Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Best of What’s New is hitting a bit of a milestone this week with its 20th installment. When I started 20 weeks ago, I didn’t expect the feature would become a weekly series. The fact it has turned into that tells me there’s more decent new music out there than I had previously realized. I also recognize my favorite decades in music, the ’60s and ’70s, are gone and won’t come back; still, at a time when the charts are dominated by music that feels largely generic and soulless to me, it’s reassuring to see not all new music is created equal.

I’m also happy about this latest installment, which among others features a psychedelic prog rock band from Norway. How many bands do you know from Norway? And how many of them play psychedelic prog rock? Or how about a multi-national pop prog rock (gee, try saying that quickly!) outfit from Belgium, the UK and the U.S.? Also, were you aware that in March The Boomtown Rats released their first new album in 36 years? But wait, there’s more. All you need to do to find out is to read on… 🙂

LeRoux/Lucy Anna

LeRoux, aka, Louisiana’s LeRoux, are a band from Baton Rouge, La., which have been around for some 45 years. From their website: Their 1978 Capitol press release read, “LeRoux takes its name from the Cajun French term for the thick and hearty gravy base that’s used to make a gumbo.”  LeRoux’s eponymous first album was a musical gumbo that blended various instruments and music arrangements into a spicy, mouth-watering southern rock sound. In fact, their Southern anthem ‘New Orleans Ladies’, voted Song of the Century by Gambit Magazine, simmered with the laid-back feel of the “Big Easy,” evoking images of Bourbon Street and the bayou…Over the years, LeRoux enjoyed performing with many of classic rocks’ greatest bands including The Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, Journey, Kansas, Heart, The Doobie Brothers, Charlie Daniels, Foreigner, Marshall Tucker, The Outlaws, ZZ Top and many, many more…LeRoux was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame as their 50th inductee. Lucy Anna, co-written by Richard Ferreira and Solomon Paul Marshall, reminds me a bit of Little Feat. The song is from the band’s most recent, eighth studio album One of Those Days, released on July 24 – their first new album in 18 years. I really dig the harmony singing and warm sound. Check it out!

Nick D’Virgilio/In My Bones

Nick D’Virgilio is a session multi-instrumentalist, who according to Wikipedia is best known as the (studio) drummer of American progressive rock group Spock’s Beard, and is a member of Big Big Train, an English prog rock band – admittedly I had not heard of both outfits before, but my exposure to prog rock has been limited. Moreover, D’Virgilio has recorded and toured with artists, such as Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Sheryl Crow. And, you probably guessed it, he also has recorded some solo work. This included an album and an EP that both came out in 2011, and Invisible, his most recent album released on June 26. Here’s In My Bones, written by D’Virgilio. Part of the reason I decided to highlight this tune is the great organ and saxophone work.

Shaman Elephant/Ease of Mind

According to their Facebook page, Shaman Elephant are a Norwegian psychedelic progressive rock band. Ease of Mind is a tune from Wide Awake but Still Asleep, which a review by the blog The Progressive Aspect notes is their sophomore album. Their debut Crystals appeared in 2016. The review also lists Shaman Elephant’s members: Eirik Sejersted Vognstølen (vocals, guitar), Jard Hole (drums), Ole-Andreas Sæbø Jensen (bass) and Jonas Særsten (keyboards). I will say Ease of Mind falls outside my core wheelhouse, but there’s something about it I find intriguing. What drew me in initially is the acoustic guitar intro. Plus, other than synth pop band a-ha, I can’t think of any other group from Norway I know, so I’m happy to feature one here.

Fish on Friday/Mad at the World

On their Facebook page, Fish on Friday (FoF) describe themselves as “a multi-national (Belgium-UK-USA) Progressive Poprock oriented project signed to UK label Esoteric recordings-Cherry Red.” Their website lists their members as Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman stick, backing vocals), Frank Van Bogaert (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Marty Townsend (guitars) and Marcus Weymaere (drums and percussion). Mad at the World is a track from Black Rain, which the website’s “bio” section indicates is the band’s fifth album. Unfortunately, there’s no actual bio there, but a news statement about FoF’s second album points out the band was founded in 2009 “when Belgian Producer and musician Frank van Bogaert and keyboard player William Beckers established FISH ON FRIDAY as a studio-based Progressive Rock project.” The band released their debut album Shoot the Moon in 2010. Apparently, it received stylistic comparisons with the Alan Parsons Project. Having listened to some of the tunes from Black Rain, which appeared on May 15, if anything, I seemed to pick up some traces of David Gilmour/post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd, though not on Mad of the World. That tune may be a little bit closer to some of the previous music by the Alan Parsons Project. It doesn’t really matter – I like it and that’s good enough for me! Based on credits listed on Discogs, the tune was written van Bogaert, who also produced the album.

The Boomtown Rats/There’s No Tomorrow Like Today

How funny is that! I just finished publishing a mini-series to commemorate Live Aid and the next thing I come across is The Boomtown Rats released Citizens of Boomtown in March 2020, their first new album since 1984’s In the Long Grass! As I admitted in my Live Aid posts, other than Bob Geldof’s association with the band and I Don’t Like Mondays (and I should also add Banana Republic), I pretty much know nothing about this Irish band – rats! They initially formed in Dublin in 1975 and released six studio albums between 1977 and their first breakup in 1986. The band reunited in 2013 with a different line-up. But other than a few live records and two compilations, they did not come out with anything new – until March this year. Released on June 12, There’s No Tomorrow Like Today is the B-side to the album’s first single Trash Glam Baby; interestingly, it didn’t make the record. The tune is credited to Geldof, as well as the band’s other members Pete Briquette (bass), Simon Crowe (drums) and Garry Roberts (guitar). It’s a quite catchy pop rocker!

