Author Archives: Marsh Gooch

Supergrass • In It for the Money [3CD]; Super Furry Animals • Rings Around the World [3CD]

Two British bands, both with “super” in their names, and both celebrating the more-or-less 20th or 25th anniversaries of one of their best releases. For SUPERGRASS, In It for the Money is nearly a quarter century old and comes in a remastered version bolstered by B-sides, demos and a live disc featuring most of the album’s tracks. SUPER FURRY ANIMALSRings Around the World is twenty and also comes in remastered form with B-sides and demos, but instead of a live set we get an entire disc of remixes. Both releases are excellent, and at least on the CD versions, overflowing with Britpop goodness.

Supergrass’ sophomore effort was light years ahead of their debut, I Should Coco, which suffered from a clumsy name and a narrow breadth of music (loosely then-considered “punk” but not quite). In It for the Money was a blast when it came out, and I have to admit – though it pains me to do so – I didn’t like it at first. It was my first experience with ’Grass and I thought it sounded either a) derivative [of what, I don’t remember!] or b) everywhere at once. After repeated listenings, though, I came around. I guess I figured out what they were going for and its power/Brit pop vibe was both focused and all over the place… in a good way. Harder rockers like the title track, “Richard III,” “Tonight” and others sat alongside “Late in the Day” and “It’s Not Me” and altogether obliterated the probably derogatory punk designation that Supergrass initially earned. They could have collectively choked with such a hold around their necks, but the band cockily flipped off the critics and delivered a downright classic alternative rock record.

For Super Furry Animals, their first major label outing benefited from a much larger budget and near unlimited time in a big league studio. Rings Around the World was more expansive than anything they’d done before, a little more electronic and a little more pop simultaneously. The lengthy album came with power-poppy tunes like the title track, nu-pop/soul like “Juxtaposed With U,” and the ballad pop of “It’s Not the End of the World.” It may now seem like a pretty lengthy album (it was released when vinyl was nearly dead) but it’s all very good so it’s really a moot point. The major label budget gave the band a chance to not only record nearly three single LPs’ worth of material, but to actually produce a 5.1 surround mix of the entire album and videos to go with it. (Sadly, you don’t get a disc with that material in this set but they can be had via the internet.) They also had a host of remixes done and most of those are here. I wouldn’t say those remixes are must-haves but they do give a good idea of what kinds of ideas and sounds the Furries’ heads were swimming in at the time.

Both Supergrass and Super Furry Animals’ deluxe CD sets are loaded with great material, and both are also available on vinyl – and in various configurations including colored vinyl variants, versions with bonus discs, etc. I opted for the compact disc versions of these in order to get all the goodies (and I already have one of them on vinyl anyway) and maximize my expenditure, but you may want to go the wax route if you’re in it for the vinyl. Whichever way you go, you’ll be investing in releases that represent absolutely the best stuff both bands ever did.
– Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Supergrass, BMG/Echo BMGCAT506CDX; Super Furry Animals, BMG BMGCAT510DCD; 2021)

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Rollin Binzer (Director) • Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones [Blu-ray]

[Review originally published 11/16/2010 on Skratchdisc. RIP Charlie Watts!]

What makes a great concert film? Terrific music, for one. Great sound? Definitely. Interesting cinematography? Yeah. An historic event? Sure. And what makes a great concert film director? Someone who knows how to present the band, their music, and what it looks like on stage in a way that makes you want to see it more than once.

So who is this guy, ROLLIN BINZER? Well, he’s the guy who directed Ladies & Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones. But I’m not sure he was the right guy for the assignment. This movie, now repackaged, remastered and remixed for 5.1 surround sound, has been out many times since the home video era began, and this time they even put it out on Blu-ray. A concert film about the Stones’ classic Exile on Main St., it’s certainly got great music. The performance of that music? About what you’d expect of Mick & Keefco in that era. The sound? It’s alright – nothing to write home about. (Not that my parents would give a shit.) The cinematography is just okay. Not only would I decline to write home about it, I might even have bypassed the movie entirely if I’d heard that it was just a basic multi-camera shoot with nothing really special about it.

