Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Dream Academy

Somewhere to the left of alternative music and to the right of new age lies The Dream Academy. Best known for Life In A Northern Town with the chorus similar to The Lion Sleeps Tonight it was one of the better songs of 1985, the year of We Built This City, Take On Me and Broken Wings.  But they got points for having David Gilmour taking a liking to them and producing their first album.

While Nick Laird-Clowes is the leader, it was Katie St. John that was MVP with her multi intstruments in tow and shaping up the sonic landscape of this band (let's not forget Gilbert Gabriel too) which made the first album a good listen. Their best album was Remembrance Days, which Lindsay Buckingham helped co produce (with Hugh Padgham (Genesis, XTC)) and does a fairly good cover of Everybody Gotta Learn Sometime. Gilmour returns to co production on A Different Kind Of Weather and the choice of cover was John Lennon's Love.  The record was kinda underwhelming and probably the least of the three Dream Academy releases out there.  Gabriel and St. John moved on to other things, Kate being the more out front by helping Van Morrison on some of his albums and Marianne Faithful.

There hasn't been a best of Dream Academy in the US, a import came about and added some remixes and a couple non LP tracks but as overview disappoints.  Real Gone in 2014 compiled the first ever Best of in the states and adds a new song and a few more outtakes with David Gilmour on guitar.  Laird-Clowes' version of what he thinks is the best moments, The Morning Lasted Forever (the original title of Life In A Northern Town before Paul Simon suggested to change it to something more accessible)  makes a good sampler. But a cheaper alternative would be to search out the three albums and make your own copy.  I think overall, The Dream Academy was one of the more unique bands of the 80s, they were not as annoying as Mr Mister or A Ha or as dated sounding of said bands.  I also think they were more of an album band   And like the previous band reviewed here The Judybats, the female in the band was the one that gave the band their I.D. With Kate St John,  she made the band have that original sound.

The Dream Academy (Warner Bros 1985) B
Remembrance Days (Reprise 1987) B+
A Different Kind Of Weather (Reprise 1990) B-
The Morning Lasted Forever (Real Gone 2014) B+

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Judybats

If you love The Ocean Blue, you might like  The Judybats.  Although considered to be Ocean Blue light, unlike said band, The J Bats came from Knoxville Tennessee (a strange place to be if you're an alternative rock band)  and made four spotty albums for Sire/Warner Brothers. Led by Jeff  Heiskell, he wrote quirky songs in the grand style of Morrissey from The Smiths, and like that lead singer, Jeff would come out of the closet and proclaiming himself to be gay. 

What strikes me is how uneven Native Son is, starts out great on side 1 but by side two rolls around they're spinning their tires and getting nowhere.  Their cover of She Lives In A Time Of Her Own is perhaps the best song on this album. After Incognito, the rest of the album is just plain forgettable. The followup album with the mouth full title of Down In The Shacks Where The Satellites  Dishes Grow is their best overall album, to which they finally get their Smiths and REM influences down to a listenable level. She's Sad She Said worthy of a Morrissey type of song and the humor of Margot Known As Missy makes it their best overall song.

But losing Peggy Hambright after that album, The Judybats lost their soul.  Peg simply got tired of hanging with the band and later opened up a successful bakery in Tennessee.  The band trudged on. With Pain Makes You Beautiful, they settled for Kevin Moloney (The Ocean Blue) as main producer but the sound he delivered on that effort was too slick for the songs at hand.  Not that the songs mattered that much, the alternative adult sound The J Bats strive for didn't work to their advantage.  As for the results, this type of faceless pop was a few years earlier than the Verve Pipe which made better albums or Dog's Eye View which was worse. However they did get a number 7 hit on the alternative charts with Being Simple and the record had a couple other decent songs (Ugly On The Outside, All Day Afternoon) but still, like Native Son, the record is too erratic for the casual listener.

 Full Empty was the end, to which The J Bats lost their identity, and did a pointless cover of the Bee Gees Jive Talkin.  They didn't make a good jam band either and Paul Mahern was as clueless as a producer as well.  The comparison is Dave Matthews Band and that's all you need to know how bad this record is.Sorry Counts reminds me of Better Than Ezra's Good, to which was a better song.  Full Empty when you compare this to Native Son that the Judy Bats did go full circle and like the title suggest became full empty of no memorable songs.  It didn't help that their label with giving them fits either.  Even Jeff Heiskell sounds bored singing.  After that, The Judybats broke up.

