OPENING GIBBERISH

Back in my 1993 review, I wrote my first "goodbye" section to remember Frank Zappa. I've put them in on-and-off over the years, but the last two years are making it tough. After writing entries for Chuck Berry, John Wetton and Tom Petty, I learned about the passing of Grant Hart, Walter Becker and Pat DiNizio. Just don't have it in me, and I really didn't want to turn an album review page into an obituary page, so I stopped there.

Broke two of my own rules this year putting an album of remakes and an EP in the top ten list. Both were played over and over for me, so I was clearly giving myself a hint. The top two were tough to sort out, but I think I've finally got 'em where I want 'em.

Enjoy the list.


GOODBYE

thumbnail
Chuck Berry

"Maybellene". "Brown Eyed Handsome Man". "Too Much Monkey Business". "Roll Over Beethoven". "Rock & Roll Music". "Johnny B. Goode". "Sweet Little Sixteen". "Back In The U.S.A.". "Nadine". "No Particular Place To Go". Elvis Presley may have been dubbed "The King", but for my taste, Chuck Berry is the prototype for modern rock and roll. Yes, a lot of his songs have a lot of similarity - heck, "No Particular Place To Go" is basically a rewrite of his own "School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes The Bell)". Yes, he had a reputation as a prickly person (to be kind), and got himself in sordid legal trouble. But go back to that song list. In "Back To The Future", what did Marty McFly play to kick-start rock and roll? "Johnny B. Goode". That song is even on the "Golden Record" included on the 1977 Voyager spacecrafts.

John Lennon said it best: If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it "Chuck Berry".

thumbnail
John Wetton

John Wetton played with quite a few bands over his career (including Family, U.K., Mogul Thrash, and Roxy Music), but for me there are two that really showed off his fine bass playing and magnificent voice: King Crimson and Asia. Wetton was part of the final incarnation of King Crimson before their 1974 breakup - bassist and lead singer for the improvisational "Larks' Tongues In Aspic" lineup. But he was probably most famous for his role in the original Asia with Steve Howe, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes. The original lineup only lasted for two albums, but they reconviened in 2006 and stayed intact for six years and three more albums. I saw the original Asia lineup twice in their original run and and three times after they reformed, and Wetton's voice remained as powerful in 2010 as it was in 1982. Asia's a band I see mocked occasionally, but they really were pretty amazing. And John Wetton was a big part of that.

thumbnail
Tom Petty

"How 'bout a cheer for all those bad girls / And all the boys that play that rock and roll / They love it like you love Jesus / It does the same thing to their souls" - Tom Petty, "Have Love Will Travel"

Tom Petty passed away roughly a week after he and The Heartbreakers completed their 40th Anniversary Tour, and on that tour they sounded as great as ever. Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were built for arenas - catchy songs, anthemic sing-along choruses, and superb musicianship. I saw him live many times, and each show was stellar - he never disappointed. Petty will be remembered as a classic American songwriter, and he consistently delivered all through his lengthy career. Every album has at least one real gem on it, and usually several. He took some occasional stylistic detours (most notably the psychedelia of "Don't Come Around Here No More" and the bluesy Mojo album), but nothing all that radical. He's a staple on FM radio for a reason. If you take out the pejorative implications to the term, "classic rock" sums up his sound perfectly. No ten-minute multi-suite concept songs, no classical or jazz detours, no long improvisational sections, no obscure song titles that don't relate to the lyrics, just classic verse-chorus-verse rock and roll. Tom was a big favorite of mine - I'll miss him a ton.


REISSUES

cover art
The Beatles
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Super Deluxe Edition

Aficionados will tell you that the only way to listen to Sgt. Pepper is the original mono mix, the way The Beatles intended. That notion needs to change. For this 50th Anniversary reissue, Giles Martin (son of George Martin and producer of the Cirque du Soleil Love soundtrack) has done a fresh stereo mix using the original first-generation tapes. The result is easily the best sounding version of the album. You get the depth of a stereo mix with some of the quirks of the mono mix. On the larger box set versions, you get 2 CDs of outtakes and a 3rd bonus CD with the original mono mix as well. You can also get the 6 disc set that contains a DVD and BluRay with an excellent 1992 documentary about the making of the album, the videos for "A Day In The Life", "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane", and a 5.1 surround version of the album.

Easily the most famous of the Beatles albums (and maybe the most famous rock album ever), Sgt. Pepper is actually as good as its reputation. And it just got better.

tracks (2017 stereo remix of original album): "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "With A Little Help From My Friends", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", "Getting Better", "Fixing A Hole", "She's Leaving Home", "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!", "Within You Without You", "When I'M Sixty-Four", "Lovely Rita", "Good Morning Good Morning", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)", "A Day In The Life"

tracks (early session highlights): "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Take 1], "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Take 4], "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Take 7], "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Take 26], "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Stereo Mix - 2015], "When I'm Sixty-Four" [Take 2], "Penny Lane" [Take 6 - Instrumental], "Penny Lane" [Vocal Overdubs and Speech], "Penny Lane" [Stereo Mix - 2017], "A Day In The Life" [Take 1], "A Day In The Life" [Take 2], "A Day In The Life" [Orchestra Overdub], "A Day In The Life (Hummed Last Chord)" [Takes 8, 9, 10 and 11], "A Day In The Life (The Last Chord)" "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" [Take 1 - Instrumental], "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" [Take 9 and Speech], "Good Morning Good Morning" [Take 1 - Instrumental, Breakdown], "Good Morning Good Morning" [Take 8], "Fixing A Hole" [Take 1], "Fixing A Hole" [Speech and Take 3], "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!" [Speech from Before Take 1; Take 4 and Speech at End], "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!" [Take 7], "Lovely Rita" [Speech and Take 9], "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" [Take 1 and Speech at the End], "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" [Speech, False Start and Take 5], "Getting Better" [Take 1 - Instrumental and Speech at the End], "Getting Better" [Take 12], "Within You Without You" [Take 1 - Indian Instruments Only], "Within You Without You" [George Coaching the Musicians], "She's Leaving Home" [Take 1 - Instrumental], "She's Leaving Home" [Take 6 - Instrumental], "With A Little Help from My Friends" [Take 1 - False Start and Take 2 - Instrumental], "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" [Speech And Take 8]

tracks (1967 mono mix with bonus tracks): "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", "With A Little Help From My Friends", "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", "Getting Better", "Fixing A Hole", "She's Leaving Home", "Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!", "Within You Without You", "When I'm Sixty-Four", "Lovely Rita", "Good Morning Good Morning", "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)", "A Day In The Life", "Strawberry Fields Forever" [Original Mono Mix], "Penny Lane" [Original Mono Mix], "A Day In The Life" [Unreleased First Mono Mix], "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" [Unreleased Mono Mix - No. 11], "She's Leaving Home" [Unreleased First Mono Mix], "Penny Lane" [Capitol Records U.S. Promo Single - Mono Mix]

cover art
The Jam
1977

1977 is a thorough collection of the band's debut year and it captures their "punk" year very effectively. Never really a punk band in the same style as the Sex Pistols or The Clash, The Jam built upon their roots instead of ignoring them. The debut album, In The City, is a blast of Who and Small Faces inspired rock, played at near-punk tempos. Their second album of '77, This is The Modern World suffers by comparison. It's the weakest album in the Jam's career, but it's not a bad album by any stretch. Along with those two albums (remastered, of course), you get both sides of the excellent "All Around The World" single, a CD of demos from early '77, a terrific previously unreleased live set, and a DVD of promo videos and TV appearances (some lip-synced, some not). In 1978, the band got less punk, Paul Weller wrote even better songs, and The Jam's classic period began with "Down In The Tube Station At Midnight" and All Mod Cons. But in 1977, they were a terrific rock band, and this box set is a very cool way to hear the early Jam.