All of these gripes go a long way to answer the question: If it’s such a dull, cookie-cutter concert film, why are they re-releasing it now? Well, duh. They just executed the marketing campaign for the reissue of Exile, so naturally they had to reissue the movie that went along with it. Can’t miss an opportunity to milk the golden cow, now, can we? And what’s more, as you’d expect, there’s an insert inside the case hawking official Rolling Stones t-shirts and the documentary DVD Stones in Exile, which tells the story of how this magnificent, brilliant rock ’n’ roll record was rendered. Well, I’ll stand by the album as being a great one (though I like Sticky Fingers better), but I’m not a fan of this Blu-ray showcase for Rollin Binzer’s vision of what made the Stones great. I’ll bet my stepmom could’ve made a better concert film. – Marsh Gooch

2.5/5 (Eagle Vision; DVD & Blu-ray)

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The Gun Club • Fire of Love [CD, LP]

When Blixa Sounds reissued Miami late last year, I thought to myself, “Now if they could just put out THE GUN CLUB’s Fire of Love, that would kick ass.” Well, they have and it does. Despite being very won over by their sophomore release upon re-release (my review is here), it was and is their 1981 debut that really cemented Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s place in the L.A. punk rock hall of fame – and on my own Desert Island Discs list. First released on Slash Records’ Ruby label, Fire of Love was a psychobilly/blues/punk hybrid that fit equally into all three of those subgenres and yet practically requires a category of its own. (Apparently some purists don’t think it belongs in “punk” at all, but I don’t know where else you’d put it.)

If there’s anything that demotes this album to less-than-essential (and that’s barely), it would probably be Pierce’s sometimes racist lyrics. I don’t think recounting the contexts in which he uses the “n word” would get him off the hook. And I’m not even sure you can make an argument like “it’s not Pierce, it’s the narrator who is racist,” since the singer/lyricist inhabits that role so solidly and uniquely that you can’t really separate him from him. So, forty years later, Fire of Love is still so goddamned good that I just try not to cringe too much when JLP goes down that road. Most of the time the lyrics and music are so good, so evocative of something very outside of and different from what you’d expect a middle class guy from Southern California to come up with, that it’s not hard to do. “Sex Beat,” “She’s Like Heroin to Me,” “For the Love of Ivy” – their punky gothic vibe comes through loud and clear. The band’s guitar, bass and drums form an incinerator that just burns, pushing Pierce’s vocals up into the air like a brushfire out of control. Whether you like your indie rock on the bluesy side, on the Cramps-y side, or sunny side down, The Gun Club’s Fire of Love does not disappoint.

Blixa Sounds’ new reissue is a 2CD or 2LP set that gives you the original 11-track album on one disc and an unreleased live show (recorded in ’81 at L.A.’s Club 88) on the other. There are also a dozen demos and alternate takes (which appear on disc one of the CD version and as downloads in the vinyl set), and they’re nearly as good as the album itself. In fact, you get the title track as an alternate take, since it didn’t actually make the album and was held over (in a different recording) for Miami in 1982. Sound-wise, this CD reissue sounds quite good, perhaps a bit meatier than Slash’s CD version. My vinyl copy is not an original on Ruby/Slash but Porterhouse’s 2014 “prime” cut (which is better than the previous copy I had on Spain’s Munster Records) (and may be better than the original Ruby vinyl I had once upon a time) – I don’t have the new vinyl to give you that score. But I can tell you this: you should own this album, whether on vinyl or CD (and why not both?!), so you oughta give Fire of Love a spin while it’s still fresh on your mind. Not that it will ever go stale, mind you… – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Blixa Sounds ETA 874, 2021)

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The Rubinoos • The CBS Tapes [CD, LP]

Every once in awhile a release comes along that makes me yearn for the “carefree” days of my youth… When Mike C. and I decided to start our own band, aged 14, hardly knowing how to play our instruments – let alone knowing, for instance, that you needed a separate amplifier for the microphones. You know, just because bass player Jerry P.’s old Ampeg bass amp had 4 inputs on it didn’t mean that you could plug his bass, my guitar, and two high impedance mics (thank you, Radio Shack) into it and get anything decent-sounding. Before the internet – youngsters, listen up! – you either had to have older brothers who could show you the ropes, or you had to hope to catch enough of your favorite band’s one song on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert to see what their set-up looked like. And that didn’t mean you were gonna understand just what was going on up there onstage. There were no websites where you could find the information, let alone any old fashioned books that had it. You just had to figure it out yourself.

