The Chris Robinson Brotherhood: Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel (2017)

I don’t know why, but over the past year or two I’ve taken to listening to music that can get a bit mellow and which can lean towards the uplifting. Not like me at all. The Tesdeschi Trucks Band is one fine example. There’s even some ’70s Clapton in there. Who knew? The most recent addition to my go-to list of not-as-dark-as-you’d-expect tune merchants is The Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

Formed on the demise of The Black Crowes, vocals aside The CRB is a very different entity. Chris Robinson has clearly taken a divergent approach to his ex-Crowes bandmates, brother Rich and Mark Ford, whose Magpie Salute is pretty much The Black Crowes with a new, albeit soundalike, singer. Here, the general sonic template – essentially early ’70s sounds and vibes – are in place but less rocky, less Stones/Zeppelin and more Grateful Dead/Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac. They’re as prolific as a 1970’s act as well, with five studio albums and one double live set released so far since 2012.

I had some birthday cash to spend last month and happened upon a complete set of CRB CDs going for affordable on eBay.  I bought the lot. (Dig that clever play on words. Rest assured, there’s no more where that came from.)  I’ll be working my way through these for quite a while but I’m currently stuck on Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel. Terrific album.

Narcissus Soaking Wet is the first CRB track I heard, via a live studio session on YouTube – on account of my being all modern and down with the digitals – and it makes for a funky opener here. In fact a lot of the tunes here carry a big funk element, with the abundance of vintage synths and the occasional burst of harmonica recalling prime time (Talking Book/Innervisions) Stevie Wonder. There are obvious nods to Bob Dylan (Forever as the Moon), a whole lot of southern rock and even mid-’70s Queen (Oak Apple Day). Sometimes, for these ears, the lead guitar stylings of Neal Casal are perhaps a tad too polite and those synths can sound a little incongruous but somehow it all works.

Nice packaging on this as well (true of all of these CRB CDs), a card gate-fold with with a decent booklet of throwback line art. This type of sleeve has come along nicely in recent years – just in time for the decline of the format, of course. Still, said decline might yet prove survivable, particularly if this is how discs are being packaged. Regardless, I’m pretty sure this and the rest of CRB catalogue is available on vinyl for those of you with deeper pockets.  Dig in.

CRB

 

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Favourite Books on a Kindle #2

Another interlude in which I take photographs of some of my favourite actual books ironically perched (the books, not me) atop my Kindle.

This time round, it’s W.G. Grace’s Last Case, William Rushton’s 1984 sequel to H.G.Wells’ The War of the Worlds in which the titular cricketer teams up with Dr. Watson to solve a murder, encountering the likes of Raffles, Buffalo Bill, Queen Victoria, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde along the way. Very funny book, wildly inventive and a precursor to The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

McQ (1974)

From the back of the box: “After his best friend, Sgt. Stan Boyle, is shotgunned to death, Lt. Lon McQ finds himself in trouble with his superiors when he beats up the man he believes was responsible, Manny Santiago.”

“Shotgunned to death.” What a turn of phrase. Is being “slightly shotgunned” a thing? “Shotgunned a bit.” Also, come to think of it, is McQ even a name?

Legend has it that John Wayne turned down the role of Harry Callahan because he didn’t want to play an anti-hero. That did not, however, stop him from dipping his toes in the “gritty urban crime thriller” pool. McQ was the first of two excellent entries in the genre he starred in, the other being the following year’s somewhat lighter Brannigan.

Despite it’s Dirty Harry-style underpinnings, McQ is at its core a film noir, with all the double crosses and troubled dames you could hope for. There are nods to The Maltese Falcon and Farewell My Lovely and that classic noir trope the McGuffin is present, if in the very ’70s shape of a truckload of drugs. It starts as a cop thriller but McQ soon hands in his badge to become the most noir of protagonists, a private eye. However, he is neither the standard pulp-era hard-boiled cynic nor the amoral ’70s anti hero. Nearing retirement, he’s seen it all and though, as is the way in these films, he’s willing to play hard and fast with the small matter of suspects’ rights, he is at heart an old-fashioned good guy. When Wayne delivers a very of-its-day line about “women’s lib”, he does it with a cheerfully rueful acceptance, Lawrence Roman’s script hinting at the changing times without overplaying its hand.

The capable supporting cast includes a raft of industry stalwarts of the day (several of whom had appeared in then-recent Wayne vehicles) – Eddie Albert, David Huddleston, Clu Gulager and William Bryant as well as future TV regulars Diana Muldaur, Julian Christopher and Roger E.Mosley. Not forgetting of course Al Lettieri as Santiago in full “slimy bad guy” mode.

The most memorable performance in the film is Colleen Dewhurst’s note perfect informant, Myra. In a layered, sympathetically played scene recalling Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely (and a likely influence on the 1975 film adaptation), McQ visits her to get information. He pays her in cocaine and ends up sleeping with her. A less typically “John Wayne” scenario is difficult to imagine.

