Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Heaven and Hell

Sacrilege to many but in my opinion this is the greatest Black Sabbath album! Don't get me wrong the Ozzy fronted band invented heavy metal and are a classic band however Ronnie James Dio is simply a better singer than Ozzy and crucially he sings melodies rather than following the riffs as was Ozzy's default setting.

Heaven and Hell
Black Sabbath
Sabbath had fired Ozzy Osbourne in 1979 for being unreliable, drunk, stoned and generally incapable of performing. The band were being upstaged by support acts such as Van Halen and were up a creative blind ally. Enter Ronnie James Dio, master vocalist and definitive fantasy lyricist. Dio had recently left Rainbow after a fall out with Ritchie Blackmore. In Rainbow Dio had contributed greatly to the invention of an epic fantasy inspired heavy rock style which reached a peak with the Rising album.  Heaven and Hell took a lot more from Rainbow than previous Sabbath albums in my opinion and is none the worse for it.  Dio worked closely with founder member and lead guitarist Tony Iommi as bassist and usual lyricist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward were going through personal problems not too dissimilar to the recently departed Osbourne.  Ward has no recollection of the sessions and left the band soon after the album was released.

The album sets a template for Dio's future career as band leader and contains classic songs such as "Neon Knights", "Children of The Sea", "Lady Evil", "Heaven and Hell" ... basically all of them!

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Possibly more famous for the cover and overshadowed, in my view, by the album that preceded it, Wish You Were Here, and the album that followed it, The Wall, Animals remains an excellent album.  Released in 1977 at the height of punk, when Johnny Rotten was wearing a t-shirt with the words "I hate Pink Floyd" scrawled across the front, the album is full of anger aimed at the same capitalist system that the punks were determined to destroy.  Pink Floyd just did it more eloquently and with much longer songs.

Pink Floyd
Animals is where Roger Waters (bass, vocals) began his campaign to gain control of the band and he dominates the writing credits.  David Gilmour (guitar, vocals) co-writes the excellent "Dogs", containing one of his greatest guitar solos which because of the overexposure of "Comfortably Numb" from The Wall is probably my favourite.  Richard Wright (keyboards) has no writing credits at all for the very first time on the band's tenth release. At this point Waters was matching his superb lyrics with memorable tunes, a skill which he completely lost by the time of The Final Cut.  The band is in transition between the dreamy keyboard sounds of Wish You Were Here and the more hard edged rhythms of aspects of The Wall.  Nick Mason (drums) sounds much better than I usually give him credit for and plays tastefully and contributes much more than the slow roll around the kit to add suspense to an atmospheric instrumental.  The album rewards the listener with thought provoking lyrics, stunning musicianship and imaginative soundscapes.  A classic album to be appreciated and enjoyed as a successful musical and artistic statement.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Wizzard Brew

British readers will be familiar with Wizzard's run of smash hit singles from the golden era of glam but probably not even aware of this album.  Wizzard's Brew was the band's first album and was released in 1973.  Roy Wood, formerly of the Move and founder member of the Electric Light Orchestra, was the band's leader, producer, arranger, writer, singer and multi-instrumentalist (guitars, brass, woodwind, cello, percussion). Roy's supporting cast consisted of former Move and ELO band mate Rick Price - bass, percussion, vocals, Bill Hunt - keyboards, brass, vocals, Hugh McDowell, also from ELO - cello, keyboards, Nick Pentelow - reeds, flute, vocals, Mick Burnley - reeds, flute, Keith Smart - drums and Charlie Grima - drums, percussion.

Wizzard Brew
What the average teenage glam fan made of this album is anyone's guess.  The blend of Elvis, Bach, be-bop, dixieland, hymns, Little Richard, military marches, Glen Miller, doo-wop, Salvation Army brass band, Hendrix, football terrace songs and Phil Spector is totally unique.  It is no wonder that Wood fell out with Jeff Lynne over control of ELO, this is light years away from Eldorado!  Not a frequent listen but very entertaining and welcome when the opportunity arises.

Hot Rats

Hot Rats is Frank Zappa's first official solo album released in 1969 and it is a masterpiece of instrumental jazz rock.  The guitar solos alone are stunning and the songs are highly melodic, even my wife was humming along to "Son of Mr Green Genes".

Hot Rats
Frank Zappa
Ian Underwood adds reeds, flute and keyboards to all of the tracks and there is a cameo appearance by Captain Beefheart.  This is not an album of aimless jamming but a superbly crafted, beautifully arranged and intelligent work of art.  If you are yet to take the plunge into planet Zappa please do not hesitate to dive into this one first.

Secret Treaties

In the UK Blue Oyster Cult were never as big a band as they should have been.  Perhaps we had too many of our own hard rock bands.  To my mind Blue Oyster Cult (Eric Bloom - vocals, stun guitar, keyboards, Albert Bouchard - drums, vocals,  Joe Bouchard - bass, vocals, Allen Lanier - keyboards, guitar,  Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser - guitar, vocals) were the greatest American hard rock band of the seventies and Secret Treaties is their greatest album.  This 1974 release was their third and the last of their "black and white" trilogy. 

Secret Treaties
Blue Oyster Cult
Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser is a highly gifted, imaginative, fluid and melodic guitarist and he shines on this release.  All members of the band contribute songs in various combinations.  There is also lyrical input from manager Sandy Pearlman, rock journalist Randy Meltzer and Patti Smith who was romantically involved with  drummer Albert Bouchard.  The songs themselves take their inspiration from a wide range of source material including sociopaths, sexual awakening, occult themes, world war two aviation, union leadership, paranormal activity and science fiction.  Great riffs, great tunes and superb musicianship, highly recommended.