Monday, October 31, 2011

Technical Ecstasy

Black Sabbath was unraveling at an alarming rate around the time of their second to last album with original singer Ozzy Osbourne 1976's Technical Ecstasy. The band was getting further and further from their original musical path, as they began experimenting with their trademark sludge-metal sound. While it was not as off-the-mark as their final album with Osbourne, 1978's Never Say Die, it was not on par with Sabbath's exceptional first six releases. The most popular song remains the album closer, "Dirty Women," which was revived during the band's highly successful reunion tour of the late '90s. Other standouts include the funky "All Moving Parts (Stand Still)" and the raging opener, "Back Street Kids." The melodic "It's Alright" turns out to be the album's biggest surprise -- it's one of drummer Bill Ward's few lead vocal spots with the band ( Guns N' Roses covered the unlikely track on their 1999 live set, Live Era 1987-1993).

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We Sold Our Soul for Rock n' Roll

We Sold Our Soul for Rock n' Roll is a good single-disc collection of many -- but not all -- of Black Sabbath's best tracks from the Ozzy Osbourne era, drawing about half of its material from the group's first two albums, Black Sabbath and Pariniod. That makes it ideal for the fan who only wants one Black Sabbath disc, but those who want to dig deeper should be advised that all six LPs from the Osbourne period contain high-quality items not present here, especially the under-represented Master of Reality and Vol.4. Still, there's no quibbling with what is here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sabotage

Sabotage is the final release of Black Sabbath's legendary First Six, and it's also the least celebrated of the bunch, though most die-hard fans would consider it criminally underrated. The band continues further down the proto-prog metal road of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and this time around, the synthesizers feel more organically integrated into the arrangements. What's more, the song structures generally feel less conventional and more challenging.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sabbath Bloody Sabbath


With 1973's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, heavy metal godfathers Black Sabbath made a concerted effort to prove their remaining critics wrong by raising their creative stakes and dispensing unprecedented attention to the album's production standards, arrangements, and even the cover artwork. As a result, bold new efforts like the timeless title track and "A National Acrobat", and "Killing Yourself to Live" positively glistened with a newfound level of finesse and maturity, while remaining largely faithful, aesthetically speaking, to the band's signature compositional style. In fact, their sheer songwriting excellence may even have helped to ease the transition for suspicious older fans left yearning for the rough-hewn, brute strength that had made recent triumphs likeallof their previous albums such undeniable forces of nature. But thanks to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath's nearly flawless execution, even a more adventurous!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Vol. 4

Black Sabbath's Vol. 4 is just a cut below its two indisputably classic predecessors, as it begins to run out of steam -- and memorable riffs -- toward the end. However, it finds Sabbath beginning to experiment successfully with their trademark sound on tracks like the ambitious, psychedelic-tinged, multi-part "Wheels of Confusion," the concise, textured "Tomorrow's Dream," and the orchestrated piano ballad "Changes" (even if the latter's lyrics cross the line into triteness). But the classic Sabbath sound is still very much in evidence; the crushing "Supernaut" is one of the heaviest tracks the band ever recorded.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Masters of Reality

With Paranoid, Black Sabbath perfected the formula for their lumbering heavy metal. On its follow-up, Master of Reality , the group merely repeated the formula, setting the stage for a career of recycling the same sounds and riffs. But on Master of Reality, Sabbath still were fresh and had a seemingly endless supply of crushingly heavy riffs to bludgeon their audiences into sweet, willing oblivion. If the album is a showcase for anyone, it is Tony Iommoi, who keeps the album afloat with a series of slow, loud riffs, the best of which -- "Sweet Leaf" and "Children of the Grave" among them -- rank among his finest playing. Taken in tandem with the more consistent Paranoid, Master of Reality forms the core of Sabbath's canon. There are a few stray necessary tracks scattered throughout the group's other early-'70s albums, but Master of Reality is the last time they delivered a consistent album and its influence can be heard throughout the generations of heavy metal bands that followed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Paranoid