Of course, there’s plenty of action here. Directed by genre giant John Sturges (Bad Day at Black Rock, The Magnificent Seven), McQ uses its Seattle locations to great effect, with fast cars and shootouts galore. There are memorable set pieces (McQ in his Trans Am being crushed between two trucks, a climactic beach front car chase) aided in no small measure by some terrific music. Really, apart from Wayne, the star of this film might just be Elmer Bernstein’s score, one of his best. The bold, brassy main theme fits Wayne to a ‘T’.

The urban thrillers of the 1970s produced many memorable movies from Dirty Harry to Death Wish and Get Carter. If McQ doesn’t quite sit at the top of that list, it certainly has its place alongside some of the lesser known gems of the era like Shamus, Sitting Target and Night Moves.

I watched this on VHS, a pre-cert rental copy that I picked up a few years ago for not cheap. This was due to there never having been a UK DVD release, though a glance at eBay shows me that US versions are now available at a reasonable price. There’s also recently been a reportedly very decent Blu Ray release, again USA only. These have to be worth checking out as the VHS print suffers noticeably from being panned and scanned.

McQ

Favourite Books on a Kindle #1

First in an occasional series “My Favourite Books on a Kindle”, a kind of literary interlude in which I take photographs of some of my favourite actual books ironically perched (the books, not me) atop my Kindle. That’s how bored I am. Anyway, books are the original physical media, right?

The first picture here shows my reading copy (since I was about ten years old) of The Thirty-Nine Steps. The second is the “new” one I bought as a replacement twenty or so years ago, after the spine fell off of the first.

There’s a copy of The Thirty-Nine Steps “in” the Kindle as well, come to think of it. What can I say? It’s a book I like.

More music and movie stuff on its way soon.

Masters and Hauers

The joy of the movie art tagline. Sometimes just lame and/or perfunctory, other times an art form to itself. Here are some of the gems I have on hand.

The Master:

1 – He hears the silence. He sees the darkness.

2 – The king of martial arts faces a bionic killing machine!

3 – The most feared person of all is a person without fear!

4 – One’s tough – one’s smart

Later Chuck releases often didn’t bother with a tagline. “Chuck Norris” was tagline enough.

Jeff vs. Jeff:

1 (a) – Just try him. (b) No gun. No knife. No equal.

2 – He’s the perfect weapon

Imagine the confusion amongst young cinephiles the world over. They’re not even the same Jeff.

Mind, if I had a time machine, I’d use it to go back and make the tagline for The Perfect Weapon “He’s the Karate Cop”. And, you know, kill Hitler.

Hot Hauer Action:

As if if Rutger with a sword wasn’t enough to secure the rental.

So stupid it’s clever:

Now, that’s just lazy:

Death Wish 6 – “The vigilante is back for vengeance again with a vengeance ..!” Ah, what might have been.

You thought that was lazy:

While the tagline hasn’t completely died, “from the director/writer/caterer of Taken” doesn’t quite cut it.

Keeping the flame burning:

1 – Seven colleagues. One weekend away. It’s time to get slaughtered.

2 – They’re close mates, but not that close.

3 – Part mystery. Part thriller. Parts missing.

These are all on that new fangled DVD format which is all the rage. Not bad.

Top 3

3.

The Stath! Points deducted, mind, for being intentionally funny.

2.

This is genius. The tag is near as big as the title, and downright weird. What is he, radioactive?

1.

Simple, economic and to the point – a thing of beauty.

Artichoke: Full On (2002)

It was November 2002, I was in London visiting a good mucker and to see ZZ Top at the Hammersmith Odeon (or Hammersmith Butterkist Alhambra or whatever the fuck it’s called now). It was a great gig and the next night we headed to The 12 Bar Club on that street that’s full of overpriced guitar shops (Denmark Street?) for a local punk night. We clocked it as one of those gigs where the bands were probably too young to be in the venue when we saw a couple of these hard rocking mofos, guitars in hand, being dropped off by their mum.

The 12 Bar was a cool wee place. Normal bar to one side and bizarre little venue space to the other, complete with a balcony which, if you stood under it, was so low it obscured your view of the bands from the waist up. We nipped back and forth to the bar as the youngsters played for their pals and then, mid-bill, were knocked out by an unexpectedly grown up crew (in their 20s, mind) who sounded like a mix of The Slits and Fugazi. They played a cracking set and then came through to the bar where we got talking. Bought their EP, got them to sign it, rest of the night’s a pleasant blur.

At one point we got to talking about Fugazi. I mentioned that I’d had a ticket to see them the previous week but couldn’t go (sometimes the world was just a bit too much and even a Fugazi gig couldn’t pull me into it); they had a spare ticket to the London gig, did I want to go? Of course I was on the bus home the next day so missed out on that one as well but that’s the way of these things.

Over the next while I followed Artichoke on what I suspect was probably MySpace. They changed their name to something I’ve forgotten, put some tunes up online and then faded away. Or maybe it was me who faded away. A shame either way, I’d have liked to have seen them again.