This post was updated on August 1, 2020 to correct information on There’s No Tomorrow Like Today, the above mentioned song by The Boomtown Rats. Bob Geldof-authorized fan site Bob Geldof Fans reached out to note that while the tune should have been on the album as my post had initially indicated, it was not. Instead, it became the b-side to the first single Trash Glam Baby.

Sources: Wikipedia; LeRoux website; Shaman Elephant Facebook page; The Progressive Aspect; Fish on Friday Facebook page; Discogs; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Here’s the latest installment of my recurring new music feature. It nicely illustrates that great new music isn’t a matter of age. In fact, I’ve said it all along: Old guys rock! 🙂 Three of the following artists have been around for 50 years, while the remaining three represent a younger generation. There’s some blues rock, coz you rarely can go wrong with it; some prog and art rock; some post punk rock; and some indie rock and pop. Let’s get to it!

Walter Trout/Wanna Dance

Long-time blues rocker Walter Trout, who originally hails from Ocean City, N.J., is a survivor – literally. He started his music career on the Jersey shore scene in the late 1960s. After relocating to Los Angeles in the early ’70s, the guitarist became a sideman for John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Big Mama Thornton and Joe Tex, among others. From 1981 to 1984, Trout was the lead guitarist for Canned Heat. In 1984, he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and, as he noted during a recent one-hour online chat, it was Mayall who encouraged him not to copy other previous Bluesbreakers’ lead guitarists like Peter Green and Eric Clapton but to develop his own style. Trout did, left the Bluesbreakers in 1989 and launched his solo career. He has since released more than 20 albums. In 2014, things got dicey when Trout was diagnosed with liver failure – likely a result from alcohol and substance abuse he overcame in the ’80s. A liver transplant saved his life just in time. After a long recovery, Trout was able to return to music, which as he has said is the only thing he could ever do. Released on June 12, Wanna Dance is a great blues rocker from Ordinary Madness, an upcoming album of all original music, scheduled for August 28. I saw Trout in New York City in April 2019 and witnessed firsthand he is a compelling, no BS artist. Really looking forward to this record!

Ohmme/Flood Your Gut

Ohmme (formerly know as Homme) are an indie rock band from Chicago formed in 2014 by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalists Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart. In 2016, Matt Carroll joined the two young women on drums. Apple Music characterizes them as “an experimental indie pop band who use their striking vocal harmonies and lean, angular guitar patterns to create songs that are spare but full-bodied, making clever use of dynamics to generate a rich sound out of a small number of elements” – jeez, you wonder whether they pay reviewers by the number of words they stick in one sentence! Ohmme takes the opposite approach on their Facebook page: “An experiment with voice, guitar, and sound.” The band released their debut single in November 2015, followed by an eponymous EP in 2017. Flood Your Gut is the opener to Ohmme’s new (second) studio album Fantasize Your Ghost, released on June 5. Admittedly, the somewhat monotonous trance-inducing sound of this tune didn’t grab me immediately, but the more often I listen to it, the more I dig it – there’s something weirdly catchy about it!

Kansas/Jets Overhead

American rock band Kansas may have formed in the early ’70s, but evidently, they aren’t dust in the wind yet. Frankly, I wasn’t aware the band is still active. Granted, Kansas have gone through many lineup changes in their 50-year history; if I see this correctly, it appears guitarist Rich Williams and drummer Phil Erhart are the only remaining founding members, who have been on all of the band’s 15 studio releases that came out between 1974 and 2016, as well as their upcoming album The Absence of Presence, scheduled for July 17. I’m mostly familiar with Kansas’ better known tunes like Carry On Wayward Son, Dust in the Wind, Point of No Return and Play the Game Tonight. I oftentimes feel rock that’s based on simple guitar riffs is best and consider the fantastic Carry On Wayward Son as an exception that proves the rule. Jets Overhead, which was written by guitarist Zak Rizvi and appeared on June 5, is the third track released ahead of the album. You rarely hear a violin solo in a rock song these days. Sounds pretty good to me!

Phoebe Bridgers/Graceland Too

Phoebe Bridgers is a Los Angeles-based 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Apple Musics characterization of her music as “folk-based” with “a dreamy and hook-filled indie pop heart” sounds right to me. Apart from her solo work, she’s also a member of indie rock band Boygenius and performs with Conor Oberst in indie rock duo Better Oblivion Community Center. In March 2014, Bridgers released her debut, an EP cheerfully titled Killer. Following what appears to be a live album, 2016 Tour CD, her first full-length studio release Stranger in the Alps appeared in September 2017. Graceland Too is a country-flavored tune from Bridgers’ sophomore album Punisher, which came out on June 18. This song has a beautiful warm sound that nicely blends with Bridgers’ voice.

Elvis Costello/No Flag

Released June 5, No Flag is the first new song by Elvis Costello since Purse, an EP from April 2019, featuring four previously unreleased songs recorded with his band the Imposters. According to a news announcement, Costello recorded No Flag alone in Finland in February this year. “I wanted to go somewhere nobody knew me,” he explained. “So, this is ‘The Helsinki Sound.’” The announcement also asks readers to “look out for the next installment of this story on July 10th” – perhaps a hint to a forthcoming new album? With an unsettling melody and dark lyrics like No time for this kind of love/No flag waving high above/No sign for the dark place that I live/No God for the damn that I don’t give, the timing of the release during the COVID-19 pandemic certainly doesn’t look like a coincidence.

