Monday, June 25, 2012


Things have calmed down since the last blog. Maybe some of the rubbish cluttering up my life was my fault or just excess emotional baggage. No sooner had I said I wasn't listening to metal than I hit Tytan with Kal Swan again- one of the heaviest acts of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal who are also one of the best. Still, Tytan are melodic heavy metal for most of their album whilst the more frantic stuff sticks to the tried and tested Sabbath influenced tastiness.
                            -Painter: Revolutionaries Purveying The Original 1st Pomp/AOR-
  My really good friend Doran Beattie said I left him and Painter out of the last blog! Not so!
So here it is in brief, but in as full as I can make it Dorn- you and Painter start things off!
Painter formed in Calgary Alberta Canada in the early 70s from the ashes of the garage/poppsych group 49th Parallel, but unlike the Parallel this band wasn't gonna be any run of the mill just-another-decent-band-from-Canada. No, with a lineup comprising Doran (Lead vocals), Danny Lowe (Lead guitar/vocals), Wayne Morice (Bass guitar/vocals), Barry Allen (Rhythm guitar), and amazing drummer Bob Ego Painter created Pomp/AOR as we know it or think we know it!!!!! Forget Boston- they ripped Painter's album in full on their masterful debut. Forget Styx- they were a floundering hard rock band and Dennis Deyoung had hardly found himself when Painter came out. Forget Reo Speedwagon- a band who I can't place anywhere near Painter when REO were seriously floundering in 1973 almost as bad as Styx. Painter got there first. Painter started a chain reaction and the great music known as AOR/Pomp Rock was done by them first and possibly by them best.
    For starters these guys were one of the few Canadian bands wise enough to sign out of America and not Canada thus avoiding instantaneous commercial death. They signed with Elektra in 1973 and although things wouldn't go quite as they hoped with the label their foresight was good enough for them to enter the charts with "West Coast Woman-" a song that reverberates with its power and energy today. Their album is quite a shock if you hear it for the first time and don't know quite what year it is. Very much so Painter were playing 1976-1978 Pomp Rock/AOR before any of the above mentioned bands were doing anything of note. For starters Boston didn't even exist yet! Painter's soaring vocals, gritty slashing guitars, killer riffs, and great melodies all bear a striking resemblance to everything we've come to associate with the best American AOR from much later on. They also had a lot of tricks up their sleeve like the closing track "Going Down The Road" running for over 8 minutes and showing a true progressive side more Pomp or actual prog than AOR. Doran Beattie's good looks were just the beginning of the assets he had. He could sing better than about a million other vocalists at that time or later and his passionate yet oftentimes understatedly charismatic voice is matched by some very impressive lyric writing. Take this for instance: on songs like "Crazy Feeling," "Going Home To Rock 'N Roll" (which Steely Dan ripped off note for note on "Do It Again"), "Song For Sunshine, "Space Truck," and "Kites And Gliders" Painter had already perfected the kind of classy melodic harmonies, strong lead vocals, and brilliant musicianship which later bands like the very similar sounding Stingray from South Africa, Boston, Journey et all would take forever to get around to. I don't know how Painter developed their sound, how it came about, but this is damned impressive music! Doran complains the production isn't good enough and I'd say I'd meet him about halfway there as I think it sounds pretty good, but the vocal sound is made a little bit less full than it probably sounded in concert. That hardly matters when music was in a vast wasteland in the States and with more push Painter would have, to my mind at least, been even bigger than Styx or Boston would succeed quite a few years later.
    Danny Lowe is a very creative guitar player. He came up with his own sound and style of playing that is both instantly recognizable and enthusiastic without turning suffocating. The whole band indeed are very together- everybody fits their own thing into the group sound and there are no slippages into self-indulgence or showing off. Painter are a very melodic kind of heavy band. They don't come right up to you and smack you over the head with a lot of bombastic riffs and screaming vocals so it isn't at all what most hard rock was at that time. AOR is hard to define and it's even harder to say just what makes it click. Painter define it, but I don't know how exactly to say what AOR is. It stands for Album Oriented Rock which is enigmatic sounding enough, but it has come to be associated with bands that aren't quite heavy metal, aren't quite hard rock, and aren't quite soft rock. The best description I can give is a melting pot of the best aspects of all of the above and an emphasis placed on airbrushed shine and catchy great melodies when it's done properly. Painter sum all of this up and got there before anyone else got to it or even had a clue. A great band who deserve much more credit than they have.
