Saturday, December 31, 2011

7800° Fahrenheit

Bon Jovi's sophomore release found the New Jersey group continuing with its engaging mix of hard rock dynamics and blatant pop-metal overtones, and primed the pump for the coming popular explosion of Slippery When Wet. Ever since the keyboard call to arms of the breakthrough "Runaway," Bon Jovi had understood that real success lay in a billowing smoke, soft-focus derivation of true metal, where Journey-style synthesizers and soft rock chorus vocals were the name of the game. To that end, 7800° Fahrenheit tempered its black-leather rock & roll with a rudimentary form of the sound that would make Bon Jovi superstars.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Bon Jovi

From the opening track, "Runaway," which rode to glory on E Street Band-mate Roy Bittan's distinctive keyboard riff, to the sweaty arena rock of "Get Ready," which closed the album, Bon Jovi's debut is an often-overlooked minor gem from the early days of hair metal. The songs may be simple and the writing prone to all clich├ęs of the form, but the album boasts a pretty consistent hard rock attack, passionate playing, and a keen sense of melody. The prominence that keyboardist David Bryan (credited as David Rashbaum in the liner notes) gets on this record is an indicator, perhaps, that Bon Jovi had more than a passing interest in the pop market, which was then dominated by new wave and synth pop. Mixing Journey-like '70s rock ("She Don't Know Me") with shout-along stadium anthems ("Love Lies"), the self-titled Bon Jovi lay the foundation for the band's career, which reached its apex several years later with that very same combination of pop melody and arena-sized amibiton.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Disregard of Timekeeping

It shouldn't be surprising that the debut album by a band fronted by Jason Bonham, son of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, would bear a resemblance to the music of Dad's band. But The Disregard of Timekeeping doesn't so much sound like a Led Zeppelin album as it does like one of the solo albums by former Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. That is to say, it is altogether more conventional and controlled -- more pop, in a word -- than Zeppelin, which could be quite adventurous at times. Here, Bonham-the-group sets up majestic guitar/keyboard riff patterns; Daniel McMaster, in a familiar tenor screech, repeats simple chorus hooks; and Bonham-the-drummer pounds away in the familiar hard, woody sound of his father. The result is palatable, but without the famous name it would be hard to distinguish from the army of other Zep imitators.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Boney Fingers

This local band from Kenosha has been long known for their ability to weave acoustic and electric into a root style that bridges the gap between jam rock and blues, Boney Fingers has won the hearts of many fans. While instrumental is the obvious flavor of the day, stellar vocals arrangements keep this band off the slippery slope of degeneration that many jam bands slide down. Top-notch percussion and all around musicianship abounds for a show that caters to a range of tastes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Train of Thought

Saw these guys about 15 years ago in a nightclub. Haven't heard much of them since...Bones of Contention is a six-piece explosion of sound, energy, and excitement. This CD contains all original compositions in the style of "Grateful Dead" and "Little Feat". They are a Jam-band that gained a well-deserved reputation as one of the Mid-West's finest live acts. They use twin guitars and a B3 organ for that psychedelic big sound.For ten years the band developed a unique style of arrangement and performance, which is evident on their second release-"Train of Thought". Think psychedelic blues/rock with a touch of country. Yes sir--this was the bands peak, captured with emotion and vitality. The band has never sounded better, with the original line up intact. Here is the sound of drive and celebration, with songs that run, stroll, laugh, and jump. Bones of Contention : Bob Parduhn on lead/slide guitar and vocals, Rob Giannattiasio on drums, Annie Perry on vocals and percussion, Paul Countryman on guitar and vocals, Jeff Gordon on bass, and of course engineer Scott Finch on piano, organ, and vocals.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Private Eyes

After the breakup of Deep Purple in 1976, guitarist Tommy Bolin wasted little time beginning work on his second solo album, Private Eyes. While it was more of a conventional rock album than its predecessor, Teaser (which served primarily as a showcase for his guitar skills and contained several jazz/rock instrumentals), it was not as potent. The performances aren't as inspired as those on Teaser or even those on Bolin's lone album with Deep Purple, Come Taste the Band, although there a few highlights could be found. The nine-minute rocker "Post Toastee" merges a long jam section with lyrics concerning the dangers of drug addiction, while "Shake the Devil" is similar stylistically. But Bolin wasn't simply a hard-rocker; he was extremely talented with other kinds of music: the quiet, acoustic-based compositions "Hello, Again" and "Gypsy Soul," and the heartbroken ballad "Sweet Burgundy." With his solo career starting to take shape (after the album's release, he opened for some of rock's biggest names: Peter Frampton, Jeff Beck, Rush, ZZ Top, etc.), Bolin's life was tragically cut short at the end of the year due to a drug overdose in Miami, FL.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Red Car, Nice Day....

