Alex Clare – Tail of Lions (review)

Alex Clare – Tail of Lions (ETC Recordings) review

His third album was recorded on a boat!

It can be hard to find inspiration when we’re constantly bombarded by technology. Alex Clare discovered the perfect solution: laying tracks down for his new record on a boat, with bassist Chris Hargreaves. The resulting long-player, Tail of Lions, finds the British singer maturing as a songwriter, while keeping in tact his signature sound that catapulted him to worldwide acclaim in 2011 with the double platinum smash, “Too Close.”

He tackles a wide array of topics on his third album – from the difficulties of mental illness, with the pulsating “Basic,” to the struggles of daily life, on the excellent, hard funk of “Surviving Ain’t Living,” which features a nice guitar solo at the end.

Clare, who is married, with two small children, addresses the difficulties of keeping a relationship together in the leadoff single, “Tell Me What You Need.” The song starts with heavy percussion before giving way to a synth-laden chorus.

Clare converted to Orthodox Judaism over the last few years and the title of the disc, Tail of Lions, references an old Jewish saying that “it’s better to be the tail of a lion, than the head of a fox.” Several songs, like “Get Real,” and “Gotta Get Up,” deal with the tension between his faith and the pulls of the real world. A pleasant surprise is the all-voices, no instruments ending on the midtempo “Tired From the Fire.”

The disc ends with the contemplative “You’ll Be Fine.” After he questions “what are you hiding from” and “what are you fighting for,” he reassures that “you’ll be fine,” repeating over and over, a mantra as the disc closes.

Clare had a contentious relationship with his previous record label (Island), who never truly supported his second album (the more earthy Three Hearts). It’s a shame too – Clare is a fine vocalist and melodic songwriter, and if you strip away the electronics, as in this “Stripped Version” of “Tell Me What You Need,” it still stands on its own:

Handling topics of spirituality and mature relationships may seem like heady material, yet Alex Clare’s gravelly, yet soaring vocals pull you in, making Tail of Lions more than a typical pop record. It’s one that reveals more, each time you play it. –Tony Peters

Show #287 – Chip Z’Nuff (Enuff Z’Nuff) (1/11/17)

Enuff Z’Nuff arrived at the height of hair metal, but had more in common with bands like Cheap Trick, emphasizing melody over guitar trickery. They scored a couple of radio hits in the early Nineties with “Fly High Michelle” and “New Toy.” The band has continued releasing albums full of great melodic hooks. Their latest release, Clowns Lounge, goes back to the beginning, featuring songs that were written and recorded during sessions for their debut record, but never released. We talk with leader Chip Z’Nuff about the archival project, which also features one of the last known vocals by Warrant vocalist Jani Lane on a song called “Devil of Shakespeare.” There’s also a sign of things to come, with a brand-new track called “Dog on a Bone.”

WARNING: CONTENT

Rayburn – The Living End (review)

Rayburn – The Living End (Excited States Entertainment) review

Get ready to reconnect with the loud function on your volume knob

There was a time when rock music was fun, when people weren’t ashamed of being good musicians, and when people weren’t afraid to write catchy songs.  Rayburn recalls the best of those times with the release of their new album, The Living End.

The disc begins with “At the Gate,” a hybrid of Led Zeppelin and Kansas with a harmony-infused chorus.  “Malachi” is a furious rocker with a killer repetitive riff and an explosive chorus.  The combination of heavy guitar and organ recall what we loved about bands like Deep Purple.

The moody “Jealous Mistress” has a psychedelic feel, while the bluesy “Deep in Blue” has a Tin Pan Alley vibe.   “Almost Home” is the album’s real surprise, a radio-ready smash, if only there was good rock radio around to play it.

“Madness” starts quiet but builds to a big ending, complete with strings. The funky “I Still Believe” features a great guitar solo at the end that recalls Steve Howe’s finest moments with Yes. The disc ends with the yearning “Journey” and then the short, acoustic “Not Going Back.”