JJ Wilde/Cold Shoulder

JJ Wilde is a singer-songwriter hailing from Kitchener in Ontario, Canada, which is located about 60 miles of Toronto. Wilde started writing and playing guitar during her teenage years. Despite a massive amount of songs and gigging, she apparently struggled in the early part of her career, and ended up working three jobs. When Wilde about to give up music professionally in 2018, she finally got a break, signing with Black Box Recordings. Last year, her debut EP Wilde Eyes, Steady Hands appeared. Ruthless, Wilde’s first full album, was released on June 12. “This album has felt like a long time coming, and no time at all,” wrote Wilde on her Facebook page. “Most of the inspiration for the album came from an apartment I lived in two years before I started this journey. I was in a dark place, and was very unsure of where my life was going. Almost 4 years later, with countless shows, tours, travelling, writing sessions, I now feel like this album is the complete first draft of an inside look into my world.” Here’s Cold Shoulder. I like this melodic rocker – check it out!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ohmme Facebook page; Kansas website; Elvis Costello website; JJ Wilde Facebook page; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Watch

This is another post I can blame on my streaming music provider. When I saw Watch by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band pop up as a listening suggestion the other day, I immediately recalled how much I dug that album as a teenager back in Germany. As such, I was curious to find out whether my opinion had changed since then and gave Watch another “spin.” Turns out I still like it!

Released in February 1978, Watch was the eighth album by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own the same copy to this day. The band and that particular record were very popular in Germany. Two of its tracks – Davy’s On the Road Again and Mighty Quinn – received heavy radio play. In fact, according to Wikipedia, Watch peaked at no. 3 in West-Germany and remained in the charts for an impressive 69 weeks.

Wikipedia also notes that Watch was the last album with Earth Band co-founding member and original drummer Chris Slade. Slade has played in many other bands, most notably AC/DC from late 1989 until 1993. He also joined them for their Rock or Bust tour in 2015 and 2016, and has appeared in the band’s promotional materials thereafter. His current status is unclear, given the reported possible return of Phil Rudd.

Watch also marked the first album with Pat King on bass. He’s a great bassist, which frankly I had not fully appreciated until I listened to the record again. King stayed with the Earth Band until 1982. Interestingly, from 1991 until his retirement in 2013, King was the band’s lighting designer. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with Drowning On Dry Land/Fish Soup. Drowning On Dry Land is credited to Chris Slade, while Fish Soup was co-written by Earth Band lead guitarist David Flett and Manfred Mann (keyboards, backing vocals). The tune definitely cannot hide its ’70s sound, but I think it’s cool and a great example of King’s melodic bass lines. Here’s the official video from Mann’s YouTube channel.

California wraps up the A-side in the album’s vinyl version. The tune was written by Sue Vickers, who according to Discogs was married to Mike Vickers, a member of Manfred Mann, Mann’s band from 1962 until 1969, which had a string of hits in the U.K., including Do Wah Diddy Diddy, Pretty Flamingo and Mighty Quinn. Mann subsequently formed experimental jazz rock band Manfred Mann Chapter Three and, following their break-up, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in 1971. California is another beautiful example of King’s melodic bass playing.

Here’s the aforementioned Davy’s On the Road Again, a classic, and the first song of the B-side. That tune, the first of two live tracks on the record, was co-written by John Simon and Robbie Robertson. Simon is primarily known as a producer in the ’60s and ’70s and his work for artists like The Band, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Leonard Cohen and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Robertson, of course, was The Band’s lead guitarist and primary songwriter. Here’s the official video of Davy’s from Mann’s YouTube channel, which features nice live footage. And for the gear geeks, you can nicely see a Moog synthesizer in action! 🙂

Let’s wrap things up with the record’s final tune, The Mighty Quinn, the second live track on the album. Written by Bob Dylan and originally titled Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn), it was Mann’s recording that was released first as Mighty Quinn in January 1968. The Earth Band turned the initial folk rock version into a more edgy rock song. Dylan originally recorded the tune during the Basement Tapes sessions in 1967. His first official release of the song was on his 1970 studio album Self Portrait.

In addition to Mann, Flett, King and Slade, the Earth Band’s core line-up on Watch also featured Chris Hamlet Thompson (lead vocals, guitar). Supporting the band on backing vocals were Doreen Chanter, Irene Chanter, Stevie Lange, Victy Silva and Kim Goddy. The album credits list Manfred Mann and Earth Band as producer.

Watch had much better chart success in Europe and New Zealand than elsewhere. In addition to the aforementioned performance in Germany, the album also placed in the top 10 in Norway (no. 2) and Sweden (no. 9), and climbed to no. 33 in the U.K. In New Zealand the record peaked at no. 29, while in the U.S. and Canada, it only reached no. 83 and no. 85, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Wish You Were Here

I could have titled this post “What I’ve Been Listening to For the Past 40-Plus Years.” Wish You Were Here not only marked the start of my long Pink Floyd journey but also was an essential part of my early discovery of music. This album was one of various gems my sister had on vinyl as a 16-year-old or so. I was ten years old at the time and essentially didn’t understand a word of English. It didn’t matter. The music bug had infected me forever. It’s the most beautiful infection I can think of!

Of course, I also explored the other 14 studio albums Pink Floyd released between 1967 and 2014. That was many moons ago as well. And I realized records like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Meddle or The Dark Side of the Moon match or even exceed the mighty of Wish You Were Here. Still, Floyd’s masterpiece from September 1975 will forever keep a special place in my heart. Always.

