Artist, Release (Label, Release Date) 1-5 stars
Spacemen 3: Translucent Flashbacks (Fire U.K. July 12, 2005) *****
Ian Hunter: Ian Hunter (Sony International, July 12, 2005) *****
The Everly Brothers: Sing Great Country Hits (Collector’s Choice, July 12, 2005) ****
Mr. Big: Japandemonium (Wounded Bird, July 12, 2005) ***
Spacemen 3: Translucent Flashbacks
Space Rock architects Spacemen 3 are a difficult band for collectors, particularly those in the U.S.; they have many uncollected songs on singles, EP’s, and the like. Originally released in 1995 this collects the more essential moments; the complete 9-minute “Ecstasy Symphony” is here, as is the lives-up-to-its-title 17 minute marathon, “Rollercoaster”, a cover of acid-casualty/guru Roky Erickson. “Walkin’ With Jesus” is heard in its original single form, the 11-minute “Starship” is from the Singles box set. This collection dates back to 1995, and was previously re-issued in 2001, so Spacemen 3 fans are well aware of it. Spacemen 3 is the place to start if you’re going to explore 80’s-90’s space rock, and while there are better places to start, this scattershot collection is sonically just as good as any; it captures the band’s breadth pretty well, and there’s enough hyperdrive and hyperspace to keep a newcomer interested. The band released seven fine albums in their lifetime, Playing With Fire (1990), and Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To (1991), are classics.
Ian Hunter: Ian Hunter
Ian Hunter is best known as lead singer of hard rock/glam rock Mott The Hoople. Alas, Mott The Hoople is barely remembered these days, beyond their Bowie-penned “All The Young Dudes”. Also featuring the guitar of Mick Ralphs, who left to form the non-glam Bad Company in 1974, the band recorded a number of excellent albums, both in their pre-glam hard rock days and after the Bowie song hit. Hunter was a great frontman; never seen without his shades, his hair an enormous curly mane, his voice alternately sneering or sensitive, he seemed a natural for a successful solo career. Ian Hunter, released on Columbia in 1975, was an excellent start. It still had the glam elements and Mick Ronson’s guitar was everything Ralphs’ was, perhaps moreso. “Once Bitten, Twice Shy” has become an oft-covered rock ‘n’ roll anthem. “The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothin’ But The Truth” is great hard rock. “I Get So Excited” hits hard. Elsewhere, he touches on his sensitive side, as in the eulogy “It Ain’t Easy When You Fall/Shades Off” which ends in a spoken recitation over the band. The album only reached #50, and his subsequent albums sold even more poorly. He always handled the tough stuff better than the sensitive stuff, and Ian Hunter does get spotty in places. But ultimately Hunter and the band succeed, as does Ronson’s wall-of-sound-on-$5-a-day production. Six bonus cuts, including a poem-only “Shades Off”, an outtake of “Once Bitten”, others. New liner notes, remastered, a good 30th anniversary package.
The Everly Brothers: Sing Great Country Hits
Probably not too many people are going to care, but in some respects, this fairly minor 1963 album by the Everly Brothers, recorded as their popularity was ebbing, is actually a small stepping stone among the ones that bridged the shores of country and rock, ultimately leading to country-rock. As the Everlys go, it isn’t very different from what they’ve always done; two part harmony over a lightweight rockish backing that borrowed a lot from country. Here, the country backing is purer, but doesn’t lose their old pop sense. Many of their choices are obvious; Johnny Cash’s “I Walk The Line”, Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” are better heard in their original versions. Still, “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” is a good choice, and the three Don Gibson numbers are convincing. In all, it is a minor effort, but it began the Everly’s explorations of country-rock in the 60’s that predated Gram Parsons and Gene Clark; a string of fine releases culminated in their best in 1968; Roots, a county-rock classic.
Also available again: A Date With The Everly Brothers (1961), a pop effort that yielded “Cathy’s Clown” and Little Richard’s “Lucille”.
Mr. Big: Japandemonium
For anybody who has been worried about Mr. Big ever since their one big single “To Be With You” fell off the charts in 1993, I have some happy news to report. Mr. Big spent the 1990’s alive and well, as rock gods in Japan, where they routinely reached the high regions of the charts, got airplay in all the gin-joints, got the girls squealing, and the boys pumping air guitar, and raked in millions of dollars. Wounded Bird re-releases this 1994 Japan-only live album, from their immensely successful 1993 Japan tour. For skeptical Americans who remember them as some kind of hair metal band, they are actually a crack unit of musicians, kind of a heavy metal Toto (also hugely successful in Japan). Bassist Billy Sheehan was in David Lee Roth’s band, where he earned the nickname “The Eddie Van Halen of bass”, guitarist Paul Gilbert, drummer Pat Torpey, and singer Eric Martin were all proficient veterans of session recording and assorted bands. Skeptics won’t be reassured by the six minute titles “Billy’s Solo” and “Paul’s Solo”, but the 14 titles work as a good best-of, and they are far more engaging live than they were in the studio. Having spent the 90’s in a lot of gin-joints in Japan, I remember their hits fondly. If you do too, this might be worth it.
Other noteworthy reissues this week:
From Wounded Bird Records, who specialize in digging up lesser remembered efforts by big names, we get a pair of Deborah Harry re-releases; Def, Dumb, and Blonde from 1989, and Debravation from 1993. Aside from the annoying name dropping titles, these aren’t bad; the former is more dance oriented, the latter more rock oriented (a guest spot from R.E.M. members helps). For fans only.
Also, look for late 80’s/early 90’s hard rock/heavy metal combo Saigon Kick’s first three albums, Saigon Kick (1988), The Lizard (1992), Water (1993), also on Wounded Bird. Another band much more familiar to Japan than native America.
From United States Dist, a label that specializes in lesser albums by second tier artists, we get four solo albums from Annie Haslam, lead singer of the progressive rock band Renaissance: Blessing in Disguise (1995), Live Under Brazilian Skies (1997), Dawn of Ananda (2000), It Snows In Heaven, Too (2001). Blessing in Disguise is credited to “Annie Haslam’s Renaissance”, a reflection of three separete Rennaisances using the name in the 90’s, led by various former members. Only diehards will need these; Renaissance was fairly precious at even its peak; solo Haslam is even more so. Diehards however, should note that Live Under Brazilian Skies is pretty good, and has an interesting selection of Renaissance tunes included.
From reggae specialists Pressure Sounds, Produced and Directed by the Upsetter (1998), credited to Lee “Scratch” Perry. 20 tracks, 10 original versions, followed by their dub versions. Featured artists are the Heptones, the Flames, the Meditations, Junior Marvin, plus some lesser known names. Freaky, disorienting, fun, and the grooves are good, this is an excellent compilation.
Also: Survivor (1978), by Randy Bachman (Lemon records), Thursday Afternoon (1985), by Brian Eno (EMI Japan), Bob James: The Essential Collection: 24 Smooth Jazz Classics (2002), by Bob James (of “Taxi” fame) (Koch), R&B from the Marquee (1962), Alexis Korner’s smokin’ debut and blues-rock milestone (Universal International), and Sister Hazel, by Sister Hazel, a demo collection and kind of de-facto “first” album (Sixthman).
Weekend Reissue Roundup appears every Friday night/Saturday AM.
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