                         -From Canada's Avalon To Ohio's Alliance: Pomp/AOR All The Way-
   Ain't it kind of a pity how overlooked Canada is for all kinds of things. There have probably been more good bands of all types from Canada than any other former British Commonwealth country and they certainly must have had as many winners as the States. Avalon were a quintet who appeared with two different album covers and two different versions of their one official album VOICE OF LIFE in 1977. The first version which features the song "Voice Of Life" and a black background pink lettering front cover with a lyric insert is the best to get. A very intelligent and sophisticated band they were led by the very talented Myles Hunter who composed most of their material, sang nearly all the lead vocals, and played keyboards. His voice is somewhat unlike most other Pomp voices as he sounds very honest and upfront and his at times Dennis Deyoung like delivery betrays a strongly human emotional spiritually charged side to his voice. He actually can get out there enough to sound like 60s band Earth Opera's Peter Rowan if he had better pitch. He's real. He isn't an imitator or a pretender. The rest of the band are Tulio Grannata and Brian Sims on lead guitars/vocals, Manfred Neidecker on Bass, and Robert Holtz on drums/percussion/vocals. Avalon get close to metal occasionally, but are really closer to full on progressive rock. Songs like "Lady Of My Dreams, "Mother Russia," and the epic over 10 minute long closing track "Maranatha" are almost a hybrid of heavy Queen influences with also the influence of The Beatles and the best of British progressive rock. "Lady Of My Dreams" is one of the ultimate ballads- a perfect honest and heartfelt ode to romance with striking harmonies. "Mother Russia" as I love Russia (but I've never been) is a very sympathetic and moving song to a country in distress that could just as well if it were written now be about America. It's on this track and "Maranatha" that Hunter sounds quite bit like the best of Peter Gabriel's vocals crossed with the aforementioned Peter Rowan. It's a very dramatic kind of singing, but tastefully dramatic. I can hear Queen influences for the whole album and that's always a good sign. Avalon are pretty heavy overall with only one ballad and a lot of stellar guitar work and soaring synthesizers. This record is a masterpiece. There is not one note I would change on it or one song that I would say is below the highest rating I can give a song. Avalon's pure and heartfelt music is always welcome in my life. When I feel like I live in a world of liars this makes me feel better. They probably are the furthest from AOR that I've included here, but that doesn't really mean anything. The closest- the definition after Painter of AOR must be the next 2 bands which share many similarities Alliance and Lionheart.
                       -From Alliance To Lionheart Vocal Perfection and Musical Magic-Working-
      Poor Alliance. I bet they were really, really angry after signing a record deal with a label as smarmy as their name of Handshake Records and who put this AOR masterpiece out in one of the most unfitting, stupid, and ugly album covers I have ever had the displeasure to look at every time I pull it out. What the fuck did Handshake think they were doing when they put out a serious AOR band in a cover of children's scribble scrabble, a pissed off (rightfully) looking band, and on the back cover the band hugging/grabbing/holding a bunch of really little kids? It smacks almost of a pedophile label or at least pedophile designer and looks hideous. It probably ended their career before they could even really begin it, but thank God they were allowed the brilliant production of Ron and Howard Albert at Criteria Studios in Miami Florida which is an amazing job done on the sound.
    Fans of Journey I have news for you. I'm a big fan of Journey, Survivor, and Foreigner myself but Alliance put all of the above to shame. The worst AOR band and singer to be influenced by such great bands would be both Frankie And The Knockouts and Strangeways with Frankie Previte in the former and the despicable Terry Brock in the latter. The best AOR band to be heavily influenced by Journey, Foreigner, and also Toto would have to be a toss up between Alliance and Lionheart.       Alliance possessed an angelic, strong, powerful, smooth, and beautiful voice to die for in Mark Bucharre. A very similarly passionate voice to Lionheart's Chad Brown he sings in a very high register, but never crosses the pain threshold. He's about as high as Steve Perry, but less Sam Cooke influenced.
      The first track "I Don't Want To Leave You This Way" is a jazzy shuffle with many echoes of Toto and Daryl Hall/John Oates, but Bucharre takes it to the next level by wailing his heart out in remorse over a relationship gone bad. The harmonies are so smooth, so tight, so perfect that even the best black harmony bands would give these 5 Ohio white boys a big standing ovation. If you're racist then get off my blog right away. All great white music stems from great black music as its foundation with Alliance and Lionheart no exception. Mark Bucharre and Chad Brown of Lionheart studied black singers and adapted their style into their own vocals. Not only do we have Bucharre we have a tight and talented band here who don't make one error on the whole record. Guitarist Pat Hand isn't too far from Neil Schon, but less showy and more tasty. Keyboard player Mark Heckert is an excellent musician who is adept at the piano and the synthesizers way more so than most. On bass is Bradley Davidson and on drums David Pridemore- a fantastic soulful rhythm section.
     You can't get better music than this. Even the one song they didn't write the second track "Don't Tell Me About" has me in ecstasies when I hear it. The sound is greatly enhanced by the great production and a very period feel that actually sounds miles ahead of anything that's come out in the past 21 years. "How Does It Feel" is the third track on the album and features another soul influenced kind of AOR sound. There's even a trace of a high pitched answer to Otis Redding and that is really hard to pull off without falling flat on your ass. My guess is Alliance liked their rock influences, but just like Lionheart they had some experimental ideas that included jazz, soul, and R&B. There are more straightforward no nonsense AOR songs such as "Heaven Can Wait," "I Need You Now," (which reminds me A LOT of Canadian classy AOR act Alias and their song "More Than Words Can Say" which features the title of the Alliance song repeated a million times in the chorus) "Stop," "Sweet Devotion," and "Make It Right" and these are as good as the more obviously original ones. In fact "Heaven Can Wait" leaves me feeling like I'm already there- AOR paradise for sure! Recently reissued on CD and now a collector's item I have but one complaint- somebody's gotta reissue this on vinyl and in a completely different cover. I don't laugh when I look at the horrible front and even worse back I just feel miserable- almost as miserable as I'm sure the boys in the band felt. Give Alliance a buy and don't pass it up. You won't find a better melodic masterpiece from the golden age of American AOR than this.