A Kenosha, Wi local band that friends of mine once had. Led by vocalists Dan Lenegar and bassist Dan Buckley along with Blu Steel offers some face melting metal. As with many local bands in the area, they didn't last very long. Lenegar and Buckley are now in a group called Supernaut.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

North Hollywood Shootout

Unlike so many of their jam band peers in the '90s, Blues Traveler had a genuine Top Ten hit with 1995's "Run-Around" -- and unlike the Spin Doctors, their only possible rival in the jam band single race, they didn't implode after their success; they kept rolling, staying on the road and churning out record after record until they faded from the charts. The hits stopped coming and the major-label contract ceased, developments that made the group seem like old-fashioned journeymen, a working band delivering on the promise of its name. On record, this meant they ran lean and sometimes experimental, cutting back to basics on The Bridge and stretching out on Bastartos!, moves that pleased fans and fans only. North Hollywood Shootout is as careful and calculating as Blues Traveler have ever been, a collection of songs with sanded melodies that have the veneer of adult pop and perhaps would be if they weren't sung by the hiccupping John Popper, whose harmonica is often buried far far deep in the mix -- an inadvertent metaphor for the album as a whole, which suppresses the band's identity in favor of a highly burnished set of updated yacht rock. It's an album designed to win back fair-weather fans, which only raises questions: did the group ever have that many in the first place, and are they still around 12 years after "Run-Around"? And if they are, is it worth alienating the faithful with a perfectly pleasant, rather forgettable set of AOR like this?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Truth be Told

Bridge, Blues Traveler's 2001 release, was appropriate. It was definitely a stylistic return to form after their hiatus. But Bridge also brought Blues Traveler back to the world after the death of bassist Bob Sheehan and John Popper's bouts with illness. Truth be Told builds on that momentum, telescoping the veteran combo's sound, history, and experience -- both good and bad ones -- into a strong twelve-song set. There's groove here, and it's a bluesy, tour-tested one. But there are also easily accessible melodies and whip-smart lyrics.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Live: What You and I Have Been Through

Recorded live during their 2011 Fall Tour, Live: What You and I Been Through serves a dedication the the late bassist Bobby Sheehan and to the victims of 9/11 attacks. The brand new line up delivers a punch that Sheehan would proud of...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Bridge

Blues Traveler went through a lot after their sequel to Four, Straight on Till Morning, stiffed in 1997. John Popper went through a severe health scare after cutting a schizophrenic solo album and, not long afterward, bassist Bob Sheehan died from a drug overdose. Reeling on both the personal and professional fronts, they took some time off, resurfacing mid-way through 2001 with Bridge. This album cuts back significantly on winding jams, upping the ante with tight songs and performances, a clean muscular production, and a lack of vocal histrionics from Popper. Melodically, they've rarely been stronger, and there's a sense of peace and maturity to the record that's appealing, especially since it's weighted with an undercurrent of loss and experience. This doesn't surface all that often, yet it's enough to provide a substantive center to one of the group's strongest records. They may not be in the public spotlight anymore, but the return to relative anonymity, along with the decade of experience underneath their belt, has mellowed and enriched their music, and while this may not be a record that will win new fans, it's certainly one that satisfies anyone that's taken the journey with them.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Red Rocks Ampitheatre Morrison, CO 7/3/98

Part of an annual show played year on the 3rd and 4th of July by Blues Traveler. This particular bootleg contains "Decision of the Skies" and "The Heavens Get Pissed". Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video from this particular show; Here's a clip from Red Rocks 7/4/2011, after the death of bassist Bobby Sheehan.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Hard Rock Studios New York, NY 4/18/1997

Recorded live at the Hard Rock Studios in New York during the Straight on Till Morning Tour and rebroadcasted on VH1. Blues Traveler seemed to an exceptional night, interweaving harmonicas and guitar especially on their cover of "Low Rider"

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Straight on Till Morning

The commercial success of Four was a mixed blessing for Blues Traveler. It did give them a wider audience, but it also put them in the delicate position of pleasing their new, hook-happy fans while retaining their hardcore, jam-oriented cult following. They skillfully manage to do just that on Straight on Till Morning, the bluesy, ambitious follow-up to Four. On the whole, Straight on Till Morning is a tougher album than any of its predecessors, boasting a gritty sound and several full-on jams. But the key to the album is its length and its sprawling collection of songs, which find Blues Traveler trying anything from country-rock to jangling pop/rock. They manage to be simultaneously succinct and eclectic, and they occasionally throw in a good pop hook or two. Blues Traveler are still too loose to be a true pop/rock band, and John Popper would still benefit from a sense of meter, but Straight on Till Morning is the first studio record that captures the essence of the band.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Live from the Fall