tracks (In The City): "Art School", "I've Changed My Address", "Slow Down", "I Got By In Time", "Away From The Numbers", "Batman Theme", "In The City", "Sounds From The Street", "Non-Stop Dancing", "Time For Truth", "Takin' My Love", "Bricks And Mortar", "All Around The World", "Carnaby Street"

tracks (The Polydor Demos: February 1977): "Art School", "In The City", "I Got By In Time", "I've Changed My Address", "Time For Truth", "Sounds From The Street", "Non-Stop Dancing", "Bricks And Mortar", "Takin' My Love", "So Sad About Us", "Slow Down"

tracks (This is The Modern World): "The Modern World", "London Traffic", "Standards", "Life From A Window", "The Combine", "Don't Tell Them You're Sane", "In The Street Today", "London Girl", "I Need You (For Someone)", "Here Comes The Weekend", "Tonight At Noon", "In The Midnight Hour"

tracks (Live 1977 - Peel Session 4/26/77): "In The City", "Art School", "I've Changed My Address", "The Modern World"

tracks (Live 1977 - Peel Session 7/19/77): "All Around The World", "London Girl", "Bricks And Mortar", "Carnaby Street"

tracks (Live 1977 - Live At The Nashville, 9/10/77): "Carnaby Street", "The Modern World", "Time For Truth", "So Sad About Us", "London Girl", "In The Street Today", "All Around The World", "London Traffic", "Sweet Soul Music", "Bricks And Mortar", "In The City", "Art School", "In The Midnight Hour", "Sounds From The Street", "Slow Down"

tracks (DVD): "In The City" [promo video], "Art School" [promo video], "In The City" [Top Of The Pops], "All Around The World" [Top Of The Pops], "All Around The World" [Marc], "The Modern World" [Top Of The Pops], "In The City" [So It Goes], "Bricks And Mortar" [So It Goes], "Carnaby Street" [So It Goes], "Slow Down" [So It Goes], "All Around The World" [So It Goes]

cover art
Manic Street Preachers
Send Away The Tigers
10 Year Collectors' Edition

Back in 2007 I wrote:

The quiet, reflective Manics from 2004's Lifeblood have been locked back in the closet, and the Manics of Everything Must Go are back in full force. The epic title track, the lead single ("Your Love Alone Is Not Enough"), "Autumnsong" and the dramatic closer of the album proper, "Winterlovers" just cry out for maximum volume in a massive stadium. Songs like "Indian Summer" and "The Second Great Depression" are right out of the Everything Must Go mold. Rockers like "Underdogs" and "Rendition" call back to Richey Edwards edition of the band. Heck, even the hidden cover of "Working Class Hero" that follows "Winterlovers" works. It's hard to explain exactly why this album blew me away so much. Basically, they got back to the sound that really suits the band best, and delivered terrific songs to go with it. Spectacular.

Unusually for reissues like this, the 10th Anniversary Edition of Send Away The Tigers actually makes a change in the running order of the album. The 2nd track on the original was the Richey Edwards-style rocker "Underdogs". In my mind, it was the weakest song on the album and it didn't really quite fit in between the title track and "Your Love Alone...". Always seemed out of place to me. Apparently, the Manics agreed, swapping in "Welcome To The Dead Zone", which fits way better, and it's just a better song overall. Additionally, "Working Class Hero" isn't a hidden track anymore. Along with the newly ordered album, this set also includes the demos for each of the original album tracks (minus "Working Class Hero"), and as on other Manics sets, the demos are very, very good. The second disc mixes killer non-album tracks like "Leviathan", an unlikely cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" (which works surprisingly well), a previously download-only Christmas song "The Ghosts Of Christmas", and a collection of other non-album songs. The original version of Send Away The Tigers is one of my favorite Manics albums, and this reissue is even better.

tracks (Remastered Album & Demos): "Send Away The Tigers", "Welcome To The Dead Zone", "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough", "Indian Summer", "The Second Great Depression", "Rendition", "Autumnsong", "I'm Just A Patsy", "Imperial Bodybags", "Winterlovers", "Working Class Hero", "Send Away The Tigers" [demo], "Underdogs" [demo], "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" [demo], "Indian Summer" [demo], "The Second Great Depression" [demo], "Rendition" [demo], "Autumnsong" [demo], "I'm Just A Patsy" [demo], "Imperial Bodybags" [demo], "Winterlovers" [demo]

tracks (B-Sides & Rarities): "Leviathan", "Umbrella", "The Ghost Of Christmas", "Boxes And Lists", "Love Letter To The Future", "Little Girl Lost", "Fearless Punk Ballad", "Your Love Alone Is Not Enough" [Nina Solo Acoustic], "Red Sleeping Beauty", "The Long Goodbye", "Morning Comrade", "1404", "The Vortices", "Autumnsong" [acoustic], "Anorexic Rodin", "Heyday Of The Blood", "Foggy Eyes", "Lady Lazarus", "You Know It's Going To Hurt"

cover art
Marillion
Misplaced Childhood
Super Deluxe Edition

Marillion's third album was their big breakthrough (at least in the UK). Despite being essentially two side-long suites, Misplaced Childhood ends up being basically a collection of short prog songs all linked together. In theory, there's a concept here, but I'll confess I've never figured it out. "Kayleigh" (a minor US hit), "Lavender" and "Heart Of Lothian" are classic pop-prog singles.

The new Super Deluxe edition includes all the bonus material (b-sides and demos) from the 1998 reissue, and adds in a full show from the 1985 tour (which includes a full performance of Misplaced Childhood in the middle of the show) and a BluRay with the original videos from the album, a fascinating interview about the album with the original lineup from the album and producer Chris Kimsey, and a 5.1 mix of the album by Steven Wilson.

tracks: "Pseudo Silk Kimono", "Kayleigh", "Lavender", "Bitter Suite", "Heart Of Lothian", "Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)", "Lords Of The Backstage", "Blind Curve", "Childhoods End?", "White Feather"

tracks (Live At Utrecht 1985): "Emerald Lies" [intro], "Script For A Jester's Tear", "Incubus", "Chelsea Monday", "The Web", "Pseudo Silk Kimono", "Kayleigh", "Lavender", "Bitter Suite", "Heart Of Lothian", "Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)", "Lords Of The Backstage", "Blind Curve", "Childhood's End?", "White Feather", "Fugazi", "Garden Party", "Market Square Heroes"

tracks: (Singles, B-Sides & Versions) "Freaks", "Kayleigh" [alternative mix], "Lavender Blue", "Heart Of Lothian" [12" version], "Lady Nina" [Steven Wilson Stereo Remix],

tracks: (Misplaced Childhood Demos) "Pseudo Silk Kimono", "Kayleigh", "Lavender", "Bitter Suite", "Lords Of The Backstage", "Blue Angel", "Misplaced Rendezvous", "Heart Of Lothian", "Waterhole (Expresso Bongo)", "Passing Strangers", "Childhood's End?", "White Feather"

cover art
R.E.M.
Automatic For The People
25th Anniversary Edition

Back in 1992 I wrote:

R.E.M. takes even more chances, and still manages to keep their identity. Automatic For The People is a very moody, dark album, with a conspicuous lack of hit single material like "Shiny Happy People" or "Losing My Religion". Highlights include a piano/vocal piece ("Nightswimming"), which is easily the prettiest song they've ever recorded, the political "Ignoreland", the haunting "Try Not To Breathe", and "Man On The Moon", which somehow works in references to Risk, Twister, Andy Kaufman and Elvis.

The 25th Anniversary reissue of Automatic For The People adds a rare 1992 Greenpeace benefit concert from the 40 Watt Club in Athens and a CD full of demos for the album. The concert is excellent - the band sounds great, and the between-song banter is a treat. It makes it disappointing that R.E.M. chose not to do a tour supporting Automatic. Geeky note: the show isn't quite complete. In the actual show, "Drive" is played twice - as the opener and the first encore. The encore version is missing.

The demos are a fascinating listen. They range from what sound like slightly earlier versions of the final tracks, to obvious works in progress like "C To D Slide 13" (an early version of "Man On The Moon" with Michael singing "la la la" in place of lyrics), to pretty finished but unreleased songs like ""Mike's Pop Song" and "Devil Rides Backwards".

