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Music Reviews: Canned Heat, Rockpile, Worrall, The Arrows & White Wizzard

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The latest collection of reviews is a bit of a mish-mash of both quality and style.

Canned Heat: Live at Montreux (1973)

This one is a bunch of 1960s era Californians doing their interpretation of the blues. Add to this a touch of boogie and jam band waffling for good measure. As with many bands of such a vintage line-up, changes due to death and burnout affected the band’s consistency. That said, Walter Trout was one of the members for a time. Canned Heat was a bit like John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers for nurturing blues talent.

Well, it was the ’60s after all. To make things interesting on this disc, which was recorded at the famous Jazz/Blues festival, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown appears on several of the tracks. Having Brown along for the ride gives the band a bit of cred in their performance. Like much of the ’60s music, this is very much an acquired taste. I found much of it unfocused and pretty dull to listen to. This band claim to be purists but quite often the music seems to lose its way as they perform.

Can’t say this release is anything essential. Studio albums from their “classic” late ’60s line-up would probably be a better introduction. However, those interested in a look at the American equivalent to the Bluesbreakers might want to have a listen.

Rockpile: Live at Montreux 1980

You may not have heard of this band, but you may have heard at least one of their songs. They had hits in various forms in the ’70s and ’80s, either performed by band members or covered by other artists. This band only recorded one record as Rockpile due to some odd contractual problems. That did not stop them from recording together as the backing bands on various solo albums by band members like Nick Lowe and Dave Edmonds. It helped a great deal that they had three vocalists (a formula to be copied by The Traveling Wilburys and Damn Yankees later in the decade). “Girls Talk” released by Dave Edmunds and “Cruel to be Kind,” released by Lowe were both hits on either side of the Atlantic, which were recorded by Rockpile.

This bunch penned songs like “Queen of Hearts,” a pop hit in the ’80s. The Rockpile version is quite different from the fluffed up version. Another track that you might have heard is “Teacher, Teacher.” “I hear you Knocking” was another song that bothered the charts for one of the members of the band. This is very much a “best of Rockpile and its members” live CD. The rock and rockabilly elements make it a rather fun release. There is no doubting the talent of the four members. Sadly Rockpile did not last much longer than this release and later broke up.

Worrall: S/T

This is a re-release by Yesterrock and it’s patently obvious from the cover from what era this bunch hail. The black-and-white-spotted white trousers on the lead singer are a clue. The guitarist, the lead singer’s brother who gave the band its name, has his jacket sleeves rolled up a la Miami Vice. It features Jimi Jamison, later of Survivor fame, on backing vocals. Jamison would surely not have a hard transition to his new band after appearing on this. While the songwriting here is not up to the same standard, the vibe is very much the same.

This is cheesy ’80s pop rock at its most over the top, with lashings of chintzy keyboards. This album was released in 1981 and got the band a top 30 hit with “Heat of the Night.” The album is supposedly much sought after and it got heavy airplay in the day. Both are news to me because I had never heard of this lot until the CD hit my inbox.

To be honest, the material on here does not really age that well. However, there is nothing wrong with it per se and this is certainly not the dross that was kicking around that era trying to jump on the bandwagon. Mostly this release is for those who had the original on vinyl or cassette and want to return it to their collection. It’s cheesy and daft, but kind of fun just the same.

The Arrows: Stand Back

This bunch so want to be Toto it’s not even funny. Take all the pop-tastic elements of Toto, while eliminating their uber-talented musician vibe, and you get The Arrows. The keyboards are even more in your face than on the Worrall CD. The cover, complete with a leather-clad blond female archer, is probably the highlight of this release for most. It is not surprising that Dean McTaggart went on to pen hits for Tina Arena and Amanda Marshall. This is a template for the cheesy rock-dusted pop that was all over the radio in the ’80s. Think of Huey Lewis & the News with added wimp factor 10.

What struck me most about this release is that it screams ’80s movie soundtrack. If you think “We Built this City” by Starship was a great tune, then this would be for you. While there is at times a hint of fellow countrymen Honeymoon Suite, this band generally heads down the wimptastic route with their songs.

It is always interesting to listen to this sort of music and realize how badly it has aged. There are very few pop rock bands of the ’80s that managed to make music that doesn’t make you cringe 30 years later. It doesn’t get much more cheesy than this.

White Wizzard: Flying Tigers

Fresh off their great retro debut, this bunch is back with a fresh batch of metal. For their second release, they have very much matured and taken a somewhat different tack. Instead of sticking to their previous formula, they have added a dash of Iron Maiden epicness. And for good measure there are touches that remind you of Rush. This is quite a solid release from a band that is definitely secure in what they are. Their last effort had some Iron Maiden-esque touches to it, but they seem to have truly embraced it now. White Wizzard have followed the NWOBHM divergence into grandiose pomp. I say this not as a bad thing.

“West LA Nights” is retro as well, but unlike the rest of the tracks, it reminds the listener of classic West Coast hard rock rather than anything English. It would fit firmly on any number of mid-’80s heavy rock releases from (early) Queensryche to Y&T. It is a clever diversion from the rest of the album. Then again, WW do this all so well that they can get away with doing whatever they want to do.

There is still a strong “influenced” feel on this disc, but it never strikes anyone that they are just a mimic band. This band is developing into something quite special and it is one hell of a fun ride to travel that road with them.

Well, that is your lot for this week. Stay safe and rocking out there.

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About Marty Dodge