Even in their heyday The J Bats seemed to be dated with their type of alt folk rock made even more outdated by Nirvana and the Seattle music scene.  Their Sire output really shows the rise and fall in each of their albums and each band member alternating the sound From Native Son down to the all done Full Empty. They're probably in need of a good overall best of but since it's not cost effective from the Rhino folks in charge of reissuing the Sire albums, you're better off making a mix cd from all four albums that you can find very cheap at local thrift stores or Amazon.  But if you think about it, their second album is their best of, the rest are just curio listens at best and at worst something better not heard from. Although Native Son would have made a nifty EP had they left it at six songs rather than the full 12 song album...Which would have worked better had they named that one Full Empty instead of their last album.

Discography (The Sire Years)

Native Son (Sire 1991, later reissued by Wounded Bird)  B
Down In The Sticks Where The Satellite Dishes Grow (Sire 1992) A-
Pain Makes You Beautiful (Sire 1993) B-
Full Empty (Sire 1994) C-

If you're still interested in learning more about The Judy Bats:  http://www.furious.com/perfect/judybats.html

The Trouser Press Guide to JudyBats: http://www.trouserpress.com/entry.php?a=judybats

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Joe Walsh

In my years of reviewing bands and artists Joe Walsh remains one of the most entertaining and frustrating artist of the rock era.  He did wonders with The James Gang, then went solo and kinda lost his way on Barnstorm which was I gather was either his new band or a solo project.  And then he hit it big with Rocky Mountain Way which turned out to be one of my anthems of the band that I used to play in, Paraphernalia. However the crash and bash approach was much different with the more laid back that Joe did.

His albums were somewhat brief, never passing more than a half hour tops and that worked best for Joe.  The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get is more of a band effort than Barnstorm was, but So What is more Joe, beginning with the long jam Welcome To The Club and the country sounding Falling Down.  Side 2 was a more radio friendly version of Turn To Stone, another country ballad in Help Me Make It Through The Night and then the FM classic County Fair.  The quicky live album You Can't Argue With A Sick Mind employs two drummers (Joe Vitale and Ricky Fataar) and charges out of the gate with a speedy Walk Away but in term of self indulgence the record will tend to bore the non fans, including the over the top Turn To Stone.

Leaving ABC for Asylum, Joe made his best album with But Seriously Folks that included his signature song Life's Been Good, however classic rock radio has played it to death so I rather much play the first side with Over And Over/Second Hand Store more.  Indian Summer is another favorite of mine.  With the success of this album MCA issued The Best Of Joe Walsh which cherry picks the hits off the ABC albums (the cassette version had the live version of Walk Away where the CD and LP had the James Gang version).  The album got replaced by a more thought out version Little Did He Know which goes back as far as the James Gang years and adds key tracks from the Asylum and Warner Brothers albums and the bonus track is a edited jam with The Who I think.

There Goes The Neighborhood issued three years later, (Walsh was busy in The Eagles to which he joined and put his solo career on hold and despite another hit single with Life Of Illusion, the record didn't connect with most folks.  In 1983 Walsh moved over to Full Moon/Warner Brothers and got Bill Symczek (sic) to produce You Bought It You Name It which could be considered Walsh comedy album.  Certainly in my opinion side for side a more consistent listen with I Can Play That Rock And Roll, the droll I.L.B.T's and Space Age Wiz Kids.  Of course the Eagles were on hand to help out on vocals whenever they can.

After You Brought It, Walsh's later albums never made much of an impression on me.  There were some good moments on The Confessor and the Terry Manning produced Got Any Gum? but for the most part there was lot more filler to contend with. Ordinary Average Guy was his final single that radio played but that album and the followup Songs For A Dying Planet I passed.  I gave Joe one more chance with his latest album for Fantasy Analog Man produced by Jeff Lynne.  It had some good moments but I couldn't recommend it, Lynne's dated 80s production didn't help things.

Still, Walsh's guitar work cannot be overlooked, especially in the James Gang or for that matter Hotel California. He remains the all around nice guy of rock and roll, and yeah I voted for him as President of the US.  His best of's remain a good sampler of what he can do, his albums you have to pick and choose.  But he still remains an original, a true rocker but a very eccentric rocker with a wry sense of humor.  I'd never count him out.

A selected discography

The James Gang (Revised)

Yer Album (Bluesway 1969) B+
Rides Again (ABC 1970) A-
Thirds (ABC 1971) B+
In Concert (Universal Special Products 1972) B
15 Greatest Hits (ABC 1973) B+


Barnstorm (ABC/Dunhill 1972) B-
The Smoker You Drink The Player You Get (ABC/Dunhill 1973) B+
So What? (ABC/Dunhill 1974) B+
You Can't Argue With A Sick Mind (ABC 1976) B
But Seriously Folks (Asylum 1978) A-
The Best Of Joe Walsh (MCA 1978) B
There Goes The Neighborhood (Asylum 1981) B
You Bought It, You Name It (Warner Brothers 1983) B+
The Confessor (Warner Brothers 1986) B-
Got Any Gum? (Warner Brothers 1988) B-
Ordinary Average Guy (Pyramid/Epic 1990) C+
Songs For A Dying Planet (Epic 1992) B-
Little Did He Know-Joe Walsh Greatest Hits (MCA 1999) A-
Analog Man (Fantasy 2012) B-

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ted Nugent

Long time ago, in my high school years, it was cool to have Ted Nugent's first album on Epic in your collection.  The opening riffs to Stranglehold still remain a call to arms and great lead to his best album ever.  Since then he's never topped that although Cat Scratch Fever got him the hit that defined him through the years.