Vocalist Danny Archer has a clear voice, capable of a lot of different emotions, yet throughout he only gives the songs what they need, never over-singing (a common problem in this genre).

The Rayburn guys are basically old-school Prog Rockers (one peek at their album cover and you get that).  But, unlike so many of their contemporaries, the band understands the art of writing good melodies, and it’s that emphasis, instead of showing off, that really elevates these tracks.

Melodic hooks, excellent playing, and some nods to the past – The Living End is hopefully not the last time we hear from Rayburn.  —Tony Peters

Show #286 – 2016 In Memoriam (1/5/17)

Our first show of 2017 is a joint collaboration between Icon Fetch and Dan Miles of the Friends of Dan Music Podcast. We profile several of the legendary artists that passed away in the brutal year that was 2016. Through the magic of modern technology, Dan and Tony (in Arizona and Ohio, respectively) trade off giving tributes to Prince, Glenn Frey of the Eagles, David Bowie, Maurice White of Earth, Wind, & Fire, Leon Russell, Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane, Merle Haggard, and Keith Emerson & Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Here’s the “Icon Fetch” version of the program:

 

A much more in-depth version of the show is available at the Friends of Dan Music Podcast by clicking here

Show #285 – The Ventures Christmas Album (12/23/16)


When you’re ranking the Best Christmas records of all time, The Ventures Christmas Album is definitely near the top of the list.  Not only is it incredibly clever, the way the guys used current songs of the Sixties and morphed them into holiday classics, but it’s also a whole lotta fun to listen to.  Real Gone Music has just reissued the classic album in remastered form,  and for the first time, the set includes both the stereo version, and the must-sought after mono version of the album.  From Real Gone Music, we welcome in Gordon Anderson, who is co-president of the label.  Gordon spent over 17 years overseeing things at Collectors Choice music, before co-founding Real Gone.  We chat how this Ventures reissue came to fruition, and future projects.

 

Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (review)

Tony Hadley – The Christmas Album (Omnivore Recordings / Universal Music Group) review

The voice of Spandau Ballet turns in a holiday album that sparkles with the wonder of the season

Spandau Ballet were a much bigger deal in their native England, but they did manage one monster Eighties’ smash in the US with “True” in 1983.  Tony Hadley, the band’s vocalist, has just released his first seasonal offering titled The Christmas Album, and it’s a surprisingly solid listen.   What elevates things is his uncanny choices, which keep things interesting.

The album opens with “Shake Up Christmas,” a song originally performed by Train, but here, Hadley actually improves on their version by imparting a sincerity that’s missing in the original.  Hadley keeps the gentle funk but honestly, he’s got a better voice than Pat Monahan, so it’s overall a success.  He adds a Celtic feel to Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas,” and invites fellow Eighties’ star Kim Wilde for a smooth rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”  Wilde’s sultry delivery suggest that perhaps she should do a Christmas album too?

Not sure I’ve ever heard someone do a cover of Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” but Hadley pulls it off, even adding a sax solo.  With “Fairytale of New York,” originally done by the Pogues and Kirsty McCall, he removes some of the desperation of the original, with help from Italian pop sensation Nini Zilli.  Then, Hadley digs deep into the holiday vaults for tracks like “Lonely This Christmas,” originally done in 1974 by the English glam band Mud, and “Driving Home This Christmas,” a Chris Rea song that captures the anticipation of traveling long distances to see loved ones.

Hadley acknowledges in his liner notes that the holiday season isn’t always a joyous time for everyone – and by including songs like “I Don’t Want to Spend Another Christmas Without You,” and the aforementioned “Lonely This Christmas,” he captures some of the pain and sadness that also accompanies the holidays.

If there’s one minor quibble, it’s that the disc runs a little too long.  18 tracks is a lot to take in, and there’s so many great performances here, there’s really no need for too-obvious choices like “Jingle Bells.”