I know it may seem to be weird to tout what I believe is perfect music as a natural sleeping aid. Wish You Were Here is great for that! In fact, I started using the record for that purpose when I had my first stereo and first set of headphones. I still love listening to the album at night in bed, nowadays using my smartphone and earbuds, which I have to admit is a less than perfect way to enjoy music. I’m happy to report I also keep listening to Pink Floyd during the daytime while I’m wide awake! 🙂

Pink Floyd in 1975 (from left: Nick Mason David Gilmor, Roger Waters & Richard Wright

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London between January and July 1975, Wish You Were Here is Floyd’s ninth studio album. It’s the band’s second record after The Dark Side of the Moon, which was based on a conceptual theme that was entirely written by Roger Waters. In this case, the topics include biting criticism of the music business and alienation. And, of course not to forget, a tribute to founding member Syd Barrett who had been instrumental to the band’s early phase until his ouster in April 1968 due to mental illness and the use of psychedelic drugs.

In fact, on June 5, 1975, the day when Pink Floyd were completing the mix of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Syd Barrett showed up at the studio out of the blue. Being overweight with shaven head and eyebrows, he barely resembled the 22-year-old man back in 1968. Waters and Nick Mason didn’t recognize him, while David Gilmour first thought he was an EMI staff member. Richard Wright first realized it was Barrett who reportedly said he was happy to help with the recording. But according to Mason’s Pink Floyd memoir Inside Out, Barrett “sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.”

Apparently, Barrett also joined a wedding reception in the canteen at EMI for David Gilmour who a month later got married to his first wife, American artist, sculptor, author and former model Ginger Gilmour. He left the festivities quietly without saying goodbye to anybody. It was the last time the band members had seen Barrett who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006 – what an incredibly sad story!

Syd Barrett at Abbey Road Studios, June 5, 1975

Wikipedia includes this quote from Roger Waters, taken from Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, a 2001 Barrett biography written by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson: I’m very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have fucking started without him because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn’t have gone on with him. “Shine On” is not really about Syd—he’s just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope with how fucking sad it is, modern life, to withdraw completely. I found that terribly sad.

Interestingly, Alan Parsons, who still was a staff engineer at EMI and had played a key role in shaping the sound of Pink Floyd’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon, declined to continue working with the band. While I couldn’t find any specific explanatory accounts, Wikipedia’s entry for Dark Side notes the members of the band had some disagreements over the style of the mix. Ultimately, they decided to bring in producer Chris Thomas to provide “a fresh pair of ears.” Perhaps that didn’t sit well with Parsons. Instead of him, Brian Humphries served as recording engineer for Wish You Were Here. The band had previously worked with him on the More soundtrack album from June 1969 and again in 1974. Time for some music.

While it’s a long track (not a rarity when it comes to Pink Floyd!), I just couldn’t skip the magnificent opener Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V). Of course, this is the tune that even if it’s not an outright tribute to Syd Barrett as the above quote by Waters seems to suggest, at a bare minimum is inspired by him. Especially, the instrumental intro makes me feel like floating in space – which is why the tune is perfect to relax and fall asleep! 🙂 The music is credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters.

Next up: Have a Cigar, which on the vinyl edition is the first track of the B-side. An excerpt from the lyrics leaves on doubt what Waters was writing about. I just wonder how the executives at the record company felt when they heard the tune for the first time. I guess somebody there was smart enough to realize that while the words weren’t exactly flattering, they had a masterpiece on their hands that would sell many copies. They call it riding the gravy train!

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar,
You’re gonna go far,

You’re gonna fly high,
You’re never gonna die,

You’re gonna make it if you try,
They’re gonna love you.
I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere;
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think,
Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?

Both the tune’s lyrics and music were credited to Waters. English folk singer Roy Harper sang on the tune, making Have a Cigar only one of two Floyd songs that featured a guest singer on lead vocals. The other one was The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side with the amazing Clare Torry.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track – undoubtedly one of Pink Floyd’s best-known songs. Interestingly, Wish You Were Here wasn’t released as a single at the time, though the tune quickly became a staple on the radio in Germany and elsewhere. Eventually, a live version of the song from the band’s third live album Pulse appeared as a single in September 1994. Gilmour and Waters co-wrote the music. Together with Welcome to the Machine, it is one of two tunes on the album featuring Gilmour on lead vocals.

According to Wikipedia, the song’s distinct intro was recorded from Gilmour’s car radio. His guitar intro, played on a 12-string, was processed to sound as if it was playing through an AM radio, and then overdubbed a fuller-sounding acoustic guitar solo. This passage was mixed to sound as though a guitarist were listening to the radio and playing along. As the acoustic part becomes more complex, the ‘radio broadcast’ fades away and Gilmour’s voice enters, while the rest of the band joins in. What a brilliant concept!

Upon its release, Wish You Were Here received a mixed reception from music critics. For example, Rolling Stone cleverly noted the band’s”lackadaisical demeanor”, leaving the subject of Barrett “unrealised; they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the goddamn thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Waters’s brother-in-law getting a parking ticket.” The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, on the other hand, was shockingly positive: “The music is not only simple and attractive, with the synthesizer used mostly for texture and the guitar breaks for comment, but it actually achieves some of the symphonic dignity (and cross-referencing) that The Dark Side of the Moon simulated so ponderously.”

Of course, Wish You Were Here has since been frequently regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In fact, it is ranked at no. 211 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – way too low, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion! In the magazine’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time from June 2015, it came in at no. 4. This sounds more acceptable to me!

