Archive for the ‘Odds and Sods’ Category

Led_Zeppelin_-_Presence

Over the last year and a half, Jimmy Page has been busy reissuing the Led Zeppelin catalogue with bonus material.

The reissue campaign recently completed with the band’s final three albums, Presence, In Through the Out Door and Coda. With a young child and limited funds, I was only able to purchase the Presence and Coda reissues. (Will pick up In Through the Out Door later, but that one was always my least favorite anyway).

I’ve always felt Presence was unfairly maligned. It sold the least out of any album in Zeppelin’s heyday (not counting Coda, which was basically an outtakes collection issued after John Bonham died to fulfill contract obligations).

Quite simply, Presence rocks and rocks hard. It’s Jimmy Page’s album in every way. There’s no ballads to be had. Think there may be piano on one track. It’s a guitar album, and a damn good one. The album was recorded with Robert Plant confined to a wheelchair after a car accident, so his vocals aren’t as powerful as normal. But Plant at 50 percent is still awesome.

The album kicks off with a classic epic, Achilles Last Stand. A drifting guitar passage begins and ends the 10-minute track, but in between is plenty of guitar fury by Page. The second track For Your Life sways with bravado, and was a nice surprise when Zeppelin dusted this one off for the first-ever performance live during the one-off reunion concert in 2007.

Royal Orleans closes the original album Side One, a bit of fun in an otherwise intense album.

The second side (yes I’m still referring to LP sides in 2015) opens with one of my favorite Zep tracks, Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Just an awesome track in every way. Candy Store Rock offers a little bit of revved up rockabilly to the proceedings, while Hots Off to Nowhere is probably the weakest track on the album, but it’s not bad at all. The album closes with Tea for One, which opens with one of the coolest Page riffs, but it lasts for about 25 seconds before descending into a deep blues where Plant laments being away from his wife and family. More great guitar work from Page on this one.

The bonus disc on the reissue offers a few nice surprises, particularly the never-before-released instrumental with the odd title 10 Ribs and All/Carrot Pod (Pod) or something like that. I can see why it was left off the album, as it’s totally different from anything on it. A laid-pack piano jam led by John Paul Jones, it just wouldn’t have fit on this guitar-heavy album. But still interesting. The other cool bonus track is a rough mix of Royal Orleans where Plant sings in a deep gruff voice, almost like Dr. John. Pretty wacky stuff.

Led_Zeppelin_-_Coda

Coda was always an odds and sods collection, but I quite enjoyed the original incarnation of it, particularly the In Through the Out Door outtakes Ozone Baby and Wearing and Tearing. Those two rockers alone would have made that album much better, as that one had too much synthesizer and not enough Page guitar. Also included is the kick-ass rocker Walter’s Walk, an outtake from the Houses of the Holy sessions.

There are two bonus discs with the remastered and reissued Coda, and there are some great finds here. The early outtake Sugar Mama really rocks, while St. Tristan’s Sword is a cool little instrumental from the Led Zeppelin III sessions. The bonus discs also include great already released but harder to find tracks like Baby Come On Home, Travelling Riverside Blues and Hey Hey What Can I Do. My one complaint about these reissues is the inclusion of two many instrumentals of tracks we already have. I really don’t need to see Led Zeppelin tracks without Plant, unless they are never before released instrumentals like St. Tristan’s Sword. Also didn’t like the inclusion of outtakes that are barely different from the released counterpart. Would have rather they included live tracks. And one of the most well-known Zeppelin outtakes, the beautiful instrumental Swan Song, was nowhere to be found in this reissue campaign. Small criticisms, as even without any outtakes, this would have been a worthwhile venture, simply for the better sound quality. The remasters really make the music pop, and that is a great development for Zep fanatics. They just don’t make them like Zep anymore.

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Making a concerted effort to get my blog back up and running on a more consistent basis (I had gone a full year between posts before last night’s Mets post). I’ll try to play catch-up with some of the recent albums I’ve purchased. So instead of more in-depth single reviews, I’ll try to sum them up in capsule format.