THE RUBINOOS’ The CBS Tapes is a 1976 warts ’n’ all set that the very young band ran through one afternoon while getting ready to record their debut, eponymous album (released in ’77 on Beserkely). It wasn’t exactly their first band (for most of ’em) but they were very young, and the enthusiasm – as well as their advanced chops – really shows. Clearly not expecting that this recording was ever going to be anything except “hey boys, why don’t you run through a bunch of songs and get a feel for playing together in the studio,” the Rubinoos are hamming it up, playing goofy covers, some of their own tunes, and generally just having a great time, making goofy announcements “to the crowd” between songs and just making each other laugh. Just like band practice used to be before we decided we ought to try and get a bit serious.

Recorded at CBS Studios in San Francisco by producer/engineer Glen Kolotkin, it was basically a “let the tape roll” affair, with no overdubs, second takes or anything like that. Like the way we’d stuff a blank cassette into the Realistic tape recorder (thanks again, Radio Shack!) and just run through everything we thought we could get all the way through. Here, The Rubinoos – later to be exalted as princes of power pop – open with their own “All Excited” and then plow straight on into The Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” a definite guilty pleasure for many of us and an obvious but great choice in ironic covers. But don’t think that’s it, ’cause later in the set we get treated to a real sarcastic but sincere version of The DeFranco Family’s big one, “Heartbeat – It’s a Love Beat.” Yes, and I will admit to having bought this 7″ as an eleven year old. This version certainly rocks WAY harder than that, as do their two Beatles covers, “She Loves You” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Despite the guys’ lighthearted jokes and youthful cursing, the band really do like the “corny” covers they’re doing. You can tell because they deliver the same exuberance when doing their own songs, like the punky “I Want Her So Bad” and the unclear-what-its-title-means “Nooshna Kavolta.” Before the tape ends you get treated to King Curtis, The Ventures, The Meters and Jonathan Richman (“Government Center”). None of the songs are played perfect. But all of them are delivered so well and with so much glee that you just wish you’d been there sitting on the studio’s overstuffed, over-used sofa sucking on a Pepsi and just diggin’ what The Rubinoos were puttin’ down.

And to think this is the first record by them I’ve ever owned! Man, I gotta get to work on building up my Rubinoos collection. – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (YepRoc YEP-2788, 2021)

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Punk the Capital [Movie, DVD, Blu-ray]

“Rock” documentaries are always interesting to me. I get a chance to learn about a musician, singer or scene from (ostensibly) the people who were there. If the director and writer(s) do a real good job of putting the story together – via not only narration, but spoken interviews and video footage – the story can be riveting. James June Schneider, Paul Bishow and Sam Lavine’s PUNK THE CAPITAL is one of the better rock docs. (I put rock in quotes above because hardcore punk is about as far from “rock” as Washington, DC is from Washington, Seattle.)

Covering the nascent DC hardcore scene from 1976 to 1983, Punk the Capital uses historic footage as well as recently shot interviews with almost everyone who had a decent-sized role in that hardcore world. And – for me this is BIG! – this time Henry Rollins really has something to do with the story! I’ve seen him in more than a handful of documentaries, apparently because everyone thinks he’s super important to rock ’n’ roll in general, and he usually comes off as peripheral to the subject. (“Hey, what about Rollins?! Your average person probably knows who he is, or at least his name!”) (Same with Elvis Costello, by the way. He doesn’t have to be in every rockumentary!) This time, Rollins was actually a part of the scene, singing lead in the band SOA (State of Alert). Though the band was around for only a brief time, he was important enough to the group that when Rollins left to join L.A.’s Black Flag, SOA ceased being. But no matter because there were bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, The Slickee Boys and more to carry the torch for impassioned, intelligent, hardcore music. Played fast and loud (or sometimes slow ’n’ reggaefied, too, if you were Bad Brains), the way punk was meant to be played.

