Thursday, 31 December 2020

Syndicate Of Sound

Little Girl (1966)

Big Boss Man/Almost Grown/So Alone/Dream Baby/Rumors/Little Girl/That Kind Of Man/I'm Alive/You/Lookin' For The Good Times(The Robot)/The Witch/Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?

What a fine, relatively obscure album this is. As far as I can see it is the only album from this San Jose, California-based "garage rock"-psychedelic band. released in 1966, it has an excellent sound quality and an enthusiastic effervescence to it, although it is not as druggy or psychedelic as one might have imagined, being far more Beatles-ish poppy. 

The group's name could almost be that of a Northern Soul artist, couldn't it?

Heavily-influenced by the British R'n'b-blues sound, Big Boss Man kicks off the album with a fast-paced groove, some piping organ breaks and typically mid-sixties rolling drum fills. It features some fine saxophone too. The track is an old blues cover, as indeed is Chuck Berry's Almost Grown, a catchy bluesy rock'n' roll romp about burgeoning adolescence.

The tempo drops for the veery early Beatles-influenced ballad So Alone. After the verve of the first two tracks, this is a bit of a wishy-washy let-down, however. It is redeemed by an impressive stereo sound. Dream Baby ups it a bit on a Cliff Richard-esque piece of tuneful pop. It also has echoes of Gene Vincent's Be-Bop-A-Lula. Once again, the sound and instrumentation is top-notch.

Rumors is a a robust, Byrds meets The Beatles and The Hollies number while the group's one hit, Little Girl has a very Byrds-influenced jangly guitar intro and a 1964-65 Dylan style vocal. It is underpinned by some excellent riffage and bass line. You can hear the sound of some of the new wave of the late seventies/early eighties in this. I'm sure the Flamin' Groovies paid this a lot of attention.

That Kind Of Man is a mid-sixties Rolling Stones and Kinks clone of a song, both musically and lyrically. It has a very Ray Davies-esque cynicism in its characterisation of the song's subject. Of course I recognise I'm Alive as being a big hit in the UK for The Hollies. This version is a competent Byrds-like cover version that betrays the group's clear UK influence.

You is a dreamy pop ballad with a nice bass line and flute break and an overall pleasingly laid-back ambience. The lead vocal is tuneful and really rather calmly beautiful, almost country rock in its airy feel. Lookin' For The Good Times (The Robot) is a bouncy number with a killer guitar riff and irresistible catchiness. When punk morphed into new wave, so many groups adopted a sound based loosely on stuff like this and were happy to be considered sixties throwbacks.

Ebulliently rocking is The Witch, which has a pre-Dr. Feelgood energy to it. It is one of the album's most enjoyable, kick-ass tracks. Check out the virtuoso breakneck guitar solo and frantic drum sound. The album ends with the infectious country blues and jazz fun of Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby? 

Look, this is no work of genius, no Blonde On Blonde or Revolver, but is a well-played, always enjoyable album and, as I said, its sound quality is superb.

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Nuggets - Original Artyfacts From The First Psychedelic Era 1965-1968

I came across this cultish popular compilation album via "Aphoristical"'s excellent site - check it out - 

where the author, (Aphoristcal) is reviewing the hundred plus songs one by one, on a weekly basis. That is a gargantuan task that I will not be undertaking but I feel I want to record my feelings regarding the album, because it is an impressive one.

It covers the period from 1964-68 is US musical history and includes a bucketful of rarities that were filed under the genre "garage rock", "acid rock" or "psychedelic rock". Although some of the artists were better known, and some of the groups' members went on to bigger and better things, the groups concerned have a Northern Soul-style mysterious obscurity about them. I guess the genre is to rock and punk music what Northern Soul was to Motown and Stax.

Rather like US punk was different to UK punk, the music is is more rocky than its trippy UK equivalent, much of which can be found on the Decca/Deram compilation The Psychedelic Scene - 

This US material is riffier, with more verve and attack and clearly was a big influence on punk and new wave. Indeed, the original double album compliation was curated by then DJ Lenny Kaye, who went on to be the bass player with The Patti Smith group. In fact, the sleeve notes are said to contain one of the first written references to "punk rock". 

The influences on the material are many - The Beatles, early Rolling Stones, early Kinks, early Beach Boys and surf music, "mercury sound" Bob Dylan, Them, The Yardbirds and many others. In turn, songs like (We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet by The Blue Magoos is very much the pre-cursor of Deep Purple's Black Night, with its bass riff that Purple subsequently played on lead guitar and Music Explosion's A Little Bit O' Soul was covered by The Ramones on their Subterranean Jungle album. You can hear punk and new wave hints all over the place and there are also huge debts to the British r 'n' b - blues bands in much of the material.

The Ramones covered four of the tracks from the album on their Acid Eaters album of covers and, for me, you can really hear the influence of this sub-genre on the early Blondie albums - short, frantic tracks like I'm On E, for example. 

The album in its full, extended format only seems to be available on vinyl, although the original CD is still on sale here and there online. Neither of the albums are available via streaming, so I have managed to make up a playlist of around 100 of the tracks by searching for them individually from the track listing.

The sound quality is pretty good on most of the tracks too, although there are a few that sound a bit rudimentary.