Like any jam-oriented band, Blues Traveler has a reputation for being better in concert than they are in the studio. Therefore, it would make sense that the double-disc Live from the Fall would be the ideal Blue Traveler album, since it allows the band to stretch out and demonstrate its true talents. In a sense, that is true. The two discs -- which were recorded in the fall of 1995, as the band was supporting the surprise success of Four -- do give the band room to improvise, and they exploit the extra space for all of its worth. Initially, Blues Traveler wanted to release without track indexes, so the listener could hear how each song flowed into the next. And the album does sound like that -- like a never-ending medley, where melodic themes pop in and out of the long solos. For fans of pop hits like "Run-Around" and "Hook," this can be a little irritating, but for those who have been with the band since the beginning, Live from the Fall is a priceless document -- more than any other album, this showcases what Blues Traveler is about.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Brendan Byne Arena East Rutherford, NJ 12/15/1995

Another TV appearance by jam band great Blues Traveler. This time at the Z 100 Jingle Ball at the Brendan Byne Arena in New Jersey along with Dave Matthews Band, Collective Soul, Goo Goo Dolls, Soul Asylum, Natalie Merchant and Alanis Morissette. It may be an abridged set, yet shows the band in fine form. This is not the video from the same show, but it's the closet I can come to it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

House of Blues New Orleans, LA 2/16/1995

With the success of their hit single "Run-Around", Blues Traveler started appearing on TV specials everywhere. This time at the House of Blues in New Orleans. This PBS broadcast featured special guest Elwood Blues (Dan Ankroyd)of the Blues Brothers pumping a harmonica alongside Blues Traveler frontman John Popper on "Rock Me, Baby".

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

four

Lacking the rootsier edge of Save His Soul, four finds Blues Traveler retreating to their standard blues-boogie formula, with mixed results. Of course, there are some fine songs here -- including their breakthrough hit single, "Run-Around" -- but too often the band sounds like it's coasting. four is a solid record, but it shows signs that the band's formula may be wearing thin.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Save His Soul

Led by the guttural vocals and incisive harmonica of imposing frontman John Popper, Save His Soul is a savory package that dresses obvious influences in a fresh suit of clothes. While six and 12 strings rule, the true inspiration here is Poppers's delivery on harmonica and other wind instruments, which spits in machine-gun-rapid fire or carries a piercing, emotive melody line with equal ease. Having restrained themselves for most of Save His Soul, Blues Traveler close with the seven-minute opus "Fledgling," flowing from epic, orchestral ballad mode to angst-ridden wall-of-noise.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Travelers and Thieves

"I have my moments," John Popper declares, and many of them -- as harmonica player, singer, and lyricist -- are here, on an album that finds Blues Traveler stretching out much as they do on-stage. Popper is a man with a lot on his mind, but when he reaches "The Best Part," his verbosity approaches a Walt Whitman-like exuberance, and guitarist Chan Kinchla is right with him, contributing sweet fills here, Pete Townsend-style strumming there. And as for the rhythm work of bassist Bobby Sheehan and drummer Brenden Hill, as Popper says, "It's all in the groove."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Blues Traveler

Blues Traveler's loose jam structures on basic blues riffs mark them as a band in the tradition of such predecessors as the Grateful Dead. Unlike that communal effort, however, this group has a distinct focal point in virtuoso harmonica player and vocalist John Popper, who keeps things from meandering too much.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Curse of the Hidden Mirror

Long Island's favorite metal-lite purveyors continued their comeback in 2001 with this unexpectedly accomplished set of new songs. Boasting the core of the original band with Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, Eric Bloom, and Alan Lanier, Curse of the Hidden Mirror stays rooted in the group's tough yet jangly approach but ups the ante with strong material that often matches, yet doesn't quite surpass, the band's best music. A return to the stylistic triumph of Agents of Fortune and the similarly titled Mirrors, the revived quintet coalesces around sharp riff-based rockers that show a band that has matured but hasn't lost its cosmic edge. Curse of the Hidden Mirror is a remarkably consistent, subtle, and even poetic album that expands their sci-fi undercurrents without getting lost in space. It's far better than some of the group's limp late-'80s work and stands as one of the finest albums of their nearly three decade -- and counting -- career of evil.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Heaven Forbid

