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New Album! The Hot Rats

So...what are the other two Supergrassians doing?

I love tribute albums more than I should, and when a band tosses a well placed cover into their set or onto their own album it can often be a real treat. And while playing the song straight can be reverential, adding your own flavor to the stew can often be far more rewarding. On Turn Ons we get both from The Hot Rats. While that latter name may call to mind one of Frank Zappa‘s greatest albums, it is also what two famous UK pop stars call their fun side project. 

Gaz Coombes and Danny Goffey of Supergrass have teamed up with producer Nigel Godrich (Radiohead, Beck, Travis) for an album of well-chosen covers of some of their favorite artists including The Kinks, Squeeze, The Doors, Gang of Four, Elvis Costello and David Bowie among others. While some of the songs (i.e. the Lou Reed stomper “I Can’t Stand It”) are made for the stripped down thumping, you will be amazed at how they approached songs by The Sex Pistols and The Beastie Boys

Despite the limited instrumentation, the versatility on the album separates The Hot Rats from the pack of bands flailing to surf the wake of The White Stripes. Simplicity merely repeated gets monotonous, but The Hot Rats wisely employed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich to add his brush to their canvas, and the result is an exciting and surprising collaboration. At its core it’s brimming with the exuberance and fearlessness of a garage band, and with twelve tracks in just over half an hour, one is left wanting more

Read my full review in Blurt Online.

And yes - grab this too!

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Couldn’t I Just Tell You?

Todd Live 2009

A lot of artists whose careers started in the ’60s and ’70s are now either playing a few select summer festivals, the oldies circuit or not playing at all. Then there are others who continue to write, record and perform with vitality. I saw Todd Rundgren in late October and he is definitely among the latter. My take:

I was apprehensive that Todd Rundgren, now in his sixties, might be moving away from guitar wanking; his last tour in support of Liars found him mostly singing and playing short solos, if any at all. Any fears were laid to rest immediately, as he opened with “Love in Action”, “Black and White”, “Black Maria” and a vibrant “Open My Eyes” before Kasim Sulton stepped up to handle lead vocals on “Trapped”.

Rundgren and band rocked from the outset, and his vocals were more impressive than in recent memory. In fact, he had greater interaction with the audience than he has in years; whether that was genuine fun or a chance to catch his breath didn’t matter.

Read the full review of this live show at BLURT ONLINE.

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New Album! Procol Harum

Barricades intact

Barricades intact

Many bands extend their bandwidth by trying (or revisiting) different arrangements of songs; Unpluggedhas become a rite of passage for rock acts trying to become (or  stay) relevant. Likewise, several bands will go the orchestral route, swelling their sound with a twenty, thirty, eighty piece orchestra to channel their bombast and maybe even gussy up some of those relatively ordinary chestnuts from their catalogue. But making the effort is one thing – making it worthwhile is something else entirely.

Let’s face it – for some bands, playing with an orchestra is just silly. The Rolling Stones would be neutered, although it would be fun watching Keith Richards trying to conduct the orchestra with head twitches and fey wrist movements. KISS actually recorded an album with the Melbourne Symphony, but all that did was expose the weakness of the material (no great shocker there) and reduce the accompaniment to an eighty piece echo.

But some bands were made to collaborate with such an organism, and Procol Harum is one of them. When your music is that majestic and complex, the backing of large and versatile instrumentation turns it into a 3-D experience. Arrangements color subtleties and enhance delicate movements, pin-drop beats explode into a thundering chorus. Add in the lyrics of a storyteller and an emotional vocalist and it can occasionally be breathtaking.

Procol Harum just released a CD and DVD of their 2006 performance with the Danish National Concert Orchestra and Choir (Eagle Vision) and if I could pick one moment to illustrate the powerful emotions I described, it would be “A Salty Dog”. I’ll wager there were people in the audience moved to tears.

Procol Harum is no stranger to this motif; back in 1972 they released an album recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Great to see that forty-plus years later, it’s still a perfect fit for them.

Here’s my review of the new album at Blurt Online.

Procol Harum fan page.

Eagle Rock / Eagle Vision

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Blast From The Past: The A’s

Double Your Pleasure

Double Your Pleasure

The music scene was beyond schizophrenic as the 70s turned to the 80s, it was downright Sybillian. Glam and prog had gone underground (where powerpop and boogie were already licking their wounds), and both punk and disco exploded and died.  The American radio market was trying to leverage the sure bets like Bruce Springsteen and decide which survivors of the safety pin and skinny tie crowd deserved to get a push. A new station called MTV borrowed an established but tiny-market concept and started airing music videos 24/7. (Yes, kids – the “M” once stood for music!).

In a way it was Darwinian. Well, except for the Machiavellian part.

It seems like a lot of bands got to make two albums around that time; labels from Sire to Columbia to Arista were signing anything with a pulse, throwing a bushel of money at them and flooding the landscape in an effort to nail down a cash cow artist. Some clicked and got a third and fourth if the first two caught a buzz. Others got so screwed by ridiculous contracts that they were buried in debt and indentured servitude and watched their dreams bleed out and die.

Some of those bands, in retrospect, were pretty damned great – and The A’s were one of them. Their first album was punky but chic, a pastiche of affected vocals, funny lyrics and tight musicianship that received regional airplay and landed in my lap. Their second took better aim at radio by smoothing out the edges, but overall the songs were better. Then…poof.

Those two albums, long out of print, just resurfaced as a two-fer. I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy there. Read my review at Blurt Online.

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New Album! Sweet/Hoffs

Sweet Bangles! Here's another one!

Sweet Bangles! Here's another one!

The pop prince and sultry siren are at it again with another volume of their tribute to classic songs from the past, this time focusing upon the 70s (rumor has it there’s at least one more volume in the pipeline). I enjoyed the first collection where they tackled covers of 60s tunes, a direct homage to their classic pop influences. In their own work,  Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs (with The Bangles) enjoyed careers built upon a variation of that sound, as did many of the 70s artists covered here.

Did it work? Read my review at Blurt Online.

Here’s the track list for Under The Covers Volume 2

01. Sugar Magnolia (The Grateful Dead)
02. Go All The Way (The Raspberries)
03. Second Hand News (Fleetwood Mac)
04. Bell Bottom Blues (Derek & The Dominoes)
05. All The Young Dudes (Mott The Hoople)
06. You’re So Vain (Carly Simon)
07. Here Comes My Girl (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)
08. I’ve Seen All Good People (Yes)
09. Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren)
10. Willin’ (Little Feat)
11. Back Of A Car (Big Star)
12. Couldn’t I Just Tell You (Todd Rundgren)
13. Gimme Some Truth (John Lennon)
14. Everything I Own (Bread)
15. Maggie May (Rod Stewart)
16. Beware Of Darkness (George Harrison)

Listen to some cuts on their MySpace site.

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