I will just list my favourites as opposed to commenting track by track:-

Nobody But Me - The Human Beinz

Journey To The Center Of The Mind - Amboy Dukes feat. Ted Nugent

A Little Bit O' Soul - Music Explosion

(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet - The Blue Magoos

Mindrocker - Fenwyck

Steppin' Out - Paul Revere & The Raiders

Action Woman - The Litter

Incense And Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock

Night Time - The Strangeloves

Hold Me Now - The Rumors

You're Gonna Miss Me - The 13th Floor Elevators

You Burn Me Up And Down - We The People

Run, Run, Run - The Gestures

Psychotic Reaction - The Count Five

Baby Please Don't Go - Ted Nugent

Last Time Around - The Dell-Vetts

Liar, Liar - The Castaways

Don't Look Back - The Remains

A Question Of Temperature - Balloon Farm

Oh Yeah - The Shadows Of Night (check out that Jean Genie-Blockbuster! riff)

It's Cold Outside - The Choir

One Track Mind - The Knickerbockers

The Trip - Kim Fowley

Outside Chance - The Turtles

Out Of Our Tree - The Fabulous Wailers

Blue's Theme - Davie Allan & The Arrows

I'm Five Years Ahead Of My Time - The Third Bardo

I Want Candy - The Strangeloves

Why Do I Cry - Barry And The Remains

Laugh, Laugh - The Beau Brummels

She's My Baby - The Mojo Men (very early Rolling Stones in sound)

Get Me To The World On Time - The Electric Prunes

Love's Gone Bad - The Underdogs

I Can't Make A Friend - The Vagrants

I Wonder - The Gants (obviously Beatles influenced)

She's About A Mover - Sir Douglas Quintet

Pushin' Too Hard - The Seeds

Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl - The Barbarians

So What!! - The Lyrics

Little Girl - Syndicate Of Sound

Dirty Water - The Standells

A Public Execution - Mouse And The Traps (a very Dylanesque number)

Also well worth checking out is Nuggets II, which features largely UK material. I prefer the US one for its poppier, often bubblegum-esque feel but there is also some good stuff to be found here.

Thursday, 10 December 2020

Ben E. King

Don't Play That Song! (1962)

Don't Play That Song/Ecstasy/On The Horizon/Show Me The Way/Here Comes The Night/First Taste Of Love/Stand By Me/Yes/Young Boy Blues/The Hermit Of Misty Mountain/I Promise Love/Brace Yourself

This 1962 album from ex-Drifter Ben E. King sounds somewhat dated in places now, but it is not without its appeal, largely because King's voice is just so damn good. 

Don't Play That Song virtually replicates, note-for-note, the Stand By Me intro, but don't let that detract from the fact that it it is still a towering soul song. King's vocal is soaring and the overall atmosphere is one of wonderful Drifters-esque soul. It also has a similar orchestrated mid-song break to Stand By Me.

Ecstasy sounds a lot like The Drifters' Save The Last Dance For Me in its instrumentation but once again it is redeemed by King's expressive voice and the irresistible melody. On The Horizon is one of those dated-sounding numbers but it has a character and dignity to it that shines through.

Show Me The Way is a doo-wop rock 'n' roll-influenced lively number that is very much of its time. There is a bit of variance in the sound quality and, compared to the previous number, Here Comes The Night has a superb stereo sound to it. It reminds me of the Northern Soul classic, Jimmy Ratcliffe's Long After This Night Is Over. 

First Taste Of Love is a delightful Elvis meets The Drifters before getting together with the early Beatles number, full of sweeping strings, infectious rhythms and a sweet vocal. Then there is the eternally wonderful Stand By Me, beloved of myself for years and many others, including Willy De Ville, who covered it live memorably many times. It simply drips with soul and atmosphere. John Lennon also covered it too, lest I forget. The Sam Cooke-ish Yes is very much of its time, as opposed to its timeless predecessor, while Young Boy Blues is blues with strings. 

The Hermit Of Misty Mountain is an odd, very early 60s song with a fine sound quality to it. Similar can be found on the fairground soul of I Promise Love. This very much of its time album ends with the pleasant Brace Yourself. Albums by Rufus Thomas and Solomon Burke from the following year are far grittier and brassier but there is an attraction to some of the tracks on here.

Solomon Burke

If You Need Me (1963)

If You Need Me/Words/Stupidity/Go On Back To Him/I Said I Was Sorry/It's All Right/Home In Your Heart/I Really Don't Want To Know/You Can Make It If You Try/Send Me Some Loving/This Little Ring/Tonight My Heart She Is Crying

This was Solomon Burke's third album, released in 1963 on the Atlantic label and is an appealing collection of chunky, brassy soul and early sixties Elvis-influenced ballads. The thing that impresses me on the latest release of it is the superbly remastered sound, which is deep, warm and beautifully bassy, giving a real punch to the songs. Burke's voice is soulfully gritty throughout, whatever type of song he is dealing with, sort of like the sweetness of Sam Cooke mixed with the earthiness of Wilson Pickett.

If You Need Me was a Wilson Pickett song made famous by being covered by The Rolling Stones. It is slow, dignified, bassy and bluesy and is a wonderful example of early sixties Atlantic soul. The same applies to the churchy Booker T-style organ and cymbals-powered beauty of the lovely Words. The progression from church-inspired singing into soul is clear on tracks like this.

Dr. Feelgood fans will be familiar with the rocking energy of Stupidity, of course. You know, for years I thought it was a Dr. Feelgood original. From its call-and-response vocal beginning the song thumps with soul power. Great stuff. Listen to that big, rumbling bass too. Check out the organ and cymbal work on the supremely soulful Go On Back To Him too. Once more, the sound is outstanding here.

I Said I Was Sorry is lively and infectiously catchy as too is the finger-popping groove of It's All Right, where the relationship between gospelly soul and rock 'n' roll is clear for all to hear. Burke goes full-on Wilson Pickett preacher mode (Burke was a preacher himself) for Home In Your Heart while I Really Don't Want To Know is a rock n' roll-influenced ballad with a Stranger On The Shore-style saxophone break and another nice, bassy vibe.

You Can Make It If You Try is classic, organ-driven gospel soul and Send Me Some Loving is simply sumptuous in its bassy, brassy soul power. This is definitely my favourite cut on the album. Fantastic sax on it too. 

This Little Ring is very Elvis-esque and Tonight My Heart She Is Crying brings to mind Sam Cooke. There was always a lot of cross-pollenation within soul. So many influences and subsequent ones radiating from this album can be detected.

