Categories
Boppin'

Boppin’ Comes Alive!

Live albums can carry a special fascination for rockin’ pop fans. Though I generally prefer the finished pop product of a studio track (and my younger, purist rock ‘n’ roll self would likely strike me for thinking that), there’s something exciting about a document of rock ‘n’ roll played live. Sure, many–maybe most–of our cherished live albums have benefited from a little studio sweetening, but the live feel is there, and that’s what counts.

The first live album I remember at all was my sister’s copy of The Live Kinks, the only Kinks record in the household collection when I was a teenager. I didn’t pay much attention to it–the only Kinks song I knew was “Lola,” and The Live Kinks certainly predates that–but I did occasionally try to play The Kinks’ live version of “The Batman Theme,” because, y’know…Batman! That track was part of an in-concert medley on The Live Kinks, so it was tricky to isolate the track and ignore “Milk Cow Blues” and “Tired Of Waiting For You,” neither of which interested me at the time. (And yes, my contemporary self would surely strike pissant li’l young me for not recognizing the brilliance of “Tired Of Waiting For You” a bit earlier in the timeline.)

My sister also owned a copy of the second Woodstock collection, and a live Procol Harum record. I’ve been trying to remember the first live record that was specifically mine, and I think I have to go all the way up to senior year in high school, spring of ’77, and the release of The Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl. That album was the first time I ever rushed to the record store to buy an album on its release, and I loved that record. The Beatles live? Yeah. Yeah, I’m in. I haven’t yet heard the new CD reissue (re-titled Live At The Hollywood Bowl), though I’ve read the complaints that it’s just a straightforward, unvarnished reissue, not the remixed, re-vitalized concert document we were promised. I’ll get it soon anyway. Live Beatles!

My second live album was probably Got Live If You Want It! by The Rolling Stones, or perhaps The Cowsills‘ In Concert, both purchased used in that same spring of ’77 for fifty cents each at Mike’s Sound Center in North Syracuse. Later that year, I succumbed to (imaginary) peer pressure and joined the bazillions of people who owned a copy of Frampton Comes Alive! Even just typing that sentence bores me. I received KISS‘s Alive II as a Christmas gift that year (and my main interest was one of the studio tracks, a cover of “Any Way You Want It” by The Dave Clark Five). I subsequently picked up a used copy of its predecessor, Alive!, on a trip to Cleveland somewhere in there, too.

And my acquisition of live records is just a blur after that. My friend Tom turned me on to The Runaways‘ Live In Japan; the others that meant the most to me were The Ramones‘ It’s Alive!The Heartbreakers‘ Live At Max’s Kansas City ’79Cheap Trick At Budokan, and a bootleg cassette of The Flashcubes live in ’78. I had some bootlegs of live stuff by The Sex PistolsThe New York Dolls, and Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and two separate sets of neighbors in the ’80s turned me on to James Brown‘s Live At The Apollo and Otis Redding‘s Live In Europe.

The live album I wished for most was a live Monkees album; resurgent Monkeemania granted that wish in 1987, with the release of Live 1967, which I adored in all its rough ‘n’ ragged glory (and which I later upgraded to a 3-CD Rhino Handmade edition). Later in 1987, I attended a Monkees concert and discovered a new Monkees live album, 20th Anniversary Tour Live, recorded the previous year and sold only at concessions on the ’87 tour. In those days before social media, most people didn’t even know the album existed. In fact, when I reviewed the album for Goldmine, I had to prove its existence to editor Jeff Tamarkin before he would run the review! That’s the only time in twenty years as a Goldmine freelancer I ever had to do that.

My few remaining Holy Grail albums include one live record, a 2-LP set of The Bay City Rollers‘s mid-’80s reunion tour of Japan. I’d still love to hear that one, but I do already have a Rollers live album (also from a Japanese concert, but from the ’70s rather than the ’80s). That makes it a lot easier to live without the rare–and presumably pricey–’80s set.