        Lionheart are a band where I've appreciated them through an awful period in my life where I was in the insane asylum the first of two times 3 years ago when I was a violent, stupid maniac who pulled himself off his medications right to now where I am still trying to come to terms with horrific memories. That I have remained hugely attached to their album HOT TONIGHT from the time it came when I was in hospital to the present time where I am fully in control is a real testament to how powerfully moving, impressive, and soothing this record is.
    Lionheart were another band with dreadful luck. They began life in 1982 as the first supergroup of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with former Iron Maiden guitarist Dennis Stratton and a star-studded line up. The problem was this supergroup hardly sounded like one. The problem didn't lie in the musicians (Stratton, guitarist/keyboard player Steve Mann, bassist Rocky Newton, and drummer Frank Noon from the original Def Leppard), but in inappropriate vocalist Jess Cox of Tygers Of Pan Tang fame. Cox only lasted one gig and the vocalist front changed 4 times before the band could settle on a good one. Lionheart went from some metal leanings in their beginning I'm sure to an avoidance of metal for the most part when they sacked one of the worst singers of all time John Farnham of Little River Band fame for ex Sabre unknown Chad Brown. They still were plenty heavy, but Brown's (real first name Robert) exuberant romantic vocals and a heavy emphasis on guitar and vocal harmonies made them much like another former metal purveyors turned smooth band Airrace.
     Smoothness is a great thing in music. You really have to be gifted to be slick without being bland and still maintain some kind of an edge and boy did this band do it. I'm a really good guitar player and a good singer, but I'm sloppy. When I listen to Lionheart I know I could never pull this kind of perfection off myself. Steve Mann is a superb keyboard player and an amazing guitar player, but let's also give full marks to great Dennis Stratton who horrible Iron Maiden didn't deserve, brilliant bass player Rocky Newton, and of all people Leo Sayer's Bob Jenkins as the unseen 5th member on drums.
        HOT TONIGHT is a solid record start to finish. In fact in spite of it's commercial sheen it is a very adventurous record with many influences from soul music, progressive rock, and hard rock all thrown together brilliantly. Forget about worthless competitors like FM, Brighton Rock, Fate, and the lot of bad wimp wet noodle hard rock bands this is real. Opening track "Wait For The Night" takes you by force and comes on really, really strong with soaring keyboards, reflective verses full of great vocals and a cello, and Chad Brown soaring, screaming, howling, wailing, emoting operatically in the choruses. Definitely the real deal Brown is a fantastic vocalist whose soul influences are a perfect yin to his hard rocking Lou Gramm-ish Yang. He may remind you of Airrace singer Keith Murrell at times or more likely Max Bacon, but he is every bit an equal to the amazing Murrell and also is his own man right next to Max Bacon. Max gets put down a lot and that is really sad. He is such a great singer and such a special voice that it just isn't fair at all for him to get so much bad press. Chad Brown however must honestly be described as even more shocking. He can wail like a banshee. He can swoon you like Valentino, this guy can do anything! He comes on really strong screaming his head off Stonehouse style sometimes, but even when he screams the cat has got soul! Kevin Beamish thankfully had learned from his mistakes producing Charlie and to work with such a professional singer as Chad Brown after Charlie's disastrously bad pick of soulless personality void Terry Slesser (also known as Terry Wilson Slesser) must have been a huge relief. I love the raw rock tracks like the title track and "Dangerous Game" which closes the album with some of the best vocals and guitar interplay ever, but it's the melodic Pomp Rock material on which this album makes it to a near number one masterpiece. In fact, it is a number one masterpiece. "Die For Love" was an outside-written song picked as the single and the video made for some good laughs, but this song is no joke. Despite not being written by a band member it sounds made for Lionheart. Chad Brown again excels with his over the top dramatic soaring voice and the keyboard/guitar sound is brilliant. This is music of love and passion and romance. There isn't any hate to be found here. No trace of metal hostility. The only metal element is the clearly NWOBHM influenced guitar work and I must say the guitars of Stratton and Mann are perfect throughout- tough yet harmonious. Pick songs along with "Wait For The Night" are the brilliant melodic majestic Pomp splendor of "Towers Of Silver," the pissed off ultimate wronged lover gets revenge anthem "Don't Look Back In Anger" and the heavily lush aching sad ballad "Living In A Dream" where Brown sounds close to tears for this whole mournful song of lost love. Only one song could be classed as heavy metal- their cover of the horrible Ian Gillan's hit "Nightmare." "Nightmare" is a lot better when sung by Chad Brown than Gillan, but it doesn't really belong on the album and sounds a bit out of place. It's a little too ferocious and screeching even though it's a pretty good song. "Dangerous Game" is much, much better and also bears some semblance of melodic New Wave Of British Heavy Metal with soaring guitars and wailing lead vocals. "Another Crazy Dream" on the other hand borrows heavily from Motown influences and Chad Brown doing his best high pitched version of Levi Stubbs while the rest of the band are his white Four Tops! There's even a cool funky jazz sax solo that's almost even better than the one in "Waiting For The Night." This record is awesome. I love the entire sound and the entire album and after so much misery I could associate with it for it to be a healing experience and a life-force for me means that it transcends all negative to come out fully an album made for love made from love. Music should be about love and Lionheart's music is.