Rufus Thomas

Walking the Dog (1963)

The Dog/Mashed Potatoes/Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo/You Said/Boom Boom/It's Aw'rite/Walking The Dog/Ya Ya/Land Of 1000 Dances/Can Your Monkey Do The Dog/'Cause I Love You/I Want To Be Loved

Rufus Thomas was already forty-seven years old when this, his debut album, was released on the Stax label in 1963. It is a really good short serving of brass-powered soul that has a wonderful sound quality, considering its age. Thomas's vocals are gruffly uplifting and his musicians are outstanding - horns, saxophones, bass, drums and backing vocalist all giving it everything. This album would have been hugely influential on all those British blues boom bands. It still sounds great today. Thomas, of course, went on to have a big hit with Do The Funky Chicken.


The Dog is a bubbling, brassy groove loaded with funky horns and a surprisingly clear, warm sound for 1964. Some howling dog noises are in there too. Another dance craze-inspired song is up next in the lively "yeah-yeah" sound of Mashed Potatoes. The vocals are only interjectory, it is all about the pumping brass-driven sound.

Ooh-Poo-Pah-Doo is a grooving, chugging, call-and-response piece of bluesy brassy soul. You Said is an appealing mid-pace ballad with a rock'n'roll influence. It features some superb baritone saxophone too. Thomas covers John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom excellently, with a vibrant upbeat sound and the now obligatory top notch brass. 

It's Aw'rite is a punchy number that I can imagine Southside Johnny loving. Check out that great guitar break mid-song. Walking The Dog is known to many by now, having been covered by many, including The Rolling Stones on their first album. It is a delicious slice of funky soul and I never tire of it.


Ya Ya kicks ass, big time. Once more get an earful of that sax. Again, it reminds me a lot of the material on Southside Johnny's first album. Land Of 1000 Dances has its definitive version in the hands of Wilson Pickett, of course, but here Thomas slows it down thus taking away must of its irresistible, stomping joie de vivre. Sorry, Rufus, your version doesn't quite do it for me.

The bass on the Walking The Dog re-write of Can Your Monkey Do The Dog positively shakes my speakers, it is so beautifully deep. This track cooks from beginning to end. 'Cause I Love You is a soulful but upbeat duet with one of Thomas's backing vocalist (I'm not sure who). Once more it positively bristles and crackles with funky soul. I Want To Be Loved has an infectious drum, guitar and bass rhythm to it and another gritty vocal. All copper-bottomed early Stax soul. What an invigorating twenty-nine minutes.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020


Moving Waves (1971)

Hocus Pocus/Le Clochard/Janis/Moving Waves/Focus II/Eruption

Despite my taste for glam and glam-influenced rock in 1972-73, my teenage self was aware of Dutch proggers Focus due to their two hit singles - the marvellous instrumental Sylvia (not on this album), which featured the guitar virtuosity of Jan Akkerman, and the first track on this album., which I thought was great. I really liked both of these although I didn't dip into the album at the time, I left that to the hard-core prog rock fans who seemed to be overrunning my school.

On to the album, which consisted of five tracks and one twenty-two minute opus. Wasn't that typical of the prog-rock era?

Hocus Pocus is a truly marvellous slice of seventies rock riffery, overflowing from the very start with strong, vibrant guitar workouts, pounding drums, brief drum soloes, madcap proggy organ, some crazy flute and, of course, nutty drummer Thijs Van Leer's ludicrous but catchy "bom-bom" yodelling and improvised "diddle diddle diddle" vocals. Yes, they are silly, but they are part of the track's quirky appeal. It was a hit single and was one of quite a few excellent seventies rock instrumentals/semi-instrumentals from the time. I'm thinking of Edgar Winter's Frankenstein from the same period. The extended version that we get here on the album is superb. I love it - and that's from a glam fan of the time.

The exultant ambience suddenly changes with the brief, chilled-out acoustic vibe of Le Clochard and then we get the equally relaxing feel of Janis, a flute, acoustic guitar and drums instrumental. It is slightly more powerful than its predecessor due to its drum sound but the overall effect is one of sleepy peace.

Moving Waves is a short track with vocals that doesn't really get anywhere, for me, while Focus II is an impressive instrumental featuring some fine upbeat drumming and equally fine lead guitar. I have to say, also, that the sound is superb - clear, warm, bassy and delivered in excellent seventies stereo.

Eruption is the afore-mentioned lengthy number and it is chock-full of prog musical stereotypes - classically-influenced hymnal organ, occasional tympanic drum soloes, gentle woodwind passages, innovative Santana-esque jazz rock guitar - a supposed concept (the story or Orpheus and Eurydice) and a general rambling feel of a never-ending jam session. I like it in places because the sound is so damn good - it is like a hi-fi demonstration - and it is undeniably musically brilliant, but, hold on, isn't this why punk came about? Maybe, but there is something in it that I quite like, so there you go. I've always been a bit contradictory. Do I play Eruption much, though? The answer to that remains no, unfortunately, but I've done pretty well to get this far.

Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Tangerine Dream

Phaedra (1974)

Phaedra/Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares/Movements Of A Visionary/Sequent ‘C’

This album was all over the place in 1974, beloved of serious music critics and studious nerds at my school who carried it around with them under their arm throughout the school day, showing off their musical taste. Fucking hell, I despised them and this accursed record.

As a glam, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott The Hoople fan this sort of  dense, innovative, experimental, ambient electronic music was completely anathema to me. It remained so for years, standing as an example of why I and many others became punks. It was the musical anti-christ.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than the track Phaedra on the old ‘side one’ - seventeen minutes plus of brooding, sonorous electronic noises which took up the whole side, served up by three faceless Germans. Good God, I wanted none of this po-faced serious pretension. My, there wasn’t a guitar riff within a thousand miles of this, just mellotron, moog synthesiser and electric piano amongst other keyboard noise makers. It has been quoted as being the most important and influential piece of electronic music in that genre’s history, even more so than the output of the group’s German contemporaries Neu! and Kraftwerk. Maybe I was missing something, because at the time it left me cold.

On a positive note, the first six or seven minutes of the track’s 2018 Steven Wilson Remix sounds great, particularly that big, rubbery bass sound. The bit around 7:13 onwards is aurally stunning, so there you go. 