One of R.E.M.'s best albums, and definitely worth upgrading.

tracks (Automatic For The People): "Drive", "Try Not To Breathe", "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", "Everybody Hurts", "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1", "Sweetness Follows", "Monty Got A Raw Deal", "Ignoreland", "Star Me Kitten", "Man On The Moon", "Nightswimming", "Find The River"

tracks (Live At The 40 Watt Club 11/19/92): "Drive", "Monty Got A Raw Deal", "Everybody Hurts", "Man On The Moon", "Losing My Religion", "Country Feedback", "Begin The Begin", "Fall On Me", "Me In Honey", "Finest Worksong", "Love Is All Around", "Funtime", "Radio Free Europe"

tracks (Automatic For The People Demos): "Drive", "Wake Her Up", "Mike's Pop Song", "C To D Slide 13", "Cello Scud", "10K Minimal", "Peter's New Song", "Eastern 983111", "Bill's Acoustic", "Arabic Feedback", "Howler Monkey", "Pakiderm", "Afterthought", "Bazouki Song", "Photograph", "Michael's Organ", "Pete's Acoustic Idea", "6-8 Passion & Voc", "Hey Love", "Devil Rides Backwards"

cover art
Rush
A Farewell To Kings
40th Anniversary Edition

Folllowing on from their breakthrough 2112, A Farewell To Kings opens with three of Rush's all-time best: the title track, the epic "Xanadu", and with their first truly classic single "Closer To The Heart". Following that is the excellent "Cinderella Man" and the pretty ballad "Madrgial". The ten-minute closer "Cygnus X-1" has it's moments, but it's overlong (weirdly, it's shorter than "Xanadu", but doesn't move as well).

The new 40th Anniversary Edition includes a full release of the 1978 concert that was partially included in the 1997 live album Different Stages. What's new is "Lakeside Park", "Closer To The Heart", a near-complete performance of "2112", and a six-minute drum solo. The show sounds great - it's the main reason to pick up the set. You also get a recording of some of the effects used on "Cygnus X-1", and as with the 2112 reissue, you get a handful of pretty faithful covers (which are quite good).

A Farewell To Kings is one of Rush's better early albums - definitely worth checking out.

tracks (A Farewell To Kings): "A Farewell To Kings", "Xanadu", "Closer To The Heart", "Cinderella Man", "Madrigal", "Cygnus X-1"

tracks (Hammersmith Odeon, 2/20/78): "Bastille Day", "Lakeside Park", "By-Tor And The Snow Dog", "Xanadu", "A Farewell To Kings", "Something For Nothing", "Cygnus X-1", "Anthem", "Closer To The Heart", "2112", "Working Man", "Fly By Night", "In The Mood", "Drum Solo", "Cinderella Man"

tracks (covers): "Xanadu" [Dream Theater], "Closer To The Heart" [Big Wreck], "Cinderella Man" [The Trews], "Madrigal" [Alain Johannes]

tracks (outtake): "Cygnus X-2 Eh"

cover art
U2
The Joshua Tree
Super Deluxe Edition

Back in 1987 I wrote:

The Joshua Tree is the odds-on favorite for the Best Album Grammy, and quite deservedly. The Boy has grown up - the band has matured with spectacular results. U2 still has a distinctive sound, but it changes slightly with each album. The Joshua Tree melds Eno's textures with the band's sparse sound perfectly. Every song on the album should be a radio staple.

The 30th anniversary set couples the original album with a great-sounding live set from the original tour in 1987, a disc of remixes, and a disc of b-sides and outtakes. The concert is tremendous - the band sounds great, and surprise addition of the New Voices Of Freedom choir is a treat. Remixes aren't generally my thing, but the b-sides and outtakes disc is also great. "Spanish Eyes" and "Rise Up" are real gems.

Still U2's best album, and the new additions are definitely worth checking out.

tracks (original album): "Where The Streets Have No Name", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "With Or Without You", "Bullet The Blue Sky", "Running To Stand Still", "Red Hill Mining Town", "In God's Country", "Trip Through Your Wires", "One Tree Hill", "Exit", "Mothers of The Disappeared"

tracks (Live At Madison Square Garden, 28th September, 1987): "Where The Streets Have No Name", "I Will Follow", "Trip Through Your Wires", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "MLK", "Bullet The Blue Sky", "Running To Stand Still", "In God's Country", "Sunday Bloody Sunday", "Exit", "October", "New Year's Day", "Pride (In The Name Of Love)", "With Or Without You", "Party Girl", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" [with The New Voices Of Freedom choir], "40"

tracks (Remixes): "One Tree Hill" [St Francis Hotel Remix], "Bullet The Blue Sky" [Jacknife Lee Remix], "Running To Stand Still" [Daniel Lanois Remix], "Red Hill Mining Town" [Steve Lillywhite 2017 Mix], "With Or Without You" [Daniel Lanois Remix], "Where The Streets Have No Name" [Flood Remix]

tracks (B-sides & Outtakes): "Luminous Times (Hold on To Love)", "Walk To The Water", "Spanish Eyes", "Deep In The Heart", "Silver And Gold", "Sweetest Thing", "Race Against Time", "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" [Lillywhite Alternative Mix '87], "One Tree Hill Reprise" [Brian Eno 2017 Mix], "Silver And Gold" [Sun City], "Beautiful Ghost / Introduction To Songs Of Experience", "Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)", "Desert Of Our Love", "Rise Up", "Drunk Chicken/America"


LIVE ALBUMS

cover art
Asia
Symfonia: Live In Bulgaria 2013

Symfonia was recorded shortly after Sam Coulson replaced Steve Howe on guitar. The album with Coulson was a year away, so none of the Gravitas material is here (heck, nine of the fourteen songs are from the original two Asia albums from the 80's). What makes the show noteworthy is the second half where Asia is joined by the Plovdiv Opera Orchestra for the last thirty minutes of the show. It's short, but it's a good combination, but the strings are little more subdued than I would've hoped for (or maybe they're just too quiet the mix).

The deluxe edition comes with a DVD of the show, and if you're going to pick this up, you might as well get that version. The show was filmed in the 2,000 year old Ancient Stadium of Philippopolis and it's a really cool setting for the show. The only issue with the DVD is that one or two of the camera operators must've thought they were filming a new entry in the Jason Bourne film series because the camera moves around WAY too much, especially when focused on Carl Palmer.

Check out the YouTube clips to get a feel. Worth getting if you're a big fan. Otherwise, I'd pass.

tracks (Asia): "Sole Survivor", "Time Again", "Face On The Bridge", "My Own Time", "Holy War", "An Extraordinary Life", "Days Like These", "Open Your Eyes" tracks (Asia with the Plovdiv Opera Orchestra): "Only Time Will Tell", "Don't Cry", "Heroine", "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes", "Wildest Dreams", "Heat Of The Moment"

cover art
Big Star's Third
Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live…And More

FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm one of those people who thinks #1 Record and Radio City are two of the best albums ever recorded and is a little mystified by the adoration of Third. If I'm honest, I only consider Third a "Big Star" album on a technicality. Wanted to get that out front first.

"Big Star's Third" grew out of a proposed live performance of Third organized by Chris Stamey of The dB's. Alex Chilton died before Stamey could discuss it with him, but Chilton's widow gave her blessing to the project. It started out with an orchestra and an all-star band: Stamey plus Mike Mills from R.E.M., Mitch Easter from Let's Active and original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens.

Thank You, Friends: Big Star's Third Live…And More captures a later performance with a greatly enhanced lineup and a first set of songs taken from #1 Record, Radio City, and Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos. Joining the lineup are Robyn Hitchcock, Dan Wilson of Semisonic, Jeff Tweedy from Wilco, and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of Alex Chilton's 1990's version of Big Star.

The first half of the show is absolutely spectacular. Mitch Easter's guitar work sounds more like the 70's Big Star than Alex Chilton did in the 90's reunion, the strings are used perfectly, and the various singers capture the feel of the originals perfectly. This lineup with Chilton on vocals would have been a perfect revival of the band. As it is, the guest singers do the songs tremendous justice. If you're like me and adore those first two albums, you need to hear this for the first disc alone. I can't recommend this highly enough.

The second half of the show surprised me. I'm still not a fan of Third, but this is a very well done version of the album. For me, Jeff Tweedy's "O, Dana", Mike Mills' "Jesus Christ", Jody Stephens' "For You" and the all-star "Thank You Friends" are the big highlights. If you are a fan of Third, I suspect you'll be as pleased with this half of the show as I was with the first.

