The Church Sticks To Its Religion On New Album

Aussie band continues signature sound that cemented its ’80s cult status

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Readers of the blog may be surprised that I’m posting about The Church, which clearly falls outside the type of music I typically cover. While Classic Rock, Blues and British Invasion represent my main wheel house, I actually have a fairly eclectic taste. This Australian band is one example.

The Church first entered my radar screen in 1988 when they released a seductive song called Under The Milky Way Tonight, the lead single for their fifth studio album Starfish. The tune combines spacey sound and psychedelic lyrics with a catchy melody. It also features a cool bagpipes-resembling solo. I ended up buying the album at the time, which I still dig to this day.

The Church

Fast-forward almost 30 years to October 6, 2017, when The Church released their 26th studio album Man Woman Life Death Infinity – quite a heavy title! I only came across it coincidentally when browsing Apple Music earlier today. Admittedly, I never explored the band’s catalog beyond Starfish and had completely lost track of them.

The Church’s long history goes far beyond the scope of this post. In a nutshell, the band was formed in Sydney in 1980. Two of the founding members, Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass) and Peter Koppes (guitar) are still around, though Koppes left the band in 1992 and returned in 1997. The current line-up also includes Tim Powles (drums, percussion, vocals, guitar), who has been with the band since 1994, and guitarist Ian Haug, who joined in 2013. While The Church didn’t have mainstream success beyond Starfish, the band retains a large international cult following, according to Wikipedia.

After listening to Man Woman Life Death Infinity a few times, the music clearly reminds me of Starfish, except I haven’t discovered any tune yet that stands out to me like Under The Milky Way Tonight or Reptile do on the 1988 album. The record’s opener Another Century pretty much sets the stage for the album’s sound. AllMusic describes it as “atmospheric space rock with a hooky pop sensibility.” I think that’s not a bad characterization of what essentially is the band’s signature sound. Here is the official video of the track.

A recurring topical theme on the record is water. Australian music site Music Feeds quotes Kilbey, who typically writes the lyrics to the band’s songs: “I guess water is my element. I’ve always marvelled at the sea and rivers and rain. It wasn’t conscious at all but on reflection, it definitely is a preoccupation on this record. What that means, I don’t know.” Well, if Kilbey doesn’t know, how would anyone else? Here’s a clip of Undersea.

I Don’t Know How I Don’t Know is another tune I like, which AllMusic describes as “moody Byrdsian.” I suppose the guitar is a bit reminiscent of The Byrds, though the track’s sound is much more layered, but let’s not over-analyze it. The song also appears to establish a pattern where Kilbey doesn’t seem to know what he is doing – on a more serious note, here is a clip of the tune.

The last song I’d like to highlight is Something Out There Is Wrong – that may well be the case, though not with this tune! Here’s a clip.

Man Woman Life Death Infinity was produced by Ted Howard, who has frequently worked with the band since the early 2000s. While the music becomes a bit repetitive after a while, there is just something about it. I’ve always been drawn to spacey music. I suppose that’s why I’m such a huge fan of Pink Floyd, especially their ’70s albums up to Wish You Were Here. I also know no other band that sounds quite like The Church. At some point, I may start to further explore their catolog. If anyone reading this is familiar with the band, please feel free to send any recommendations you may have.

Sources: Wikipedia, AllMusic, Music Feeds, YouTube

Ringo Starr’s New Album Reflects His Upbeat Personality

Steve Lukather, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton and Paul McCartney among many prominent guests

After Ringo Starr had announced it on his 77th birthday back in July, his new studio album Give More Love appeared yesterday. Coming only two and a half years after Postcards From Paradise, it is Starr’s 19th studio release.

Would I post about this, if Starr wouldn’t have been part of The Beatles? It’s a fair question to ask. After all, I’ve been a huge fan of The Fab Four for close to 40 years, so I can’t deny a certain bias. But I also think Starr is one of the most likable contemporary music artists I can think of – not to mention he is revered by so many other musicians.

Despite the fame that inevitably comes from being associated with one of the most popular and influential bands of the 20th Century, Starr never comes across as being full of himself. To me he also personifies the idea that members of a band should be partners, not competitors. I suppose all of this makes him a guy with whom other artists want to play.

Perhaps nothing illustrates Starr’s personality better than his All-Starr Band, which has existed in different formations since 1989. According to Wikipedia, the concept was created by producer David Fishof, who also produced the band’s first eight tours from 1989 until 2003. While rock “supergroups” had existed before, the idea of solo artists coming together in a touring band that played songs from each was new.

Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney & Joe Walsh

Given how many high-profile artists have been part of the All-Starr Band over the years, it’s perhaps not a surprise that Give More Love includes an impressive array of guests: Steve Lukather, Joe Walsh, Peter Frampton, Jeff Lynne, Edgar Winter, Paul McCartney, Nathan East, Don Was and Timothy B. Schmit, to name some.

Ten of the tracks are original songs that have all been co-written by Starr. The album also features four bonus tracks, which are newly recorded versions of previously released songs, including Back Off Boogaloo and Photograph, two of Starr’s biggest hits.

The opener We’re On The Road Again, one of four singles that appeared prior to the album, has a nice rock groove to it. The tune was co-written by Lukather, who also plays guitar and keyboards. McCartney contributes bass, and provides background vocals, together with Winter, Walsh and Lukather.

King of the Kingdom has a laid back reggae beat. Starr’s co-writer for this tune was Van Dyke Parks, who is best known for his collaborations with Brian Wilson. Some of the guest musicians include Dave Stewart (formerly Eurythmics) on guitar, Winter on saxophone and East on bass.

Electricity is another more rock-oriented tune. Starr’s co-writer was Glen Ballard, who also contributes keyboards and backing vocals. Walsh, Starr’s brother-in-law, does some terrific guitar work, while Was is on bass. Asked about the song’s lyrics during an interview with People, Starr explained Johnny Guitar refers to the guitarist from Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the band in which Starr played before joining The Beatles. “I loved him. He was such a great asset to the band, and he had a great attitude. He played great, but mad.”

Shake It Up, which was co-written by Gary Nicholson, has a rockabilly groove. Nicholson also plays guitar on the recording. Winter provides piano, while Was contributes the bass.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the album’s title song, another co-write with Nicholson. Give More Love was also the record’s lead single released on Starr’s birthday (July 7). Among the guest musicians are bassist Matt Bissonette, his brother Gregg Bissonette on drums, as well as Schmit on backing vocals.

In mid-October, Starr and the All-Starr Band will kick off a 19-date U.S. tour. Lukather and Gregg Bissonette will be part of the line-up, as will be Todd RundgrenGregg RollieRichard Page and Warren Ham. The tour kicks off on October 13 with an eight-gig residency in Las Vegas and concludes on November 16 in Newark, N.J.

Asked during the above People interview what keeps him hungry after all this time, Starr said, “The playing is what it’s all about. That’s why I’m touring, that’s why I make records. That’s why I play with a lot of the people who ask me. I just love to play. I’m in a profession and a position where I can just play for as long as I can. As long as I can hold the sticks! That’s what it’s all about.”

Sources: Wikipedia, People, Ringo Starr website, YouTube

 

Final Gregg Allman Studio Album Released

With Southern Blood, Allman’s solo work comes full circle

Today, the and eighth and final studio album from Gregg Allman Southern Blood  appeared. This followed an announcement from Rounder Records about the release in late July, which coincided with the premiere of the record’s first song My Only True Friend on NPR. I previously did a post on this.

My first impression of the album is that Allman’s voice sounds pretty powerful throughout. After all, the liver cancer he had been battling since 2012 was at a terminal stage when he recorded the 10 tracks over nine days in March 2016 – about 10 months prior to his death on May 27 this year. In fact, based on media reports I previously read, Allman could only work for four hours a day.

Gregg Allman & Band at FAME Studios
Gregg Allman (fourth from left) with FAME studio owner Rick Hall (fifth from left), Don Was (sixth from left) and members of his band

While all who were involved in recording the album knew this was Allman’s final output, the record doesn’t portray a dark mood. Instead, it feels like Allman has come full circle with his solo debut from 1973. “Laid Back had that great pedal steel on it and incorporates a little more of Gregg’s roots than maybe what you heard from just the Allman Brothers,” producer Don Was told Billboard. “One of the things Gregg and I did speak about was making the texture of this record something along the lines of what Laid Back would have sounded like if it were recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in 2017.”

Intially, Allman had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his declining health this wasn’t feasible. “So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” his former manager Michael Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.”

Southern Blood kicks off with My Only True Friend, the previously released song and the only track for which Allman has writing credits. He co-wrote the ballad with his guitarist and musical director Scott Sharrard. The tune’s origins date back to 2012 when Sharrard saw Duane Allman talk to Gregg in a dream. “I woke up, ran downstairs grabbed my guitar and pen and paper and basically got the intro and verse exactly as you hear it on the record,” Sharrard noted in an interview with Guitar World. When showing the beginnings of the song to Allman he liked it, and the two of them started working on it over the next few months. They finished the song just before it was recorded.

