Thin Lizzy – Shades of a Blue Orphanage

ARTIST: Thin Lizzy                          220px-Thin_Lizzy_-_Shades_of_a_Blue_Orphanage

TITLE: Shades of a Blue Orphanage

YEAR RELEASED: 1972

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not here, but the first bonus track put them on the map.

LINEUP: Phil Lynott, Eric Bell, Brian Downey. Clodagh Simonds plays keyboards.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The second album repeats many of the same problem their first album had – though it is more of a rocker than a folker.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: When your second album starts out with “Rise and Dear Demise of the Funky Nomatic Tribes” you just wonder what the hell you’re getting yourself into – and to boot the track starts with a drum solo. Starts…with a drum solo. Then the riff kicks in and all seems to be well. At least for that track.

Thin Lizzy was still definitely a work in progress in 1972. They weren’t totally convincing as rockers, and didn’t quite have the focus in storytelling, either. What they had was glimpses of good stuff in and around the full tracks. Still, there are a couple of cringy clunkers that make you wonder. The production is flat and all mid-range – it’s like Brian Downey’s cymbals don’t exist.

Struggling to find an audience, Thin Lizzy’s next move was to release a traditional folk song as a single. You know it…”Whiskey in the Jar”.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The name of the album was taken from the bands the group was in before forming Thin Lizzy, Shades of Blue and Orphanage.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with the A/B of “Whiskey in the Jar” (#6 UK) and BBC tracks. 

GRADE: C: It’s safe to say that single saved their career (at least in the UK).

 

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The Grateful Dead – Live/Dead

ARTIST: Grateful Dead                    Grateful_Dead_-_Live-Dead

TITLE: Live / Dead

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #64

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Dark Star, St. Stephen, Turn on Your Love Light

LINEUP: Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann, Pigpen McKernan, Tom Constanten

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The whole world now gets to experience a Dead concert, at least the musical element.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: There are some that say this is the pinnacle of the Grateful Dead. This series of concerts in early 1969 were the culmination of the songs, sounds, and attitude of their first three albums, where they explored folk, blues, jazz, and rock in a psychedelic stew with long, long, long jams.

The first track, “Dark Star”, is the test of where you are as a listener of the Dead. You’re either right there with them through every note and improvisation, or you’d wish they’d stop noodling around and just get on with it. Yet even the most ardent critics have to admire side two’s medley of “St. Stephen” with “The Eleven”, an improvisation in 11/8, which is not an easy time signature to play in, especially on substances.

For me, their meandering stuff is just that, meandering, though I can definitely hear their musicianship and joy in explorations. Stuff like “Feedback”, though, and the almost interminable beginning to “Dark Star” tests my patience a bit. fillmore 1969

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Tom Constanten left the band in early 1970 right after their New Orleans drug bust.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: They have a 3-CD set of these dates at the Fillmore (Fillmore West 1969) which is probably a better bet since it’s got everything in some context and has more of their bluesy stuff and more ‘succinct’ songs. 

GRADE: B+: I’d give it an A- if “Feedback” wasn’t here.

Robbie Fulks – South Mouth

ARTIST: Robbie Fulks        southmouth

TITLE: South Mouth

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Alt country types now a few

LINEUP: Robbie Fulks, D. Clinton Thompson, Lou Whitney, Ron Gremp, Tom Brumley, Steve Byam

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Wry, sardonic songs from a frustrated country artist who doesn’t hold back about his frustrations with the industry.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Country music used to be as dark as much as it was light, and Fulks is one of those who tries to keep the darkness in the genre. Cuts like “I Told Her Lies” or “Busy Not Crying” look at two sides of a relationship – neither one a good side, and “Cold Statesville Ground” evokes some of the best macabre 60’s cuts.

The backing from the legendary Skeletons (also known as the Morells, and one of the best unknown bar bands from the 80’s and beyond) fits with every style Fulks throws at them – old time country swing, murder ballads, and reg’lar ol’ country the way it used to be.

However, the key track is his diatribe and good-bye to Nashville, “Fuck This Town”. Fulks’ humor, wit, and intelligence probably worked against him in Nashville, but it suits him as a solo artist. This second record really established him as an alt-country vanguard.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: He worked for Nashville publishers while living in Chicago, but still the sentiment holds.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-: One of the post Uncle Tupelo alt-country stepping stones.

Paul Kantner – Blows Against the Empire

ARTIST: Paul Kantner                       220px-JS_Blows-Against-the-Empire

TITLE: Blows Against the Empire

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #20

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Sci-fi hippies may have this somewhere in their collection.

LINEUP: Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, and a bun of friends from the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and others.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A sci-fi concept album containing spaceships, baby trees, LSD, and utopian worlds.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: NOTE: This is credited to “Paul Kantner and the Jefferson Starship”, which was not a real group at the time, but merely his collection of ‘stars’ that helped him on the record.