   AOR/Pomp Rock is love and romance music and it is pure love that creates it-a love of music and a love of melody. Desire also is a key component, but the sexuality of much psychedelic rock is more hidden here- it comes out more in Canadian masters Haywire and Glass Tiger or Denmark's masterful Skagarack who in a later blog I will deal with in full. Here there is a really heavy meets really melodic sound that dispenses with metal mostly for a much more harmoniously oriented sound. It's smooth, but it has a definite toughness to it too. Listen to these bands, learn to love them as I have done. Throw prejudice out the window and have an open minded view of life and other people. Give love and get love.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happy Feeling Makes You Swing And Vanity Fare Takea You There- Perfect Pop For Good Times, Bad Times, And Flashbacks

Things have been so tense around here.... I've sold off A LOT OF STUFF from my collection most of which I can live without, but some of which I would rather not have had to sell. And what do I get for my sacrifices? Don't even ask. You wouldn't even be able to contemplate. Let's just say I've had to keep my listening to fairly melodic stuff and have been easing off a bit on really hard heavy metal (but that doesn't include hard rock or AOR or Pomp Rock). It's summer and it's hot and ideal weather to go to the pool and cool off and relax before going back into The War Zone. So when I'm home and listening I've for instance recently closed out a night with Carole King's TAPESTRY which is a beat up copy I've had since I was 18. So have I gone over to soft rock you'll ask. You'll ask if I've crossed over completely to mellowed out rock and straight pop music. Well, not exactly, I'm just very eclectic.
                -Happy Feeling- Sunshine Vibes From Calgary Alberta Canada Of All Places-
    Calgary and Canada in general had a very interesting music scene in the 60s, 70s, and 80s and what you would hear from a Canadian band would really depend on where they were from. Happy Feeling came from nowhere land, the sticks, where they have rodeos and stampedes- Calgary. Later on Calgary would seriously soil its reputation with the sickest, most vicious and disturbing of all worthless heavy metal bands White Wolf, but White Wolf's horror movie antics were way far removed from Canada and not just Calgary. Who were they? Nobodies trying to cause a stir. Canada has never been good at metal. Stick to the softer stuff or the psychier stuff guys (and gals).
     Happy Feeling were very much a pop/power pop band who I was shocked to learn when I got the Canadian original press last week came out in 1970. I was completely baffled. With it's mix of very British beat/pop Kinks and lighter acts styled 1966 type perfect pop and some power pop/soul rock thrown in I thought this happy friendly innocent little album was from 1968! It turns out that like Vanity Fare who I will discuss here, like White Plains, like lesser British acts of the time this was a kind of searching for a British Invasion revival. One can even hear the lightest of US groups like Lovin' Spoonful and a bit of that L.A breezy easy psych sound. With a name like Happy Feeling you'd probably expect all of the above, but what a hippy heavy looking bunch they are. I would rate this record really highly for straight forward unadulterated pop/power pop. I'm using that "power pop" adjective a lot as some of this does rock and convincingly too. All you have to do is listen to the energy of the performances even in the softest songs- they're sprightly and very very up. You won't hear comatose Sagittarius/Free Design rubbish here so don't expect sunshine pop.
     The first song "Hey Little Man" is rather oddly written by George Tomsco of The Fireballs and is as far from The Fireballs as you can get- instead it sounds like 1966 period Kinks crossed with 1966 period Lovin' Spoonful. The tight playing of the group is all snappy and rhythmic and their harmonies are quality as you can be. It's one of only two songs not written by group members with the other outside composition "London Towne" sounding like Merseybeat meets Byrds-alike jangle rock! There are at least 3 major contributors to the songs on the originals which makes for subtle eclectic variety. Jim Aiello the lead vocalist he of the crystal clear lovable voice writes very flower powery melodic pop and he seems to be very into the Spoonful and California vibes. When he writes the organ is more prominent and this makes for a kind of mild poppsych that is for the most part very enjoyable. His best compositions are "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide" a quirky little pop number, "Do You See What I Mean?" which is really nice Beatles influenced pop, and the title track "Happy Feeling" which the record doesn't state, but was cowritten by a really good friend of mine Doran Beattie- he of the Perfect Voice and the lead vocalist/principal writer for Painter.
    In just a few years down the line from Happy Feeling's release Painter signed out of the States on Elektra and made a revolutionary record. They were copied by the thousand and not credited. Clearly things had changed for a band who began as the poppsych/garage outfit 49th Parallel. So this tells us that Happy Feeling either were slow to evolution or just wanted to separate themselves from the heavier more progressive vibes coming in. 1970 was still a transitory year, but clearly Happy Feeling, Vanity Fare, and their ilk wanted nothing to do with what was coming in.
    If you want anything that's even a semblance of 1970 then guitarist Danny Ferguson has it. On "Still Hill" he writes a solid power pop rocker perfect for 1970 radio at its best and on "Keep Pushin'" the sound is a hysterical attempt at a Motown/soul beat raver. Organist Gordon "Gordie" Moffatt
writes melodic and somewhat more up to date happy easy going pop rock and for an album with a nice mix of different styles of music you never feel like any of it is a thrown-together hodgepodge. I have my favourites on this album: "Walk With Life," "Do You See What I Mean," "Hey Little Man," "Still Hill," and the short brilliant closer "If There's A Thought,"  but this is a consistently high quality record. When interested picked up on the lighter side of poppsych/pop Happy Feeling was finally recognized not just as rare, but as rare and worthy of attention. It's gone up in value even more since then especially for the rarer Canadian copy. This is a great record. When I'm down and miserable it picks me up. When I start to feel like I'm at war with everything with Happy Feeling I find peace. It will pick you up.  It is one of the best out there for what it is and is also kind of unique in its tackling of various past and present pop. I'd strongly recommend it.