Once I Was is a country tune from Tim Buckley, which was included on his second studio album Goodbye and Hello from August 1967. Apparently, Allman was fond of the American singer-songwriter and guitarist. During the above interview with Guitar World, Sharrard said he first heard Allman play the song in March 2014. When he asked him, Allman confirmed he was a fan of Buckley, though he initially wasn’t sure whether he wanted to record the tune. Sharrad liked what he had heard continued to encourage Allman, who eventually agreed to record the song.

I Love the Life I Live is a mid-tempo Willie Dixon blues song. It has a cool guitar riff, great groove and nice horn work. I instantly liked the tune after listening to the opening bars.

Another nice blues rocker on the record is Love Like Kerosene, which was written by Sharrard. Similar to the Dixon tune, it has a great groove and some cool Memphis-style horns – my kind of song! Allman first included the track on his excellent live album Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA, which was released in August 2015.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Song For Adam, which was written by Jackson Browne and included on his 1972 eponymous debut album. Browne, a good friend of Allman, also sang back-up vocals on the recording. “Jackson and Gregg were such good friends and admirers of each other’s work since they were teenagers, I couldn’t think of a better way for the record to come to a conclusion than with a lyric that Gregg always related to through the tragic loss of his brother at a young age,” Sharrard told Guitar World.

As noted above, Southern Blood was recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., which had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” added Was. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Guitar World, YouTube

Steve Winwood Releases Wide-Ranging Greatest Hits Live Compilation

Album portraits five-decade career from Spencer Davis Group to present

Steve Winwood has been one of my favorite artists for many years. Some fans who like Winwood from his days with The Spencer Davis Group and Traffic cringe when it comes to his more pop-oriented solo albums from the ’80s. I dig both, his old stuff and the music he released during the ’80s and later. I find there is just something about Winwood’s voice that makes almost any song he performs great, similar to what was the case with Tina Turner.

Released yesterday (Sep. 1), Greatest Hits Live is Winwood’s first new album since 2009’s Live From Madison Square Garden, which featured Eric Clapton. According to a press release, the record is available as a 2-CD and a 4-vinyl LP set. All tracks were handpicked by Winwood from his personal archives of live performances. The new recordings of these 23 songs sound fresh, which makes for a great album.

Steve Winwood with Hammond B3

“I’m excited about the release because I have recorded every show for many years and so it evoked many memories of the performances and reactions from the fans over the years who have supported me,” Winwood stated. “I suppose it is sort of a tribute to the band members and crew I’ve been fortunate to have with me on the road. The songs were chosen for being the ones most recognized throughout my career which have left an impression and so I hope the record will be a souvenir that brings to mind happy memories of a good time experienced at one of my shows.”

The album features rare, previously unreleased material touching on all aspects of Winwood’s extensive catalog, including contemporary arrangements of the music he created with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith, and on his classic solo recordings. The collection channels R&B, Jazz, Funk, Folk, Classic Rock, Pop, and Afro-Caribbean & Brazilian rhythms, highlighting Winwood’s ability to fuse multiple genres into a singular, cohesive musical expression. The album not only showcases Winwood on his seductive Hammond B3, but also illustrates his guitar skills. Following are clips of a few tracks.

Can’t Find My Way Home was written by Winwood and first recorded for Blind Faith’s eponymous 1969 album, the blues rock “super-group’s” only release.

Dear Mr. Fantasy first appeared on Mr. Fantasy, the 1967 debut from Traffic. The tune was written by Winwood and his band mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood.

The next track I’d like to highlight is Gimme Some Lovin’, which was released as a single by the Spencer Davis Group in October 1966. Written by Winwood, Spencer Davis and Steve’s older brother Muff Winwood, it is one of my favorite ’60s tunes. Every time I hear that growling Hammond B3, my neck hair stands up.

While You See A Chance is an example of a Winwood pop tune. The song, which was written by Winwood and Will Jennings, first appeared on his second solo album Arc Of a Diver, released in December 1980. Climbing to no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, the record was Winwood’s breakthrough solo album.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the Memphis soul-style Roll With It, one of my favorite Winwood tunes from his solo career. It is the title song of his fifth solo record from June 1988, which became a no. 1 album in the U.S. and has sold more than three million copies. Also released as a single that topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for four weeks in the summer of 1988, the tune was written by Winwood and Jennings. Later, legendary Motown songwriter trio Holland-Dozier-Holland gained co-writing credits due to the song’s similarity to the Junior Walker hit (I’m A) Roadrunner.