As I have aged and my tastes and tolerance for different genres have evolved I now find myself reviewing it. Look, it is ok for a while - atmospheric and pleasingly bassy but it spends seventeen minutes getting precisely nowhere. That’s what ambient music is all about, I guess. What is not in doubt, and somewhat ironic, is that I, the great Bowie devotee, would be lapping up the instrumental side of Low in three years’ time. There is absolutely no question that this was a huge influence on Bowie’s ‘Berlin’ period. Just listen to the weird sweeping synth noises on the pretentiously-titled Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares, you can hear the instrumental side of ‘Heroes’ in there, clearly. 

Moments Of A Visionary has some slightly world music percussion sounds in it that would have resonated with Talking Heads, to an extent. The short Sequent ‘C’ ends this somnolent piece of work and I find myself having to snap myself awake once more. 

I remember the group played at my local rock club, Friars Aylesbury, in 1975 and their fans lay on the floor in order to appreciate the vibe, man. Jesus Christ. If you ever wanted an explanation for punk, there you had it. At the bottom of the review is an article from the local paper at the time detailing this audience phenomenon. Click on it to read it in enlarged format.

Yes, this album sounds great on my sound system - all those sounds coming gracefully in and out of my speakers, like something from a classical composer who has taken too many drugs and yes, it has something about it, but do I want to listen to this for pleasure too often - no. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know its all about the textured sounds but I can’t wait to stick something more ballsy back on. 

Thursday, 26 November 2020

Luther Vandross

Never Too Much (1981)

Never Too Much/Sugar And Spice (I Found Me A Girl)/Don't You Know That?/I've Been Working/She's A Super Lady/You Stopped Loving Me/A House Is Not A Home

Released in 1981, this debut solo album launched the phenomenally successful career of ex David Bowie, Roberta Flack and Chic backing singer Luther Vandross. He had previously released material under the name of the band Luther but this was where it really took off for me. Before that, though, special mention has to go to the fabulously funky track, Funky Music (Is A Part Of Me), which was, of course, re-worked by David Bowie as Fascination on his 1975 Young Americans album.


Back to this album. As the eighties arrived, soul music had come out of the other side of the disco boom and was merging the grooves of the dance floor with a romantic, easy sensuality that built on the "quiet storm" soul of the mid-late seventies. Soul also fused regularly with jazz in this period and artists like Vandross and George Benson were immensely popular. Gone were the militant messages of the early seventies, this was aspirationally-linked music that led from a swish, classy, air-conditioned dancefloor to an equally sumptuous deep-pile carpeted bedroom. It is certainly not the music of the ghetto or of drug dealers and pimps - this was bona fide moneyed, uptown stuff. It is not surprising that the independent, assertive, emancipated women of the eighties lapped this stylish material up. 

Although it was from the summer of 1981, this was a world away from the new wave, post punk, two tone or new romantic fare that was everywhere else at the time.

Never Too Much is a funky soul classic, driven on by that irresistibly catchy guitar line and a slap bass riff that must have inspired Level 42. Then there is the soaring chorus and Vandross's honey sweet, crystal clear voice.

Sugar And Spice (I Found Me A Girl) is a brassy, dancey groove enhanced, (it now goes without saying), by Vandross's syrupy but punchy vocals. 

Don't You Know That? is a late night smoocher with Barry White-style lover's lyrics sung over a deep, bassy but seductively rhythmic backing. As opposed to White's output, it was the bass that was important here - there were no sweeping strings. The strings were subtle on these recordings and a light funky guitar was usually found too. 

I've Been Working is a solid serving of smooth funky soul featuring another sensually deep bass and some winning percussion. Vandross proves he is more than just a smooth balladeer and that he can cope with a grittier groove. I am always praising bass lines in my reviews so I will stick to type and do it again. Talking of which, grab an earful of the bass intro to She's A Super Lady - magnificently funky. Then the brass kicks in and we are treated to a Chic-esque example of what early eighties soul was all about. The "a-ha-alright" backing vocals are very typical of the era and the sophisticated post-disco genre. The bass is back for a killer solo, mid-song, too. 

You Stopped Loving Me is a fine, beautifully polished-sounding ballad and the album ends with a cover of Dionne Warwick's A House Is Not A Home is delivered with a gorgeous slow dignity. This largely upbeat album ended with two slowies, but the character of it was mainly a vibrant one. 

What an odd look Luther gives us on the cover though. He looks much better below pictured with Roberta Flack.

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Beth Hart

Don't Explain - with Joe Bonamassa (2011)

Sinner's Prayer/Chocolate Jesus/Your Heart Is As Black As Night/For My Friends/Don't Explain/I'd Rather Go Blind/Something's Got A Hold On Me/I'll Take Care Of You/Well, Well/Ain't No Way

This is the first of three (thus far) collaborations between Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa and is made up of cover versions. No matter, though, as the quality is top notch. The two of them complement each other perfectly. Sure, you can pretty much predict what you are going to get but it is none the worse for it, and the sound quality is excellent too - big, bold and bassy.

Ray Charles's Sinner's Prayer is a slow grind blueser that sees Hart taking a robust vocal lead and beseeching "Lord have mercy on me" in true blues fashion. It cooks and bubbles in slow-burning style from beginning to end. The short and comparatively jaunty Chocolate Jesus has an almost waltz-y beat to it and an infectious appeal. It is a Tom Waits song.

The tempo slows down on the late night smoky smoulder of Melody Gardot's jazz number Your Heart Is As Black As Night, which is full of embittered sensuality. The chunky For My Friends shows off Bonamassa's powerful guitaring (is that a word?) in the most vibrant way so far. Check out the solo at the end. The pair's blues rock approach transforms the Bill Withers song completely. 