Blue Oyster Cult prove that ten years sometimes doesn't account for all that much on Heaven Forbid, their first new studio album in a decade. Essentially, the group's sound has remained the same, with the same crunching power chords and sci-fi/horror lyrics that characterized their best songs. While the band sounds surprisingly muscular and powerful throughout Heaven Forbid, the material is below par, lacking memorable hooks or melodies. Still, some longtime fans might find the very fact that BOC is back and rocking harder then expected reassuring, and that may be reason enough to check out Heaven Forbid.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Workshop of the Telescopes

Blue Oyster Cult was long in need of a thorough career retrospective, and this is it. Thirty-two tracks filling up two discs with a total running time of 154:46, Workshop of the Telescopes traces BOC through 14 years as the kings of lite metal, 1972-1986. Actually, as annotator Arthur Levy notes, there are at least two phases in that era. The first, running through 1974, includes the classic first two albums, Blue Oyster Cult and Tyranny and Mutation, when BOC was one of the few acts in those pre-punk days bucking the trend toward soft rock without indulging in the more grotesque aspects of heavy metal. This material takes up disc one. Disc two leads off with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," which launched the second phase of the band's career, when it sought to balance its hard-rocking approach (heard especially in concert) with pop accessibility. Since this period was marked by uneven material, it is ripe for compiling, and the selection here is good. On the whole, Workshop of the Telescopes lives up to Levy's description of it as "the ultimate BOC anthology." It's about time.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Live 1976

Blue Oyster Cult was for the most part a touring band, and this European import, released 15 years after the concert it chronicled, shows them at their 1970s touring peak. At the end of 1976, they were touring behind their most successful album, Agents of Fortune, and single, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." They played only ten songs, including their recent hit, old favorites like "Stairway to the Stars" and "Cities on Flame," and their in-concert barnburner "Born To Be Wild," but it took them over 78 minutes to do so, in part because of a version of "This Ain't the Summer of Love" that ran nearly 13 minutes and a "Buck's Boogie" that ran over 19 minutes, many of them given over to a good old-fashioned 1970s drum solo. That and the speech about legalizing marijuana have a touch of nostalgic indulgence, of course, but much of the music is blazing guitar rock, and a listen helps explain why BOC was so loved by its concert fans, even as it was virtually ignored by the music industry and the country in general. Sound quality is good, but rudimentary; the album sounds more like a soundboard tape than a conventionally mixed and EQ'd commercial album. Crank it up, though, and you just might like it better.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nail You Down

Downloaded this off the Internet some years ago then transferred it onto cassette. Due to conflicting sources, still not sure if its a bootleg, an import or a 1992 official release authorized by the band. What is clear is that this is a quality show from Perkins Palace in Pasadena, California on July 23, 1983. Worth getting hands on.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Imaginos

Blue Oyster Cult went out with a bang as a major-label recording act on their 14th and last new Columbia album, Imaginos. The idea for this concept album came as early as Secret Treaties, on which some of its music appeared, and the recording took place over a six-year period. (As a result, album credits give the erroneous impression that the original band had reformed.) The story line, which is easier to appreciate in the liner notes than on the record, concerns a mysterious, protean 19th century figure who has a talent for turning up at key moments in history and influencing them for the worse. This is perhaps BOC's most consistent album, certainly its most uncompromising (none of its usual nods to pop accessibility), and also the closest thing to a real heavy-metal statement from a band that never quite fit that description. Unfortunately, this ambitious work came out as BOC was dropping out of the frontline of the music business, so the album that comes closest to defining Blue Oyster Cult turned into its creative swan song.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Club Ninja

Blue Oyster Cult's gradual disintegration continued with Club Ninja, on which original member Allen Lanier was replaced by keyboard player Tom Zvoncheck, and several compositions from outside the band were featured, notably the Leggart Brothers' "White Flags," and a couple of generic metal exercises by Bob Halligan, who had contributed much the same sort of material to . Judas Priest. On what should have been the positive side, Sandy Pearlman was back in the producer's chair. But he did nothing to arrest BOC's decline into musical anonymity.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Revolution by Night

Blue Oyster Cult seemed to regain their direction with Fire of Unknown Origin, but simultaneously, the band was starting to fragment, with founding member and notable songwriter Albert Bouchard departing. On The Revolution by Night, BOC brought in various hired guns, such as Aldo Nova and former Alice Cooper bandmember Neal Smith, and turned to Loverboy's producer, Bruce Fairbairn who gave them a similar radio-ready rock sound. But though the album brought BOC their fourth (and final) singles chart entry in "Shooting Shark," it lacked a distinctive identity. You could close your eyes and not know whether you were listening to Loverboy or Foreigner or any one of several other arena rock bands. No wonder it became the band's lowest charting album in a decade.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Extraterrestrial Live

