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.




The Obligatory “Top Ten of 2016” Post

The obligatory Top Ten of 2016 post – it is what it is. And what it is, more or less, is split into halves: 2016 releases and older stuff I picked up throughout the year.  There’ll likely be full reviews of a lot of these titles to follow over the next wee while.

Top 10 of 2016


Some 2016 releases I haven’t been able to check out or pick up yet including at least a couple of heavy hitters, most obviously David Bowie’s Blackstar and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree.  There are undoubtedly others.  I was sadly underwhelmed by Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, ZZ Top’s Live Greatest Hits From Around The World (as perfunctory as its title) and The Cult’s latest but I’ll give them all a second chance at some point.  The same can’t be said for Sturgill Simpson’s A Sailor’s Guide to Earth.  It’s had its second chances.

Albums: Top 5 2016 releases

5.  The Claypool Lennon Delirium – Monolith of Phobos
Endlessly entertaining psych-prog.
4.  The Monkees – Good Times!
Their first new album since 1996’s Justus and it’s rather good.
3.  Jeff Beck – Loud Hailer
Beck hooks up with London duo Bones to make what is easily his most compelling album since Guitar Shop.
=1.  Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By
A lush, soulful, roots-rock diamond of an album.
=1.  The Rolling Stones – Blue and Lonesome
A covers album, no less; a wonderfully jagged-edge contemporary take on Chicago blues (reviewed HERE).

Albums: Top 5 “finds” of 2016

5.  Dave Arcari & the Helsinki Hellraisers – Whisky In My Blood (2013)
Yer raucous, rootsy alt.blues.
4.  Donovan – Barabajagal (1969)
Properly groovy psych-folk (with contributions from Jeff Beck).
3.  Prince and 3rdEyeGirl – Plectrumelectrum (2014)
One of Prince’s best latter-day releases, much of it straight-ahead heavy rock.
2.  James Gang – Rides Again (1970)
No matter how much music you listen to over the years, there’s always a stone classic that’s passed you by.  Damn!
1.  Eli Radish – I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (1969)
Outlaw Country forerunner, a set of covers of wartime songs (from the American Civil War through to Vietnam) given the Woodstock-generation treatment.  I’d been ages looking for this one and it was worth it.


I didn’t get to see half of what I might have wanted to; cinema is a too-expensive night out these days.  I’ll no doubt catch up on home releases (anyway, this blog is meant to be about physical formats, right?).

I’m sick to death of superhero movies, though.  I made the mistake of double-billing Batman v Superman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in one seemingly endless night; watched through heavy eyes, it turns out they’re exactly the same film.

Movies: Top 5 2016 releases

5. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Underrated comedy drama based on a true story starring Tina Fey as a TV reporter in Afghanistan.
4. 10 Cloverfield Lane
A tense and enjoyable wee sci-fi suspense thriller (even if the basic set up was pillaged from the pages of Métal Hurlant).
3. Hail, Caesar!
Brash, bright and loud – the Coen brothers at their least subtle with a very funny send up of McCarthy-era Hollywood.
2. The Nice Guys
A quality addition to Shane Black’s long list of quality buddy-comedy /thrillers.
1. The Lobster
Mental, though eh.

Movies: Top 5 “finds” of 2016

5. The Vanishing (1988)
Superior Dutch/French thriller which takes some surprising turns.  Until the dodgy ending, right enough, which unfolds as if from a rejected script for Tales of the Unexpected.
4. Empire Records (1995)
Hollywood knock-off of Clerks is way more entertaining than it has any right to be; a throwback to old rock’n’roll movies and ’70s fare like FM.
3. Bread (1971)
Obscure British movie trying to appeal to that elusive “hippies who are big Robin Askwith fans” demographic.  Lots of great footage of little-known rock bands of the day.
2. St. Ives (1976)
J. Lee Thompson directing Charles Bronson as a writer-cum-private-eye, with Jaqueline Bisset being all sexy-like. Can’t go wrong.
1. Calvary (2014)
Bleakly funny, if ultimately just bleak.  Brendan Gleason, though.  Wow.

Prince: Chaos and Disorder (1996) - chaos and disorder

In amongst everything being written about Prince (my thoughts here), this album hasn’t had much of a mention – even this review was largely written up before the news of his death.  A pity, as Chaos and Disorder really is an unjustly overlooked gem which is well worth searching out, particularly if you’re a fan of his rockier tendencies.

