go Out to the Programs," possibly one of the first recorded instances of sampling ever. Who is included? Just about anyone else who comes to mind when gospel music is cited: Thomas Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, the Fairfield Four, Rev. James Cleveland, the Original Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Staple Singers, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Swan Silvertones, Shirley Caesar, Andrae Crouch, Marion Williams, Clara Ward, John P. Kee, the Williams Brothers, the Winans, and even R&B moonlighters LaVern Baker, Aretha Franklin, Whitney and Cissy Houston, and Boyz II Men. Testify! traces gospel's development, both in and out of the church, from around WWII to the present day, and includes plenty of examples of its three major stylistic branches: solo, quartet/small ensemble, and full choir. It's surprisingly light on the spirituals -- perhaps that's a different box set entirely -- but there's no shortage of familiar hymns and tunes: "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," "Amazing Grace," "Uncloudy Day," Jackson's bravura "Didn't it Rain," "Precious Lord," "Mary Don't You Weep," the Edwin Hawkins Singers' big 1969 hit "Oh Happy Day," "Peace in the Valley," "Take My Hand, Precious Lord," "Peace in the Valley," and "Walk Around Heaven All Day." Even after all that, some of the best material here is on the third disc representing the Eighties and Nineties: Kee's "Show Up!," Take 6's "Spread Love," William Becton & Friends' "Be Encouraged," Sounds of Blackness' "I Believe," and Donald Lawrence & the Tri-City Singers' hip-hoppy "A Message for the Saints." Rhino's researchers have done an excellent job of compiling the set and Carol Cooper's accompanying essay, "Writing the Song of Songs: An Evolutionary History of Black Gospel Music," details the development of gospel's sometimes tenuous but always influential relationship with music outside the church. All in all, Testify! is a satisfying if abbreviated trip through the joyous landscape of sanctified singing and deserves to be in every home where the preferred form of worship involves frantic piano-pounding and rapturous hand-clapping.
4 stars --Christopher Gray
Among the major events in the history of American music were the Spirituals to Swing concerts at Carnegie Hall in December 1938 and December 1939. Put together by John Hammond, the celebrated talent scout/producer credited with discovering Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Bob Dylan, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among many others, the concerts' aim was to give the public a panorama of African-American music. It was the first Carnegie Hall concert starring African-American performers in front of an integrated audience. Independently wealthy, Hammond, a Vanderbilt on his mother's side, claimed his motives for putting on the shows were altruistic. "The strongest form for my dissent was jazz. I heard no color line in music. To bring recognition to the Negro's supremacy in jazz was the most effective and constructive form of social protest I could think of." Thus, Hammond brought together artists from jazz, Count Basie, stride pianist James P. Johnson, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Footwarmers; blues, Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry, Ida Cox; gospel, Mitchell's Christian Singers, the Golden Gate Quartet; and boogie-woogie, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons. Not all of the performers were black, however. Benny Goodman, Hammond's brother-in-law, brought in his integrated sextet for the second concert. The performances on this wonderful 3-CD set are both historically important and aesthetically wonderful, with seven selections originally thought to have been recorded live turning out to be studio tracks, and another 23 previously unreleased cuts appearing here for the first time. Among the highlights is great tenor saxophonist Lester Young and Goodman guitarist Charlie Christian jamming together in a Basie small group. A great innovator and precursor of bop, Young is exquisite, incredibly fresh and melodic. Two other Basie alumni, Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner, both exuberant jazz/ blues singers, represent the Kansas City school as well. Pianists Lewis, Johnson, and Ammons, solo and together, get a warm audience reception; they had a lot to do with boogie-woogie's popularity in the early Forties. Sonny Terry, then unknown, went on to make quite a name in the blues/folk field. Within genres, the styles vary quite a bit. Basie's small group stuff was on the cutting edge, while Bechet's band was traditional. The Golden Gate quartet had more of a slick, urban sound than Mitchell's Christian Singers. Again I must compliment Hammond; anyone who heard the Spirituals to Swing concerts wound up with an instant lesson in the evolution of African-American music.
4 stars -- Harvey Pekar
To some, Gordon Lightfoot is just a memory, a Canadian singer-songwriter who had a string of melodramatic hits in the Seventies. To others, he's one of the most important songsmiths of the 20th century. The fact that the 4-CD box set Songbook succeeds at all in the latter camp is a testament to the character and lasting quality of Lightfoot's folk music. Containing 88 tracks culled from 19 albums released 1962-1998 -- and including 16 previously unreleased tracks -- Songbook effectively outlines Lightfoot's steps from country crooner to folk superstar to one of Canada's most revered pop artists, his main talent being the ability to put simple melodies to lyrics of varying complexity. A sure testament to Lightfoot's songwriting skill is the fact that artists as diverse as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Marty Robbins, Barbara Streisand, Jerry Lee Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Jane's Addiction, and Bob Dylan have all covered his songs. Early examples of Lightfoot's talent are manifest in songs like "Early Morning Rain," "Did She Mention My Name," and the "Canadian Railroad Trilogy," while the inclusion of a rarity such as his very first single, "(Remember Me) I'm the One," recorded in Nashville in 1962 with such top session men as guitarist Grady Martin and Hargus "Pig" Robbins on piano, glimpse his roots as an aspiring country singer. Previously unreleased tracks, such as the bright and shiny jig "Mama Said" and the dark train song "Borderstone," are intriguing in that they're as accomplished and finely wrought as some of his more well-known material. The accompanying 60-page bound booklet that comes with Songbook contains some interesting comments on the songs from Lightfoot himself, who took an active role in compiling this collection. The depth of this collection, from all the hits ("Sundown," "If You Could Read My Mind," and "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald") to his fine early work and sharp album cuts ("Beautiful," "Seven Island Suite"), may be too much for all except hardcore fans, but there really isn't another worthy compilation of Lightfoot's best available, and as that, Songbook is worthy of your attention.