Of the Blue Oyster Cults three live albums, Extraterrestrial Live is the one to own. The two-record set, partially recorded on BOC's home base of Long Island, contains the band's biggest hits, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (making its second live appearance) and "Burnin' for You," as well as longtime concert favorites like "Cities on Flame," "The Red and the Black," and "Godzilla." But it isn't just the superior song selection that gives this album the nod over On Your Feet or on Your Knees and Some Enchanted Evening; BOC had regained its momentum in 1981 with Fire of Unknown Origin, and this album demonstrated their renewed spirit in the forum in which they were most comfortable -- live work.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fire of Unknown Origin

Who would have thought that in 1981, after a pair of limp, unfocused studio offerings, and two mixed -- at best -- live outings, that the once mighty Blue Oyster Cult would come back with such a fierce, creative, and uncompromising effort as Fire of Unknown Origin. Here was their finest moment since Agents of Fortune five years earlier, and one of their finest ever. Bringing back into the fold the faithful team who helped articulate their earlier vision, producer Sandy Pearlman, Rich Meltzer, and Patti Smith all helped in the lyric department, as did science-fiction and dark-fantasy writer Micheal Moonrock. The band's sound was augmented by a plethora of keyboards courtesy of Allen Lanier, but nonetheless retained a modicum of its heaviness, and the sheer songwriting craft that had helped separate the band form its peers early on was everywhere evident here.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cultosaurus Erectus

Signing on with Deep Purple/Black Sabbath producer Martin Birch, Blue Oyster Cult made more of a guitar-heavy hard rock album in Cultosaurus Erectus after flirting with pop ever since the success of Agents of Fortune. (They also promoted this album by going out on a co-headlining tour with Sabbath.) Gone are the female backup singers, the pop hooks, the songs based on keyboard structures, and they are replaced by lots of guitar solos and a beefed-up rhythm section. But the band still were not generating strong enough material to compete with their concert repertoire, so they found themselves in the bind of being a strong touring act unable to translate that success into record sales.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mirrors

Blue Oyster Cult tried a new producer on Mirrors, replacing longtime mentor Sandy Pearlman with Tom Werman, a CBS staffer who had worked with Cheap Trick and Ted Nugent. The result is an album that tries to straddle pop and hard rock just as those acts did, emphasizing choral vocals (plus female backup) and a sharp, trebly sound. But this approach appeared to displease longtime metal-oriented fans without attracting new ones: "In Thee" became a minor singles-chart entry, but the album broke BOC 's string of five gold or platinum albums in a row. The real reason simply may have been that the songs weren't distinctive enough. Much of this is generic hard rock that could have been made by any one of a dozen '70s arena bands.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Some Enchanted Evening

Some Enchanted Evening is the mighty beast that is Blue Oyster Cult's best-selling record, with numbers signifying double platinum. Yeah, small potatoes by today's standards, but then the music industry is self-destructing anyway; these totals sum up not only the BOC faithful, but those who were initially turned onto the band through this wonder of a cut-up live record. And the reason? Because it kicks serious rock & roll ass, that's why. BOC had released its first live record, On Your Feet or on Your Knees in 1975, just three years earlier with only two studio offerings in between. Wondering why? There were two absolute smashes -- Agents of Fortune (1976) and Spectres (1977) -- in between. The grueling touring they took on in support of these albums dictated a rest, and thus Some Enchanted Evening was assembled and released.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Spectres

Blue Oyster Cult scored big with Agents of fortune and its now-classic rock hit, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." It took the album into the stratosphere and the band's profile with it; it put them in the visible pop space they'd tried for years to get to. But upon arrival, they found that kind of success difficult to respond to. Not only did BOC want to respond, they wanted to cement their place. Spectres is not the masterpiece that Agents of Fortune is, but it didn't need to be. However, upon hearing Spectres again, the album offers proof that the commercial and creative bent of Agents of Fortune was still in place at certain moments, and the band laid out a major single in the opening cut, "Godzilla," a tune -- however silly it may be -- that is every bit as memorable as "(Don't Fear) The Reaper. BOC were the only band in their league, walking the line between AOR rock and metal, and offering such detailed narratives. Spectres also contains tunes that were ready-made for touring, which is what BOC did immediately after, resulting in the wildly successful live album Some Enchanted Evening. In sum, the only reason Spectres is not regarded as a classic is because it followed Agents of Fortune.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Agents of Fortune