Part of the career-damaging run of contractual obligation releases towards the end of his symbol/AFKAP phase, Chaos and Disorder was not a success.  It spawned only one minor hit single and barely troubled the album chart here in the UK.  However, of all those releases, from 1993’s Come to 1999’s The Vault: Old Old Friends For Sale, this is by far the most interesting.

Opening the album, the title track is in-your-face heavy funk rock at its best, the arrangement having started life as the end-jam from early live versions of Peach.  Lyrically though, it’s a social commentary-led close cousin to the likes of Sign O’ the Times and Lovesexy‘s Dance On.

Prince as guitarist is to the fore throughout – Zanalee is straight-up blues rock while The Same December and Into the Light are spiritual psych-pop numbers which would not sound out of place on Around the World in a DayDinner With Delores, the aforementioned hit, is more of the same, a great wee track cut from the same cloth as Starfish and Coffee.

Of the eleven tracks only the more overtly commercial, poppier funk number I Rock Therefore I Am and the bizarrely cod-country tinged Right the Wrong don’t quite cut it but there’s still enough outrageous instrumentalism going on to keep things interesting.  The closing track Had U (a slight song, built on a Mellotron-like guitar and vocal), is ostensibly a relationship number but we know it’s really about Warners, with the last words on Prince’s final album under his original contract for the label being “fuck you – had you”.


1996 tape in good order, £8 online (late 2015).  Unavailable in any format for a while but look out for that cynical reissue programme anytime now …



ZZ Top: Tres Hombres (1973)

By 1973, ZZ Top already had two albums under their belts,  ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud, both more-than-decent slabs of blues and hard rock with the promise of something more.  Third album Tres Hombres easily delivered on that promise and proved to be the band’s first major breakthrough.  With the band hitting a career-best as songwriters and performers, the end result is for many their finest moment, both a near-perfect rock album and a definitive contemporary Texas blues album.

Classic cuts abound:  Waitin’ For the Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago sit so well together here that they’ve stayed that way on compilations and in live sets ever since.  Both are Texas blues anthems, with Jesus… in particular a standout featuring a stunning guitar turn from Billy Gibbons. In contrast, Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers is, as you might imagine, as “straight ahead rock” as it gets.  La Grange, celebrating a famous Texas brothel, starts out as a ringer for The Rolling Stones’ version of Slim Harpo’s Shake Your Hips before owning that arrangement’s John Lee Hooker heritage and taking it down a rocked-up road all its own.

That Stones influence is apparent too on Move It On Down the Line, a sort of lightweight second cousin to Street Fighting Man. Master of Sparks and Precious and Grace are great funky hard rock tracks while Sheik is a step or two further towards hard-edged funk, quoting the riff from Curtis Mayfield’s Freddy’s Dead and likely influencing Prince and the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the process (that Chili Peppers connection is most apparent in the ending, for which the intro to Aeroplane from One Hot Minute is a near soundalike).

There’s a religious element to the lyrics here and there but the themes are not shoved down your throat.  Have You Heard is a gospel number which preaches its damnation-or-salvation message softly: ‘Which way are you comin’ from?  Goin’ up or gettin’ down?”  Countryfied blues Hot, Blue and Righteous employs a similarly light touch while Jesus Just Left Chicago flat-out delights with its mix of Delta and Biblical imagery (“… muddy water turned to wine”).

Everyone here is at the top of their game – Dusty Hill’s gritty bass, Frank Beard’s tough and deceptively intricate drumming, Bill Ham’s pitch-perfect production, the mix of Gibbons’ and Hill’s contrasting vocals – but really this is Gibbons’ masterpiece as a guitarist.  Mixing fat Les Paul and wiry Strat tones, he even pioneers two-handed tapping, both with pick (or rather peso) and fingers, clearly planting the seeds for the likes of Edward Van Halen and Joe Satriani.  His slide playing is masterful too, while the bluesier leads are a clear influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan.

ZZ Top have continued to produce genre-stretching recordings of sheer class over a further four decades (okay, there was a bit of a fallow period in the ’80s when Gibbon’s commendable tendencies towards sonic experimentation led them down a synth-and-drum machine cul-de-sac, and now a new album from them is like chicken’s teeth, but still).  However, they never sounded better than on Tres Hombres.  One of the Great Albums.

ZZ Top Tres Hombres

Original Warner’s tape, paper labels and all that, decent playback, about four quid online.