Billie Holiday's Don't Explain is dealt with competently by a sleepy-voiced Hart and then we get a superb eight minute plus rendering of Etta James's I'd Rather Go Blind. The pair of them make it their own (well, not quite but you know what I mean - they do a great job). Hart's gritty, earthy white blues voice is a knockout on this one. The girl can sing the blues, that's for sure. Joe's mid-song solo is peerless, of course.

Another Etta James song, Something's Got A Hold On Me starts with some somewhat irritating, slowed-down vocals before it suddenly starts to rock, big time gospel style, on the album's most upbeat cut. Bobby Bland's I'll Take Care Of You is a slow serving of bluesy soul that once again features some killer guitar.

Delaney and Bonnie's Well, Well is appealingly rocking, with a rhythmic drum sound. It is one of my favourites from the album. Aretha Franklin's Ain't No Way is a supremely dignified and suitably soulful way to bring things to a close. 

Quality blues rock from two fine exponents of the genre.

Also recorded with Joe Bonamassa is this 2018 album, which ploughs the same bluesy furrow:-

Bang Bang Boom Boom (2012)

Baddest Blues/Bang Bang Boom Boom/Better Man/Caught Out In The Rain/Swing My Thing Back Around/With You Everyday/Thru The Window Of My Mind/Spirit Of God/There In Your Heart/The Ugliest House On The Block/Everything Must Change/I'd Rather Go Blind

I have to admit that I don't know much about Beth Hart's music. She is a Los Angeles-born blues rocker and has been releasing music since 1993, when she was twenty-one.

I came across the title track of this 2012 album (her sixth) as a recommendation on my streaming service. I liked it so I thought I would check the album out. 

It is solid blues rock and she is part of the burgeoning ranks of female guitar playing bluesers such as Joanna Connor, Grace Potter, Susan Tedeschi, Samantha Fish and Joanne Shaw Taylor among others. I have to admit that I have a bit of a problem with Beth's voice at times - her diction and accent grate on me slightly (it sounds a bit contrived to me) but her playing is top quality, as is that of her band. She wrote or co-wrote all the songs too, apart from the bonus live track at the end. It suffers a little from CD bloat, for me, and the fact that most of the tracks are relatively similar, but that doesn't mean that they're not any good, though.

Baddest Blues is a smoky, slow late night blues ballad to open with that bursts out powerfully mid-song with some big guitar parts and a rousing chorus. 

Bang Bang Boom Boom is a catchily jaunty number with a perky slightly waltzy beat to it. Beth's voice is fine on this one - gritty and lazily soulful.


Better Man is a power chord-driven chunky rock number with another instantly appealing chorus. 

The lengthy Caught Out In The Rain is a delicious serving of slow, grinding, sexy blues, featuring some incendiary guitar chops and another excellent vocal - maybe I'm wrong about the voice! When I listen to the fifties-ish Swing My Thing Back Around, however, I start to disagree as Beth sings "I'm poiting (putting) my foit (foot) down". It just irritates me - sorry. Never mind, all is forgiven on the superbly soulful strains of With You Everyday, a Memphis-style slow burner that is possibly the best track on the album. 

Thru The Window Of My Mind is excellent too, with an infectious beat to it and more soully ambience. Nice piano on it too. It has a very 2010s poppy feel in its chorus. Spirit Of God is a brassy, Elton John-esque number with a catchy handclappy, gospelly bit near the end.

There In Your Heart is a piano-driven, robust ballad while another of my favourites is the vaguely reggae-influenced The Ugliest House On The Block. Great drumming on this one. the album ends with the slow ballad Everything Must Change and then a real treat in the live performance, featuring Jeff Beck, of I'd Rather Go Blind. Beth does her best Janis Joplin on this one.

Yes, it is all a bit samey, but it is a good samey. 

Monday, 23 November 2020

Ten Years After

Ten Years After (1967)

I Want To Know/I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes/Adventures Of A Young Organ/Spoonful/Losing The Dogs/Feel It For Me/Love Until I Die/Don't Want You Woman/Help Me

For years I thought Ten Years After were an American blues rock band. They had that sort of Woodstock-ish late sixties/early seventies Allman Brothers thing about them.


They were actually British and released this, their debut album, in October 1967, at the point where the Rolling Stones-Them-Yardbirds-Kinks British blues-r'n'b boom was beginning to merge into what became known as blues rock. In that respect they led the way, along with Cream, of course. The album is made up of a mixture of blues covers and original material.

This is a really good album, featuring superb instrumentation, a solid blues sound and really good stereo, for 1967. I'm a sucker for this sort of thing. It has a typically freaky sixties cover too, which is always a good thing. The album, though, is much less far out, (man) than the cover suggests, being totally steeped in the blues. 

I Want To Know kicks the album off in barnstorming style - rocking blues of the highest order. Check out that guitar solo mid-song. Excellent. 

Al Kooper's I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes is a slow-paced, bassy organ-driven number. It is full of brooding late night atmosphere. Listen to the guitar-drums-keyboard-bass interplay in the middle of the song. It is outstanding, and has a great sound quality too. 

Adventures Of A Young Organ is a groovy little organ instrumental with a poppy, jazzy sound of the kind that The Style Council's Mick Talbot would reproduce in the early eighties. It is most enjoyable and, again, the stereo sound is impressive. 

Willie Dixon's Spoonful is again led off by the organ, this time together with a big, deep, guitar-powered blues sound accompanying it. Once more it cooks from beginning to end, although it has a bit of a studio jam feeing about it. Nothing wrong with that, though, it was beginning to be all the rage. Indeed, Cream also covered the song on their Fresh Cream album. 

Losing The Dogs is a frantic piece of rollocking piano, guitar and whistling (!) fun that sounds like Dr. Feelgood - dare I say ten years before. 

Feel It For Me grinds and bubbles along in a broodingly bluesy style with singer Alvin Lee sounding a bit like The Doors' Jim Morrison. Love Until I Die is a short but very catchy upbeat blues featuring some fine blues harmonica. Don't Want You Woman is a melodic acoustic blues with vague hints of Canned Heat 's Going Up The Country about it. 