Punk the Capital debuted in 2019 with showings and appearances by people like HR (Bad Brains), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, later Fugazi) and more. This Blu-ray or DVD was released in time for Record Store Day but apparently is available beyond RSD’s typically limited runs. (And the physical copies include over 50 minutes of additional footage including live concert material.) In fact, you can order it, along with other merch, via the movie’s website. I suggest you do! – Marsh Gooch

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Record Store Day 2021, Part 2 [Vinyl]

Here are a few more RSD purchases we’ve felt the need to dissect. Please note that none of this was free – getting review copies just ain’t what it used to be! So, working from Z backwards…

THE ZOMBIES – Oddities & Extras (Varese Vintage VSD00020-05) – It’s hard to tell what songs have been on what Zombies compilations. Basically, they only released two actual albums, Begin Here and Odessey and Oracle, so everything else has likely been encountered either on the stellar 4CD Zombie Heaven box set from 1999 or on one of the countless comps that have made the rounds ever since a number of us decided that the band belonged in the same echelon as The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Who et. al. I’m pretty familiar with just about all of the baker’s dozen songs here on Oddities & Extras, but being a near-completist I needed to add this to the collection. It’s a pleasant enough platter, especially with “She Does Everything for Me,” “Just Out of Reach” and the cover of “Goin’ Out of My Head,” but I can’t help feeling this may be surplus to my Zombies needs.

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS – Ice Hockey Hair EP (BMG CAT491EP) – A 4-song EP, pressed on unnecessarily 180-gram vinyl, this one also feels a little surplus… to my SFA needs, that is. Gotta say, though, that “Ice Hockey Hair” is a classic in the lush, semi- Britpop vein that the Furries embraced. Of the other three tracks, “Smokin’” is also good, “Let’s Quit Smoking” is a different arrangement of the former (basically), and “Mu-Tron” may just be an excuse for one of the SFA guitarists to use his so-named guitar effects pedal. Being a 12″ (as opposed to a full-on LP), this one is likely to stay shelved for awhile. Not because the song isn’t any good, but because it also appears on the “greatest hits” album, Songbook (The Singles, Vol. 1).

THE KINKS – Percy (BMG CAT488LP) – I’m kinda scratching my head on this one… I get that any album from the Lola-era Kinks is worth reissuing, but why – oh why?! – did they make it a picture disc? This isn’t a typical album from the band, being a soundtrack to a seldom seen 1971 comedy film, with some instrumentals, a “Lola” blues jam and the like, so maybe they decided to have a little fun with it. I mean, one side of the picture disc is a closeup of the image on the front cover, as in, the cartoon man’s groin covered by a big leaf. (The other side is the full cover image.) To be fair, this pic disc is pressed on extra thick vinyl so it actually sounds pretty good. And let’s not forget: This isn’t exactly a proper Kinks album, so you’re not likely to take Percy for a spin very often. It’ll probably stand up to the half dozen plays you’re likely to give it. The textured cover is a nice touch (replicating the original), too.

THE FLAMING LIPS – The Soft Bulletin Companion (Warner 093624885016) – With most of the tracks “Soft Bulletin outtakes, stereo versions of Zaireeka tracks and unreleased songs from the era,” this Companion – a 2LP vinyl representation of a 1999 promo CD – is nice in a humble kind of way. Granted, these days I find myself mimicking Wayne Coyne’s high-pitched, practically falsetto singing voice (“when you got that spider bite on your arm”), but there are some good songs here, and I am very much a fan of this era of the Lips. So, its presentation is fitting: as if it were a generic white album cover, with black and white stickers slapped on the front and back, a coffee stain here, a pen mark there; the colored vinyl itself is silver and the labels are of the “promo copy” variety. There’s scant info about the tracks themselves, but I have faith that most Flaming Lips fans will be aware of their pedigree. The cover of Skip Spence’s “Little Hands” is certainly more tolerable (even pleasant) than the songwriter’s own version. – Marsh Gooch

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Record Store Day 2021, Part 1 [Vinyl]

I picked up nearly two handfuls of vinyl for Record Store Day 2021 (first drop) and decided to “review” them, in a pair of parts, based on my initial impressions. It’s a fact that many of the items we pick up for RSD get played once and then filed away, likely to never be pulled from the shelf again. That’ll be great for resale one day – maybe – but it’s certainly not the way you wanna tie up your record money if you can help it. On the other hand, some gems only come to reveal their beauty further on down the road, so… I don’t know… Ah, let’s just get going.