Marilyn Manson: The Pale Emperor

I kind of lost interest in the shock rocker’s career about a decade or so ago. Think the last album I owned by him was 2007’s Eat Me, Drink Me, and I wasn’t too impressed. The last album I really enjoyed from him was 2000’s Holy Wood (In the Valley of the Shadow of Death). But I read some positive advance reviews and sampled a couple tracks, deciding to give it a whirl. I’m glad I did. It’s a concise 10-song effort. Extremely raw (some of the vocal tracks were done in one take, giving the album a live feel at times). Not a bad track here and some great ones (Deep Six, The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles, Worship My Wreck, Cupid Carries a Gun). A welcome return to form. Sod rating: ****

Pink Floyd: The Endless River

Billed as the final album of the mighty Floyd, the album’s genesis came from the sessions of the band’s previous effort, 1994’s The Division Bell. While working on that one, the band recorded hours of unreleased ambient instrumental tracks. At one point, they considered releasing some of that material as The Big Spliff, a kind of companion piece to The Division Bell. That idea was ultimately rejected, and the music sat on the shelf for years. Following the death of keyboard player Richard Wright, remaining band members David Gilmour and Nick Mason revisited the material, hoping to use some of it for a final album, a kind of tribute to Wright. They also recorded some new music for the project, and a new Pink Floyd album was born. The album is mostly instrumental (as The Big Spliff was intended to be) with several keyboard pieces where Wright is showcased. There are spots where the majesty and excitement of the old Floyd shine through (the bouncy Allons-y reminds me of Run Like Hell from The Wall). Gilmour always shines on guitar, and the album has a pleasant flow. Definitely not one for the download generation, it needs to be listened to start to finish. Still, I felt it would have benefitted from a few more fully fleshed-out songs (the album closer Louder than Words is the only song with a lead vocal from Gilmour, only a few of the tracks have any vocals at all). Even 3-4 vocal tracks would have been nice and made it feel more like a Floyd album than a movie soundtrack of some kind. It’s not their best work, but it’s a pleasant listen and a fond farewell. Sod rating: *** 1/2

Fall Out Boy: American Beauty, American Pyscho

Fall Out Boy has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, at least until recently. They never rocked all that hard, and were too poppy to really be considered punk (they made Green Day look like Sex Pistols), but they always had an ear for pop songcraft and created some memorable tunes (and song titles, who else could write a hit song called This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race?). After 2008’s Folie a Deux flopped in comparison to some of their earlier albums (I thought it was a fine effort), they took a five-year hiatus. They returned with 2013’s Save Rock and Roll, which spawned the comeback single My Songs (Know What You Did in the Dark). That was an ok effort, liked the single and a couple other songs, but not much stuck. The new album keeps swinging them into a contemporary pop direction (guess that may be the only way rock bands can be played on the radio these days). And while there are a few catchy tunes (the lead single Centuries and it’s sampling of Suzanne Vega’s Tom’s Diner gets stuck in your head), there’s not a ton of originality here. The song Uma Thurman is built off the riff from the Munsters theme song. The title track samples Motley Crue’s Too Fast for Love. I’ve listened to the album four times, and I’m just not all that fond of it. Not bad, but not memorable. Sod rating: ** 1/2

Spring training is upon us.mets

It’s been seven long years (six seasons to be exact) since the Mets last posted a winning record or flirted with the playoffs.

During that time, the Madoff scandal happened, reducing the Mets crooked owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon into penny-pinching Moneyball enthusiasts.

The organization has embraced a slow (and I do mean slothlike) rebuilding process under general manager Sandy Alderson, which has produced the best Mets farm system I can remember in quite some time. There is pitching depth galore, and because of that, the Mets made just two pitching-related moves outside the organization this offseason, both minor ones – adding Sean Gilmartin in the Rule 5 draft and Duane Below on a minor-league deal to shore up the left-handed relief corps.

The position prospects are coming along as well, but what about the big-league team? Is this the year they finally inch past .500 and contend for a playoff spot?

I believe so on the first count (improving three wins from last year’s 79-83 record would get them past .500), but not so sure on the second count.

By my estimation, 85 wins gets you at least on the periphery of that second wild card spot. But did the Mets do enough this offseason to jump by at least six wins (and they’d probably need more than that to actually make the playoffs)?

I don’t think so, and that’s frustrating. This offseason has been one of severe inactivity, a calling card of the Alderson regime. While I love what he and his three assistant GMs have done with the minor leagues, they seem to take an overcautious approach with the big club, always feigning interest but never jumping into the fray.

What’s strange about the approach this offseason is they jumped right in, signing Michael Cuddyer the first day of free agency. Was this a good move? Only if the guy stays healthy, which at age 36, is a big if.

