30 December, 2008

Music In Review

Deep Purple - Burn (1974)

I picked up Machine Head years ago when I was first starting my classic rock collection, because it's one of the pinnacle albums in classic rock history (four words: smoke on the water). Since then, I've picked up Made in Japan for the live angle, and The Very Best Of for a smattering of the non-Machine Head hits. Even so, I've been wanting to dig into some more actual Purple albums for awhile - and now I have.

Burn is the debut of Mk III of the band, featuring David Coverdale on vocals in place of Ian Gillan. Ritchie Blackmore is still on guitar and Jon Lord is still on the keyboards (and Ian Paice is still on the drums). The new bassist Glenn Hughes also serves as secondary vocalist, creating a pretty cool "two singers" effect on some of the songs. The standout tracks are the title track, Burn, which is every bit as good as the straight-up rocker that opens Machine Head (Highway Star), and Mistreated, a slow (for Deep Purple) bluesy number. Also, the track "A" 200 is an interesting synth piece, with an awesome guitar solo thrown in for the hell of it, and the bonus track Coronarias Redig, is an exciting jam. Altogether, I am really enjoying this album.

Dio - Metal Hits (1983-1994)

I think I remember being rather intimidated by Ronnie James Dio at one point - him being this "heavy metal" singer with scary-looking album covers. Somewhere along the way, I learned that he started out in a less-metal-and-more-rock band called Elf - named after Dio's short stature. So much for the intimidation factor. Well, I picked up the Elf albums, which are pretty good, and over time, Dio's voice has really grown on me. And I think it's a great voice for "metal".

I'd say Dio's material is, in a sense, comparable to Ozzy's solo career. Seeing as they're both classic well-known vocalists in the metal arena, and they both started out playing in popular bands before really making a name for themselves (in addition to the little-known Elf, Dio also made a splash in the band Rainbow which Ritchie Blackmore formed after leaving Deep Purple mid-70's, and also sang for Black Sabbath around the turn of the 80's). And while I really liked Ozzy's voice in the original Black Sabbath, I think I'd have to say that Dio has the better metal voice.

As for the Metal Hits compilation, it's great to have Rainbow in the Dark and Holy Diver on CD, and I suspect I'll get to like the other tracks as I get to know them better, over time.

Roy Buchanan - You're Not Alone (1978)

You probably know that I'm a huge Roy Buchanan fan, even though I don't yet own very much of his material. Even so, I was uncertain of how good this album would turn out to be. From what I've read, Roy played around in a lot of places with a lot of bands before ever getting "noticed" (to the extent that he actually /was/ noticed), and so he had been around before he ever started recording early in the 70's. Additionally, Buchanan seems to me to be the type that's more concerned with playing the guitar than writing songs. Which, is actually one of the reasons I like him so much. But because of this, I've read that the people in the biz who wanted to get Roy some visibility had to resort to various musical stunts in the studio, without really knowing how to tap into Roy's style - which is self-evident on the live albums on which he appears.

So anyway, I wasn't sure what kind of experiment You're Not Alone would be, or how successful it would be, and frankly, knowing Roy's unique and versatile playing style, I wasn't quite sure what kind of an album it would be. On the other hand, that also made the experience of listening to it for the first time more exciting. And it was exciting. Turns out the album is almost completely instrumental - which earns an automatic thumbs up for me. Roy's never been much of a singer (something I can sympathize with), although when he does sing, his vocal delivery, though plain by vocalist standards, in my opinion, fits the kind of songs he sings perfectly - that is, slow, depressing, blues. He doesn't belt out the emotion like a lot of great blues singers have been known to do, but when he sings, you can hear the depression in his voice, and it's just as effective.

Anyway, the album is awesome. It's like an instrumental soundscape, shaped by Roy's playing, with more atmospheric pieces and also some pretty good rockin' shuffles (including an awesome take on Joe Walsh's Turn To Stone). And the cover of Down By The River, here in studio version, is very good. It's similar but not the same as the live version I have - another thing about Roy that's great, he has a tendency to play the same song very differently at different times (take Roy's Bluz, where the two live versions I have are almost completely different songs). I'm very impressed with this album and my appreciation for Roy Buchanan has just jumped up another notch.

Harvey Mandel - Baby Batter (1971)

Speaking of instrumental albums, Baby Batter is also amazing. I've heard that Harvey Mandel has done some pretty experimental things, and in the opening track on Baby Batter, where a baby speaks the titular phrase (the only vocal utterance on the entire record), I was a little scared of how weird things were gonna get. But, rest assured, this album is pure Harvey Mandel as "The Snake" we've known from his previous albums. Fluid, slithering guitar lines over a groovy, at times almost jazzy, musical background.

With Harvey Mandel's stuff, songs don't really stand out from the overall musical experience, but it's an experience I really enjoy. The guitar work is tasty, and it's the kind of music that I can put on and just absorb as I do other things, and it makes me feel better, because it's like damn, great music like this actually exists? It doesn't impose itself, but it's more than happy to show-off if you choose to give it that attention. I just have to say, Harvey Mandel is amazing, and he too has jumped up another notch on my appreciation belt.

Joe Bonamassa - Live From Nowhere In Particular (2008)

This is a different sort of live album from 2001's A New Day Yesterday Live. Joe's come a long way in these short years, and he's managed to garner a pretty solid and totally loyal fanbase. And he deserves it. While this live album might not have as much raw energy as the earlier one, it's still a great album and features its own charms.

It seems that, since ditching Joe's original backing band - of the power trio variety - he's been more focused on the songwriting aspect than the rock band aspect. Although, to say that he doesn't still rock out would be completely wrong. But the kind of soundscapes he's crafting like on India/Mountain Time show a different sort of focus than hard blues rock - though no less impressive. Even Sloe Gin, an amazing song, and likely Joe's new showcase song, to replace A New Day Yesterday, is a different kind of bluesy rocker, with a bit more introversion and crying compared to Yesterday's extroverted screaming (of sorts).

If Heartaches Were Nickels, an emotional electric blues, was another of my favorite tracks on the earlier live album, and here, it makes a surprisingly acoustic appearance. Knowing my proclivity for electric music, I don't like it as much as the earlier version, but it is still quite interesting to hear the difference. The track that opens the live album, Bridge to Better Days, works as a great opener, though I think I like Takin' The Hit better as an opener (a la the Rockpalast DVD), after all. The Django/Just Got Paid jam alternates between the soundscape and hard rock approaches, finishing with the instrumental Dazed and Confused solo jam just like I heard Joe play the last time I saw him live - great to get this on a live album to listen to for years to come!

Coming to A New Day Yesterday, the track that closes the album - it's quite a bit different from the earlier version. You almost feel like Joe's only playing it because it's one the fans like to hear. It's still a fantastic song, but it doesn't have the raw energy it used to - and the Yes jam at the end of it has been extended since the short riffs Joe played at Rockpalast. You definitely get the feeling from this album that Joe is stretching out and really expanding his playing repertoire, not content to exist within the confining walls of "the blues". Although this isn't surprising, as Joe has from the beginning had a liberal approach to what the blues is and what the blues could be, but here you can really hear him exploring some alternate realms. It's very exciting, and I look forward to hearing what Joe's got in store for us in the future. I just hope he doesn't venture so far that he forgets that hard rocking edge that made me a fan of his in the first place.

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