3 stars -- Jim Caligiuri
Back in ye olden times, when children didn't carry cell phones and vinyl was the future, an enterprising company called Caedmon featured the Shakespeare Recording Company. The SRC recorded all the famous bard's plays and poems, and those sonorous tones were part of my childhood, William Shakespeare being the unofficial seventh member of the family. That's what growing up with father who taught Shakespeare will do for a person, and that's why the current revival of the playwright is so amusing. It's those Caedmon sides, then, that comprise the bulk of Be Thou Now Persuaded: Living in a Shakespearean World, an intriguing, 6-CD box set from Rhino's spoken word imprint, WordBeat. Blame it on Shakespeare in Love or just blame it on Big Bill himself for having penned those glorious words for all time, because they just never seem to lose their luster. But love is indeed the operative word here, since you have to be a devoted Shakespeare fan to slog through this well-meaning hodgepodge of monologues and dialogues. Four out of the six CDs are subdivided into categories such as "To Be," "Love's Labors," "Hot Blood," and "Or Not to Be," while the other two contain Romeo and Juliet with Albert Finney and Claire Bloom. The snippets are well-chosen -- an aural delight -- but amid pictures of the heavily pancaked faces of John Barrymore and Paul Robeson, little information can be found about the actors reading, and thus lies the failing of this collection. In its cutesy Gen X attempt to render Shakespeare hip, the producers of Living in a Shakespearean World fail to acknowledge the voices that make these recordings performances and not mere readings of words. These are plays -- actors reading scripts on a stage -- and it is integral to spoken word, no less so for Shakespeare, to acknowledge the actor. The well-designed booklet seems to take great pains to avoid discussing the origin of these recordings from Caedmon or the other sources, much less offer a list of the actors participating. That's a shame, because not only do Finney and Bloom star within, so too do Edith Evans, Alec Guinness, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Holm, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, John Gielgud, Orson Welles, Judith Anderson, and many others whose dedication to the art of theatre gave contemporary shape to 400-year-old words.
2 stars --Margaret Moser
FATS DOMINO Live at Gilley's (Q)
CARL PERKINS Live at Gilley's (Q)
BOBBY BARE Live at Gilley's (Q)
JOHNNY PAYCHECK Live at Gilley's (Q)
JERRY LEE LEWIS Live at Gilley's (Q)
Mickey Gilley's Pasadena, Texas, club was a country institution from its opening in 1976 until it closed its doors in 1989. For better or worse, it was popularized by Urban Cowboy starring John Travolta. The 1980 film helped kick country music and the club into the mainstream of pop culture consciousness and out of the marginalized boundaries of honky-tonk music. Q(VC) Records has recently seen fit to release a series of live-performance CDs from the club's late-Seventies/early-Eighties heyday, and the results are a mixed bag. The weakest of the bunch is provided by the mellow-haired, big-mustached Bellamy Brothers, who provided a stepping stone between hippiefied cosmic-cowboy country from the Seventies and the overly-slick, too-clever-for-its-own-good Nashville-pop country that still plagues us to this day. Fats Domino, on the other hand, doesn't let age slow him down, with pounding piano and smoky vocals; his CD is marred only by a bleating saxophone that will make your dog nervous. Lost soul Carl Perkins never seemed to accept the fact that his fans preferred the Fifties Carl, leading to his trademark ridiculous perms, ill-advised Elvis jumpsuits, and aviator shades, yet his Live at Gilley's CD finds him in fine form, rockin' like it was still 1957, pulling off fluid Fender licks and spirited vocals. Bobby Bare: Pretty routine stuff from the somewhat goofy country singer, highlighted by his covers of Ray Wylie Hubbard's "Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother" and the ludicrous "Dropkick Me Jesus." His version of Billy Joe Shaver's "Ride Me Down Easy" also isn't bad, though Shaver himself is better suited to the song. Advice to Johnny Paycheck: Good live set, but you shoulda lost the drummer. The overly-active skinbeater would've been a lot better suited to a Rush tribute band than Paycheck's hard-bitten honky-tonk stuff. Saving the best for last, Jerry Lee Lewis' 1982 live set captures the Killah at his sweaty, gross, bug-eyed, white-shoes-and-belt prime. He rips into hiccuping strings of nonsense syllables, wild piano glissandos, and amphetamine tempos that rush along like the Devil himself was after Jerry Lee. Listen closely for his references to cousin Jimmy Swaggart. In fact, this set is so fevered and borderline frightening, it points up the power that Lewis could bring to the stage even at such a late date. Partyin' with the wildman had to be kinda dangerous -- especially if you were married to him.