He’s a quality big-league hitter, but to acquire him through free agency, the Mets forfeited a first-round pick in next year’s draft. I’m not a miser with the draft picks. I think you can forfeit a first-rounder from time to time for the right guy. But an aging slugger with poor defensive skills, buoyed the last few years by Coors Field, just doesn’t seem to be that guy.

I’ll eat my words if he hits .330 and knocks in 90 runs, but this move seems risky to me.

Secondly, the Mets kept talking all offseason about wanted to add a shortstop. They failed in that regard miserably, but this might not be a bad thing if Wilmer Flores runs with the job. I believe in him as an offensive player. The defense is a big question mark.

They also wanted to upgrade the lefty relief corps. Bringing in Gilmartin and Below (along with Scott Rice and youngsters Jack Leathersich and Dario Alvarez) gives you a bunch of options, none of them very proven. And if Josh Edgin regresses, you may not have a reliable lefty in the pen. I would have brought in a quality veteran to battle for one of those spots.

They also targeted a lefty-mashing RH bat for the bench, and they did so theoretically with John Mayberry Jr. Never been a Mayberry fan, although he has hit lefties well over the course of his career. Had they waited, a guy like Dayan Viciedo would have been a nice choice (as he is now a free agent after being cut by the White Sox). Younger and big-time power.

The Mets have a glut of starting pitchers. With the return of ace Matt Harvey, they essentially have six men for five spots (even more when you count prospects Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Rafael Montero, who are all knocking on the door). They’ve been pursuing trades for Dillon Gee, but really should have had Gee, Jon Niese and Bartolo Colon on the market and seen if they could have gotten anything useful. Even Montero. Just don’t think Gee was going to fetch them much, and it seems like Sandy wanted too much for him. He’s a nice back-end starter, and an affordable one, but he’s probably not going to get you an impact big-league piece or even a high-end prospect in return. Probably a midrange prospect is all you’ll get. Now the Mets go into spring with Gee on the outside looking in. Just think with the depth the Mets have on the mound, he (or Niese or Colon) could have and should have been moved.

To compound matters, the Nationals (who made the Mets their bitch last year) continue to get better, as did the Marlins. With the Braves and Phillies in rebuild mode, the Mets missed a golden opportunity to make a bold statement.

Does the team have the talent to make the playoffs? Yes, especially if Harvey comes back to be the ace we know he can be. Teaming up with Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom and fellow young gun Zach Wheeler and if guys like Syndergaard and Matz pan out, the Mets could have a dominant rotation for years to come.

But this year, you’re banking on a bounce-back year from the declining David Wright. Same goes for Curtis Granderson. You need Cuddyer to stay healthy and come close to replicating his Rockies numbers. You need another 30-homer season from Lucas Duda. Youngsters like Flores, Juan Lagares and Travis d’Arnaud need to take steps forward. Just a lot of question marks offensively. And when you factor in the idiotic managing of Terry Collins, I see the team falling short. 83-79 finish is my prediction and a battle with the Marlins for second in the division.

Fatherhood

Posted: November 12, 2013 in Beatles, Mets, Odds and Sods

Our first child was born 12 days ago, at 12:07 p.m. on Halloween. Our little trick or treater. My brother Carl dubbed her ‘Little Boo.’
Regardless, Chiersten Marie Sodergren is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I can watch her sleep or eat, and I don’t need anything else in the world.
Holding her while she is sleeping gives me such a feeling of satisfaction, one I can’t quite put into words.
Many people have said I would lose a ton of sleep over first few months, and so far they are right. But not for the reason you would expect. Chiersten is already sleeping 2 to 3 hours a pop at night. As for me. It takes awhile to fall asleep. When I do fall asleep, I am out 40 minutes and then I am jolted awake by a bolt of energy. I simply can’t wait to see her again.
As for Tina, this whole experience just brought us even closer, which is hard to believe because I never thought I could love her more than I already did . Boy, was I wrong. She re-defined toughness during her 26 hour labor, rejecting the epidural until the 12 hour mark when nothing was happening dilation wise yet the pain piled on by the second. And now seeing her with Chiersten, we are sure why God brought us together. We are a wonderful team and always will be.

It’s been a long time (since I rock and rolled). Seriously, I have neglected this blog far too long, and now it’s time to get back in the saddle (again).

Think my last post was in December, by far the longest I’ve gone between posts since I started this shabang four years ago. Has it really been that long? Time certainly flies.