While the Jefferson Airplane was slowing down, Paul Kantner put his creative energies into a sci-fi concept album where drugs, music, and children are the future, and a spaceship will come and take the true believers out of the solar system.

Musically, it’s not half-baked all of the time. It’s mostly acoustic country-type jams that the Grateful Dead was getting into at the time. The storyline is a little out there, even for 1970, especially the whole thing about the baby tree, and that cocaine and acid and free love are the wave of the future.

I’m exiling this, but the adventurous may want to sample.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: It was nominated for a Hugo award.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, demos and a live cut of “Starship”

 GRADE: C:  EXILED. I heard it once, for posterity sake. Too much insane hippie gobbledy-gook.

The Stylistics – The Very Best of the Stylistics…and More!

ARTIST: The Stylistics                     stylistics

TITLE: The Very Best of the Stylistics…and More!

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Top 5: Betcha By Golly Wow (#3 US, #2 R&B, #13 UK), I’m Stone in Love with You (#10 US, #4 R&B, #9 UK), Break Up to Make Up (#5 US, #5 R&B, #34 UK), Rockin’ Roll Baby (#14 US, #3 R&B, #6 UK), You Make Me Feel Brand New (#2 US, #5 R&B, #2 UK), Heavy Fallin’ Out (#42 US, #4 R&B), Sing Baby Sing (#3 UK), Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love) (#51 US, #18 R&B, #1 UK), Na-Na Is the Saddest Word (#5 UK), Can’t Help Falling in Love (#52 R&B, #4 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You’ll Never Get to Heaven (If You Break My Heart) (#23 US, #8 R&B), Let’s Put It All Together (#18 US, #8 R&B, #9 UK),

LINEUP: Russell Thompkins, Jr., Airrion Love, Herbie Murrell, James Smith, James Dunn

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: A hits plys more collection of one of the classic soul vocal groups from the 70’s.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Russell Thompkins, Jr.’s falsetto was the perfect vehicle for the Stylistics and producer Thom Bell. Bell, with lyricist Linda Creed, constructed melodies, lyrics, and arrangements that perfectly fit Thompkins’ voice. Lush, romantic, and pleasing to soul and adult contemporary fans, the Stylistics were the go-to romantic jam for the early-to-mid 70’s.

Up until the smash “You Make Me Feel Brand New”, Bell worked with the Stylistics, but when he left, the hits dried up in the US, while they were still popular in Europe. Eventually, they gave in to the disco era, and that was pretty much the end of the gravy train – and the end of this collection shows it.

Still, the first half plus is fantastic, and a must for everyone nostalgic of the 70’s, or heck, even those who just love slow jam soul vocals.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: While Russell Thompkins, Jr. sang lead most of the time, their biggest US hit started with Airrion Love singing lead.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: A-:  There are two smaller comps, but the deep cuts of their early work are worth it for this. It does run dry at the end.

The Fastbacks – …And His Orchestra

ARTIST: Fastbacks                                     R-1370941-1213725016.jpeg

TITLE: …And His Orchestra

YEAR RELEASED: 1987

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong; In the Winter

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: The select few and possibly those who listen to KEXP

LINEUP: Kurt Bloch, Lulu Gargiulo, Kim Warnick, Richard Stuverud

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Debut long-player for a long-standing Pacific NW band illustrates their power-pop charm and hooks.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The Fastbacks were more legendary than anything. Every write-up of the Seattle scene mentions the Fastbacks, yet until the 90’s very few heard them outside of the area even though they’d been gigging since 1981.

You can definitely tell the joy and fun they have playing. Kurt Bloch’s songs fit the group like a glove, and Kim Warnick’s vocals, while maybe not technically elite, convey the spirit of the lyrics and songs perfectly. Bloch and Lulu Gargiulo’s guitars seem sinple, but go beyond the regular three-chord monte and add some metal flourishes at time (no, really). fastbacks saturday

Music like this always bring a smile to my face, and it’s kind of a shame that they receded into the background as the Seattle scene became THE SCENE.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They formed in 1979, and went through a shit-ton of drummers, including a young Duff McKagan..

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two of their early EP’s are appended at the end. Even though they’re from the mid-80’s they have the same spirit. R-2233040-1271317037.jpeg

GRADE: A:  If you need a fun record that illustrates the joy of playing in a band, this is it.

Loverboy – Loverboy

ARTIST: Loverboy                            LoverboyLB

TITLE: Loverboy

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #13

SINGLES: Turn Me Loose (#35, #6 Mainstream), Lady of the 80’s, The Kid Is Hot Tonight (#55, #42 Mainstream)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Deep tracks aren’t a strong suit of Loverboy

LINEUP: Mike Reno, Paul Dean, Doug Johnson, Scott Smith, Matt Frenette

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mainstream Canadian rockers debut makes some waves, and positions them for an MTV career.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: I mean, it’s Loverboy. Nostalgia for Generation X and 80’s kids, and fodder for arenas and classic rock radio.