The album's big cornerstone was the slow, creeping bluesy menace of Help Me, which surely inspired Led Zeppelin. It is full of stabbing guitar interjections, killer soloing, a great bluesy vocal and a rumbling, deep bass. It was a fine end to a really impressive debut album, and one which doesn't get mentioned much, which is a shame. 

Undead (1968)

I May Be Wrong, But I Won't Be Wrong Always/(At The) Woodchopper's Ball/Spider In My Web/Summertime-Shantung Cabbage/I'm Going Home/Rock Your Mama/Spoonful/Standing At The Crossroads/I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes

This was an important live album in the development of Ten Years After, helping publicise them in the UK and also develop their fanbase in the US. It was recorded in a small jazz club called Klooks Kleek, in London, in May 1968. 

The original album contained only the first five tracks listed above, none of which had appeared on the band's debut album and they are all extended, jam-style workouts, incorporating blues, rock and jazz to great effect. 

Included is the rocking I'm Going Home, which they played at 1969's Woodstock festival. It remained one of their most popular live tracks thereafter.


Spider In My Web is also a solid piece of blues rock, while Summertime-Shantung Cabbage contains the obligatory, for the time, drum solo. 

Overall, it is a fine, enjoyable listen, with a good love atmosphere, despite a few sound drop-outs in places. They add to the live feeling anyway. The best way of listening to the album is with the extra tracks from the set added. Rock Your Mama, Spoonful and Standing At The Crossroads being particularly impressive. 

Stonedhenge (1969)

Going To Try/I Can’t Live Without Lydia/Woman Trouble/Skoobly-Oobly-Doobob/Hear Me Calling/A Sad Song/Three Blind Mice/No Title/Faro/Speed Kills

Ten Years After were well on board the blues rock train before this, their second studio album, from early 1969, but here we are given an offering that is not without a large dose of freaky psychedelia and jazzy influences too. It is certainly well versed in the spirit of 1968-69, in many different ways. It is definitely not as outright a blues rock album as you might have expected it to be, especially given the band’s bluesy debut. Far from it, in fact. It is a bit of an eclectic mish-mash.

The album is also interjected in places with four short solo spots - piano, vocals, drums and bass which tend to detract from any cohesion the album may have had. 

Going To Try is a rousing, slightly experimental, ad hoc-style piece of psychedelic blues, loaded with crazy guitar breaks, madcap organ and frantic percussion. It has a lot of cross-pollenation influence from contemporaries Cream. 

I Can’t Live Without Lydia is a slightly incongruous and brief slice of piano indulgence before we get the jazzy, very Georgie Fame strains of Woman Trouble. It is all very late night, smoky jazz club with some of those trademark “vibes” keyboard sounds from that style of music. You get a fine bass solo on the track too, interplayed with some rat-a-tat drumming. 

Skoobly-Oobly-Doobob continues the jazzy thing on a short piece of “scat” vocal indulgence which is, to be honest, irritating and pointless. This reminds me of the beginning of Traffic’s Mr. Fantasy album when similar wasteful tracks appeared before the better stuff arrived. Thankfully, everything gets back on the right track on the irresistible blues riffage of Hear Me Calling. Its easily recognisable riff was covered by Slade, along with the song of course, as the opener to their 1972 Slade Alive album.


A Sad Song is a deep, bassy slow blues rock grinder of a track before another short interlude in Three Blind Mice, this time featuring the drums. 

No Title drifts along slowly for a few minutes before some seriously aggressive guitar launches itself upon us, along with some unleashed organ. It is a rambling, largely instrumental track that sums up the extended “jamming” trends of the time, but although I quite like it, I accept that it doesn’t go anywhere. That organ solo is decidedly proggy too, isn’t it? The bass-drum battle at the end is great though. 

Faro is another of those short solo spots - this time the bass. The album ends with a lively bluesy rock number in Speed Kills. In summing up, I have to say that there is probably only one really good track in Hear Me Calling another ok couple in Woman Trouble and A Sad Song. The group’s debut was much better. 

By the way, the album sounds much better in stereo than mono. 

Ssssh (1969)

Bad Scene/Two Time Mama/Stoned Woman/Good Morning Little Schoolgirl/If You Should Love Me/I Don’t Know That You Don’t Know My Name/The Stomp/I Woke Up This Morning

This was Ten Years After’s third album, from 1969, and it was far more rocking than the previous one, which had dabbled in jazz and psychedelia. This was far heavier fare. 

Bad Scene is an almost punky thrash to open with, featuring some caustic guitar, frantic drumming and a strange rock ‘n’ roll change of pace in the middle. It sort of defies description - it is not blues rock, or country rock or the psychedelic jazzy stuff from the previous album. As I said, for 1969, it is certainly proto-punk. 

Two Time Mama is a slice of country blues with that Canned  Heat Going Up The Country high pitched vocal style. Stoned Woman is as heavy as the band had been thus far, full of cutting rock guitar and a big, chunky drum sound. Play it loud snd feel your speakers shake. That guitar is positively incendiary too.

The tour de force of the old ‘side one’ is a stonking version of the much-covered Good Morning Little Schoolgirl. Singer Alvin Lee lustily sings “I wanna ball you all night long”. Hmmmm. Not sure he would get away with that now, but it was acceptably down ‘n’ dirty then. Get a load of the guitar and bass jousting mid-song. Superb. I love this to death.

If You Should Love Me is a catchy, buzzy rocker with a hippy-ish melody. Strangely, its chord progressions remind me of Oasis. Again, despite its repetitive refrain, there is something irresistible about it. 

I Don’t Know That You Don’t Know My Name sees a return to the era’s dreamy, hippy vibes on a quiet, acoustic-based number that has a gently infectious ambience to it, providing a brief let-up from the more powerful material. 

The Stomp is a swampy, insistent groove with Lee sounding as if  he was from the Southern States as opposed to the UK. It reminds me a lot of The Rolling Stones Shake Your Hips, which of course was still three years away, so that song sounded like this. 