(Bellamy Brothers) 2 stars
FLAMIN' GROOVIES Teenage Head (Buddha/BMG)
When the Flamin' Groovies first emerged in mid-Sixties San Francisco, their Chuck Berry covers were entirely out of step with the burgeoning love crowd. Fortunately, this dissonance was utterly lost on the record companies that swooped down on the Bay Area and signed everyone with a pulse in the wake of the Monterey Pop festival. After one self-released 10-inch and a misfired major-label debut with Epic (1968's Supersnazz), the Groovies settled in for two LPs with Neil Bogart's Buddha Records in 1970. Out-of-print for years, Flamingo was recorded shortly after the band shared an MC5/Stooges bill at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, and the resulting infusion of proto-punk adrenaline is impossible to miss. "Headin' for the Texas Border" is a sped-up exercise in crash-and-burn dynamics that ends in a hail of dueling solos from lead guitarists Cyril Jordan and Tim Lynch. The Groovies' version of Little Richard's "Keep-A-Knockin'" undulates like an outtake from the MC5's Back in the USA, while "Second Cousin" pays electrified homage to borderline incest in a manner that would make Jerry Lee Lewis proud. For 1971's Teenage Head, producer Richard Robinson took the Groovies to New York and turned the sessions into an ongoing party populated by virtually every rock writer in town. While Flamingo is arguably a stronger, more cohesive effort overall than Teenage Head, the latter's title track is an indisputable classic. This chugging, lascivious anthem captures the good-to-be-bad aesthetic of reprobate youth as prolifically as any rock song ever written. "Got a woman," growls singer Roy Loney. "She's my hopped-up high school queen, she's my woman. She's a teenage love machine." Other highlights include a furiously rocking version of Randy Newman's "Have You Seen My Baby?" and "High Flyin' Baby," a Stones-inspired mess of twang and whiskey that gives the Glimmer Twins a run for their money. The reissued versions of Flamingo and Teenage Head also contain a number of bonus tracks, including a spirited cover of Eddie Cochran's "Somethin' Else." Because of growing differences with Jordan, Loney left the Flamin' Groovies in 1972. The Loney-less Groovies gradually shifted toward a pop-oriented course, culminating in 1976's memorable Shake Some Action. Although they were never the best singers, instrumentalists, or songwriters, Flamingo and Teenage Head capture an erstwhile band of die-hard music lovers who manage to make good music largely because they spent plenty of time listening to it.
(Flamingo) 4 stars
TED NUGENT (Columbia/Legacy)
TED NUGENT Free-for-All (Columbia/Legacy)
TED NUGENT Cat Scratch Fever (Columbia/Legacy)
While Ted Nugent can never be forgiven for his politics or his involvement in supergroup Damn Yankees, the series of reissues coming from Columbia/Legacy should remind a legion of rockers why the guitarist-turned-survivalist-Limbaugh used to be an important part of their lives. The oldest of these, a best-of collection from the Amboy Dukes, doesn't go too far toward widening the Dukes' recognized scope of influence beyond their version of "Baby Please Don't Go" and the classic rock radio staple "Journey to the Center of the Mind." If anything, this compilation suggests a frightening predilection for arty rock on Nugent's part that, thank God, never fully surfaced in his solo work (save briefly on Cat Scratch Fever's "Home Bound"). While Nugent's best work as a solo artist remains the first song on his first album -- the irrefutable "Stranglehold," whose menacing opening guitar surge is at least a minor milestone in rock -- the most fun comes in rediscovering how much Motown sound went into the creation of the Motor City Madman. On his self-titled solo debut, the abrasive proto-cock rock of "Stormtroopin'" and "Just What the Doctor Ordered" is offset by the R&B shake of "Hey Baby" and "You Make Me Feel Right at Home." The live bonus tracks are strong cuts, the exception being the outtake "Magic Party," a dopey pop bounce that's as incongruous as it is insipid. By the time Free-for-All rolled out in 1976, Nugent's sound had drifted further from the R&B that influenced his earlier work in favor of the spastic, stew-thick rockers that better fit his metabolism, and the only traces of soul left are in "Turn It Up." Meatloaf's vocal presence on this album is odd, and in hindsight, better off forgotten -- especially on the sappy "Together." Beyond the title track and "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang," Cat Scratch Fever, Nugent's best-selling album to date, seems even more dated than the rest of it, re-production for reissue notwithstanding. The bonus live tracks everywhere are good, adding an exclamation point or two to the wild-man persona the Nuge has cultivated for himself over the years, but none of it is unpredictable, none of it enlightening. The Nuge, in all his obnoxious, sexist glory, survives reissuing with as much respect as he's ever had, 'cuz as he says: "When in doubt I whip it out. I got me a rock & roll band, it's a free-for-all." That sums it up.
(Amboy Dukes) 2 stars
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