Sadly, if I kept copies of that online material I’ve no idea what I’ve done with it. That leaves me with the EP, Full On. Five songs, 16 minutes of post-punk excellence on a nicely presented CDR. The band is billed here as: Suzy Cargill on drums/vocals, Joe Scannell on bass/vocals, Nadya Ostroff on vocals/guitar and Christian Kramer on guitar/vocals.

Opener Down and Out barrels along on a beefy bass riff and angular chord work, showing that strong Fugazi influence. My recollection from the gig is that the lead male vocalist was guitarist Christian so that would be him singing this one. Although Fugazi remains the most obvious influence throughout including on the next track, Now We Know, Nadya’s lead vocal offsets that with a clear nod to the other primary influence here, The Slits, sounding at times uncannily like Ari Up. Johnny and The One carry on in kind with finisher Like You, a co-lead vocal, having a touch more of the straight ahead early 2000s alt-rocker.

I’d imagine this would be a tricky one to track down but grab a copy if you get the chance. I’ve no idea what the various band members are up to now, though I think I spotted Nadya playing guitar in a later lineup of The Slits, fittingly enough.

Anyway, yeah. Artichoke. Good stuff.

Full On

King Kong (1976)

Slippery Big Oil man Charles Grodin out of Filofax leads an expedition to an unexplored pacific island in the company of stowaway hippie palaeontologist Jeff Bridges out of Nadine and castaway starlet Jessica Lange out of Rob Roy. Once on the island, it turns out there’s not much to offer in the way of oil, so they take home a giant apelike creature instead. While being put on public display in New York, said giant ape expresses its general displeasure by breaking loose and going completely mental.

The first remake, then, of Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 original which has long been considered a classic and rightly so, with its legendary stop-motion animated effects and creature designs still holding up well today. It does have its problems though, particularly the pacing. The first half of the film is downright boring, with nothing much to hold the attention until Kong finally puts in an appearance. The 1976 iteration has no such problems – beautifully shot by Richard H. Kline, the first half of the film looks great and is always entertaining. It sounds great too, thanks to John Barry’s score. Its real problem is that, although the pacing holds up, once Kong finally appears the special effects are a huge let down and they continue to jar somewhat for the remaining running time.

I think I saw this Kong Kong at the cinema when I was wee and then again on the telly in my teens. I was prompted to revisit it for the first time since then, on DVD, after rediscovering Bruce Bahrenburg’s excellent behind the scenes book The Creation of Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong. As a snapshot of the clash of Old Hollywood and the emergent major independent producers of the ’70s it’s a great read.

A lavish Dino De Laurentiis production, this was one of the most expensive movies ever at that point and much was made at the time about the 50 foot-tall mechanical Kong that would be used in the production. It even gets its own onscreen credit. However, impressive as it is, the mechanical Kong actually only puts in a few seconds of screen time, played for the rest of the film by an obvious man-in-a-suit, and a giant mechanical hand. The De Laurentiis production was up against a rival remake in preproduction at Universal, and so the film was shot on an unrealistically tight schedule. Problems with the mechanical Kong couldn’t be ironed out in time and so the man-in-suit solution, in the shape of future makeup effects guru Rick Baker, was arrived at. The end result is an odd clash between a very handsomely shot, lavish production and something that at times just looks cheap and silly. However even the “suit” sequences do have their moments with an attack on a city train being particularly impressive, as is the surprisingly bloody climax set on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

Scripted by master of high camp Lorenzo Semple Jr. (the ’60s Batman TV series, 1980’s Flash Gordon) and directed with a sure hand by John Guillermin, there’s a great cast of ’70s character actors and supporting regulars at work here (Jack O’Halloran, Renee Auberjonois, Ed Lauter), as well as the three main stars on the rise. Grodin lends depth to his corrupt, ambitious company man and it’s hard, from a post-Big Lebowski vantage point, not to view Bridge’s charismatic turn as a peak at The Dude’s younger years.

In one of old school Hollywood’s last attempts at classic star building, this is former model Jessica Lange’s first film appearance. The camera, of course, loves her but it would be disingenuous to say that she has “Oscar winner” written all over her at this stage. She acquits herself well, though, largely replacing Fay Wray’s incessant screaming from the 1933 film with satirically inclined feminism-lite dialogue of its day (“… you male chauvinist ape!”).

Though perhaps not the all-conquering blockbuster De Laurentiis had been hoping for, it did well enough to merit a belated sequel, the now largely forgotten King Kong Lives (1986). The original has been remade twice since, in 2005 and 2017. The 2005 effort is a complete misfire, overlong, overblown and over reliant on CGI, with a poorly designed Kong to boot. The 2017 take, Kong: Skull Island is actually a lot of fun, completely reinventing the Kong story while getting the CGI and creature designs right.

The 1976 film sits somewhere between its two descendants if, like them, falling shy of the original. Hampered by its schedule and the FX technology of the day, it is still hugely entertaining and often gorgeous to look at.

mde