Paranoid was not only Black Sabbath's most popular record, it also stands as one of the greatest and most influential heavy metal albums of all time. Paranoid refined Black Sabbath's signature sound -- crushingly loud, minor-key dirges loosely based on heavy blues-rock -- and applied it to a newly consistent set of songs with utterly memorable riffs, most of which now rank as all-time metal classics. Where the extended, multi-sectioned songs on the debut sometimes felt like aimless jams, their counterparts on Paraniod have been given focus and direction, lending an epic drama to now-standards. The subject matter is unrelentingly, obsessively dark, covering both supernatural/sci-fi horrors and the real-life traumas of death, war, nuclear annihilation, mental illness, drug hallucinations, and narcotic abuse. Yet Sabbath makes it totally convincing, thanks to the crawling, muddled bleakness and bad-trip depression evoked so frighteningly well by their music. Everything adds up to more than the sum of its parts, as though the anxieties behind the music simply demanded that the band achieve catharsis by steamrolling everything in its path, including its own limitations. Monolithic and primally powerful, Paranoid defined the sound and style of heavy metal more than any other record in rock history.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath's debut album is given over to lengthy songs and suite-like pieces where individual songs blur together and riffs pound away one after another, frequently under extended jams. There isn't much variety in tempo, mood, or the band's simple, blues-derived musical vocabulary, but that's not the point; Sabbath's slowed-down, murky guitar rock bludgeons the listener in an almost hallucinatory fashion, reveling in its own dazed, druggy state of consciousness. Songs like the apocalyptic title track, "N.I.B.," and "The Wizard" make their obsessions with evil and black magic seem like more than just stereotypical heavy metal posturing because of the dim, suffocating musical atmosphere the band frames them in. This blueprint would be refined and occasionally elaborated upon over the band's next few albums, but there are plenty of metal classics already here.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Raunch n' Roll Live

In the '70s, Black Oak Arkansas' albums could be uneven and inconsistent; many of their releases weren't without their share of mediocre filler. But when the Southern rockers soared, they really soared. Arguably, Black Oak's best and most consistent release is Raunch 'N' Roll Live. Recorded at 1973 concerts in Portland, OR, and Seattle, this LP is without a dull moment. The colorful, hell-raising lead singer Jim Dandy is inspired and focused throughout the album, excelling on inspired performances of Southern-fried gems. Without a doubt, Raunch 'N' Roll Live is essential listening for those who have even a casual interest in the rowdy Southern rockers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

If An Angel Came To See You Would You Make Her Feel At Home?

Several years before cracking the Top 40 with its rendition of "Jim Dandy (To the Rescue)," Black Oak Arkansas was putting out some pretty decent rock & roll albums. Of course, Jim Magnum's voice is one of those you have to either love or hate, but whichever way you tend to lean on that opinion, it is a stone cold fact that Magnum is one of the more unique vocalists to come out of the 1970s "classic" rock onslaught. Choice cuts here include "Mutants of the Monster" and the disc opener, "Gravel Roads." This may not be BOA's best album, but it certainly comes in a close third behind Raunch and Roll and High on the Hog.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn Sky

Hard rockin' guitarist Ritchie Blackmore fron the Deep Purple/Rainbow fame has a new band! It's not what the avid metal fan would think. It's an acoustic Celtic folk band featuring the dream like vocals of Blackmore's wife Candice Night. Surprisingly, it's great! The music here is joyful and peaceful. Blackmore has his moments to shine on the acoustic like the days of Deep Purple.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brothers

The Black Keys are a tough blues band with an inwardly psychedelic twist... but the album is built with blood and dirt, so its wilder moments remain gritty without being earthbound. Sonically, that scuffed-up spaciness -- the open air created by the fuzz guitars and phasing, analog keyboards, and cavernous drums -- is considerably appealing, but the Black Key' ace in the hole remains the exceptional songwriting that Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are so good at. the great thing about the Black Keys in general and Brothers in particular: the past and present intermingle so thoroughly that they blur, yet there’s no affect, just three hundred pounds of joy.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Strikes

After missing the boat with Lynyrd Skynyrd (for whom he played drums early on), guitarist/singer Rick Metlocke formed Blackfoot, arguably the first all-Native American rock group. The band struggled for almost a decade, playing run-of-the-mill Southern rock that they eventually injected with extra volume and attitude before signing with Atco, for whom they recorded their 1979 breakthrough Strikes. Known as a ferocious live unit and probably the heaviest of Southern rock bands.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Croweology

To celebrate their 20th anniversary, the Black Crowes decided to revisit several of their staples from the past two decades, giving them acoustic rearrangements. While some of the songs are revised heavily, some are merely given strength by the new setting, not so much because the songs sound better stripped down to bare bones, but because the Crowes are still riding the wave that started with their 2008 comeback Warpaint, retaining the rustic, ragged live vibe of Before the Frost.... This is the opposite of that live-in-the-studio record, where the band laid down new songs on tape preserving their freshness; instead, this is the sound of seasoned veterans still finding new ways to play old favorites. Naturally, this makes this set the province of diehards, but at two discs, this is a generous, entertaining gift to the fans who have stayed true throughout the years.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Before the Frost....