Oh, and get the version with the DVD so you can watch the concert movie as well.

tracks: "Watch The Sunrise", "September Gurls", "In The Street", "Back Of A Car", "Thirteen", "Give Me Another Chance", "When My Baby's Beside Me", "I'm In Love With A Girl", "Feel", "The Ballad Of El Goodo", "I Am The Cosmos", "You And Your Sister", "Kizza Me", "O, Dana", "For You", "Nightime", "Jesus Christ", "Take Care", "Big Black Car", "Blue Moon", "Stroke It Noel", "Downs", "Dream Lover", "Holocaust", "You Can't Have Me", "Kanga Roo", "Thank You Friends"

cover art
Jeff Lynne's ELO
Wembley Or Bust

Over their first few albums, ELO's sound went from a rock band with some string players to a rock band playing with a full string section. As a result, later live performances never quite captured that sound. After a two-song TV appearance in 2013, Jeff Lynne revived the band. This time around, with more musicians and better technology, Jeff has finally nailed the band's sound live. The set list is about perfect, and Lynne's voice sounds great, although he sounds tired on the album (understandable - he's nearly 70). There's one song from the 2015 album Alone In The Universe, a cover of "Handle With Care" (a nice touch especially now that Jeff and Bob Dylan are the only Wilburys left), and a nice run through ELO's hit catalog. Only criticism: For reasons I can't fathom, the CD isn't recorded like a proper live album with applause linking each song together. After each song, the sound fades out before the next one fades in. OK, it's really nice if you like to listen in shuffle mode (and I do), but a live album should sound like one long performance.

Oh, and go for a version with DVD or BluRay attached. The show looks great as well.

tracks: "Standin' In The Rain", "Evil Woman", "All Over The World", "Showdown", "Livin' Thing", "Do Ya", "When I Was A Boy", "Handle With Care", "Last Train To London", "Xanadu", "Rockaria!", "Can't Get It Out Of My Head", "10538 Overture", "Prologue / Twilight", "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle", "Shine A Little Love", "Wild West Hero", "Sweet Talkin' Woman", "Telephone Line", "Turn To Stone", "Don't Bring Me Down", "Mr. Blue Sky", "Roll Over Beethoven"

cover art
Mudcrutch
The Very Best Performances From The 2016 Mudcrutch Tour

The second Mudcrutch album, 2016's 2, lost some of the country-rock feel of the debut. The Very Best Performances From The 2016 Mudcrutch Tour, a free live download from the Tom Petty "Highway Companions Club" collects sixteen terrific performances from the band and restores much of the country-rock to their sound. The set mixes songs from both albums along with a superb cover of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door". The other big highlight is an epic 14-minute version of "Crystal River".

You could've understandably mistaken 2 for a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album, but there's far less chance you'd do so with this live album. A terrific set, and worth the cost of signing up for the club.

YouTube (not the versions on the album, but representative): "Scare Easy", "Knocking On Heaven's Door"

tracks: "Shady Grove", "Orphan Of The Storm", "Scare Easy", "Trailer", "This Is A Good Street", "Lover Of The Bayou", "Beautiful World", "Save Your Water", "Hungry No More", "House Of Stone", "Knockin' On Heaven's Door", "The Other Side Of The Mountain", "Hope", "Victim Of Circumstance", "The Wrong Thing To Do", "Crystal River"

cover art
Richard Thompson Band
Live At Rockpalast

Live At Rockpalast captures two different concerts by Richard Thompson originally broadcast on the German TV show Rockpalast (both audio and video are included). The two shows were recorded less than two months apart (December 10, 1983 and January 26, 1984). They both have the same setlist (with a string of oldies as extra encores in the 1st show), and the same core band (with different rhythm sections). The first is an unofficial Fairport Convention reunion with Thompson's band including Fairport alums Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg and Dave Mattacks. Thompson, as always, mixes great songs with searing guitar work. Great package.

tracks (12/10/83): "The Wrong Heartbeat", "A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory", "Tear Stained Letter", "Night Comes In", "Amarylus", "Shoot Out The Lights", "Don't Renege On Our Love", "Hand Of Kindness", "Alberta", "Wall Of Death", "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "How I Wanted To", "Man In Need", "Two Left Feet", "Back Street Slide", "Both Ends Burning", "Danny Boy", "Can't Sit Down", "Great Balls Of Fire", "High School Confidential"

tracks (1/26/84): "The Wrong Heartbeat", "A Poisoned Heart And A Twisted Memory", "Tear Stained Letter", "Night Comes In", "Amarylus", "Shoot Out The Lights", "Don't Renege On Our Love", "Hand Of Kindness", "Alberta", "Wall Of Death", "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "How I Wanted To", "Man In Need", "Two Left Feet"

cover art
The Who
Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 2004

Recorded shortly after the release of Then And Now, Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 2004 captures the band in excellent form and includes "Real Good Looking Boy" and a bit of "Old Red Wine", two songs that didn't stay in The Who's set very long. A great performance with audio and video included.

tracks: "I Can't Explain", "Substitute", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Who Are You", "Behind Blue Eyes", "Bargain", "Baba O'Riley", "The Punk And The Godfather", "5:15", "Love, Reign O'er Me", "Eminence Front", "Drowned", "Naked Eye", "Real Good Looking Boy", "You Better You Bet", "My Generation", "Old Red Wine", "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Pinball Wizard", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "See Me, Feel Me", "Magic Bus"

cover art
The Who
Tommy: Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Tommy was the centerpiece of the Who's live sets in 1969 and 1970. They also performed it live with guest stars in 1989, but strangely The Who never actually performed the whole album. A few songs from the original never made the live sets. In 2016, The Who announced that they would play an acoustic version of Tommy in 2017 at the Royal Albert Hall for a Teenage Cancer Trust benefit.

As Roger announces at the beginning, the show was switched to electric to save the extra rehearsal time. And this time around, they finally play every song in the rock opera. However, the order of some of the songs have been switched around, and frankly, it helps the narrative quite a bit. The original running order for the end of side 3 and the beginning of side 4 was "Smash The Mirror", "Sensation", "Miracle Cure", "Sally Simpson" and "I'm Free" which didn't really make sense in the narrative. Smashing the mirror frees Tommy, and he rises to fame before the cure is announced? Then, there's an incident at a public event that precedes his proclaiming his freedom? The album is great, but this never really made sense. This time around the order is "Smash The Mirror", "I'm Free", "Miracle Cure", "Sensation", and "Sally Simpson". Makes way more sense. The band sounds terrific, and as they did on the Quadrophenia tours, they add a brief encore of hits. Great, great performance.

Shopper's note: For this release, the audio and video are sold separately. There doesn't seem to be a package that includes both.

tracks: "Overture", "It's A Boy", "1921", "Amazing Journey", "Sparks", "Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)", "Christmas", "Cousin Kevin", "The Acid Queen", "Do You Think It's Alright?", "Fiddle About", "Pinball Wizard", "There's A Doctor", "Go To The Mirror", "Tommy Can You Hear Me?", "Smash The Mirror", "Underture", "I'm Free", "Miracle Cure", "Sensation", "Sally Simpson", "Welcome", "Tommy's Holiday Camp", "We're Not Gonna Take It", "I Can't Explain", "Join Together", "I Can See For Miles", "Who Are You", "Love, Reign O'er Me", "Baba O'Riley", "Won't Get Fooled Again"

cover art
Frank Zappa
Halloween 77 [Costume Box Set]
cover art
Frank Zappa
Halloween 77 [3 CD Edition]

Halloween was Frank Zappa's favorite holiday. And for every tour from 1977 to 1984, he celebrated it with shows in New York. Selections from the 1978 show were released on the DVD Audio disc Halloween in 2003, the 1981 show was broadcast live on MTV, but the most famous were the 1977 shows, filmed for the concert film Baby Snakes. Four shows (October 28-31) were planned, but two extra shows were added on the 29th and 30th due to popular demand.

Halloween 77 comes in two formats. The 3 CD edition captures the 1977 Halloween show itself, along with a few bonus tracks from other shows. The "Costume Box Set" contains a Halloween costume (Frank Zappa mask and "shirt") along with a USB drive containing all 6 shows in their entirety in WAV format. And for those who don't care about the costume (like me), the whole set is available on iTunes (and I assume other digital outlets) at a slight discount.