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS – Angel Dream (Warner Records 093624882312) – Sort of a companion to last year’s Wildflowers extravaganza, Angel Dream is a “reimagining” of the songs Petty and crew did for the movie, She’s the One. I don’t know if anyone remembers the movie (I don’t) but the songs are memorable. In some ways they share a lot of the vibe of Wildflowers, kind of laid back, but there’s a lightheartedness with these tunes that doesn’t surface in the others, quite likely due to the fact that they were written to accompany a film. I wouldn’t hold this one up to Petty’s greatest albums (Wildflowers is one), but it’s got a charm to it that’s hard to deny. Together with Wildflowers and Finding Wallflowers (a 2LP set of Disc 4 of last year’s heaping helping of Tom’s hospitality), Angel Dream is one purchase you would listen to again.

ELTON JOHN – Regimental Sgt. Zippo (Rocket/UMe RSDRSZ2021) – This one’s really out of left field! Yeah, if you’re trying to guess by the album cover, you’re right: it’s a psychedelic EJ album that was never released. Recorded in early 1968 at DJM Studio in London (home of Elton’s record label in the UK), it’s Elton and Bernie Taupin in their salad days, taking a break from trying to find their own voice and instead working up some groovy, of-the-moment (but now fairly aged) psych-pop. Surprisingly, the arrangements are much more fleshed out than I was expecting, sounding very much like a serious attempt to write an album’s worth of tunes good enough to release. And they are/were! Why this wasn’t put out until now is a good question, and probably even Sir Elton doesn’t quite remember. But at this point in his career – and after most of these songs made their debut on last year’s Jewel Box set – it makes sense to put out a vinyl relic of what Elton & Bernie were spending their time on while still wearing creative short pants. The songs are certainly on the derivative side but they’re fun to listen to, making Sgt. Zippo a nice one to reach for when you’re in the mood for something different. And I like the play on Elton’s given name, too.

TOOTS & THE MAYTALS – Funky Kingston (Get On Down/Island GET54103-LP) – This is one of the greatest reggae albums of the ’70s, even if this particular configuration isn’t the same as its original Jamaican counterpart. Funky Kingston, as it has been since its first international release, is mostly that original issue, with a few tracks brought over from another album and “Pressure Drop” ported over from a ’69 single. Whether or not you consider this a proper album or a compilation, you can’t dispute that this may have been Toots’ peak as an artist. I would’ve liked them to do a 2LP set containing the original Funky, with the extra tracks they swapped in from In the Dark, and whatever else would’ve made sense. But, I guess for that there’s always my Very Best Of… CD, not to mention a host of other compilations still available.

FLAMIN’ GROOVIES – I’ll Have A… Bucket of Brains (Parlophone 0190295104139) – It may have gotten its name from an obscure Welsh beer, but this record’s got the Groovies’ best known song on it, “Shake Some Action,” a stone cold klassic that you should crank anytime you get a chance. This little 10″ mini LP, “The Original 1972 Rockfield Recordings for U.A.,” contains seven songs the San Francisco band did with nascent producer Dave Edmunds for the UK wing of United Artists. UA released a couple of the band’s rock ’n’ roll singles at the time but they were (at least in hindsight) doomed to fail, being released during Britain’s glam rock craze. Yet “Shake Some Action” eventually became a touchstone of power pop and more bands have been influenced by it than probably even know it. Here, Bucket of Brains provides the single version and the original recording at its slightly slower speed (in a 1995 mix) that reveals more of what makes it so damn good. Plus, there’s a killer version of “Tallahassee Lassie” (crushes Freddy Cannon’s original like a grape!) and their other klassic cruncher, “Slow Death.” This was only available as a UK CD (and under a couple of other names in other countries) mostly in the mid ’90s. As a 10″ it is the perfect vinyl artefact. If this doesn’t help you bust out at full speed, then I don’t know what you need… to make it alright! – Marsh Gooch