Revitalized by their 2008 reunion, the Black Crowes decided to take a genuine risk, recording a double-album's worth of new material in front of a live audience at Levon Holmes's barn in upstate New York...and then release the second half, Until the Freeze, as a free download-only. To a certain extent, such formal experiments are where the Crowes can really stretch, as they're so devoted to rock & roll roots from Southern England to South Georgia, they can't add new wrinkles to old traditions. More than anything, it's the kineticism that captivates, how the band deepens their already-strong songs with muscle and blood, sounding alive in a way that they never quite have in the studio. No longer young upstarts, they wear their years proudly on this terrific album, sounding like the veteran roadhounds they've always aspired to be.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Warpaint Live

More memento than major statement, 2009's Warpaint Live -- available as a DVD and a two-CD set -- finds the Black Crowes running through their 2008 comeback Warpaint in its entirety during a gig in Los Angeles, adding a five-song coda of covers and Crowes classics. Warpaint was a reunion and revitalization for the Black Crowes, their best album in a long time, and much of that renewed energy can be heard in this performance, which manages to be loose and tight, the work of a band comfortable in its own skin and strength. Apart from the closing covers, highlighted by a coolly confident "Torn and Frayed" and a raucous "Hey Grandma," surprises are a bit hard to come by, but that's not a problem because the band never sounds tired; they're engaged, so it's hard not to be swept up in their enthusiasm too.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Warpaint

Looking back, it seems inevitable that the Black Crowes would suffer a rocky middle age. After they mapped out the furthest reaches of their world on 1994's Amorica, they slowly spun their tires, turning out records both respectable and tired, before internal tensions slowly tore the brothers Robinson apart, leading to a split in 2002. A few years of solo wanderings led the Crowes to a reunion in 2005, but they had to go through a few more lineup changes -- including the addition of North Mississippi AllStars Luthor Dickinson as the replacement for guitarist Marc Ford -- before they buckled down to record their seventh album, 2008's Warpaint. All that turmoil and trouble are felt on Warpaint, as are the years the band spent paying dues on the jam band circuit after Amorica. Warpaint shows that the decade of hard struggle gave the Crowes soul and chops, turning them into the band they've always wanted to be. As this album is not only their strongest set of songs since Amorica, it has a depth and presence that is rare for a digital age creation and, best of all, the album has a true narrative thrust, making it feel like a true classic rock album.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Lost Crowes

The Lost Crowes is right -- only hardcore fans will know of the music on this two-CD set, and even then, chances are they haven't heard it. And it's not like this is an odds-n-sods collection of outtakes and B-sides, either: The Lost Crowes contains two complete unreleased albums called Tall and Band, recorded in 1993 and 1997, respectively, but in the vaults until now. Tall metamorphosed into the sprawling 1994 masterpiece Amorica, with a handful of its songs popping up elsewhere, including 1996's Three Snakes and One Charm. Band was simply left behind as the group moved on to By Your Side. Tall sounds like a rough draft of Amorica; while Band sonically falls halfway between the ragged Amorica and the hard-edged Three Snakes. This is a great Crowes album showcasing their skills as songwriters and as a loose yet muscular jam band.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Freak 'N' Roll...Into the Fog

This double-disc is essentially the audio component to the DVD of the same name released in March 2006. There are several live documents of the Black Crowes before their breakup especially, but this one shows them at their rawest, with a complete horn section and backing vocalists tearing it up at the Fillmore. It's true, one can listen to the DVDs , but if you aren't one of those people who particularly likes to watch music videos, this might be a better bet. The sound is great, and the performance is positively electric. It starts a little ragged, but that's part of the charm; by the time the band gets to "Soul Slinging" four cuts in, they are burning.If the Black Crowes wanted to prove they were back as a band, Freak 'N' Roll...Into the Fog should be all the evidence one needs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Live

The title is simple, and it describes exactly what you'll get -- two discs and 19 tracks of the Black Crowes in concert, tearing through fan favorites and chart hits. The album is culled from a series of concerts the group did on their farewell 2001 tour, with Rich Robinson sequencing the entire thing to flow close to an actual concert, right down to his brother Chris' winding, sometimes embarrassing stage patter. Though this isn't as gutsy or revelatory as the dynamite live album with Jimmy Page, it's still a really good live album, finding the band in fine form --Chris is in good voice, the band rocks hard, and the versions here, while not drastically different than the album versions, find the band stretching out where necessary. In short, it's nuthin' fancy, just what a good rock & roll band does. And the Black Crowes are certainly a good rock & roll band, with a deep catalog of strong songs and a good sound, all evident here. True, this is pretty much the province of the dedicated, but those that are devoted fans will find this to be a sweet swan song.