No matter how you feel about Wish You Were Here, one thing is undisputed: The album became one of Pink Floyd’s most successful records topping the charts in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and various European countries including the UK, France, The Netherlands and Switzerland. It has sold an estimated 13 million copies, compared to more than 45 million for Dark Side, Floyd’s best-seller. Gilmour and Wright have called Wish You Were Here their favorite Pink Floyd album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Uriah Heep/Uriah Heep Live

Uriah Heep can be an acquired taste, especially their sometimes very high vocals. Interestingly, I pretty much dug the British rock band from the get-go. It all started with the power ballad Lady in Black, which became a pretty big hit in Germany and was on the radio all the time. Because of that tune, I bought Salisbury, their sophomore album from February 1971. And then I got Uriah Heep Live, the band’s first live album that appeared in February 1973. It definitely sounds very ’70s, but I still find it pretty enjoyable.

Uriah Heep were founded in London in late 1969. Their initial line-up featured Mick Box (guitars, backing vocals), Ken Hensley (keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, vocals), David Byron (lead vocals), Paul Newton (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Napier (drums). The band, which remains active to this day with Box being the only original member, has seen numerous changes over the decades. At the time Uriah Heep Live was recorded at Town Hall in Birmingham, England on January 26, 1973, Newton and Napier had been replaced by Gary Thain and Lee Kerslake on bass and drums, respectively.

Let’s kick things off with what Byron called a party song, a rock & roller boogie: Sweet Lorraine. Co-written by Box, Byron and Thain, the tune first appeared on Uriah Heep’s fifth studio album The Magician’s Birthday released in November 1972. I believe that somewhat crazy sounding keyboard is a Moog synthesizer played by Hensley; hey, it’s the ’70s, baby! 🙂

Here’s another nice upbeat rocker: Easy Livin’, a track from Demons and Wizards, which was the band’s fourth studio album from May 1972. This tune was penned by Hensley.

July Morning from Look at Yourself, Uriah Heep’s third studio record that came out in September 1971, definitely blends into prog rock. The 10-minute-plus opus was co-written by Box and Bryon.

Next up is Gypsy, a co-write by Box and Byron from Uriah Heep’s debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. In the U.K., it was released in June 1970. The U.S. version, which had a slightly different track list, appeared in August that year. And in this case there’s no doubt about the Moog, since Byron noted it during the song’s announcement. While he referred to it as a “Moog simplifier,” it was actually the so-called Minimoog, a highly popular synthesizer in the ’70s. Okay, I guess I’m getting a bit carried away here, so on to the song! 🙂

Let’s do one more tune: Look at Yourself, which apparently was the official set’s closer. The title track from Uriah Heep’s above mentioned third studio record was written by Hensley.

Altogether, Uriah Heep have released 24 studio albums, 20 live albums, 41 compilations, 33 singles and 17 videos to date. I had to count them all! Just kidding – that’s according to Wikipedia. For the most part, I’ve only listened to the band’s first five studio records and this live album.

It looks like Uriah Heep’s most recent album, Living the Dream from September 2018, charted in several European countries, including the U.K. (no. 57), Germany (no. 10), Austria (no. 18), Switzerland (no. 5), Norway (no. 28) and Finland (no. 28). While I haven’t listened to it, that’s pretty remarkable for a band that has been around for more than 50 years!

Their website currently lists various gigs across Europe starting in July – seems a bit optimistic to me! In early April, they also announced a series of shows in Russia that have been rescheduled to April 2021. That may be more realistic!

Sources: Wikipedia; Uriah Heep website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Genesis/The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

I never got much into progressive rock. One of the few exceptions I’ve further explored are Genesis. If I recall it correctly, it all started in my late teens through my best friend who knew a fan of Peter Gabriel and the English band. He borrowed all kinds of CDs from the guy and after he had taped them passed them on to me to do the same. We’re talking music cassettes here – remember MCs? I still have hundreds of them. While I can’t even remember when I last listened to one of them, I never throw them away!

Anyway, this is how I was introduced to most Genesis albums, including The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Released as a double LP in November 1974, their sixth studio album was the last with Peter Gabriel, who left after the supporting tour to launch a solo career. I randomly remembered all of the above earlier today – I suppose this is what happens when you spend a lot of time at home, as we all hopefully do during these unreal times of social distancing!

Genesis 1975
Genesis in the mid-70s (from left to right): Front: Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Peter Gabriel; Back: Mike Rutherford and Steve Hackett

The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is a concept album. According to Songfacts, it tells the story of Rael, a poor Puerto Rican boy from The Bronx. As “The Lamb,” Rael goes on an adventure in New York City. Peter Gabriel explained to The Daily Telegraph September 30, 2014 that the album “was intended to be an intense story of a young rebellious Puerto Rican in New York who would face challenges with family, authority, sex, love and self-sacrifice to learn a little more about himself. I wanted to mix his dreams with his reality, in a kind of urban rebel Pilgrim’s Progress.”

All tracks were credited to the band’s five members at the time: Peter Gabriel (lead vocals, flute, “varied instruments”, “experiments with foreign sounds”), Steve Hackett (acoustic and electric guitars), Mike Rutherford (bass, 12-string guitar), Tony Banks (Hammond T-102 organ, RMI 368x Electra Piano and Harpsichord, Mellotron M-400, ARP Pro Soloist synthesizer, Elka Rhapsody string synthesizer, piano) and Phil Collins (drums, percussion, vibraphone, backing vocals, second lead vocal on The Colony of Slippermen and Counting out Time). Most of the lyrics were written by Gabriel. The full story of Rael is in the liner notes of the album. Wikipedia provides a plot summary, which I’m using as I’m looking at each of the double LP’s four sides.