Psych-rock double bill: Experience (1967) & The Undertaker (1994)

Only two titles but a quartet of firsts for Tapes For My VCR – first music videos featured, one of which is also the first documentary; first short films and first double bill.  Contain your excitement, please, and read on …

Experience (1967)

This is Peter Neal’s half-hour swinging London documentary/performance mashup, all about The Jimi Hendrix Experience.  There are dated-in-a-good-way interview segments in which Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell pose the questions to camera and Jimi riffs good-naturedly on the answers, and dated-in-a-bad-way narration from Alexis Korner.  Live footage of Purple Haze and Wild Thing from the Albert Hall mixes with early ‘pop promo’ type clips (Foxy Lady, for instance is set to footage of a lady wandering about swinging London, being foxy).  There is some backstage stuff and famously, the wonderful live-to-camera acoustic take of Hear My Train a Coming.  It ends with a lame, tacked-on-after-the-credits ‘video’ for Voodoo Chile (Slight Return), cut to affected footage from the film.  It doesn’t look too recent so may have been the promo for the 1970 single – it doesn’t belong on the original film, though, which serves as both an entertaining relic and possibly the single most significant piece of film on the band (as distinct from Hendrix himself) outside of D.A. Pennebaker’s Jimi Plays Monterey.

The Undertaker (1994)

A hot ’90s chick (Vanessa Marcil) walks into a random building in search of a telephone on account of it’s 1993 and mobiles are not yet mandatory.  She’s told she can use the phone as long as she’s quick, as there’s a rehearsal on.  During the ensuing call she argues with her boyfriend (“Victor”, Prince pseudonym fans!), gets upset and takes an overdose of pills.  She then wanders into said rehearsal to witness Prince fronting a power trio of the old school in an empty venue (Paisley Park, naturally).  They launch into a half-hour plus of psychedelic heavy blues funk rock jamming and ohdearlord it’s good.  From here in, the ‘overdosing girl’ is a framing device and an excuse to use some instantly dated video effects, as we’re kinda sorta supposed to be watching through her eyes.  One track cuts while she has a quick vomit break – then it’s back to psych-rock heaven.

Brand new tracks (“6 LIVE DIRECT 2 DAT TRACKS” as it says on the box, as well as the studio track Dolphin which would resurface on the following year’s The Gold Experience) sit alongside off-the-cuff renditions of live favourite Bambi and the Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman.  The epic title track is the two note bass riff from Sly Stone’s Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey stretched out to ten minutes of muted anti-guns-and-crack lyrics and massive, face-melting guitar solos.  Make no mistake, this whole film is about Prince the Guitar Hero; effects-drenched funk rock thick with the heaviest electric blues, his playing is nothing short of fantastic.  The super-tight rhythm section of bassist Sonny T. and drummer Michael Bland doesn’t disappoint either.

Directed by Parris Patton, The Undertaker (alongside live video The Sacrifice of Victor) was released on VHS and possibly Laserdisc with very little fanfare in 1994 as part of a flurry of contractual obligation business between Prince and Warner Bros – this was during the “slave”/Artist Formerly Known As Prince period.  Indeed, The Undertaker was itself a cause of dissent between Prince and Warners, as he had wanted an audio version released as a giveaway with the magazine Guitar Player but the label was having none of it.  Since that initial video release, it has never appeared on any other format.  Which is a pity as The Undertaker, whether taken as a short film (it clocks in at 40 minutes) or a video album, is one of Prince’s most interesting and downright rocking releases.

Tapes For My VCR - Prince and Jimi Hendrix

Experience: sell-through 90s reissue, £2 online;  The Undertaker: bought new on original release.

The Power Station: The Power Station (1985) & Living In Fear (1996)

When The Power Station was released in 1985, it was proffered as the supergroup’s attempt to mix The Sex Pistols with Chic.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite the presence of Chic members Tony Thompson on drums and Bernard Edwards producing, this sounds nothing like that at all.  Not nearly punk, not remotely disco.

It’s a genuinely original sound, quintessentially ’80s, yes, but uniquely its own thing.  Andy Taylor out of Duran Duran’s crunchy, hard rock guitar mixed with John Taylor out of Duran Duran’s in-your-face bass against the backbone of Thompson’s powerhouse drums – which sound like he’s playing some upturned bins with a set of hammers.  All this and the occasional wall of synths and horns married to the smooth vocal stylings of Robert Palmer.  It shouldn’t work, really, but it does.