I Woke Up This Morning is a robust, industrial strength serving of relentless mid-pace, guitar-powered blues rock that cooks on the highest setting all the way through. Proper, no-nonsense stuff. Play it loud.

Cricklewood Green (1970)

Sugar The Road/Working On The Road/50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain/Year 3,000 Blues/Me And My Baby/Love Like A Man/Circles/As The Sun Still Burns Away

This album, from 1970, is a fine example of early seventies bluesy rock, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't require a huge amount of written analysis, really. It is one of those albums that can just be put on, enjoyed for what it is and not ruminated upon over and over. 

Sugar The Road is a riffy, cowbell-powered and extremely catchy rocker to open with. It has an appealing bassy thump to it. and lots of killer guitar breaks. It rocks from the first note. Great start.

The upbeat vibe continues on the rolling rock of Working On The Road, with its frantic but still bluesy sound. The tempo drops for the slow, lengthy but still muscular sound of 50,000 Miles Beneath My Brain - what a typically late sixties/early seventies title. There is a very slight hint of The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil in the verse melody. The guitar work near the end is awesome too, again very similar to that which features in the afore-mentioned song.

Year 3,000 Blues is a jaunty serving of rollocking, country-influenced barroom blues, which sort of reminds of something The Grateful Dead may have done at the time. 

Me And My Baby is also a blues - this time featuring a jazzy groove to it. It is full of excellent organ and guitar and a bit of an Allman Brothers Band feel to it. 

The album's best-known track was the robust seven minutes-plus blues grind of Love Like A Man. It is a track that chugs along with a reassuring bassy depth to it and a confident, gruff vocal from Alvin Lee. It is a classic example of both its era and its genre. Once more, the guitar solo, mid song, is superb, as is the bass-drum interplay around five minutes in. They loved this sort of thing in 1970.

Circles is a quiet, acoustic ballad to give a slight change in atmosphere. As The Sun Still Burns Away has a psychedelic late sixties feel to it with organ and guitar swirling around, hazily. 

This was quite a short album by modern standards but it certainly does its job and survives as a fine example of its time. I really like it. It is one of those albums one puts on and it just sounds great.

Watt (1970)

I'm Coming On/My Baby Left Me/Think About The Times/I Say Yeah/The Band With No Name/Gonna Run/She Lies In The Morning/Sweet Little Sixteen

The strangely-titled Watt was Ten Years After's second album of 1970 and followed very much in the bluesy rock footsteps of its predecessor. It is a fine album, with excellent sound quality and a really appealing early seventies vibe to it. 

I'm Coming On is a mouth-wateringly fuzzy, riffy rocker of an opener that screams '1970' with every chunky note. There is something about this powerful period rock that I just love. It is sweaty, solid and drips with testosterone. There is some awesome lead guitar and rumbling bass too, something that I'm a sucker for, as regular readers will know. Add to that some pounding drums and insistent organ and any seventies rock fan can't go far wrong. 

My Baby Left Me is a confident rock ballad that ups its pace as it progresses, with Alvin Lee sounding a bit like Velvet Underground-era Lou Reed on the vocals in some places. As with the opening track, it rocks purposefully from note one. 

The laid-back but dignified Think About The Times is beautifully bassy and again serves as a perfect example of its musical period. 

I Say Yeah is an organ and piano-driven chugger with a vaguely funky feel and a strong vocal. There also is a strange backing instrument used that sounds like one of those springy door stoppers. It eventually morphs into like a didgeridoo meeting a wah-wah guitar. This is another track that I really like.  

The Band With No Name is a brief instrumental that takes its inspiration from the Spaghetti Western soundtracks of the time. Gonna Run is a nice piece of brooding blues rock that turns into a jazzy jam after a while. The group did this ‘jam’ thing really well in the same way that The Allman Brothers did. 

The album’s longest track is the slightly sixties-influenced and most inviting groove of She Lies In The Morning. Get a load of those rhythmic drum breaks. They remind me of The Grateful Dead’s cover of Good Lovin’. The bass, piano and guitar interplay half way through is superb as is Lee’s guitar soloing. There is also something Hendrix-ish about the spacey bit near the end. What an underrated band TYA were. 

The album closes with a live cut from the summer of 1970’s Isle Of Wight festival - a cover of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen.  It is delivered in enthusiastic heavy rock fashion, as you would expect from a seventies festival. Freak out, man. 

A Space In Time (1971)

One Of These Days/Here They Come/I’d Love To Change The World/Over The Hill/Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘n’ Roll You/Once There Was A Time/Let The Sky Fall/Hard Monkeys/I’ve Been There Too/Uncle Jam

From October 1971, this was said to be TYA’s Led Zeppelin III - a largely acoustic, folky album. This was true to a certain extent, but do not let this blind you to the fact that there was also some heavy stuff on here too. The acoustic material had a strength to it as well, making this certainly no wishy-washy offering, as indeed Zeppelin’s one wasn’t either. Although acoustic guitars were used, it still sounds like convincing, ballsy early seventies rock to me. 

Much seventies rock went on to merge acoustic and electric instrumentation as the decade progressed so this can be seen as quite influential.

One Of These Days is a powerful slow serving of blues rock that features some searing, choppy guitar interjections. The blues riffage is everything a fan of this sort of thing wants, as is the harmonica. This is as heavy as anything else the band had done.

Here They Come is an essentially acoustic number, but it is heavy acoustic, if you get my drift, with deep bass and an overall reverb-y sound. 

The ecologically idealistic and typically early seventies I’d Love To Change The World was actually the group’s only hit. It has a late sixties Lennon-Beatles influence as well as a freakbeat feel all over it. If anything, it almost sounds a few years behind its time. Feast your ears on Alvin Lee’s killer guitar as the song progresses, though. Lyrically, the song wants to tax the rich, feed the poor and stop the war - all laudable idealisms from the era. 

Over The Hill has a Small Faces sound to it, along with some Rolling Stones circa 1966-67 string orchestration that once again renders the song a little dated. Baby Won’t You Let Me Rock ‘n’ Roll You jolts us back to 1971 with some short, sharp hard rocking.