Since I last graced you with my presence, much has happened. Namely, my lovely wife Tina is pregnant with our first child, a girl ready to make her entrance into this world sometime in late October. World Series time, but as any long-suffering Met fan will tell you, our team will be nowhere near the World Series save for watching it on TV.

As far as the Mets go, I like the baby steps they are taking rebuilding the farm system. They seem to have pitching galore, always a good thing. The major-league club is a mess, especially offensively. Yet, I don’t want to see them unload 4-5 top prospects for a Giancarlo Stanton or Carlos Gonzalez in the offseason. They need to hold on to as many young arms as they can, as the San Francisco Giants have proven you can win with a lackluster offense if you have pitching and defense.

I’m loving Matt Harvey’s emergence as a true No. 1, and he looks like he may soon be the best pitcher in baseball (he’s already in the discussion). Also hoping Zack Wheeler can live up to his immense promise and give the team a dynamic 1-2 punch atop the rotation for years to come. So far, the results have been uneven. Wheeler still needs to work on his command, but the stuff is for real. Noah Syndergaard, the pitcher the Mets basically stole from the Jays in the R.A. Dickey trade, is flourishing since his call-up to Double-A. Huge righty with a fastball he can dial up to 99 and a power curveball. Also has more command than Wheeler showed in the minors. They need to hold on to him, as he seems to be a guy any team would demand (and should) in a trade for a top outfielder.

Anyway, just wanted to get the ball rolling again on the blog. Will try to be better at posting. It’s July and I’ve finally made my first post of 2013. Hope all three of my loyal readers are alive and well!

Most Rolling Stones enthusiasts would agree about the band’s golden period – the four-album classic stretch from 1968 to 1972 where the band produced Beggars’ Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street.
I can’t argue with that assessment, as I’ve always viewed Mick Taylor to be the band’s greatest lead guitarist (Keith Richards, for all his greatness, was more of a rhythm guy). Those four albums are indeed great and rank among my favorite Stones music, but the band had one last gasp of pure greatness in the 70s with the release of their 1978 disc Some Girls.
Some Girls came in a time when punk and disco were threatening to make big classic rock bands like the Rolling Stones extinct. Instead of pumping out another middle of the road, safe album (see It’s Only Rock N Roll and Black and Blue), the Stones embraced the sounds of the day and eclipsed them, while also staying true to their core blues and R&B roots.
Lead single “Miss You” used a purely disco beat, but a very memorable one. Instead of sounding cheesy or dated, it sounds funky and fresh. It’s indelibly catchy, and the only song on the album like it. The Stones responded to punk by cranking up the guitars and speeding up the tempo on tracks like “When the Whip Comes Down,” “Lies” and the brilliant “Respectable.” Mick Jagger sings with a pissed-off sneer on those tracks, and he also adds his input as the band’s third guitarist (not counting bassist Bill Wyman), giving the tracks added muscle and verve.
Elsewhere, the band sinks into a sleazy blues groove on the sleazy title track (with its infamous ‘black girls just wanna get fucked all night, I just don’t have that much jam’ line). They also deliver a faux-country number “Far Away Eyes,” where the band plays it straight but Jagger sings like he’s making fun of the proceedings and the genre. There are actually more true country renderings on the new bonus disc that comes with the album’s reissue (but we’ll get to those later).
“Before They Make Me Run” is a wonderful outlaw tune sung by Keith Richards, who was in big-time trouble with the law at the time due to a drug arrest in Toronto.
“Beast of Burden” is one of the band’s finest ballads, while “Shattered” is nasty and funky all at the same time.
While the album was recorded in Paris, it has New York written all over it with several references to the Big Apple throughout, giving the tunes a unified theme.
It’s a classic Stones album and one of my all-time favorites.
One of the best things about the Some Girls sessions was the wealth of material that didn’t make the cut for the album. And there’s a ton of it.
Many of the leftover tracks from the sessions found their way on to the two follow-up albums, Emotional Rescue and Tattoo You. Songs like “Summer Romance,” “Start Me Up,” and “Hang Fire” were Some Girls retreads.
Many more songs were left in various stages of completion, seemingly permanently remaining on the shelf.
But just like they did for the great Exile on Main Street reissue last year, the Stones (namely Mick Jagger) cleaned some of these outtakes up and released them as a bonus disc for the reissue, giving longtime fans a reason to rush out and buy it.
And just like on Exile, these extra tunes hold up quite well. A few, like the Jerry Lee Lewis rave-up “Claudine” were pretty well finished already. But several tunes lacked lyrics and complete vocals, so Jagger dusted them off. All the original backing tracks are vintage Stones recordings from the period and give credit to Mick, it’s hard to tell which tunes have new vocals and which ones don’t. Of the “new” tracks, “No Spare Parts” is a country-tinged beauty, immediately catchy with a nice Jagger vocal. “Do You Think I Really Care” is a country-fried rocker, a classic kiss-off tune to a girl “that’s never there.” “When You’re Gone” and “Keep Up Blues” are outstanding blues numbers, while “I Love You Too Much” is a straight-ahead rocker with effective backing vocals from Richards. All 12 of the new tracks add something to the Stones’ canon, and some could have replaced a few tunes on the actual album. “No Spare Parts” and the two country covers “We Had it All” (sung by Keith) and “You Win Again” are better than “Far Away Eyes,” which was always a bit too cheesy for my liking (Jagger’s vocals ruined that song for me, although the chorus is awesome, as is Ronnie Wood’s pedal steel playing).
I hope the Stones keep doing this for their reissues, cleaning up old tracks with new overdubs, because they serve as great “lost” Stones albums from their glory days, giving them a way of recapturing the magic of old without having to completely write new tunes. The first two have been successes, and producer Don Was (who has helped compile the material for each release) says there is plenty of outtakes left in the can for a new Stones album every year for the next 50 years. Doubt that’s true, but you get the point. There’s a lot left in the vaults.