Winwood is supporting the album with a tour through the U.S.. which kicks off in Indio, Calif. and is currently set to conclude in Hartford, Conn. on September 23. The U.S. leg will be followed by gigs in Europe in the fall.

Sources: Wikipedia, Steve Winwood press release, JamBase, YouTube

Ringo Rocks With A Little Help From His Friends

Paul McCartney, Steve Lukather, Joe Walsh and Edgar Winter join Starr on second single from upcoming studio album

Last Friday, the second single from Ringo Starr’s forthcoming 19th solo album Give More Love appeared. Co-written by him and Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, We’re On the Road Again is quite a vigorous rocker. The tune also features Paul McCartney on bass and backing vocals, as well as the Eagles’ Joe Walsh (backing vocals) and blues rocker Edgar Winter (backing vocals).

On July 7, his 77th birthday, Starr announced the new album and released the title track as its first single. The record, which includes ten original songs and four bonus tracks of re-recordings of previous Starr tunes, also features many other top-notch guests, such as Peter Frampton, Dave Stewart (formerly of the Eurythmics), ELO’s Jeff Lynnethe Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit and Nathan East.

Ringo-Starr-All-Starr-Band-March-2017-768x385

Starr will also go on a fall tour with his All-Starr Band. The line-up includes Todd Rundgren (guitar), Gregg Rolie (keyboards), Lukather (guitar), Richard Page (bass), Warren Ham (saxophone) and Gregg Bissonette (drums). The tour starts on October 13th with an eight-show residence at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas and concludes on November 16 at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J.

At 77 years, Starr seems to be an excellent shape and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The members of The All-Starr Band and the guests on the new album aren’t exactly teenagers either. We’re On the Road Again sounds like an ideal set opener. Here’s a clip of the tune. Rock on Ringo!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Ringo Starr website, YouTube

 

Alice Cooper Still Shocking

Shock rocker returns with first new album in six years

Alice Cooper is one of these guys who have been around forever, 50-plus years to be more exact, yet other than a few hits like I’m Eighteen, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Poison and of course School’s Out, I really don’t know his music. But since I’m going to see Deep Purple together with Cooper at the end of August, his new album caught my attention when I spotted it coincidentally earlier today under new releases in Apple Music.

While I’ve always liked the aforementioned tunes, I’ve never further explored Cooper’s music. That being said, every time I encounter him, there is something I find intriguing – I can’t quite explain what it is. It’s not the guillotines, electric chairs, fake blood and other weird objects he uses during his live performances. That’s simply all part of his shock rock style, a genre he pretty much invented – BTW, kudos to any artist who creates their signature style!

So is his new album, which was released today, going to make me a fan? I’m not sure. After having listened through the 12 studio tracks a few times, what I can say with confidence is most of the music rocks nicely, but there’s no School’s Out material – except for the six additional live versions of old Cooper tunes, which include School’s Out, as well as No More Mr. Nice Guy.

CooperGibbonsLarry

A few things are remarkable about Paranormal. To start with, it is Cooper’s 27th studio release, if you include the first seven albums that were recorded when Alice Cooper still was known as a band rather than a single artist. Speaking of that band, two of the songs on the album feature four of the original members: Cooper (vocals, then known by his real name Vincent Damien Furnier), Michael Bruce (rhythm guitar), Dennis Dunaway (bass) and Neal Smith (drums). Additional guests include Deep Purple’s Roger Glover, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and U2’s Larry Mullen.

In a Billboard story, Cooper explained his initial intention had been to make “another Alice Cooper album,” but the outcome was a concept. “Lyrically every single character has some sort of abnormal, paranormal problem going on and I didn’t have a name for the album, so Paranormal ended up sounding like the thing that cemented this all together,” Cooper noted. “It wasn’t paranormal on a level of ghosts or UFOs or Bigfoot; It was just paranormal on the fact (the characters) were next to normal. It certainly wasn’t normal.”

Paranormal opens with the title song, which features Roger Glover. The above Billboard story also includes a video breaking down the record. Commenting on the title track, he noted he wanted the album to have at least one “Cooperesque” song: “It’s a love song about a guy who’s on the other side. He’s dead and he comes to visit the girl, but there is that curtain between them where he can’t really touch her. She knows he’s there…It’s a creepy song, and we made it a little over the top…” I suppose you could say that – but what else would you expect?

Fallen In Love is a rock & roll tune with a nice ZZ Top vibe. Cooper explained for that reason he wanted to have Billy Gibbons – makes sense. It’s safe to assume this turned the rocker more into a ZZ Top-like tune. The song’s riff and solo definitely sound like classic Gibbons.