                     -Early In The Morning I'm Hitchin' A Ride With a Vanity Fare-
 Vanity Fare is to my ears one of the most overlooked bands of all time. They weren't quite as square as people who hate pop make them out to be and you've gotta face the truth- the Brits beat the shit out of us with their pop versus our pop in the early 70s. Aside from Vanity Fare, White Plains, Edison Lighthouse, Brotherhood Of Man and other noteworthy British pop American chart music was shite in the early 70s. Right when American music was trying to grow into something exciting it came to a dead end street and smashed itself into fragments of complete garbage. The 60s had given us some great music, but in the 70s bands like Smoke Rise and Rain (On Project 3 Label not the other bands called Rain) ran into a brick wall when it came to selling records. Crowfoot would be another example of a quality band who would be ignored by everybody at the time as we had sick, disgusting, and pointlessly violent hackwork or innocent squeaky little rubbish like the Osmonds spreading like a plague. It was a bad time for the charts, man. What could we do but fall in love with a group like Vanity Fare? We had to fall in love with them. "Hitchin' a Ride" defines British power pop of the Pre Pilot era where Pilot from Edinburgh Scotland would redefine everything that the word "power" meant in pop. It became a huge selling hit, but we only got a compilation album and not the real deal. Thing is, EARLY IN THE MORNING is a perfect pop record. There isn't a thing I would change here. You also, though, have to hear the British versions of some of the songs and some outstanding material never released here on Coming Home- cheap to score, but tough to find. Vanity Fare may have turned into a cabaret act and that is a shame,  but serious rock bands who flirted with pop such as The Marmalade And The Move either were dragged into the shlock market or chose to end up there in the case of The Marmalade. The Marmalade began with some high quality music and some not so good throwaway pop material. They then over the course of 3 records made 3 masterpiece records- REFLECTIONS OF THE MARMALADE, SONGS, and OUR HOUSE IS ROCKING. Where they ended up was without Dean Ford (real and much more impressive name Thomas MacAleese), who was the pivotal force, with a reformed rehashed line up they were  trashy sleazy rubbishy Barry Manilow land. So Vanity Fare who wore pop on their sleeves were honest.
     I am not quite sure where Vanity Fare really came from in England, but they definitely knew how to create a sound that was both British and American yet always somehow more British- tougher perhaps. They had a tight breezy sound that was contradicted by muscle and topped that with Trevor Brice's angelic vocals which are right there on par with Colin Blunstone's. If you hear "Mewgowd" they pull off heavy nasty dirty hard edged power pop like a storming Koobas. Incidentally, this is one of the few songs they wrote. "I Live For The Sun," "Summer Morning," "Manchild," "In My Lonely Room" would have Brian Wilson praising them highly if he heard them along with Roy Wood and "Early In The Morning" captures the essence of British Music Hall celebrating summer. For a band with a lot of material on their albums I can't think of a single track these boys couldn't pull off and make sound brilliant. They went way back to the beat boom and as much as they continued that there was something unique about them. It's love music and when I am bombarded with hate and prejudice and hung up with the world as we all get sometimes I can take on the world and all its stupidities a lot heavier with this than with some bullshit metal like Deep Purple Ian Gillan period, Iron Maiden, or Saxon. I suppose I will get called a "wimp" when I am in fact tougher than those faked out losers who cue up to have their ears filled with trite throwaway knock-off nothing music promoting hatred and prejudice. Few pop groups are racists, but aside from Kal Swan's Lion or Bad Moon Rising and a few others heavy metal is Proto Fascist hate music. There is hard rock and roll and I love that, but this thing called heavy metal isn't doing anything for me except for when you catch me listening to the more symphonic or more melodic pop influenced stuff. Yeah, I love Scorpions, Bonfire, Dedringer, Lionheart, Airrace, China's 1st album, UFO, early Black Sabbath, Angel at their heaviest, you name it,  but that ain't really metal as it came to be known. Vanity Fare probably could beat Iron Maiden in a British football match as they certainly wipe the floor clean with them musically. Don't believe me? Check out the aforementioned "Megowd" and you'll be ashamed of yourself. There is something about this band that is really honest, really true, really original, and really spectacular. I don't quite know how to explain just what that is, but Vanity Fare are up there with the best bands in the world. I love them and I'll go on loving them for my whole life. Records come and records go. Bands come and bands go- these guys stay a firm favourite with me and that means they are way high quality and really fantastically good.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Stonehouse Are Rolling Thunder Of Highest Hard Rock Heaven- The Best Hard Rocker Ever Made.

I can still remember how shocked and horrified I was the first time with bad timing that I heard Stonehouse's one album Stonehouse Creek. It was back in the winter of 2001 and I had traded my copy of Fresh Maggots for it to the record dealer known perpetually around here as "The B.F.M" which stands for "The Bastard From Maryland-" no further comments on this nasty obnoxious rip off from Hell. He told me he had a copy of Horse which was a lie and I ended up with Stonehouse. I simply didn't understand the album and- get this- didn't think it was "heavy" enough!!!! What the F*ck!!!! I hated it. Fast forward now and I don't exactly hate Horse, but I sure don't love them at all anymore and Stonehouse I'd rank as the best hard rock/bluesy hard rock/Proto Metal album ever- and one of the heaviest records ever recorded. How things do change... And for the better this time.