Genesis_The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway Sleeves

Side One

One morning in New York City, Rael is holding a can of spray paint, hating everyone around him. He witnesses a lamb lying down on Broadway which has a profound effect on him. (“The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”) As he walks along the street, he sees a dark cloud take the shape of a movie screen and slowly move towards him, finally absorbing him (“Fly on a Windshield”), seeing an explosion of images of the current day (“Broadway Melody of 1974”) before he wakes up in a cave and falls asleep once again (“Cuckoo Cocoon”).

Rael wakes up and finds himself trapped in a cage of stalactites and stalagmites which slowly close in towards him. As he tries to escape, he sees his brother John and calls for him, but John walks away and the cage suddenly disappears (“In the Cage”). Rael now finds himself on the floor of a factory and is given a tour of the area by a woman, where he watches people being processed like packages. He spots old members of his New York City gang and John with the number “9” stamped on his forehead. Fearing for his life, Rael escapes into a corridor (“The Grand Parade of Lifeless Packaging”). Here’s the album’s opener and title track.

Side Two

Rael has an extended flashback of returning from a gang raid in New York City, (“Back in N.Y.C.”) a dream where his hairy heart is removed and shaved with a razor, (“Hairless Heart”) and his first sexual encounter (“Counting Out Time”). Rael’s flashback ends, and he finds himself in a long, red carpeted corridor of people crawling towards its exit via a spiral staircase (“Carpet Crawlers”). At the top, he enters a chamber with 32 doors, surrounded by people and unable to concentrate (“The Chamber of 32 Doors”).

The Carpet Crawlers was the album’s second single. According to Wikipedia, it charted nowhere, which I find hard to believe. At least in Germany, you could hear it many times on the radio. If I recall it correctly, it was around the same time when I’m Not in Love by 10cc was all the rage. Both of these tunes got plenty of air time. Anyway, here it is.

Side Three

Rael finds a blind woman who leads him out of the chamber and into another cave (“Lilywhite Lilith”), where he becomes trapped by falling rocks (“The Waiting Room”, “Anyway”). Rael encounters Death (“Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist”) and escapes the cave. Rael ends up in a pool with three Lamia, beautiful snake-like creatures, and has sex with them, but they die after drinking some of his blood (“The Lamia”). He leaves the pool in a boat (“Silent Sorrow in Empty Boats”). Here’s Lilywhite Lilith.

Side Four

Rael finds himself in a group of Slippermen, distorted, grotesque men who have all had the same experience with the Lamias, and finds that he has become one of them (“The Arrival”). Rael finds John among the Slippermen, who reveals that the only way to become human again is to visit Doktor Dyper and be castrated (“A Visit to the Doktor”). Both are castrated and keep their removed penises in containers around their necks. Rael’s container is taken by a raven and he chases after it, leaving John behind (“The Raven”). The raven drops the container in a ravine and into a rushing underground river (“Ravine”). Jeez, this is some crazy shit!

As Rael walks alongside it, he sees a window in the bank above his head which reveals his home amidst the streets (“The Light Dies Down on Broadway”). Faced with the option of returning home, he sees John in a river below him, struggling to stay afloat. Despite being deserted twice by John, Rael dives in to save him and the gateway to New York vanishes (“Riding the Scree”). Rael rescues John and drags his body to the bank of the river and turns him over to look at his face, only to see his own face instead (“In the Rapids”). His consciousness then drifts between both bodies, and he sees the surrounding scenery melting away into a haze. Both bodies dissolve, and Rael’s spirit becomes one with everything around him (“it.”). Here’s The Light Dies Down on Broadway.

While Genesis weren’t sure how the concept and extended format of the album would be received, it was met with critical acclaim from the time it came out. In 2015, NME included the album in its 23 Maddest and Most Memorable Concept Albums list for “taking in themes of split personalities, heaven and hell and truth and fantasy. The album also ended up at no. 9 in Rolling Stone’s 2015 list of 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time, calling it “one of rock’ more elaborate, beguiling and strangely rewarding concept albums”. “Strangely rewarding” – that characterization kind of nicely sums up how I feel about this album!

In the U.S., The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway marked the first Genesis album to crack the top 50 on the Billboard 200, peaking at no. 41. On the other hand, in the UK, it climbed to no. 10, falling short of the chart success of the predecessor Selling England by the Pound, which had reached no. 3. In both countries, it ended up being certified gold.

About three weeks ago, Rolling Stone and other media outlets reported that Genesis are reuniting for a tour of England and Ireland in November 2020, their first since 2007. The line-up features Collins, Banks and Rutherford, along with touring guitarist/bassist Daryl Stuermer and Nic Collins, Phil’s 19-year-old son on drums. Nic also handled drums during his dad’s successful 2017-2019 solo tour, since Phil hasn’t been able to play drums due to extensive nerve damage to his hands. He performed the entire shows seated in a chair.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Minimum Vital/Air Caravan’

Until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Minimum Vital. Then my streaming music provider served up the catchy Air Caravan’ as part of a “New Music Mix.” The tune is the title track of the band’s most recent studio album released in December 2019. Interestingly, neither Apple Music nor Wikipedia provide any information on the group. So, who are these guys?

According to their website, Minimum Vital are a progressive rock band from France, which were founded in 1982 by Thierry Payssan (keyboards, percussion) and his twin brother Jean-Luc Payssan (guitars, percussion). Initially called Concept, the band adopted their current name in 1985. In addition to the twin brothers, the present line-up includes Éric Rebeyrol (bass, horn) and Charly Berna (drums). Since I don’t listen much to prog rock, perhaps this helps explain why I had not been aware of Minimum Vital. I’d be curious whether you had heard of them before.