Once There Was A Time is a maudlin piece of barroom blues that throbs and moans over a solid drum and piano backing. Again, this has more oomph than you would expect from the acoustic beginning. The rock bit reminds me of The Time Warp from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. 

Let The Sky Fall is great, with a totally infectious bluesy riff and a perfect merging of acoustic, electric and bass guitars. As sublime a 1971 rock track it would be difficult to equal. Man, those drums are wonderful too. 

Hard Monkeys is another fine example of electric-acoustic interplay. It reminds me of Traffic’s No Face, No Name, No Number. It gives us some seriously good fuzzy guitar. Also in a Traffic style is the pleasing mid-pace rock of I’ve Been There Too. At the risk of repeating myself, I love this stuff.

Uncle Jam signs off with the band revisiting their liking for loose, jazzy jams on a shortish workout. 

Both this and its predecessor, Watt, were highly impressive albums, for me, anyway. Then again, they were to my taste so I would say that, obviously.

Rock & Roll Music To The World (1972)

You Give Me Loving/Convention Prevention/Turned Off T.V. Blues/Standing At The Station/You Can’t Win Them All/Religion/Choo Choo Mama/Tomorrow I’ll Be Out Of Town/Rock & Roll Music To The World

This album came out in 1972, when glam, prog and glam-related rock ruled the music world. Bluesy and riffy rock was now becoming a bit passe, but this should not have mattered and indeed it probably didn’t as there were plenty of fans around who were turned on by this. Despite that, though, it seemed to go under the radar somewhat, even though some efforts were made to win over the prog crowd in places. By and large, though, it is simply a big monster of a riffy rock album. I love it. It is probably my favourite of their albums.

You Give Me Loving (such a seventies title) starts with some strange gurgling noises before a huge chunky riff kicks in and we are treated to some classic eagrly seventies rock. It is the perfect blend of solid drums, guitar, bass snd keyboards, topped off with a strong rock vocal. It doesn’t get much better as an example of its genre. Feast your ears on the mid sing guitar, bass and cymbals interplay - wonderful. The sound is superb and makes your whole room vibrate.

Convention Prevention has a great introductory drumbeat and an Eric Clapton feel about it. It merges acoustic and electric guitars effectively and the organ breaks positively soar. Again there is a stonking guitar solo to be enjoyed. I should have paid this more attention at the time but I was too into my Bowie and Roxy Music. 

Turned Off T.V. Blues is as formulaically bluesy as you would expect it to be from its title, chugging firmly along. TYA always liked their blues and they don’t disappoint on this muscular number. Alvin Lee’s guitar work is breathtaking once more. He was truly underrated. 

Standing At The Station is a TYA classic and rightly so, bristling with brooding bluesy-prog rock vitality. The highlights are its infectious beat, big rubbery bass and wild, Deep Purple-esque organ. You Can’t Win Them All is riffy heaven, rocking from minute one with a Faces-Ronnie Lane style vocal. This was nearly fifty years ago now and it still sounds so fresh and alive. Yes, I can be accused of living in the past, but if the past is as good as this, then that’s fine by me.

Religion has a bass line to die for, an atmospheric guitar and vocal backing and an overall Free vibe to it. Next up is another TYA fans favourite, the rocking Choo Choo Mama, which is the album’s most upbeat and lively rocker. Never mind choo choo, Lordy mama that mid-song guitar rocks. Actually, the next track, Tomorrow I’ll Be Out Of Town, rocks almost as energetically. Two killer rocking tracks in a row. 

This excellent album ends with guess what? You got it - more top class riffage on Rock & Roll Music To The World, which is sort like a slowed down Status Quo meeting The Rolling Stones. 

This album just lifts my spirits. I wish I had known it for the last fifty years.

Positive Vibrations (1974)

Nowhere To Run/Positive Vibrations/Stone Me/Without You/Going Back To Birmingham/It's Getting Harder/You're Driving Me Crazy/Look Into My Life/Look Me Straight Into The Eyes/I Wanted To Boogie

This album signified the end of the road for the excellent Ten Years After. Shortly after its release, in 1974, they split up. It has attracted criticisms along the lines of it sounding tired and uninspired and I can sort of understand that but it is still played with a high degree of competence and it sounds fine to me. It was beginning to sound a bit dated, however, as all the energy of glam rock was bouncing all around, or even the indulgence and innovation of prog rock was making boogie-rock like this feel very pedestrian and old hat. Although I like it, I accept that it probably struggled for relevance in 1974. 

Nowhere To Run is a brooding number with some Hendrix-style riffs and a funky clavinet-powered undertow to it. It rocks chuggingly along, with the now obligatory great guitar solo in the middle. 

Positive Vibrations is laid-back typical mid-seventies rock balladry. It sounds like something Bad Company would do in subsequent years. A similar feel can be found on Stone Me, which boats a killer blues harmonica/guitar bit mid-song.

The accusation of tiredness can probably be validly levelled at the sleepy Without You, which reminds me of some of the material on Mott The Hoople's 1971 Wildlife album. However,  that torpor is immediately blown away by a breakneck, rocking cover of Little Richard's Going Back To Birmingham.

It's Getting Harder is a breezy piece of funk rock too and You're Driving Me Crazy also rocks energetically. Look Into My Life is a muscular piece of typical TYA mid-pace rock. I is ok, but there is something of a rock-by-numbers ordinariness about it. Look Me Straight Into The Eyes is cut from a similar cloth and it overstays its welcome slightly in its six plus minutes. It would have been fine in 1971 but not by 1974. It features one of those very (by now) dated Deep Purple-ish organ soloes. 

I Wanted To Boogie rocks enthusiastically enough and that was it for this excellent group. TYA wanted to boogie back in 1967 and they didn't disappoint, that was for sure. This album was a half-baked farewell, but they can be forgiven.


Regarding compilations, they are quite difficult to get hold of, but two good ones are:-