Nugent has always been a badassed guitar player but he's also been one big outspoken right winger to which his mouth gets him more into trouble than good.   His recent remarks about Obama for a second term would lead Ted into jail has made waves but it's different than the Dixie Chicks bashing the last president.  He takes his freedom of speech and uses it a lot it seems.

A long time ago I had a neighbor lady who my folks were friends with and we went up to Michigan in 1975 for a beer can hunt, back then I was into collecting beer cans and figure Michigan would have some special ones. Outside of Jackson on a somewhat gravel road and there was this open field about a half mile down the road from their Grandpa's place, I made my way up around there and my friend told me to get the hell off that property, that's Ted Nugent and he's been known to shoot at folks who trespass.  He was well known even back then.

Ted started out as part of the Amboy Dukes, a band of some of Detroit's finest rockers.  John Drake was the cool lead vocalist on Journey To The Center Of Your Mind and although the band was garage rock, they had a bit of prog rock and a bit of hippy dippy, even though Ted Nugent was the Tea totaling (no wonder he was Tea Party member later) and did no drugs.  He also was lucky enough not to get into the failed Vietnam War.  But then again the rumor was that Ted would crap himself to get that 4F rating. Nevertheless, The Amboy Dukes have never been much of critics favorites although I still play and love some of their music (Surrender To Your Kings, Prodigal Man, Flight Of The Byrd) and the best overall album for me was the DCC Ted Nugent And The Amboy Dukes Best Of.  Legacy's Loaded For Bear deletes some of the DCC Stuff for others (Surrender To Your Kings replaced by Mississippi Murderer) and for me the lesser of the two.  But it has the 5 minute freakout of Baby Please Don't Go and Nugent's Scottish Tea which shows off his guitar talents in their full glory.  The Amboy Dukes would see another vocalist change, Rusty Day in  for Drake and the band becoming more and more Nugent focused.  Never heard their Polydor effort Marriage On The Rocks/Rock Bottom.

Nugent was beginning to get things going when he signed up with DiscReet (the label of Frank Zappa and Herb Cohen) and made two albums that would be more high energy rock and roll than the garage hippy dippy of The Amboy Dukes and Call Of The Wild (with a minor hit Sweet Revenge) .  In fact, the bass player Rob Grange would figure into the Epic beginnings.  Call Of The Wild was good, but Tooth Fang & Claw is the Ted Nugent that we were beginning to know and love (or hate) with the hard charging Great White Buffalo and the feedback laden Hibernation.  Great White Buffalo is the price of admission.

Ted's classic stuff is the Epic years and it begins with the first album, Stranglehold was a underground FM classic (now played to death on classic rock radio more so than the hit singles Hey Baby and Snakeskin Cowboys).  There are no weak tracks on Ted Nugent, the B side stomper Stormtroopin, the boogie based Hey Baby, Just What The Doctor Ordered, and the whacked out Motor City Madness, one of the few songs that Nugent sang on.  Most of the time it was Derek St Holmes doing the vocals and it made the album lots better for it.  Free For All, was still a powerforce, with another minor hit with Dog Eat Dog and notable hits in Street Rats, Writing On The Wall (Sung by a then unknown dude by the name of Meatloaf) and perhaps one of the better unheard songs ever I Loved You So I Told You A Lie.  By then, Nugent's band was St Holmes, Rob Grange from the DiscReet Amboy Dukes era and Cliff Davies playing mad drums.  No disrespect to Ted's drummer who used to play in Dokken, but Cliff Davies was the overdrive that made the Epic recordings rock out.

Cat Scratch Fever is his second best album ever.  But it also begins Nugent's dissent into the goofy lyrics that make some of his music laughable.  Nugent, on the first two albums was very democratic in terms of who sang what but he begins to take the band over a bit on the title track and Wang Dang Sweet Pootang. St Holmes still sang the most and is on the best ones (Live It Up, Out Of Control, A Thousand Knives).  And then the 1978 live double Double Live Gonzo which pretty much sums up what you get a Nugent concert.  He does a fired up Great White Buffalo on this one but the band was breaking up, St. Holmes and Grange would leave and formed St. Paradise which made one boring album for Warner Brothers in 1978, with Denny Carmissi on drums (Montrose).