Minimum Vital
Minimum Vital (from left): Jean-Luc Payssan, Charly Berna, Éric Rebeyrol & Thierry Payssan

Minimum Vital call themselves a “loyal heir from the classic progressive rock of the 70’s.” More specifically, they describe their music as “sailing between Rock music, Progressive, Celtic and Medieval: all of this reaching toward an imaginary folklore which melted recently with some oriental influences.” Based on what I’m hearing on Air Caravan’, this all sounds right to me. Let’s get to some music!

Appropriately, I’d like to kick things off with the tune that brought Minimum Vital on my radar screen: Air Caravan’, the album’s title track. All of the music was composed by the twin brothers, while the arrangements are credited to the entire band. I dig the instrumental harmonies, which are also dominant on the other tracks of the album. Most of the music is instrumental. Overall, their sound reminds me a bit of some of Mike Oldfield’s music.

King Gürü is a cool prog rocker with an oriental vibe. Unlike some other prog rock I’ve heard, I find Minimum Vital’s music pretty accessible. Check it out!

Here’s Sliman. I really like the keyboard sound and bass work on this track. The guitar ain’t shabby either. It’s obvious these guys are very capable musicians.

Let’s do one more: Hughes Le Loop, the closer. It also felt appropriate to acknowledge the band’s heritage with a French track.

Air Caravan’ is Minimum Vital’s eighth studio album, according to a review in Progressive Rock Journal. Altogether, I count an impressive 23 records that are listed on the band’s website. Their website also notes they have toured outside of France and overseas. Searching Setlist.fm, the only U.S. gig I found was Progfest 1994, a two-day event in Los Angeles in November that year. Since the content of the free wiki-like service depends on subscribers and their willingness to share setlists of concerts they attended, it’s safe to assume the site doesn’t capture all of the band’s previous gigs.

Strangely, Minimum Vital’s website only lists a handful of past events in the schedule section. That’s a pity! Unless the band is pretty well known among prog rock fans, they could do a better job of getting the word out about their music. As noted above, even to this music blogger who doesn’t listen much to prog rock, their music sounds pretty good!

Sources: Minimum Vital website; Progressive Rock Journal; Setlist.fm; YouTube

Brit Floyd Celebrates 40th Anniversary Of The Wall With Spectacular Show

British Pink Floyd tribute band performs most of the 1979 concept album plus other Floyd gems

This November marks the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. It’s hard to believe. I got that double-LP album when it first came out and own it to this day – on vinyl, of course! My great guitar teacher at the time was impressed that a 13-year-old would listen to this stuff. The lyrics were certainly less cheerful than the early Beatles tunes he was teaching me about holding hands and she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, apart from classical guitar. Admittedly, I cared more about the music than the words back then.

My initial attraction to The Wall was Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2), which received lots of radio play in Germany. Though I realized the context on the album was different, lines like “We don’t need no education” and “Hey teachers, leave those kids alone” somehow appealed to a pretty quiet and well behaved young teenager!😀 I seem to recall a little party in our class room at school where we had a boom box. As our English teacher entered the room, Another Brick In The Wall was playing, and we were cheerfully grooving along.  He couldn’t help but briefly grin before turning serious again.

Brit Floyd Tour Poster

Nowadays, I feel there are better tunes on The Wall than Another Brick In The Wall. I also prefer other Pink Floyd albums like Meddle, Dark Side Of The Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals. Still, I continue to like Floyd’s 11th studio record released on November 30, 1979.

Brit Floyd got on my radar screen about two and a half months ago when a friend who had them seem was raving about the band, especially their lapsteel guitarist. Shortly thereafter, I learned about their current tour dedicated to The Wall, so I checked them out on YouTube. After starting to watch this fantastic clip capturing an entire 2018 gig at Red Rocks, it didn’t take long to buy a ticket to see these guys, who do an incredible job that should make the surviving members of Pink Floyd proud. Last night was show time at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa. And boy, what a spectacle it was!

Brit Floyd Collage
Brit Floyd (from left): Upper row: Damian Darlington, Rob Stringer, Ian Cattell & Edo Scordo; middle row: Arran Ahmum, Thomas Ashbrook & Ola Bienkowska; and lower row: Angela Servantes, Roberta Freeman, Emily Jollands & Jacquie Williams

The genius behind Brit Floyd is musical director Damian Darlington, who also provides vocals and plays guitar and lapsteel. Prior to forming the band in Liverpool, England in 2011, he had played for 17 years with long-running Aussie tribute The Australian Pink Floyd Show. If my math is correct, this means the man has played the music of Pink Floyd for at least 25 years. And this doesn’t include Darlington’s earlier music journey, which according to his bio on the Brit Floyd website started when he got into playing the guitar seriously as a 13-year-old. That was about the same age I started taking guitar lessons. Darlington turned out to be more talented!😆

Brit Floyd’s other members have impressive credentials as well. I would go too far to mention them in this post. All their bios are on the band’s website as well. Apart from Darlington, listed members are pictured above and include: Rob Stringer (keyboards, vocals), Ian Cattell (bass, vocals Chapman Stick, trumpet), Edo Scordo (guitar, vocals), Arran Ahmum (drums),  Thomas Ashbrook (keyboards, vocals), as well as backing vocalists Ola Bienkowska, Angela Cervantes, Roberta Freeman, Emily Jollands and Jacquie Williams. Last night, they had three backing vocalists, including Ella Chi, who is not in the above picture. Jacquie Williams was there as well. I’m not sure who the third vocalist was. Yes, it does take an army of top-notch artists and a breathtaking stage production to capture the mighty live experience of Pink Floyd!