Unlike later tours, the set doesn't change from night to night (with a few additions on the 30th and 31st), except for the longer improvisational sections in "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus" and a 20-minute "Wild Love". The shows are tremendous. Zappa's band includes guitar hero Adrian Belew and ace drummer Terry Bozzio and both really shine. If you're a fan of Baby Snakes, it's worth getting at least the 3CD set. If you're a fanatic, it's totally worth getting the big set.

COSTUME BOX SET:

October 28 & 29, 1977 (same tracklist for all four shows): "Introductions", "Peaches En Regalia", "The Torture Never Stops", "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", "City Of Tiny Lites", "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus", "Bobby Brown", "Conehead", "Flakes", "Big Leg Emma", "Envelopes", "Terry's Solo", "Disco Boy", "Läther", "Wild Love", "Titties & Beer", "Audience Participation", "The Black Page #2", "Jones Crusher", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "Punky's Whips", "Encore Audience", "Dinah-Moe Humm", "Camarillo Brillo", "Muffin Man"

October 30, 1977: "Show Start", "Stink-Foot", "The Poodle Lecture", "Dirty Love", "Peaches En Regalia", "The Torture Never Stops", "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", "City Of Tiny Lites", "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus", "I Have Been In You", "Dancin' Fool", "Jewish Princess", "King Kong", "Terry's Solo", "Disco Boy", "Envelopes", "A Halloween Treat With Thomas Nordegg", "Läther", "Wild Love", "Titties & Beer", "Audience Participation", "The Black Page #2", "Jones Crusher", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "Punky's Whips", "Encore Rap", "Dinah-Moe Humm", "Camarillo Brillo", "Muffin Man", "San Ber'dino"

October 31, 1977: "Show Start", "Peaches En Regalia", "The Torture Never Stops", "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", "City Of Tiny Lites", "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus", "The Demise Of The Imported Rubber Goods Mask", "Bobby Brown", "Conehead", "Flakes", "Big Leg Emma", "Envelopes", "Terry's Halloween Solo", "Disco Boy", "Läther", "Wild Love", "Titties & Beer", "Audience Participation", "The Black Page #2", "Jones Crusher", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "Punky's Whips", "Encore Audience", "Dinah-Moe Humm", "Camarillo Brillo", "Muffin Man", "San Ber'dino", "Black Napkins"

3 CD EDITION:

October 31, 1977: "Show Start", "Peaches En Regalia", "The Torture Never Stops", "Tryin' To Grow A Chin", "City Of Tiny Lites", "A Pound For A Brown On The Bus", "The Demise Of The Imported Rubber Goods Mask", "Bobby Brown", "Conehead", "Flakes", "Big Leg Emma", "Envelopes", "Terry's Halloween Solo", "Disco Boy", "Läther", "Wild Love", "Titties & Beer", "Audience Participation", "The Black Page #2", "Jones Crusher", "Broken Hearts Are For Assholes", "Punky's Whips", "Encore Audience", "Dinah-Moe Humm", "Camarillo Brillo", "Muffin Man", "San Ber'dino", "Black Napkins"

bonus tracks (from October 30): "King Kong", "A Halloween Treat With Thomas Nordegg", "Audience Participation", "The Black Page #2"


COMPILATIONS

cover art
The Move
Magnetic Waves Of Sound: The Best Of The Move

Magnetic Waves Of Sound is kind of a double-duty release. The CD in the package is a decent greatest hits album for the band and it's interesting to hear how they evolved. I'd quibble over a few of the picks - seems like it's slanted towards their early years instead of a more balanced selection. From 1966 to 1969, they were a typical (but excellent) 60's "beat group" with songs like "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Flowers In The Rain", and their classic "Blackberry Way". Once 1970 hit, they started getting heavier and heavier. "Hello Susie" boasts a much heavier sound, and "Brontosaurus" makes drummer Bev Bevan's brief stint in Black Sabbath make more sense. In 1971, Jeff Lynne joined the group and sound moved again towards Lynne and Move leader Roy Wood's plan for a band fusing rock and classical that would become the Electric Light Orchestra. If you're an ELO fan, you should at least listen to the final Move album Message From The Country, but this compilation will give you a better overall view of The Move's history.

The second disc in the set is a DVD with an hour of video footage. There's a promo film for "I Can Hear The Grass Grow" and lip-synced appearances from shows like Top Of The Pops and Beat Club. But the centerpiece of the DVD is a half-hour performance from "Color Me Pop" from January of 1969. It captures a live performance (it sounds live, but there doesn't seem to be an audience) of the 2nd line up of The Move (Roy Wood, Carl Wayne, Bev Bevan and Trevor Burton). It's a great performance with a couple of non-album covers thrown in ("Goin' Back" and the surprising country of "The Christian Life"). If you're already a fan, you definitely need to see this. Yeah, you're buying a greatest hits disc with songs you already have, but you definitely need to see this video.

CD tracks (The Best Of The Move): "Night Of Fear", "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Wave The Flag And Stop The Train", "Kilroy Was Here", "(Here We Go Round) The Lemon Tree", "Walk Upon The Water", "Flowers In The Rain", "Fire Brigade", "Wild Tiger Woman", "Blackberry Way", "Curly", "Hello Susie", "Cherry Blossom Clinic Revisited", "Brontosaurus", "When Alice Comes Back To The Farm", "What?", "Ella James", "Tonight", "Chinatown", "California Man", "Do Ya"

DVD tracks (The Move On The Air): "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Night Of Fear", "Walk Upon The Water", "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Fire Brigade", "I Can Hear The Grass Grow", "Beautiful Daughter", "The Christian Life", "Flowers In The Rain", "The Last Thing On My Mind", "Wild Tiger Woman", "Goin' Back", "Fire Brigade", "Something", "Blackberry Way", "Fire Brigade", "Wild Tiger Woman", "Blackberry Way", "Curly", "Brontosaurus", "When Alice Comes Back To The Farm",

cover art
The Who
Maximum As & Bs: The Complete Singles

Yes, The Who's catalog has been repackaged in numerous greatest hits sets, but Maximum As & Bs is quite different. This set contains the A-side and B-side of each of The Who's singles. What makes it especially interesting is that, like a lot of other bands in the 60's, songs recorded for singles didn't usually end up on the album. Some of the non-album A-sides rank with The Who's best ever (e.g., "I Can't Explain", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Substitute", and "Pictures Of Lily"). On the B-sides (especially the earlier ones), you get songs that are way out of character (some more bluesy, some silly, etc.), and they can be a lot of fun to hear. An interesting single on the set is a cover the two Rolling Stones songs ("The Last Time", "Under My Thumb") released to protest what they considered overly harsh sentences of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard in a drug bust. You'll also hear the band indulge Keith Moon's love of surf music on "Barbara Ann" and "Bucket T" and his general lunacy on "Wasp Man", which consists of Keith making insect noises and yelling "STING!" over an absolutely killer Pete Townshend guitar riff. Obviously aimed at the hard-core Who fans, but anyone who's a fan of the band should hear this. It really casts the band in a different (and very interesting) light.

tracks: "Zoot Suit", "I'm The Face", "I Can't Explain", "Bald Headed Woman", "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", "Daddy Rolling Stone", "My Generation", "Shout And Shimmy", "Circles", "Instant Party Mixture", "A Legal Matter", "The Kids Are Aright", "The Ox", "La-La-La-Lies", "The Good's Gone", "Substitute", "Circles", "Waltz For A Pig", "I'm A Boy", "In The City", "Disguises", "Batman", "Bucket T", "Barbara Ann", "Happy Jack", "I've Been Away", "Pictures Of Lily", "Doctor, Doctor", "The Last Time", "Under My Thumb", "I Can See For Miles", "Someone's Coming", "Dogs", "Call Me Lightning", "Magic Bus", "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde", "Pinball Wizard", "Dogs Part Two", "The Seeker", "Here For More", "Summertime Blues" [live], "Heaven And Hell", "See Me, Feel Me", "Overture", "Christmas", "I'm Free", "Won't Get Fooled Again" [single edit], "Don't Know Myself", "Let's See Action", "When I Was A Boy", "Join Together", "Baby Don't You Do It", "Relay", "Waspman", "5:15", "Water", "See Me, Feel Me" [from Tommy soundtrack], "Overture" [from Tommy soundtrack], "Squeeze Box", "Success Story", "Who Are You" [single edit], "Had Enough", "Long Live Rock", "My Wife" [live], "5:15" [from Quadrophenia soundtrack], "I'm One" [from Quadrophenia soundtrack], "You Better You Bet", "The Quiet One", "Don't Let Go The Coat", "You", "Athena", "A Man Is A Man", "Eminence Front", "It's Your Turn", "Twist And Shout" [live], "I Can't Explain" [live], "Bony Moronie" [live], "Join Together" [live], "I Can See For Miles" [live], "Behind Blue Eyes" [live], "Real Good Looking Boy", "Old Red Wine", "Sound Round", "Pick Up The Peace", "Endless Wire", "We Got A Hit", "They Made My Dream Come True", "Mirror Door", "Be Lucky", "I Can't Explain" [2014 Stereo Remix]