If ever there were a manifesto for 1970s rock, one that prefigured both the decadence of the decade's burgeoning heavy metal and prog rock excesses and the rage of punk rock, "This Ain't the Summer of Love," the opening track from Agents of Forture, Blue Oyster Cult's fourth studio album, was it. The irony was that while the cut itself came down firmly on the hard rock side of the fence, most of the rest of the album didn't. The album yielded the band's biggest single with "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," a multi-textured, deeply melodic soft rock song with psychedelic overtones, written by guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser. The rest of the album is ambitious in that it all but tosses aside BOC's proto-metal stance and instead recontextualizes their entire stance. It's still dark, mysterious, and creepy, and perhaps even more so, it's still rooted in rock posturing and excess, but gone is the nihilistic biker boogie in favor of a more tempered -- indeed, nearly pop arena rock. Agents of Fortune is a solid record, albeit a startling one for fans of the band's earlier sound. It also sounds like one of restless inspiration, which is, in fact, what it turned out to be given the recordings that came after. It turned out to be BOC's last consistent effort until they released Fires of Unknown Origin in 1981.

Friday, November 25, 2011

On Your Feet or on Your Knees

On Your Feet or on Your Knees, Blue Oyster Cult's first live album, was also their first to peak inside the Top 40 best-sellers, which is more of an indication of the audience the group was building up through extensive touring than of its quality. Songs that had a tight, concentrated impact on studio albums got elongated here, and that impact was dissipated. And the song selection left a great deal to be desired if this was to be a fitting summation of the band's career so far. The album did mark the first commercial release of a version of "Buck's Boogie" as well as covers of the Yardbirds' "I Ain't Got You" and Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Secret Treaties

While the speed-freak adrenaline heaviness and shrouded occult mystery of Tyranny and Mutation is the watermark for Blue Oyster Cult's creative invention, it is Secret Treaties that is widely and critically regarded as the band's classic. Issued in 1974, Secret Treaties is the purest distillation of all of BOC's strengths. Here the songs are expansive, and lush in their textures. The flamboyance is all here, and so are the overdriven guitar riffs provided by Buck Dharma and Eric Bloom. But there is something else, texturally, that moves these songs out from the blackness and into the shadows. It offers BOC a new depth and breadth. While elements of psychedelia have always been a part of the band's sound, it was always enfolded in proto-metal heaviness and biker boogie. Here, BOC created their own brand of heavy psychedelic noir to diversify their considerably aggressive attack. It's a breathless rock monolith that is all dark delight and sinister pleasure. While BOC went on to well-deserved commercial success with Agents of Fortune an album later, the freaky inspiration that was offered on their debut, and brought to shine like a black jewel on Tyranny and Mutation, was fully articulated as visionary on Secret Treaties.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tyranny and Mutation

On Tyranny and Mutation, Blue Oyster Cult achieved the seemingly impossible: they brightened their sound and deepened their mystique. The band picked up their tempos considerably on this sophomore effort. The split imagery of Side One's thematic, "The Red" and Side Two's "The Black," and the flip-to-wig-city, dark conspiracy of Gawlik's cover art, and an entire concept was not only born and executed, it was received. The Black side of Tyranny and Mutation is its reliance on speed, punched-up big guitars, and throbbing riffs such as in "The Red and the Black," "O.D'd on Life Itself," "Hot Rails to Hell," and "7 Screaming Diz-Busters," all of which showcased the biker boogie taken to a dizzyingly extreme boundary; one where everything flies by in a dark blur, and the articulations of that worldview are informed as much by atmosphere as idea. This is screaming, methamphetamine-fueled rock & roll that was all about attitude, mystery, and a sense of nihilistic humor that was deep in the cuff. On the Red Side, beginning with the syncopated striations of "Baby Ice Dog," in which Allen Lanier's piano was as important as Buck Dharma's guitar throb, elements of ambiguity and bluesy swagger enter into the mix. Eric Bloom was the perfect frontman: he twirled the words around in his mouth before spitting them out with requisite piss-and-vinegar, and a sense of decadent dandy that underscored the music's elegance, as well as its power. He was at ease whether the topic was necromancy, S&M, apocalyptic warfare, or cultural dissolution. While BOC's Secret Treaties is widely recognized as the Cult's classic album, one would do well to consider Tyranny and Mutation in the same light.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Blue Oyster Cult