Holy Water is an unusual song for Cooper, which combines rock with a soul-like horn section. Apparently, when it initially was presented to him, he immediately liked the tune but didn’t feel the lyrics were something he’d ever sing. So he changed the words. Holy Water was also turned from what he called a rap tune into a rock song. The result is a song with a nice groove.

The Sound of A is the first tune that Cooper ever wrote back in 1967. At the time, his band was still called The Spiders. Dunaway, the bassist, had brought it in. “It was the most psychedelic song, because during the recording, everybody just went off on these guitar parts and things, and it just swirled,” Cooper noted. “It ended up being one of the most interesting songs on the album…totally forgot that I wrote it.”

Paranormal was produced by Bob Ezrin, who first worked with the Alice Cooper band in 1971, producing their third studio album Love It to Death. It included I’m Eighteen, the band’s first hit peaking at no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Since then, Ezrin produced 13 additional Cooper records, including the new album. Ezrin has also worked with other top-notch artists, such as Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Peter Gabriel. In fact, he produced Deep Purple’s last album Infinite.

As noted above, in addition to the studio songs, Paranormal features six live tracks. They were captured last May during a show in Columbus, Ohio. Here’s a clip of my favorite one, the epic School’s Out.

Sources: Wikipedia, Billboard, YouTube

 

Gregg Allman One Last Time

Eighth studio album is southern blues rocker’s final testament

Two months after Gregg Allman’s death from lung cancer at the age of 69, Rounder Records announced his eighth and final studio album Southern Blood will be released on September 8. Recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala. last year, the record includes one original song and nine covers of tunes from various artists, including Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon and Jackson Browne.

On his final album Allman collaborated with his long-time manager Michael Lehman and producer Don Was, who mostly recently produced The Rolling Stones’ 2016 blues album Blue & Lonesome and has served as producer for many other artists like Van Morrison, John Mayer, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Seger. According a Rolling Stone story, Allman initially had planned to write more songs for the record, but it soon became apparent that between touring and his worsening health issues this wasn’t feasible.

Gregg Allman in Studio

“So we came up with the idea of picking a great selection of songs that had deep meaning for Gregg,” Lehman told Rolling Stone. “The order of the songs tells Gregg’s story. When Gregg picked them, he knew where he was in his life’s journey. He was already further along with the progression of his disease.” Added Was: “It was kind of unspoken, but it was really clear we were preparing a final statement, in many ways…It was so fuckin’ heavy, man. We weren’t going to a picnic.”

The original tune on the album is called My Only True Friend. It was co-written by Allman and Scott Sharrad, who had been the lead guitarist and the musical director of the Gregg Allman Band since 2008. NPR exclusively premiered the song on Wednesday.

Fame Studios had special meaning to Allman. “A constant discussion during all of my nearly 15 years working with Gregg was his desire to return to Muscle Shoals,” Lehman explained. “He always would talk about how he needed to get back to Fame Studios to bring him full circle.”

“Muscle Shoals is hallowed musical ground,” Was further pointed out. “Fame was the place where Gregg’s brother Duane first started making waves in the music world and where the earliest seeds of The Allman Brothers Band were sown in a back room during their first, seminal rehearsals. Duane’s presence is still ubiquitous in that building. Recording there was Gregg’s way of making his spirit a part of this album, in the same way that his spirit continued to be part of Gregg’s life.”

Following is the album’s track listing:

1. My Only True Friend (Gregg Allman-Scott Sharrard)

2. Once I Was (Tim Buckley-Larry Beckett)

3. Going Going Gone (Bob Dylan)

4. Black Muddy River (Jerome J. Garcia-Robert C. Hunter)

5. I Love the Life I Live (Willie Dixon)

6. Willin’ (Lowell George)

7. Blind Bats and Swamp Rats (Jack Avery)

8. Out of Left Field (Dewey Lindon Oldham Jr.-Dan Penn)

9. Love Like Kerosene (Scott Sharrard)

10. Song for Adam featuring Jackson Browne (Jackson Browne)

Southern Blood, Allman’s first all-new recording since the excellent Low Country Blues from 2011, will be available in different configurations, including a standard CD, a deluxe CD with two extra tracks and a bonus DVD, and a limited edition first-run LP featuring hardwood colored heavyweight vinyl and an exclusive lithograph. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and in Allman’s online store.

The deluxe edition includes a documentary about the making of the album. It’s titled, Back to the Swamp: The Making of Southern Blood. Here’s a trailer.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rounder Record press release, Rolling Stone, NPR, YouTube