    Some bibliographical information (is that the word?). Stonehouse became Asgard in 1972. They shared vocalist James Smith and drummer Ian Snow with that band. Ted Bartlett, the second lead vocalist of two in Asgard had also been a member of Stonehouse before James Smith. They came from Plymouth in the West Country of England and were masterminded by guitarist/vocalist/writer Peter Spearing. Stonehouse must surely be the best album on British RCA and that's against some tough competition. They are the one huge rarity on the label I've really become bent on never letting anyone ever have as I've lost the other ones. Horse is an overrated and very uninteresting pedestrian heavy psychedelic album compared to this one. Now, some people use the word "Psych" for Stonehouse while others say they are "Progressive" when they are neither. They are coming from a blues rock base which is always the right place to start for this music and are a hard rock band very nearly so hard they are early metal. Until this year my copy was a beat up piece of shit with bits of a yellowed facsimile cover pasted onto a generic inner sleeve and no real cover. This looked really ugly. To make matters worse the record was in really not good at all condition. I finally ditched it then finally got a Mint original. What a way from the copy I learned to love to a beautiful original that looks and sounds beyond love- now I am undoubtedly of the opinion this is the classiest of all British hard rock records especially from the early 70s Proto Metal scene. You'll have to give this one a chance. It's a little intimidating and if you don't know what to expect from James Smith you may be in for a major headache after your first playing of the album. Now we dispense with the personal info and go onto the music.
                                -Stonehouse Rock Harder Than A Monolith-
    In the early 1970s in England around 1970/1971 there were a lot of blues bands who had grown tired of "My baby went and ruined my whole love" type stupid lyrics and who no longer were satisfied with a blues standard set as their major inspiration and reason for existence. Two of the best bands undoubtedly would be Leafhound and Black Sabbath the latter of which everyone knows. Even Ozzy and Iommi Ward and Butler had begun by going from British pop to heavy blues and then to their trademark slow dirge heavy metal assault as Black Sabbath. Sabbath came out of Cream and so did Stonehouse. It's a hard choice between this and Leafhound, but I'd give the #1 position to Stonehouse even though both bands are amazing. Stonehouse recorded just one album for RCA in 1971 called Stonehouse Creek. What an album!!!! With the late Ian Snow playing a tremendous round on drums and Terry Parker's foundation laying thick heavy bass on top of a solid stalking foundation you can hear Peter Spearing's blasting guitars which recall heavily Page and Blackmore and James Smith's banshee wail. Smith is the most extroverted, crazy, over-the-top dramatic singer I've ever come across on an album. I wonder if Steve Grimmett of Grim Reaper/Lionsheart and all the other lame metal screamers heard this guy and were doing a poor imitation, but one thing I do know is that along with Kal Swan who I'll discuss sometime soon he is THE BEST HEAVY METAL SINGER BAR NONE EXCEPT OZZY. James Smith screams his tonsils out in a passionate swaggering manner and the excellent, well written compositions are given an extra edge from his powerful voice. Stonehouse begin and end with the only Spearing sung track the mellow rural rock of "Stonehouse Creek" with its environmentally concerned lyric. I think it's here to trick you. Start and end mellow, but bash your head in with the whole entire rest of the album. "Hobo" sets the pace for Stonehouse with a hard driving boogie blast rhythm guitar, confident vocals bordering on the maniacal in the verses, and two passages of blaring guitars and James Smith screaming his head off. He literally goes crazy and starts wailing, screaming, howling, just letting it all out with so much passion you can't believe the guy is going to last for the whole album, but he does. I love here not just Spearing's brilliant thick fuzzy heavy riffing and Smith's outlandish vocals, but I also must give full credit to an excellent job done by the rhythm section. Terry Parker is a superb bassist and I'd say that Ian Snow who died sadly quite some years back was a great drummer. This isn't much like Asgard, but it's cut from the same adventurous cloth.
    "Cheater" is another track of high pitched screaming, wailing, shouting vocals with this time around a very slow burning guitar riff which goes into a Sabbathy sounding chorus guitar/bass/drum sound while James Smith goes "CHEEEEEEAAATERRRRRR!!!!! LIIIIIIIIIAAAAR!!!! YOU'RE NOTHING BUT A CHEEEEEAAAATERRRRR!!!!! LIIIIIIIARRRR!!!" that's the closest approximation  I can give you of what he sounds like. And I thought Robert Plant was the craziest singer in all of hard blues rock! James Smith doesn't sound like Plant. He's very different and he certainly isn't an idiotic talentless screech like Ian Gillan. There's no other singer quite like him, but he is coming from Jack Bruce or sometimes an exaggerated Paul Rodgers. Stonehouse were heavily, heavily influenced by Cream and Free with two major exceptions: They are much harder than Cream and also Peter Spearing wipes the floor with Paul Kossoff's inept 3 note leads. "Nightmare" which follows "Cheater" is one of the only fast numbers on the record with charging, bashing guitars, screaming vocals, and clever lyrics. Compared to what came before it it could have been a hit like Deep Purple if they had sacked Gillan for somebody who really had talent, but it's pretty intense stuff.  I especially like James Smith's thick English accent and Spearing plays some tremendous multitracked guitar jams here. My pick for a single would be Side One's closing track "Crazy White Folk." Stonehouse are fairly political, but tastefully so. They don't come after you and try to get you to be this that or the other thing so the lyrics are merely a statement of fact.  "Crazy White Folk" is about impoverished English working class life, petty crimes, and racism. While not in a heavy handed way addressing racial issues the song is all basically written on the idea that poverty is poverty whether you are black or white. There's more great riffing and some tasty vocals from Smith who screams a little less here although he does scream quite a bit towards the end before the last of 3 (!) guitar solos. Spearing gets every fill, every riff, every solo perfect right on this track and hardly ever slips up. He's amazing. Even if you find this kind of music intimidating admit it- you'd throw this on for some friends and they'd be asking you to play the whole record over loudspeakers and have a big party. It's catchy- really catchy.