Two years before Kiss roared out of Long Island with its self-titled debut,Blue Oyster Cult, the latest incarnation of a band assembled by guitarist Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser and drummer Albert Bouchard in 1967, issued its dark, eponymously-titled heavy rock monolith. Managed and produced by the astronomically minded and conspiratorially haunted SandyPearlman, BOC rode the hot, hellbound rails of blistering hard rock as pioneered by Steppenwolf, fierce mutated biker blues, and a kind of dark psychedelia that could have only come out New York. The band's debut relied heavily on the lyrics of Pearlman and rock critic Richard Meltzer, as well as Pearlman's pioneering production that layered guitars in staggered sheets of sound over a muddy mix that kept Eric Bloom's delivery in the middle of the mix and made it tough to decipher. This was on purpose -- to draw the listener into the songs cryptically and ambiguously.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Blue Murder

After helping singer David Coverdale reinvent Whitesnake both sonically and aesthetically for the image-conscious American market, guitar hero John Sykes acrimoniously left the group when it became apparent that there was only room enough for one overblown ego in it: Coverdale's . John Sykes forms supergroup Blue Murder with with veteran bassist Tony Franklin of the Firm and nearly geriatric drummer Carmine Appice from Vanilla Fudge. Released in 1989, the power trio's eponymous debut was produced to pompous perfection by none other than Bob Rock, whose golden ears for bombastic yet consumer-friendly '80s metal were truly second to none at the time. But the album has also become rather dated over the years, because of its frequent indulgence in the same sort of unchecked, peroxide-fueled "Bad Zeppelin-isms" that were then being shamelessly appropriated by bands like Kingdom Come and Sykes' own former boss, David Coverdale, and the reborn Whitesnake. As such, prime offenders like the gratuitously preening "Sex Child," the impressively epic "Valley of the Kings," and the disappointingly tepid "Ptolemy" abused this ethically flawed (if unquestionably effective, from a sales standpoint) gimmick at its most grotesquely histrionic -- but no more so than any of the other groups cited above, really. And because Blue Murder's songwriting was relatively consistent and their musicianship beyond reproach throughout, it's easy to understand why this album has endured far better than most similarly styled heavy metal albums of the era.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Louder than God: The Best of Blue Cheer

Released in 1986 on Rhino records, Louder Than God is an adequate "best of" collection for those interested in a brief but complete assortment of Blue Cheer's greatest proto-metal hits. Rhino wisely chose studio wiz Bill Inglot to remaster the 13 tracks on this offering, making it one of, if not the best, post-'70s repackaging of Blue Cheer material. The group's biggest hits, "Summertime Blues" and "Out of Focus," get spruced up nicely on Louder Than God, as does the remaining material from the especially small sounding Vincebus Eruptum. Obtaining this record might indeed be the best, or at least most cost-efficient way for casual fans to add essential music from the very influential Blue Cheer to their hard rock/heavy metal collection.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Vincebus Eruptum

Rock & roll had grown louder and wilder by leaps and bounds during the '60s, but when Blue Cheer emerged from San Francisco onto the national rock scene in 1968 with their debut album, Vincebus Eruptum, they crossed a line which most musicians and fans hadn't even thought to draw yet. Vincebus Eruptum sounds monolithically loud and primal today, but it must have seemed like some sort of frontal assault upon first release; Blue Cheer are often cited as the first genuine heavy metal band, but that in itself doesn't quite sum up the true impact of this music, which even at a low volume sounds crushingly forceful. Though Blue Cheer's songs were primarily rooted in the blues, what set them apart from blues-rock progenitors such as the Rolling Stones and the Yardsbirds was the massive physical force of their musical attack. Vincebus Eruptum is a glorious celebration of rock & roll primitivism run through enough Marshall amps to deafen an army; only a few of Blue Cheer's peers could come up with anything remotely this heavy and no one could summon so much thunder with just three people. If you want to wake the neighbors, this is still the album to get, and it was Blue Cheer's simplest and most forceful musical statement.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Soup

Most '90s rock bands who enjoyed massive breakthrough success with their debut album seemed to follow it up with an effort similarly styled to its predecessor, hence guaranteeing repeat success. This proved not to be the case with Blind Melon. It appeared as though the band rejected the jovial spirit of "No Rain" and focused on much darker material for their follow-up, Soup. While it did not match the commercial success of the debut, Soup proved to be a challenging, gripping record that is just as strong and perhaps even more rewarding. Shannon Hoon was in the throes of drug addiction (which would prove fatal only two months after the album's release), and his experience at a drug detox. Soup deserved to be another big hit, but due to MTV and radio's abrupt abandonment of the band, harsh reviews from close-minded critics, and worst of all, Hoon's untimely death mid-tour, all hopes of the album receiving the attention it deserved were extinguished. Soup is one of the most underrated and overlooked great rock albums of the '90s.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Woodstock '94 Saugerties, New York 8/13/1994