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Mumps • Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You’ve Got Mumps [CD, LP]

What kinda band do you get when you mix (more or less) equal parts Sparks, Bowie, New York Dolls, Skafish and Dickies? Before you answer that, let me just say that I am aware that many will accuse me of committing the oldest “lazy rock journalist” cliché in the book by starting this review that way, and that I honestly don’t care.* Answer: MUMPS. Rock & Roll This, Rock & Roll That: Best Case Scenario, You’ve Got Mumps is the third compilation of tracks by the band, and considering I had barely heard of them before word of this comp got to me, you could say “third time’s a charm” in terms of me finally giving this group a spin. That is, if you’re prone to carelessly uttering clichés…

Well, what we have in the case of the Mumps is a mid ’70s New York rock band that came up via the CBGBs scene, made up of a handful of guys who got together in Mrs. Loud’s equal opportunity garage and took a shot at creating their own kind of music. Their lead singer, Lance Loud, had come out as gay on national television in 1973 during an episode of the PBS documentary series, An American Family. (This was before people got paid to appear on “reality TV” and pretty unheard of at the time, kids.) At the same time he was starting a band, sometimes called Loud, which eventually morphed into Mumps. There’s a lot of interesting history and plenty of great anecdotes about their exploits in the liner notes here, but suffice to say that though the band was clearly one of the better bands on the scene, they are – today – certainly way less known than Talking Heads, Ramones, Blondie, Television, et. al. Regardless of their actual popularity, Mumps deserves to be heard.

As you may remember from the opening of this review (oh, so long ago), they mix rock, punk, musical theater and more in a Rocky Horror Picture Show meets new wave combo that must have been pretty cool to witness in-person. In fact, it’s likely that the songs here that seem a bit over-the-top in the drama sweepstakes were probably quite exciting on stage. Think of Queen, if that band were more lighthearted, yet socially-conscious and a little less polished. Or maybe Sparks without the brother. (You pick which one…) With lyrics like “I wish I could’ve seen your face before the accident” – just one of the severely smart-assed variety – you can bet that these guys, or at least Lance Loud, were probably the clowns in their class. And if you weren’t of the “I’d like to punch that guy in the face” persuasion then you probably would’ve dug having any of the Mumps in at least your most-boring junior high period. The LP version of Rock & Roll This… is a 14-track affair, while the CD adds 9 more (all very worthwhile), including two never-before-released Loud tracks. Releases like this ought to give you reassurance that, just when you think you’ve heard every band you should have, there’s always the likelihood of you catching something as bad – and by that, I mean good – as the Mumps. – Marsh Gooch

4/5 (Omnivore OVCD-417, 2021)

* What kind of rock critic do you get when you mix equal parts “I don’t care what you think” and “I sincerely hope you think I’m a genius”? (Picture me using both hands to point back at myself) THIS GUY!

 

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Alex Chilton & Hi Rhythm Section • Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street [CD, LP]

Chillin’ to Chilton… what could be more enjoyable as late spring heads into summer? I nearly forgot about this one – it slipped down between the seat and the transmission hump and sat there for over a month before I thought, “Isn’t that new ALEX CHILTON & HI RHYTHM SECTION thing coming out soon?” Sure enough, it’s out now. Boogie Shoes: Live on Beale Street is the kind of short ’n’ snappy one-set show that you want to listen to over and over again. Chilton and his one-off backing band – made up of some of Memphis’s most esteemed musicians – got together for one benefit show in 1999 and luckily someone had the forethought to record it for future enjoyment.

Fact is, Chilton and band had not one rehearsal prior to this performance and you’d never notice it: these guys are the right amount of tight for a live set, never mechanical, yet never too loosey goosey either. The ten songs range from covers of Little Richard and Chuck Berry to Jimmy Reed, The Supremes and even K.C. & The Sunshine Band (the title track). With no missteps in song choice, this ten-song, 45 minute disc keeps the boogie factor high and the “ugh” factor to a bare minimum. Sure, I’d have brought the guitar up in the mix some. I might have asked “Hubie” Mitchell to use some more authentic sounding keyboard sounds (the organ’s not as organic as I’d like it). Maybe I would have had the guys play “Lucille” a whole step lower, as it’s just about out of Alex’s range. Finally, I’d wish that closer “Trying to Live My Life Without You” didn’t have to be faded out so early. But remember: I’m a critic. I’m supposed to point out the things that stand out, good and bad. Or in this case, neither good nor bad just noticeable. But what’s most noticeable is the fun vibe of this set. Besides the obvious good vibes people got from performing at or attending a benefit concert for Memphis promoter Fred Ford, a good time must’ve been had by all if the sound of this release is any indication. And at this late date, in this particular context, what it sounds like and whether any of us would listen to it more than once is of utmost importance.