OTHER NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

cover art
Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie
Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie

The debut duet album by Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie has the duo backed by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, making it basically a new Fleetwood Mac album (minus Stevie Nicks). The result will remind you one of Lindsey's solo albums or a late-period Mac album (more like Mirage and less like Rumours). Buckingham and McVie alternate songs on the album, and both are in great voice. Highlights include Buckingham's "In My World" (with backing vocals seeming to echo Fleetwood Mac's "Big Love"), McVie's charming "Feel About You", and Buckingham's ballad "Love Is Here To Stay". When Christine McVie announced she was rejoining Fleetwood Mac, I was hoping for an album from the full Rumours-era lineup. This isn't that album, but it's a very welcome return.

tracks: "Sleeping Around The Corner", "Feel About You", "In My World", "Red Sun", "Love Is Here To Stay", "Too Far Gone", "Lay Down For Free", "Game Of Pretend", "On With The Show", "Carnival Begin"

cover art
Cast
Kicking Up The Dust

It's been five years since the last Cast album, Troubled Times. That album returned the band to their basic sound before the wild (and ill-advised) detour on into dancier music on Beetroot. Kicking Up The Dust shows the band changing a bit again, but this time a lot more successfully. The title track sounds like a merging of Cast's sound with a guitar reminiscent of U2's Edge circa "Beautiful Day". "Do That" sounds like classic Cast. "Paper Chains" is a lighter, mostly acoustic ballad that sounds great. "Every Little Thing You Do" has a moody, hypnotic sound that's new for the band. This time around, Cast has figured out how to change things up with ruining what made 'em good in the first place.

tracks: "Kicking Up The Dust", "Roar", "Do That", "Further Down The Road", "Paper Chains", "Birdcage", "Every Little Thing You Do", "Baby Blue Eyes", "How Can We Lose", "Clear Blue Water", "Out Of My Hands"

cover art
Benjamin Gibbard
Bandwagonesque
"Bandwagonesque is my favorite record by my favorite band of all time. It came along at a pivotal time in my musical life and I've loved it for over 25 years. It's been such a blast taking these songs apart to see how they work and then putting them back together again." - Benjamin Gibbard

Ben Gibbard's cover of Teenage Fanclub's classic is a bit less grungy and a little quieter in spots, but it's not a radical departure from the original. The biggest changes are to "The Concept", which has been slowed down and given a moodier feel, and "Pet Rock" is trimmed down to under a minute in length and sounds a bit like a hymnal. Otherwise, it almost sounds like Teenage Fanclub rerecorded the album with Gibbard on vocals. I'd recommend the original over this cover, but if you're a fan of Death Cab For Cutie or just want to hear a different take on the album, it's definitely worth a listen. I've really enjoyed it.

tracks: "The Concept", "Satan", "December", "What You Do To Me", "I Don't Know", "Star Sign", "Metal Baby", "Pet Rock", "Sidewinder", "Alcoholiday", "Guiding Star", "Is This Music?"

cover art
Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas
The World Of Captain Beefheart

This one was a surprise. Former Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas certainly knows his way around Beefheart's music, but I would never have guessed former LaBelle singer Nona Hendryx as the right match. Boy was I wrong. Hendryx's voice is strong and fits the music surprisingly well. Combined with Lucas' stellar guitar work, you get basically a more accessible take on Beefheart's catalog. Songs like "I'm Glad", "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles" and "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains" sound like they actually could have had airplay. Far less weird than the originals, but the edges aren't totally gone. "The Smithsonian Institute Blues", "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do" and "Tropical Hot Dog Night" may be a smidge less weird than the originals, but they still show off Beefheart's eccentricities. And "Suction Prints" and "When Big Joan Sets Up" gives you the full sound, just with new vocals. If you've been curious about Beefheart but the Captain's voice or the rawness of the originals puts you off, this can be a side door into his catalog. If you're a fan already, it's definitely worth a listen.

YouTube: "Sun Zoom Spark, "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains" (excerpt from a live performance).

tracks: "Sun Zoom Spark", "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains", "Sure 'Nuff 'N Yes I Do", "I'm Glad", "The Smithsonian Institute Blues (Or The Big Dig)", "Her Eyes Are A Blue Million Miles", "Suction Prints", "Sugar 'N Spikes", "When Big Joan Sets Up", "Too Much Time", "When It Blows Its Stacks", "Tropical Hot Dog Night"

cover art
The Hold Steady
"Entitlement Crew" b/w "A Snake In The Shower"

The Hold Steady's first new release since Teeth Dreams in 2014 and Franz Nicolay's return in 2016 is a two-song digital single available on Bandcamp with proceeds going to the K+L Guardian Foundation (started in 2012 to benefits the kids of a long-time Hold Steady fan who passed away at age 36). The price of the single is a minimum $2.00 donation.

The songs are excellent - "Entitlement Crew" is vintage Hold Steady - and it's so great to hear keyboards back in the band's sound (although they don't take center stage). If you're a fan, go grab a copy. Hoping this will eventually lead to a new album.

tracks: "Entitlement Crew", "A Snake In The Shower"

cover art
Randy Newman
Dark Matter

Newman's first album in nine years (and only his second since 1999) is a bit of an inconsistent affair. Highlights include "She Chose Me" (a romantic Newman ballad), "It's A Jungle Out There" (a full version of his theme song for the 2000's TV series Monk), and the shuffling "On The Beach". "Putin" half-works ... it's a cousin to "The Great Nations Of Europe" or "Political Science", but not as well done. The album opens on a gutsy note: the eight-minute "The Great Debate" which pits scientists against religious leaders. A promising premise for Newman, but the results ends up being more like an extended sketch than a song. Only for the most hard-core Newman fans.

YouTube: "Putin".

tracks: "The Great Debate", "Brothers", "Putin", "Lost Without You", "Sonny Boy", "It's A Jungle Out There", "She Chose Me", "On The Beach", "Wandering Boy"

cover art
Richard Thompson
Acoustic Classics II
cover art
Richard Thompson
Acoustic Rarities

Following on from 2014's Acoustic Classics, Acoustic Classics II and Acoustic Rarities follow the same format of Thompson solely on acoustic guitar and vocals. As before, the performances are tremendous, although the song selection isn't quite as stellar this time, but that's to be expected.

The Classics disc includes gems like "She Twists The Knife Again", Genesis Hall", "Gethsemane", "A Heart Needs A Home" and "Bathsheba Smiles", although "Guns Are The Tongues" doesn't quite feel like it's up to the same standard. The rarities disc includes "Sloth" and "The End Of The Rainbow" (which should definitely be on the "Classics" set), and "Push And Shove", a killer live track that's never had a studio recording. The Rarities disc also includes a surprising number of brand new songs like the charming "They Tore The Hippodrome Down", which seems like a sequel of sorts to "Al Bowlly's In Heaven", the playful "Alexander Graham Bell", and the lovely waltz "She Played Right Into My Hands".