The second phase of Nugent Epic years that he got a St. Holmes soundalike in Charlie Huhn and continued to make some decent albums.  Weekend Warriors with failed hit in Need You Bad, the blues busting One Woman.  State Of Shock was better, although Nugent was going more for a pop sound, he blisters the wallpaper with Paralyzed.   Wango Tango, was the end of the road for decent new Nugent, by then Huhn's vocals were getting less and the banshee wail of Flesh And Blood and Wango Tango is Ted's.  Intensities In 10 Cities, is ten new songs getting recorded live, and although I like it fine, it turned out to be Ted's poorest selling album for Epic and after that he moved over to Atlantic.  By then Nugent dismissed his band Cliff Davies, the sole constant member for the Epic albums replaced by Carmine Appice but Derek St. Holmes was back (after a failed liaison with Brad Whitford with Whitford/St. Holmes who made one album for Columbia in 1981).  Problem with Nugent the 1982 Atlantic debut suffered from a lack of quality songs and Appice was no Cliff Davies.  St. Holmes would leave again but over the years has returned to Ted's live band from time to time and as of this writing, he is touring with Ted.

Since then, Ted's albums have been dull as he tries to fit in what the kids were into.  The next album Penatrator features a up and coming vocalist in Brian Howe and he turns Ted into Foreigner and after that Howe would join Bad Company.  Little Miss Dangerous, Ted's last notable album has more keyboards and dated sound, and the rest of the albums, just plain goofy.

The only two albums I ever brought from Ted was the 1994  Spirit Of The Wild which Ted had perhaps his best band since the Epic years, of St. Holmes, Michael Lutz of Brownsville Station on bass and Denny Carmissi on drums and there's some fun stuff on this (Fred Bear, Tooth, Fang & Claw comes to mind and Kiss My Ass is actually funny when Nugent tells Courtney Love to do just that) but problem was there were too many songs that went nowhere.  Love Grenade (2007) was just plain silly and juvenile especially the degrading album art and the all time worst song he's ever done (Girl Scout Cookies).  Musically, he still delivers but if you're not a big Ted fan, this is not where to start.  Craveman his other studio album of the 2000's was his most metal sounding but I have never heard that one all the way through.

Still in the end, Nugent's Right Wing Tea Party comments has not endured him very well to the mainstream.  Nor does he work well with others, case in point that Rock Star VH1 show that he did with Sabastian Bach, Jason Bonham showed of his my way or the highway that has been a cause for many of his band's breakups.  He'll never top St Holmes/Grange/Davies lineup, he may get better musicians down the road but they were the best for his type of in your face rock and roll.  But with Derek St. Holmes always, you get to see what made Ted Nugent a force to be reckon with back then. 

And now, if Nugent keeps his tongue in check.
Which is never, but amazingly his 2014 album Shut Up And Jam, Ted does just that and keeps the right wing policies down to in his case very minimal.  Sammy Hagar pops in on She's Gone and Derek St Holmes does sing on one track  to offset Nugent's singing and screaming.  Overlook the politics and this just might be Terrible Ted's best since State Of Shock. At least he's not singing about Girl Scout Cookies on this. ;-)

Albums of note:
Ted Nugent & The Amboy Dukes (Dunhill Compact Classics) B+
Tooth, Fang & Claw (Bizarre Planet 1975) B-
Ted Nugent (Epic 1975) A-
Free For All (Epic 1976) B+
Cat Scratch Fever (Epic 1977) B+
Double Live Gonzo (Epic 1978) B-
Weekend Warriors (Epic 1978) B
State Of Shock (Epic 1979) B+  (Later reissued on American Beat)
Live At Hammersmith 1979 (Epic 1979) NR
Wango Tango (Epic 1980) B
Intensities In 10 Cities (Epic 1981) B-
Nugent (Atlantic 1982) C
Penetrator (Atlantic 1984) C
Little Miss Dangerous (Atlantic 1986) C
If You Can't Lick Them, Lick Them (Atlantic 1988) C
Spirit Of The Wild (Altantic 1994) C
Craveman (Eagle 2000) B-
Love Grenade (Eagle 2007) C-
Shut Up And Jam (Frontiers 2014) B

Note: The Atlantic albums were reissued via Eagle Records in 2008.

Best ofs

Great Gonzos, has always been a spotty best of, although it does have the hits.  The Ultimate Ted Nugent does the best job in perserving the the best songs from Ted Nugent's first album and does have Need You Bad from Weekend Warriors but doesn't have Great White Buffalo on it.  However, the cheapo throwaway Playlist Series does have GWB so if your looking for a one CD best overview, I would go with that.  Great Gonzos is the lesser of the best ofs here.  The Essensial Ted Nugent is the same as The Ultimate Ted.