Sod rating: *****

The collaboration between Lou Reed and Metallica has been getting ripped savagely in most of the reviews I’ve come across.
The pre-album buzz was so bad, I almost didn’t purchase it.
I can certainly see why this album might not be many’s cup of tea.
The subject matter is dark, as it is based on 19th century plays whose main character was a former socialite turned prostitute who eventually falls in love and is murdered by Jack the Ripper. Or at least that’s what I think it’s about.
The lyrics are so graphic at times and delivered in Reed’s speaking vocal style rendering most tunes without standout melodies.
Reed has had a brilliant career, but the man can no longer sing (not that he ever was a great singer). These days, he makes Bob Dylan look like Luciano Pavarotti.
At times, it seems he was totally unaware of what Metallica was thrashing behind him, almost as if the music and vocals had been recorded completely separately and without any knowledge of where the songs were going by either parties.
Yet there are times on this album where the project shines, nowhere moreso than on the 19-minute closer (you read that right) “Junior Dad” which should take its place among Reed’s best works. On this relatively gentle number (compared to the bloodletting that preceded it), Metallica churn out a fine melodic backdrop for Reed’s somber singing (he actually does sing here, quite effectively with weary worn vocals fit for a 69-year old rock legend). The song builds gradually and ends with a nearly eight-minute orchestral drone of beautiful sounds. It’s like nothing else on the album.
Elsewhere, there are moments to recommend. Metallica is in fine playing form throughout, although some of the riffs are repeated a bit too much (probably what Reed wanted). That’s the main criticism I have of the album, other than Reed’s sometimes annoying vocals. These songs could have been chopped in half and the album would have benefitted. There was no need for this to be nearly 90 minutes long. There simply aren’t enough musical ideas here, as many of the riffs and lyrics are repeated for no apparent reason. When the songs are concise, such as the opening “Brandenburg Gate” and “Iced Honey,” the results are quite enjoyable. It’s no coincidence that on each of those tunes, James Hetfield lends his vocal chops to the proceedings to help Reed. The better idea would have been to have Hetfield take the lead on more songs, although I can’t imagine him singing things like “I beg you to degrade me? Is there waste I could eat?” like Reed does on “Mistress Dread,” a song where Metallica thrashes along like it was 1983 again.
Hetfield does sing the curious line “I am the table” in “The View,” a song I hated when I first heard it online, but has since grown on me.
This album is nowhere near as bad as people have made it out to be. It’s not a great album and certainly could have used some more editing, but it’s an interesting listen. It’s nice to see Metallica taking some chances here, and hopefully they return to the studio with more vigor having worked with one of their heroes.
If you head into this album with an open mind, there are some rewards to be found. But tread lightly, it’s not an easy listening experience.

Sod rating: ***