A mix of originals and covers, the original tunes are headed up by the stark funk rock of album opener and hit single Some Like It Hot.  Quality straight-ahead rocker Murderess follows, successfully mixing old-school riffage with horns and a nifty noir lyric (“I heard his breath escape/She left the gun on the floor/He left his key with me/I hadn’t been there before”).  Lonely Tonight is overly synth-reliant soul, the weakest thing here but working in context, while Communication features some tasty lead guitar from Andy Taylor bringing to mind Jeff Beck’s work from the same year’s Flash.  As does Go To Zero, which is a real album highlight, mixing up some contemporary prog influences with foregrounded bass and some of the best guitar playing on the album, from weird chord voicings to a fusion-esque outro solo.  Final track Still In Your Heart is an affecting sax-infused ballad with a rich, proggy keyboard arrangement.  The covers are a surprisingly effective take on The Isley Brothers’ Harvest For The World, performed as a Palmer/Andy Taylor duet, plus the second hit from the album, Get It On (Bang a Gong), a complete reinvention of the T-Rex classic replete with memorable guitar parts and a Bernard Edwards slap bass break.

After the album there was an eponymous video EP, a VHS release consisting of a recording-the-album documentary cut around the day-glo promo videos.  However, Palmer quit before the tour.  The band recruited Michael Des Barres but this line-up recorded only one track (Someday, Somehow, Someone’s Gotta Pay for the Commando soundtrack) before calling it quits.

A decade later, seemingly out of nowhere, The Power Station returned with a performance on Top Of The Pops of new single She Can Rock It. This was intended to herald the release of a new album. I may be remembering this wrongly, but the album release ended up being delayed to the point of public disinterest and even now Living In Fear is a comparative obscurity.  As a project, it was troubled from the start.  John Taylor had been part of the preproduction process but left before the actual recordings (he’s credited as cowriter on all nine of the original songs here), hence Bernard Edwards’ promotion to bass player as well as producer. Sadly, Edwards died before the album’s release.

I hadn’t listened to Living In Fear in years and was surprised at how well it holds up.  The intention was clearly to revisit the basic formula of the 1985 album: mostly original songs (nine to the first album’s six), plus two covers, with a supporting cast of musicians featuring many of the original’s session players.  The patented “upturned bins and hammers” drums are toned down and the general sound has been updated (as ’90s as the first album is ’80s) if still drawing from the same rock, funk and electronic influences.

The first side opens with a strong enough run of rock numbers – Notoriety (funky horns and some commendably nasty riffing), Scared (melodic rock take on a post grunge vibe), She Can Rock It (decent riff, with some cheeky Get It On references).  The album stumbles badly though with its first cover, a lumpen, unwelcome and seemingly endless take on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On.  This lessens the impact of Life Forces which is a prog-flavoured keyboard heavy number in keeping stylistically with earlier cuts Go To Zero and Communication, if not as strong.

Side Two starts with a nod to the Minneapolis Sound of the ’80s in Fancy That, not a bad track but strangely dated and out of place. Certainly it doesn’t hint at what’s coming – from here on in the album hits its stride, the next three tracks in particular taking no prisoners.  Title track Living in Fear is Zeppelin-structured and Sabbath-heavy.  Absolutley epic, and before you can ask “where the fuck did that come from?!?”, the aggressive alternative funk rock of Shut Up kicks in.  Good as Shut Up is,  the pressure is only upped by Dope: raw, dense and heavy as fuck.  A stylistic left turn gets us to Love Conquers All, Memphis Soul meets bare-boned British Blues.  It’s good stuff, with some tasty, gnarly leads from Taylor who takes on the lead vocal for the final track, a retooling of The Beatles’ Tax Man, tabla and sitar giving way to Edwards’ heavy funk bass riff and psych-rock guitar aplenty.  Not a favourite song of mine but this version works and makes for a decent album closer.