Their debut started out strong, with the two biggest hits, and then, well, went straight to filler land. Which means songs with half-hearted hooks, lazy lyrics, 80’s synthesizers, and some showing off but always keeping it safe. Which is probably what you’d expect.

It’s not horrible by any stretch, and the filler doesn’t make you want to get up and change the station. But it’s not great art by any stretch. And I don’t think anyone will ever release a track named “Prissy Prissy” now.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their first gig was supporting Kiss in Calgary in 1979.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: C+:  Not really as bad as I originally thought, but the records just blah after the hits. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting that much anyway.

The Jungle Brothers – Straight Out the Jungle

ARTIST: The Jungle Brothers                     Straightoutthejungle

TITLE: Straight Out the Jungle

YEAR RELEASED: 1988

CHART ACTION: #39 R&B

SINGLES: I’ll House You (#16 Rap, #28 Dance, #22 UK), Jimbrowski, Because I Got Like That (#98 UK), On the Run, Straight Out the Jungle, Black Is Black (#72 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Hip-Hop historians eat this up.

LINEUP: Afrika Baby Bam, Mike Gee, Sammy B. Q-Tip adds some raps.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: One of the first Native Tongues hip-hop records, and it’s full of word play and different styles that were unique to the movement.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Playful samples, unique rhythms, and smart, catchy rhymes – the Jungle Brothers debut was one of the first “Native Tongues” records out there. It holds up today, and is just a great listen from start to finish.

Innovations like using house music as a base, incorporating jazz, dropping in odd found sounds, echoes and other production tricks that helped to accent their clever wordplay and overall atmosphere make this a fun and interesting listen. It’s accessible enough for casual hip-hop fans and may make some converts on the way.

As with most innovators, they didn’t become a big hit but made the way for much bigger hip-hop acts like De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Afrika Bam-Bam’s stage name is a tribute to Afrika Bambaattaa

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A bonus track was added in 1990. 

GRADE: A+:  They’re trailblazers, and this is a great start to explore Native Tongues, and it may make you a hip-hop fan before you know it.

Hawkwind – Hawkwind

ARTIST: Hawkwind                             220px-Hawkwindalbum

TITLE: Hawkwind

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #75 UK

SINGLES: Hurry on Sundown

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Not over here.

LINEUP: Dave Brock, Nik Turner, Huw Lloyd-Langton, John Harrison, Terry Ollis, Dik Mik (aka Michael Davies)

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The pioneers of “Space Rock” (basically prog with psychedelic flourishes) release their debut with a more folky feel than where’d they’d wind up, but it’s still space rock for the most part.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The name Hawkwind brings to mind psychedelics, long meandering songs, and 70’s craziness. Well, they were mostly like that from the get-go, as this debut shows.

Starting off with a basic folk rock song (“Hurry on Sundown”), the band then devotes most of the album to a suite of ‘space rock’, utilizing electronics from Dik Mik (Michael Davies) to add color and texture. The suite is broken up into individual ‘tracks’, as it covered both sides of the album until the final track “Mirror of Illusion”.

It’s an audacious piece, experimental, and never boring – though parts of it seem like weirdness for weirdness’ sake instead of a cohesive musical statement. Still, for the UK hippies in 1970, this was manna from heaven.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They were originally called Group X, and then Hawkwind Zoo

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with some early demos with their original guitarist Mick Slattery 

GRADE: B+:  The suite’s got some really great stuff (like “Be Yourself”), but some things are just too out there – except for the most deranged and adventurous.

Snapcase – Steps

ARTIST: Snapcase                    41Ogx1OiFiL

TITLE: Steps

YEAR RELEASED: 1995

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: It was a 4-song EP

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Doubtful

LINEUP: Daryl Taberski, Scott Dressler, Bob Whiteside, Jon Salemi, Timothy REdmond

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The metal/punk/emo band buys time with an EP.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: With changes in lineup happening quickly, Snapcase recorded a four-song EP to buy them some time and put down four songs.

The guitar work straddles metal and punk, and Daryl Taberski’s vocals are on the more ‘screamy’ side of punk, and the tone is definitely emotional, reminding one of a punk singer with a frog in his throat.

There’s nothing extraordinary about these four tracks, but there’s nothing horrible about it. It’s really an EP for completists, or people who want to document the early years of what became emo or screamo or whatever the kids call it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Most all of the changes in the band were members going off to finish school.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No 

GRADE: B:  It’s metal, it’s punk, it’s somewhere in the middle. Some good riffin’.