A modern Christmas album from a legendary voice. –Tony Peters

 

Show #284 – Gayla Peevey (12/20/16)

Gayla Peevey was all of ten years old when she recorded the now-classic Christmas song, “I Want a Hippopotamus For Christmas.”  She cut the track back in 1953 for Columbia records and even performed the single on the Ed Sullivan show.  The song’s popularity allowed her hometown zoo to obtain a real hippopotamus.

But, Gayla found following up her hit song difficult, and trying to break out as a serious singer even more challenging.  She eventually wrote and recorded songs under a different name before walking away from the business altogether to raise a family.

But then something funny happened: the Hippopotamus song continued to grow in popularity, until now it’s one of the most played Christmas songs of all time, and she even has reconnected with the Oklahoma City Zoo to perform the song there as a holiday tradition.

Sony Legacy Holiday Vinyl Series (review)


Sony Legacy – Holiday Vinyl Album Series (review)

Give your turntable something fun to do around the holidays

There’s something warm and inviting about playing vinyl around the holidays.  And, with turntables easier to obtain than they have been in years, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with physical music.  Sony Legacy has just issued a quintet of Christmas albums on vinyl, perfect for that holiday get-together.

Elvis Presley – Merry Christmas Baby – The King’s holiday output has been repackaged numerous times, but this may be the of the bunch.  Of the 17 tracks, all eight of the songs he recorded for his very first Christmas album in 1957 are here, including “Blue Christmas,” “Santa Claus is Back in Town,” “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “Santa Bring My Baby Back.”  This is coupled with the eight best songs from his followup, Elvis Sings the Wonderful World of Christmas from 1971, with the real highlight being the searing rendition of “Merry Christmas Baby,” which ends in an extended jam.  There’s also the one-off Christmas tune from 1966, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas,” making this the quintessential Elvis yuletide album.

As an added bonus, random copies are pressed on either seasonal red or green vinyl.  And thankfully,  none of his recent “duets” with current singers are included.

Johnny Cash – Christmas – There’ll Be Peace in the Valley – Like Elvis, Johnny Cash recorded several Christmas albums, and the goal here is to bring together the best of everything.  Off his 1963 LP, The Christmas Spirit, you get eight tracks, including his classic reading of “The Little Drummer Boy,” plus “Silent Night” and a very different take on “Blue Christmas, and a song Cash wrote called “The Christmas Spirit.”  1972’s

The Johnny Cash Family Christmas is an album full of dialogue from the singer’s family and friends, and is better listened to in its entirety.  However, many of the songs stand on their own, including the spine-tingling “Opening Dialogue,” in which Cash talks about the true meaning of the holiday.  The rousing “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’” features June Carter Cash, and is another highlight.  They do throw in one curveball – “Matthew 24 (Is Knocking At the Door)” is a recently unearthed spiritual track that originally showed up on 2006’s Personal File compilation.

Various Artists – The Classic Big Band Christmas Album – the most refreshing of all these collections, virtually none of these songs get played on any of the 24-hours-a-day Christmas stations that pop up in October on FM dials around the country.  Plus, there’s a fair amount of original material here to keep things interesting. There’s legendary bands fronted by legendary vocalists, like Peggy Lee with Benny Goodman on the bouncy “Winter Weather,” and Doris Day fronting Les Brown’s Orchestra on a sultry reading of “The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas to You).”  Even Woody Herman himself steps to the mic for “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”

A lot of ground is covered here, from 1932’s “It’s Winter Again” by Isham Jones to 1951’s “Winter Wonderland” by Sammy Kaye and his Orchestra.  There’s also a few silly tunes thrown in for good measure – “Hello, Mr. Kringle” is brought to you by Kay Kyser and his Orchestra, the same folks responsible for the ridiculous “Three Little Fishes,” and where would Christmas be without Spike Jones’ “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)”?

Various Artists – The Classic Christmas 80’s Album – Probably the strangest of the bunch, this collection brings together the rather elusive “Christmas Wrapping” by the Waitresses, plus the ubiquitous “Last Christmas” by Wham, and the harder to find “Christmas is the Time to Say ‘I Love You’” from Billy Squier, and couples them with odd choices like “Zat You Santa Claus” from Buster Poindexter and “Slick Nick, You Devil You” from Fishbone – definitely weak choices considering the vast Sony catalog that they had at their disposal.