Lyrically, neither album strays far from the basic sex-and-relationships template that mainstream rock thrives on, with some pre-millenial tension raising its head on Living In Fear.  The occasional arresting image and nice turn of phrase are enough to keep things interesting, only occasionaly succumbing to pedestrianism.  In terms of performance, production and great music though, both albums deliver.  The first one is, I reckon, a classic of its era, more challenging and original than it perhaps seemed at the time.  One of a string of ’80s albums that basically set out the groundwork for the funk/rock crossover scenes of the ’90s, The Power Station stands as the best of them.  Living In Fear may be just a few too many “b-sides” over the limit for greatness, taking too long to find its stride, but those moments where the band really digs deep make for a rewarding listen. With Edwards’ passing and the subsequent deaths of Thompson and Palmer it’s unlikely if not impossible that we’ll hear more from The Power Station which is a shame as at their best they were a band greater than the sum of its considerable - The Power Station Living in Fear

Physical copies of both albums are easy enough to find, whether online or in the real world, affordable in most formats (there was no vinyl release of Living in Fear).  A 20th anniversary CD rerelease from 2005 of the first album is well worth picking up as it contains the Des Barres Commando track and various remixes, all decently remastered, as well as a DVD featuring the ’85 video EP with bonus material.  It seems to fetch upwards of £20 these days, mind.  The tapes set me back about £4 each and are in good order, fold out lyrics and all.

Jerry Reed: East Bound and Down (1977)

An interesting wee release this.  Throughout the ’70s, Jerry Reed was still churning out albums on the punishing but standard Nashville schedule of two ten-song albums a year and, particularly with movies taking up an increasing share of his time, the occasional compilation inevitably took up some of the slack.  In 1977, Reed had co-starred with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason (not forgetting Mike Henry, Tarzan fans!) in Smokey and The Bandit, boosting his already high profile.  Music for the film is credited to Bill Justis and Jerry Reed, although several other writers were involved, and a soundtrack album on MCA accompanied the movie’s release.  Reed was signed to RCA so, presumably as part of some sort of inter-label agreement, three of the Smokey and the Bandit songs were given their ‘own’ RCA album with the rest of the mandatory ten song total being compiled from earlier releases.  The notes list only the back catalogue cuts as having been previously issued, so it looks like East Bound and Down was the first release of the three Bandit tracks, beating the soundtrack album to the punch.

Side one kicks off with East Bound and Down itself.  Exuberant, banjo-driven fun, it’s firmly rooted in the harmonised electric guitar approach Reed adopted from the mid-’70s on.  By contrast, Lightning Rod (from ’75’s Mind Your Love), is a truly jaw-dropping acoustic instrumental drawing from country, bluegrass, flamenco and gypsy jazz to create a unique whole.  Reed’s nylon-string playing is staggering.  It’s back to Smokey and the Bandit for The Bandit, a rootsy ballad written by Dick Feller, with Jerry on full-on Nashville crooner mode and none the worse for it.  Led by the standard guitars/bass/banjo/drums line-up, there’s a slightly psychedelic wah-wah melody part where we might have expected to hear some steel guitar, which is a nice touch.  Bake, originally found on ’75’s Red Hot Picker, is another instrumental, this time highlighting Reed’s innovative fusion of funk and country.  It leads in nicely to the last of the Bandit cuts, The Legend, infectious storytelling balladry drawing comparisons between Reynolds’ Bandit character and Jesse James etc.

On side two all pretence at this being a ‘proper’ album go out the window as, fresh out of Smokey and the Bandit material, it’s all back catalogue from here.  There’s no obvious theme although the sequencing works well throughout, making for a good listen.

Framed (Ko-Ko Joe, ’71) is Leiber and Stoller’s rock and roll classic reframed (sorry) as an Uptown Poker Club-styled pice of Jerry Reed comic froth while You Took All the Ramblin’ Out of Me (Hot A’Mighty, ’73) is a reminder of Reed’s position as one of the greatest country songwriters there ever was.  Rainbow Ride, from ’73’s Lord Mr. Ford is a strings-saturated pop ballad that works, while Just to Satisfy You from 1970’s Cookin’, is a sweet psych-pop re-imagining of the early Waylon Jennings classic.  Love it.  Wrapping things up is Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right from When You’re Hot You’re Hot (’71).  Unlike Waylon’s own versions of this one, pure-voiced and tender, this a fun reworking of the Dylan original, a virtual re-write with a killer new arrangement and lyric changes (“You’re the reason this ol’ boy don’t walk the line …”).

As an album, Eastbound and Down works surprisingly well.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the compilation element is drawn from the strongest period of Reed’s recording career.  Definitely worth picking up.

At a guess an early ’80s reissue, the tape is in pretty good order and still sounds good.  This one was an unexpected transatlantic gift – thanks Mary! - Jerry Reed East Bound and Down