I still get the occasional live CD–cool, relatively recent releases from The Grip Weeds and Lannie Flowers come to mind–and I’m sure there are many, many more to come. And I recently listened to Alive! and Alive II, the first two KISS live albums, for the first time in years. And they kick. I still love it live.

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Legal Matters / Chapter Three

The Legal Matters

Chapter Three (Futureman Records 2021)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/chapter-three


We’re not even halfway into the year, and already an abundance of phenomenal music has been released. Parked right at the top.of the pile is the third album from The Legal Matters, which is appropriately dubbed Chapter Three. Comprised of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, the Michigan-based band roped in “unofficial member” Donny Brown to play drums on this remarkable album.

 Brimming brightly with layers of luscious harmonies and reels of rock solid melodies, Chapter Three spools out one serviceable pop tune after another. Echoes of artists such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, The Smithereens and Matthew Sweet may be apparent, yet The Legal Matters possess the proper tools to refurbish these influences into their own recognizable style.

 An exquisite  ballad, The Painter, pins heart-wrenching lyrics to plush and expansive arrangements, resulting in a spellbinding survey of sadness and beauty. Vibrant vocals, teeming with power and polish, aided by a spot of swirling Hammond organ fills a la Procol Harum, also carpet the striking track.

 Conceived of shifting tempos, Independence Well Spent juggles soft textures with a menacing crunch, and the jingling bounce of Please Make A Sound captures everything that constitutes a perfect pop song. Spiked with the whirring zoom of a synthesizer, Light Up The Sky illuminates the band’s incredible lung prowess and telepathic musicianship to towering heights. 

Fashioned of a dance hall beat that would prompt Ray Davies to glow with paternal pride, The World Is Mine pedals in as a subsequent revelation, while the atmospheric patterns of Passing Chord yields a lovely choral pop vibe.

 Stuffed to the stars with smooth and stately pop pleasures, Chapter Three is the kind of album that has no expiration date. These great songs are so timeless that they could have been recorded in any era. The Legal Matters boast both the talent and wisdom to craft and perform long-lasting music, and having said that, I can hardly wait to hear their next chapter of sonic creations. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Spy Genius / Man On The Sea

Spygenius

Man On The Sea (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://www.bigstirrecords.com/store#!

Made up of singer, guitarist and main songwriter Peter Watts, bassist, vocalist Ruth Rogers, keyboardist, vocalist Matt Byrne and drummer, vocalist Alan Cannings, Spygenius has been a going concern since 2008. The British band’s fifth and most recent venture, Man On The Sea will be released July 10th and being a double album, provides twice the listening pleasure.

Steered by vocals best defined as the missing link between the quirky charm of Robyn Hitchcock and Ian Hunter on a Dylanesque bender, Spygenius ices their  material with industrious structures, unique hook lines and compelling curves in general. Putting a premium on  exploration, Man On The Sea illuminates with color and wonder.

From the vintage dance hall shuffle of Remember Me When I Was Good to the ominous din of Green Eyed Monster to the harmonious jangle of Watch Your Back – which is an admitted renovation  of John Lennon and Paul McCartney‘s You’re Going To Lose That Girl – the project stands as a striking survey of mercurial moods that seriously does offer something for everyone. 

The brooding psychedelic folk of Dolphinarium 1986 mirrors certain aspects of bands like Procol Harum and Traffic, while Ruth Rogers handles lead vocals on the melodious monogram of Spite and the infectiously jubilant Cafe Emery Hill could easily be mistaken as a paisley-laced bubblegum nugget from the swinging Carnaby Street era. Another True Day rolls in as a nifty guitar pop piece, where cuts such as In A Garden and New Street, rock with strength and balance.

By investigating and embodying various sounds and styles, Spygenius not only preserves multiple musical values on Man On The Sea, but the band adds their own individual touch to their thoughtfully-composed essays, which mix philosophical prose with nautical themes. Prepare for a fun and fascinating odyssey!