Perhaps one of the most memorable moments in Woodstock history-an inebriated Shannon Hoon jumping around onstage wearing his girlfriend's dress. Sounds as if a recipe for a disaster. Surprisingly, Blind Melon steals the afternoon with extended jams and tight band interplay between guitarists Christopher Thorn and Rogers Stevens-almost perfect for Woodstock '94's '70s feel-good vibe. Hoon's onstage antics was more or less was a mere distraction and/or a sign of things to come for Blind Melon. Hoon was found dead a year later of a heart attack brought on by a cocaine overdose.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blind Melon

Managing to be equally mellow and introspective as well as rough and rocking, Blind Melon's 1992 self-titled debut remains one of the purest sounding rock albums of recent time, completely devoid of '90s production tricks. While the group was never the toast of the critics, their self-titled 1992 debut has held up incredibly well over time, resembling a true rock classic. For reasons unknown, the late Shannon Hoon was, unfairly, usually the brunt of reviewer's criticisms, yet his angelic voice and talent for penning lyrics that examined the ups and downs of everyday life were an integral part of Blind Melon's sound, as well as the band's supreme jamming interplay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

London Hyde Park 1969

Blind Faith's very name arguably proved that their members did not know what to expect from the union. The band made its debut at a free concert in front of more than 100,000 fans at Hyde Park in London on June 7, 1969. This pivotal event in rock history is preserved in its entirety on the excellent 2006 DVD London Hyde Park 1969.Winwood, Clapton, Baker, and Grech are crowded together on a small stage with little room to move. At times they seem hesitant, while at other times their confidence and heroic technical skills shatter any reservations. All six songs that ended up on Blind Faith are performed. Many other bands suffered the same fate as Blind Faith: a promising start that gave way to the disappointment of unfulfilled potential and thoughts of what might have been. Fortunately, London Hyde Park 1969 chronicles the birth of the shooting star that was Blind Faith.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blind Faith

Blind Faith's first and last album, more than 30 years old and counting, remains one of the jewels of the Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and Ginger Baker catalogs, despite the crash-and-burn history of the band itself, which scarcely lasted six months. As much a follow-up to Traffic's self-titled second album as it is to Cream's final output, it merges the soulful blues of the former with the heavy riffing and outsized song lengths of the latter for a very compelling sound unique to this band. The virtuoso electric blues of "Had to Cry Today," the acoustic-textured "Can't Find My Way Home," the soaring "Presence of the Lord" (Eric Clapton's one contribution here as a songwriter, and the first great song he ever authored) and "Sea of Joy" are pure euphoria. Unfortunately, the group was never that together as a band and evidently had just the 42 minutes of new music here ready to tour behind.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reunion

Though it was conceived as a mere cash-in for the long-awaited return of the original Black Sabbath, 1998's Reunion is as close to an official live album as the band has had in their historic 30-year career. 1980's Live at Last was released without their permission, and 1982's Live Evil featured then-singer Ronnie James Dio. With this in mind, the band must be commended on the excellent quality of the recordings, which include their most enduring classics ("War Pigs," "Paranoid," "Iron Man"), as well as a few surprises ("Dirty Women," "Behind the Wall of Sleep"), and were culled from a series of concerts in their native Birmingham in December 1997. The real key to this album, however, is the band's ability to avoid the most common pitfall of live recordings: speeding up the songs. This patience is crucial, since such Sabbath staples as "Sweet Leaf," "Black Sabbath," and "Snowblind" owe much of their unique personality and somber atmospherics to the band's trademark "snail's pace." "Children of the Grave" proves itself once again as one of the band's most dependable live favorites, and the massive riffs of "Into the Void" are simply timeless. The two brand new studio tracks are another treat for longtime fans, and while "Selling My Soul" is rather mundane, "Psycho Man" is absolutely incredible thanks to its slow intro and raging final riff.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dehumanizer

Sabbath and Dio were dealing with a dwindling fan base, unsuccessful albums, and a longstanding creative rut when they decided to reunite the Mob Rules lineup. In a perfect world, they would have created a monster of an album and shot back into the limelight with a vengeance. But with ten-year-old internal tensions still gnawing away at the band, they hastily created Dehumanizer, a weird side note in their long history. Ronnie James Dio delivers his strongest performance since the early '80s, and hearing Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi play together after nine years is inspiring. But they cannot seem to overcome the challenge of crafting classic Sabbath material, and it is this issue that haunts the recording . Dehumanizer isn't terrible, but it should have been the sign for the band to call it a career. Instead, Dio split when he refused to open shows for Ozzy Osbourne's retirement tour; they used Judas Priest singer Rob Halford for a few shows, and then everyone left but Iommi and Butler, who stayed on to paste a new lineup back together for two more albums.