May 112020
 

Cover Two reviewJoan Wasser started out as a violinist, performing in a variety of bands throughout the ’90s including The Dambuilders, Black Beatle, and Antony and the Johnsons. She eventually broke out on her own, assuming the stage name Joan As Police Woman (inspired by the TV show Police Woman) and releasing her first solo album in 2006. After two solo records of original material, Joan As Police Woman released a limited edition covers album in 2009 that included a variety of songs, from T.I. to David Bowie. Four albums and over a decade later, Joan is back with Cover Two, a similarly eclectic batch of cover songs.

Joan As Police Woman describes the process of creating this album: “I start with the question, ‘WHY, exactly, do I love this song?’ I take those elements and reform them, sometimes removing much of the remaining material to refocus them through new glasses.” Her process is evident in the sound of the album. Her covers are sparse, but still evocative.

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May 042020
 

Danzig

Glenn Allen Anzalone, better known to the music universe as Glenn Danzig, has always been a fan of Elvis Aaron Presley.

“I got into Elvis because I hated going to school, so I would play hooky a lot or cut school, and I’d stay home and watch old movies,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “I remember one day watching Jailhouse Rock. And just going, ‘Whoa.’ By the end of the movie, I was like, ‘This guy’s cool. This is what I want to do’.” He recently paid tribute to his hero by releasing an album of Elvis covers, aptly titled Danzig Sings Elvis.

Danzig first came to prominence in the ‘80s as the frontman and founder of the Misfits. He then went on to lead the band that bears his name, Danzig. With this group, he scored a series of hard rock hits in the ‘80s and ‘90s and was just as famous for his well-greased pecs as his music.

There’s nothing particularly punk or metal about the new record. It’s a collection of root-music-style covers one would usually attribute to the likes of Steve Earle or Marty Stuart. At times, it feels like Danzig is auditioning for an Elvis tribute act. He does his best to channel Elvis’ baritone-heavy vocal style. Danzig mostly eschews Elvis’ greatest hits and instead plays some deeper cuts. Given that Elvis released many covers throughout his career, a better name for this album might have been Danzig Sings Songs Elvis Covered. Although uneven at times, the record serves as a solid tribute to the man who inspired countless artists across the rock n’ roll spectrum.

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Apr 142020
 

a tribute to keith emerson and greg lakeI confess to hovering over this one a while, ahead of taking a bullet for the team. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Or rather, I was, and therein lies the problem.

It was nigh half a century ago that I made my first purchase of an LP record; that was none other than Pictures at an Exhibition, and boy oh boy, was I keen on the energetic bombast. It wasn’t then long before four of my first ten vinyl records were by ELP — I snapped up the eponymous debut and, then, on their release, Tarkus and Trilogy. I lapped up every inky page I could about them, relishing in my membership of an elite. Those Yes acolytes could take a jump, Emmo was king and that was that. And Lake, well, he was in the band, so, clearly, he was the tops too. How could 100,000 spotty boys be wrong? As for John Peel, custodian of the nation’s counter culture tastes: “a waste of electricity”, huh, what did he know? I even went to see them, cramming into the dismal aircraft hangar of Earls Court in London with innumerable facsimiles of myself, enduring the dire acoustics and excessive volume, telling myself, and anyone else in earshot, just how good was this.
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Apr 022020
 

SteveReidell_Dukejenn champion the blue album
2020 marks the 40th Anniversary of Genesis’s true breakthrough album, 1980’s Duke. It was their first album to hit #1 in the UK as well as their highest charting album in the U.S.to that point. It also featured their first top 20 single in the states, infectious unrequited love opus “Misunderstanding”. But enough of the facts, I’m about to say something controversial so all of you prog rock purists might want to look away for a second. Here goes…

I think Genesis got better once Peter Gabriel quit the band.

Significantly better.

Once detached from the confines of Gabriel’s cryptic conceptual costumed creations, the melodic impulses of the remaining band members, Mike Rutherford, Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Steve Hackett (he until 1977) were finally able to run unencumbered and free. This of course meant they could fulfill their destiny as the the glorious pop-prog hybrid behemoth gods they were always meant to be.

From the very first release after Gabriel’s departure, 1976’s A Trick of the Tail, the sonic shift was in full effect, its songs possessing both a brevity and succinctness that had only ever been hinted at on previous albums. The lyrics became more relatable, the emotions were no longer obscured by arcane imagery. Most significantly, there was a hearty head nod to pop. Over the years there’s been a bit of a disagreement between the purists who prefer the Gabriel-helmed version of the band and the pop fans who love PHIL, as to which version of the G-Men is better (in broad strokes, it sometimes breaks down as older fans vs. newer fans and, yes, men vs. women). As a member of the latter demographic, I can say that my personal disagreements with other Genesis-loving nerds have consistently, predictably unfolded in this fashion (all in good humor, though, I swear). I think the stretch of studio albums sans Gabriel, released from 1976-1983, represent Genesis at their absolute creative peak. And I just want to offer up one last factoid: Duke, one of the poppiest, most personal, never-met-a-radio-it-didn’t-like albums they ever made, is keyboardist Tony Banks’s absolute favorite Genesis album.

And so with that, meet Steve Reidell.
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Feb 102020
 

Bonny Light Horseman reviewYou could be forgiven for thinking Bonny Light Horseman is an album of original material, so rigidly is it embedded in a certain sound, that of the bevy of (largely) acoustic troubadours who occupy that hinterland between folk and country, producing a timeless style of music that could have come from anywhere in the last 30 years. But no Americana, this. What we have here is material culled from way further back. All these songs are centuries old, usually with Anglo-Celtic roots, often veterans of the trans-Appalachian routes that applied new tunes, new arrangements and new interpretations, with the lyrics ever-evolving. And so here, as when many modern themes become seamlessly drawn into the mix.

Title track, and the name of the band, “Bonny Light Horseman,” is a good case in point. Nominally a song about Napoleon, it somehow also seems to cast reference to current political leadership foibles. This is no celebration of hey-nonny-no or of toora-loora-lay, barely (bar that Napoleonic name check) does any sense of the past or of any austere tradition creep in. Even the album’s best known song, “Blackwaterside,” scarcely reminds of previous iterations, whether the “authenticity” of Anne Briggs or the casual appropriation of Jimmy Page’s Led Zeppelin. That takes some skill when acoustic guitars and light percussion are all you have to play with. OK, having some more than half-decent voices is no hindrance.
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Nov 292019
 

MOSE-ALLISON-IF-YOURE-GOING-TO-THE-CITYMose Allison is possibly best known these days through his association with Van Morrison, who released Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison in 1996. Morrison probably gave Allison’s career a late boost, presenting him as a somewhat kindred spirit, albeit having a few more years on him, and hopefully a more benign presence than Van the Man, if even harder to classify.

I had always filed Allison under jazz, though blues was probably closer to his idiom, yet here we have If You’re Going to the City: A Tribute to Mose Allison, which sees him being covered by a slew of largely rock music gentry from the past few decades. Listening to this selection, it becomes easier to see that blues is at least the template to Allison’s songs. Not necessarily a version familiar to the backstreet bars of Chicago, this is a more polished version of the blues, with echoes of both supper club and Tin Pan Alley – though in Allison’s hands and voice, they sound perhaps a shade less archaic. These are fine songs and, if these covers succeed in pointing attention back to the originals, then at least part of the work of this collection has been done.
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