    Side Two doesn't pale at all in comparison to Side One. Some of the bluesier aspects are still in place, but the change is that James Smith sings with the same passion and also seems to be finding more ways to trick the listener with shock value even then on Side One. While he may scream a bit less that's not a bad thing- he proves he is an amazing rock singer and the killer guitar playing goes on for the whole duration of the album. Stonehouse really didn't luck out. They could have been huge, but RCA undertook no promotion for them. No singles were lifted from the album and it sank without a trace. Frankly, it's rarer than Gnidrolog's second and actually rarer than Fresh Maggots which truthfully gets blown away by two I recently acquired- Hunter Muskett's second and 9.30 Fly. "Down Down" is the first track on Side Two. The wrong listing of songs including one called "Move Away" which isn't even on here is proof that RCA did nothing for Stonehouse. "Down Down" features heavy hard bluesy riffing and some great leads from Spearing along with a strong, confident wail from Smith. It is "Ain't No Game" with strong vocals, more exceptional guitar work, and very clever anti war lyrics which will be quite a few hard rock fans' favourite track on Side Two. It's up there for me. There's some more experimentation on Side Two including an instrumental guitar extravaganza "Topaz," a Sabbath style hard rocker called "Don't Push Me," and a heavy boogie track "Four Letter Word" with more political lyrics to end the vast majority of an amazing album. "Stonehouse Creek" just to tease you again closes the album. This record is very rare. It won't be easily found, but is essential listening and give it a fair listen. Don't be the judgmental idiot I was on first listening and think just because the songs are real songs it isn't "Heavy" or that James Smith is too histrionic- flamboyant or passionate are better words. This is the best hard rock record ever with spectacular songs and everything else needed to make it an astonishing record.

Friday, June 8, 2012

From Procol Harum To Bon Scott's Fraternity- A Lasting Influence And An Everlastingly Great Musical Invention

The day Bon Scott died I wasn't even old enough to know who Bon Scott was. It has been mentioned in the same kind of shockingly young, violent, and tragic endings as the deaths of Randy Rhodes and Jimi Hendrix both of which were horrible tragedies as with Bon they were all much loved people not just great musicians. Now having known more about Bon's music it was really a very awful thing he died so young. Like the also tragically short-lived Brian Connolly from Sweet Bon Scott was Scottish and liked his whiskey/alcohol too much. He was a binge drinker immortalized by another seriously over-the-top alcoholic Ozzy Osbourne in his much misrepresented "Suicide Solution" on Ozzy's first solo masterpiece Blizzard Of Oz. The song "Suicide Solution" is not about suicide at all in the literal sense, but accidentally killing yourself with substance abuse. As someone who can suffer from horrible cravings and urges linked only to my record selling/buying addiction I know that any kind of substance abuse is something where once you acknowledge the fact that you have it you better end it. Bon Scott couldn't end it- he went on an all-night drinking binge and died from choking to death in bed. He had led AC/DC to rock and roll legend status and really the band should have honored him more by not jumping right back onto their hard rock/blues voyage again with the much inferior Brian Jones- who screams instead of Bon's emotional toughness which made them a great band.
    AC/DC are a great band. Don't get me wrong that I don't like them at all since Bon Scott died. I still love the riffs/licks that the Young brothers (Malcolm and Angus) come up with and if you're gonna go for hard rock/metal overdose of excess no problem with me if AC/DC makes you feel good, but I'd prefer vintage Diamond Head myself. Thing is, when AC/DC got together they had a rich past that was only recently unveiled to me. I had known about the Easybeats connections and how the Youngs were the younger brothers of George Young of that sometimes brilliant group, but I didn't know how different Bon Scott was before he joined them. I didn't even have the faintest idea that Bon had recorded a full album with his pre-ACDC outfit Fraternity or that that band had made two records in total, both with him as the lead vocalist.
      If you hear Fraternity's masterful first album Livestock the last thing in the world you'll think of is AC/DC's bluesy hard rock. Fraternity were a band heavily influenced by Procol Harum- a group who changed my life forever when I first heard them too. The grandiose lushness goes from pop/rock glam tracks which bear no resemblance to P. Harum and more to the likes of Octopus (the British band) or Forever Amber to all-out epic psychedelic progressive Procol Harum influenced majesty. Together with Pirana's first record which I also got from my brilliant friend Ashley Johnson Livestock stands as Australia's largest progressive rock milestone.