Originally sold on Kickstarter as a two-CD set, both volumes are available separately - but if you're a fan, you need both. Amazing.

tracks (Acoustic Classics II): "She Twists The Knife Again", "The Ghost Of You Walks", "Genesis Hall", "Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair", "A Heart Needs A Home", "Pharaoh", "Gethsemane", "Devonside", "Meet On The Ledge", "Keep Your Distance", "Bathsheba Smiles", "Crazy Man Michael", "Guns Are The Tongues", "Why Must I Plead"

tracks (Acoustic Rarities): "What If?", "They Tore The Hippodrome Down", "Seven Brothers", "Rainbow Over The Hill", "Never Again", "I Must Have A March", "I'll Take All My Sorrows To The Sea", "Poor Ditching Boy", "Alexander Graham Bell", "Sloth", "Push And Shove", "The End Of The Rainbow", "Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman", "She Played Right Into My Hands"

cover art
The Waterboys
Out Of All This Blue

The latest Waterboys album is a double CD (triple for the deluxe edition) that really should have been a single CD. The album starts out great, with the modern Waterboys sound from Modern Blues with a little dance influence mixed in (but it works). "Do We Choose Who We Love", "If I Was Your Boyfriend" and especially "If The Answer Is Yeah" start the album on a very high note. The second disc starts out strong with "The Hammerhead Bar" (about an imagined visit to the bar in the Who bassist John Entwistle's mansion) and a moody and dramatic "Mister Charisma" (a plea to Keith Richards to make more music and less news). From there, the album drops off a bit. "Man, What A Woman" and the sweet "Payo Payo Chin" are terrific. The rest are adventurous, but don't quite click for me. Mixed in is a country song called "Kinky's History Lesson", a sharp retort to Kinky Friedman's description of the British as "crumpet-chomping Neville Chamberlain surrender monkeys". Mike Scott's lyrics are superb, but it's set to an appropriately twangy country backing that I didn't care for. The deluxe edition adds a 3rd CD of extras and remixes. The opener "The Memphis Fox" is excellent, but the rest of the disc kinda left me cold.

The highlights make this worth picking up - in my mind there's an excellent 13-song album here that carries on nicely from Modern Blues. Trouble is, it's buried in a 23-song (or 34 for the deluxe) album.

tracks: "Do We Choose Who We Love", "If I Was Your Boyfriend", "Santa Fe", "If The Answer Is Yeah", "Love Walks In", "New York I Love You", "The Connemara Fox", "The Girl In The Window Chair", "Morning Came Too Soon", "Hiphopstrumental 4 (Scotsman)", "The Hammerhead Bar", "Mister Charisma", "Nashville, Tennesee", "Man, What A Woman", "Girl In A Kayak", "Monument", "Kinky's History Lesson", "Skyclad Lady", "Rokudenashiko", "Didn't We Walk On Water", "The Elegant Companion", "Yamaben", "Payo Payo Chin"

bonus tracks (deluxe edition): "The Memphis Fox", "If The Answer Is Yeah" [alternate version], "If I Was Your Boyfriend" [Zeenie Mix], "Epiphany On Mott Street", "Didn't We Walk On Water" [JessKav Mix], "Sante Fe" [instrumental], "Payo Payo Chin" [Tokyo Hotel], "Return To Roppongi Hills", "Nashville, Tennessee" [live], "Mister Charisma" [alternate version], "So In Love With You"

cover art
Paul Weller
Jawbone (Music From The Film)

Paul Weller's first soundtrack album really is a soundtrack album (as opposed to a collection of rock songs for a movie). The first track "Jimmy / Blackout" runs about 20 minutes and it's an interesting listen, but it's clearly designed to go with the visuals. Most of the rest of the songs fit the same style, but are much shorter. And like "Jimmy / Blackout", they're an interesting change for Weller, but probably work better in the context of the film. The two exceptions are the two ballads ("The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe" and "Bottle"), both of which would fit nicely as lighter songs on Weller's solo albums. An interesting listen, but really only for the Weller completists.

tracks: "Jimmy / Blackout", "The Ballad Of Jimmy McCabe", "Jawbone", "Bottle", "Jawbone Training", "Man On Fire", "End Fight Sequence"


THE TOP TEN FOR 2017

cover art
#10
Filthy Friends
Invitation

Filthy Friends is a new supergroup made up of Peter Buck of R.E.M., along with two former R.E.M. sidemen - Scott McCaughey (also from The Minus 5 and other bands) and Bill Rieflin (also from Ministry and King Crimson) - and Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney and Kurt Bloch from the Minus 5. The result is an excellent hard rock album with crunching guitars with Corin's lead vocals sounding a bit like Patti Smith at different points. The highlight for me is "Any Kind Of Crowd", which has an opening you'd mistake for an R.E.M. outtake, but settles in to something louder and faster. I confess, I'm not too familiar with Buck's myriad side projects, but Invitation makes me want to check them out. This is a terrific, back-to-basics rock album. Turn it up.

If you watch the video for "Despierta", you'll see that Bill Rieflin has already left the band and has been replaced by Linda Pitmon from The Baseball Project (which also features Buck and McCaughey).

tracks: "Despierta", "Windmill", "Faded Afternoon", "Any Kind Of Crowd", "Second Life", "The Arrival", "Come Back Shelley", "No Forgotten Son", "Brother", "You And Your King", "Makers", "Invitation"

cover art
#9
Midge Ure
Orchestrated

Along the lines of Peter Gabriel's New Blood album, Midge Ure's Orchestrated has all new versions of songs from his Ultravox and solo career arranged for orchestra. The sound is generally slower and more dramatic than the originals, but Ure's powerful voice hasn't lost anything over the years, and the song selection is top notch. Ultravox's finest moment, "Vienna", is especially good here with the electronics and guitar of the original mixing with the lush strings. Excellent.

tracks: "Hymn", "Dancing With Tears In My Eyes", "Breathe", "Man Of Two Worlds", "If I Was", "Vienna", "The Voice", "Ordinary Man", "I Remember (Death In The Afternoon)", "Lament", "Reap The Wild Wind", "Fragile"

cover art
#8
Liam Gallagher
As You Were

After Oasis' demise, Liam Gallagher made two albums fronting Beady Eye. The first album was pretty good, the second not so much. That was four years ago, and my expectations weren't very high. As it turns out, As You Were is quite a comeback. The songs are better this time around (some guest songwriters helped), and Liam's voice sounds better than it has in ages. The standout here is "For What It's Worth" (No, not a cover of the Buffalo Springfield classic), a song of regret and apology with an Oasis-sized sound that could be about his ex-wives and could easily be about his brother Noel. Easily the best thing Liam has doen without Oasis. The opener "Wall Of Glass" open the album with harmonica and a blast of Oasis-ish guitar, but ends up sounding more modern. There are some weak tracks on here, but overall, this is an impressive debut.

tracks: "Wall Of Glass", "Bold", "Greedy Soul", "Paper Crown", "For What It's Worth", "When I'm In Need", "You Better Run", "I Get By", "Chinatown", "Come Back To Me", "Universal Gleam", "I've All I Need"

bonus tracks: "Doesn't Have To Be That Way", "All My People / All Mankind", "I Never Wanna Be Like You"

cover art
#7
Paul Weller
A Kind Revolution
Deluxe Edition

Paul Weller's latest, A Kind Revolution, keeps up Saturns Pattern's mix and match of styles but with a soulful streak through the whole album. The album opens on a big high note with the rocking "Woo Sé Mama". "Long Long Road" is an epic Weller ballad. The centerpiece of the album is the "The Cranes Are Back" mixes a piano ballad with more modern rhythms and a dramatic vocal. The other big highlight is "Satellite Kid", which also mixes that modern and old-school Weller sound. Overall, a terrific album.