Which so much amazing music, it’s really hard to select clips and even where to begin, so let’s start with the opening of the show: In The Flesh? and The Thin Ice., the first two tunes on side 1 of The Wall. Like almost all material on this album, the two tracks were written by Roger Waters. Brit Floyd sprinkled most tunes of the record in sections throughout the show, including the entire side 1.

Apart from The Wall, Brit Floyd played plenty of additional Pink Floyd music, drawing on most of their studio albums starting with Meddle from October 1971. Here’s one of the highlights from last night’s show: The Great Gig In The Sky featuring Ella Chi on vocals, who absolutely killed it! Appearing on The Dark Side Of The Moon, released in March 1973, the lyrics were written by Waters, while the music is credited to Floyd keyboarder Richard Wright and Clare Torry, who will be forever part of modern rock music history for her amazing vocal performance on the tune.

Next up: Fearless, off the Meddle album. This tune was co-written by Waters and David Gilmour. Meddle may best be known for the One Of These Days, which Brit Floyd performed as well last night, shaking the wall of the place, and the epic Echoes, which they perhaps understandably did not play, given the track’s extended length. But I’ve really come to dig Fearless over the years, which is why I decided to record it instead of One Of These Days.

While compared to their ’60s and ’70s albums I’m less fond of Pink Floyd’s music following The Wall, I wanted to capture at least one tune from that era: Keeping Talking from The Divison Bell. Released in March 1994, it was Floyd’s final album with Wright, who passed away in September 2008 at the age of 65. The tune is credited to Gilmour, Wright and Gilmour’s then-fiancee Polly Samson, a novelist who co-wrote many of the lyrics. During the 1994 tour that supported The Division Bell they got married. This is also the last track from the first of two regular sets Brit Floyd played. Set two started after a 20-minute intermission.

Following are two tracks on the second set, which kicked off with a couple of tunes from A Momentary Lapse Of Reason from September 1987, Floyd’s first studio effort after Roger Waters had departed, followed by another section of songs from side 2 of The Wall. But since no Pink Floyd tribute show would be complete without music from Wish You Were, I’d like to highlight a track from that record. Floyd’s ninth studio album from September 1975 was my introduction to the band in the ’70s, and it remains one of my favorites to this day. Brit Floyd performed a fantastic rendition of Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V) and the title track. I may be a music nut, but the thought of holding up my phone for 13-plus minutes proved to be too much of a deterrent, so I went with Wish You Were Here, co-written by Waters and Gilmour.😆

For the last tune in this post, I’d like to return to The Wall with my favorite track, which originally appeared on side 3 of the double LP: Comfortably Numb, one of only two songs on the album, showing a co-writing credit for Gilmour. By the time the band recorded The Wall, it pretty much had become a Roger Waters project. In fact, tensions between him and the other members were increasing and culminated in a showdown between Wright and Waters who fired him during the recording sessions. But Wright was kept as a salaried session musician and eventually left Pink Floyd in 1981, following the tour that supported The Wall. He returned during the post-Waters era, initially as a session player in 1987 for the recording of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. He became a full-time member again in 1994 for the studio sessions for The Division Bell. Comfortably Numb is probably best known for its guitar solo, which remains one of the most epic in rock. Darlington and Brit Floyd’s other guitarist Edo Scordo did a beautiful job with it. Check it out!

The second set was followed by an encore that spanned most of the tracks from side 4 of The Wall. Altogether the show lasted for a solid three hours including the above noted intermission. By now you’ve probably figured out that Brit Floyd is one hell of a tribute band. In fact, I would argue that if you’re a Pink Floyd fan, they are probably the next best act you can see nowadays. The good news is there are plenty of remaining opportunities this year.😎

Brit Floyd’s current North American leg, which kicked off in Pittsburgh, Pa. on March 22 on the heels of 15 shows in the U.K., includes 70 dates across the U.S. and some in Canada, extending all the way until the end of July. Some of these shows include New York (Apr 1), Toronto (Apr 5), Detroit (Apr 13), Milwaukee (Apr 20), Baltimore (May 2), Philadelphia (May 7), Denver (Jun 6), Phoenix (Jun 28), San Francisco (Jul 9), Salt Lake City (Jul 17) and the final U.S. show in Hampton, N.H. (Jul 31). This will be followed by 30 dates in Europe, starting late September and including Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Luxembourg. The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, Brit Floyd website, YouTube

Pix & Clips: Brit Floyd At Red Rocks

Alerted by a post on Facebook, I just bought a ticket to see Brit Floyd, an incredibly well sounding Pink Floyd tribute band, at the end of March at Sands Bethlehem Event Center in Bethlehem, Pa. The above clip, which clearly looks like a professional production, captures an entire Brit Floyd gig from August 2013 at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Other than the amphitheater in Pompeii, Italy, there’s hardly a cooler venue I can think of to enjoy Pink Floyd music!

Based on their Facebook page, Brit Floyd hail from Liverpool, England, where they were founded in January 2011. The band’s mighty line-up includes Damian Darlington (guitar, vocals, musical director), Tom Ashbrook (keyboards), Arran Ahmun (drums), Ola Bienkowska (vocals), Ian Cattell  (bass, vocals), Angela Cervantes (vocals), Jay Davidson (saxophones, guitars, percussion, keyboards), Roberta Freeman (vocals), Emily Jollands (vocals), Karl Penney (drums), Edo Scordo  (guitar, vocals),  Amy Smith (vocals), Rob Stringer (keyboards, vocals) and Jacquie Williams (vocals). That’s 14 people – perhaps they should have called themselves “Brit Floyd Orchestra”! 

I surely will have more to say about this impressive band once I’ve seen them myself.

Sources: Facebook, YouTube