You do get “Christmas in Hollis” by Run DMC, and “Jingle Bell Rock” by Daryl Hall (not Hall & Oates as the jacket suggests).  But dubious selections like “Hazy Shade of Winter” by the Bangles (is that really a Christmas song?), and “This One’s For the Children” from New Kids on the Block, make this difficult to listen without picking up the needle.  “Christmas Time is Here” by Ray Parker Jr is less familiar, and you can’t go wrong with “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Bob & Doug McKenzie.  But, there is certainly better fare from the Eighties than the Hooters “Silent Night.”

Luther Vandross – This is Christmas – the only straight reissue of the five, this album originally came out in 1995 to coincide with a TV special that Vandross did of the same name.  There’s a warmth and coziness to these tracks, and the singer manages to wrap most in a groove.  Especially good is the funky “The MistleTOE JAM,” with a hilarious spoken-word intro.  Echoes of Phil Spector surround “I Listen to the Bells,” which features Darlene Love, also in fine voice.

But what sets this collection above so many others is that instead of rehashing the tired old classics, Vandross actually wrote most of the material himself.  “With A Christmas Heart” and “This is Christmas” have a sincerity that is missing from most of these type albums, and “Please Come Home For Christmas” is refreshingly NOT the Eagles/Charles Brown shop-worn classic, but a newly-penned Vandross ballad.  “A Kiss For Christmas” has a funky groove that is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye.

The five albums in this collection represent a wide variety of holiday classics to choose from.  The good music is covered, the rest is up to you.  Tony Peters

Show #283 – Dwight Twilley (12/13/16)

You could say it’s been one hell of a ride for Dwight Twilley.  Emerging from Tulsa, Oklahoma in the mid Seventies, he scored a big hit right out of the gate with “I’m On Fire” – establishing right away Twilley’s keen way with a melody, something he’s been doing for over 40 years.  After souring on the bright lights of the big city, he returned home to Tulsa near the close of the last millennium and began making records on his own terms.

The Best of Twilley: The Tulsa Years sums up one of the most fruitful chapters of his career.  The two disc set also contains several bonus tracks as well. Twilley also gives his memories of the late Leon Russell.

Ventures – The Ventures Christmas Album (review)

Ventures – The Ventures Christmas Album (Real Gone Music / Universal Music Special Markets) review

The best rock n’ roll instrumental holiday album just got remastered

The holidays are supposed to be joyous. But nothing kills that spirit quite like hearing the same, tired old Christmas tunes, over and over. Well, let’s hear it for Real Gone Music, who have just reissued the Ventures Christmas Album, sure to brighten up even the grumpiest of Scrooges.

The Ventures were always great at giving their unique, twangy take on current hits. But here, they take things to another level. Each Christmas classic starts out as a completely different song – mostly popular hits of the mid 1960’s. So, “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” actually starts out as “Wooly Bully,” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” grabs the beginning of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine.” Other examples are “What’d I Say” morphing into “Jingle Bells,” “Memphis” opening up the start of “Jingle Bell Rock,” and even the Ventures own “Walk Don’t Run” switching into “Sleigh Ride.”

The titles are ones you’ve heard a million times, but the band plays them with such energy and excitement that you really don’t mind hearing them again.

A big selling point here is that Real Gone has not only given us the original stereo mix, but also tracked down the super rare mono mix, making its debut on compact disc. The stereo version has the instruments spread out in the stereo spectrum, allowing generations of budding guitarists the opportunity to analyze what each Ventures’ member is playing. The mono mix is arguably more enjoyable – as everything is front and center, allowing for a more even listening experience.

Either version of the album clocks in at under 27 minutes, so it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. The Ventures Christmas Album is the perfect cure for the holiday blues. –Tony Peters.