The deluxe edition comes with a 2nd CD of the album in instrumental versions. Didn't do much for me - I really like Weller's voice, so having that missing isn't a big plus. The 3rd CD includes a new song "Alpha" and various remixes of songs on the album. "Alpha" is largely instrumental with an electronica feel that fits in more with the remixes than the album. It's an interesting listen, but not something I'd come back to. Definitely worth getting the album, but the deluxe edition is really a completist-only proposition.

tracks: "Woo Sé Mama", "Nova", "Long Long Road", "She Moves With The Fayre", "The Cranes Are Back", "Hopper", "New York", "One Tear", "Satellite Kid", "The Impossible Idea"

bonus tracks (Instrumental Versions): "Woo Sé Mama", "Nova", "Long Long Road", "She Moves With The Fayre", "The Cranes Are Back", "Hopper", "New York", "One Tear", "Satellite Kid", "The Impossible Idea"

bonus tracks (Remixes, Alternate Versions And Previously Unreleased Track): "Alpha", "She Moves With The Fayre" [Villagers Remix], "New York (Nightwatch)" [Prof. Kybert Remix], "Nova" [Toy Remix], "One Tear" [Club Cut - Prof. Kybert Remix], "Hopper" [White Label Remix], "Satellite Kid" [Syd Arthur Remix], "She Moves With The Fayre" [Breakdown Instrumental - Prof. Kybert Remix], "Woo Sé Mama" [E & TC Remix]

cover art
Craig Finn
Calvary Court
cover art
#6
Craig Finn
We All Want The Same Things

Craig Finn's third solo album is his best yet, and while not yet a match for his work in The Hold Steady, he's getting closer. We All Want The Same Things is still mellower and moodier, but the folkier feeling of the first two albums is gone. The album has two classics - "Preludes" is the catchiest song in his solo catalog - sounds like an poppier version of The Hold Steady. "God In Chicago" is Finn's best solo song - it couples a spoken word story with a sung chorus a superb, melancholy piano melody the gives the whole story a compelling feel. As I've noted in my reviews of his first two albums, I really want a new Hold Steady album. This one's getting closer to filling the bill.

The PledgeMusic release also includes a 4-song EP called Calvary Court, which is almost as good as the main album. Definitely worth getting that as well.

tracks (Calvary Court): "Calvary Court", "Wild Animals", "Eventually I Made It To Sioux City", "Calvary Court" [piano version]

tracks (We All Want The Same Things): "Jester & June", "Preludes", "Ninety Bucks", "Birds Trapped In The Airport", "God In Chicago", "Rescue Blues", "Tangletown", "It Hits When It Hits", "Tracking Shots", "Be Honest"

cover art
#5
TC&I
Great Aspirations

TC&I is a duo of the original XTC rhythm section of Colin Moulding and Terry Chambers. Moulding wrote terrific songs for XTC, but has been largely retired since XTC's brilliant 2000 swan song, Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2). Terry left XTC during the sessions the similarly brilliant Mummer in 1982. TC&I's debut is an EP with four new Colin Moulding songs. Colin sings, plays bass, guitar and keyboards and Terry plays drums and sings. If you'd told me this was the first four tracks of a new XTC album, I'd totally believe it. The first two songs, "Scatter Me" and "Greatness" have that old XTC feel. "Kenny" couples a groove that would slot in on Wasp Star with a sort of rap vocal (it's not rap, but it's got a similar feel). "Comrades Of Pop" is a little monologue about money changes bands and how the bassist and drummer get treated differently tied to a pretty little melody. Is this a shot at Andy Partridge? Seems like it might be, but it's hard to tell (and stories are that the former members get along fine now). Could just be general bitterness about the industry as a whole. If you're an XTC fan, you really, really need to hear this. Makes me miss XTC again, but this is a wonderful little hint at what could have been.

YouTube: "Scatter Me".

tracks: "Scatter Me", "Greatness (The Aspiration Song)", "Kenny", "Comrades Of Pop"

cover art
#4
U2
Songs Of Experience

Like its companion album, 2014's Songs Of Innocence, Songs Of Experience also had a long recording period (2014-2017), but the results are far better this time around. Songs Of Innocence was a step up from No Line On The Horizon, but not a classic. Songs Of Experience, on the other hand, is the best U2 album in over a decade and a resounding return to form. The album starts on a dramatic note with Bono singing over string and piano, and it's a very cool introduction - it's like a full-song version of the build up in "Where The Streets Have No Name" (although I could live without the little snippet of Auto-Tune vocals). After that, the album takes off. "You're The Best Thing About Me" is the best U2 single in ages. "Summer Of Love" adds in a string section very effectively and is another big highlight. OK, yeah, maybe Bono can be a little annoying as a activist, but he's still a hell of a singer, the band sounds terrific, and they've got the songs this time around. Best U2 album since All That You Can Leave Behind.

The deluxe editions adds an alternate version of "Ordinary Love", an excellent string-driven version of "Lights Of Home", a good new song "Book Of Your Heart", and an unnecessary remix of "You're The Best Thing About Me". If you're going to get his one, get the deluxe edition.

tracks: "Love Is All We Have Left", "Lights Of Home", "You're The Best Thing About Me", "Get Out Of Your Own Way", "American Soul", "Summer Of Love", "Red Flag Day", "The Showman (Little More Better)", "The Little Things That Give You Away", "Landlady", "The Blackout", "Love Is Bigger Than Anything In Its Way", "13 (There Is A Light)"

bonus tracks: "Ordinary Love" [Extraordinary Mix], "Book Of Your Heart", "Lights Of Home" [St. Peter's String Version]

cover art
#3
Robyn Hitchcock
Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock's previous album, The Man Upstairs, was a bit of a disappointment for me. Not terrible, but not great. His latest, Robyn Hitchcock is a resounding return to form. Sound-wise, it's a mix between the pop songs on 2013's excellent Love From London and his albums with the Egyptians from the 80's and 90's.

The opening pair "I Want To Tell You About What I Want" and "Virgina Woolf" would have slotted in nicely on the Soft Boys' reunion album Nextdoorland. "I Pray When I'm Drunk" has Robyn going slightly country, and surprisingly it works, "Detective Mindhorn" and the killer closer "Time Coast" are classic Hitchcock rockers - catchy and weird. Superb.

tracks: "I Want To Tell You About What I Want", "Virginia Woolf", "I Pray When I'm Drunk", "Mad Shelley's Letterbox", "Sayonara Judge", "Detective Mindhorn", "1970 In Aspic", "Raymond And The Wires", "Autumn Sunglasses", "Time Coast"

cover art
#2
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
Who Built The Moon?

Noel Gallagher's third solo album continues to show his sound evolving a bit while still keeping his basic sound. "Fort Knox" is a hypnotic opener that makes me think of a pre-show tape at a concert - something to get you ready for the show. The album proper opens with two of it's highlights: the glam rock of "Holy Mountain" and the driving "Keep On Reaching". Along the way you get some dance beats (but it's definitely not a dance album), a monologue read in French, two moody instrmentals, the bluesy "Be Careful What You Wish For" and the more traditional Noel sound on "Black & White Sunshine". Overall, Who Built The Moon? shows Gallagher streching a bit, trying some new experiments, but not losing his core sound. Terrific stuff.

tracks: "Fort Knox", "Holy Mountain", "Keep On Reaching", "It's A Beautiful World", "She Taught Me How To Fly", "Be Careful What You Wish For", "Black & White Sunshine", "Interlude (Wednesday Part 1)", "If Love Is The Law", "The Man Who Built The Moon", "End Credits (Wednesday Part 2)"

bonus track: "Dead In The Water" (Live at RTÉ Studios, Dublin]

cover art
#1
Roger Waters
Is This The Life We Really Want?

Picture a courthouse with no fucking laws / Picture a cathouse with no fucking whores
Picture a shithouse with no fucking drains / Picture a leader with no fucking brains

Roger Waters' first new rock album in 25 years features production from long-time Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, but the result is simply a classic Waters solo album. Godrich hasn't changed Waters' sound much - if you liked his earlier solo albums, you'll like this as well. There's no story this time around, instead you have a protest album about modern warfare and politics with the occasional swipe at Donald Trump. "Smell The Roses" is a Waters classic rocker, "Wait For Her" a classic Waters ballad, and the rocking "Picture That" channels an angry Waters lyric with a modern take on the Floyd's sound.

Waters has been outspoken on a number of issues - notably Palestinian rights and the full-on attack/mocking of Trump during "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" on his latest tour. If his politics annoy you, this album will probably too. But it's an amazing album, and a very welcome return.

tracks: "When We Were Young", "Déjà Vu", "The Last Refugee", "Picture That", "Broken Bones", "Is This The Life We Really Want?", "Bird In A Gale", "The Most Beautiful Girl", "Smell The Roses", "Wait For Her", "Oceans Apart", "Part Of Me Died"