When two disparate legends come together it’s not necessarily gonna be a success. But – at least this one time – getting rocker Chilton and Hi Records’ ace rhythm and horn sections to don their boogie shoes together was as close to a perfect fit as you could ask for. – Marsh Gooch

3.5/5 (Omnivore Recordings OVCD-420, 2021)

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Paul & Linda McCartney • RAM (50th Anniversary Half-Speed Master) [LP]

Not necessarily one of Macca’s best-known or best-selling albums, 1971’s RAM by PAUL & LINDA McCARTNEY is a critics favorite for reasons that aren’t always clear. This new reissue – a limited edition half-speed mastered pressing – may just be the best-sounding version of it that any of us with limited resources are ever gonna get, assuming we don’t own a mint original UK or German pressing. I don’t. I mean, I DO have more copies of this album than anyone in their right mind would have, but guys like me aren’t really in our right minds in the first place, so…

It was Paul’s second solo outing, barely a year after The Beatles officially broke up and not long after his first record, McCartney. Both were subject to lots of criticism, true, but when you look back to that time period every Beatles solo record was panned by a majority of reviewers who stupidly hoped/expected the Fab Four’s records without each other would be as good as the ones they did together. Plastic Ono Band: Panned. All Things Must Pass: Pass. Sentimental Journey? Please. Of course, we know now that all three of those albums – yes, even Ringo’s! – are classics if not at least pretty damn good for a drummer. (Ha ha!) Anyway, as tempting as it is to go into what makes RAM so great – you know, “gritty,” “unpolished but charming,” “inventive,” “‘Smile Away’ is awesome and I don’t care how silly it is or what you think” – I feel like if you’re reading this you probably already have a real good clue.

This album, like most of Macca’s, has been reissued near-countless times so it’s gotta either be one of your favorites or you’re a Beatles completist who buys every single reissue you can get your hands on. I’m – believe it or not, friends and family – somewhere in between. I do have multiple vinyl copies of this one: an original US issue on Apple with a mislabeled side 2 (sounds dismal), the 2012 2LP version on Hear Music that sounds very nice, the later Capitol reissue on see-through yellow vinyl that was supposedly pressed from the same master as the Hear Music release, and this brand new half-speed master. Oh yeah, and the awesome 2012 mono reissue (it was actually released to radio stations in ’71 as a promotional copy in a dedicated [not fold-down stereo] mono mix). Not counting that mono copy, this RAM is hands-down the best one I’ve heard. Just like the McCartney half-speed master that came out last year, this one just kills in every way. Things are clearer, the fuzz bass is wild ’n’ woolly like it oughta be, McCartney’s vocals growl or croon when they should, the strings on “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” and “The Back Seat of My Car” sound lusher than ever, and the acoustic guitars throughout glimmer like ripples on the water on a lovely spring day. (Did I just write that?!) Not only that, but there are backing vocals I’ve never really heard as clearly as they are here, and the lead vocals sometimes linger at the end of a line where you didn’t know they actually did. I probably know RAM better than every McCartney album save Band on the Run and Venus and Mars (I’ll take those half-speed masters toot-suite!) and I can tell you that this version beats not only the superb 1993 DCC Compact Classics gold CD, but the 2012 Archive Series version, too.

So, to wrap this up: If you can get a hold of one of these RAMs without having to go to epic lengths to do so, do it. You read this far; you should need no further convincing. Ram on! – Marsh Gooch

5/5 (Capitol/UMe 00602435577234, 2021)

Here’s a pretty good description of how half-speed mastering can make for a better record. (And no, you don’t have to play the record at half speed!)

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