                            -The Discovery Of The First  Procol Harum As A Musical Life Force-
    I was lucky in the beginning with getting into prog rock. Can you get any better than starting it off with Yes then Procol Harum then King Crimson? No you can't. I realized how much hot air and nonsense most metal is when I dived headlong into "Whiter Shade Of Pale." At this time in 1989 a lot was being made of Neo-Classical influences in the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and friends endlessly guitar wanking. Metal wasn't getting more progressive it was getting more pretentious just as progressive rock could become. Looking back on it all I preferred the classically inspired "Virtuoso Metal" to grunge, but I had long left anything to do with current heavy music behind when I got into Procol Harum's first two albums. I had read in an interview with the admittedly brilliant German blonde knockout heavy metal/melodic hard rocker Doro Pesch that Procol Harum were her favourite band. I thought Doro somebody who'd be a good teacher and took up on her rave about "Whiter Shade Of Pale." Thank you, thank you Doro! I pulled my father's copy of the first album out and gazed in awe at the front cover- a beautiful art nouveau illustration of a haunting girl and a tree. Thankfully, it's the American copy which doesn't omit "Whiter Shade Of Pale." When I heard the song I was blown away by it. I found it the most moving, most inventive, most strangely poetic song ever written and played the whole album. Soon I was an artist who could draw in December 1989 as if by magic and soon I was a Procol Harum fan for life. I got into playing and loving nearly all their records, but it was "Whiter Shade Of Pale" that set it all rolling for me.
                                -Fraternity's Livestock: An Unequaled Masterpiece-
    When Fraternity recorded the masterful Livestock they were a group who were both a psychedelic pop band and a heavily Procol influenced progressive band. There's also a bit of outdoors UK bluesy melodic hard rock in the track "Summerville" which they'd together with 3 other tracks re-record for their second release Flaming Galah- a hard rock record that turned out to be their last.
   Livestock is how I want to think of Fraternity. AC/DC fans be warned- he sounds like Gary Brooker here not like what you get in the AC/DC classics! Perfect pop begins the album's title track which is also the first track with a brilliant scathing fuzz guitar/wah-wah electric piano solo. Bon can't be heard at all here as in "Livestock" the song the vocals are all harmonies. Picture Octopus only even better or Fairfield Ski's lost masterpiece- that will start to get you there. "Summerville" is a solo vocal from Bon in the bluesy, classy, strong, confident style he would become known for. His vocal is devoid of any pretensions and so is this entire album. For far reaching progressive pop psych this record may well be the best ever made. Tracks like "Cool Spot" and "Jupiter's Landscape" are built around dreamy harmonies whereas the two epics "Reigan's Folly" and "It" are strongly influenced by Procol Harum's brilliant classical/progressive/solid rock nexus. "Reigan's Folly" is the heaviest of the two long tracks with a big hard hitting guitar/organ wall of sound and Bon sounding like a more forceful Gary Brooker. The shorter track "You Have A God" is a psychedelic reworking of "Whiter Shade Of Pale" very much so. The whole album is devoid of pretension and self-seriousness. It's catchy, bright, and tuneful with great musicianship and for once like Procol H. great lyrics on a progressive record. "It" is the only song not written or at least co-written by the band members, but closes the record with 8 minutes of lavish beauty. There's Bon Scott's powerful voice offset by amazing softer vocals and swirling organ work. For guitar fans like me there's no letdown when it comes to the musical abilities of the guitarist in the band which is a prog rock disease. See Gracious who are appalling. If I were to say who this album is an opposite of it would be all the horrible British progressive snot-nosed self-serious poseurs from Deep Feeling to Gracious to Samurai. Yes, Brit prog can be the worst music on the planet and also can be the best. For every one Gracious there are about 20 or 30 great bands out there who understand the meaning of the word "Progressive" in England and who don't write about violent death as their one major subject matter. There's Fantasy and The Parlour Band and Northwind- bands which I rave about. In order for prog to work it usually has to have some remnants of psychedelic pop/rock or at least the 60s influences in there. Some of the best British progressive music was made both with and with no use of the mellotron and Australian progressive doesn't seem to usually have that instrument used much on the records. I don't know a lot of Australian prog, but from what I've heard Fraternity are the most consistent whilst also the most British sounding.
    Remember that even Yes who broke every law there was for rock bands prior to their early 70s masterpieces began in Mod bands. All progressive rock of the 1970-1973 era was made by bands who had a psychedelic/Mod past,  but too many of them forgot all about it. With the likes of Gracious having a cool surface sound and no good songs plus the added disadvantage of horrible vocals/lyrics some of the best bands like Spring, Czar, or the non-progressive yet very 70s Stonehouse or their rural progressive pop labelmates Hooky are a really true testament to the fact that progressive music can be outstandingly good. If I played Livestock for you and you didn't know they were Aussies there's no way you'd ever guess they were. Whatever that means this is progressive psychedelic crossover rock of the highest order and could easily be the best album ever to come out of Down Under.
         Listening to Livestock and hearing what a fantastic voice Bon Scott had it really is a tragic thing we lost him so young. Now most of the best rock vocalists are either long-since retired or have died. It's a true testimony to how hard life can be for musicians and the heavy toll it can take, but let's not get all doom and gloom here- music lives forever. Good music and bad music alike are one of the few things that are immortal. Once a song, a 45, an EP, and an Album are recorded they last forever. Once I've heard something this good I have all my confidence and happiness to lift me into the heavens the way that Procol Harum did when I first heard them. This is a progressive/psych milestone- a really awespiring achievement. Very few copies were made and consequently this will be a very hard album to track down. Put it up at the top rarity top quality magical level and have the same kind of love for it that I do.