Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Foo Fighters - Medium Rare - 2011

After hearing the sweet saxophone solos of the Gerry Raferty single "Baker Street" on a recent car ride, the VVers were reminded that they also have a different, but equally fantastic, version of it on Foo Fighters Medium Rare.  That's the best kind of way to be reintroduced to a record that has hidden in your collection for some years.  Why is this song on a Foo Fighters LP you might wonder?  Medium Rare, released in 2011, is a Record Store Day exclusive covers album, with all but two tracks previously available.  The Foo's have shown time and again that they have broad tastes that often veer into obscure gems as showcased nicely here.  This isn't some schmo covers album.  These thirteen tracks pay homage to the mostly 70's era originals with bravado.

Why not lead off the collection with the one tune on this album that challenges that whole obscurity thing?  "Band on the Run," the cover of Wings arguably most popular tune, proves that covering a mainstream hit can work if you've got the right intensity.  Dave Grohl and company absolutely slay this note-for-note cover.  They particularly master the vocal harmonies and tempo shifts here.  No small feat for this complex track.  "I Feel Free" is a lush redo of a Cream song that does a lot of the same to a slightly lesser extent.  "Life of Illusion" has some struminess and punchy drumming that work well.  It keeps the momentum moving while not necessarily being a standout.

The VVers were not familiar with "Young Man Blues," but this cover begs a listen to the original.  (Ok, the VVers couldn't help themselves and checked out the original Mose Allison track (spare, jazzy, and bluesy) as well as The Who's version, which bridges the gap.)  The Foo's recorded this one live at Austin City Limits.  Mid-track the blazing tempo pauses for a ridiculous guitar call and response.  Grohl's vocals occasionally veer into a shrill, wince-inducing yelp.  At the right volume (LOUD) it works extremely well.

"Bad Reputation" is a fun little charging number with some crunchy guitars.  It might as well be the proto-child for the next track--the Prince cover, "Darling Nikki"--as the two songs are basically about the same thing.  The difference being that "Darling Nikki" is just about the the most killer thing on this album.  Its lacerating guitars provide a punishing pace that will push you into jumping up and down territory.  It is always impressive when a band can take a song from another genre and totally make it their own as the Foo's do here.

"Down in the Park" is a nice weirdo track with some pleasing guitars shifting to and fro. At least the Foos are good at subbing out the synths of the original version with their versatile guitarmanship.  Its oddness leads nicely into the majestic Gerry Rafferty cover "Baker Street."  After you get over your shock that it is lacking that aforementioned infamous saxophone, you will realize that the whining guitar does an ample replacement job.  If only there were words for the whooo ouuu ouuuuwwws screeching in the climax of this one!

The ballad track "Danny Says" is a spot on cover of a Ramones song.  Mellow for a spell and then WHOOSH in blows "Have a Cigar" which sounds exactly how you would imagine the Foo's version of this classic Pink Floyd rocker; it is loud, gritty, screamy, and great.  The Foo's put an extra electrifyingness in all aspects of this recording.  Check out the meaty sleeve and lo and behold, the one and only Brian May is credited for lead guitars.  The VVers knew something was up!

"Never Talking to You Again" is a tight live Husker Du cover.  Short and sweet "oooh ooh oooh."  Even shorter, the 57 second "Gas Chamber" is the only track on this compilation recorded during the sessions for the first Foo's album.  The snotty sludge vibe certainly matches that LP perfectly.  Lastly, "This Will Be Our Year" is a sweet and poppy album closer.  It is... naptime.  Nice violins too.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bump 'N Grind Zine Party

Join the VVers at Bump 'N Grind on Friday, March 13th from 7-9 for the release party of Vinyl Vagabonds #6.  This hand printed beauty can be yours and you'll get to join the VVers while they spin their vinyl favorites.

This is a free, metro-walkable, all ages, music night at Silver Spring's newest (and only) record/coffee shop. Also, they have fine adult beverages and snacks for eating. YES!

Also, how about a prize pack of vinyl endorsed by the VVers? Yes, that's a great idea. Doing that too.

See you there!  

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Sly and the Family Stone - A Whole New Thing - 1967

The cover before a giant sticker ruined it.

This reissue of the first SATFS album was rescued from a second hand bookstore in Rockville for fifty cents.  The sleeve is in lousy shape.  The bottom is totally ripped so the entire inner just falls right out (sad face).  The front has a cruddy sticker from a promotional company to direct radio stations to "suggested cuts."  This huge and unfortunate sticker covers half the album art which is (was) a nice bit of colorful collage and graphics.  What is miraculous is that the vinyl within is in pristine shape.

"Underdog" is the lead-off track and it will knock your socks off!  Starting off to the tune of French nursery song "Frere Jacques" makes the listener wonder what they've gotten themselves into until morphing into a blistering combination of funky horns and sing-a-long ready hooks.  All of that musical intensity fits nicely under the staccato punch of Sly Stone's rich vocals.  A focus on Sly for a moment.  He's a force of nature.  Throughout this hodge-podge collection he shouts, rocks, croons, scats, doo-wops, falsettos, preaches, and generally slays.  The rest of "the family" generally keeps up and manage to show their share of chops.  Although not a direct line forward, this LP is a prime example of the transition that music was making from the soul pop of the 50's, to the hippie psychedelia of the 60's, and what would become the funk of the 70's.  This abundance of pop, rock, and soul is sometimes more effective than others.  "Turn Me Loose" is a prime example of soulful, super blues that has so much boogie it's busting at the seams.  It's a mess, but not without its charms (the aforementioned Sly going through his entire vocal range to the point that his final verse ends with a "whoosh, I'm exhausted" sigh).  It sounds like a circus just marched through the speakers.  Follow that up with a soulful ballad a la Marvin Gaye?  Yes, Sly does that.

Side B has some interesting musical directionlessness happening.  This is early career time for these guys and they probably are living the rock and roll lifestyle.  That wildness shows in the eclectic styles on display and it's likely they were still hungry to "make it" which also probably helped feed their creativity.  Not that the music isn't compelling, but it's clear the band was very much exploring, jamming, getting to know one another, and A Whole New Thing has that all-ways-at-once vibe.  Lead vocals at times are handled by other Family Stone members which isn't the worst thing ever, but really what were they thinking?  Thankfully Sly blesses our ears with a masterful break-up ballad, "That Kind of Person" which is not quite James Brown, but not far off.  Final track "Dog" (flipside to "Underdog"?) is a punchy pop song that doesn't quite get going.  A Whole New Thing is exactly what the title implies, but you'll either want to move on to SATFS's more well known albums or at least imagine how seeing them live in their heyday must have been.

The opening drone in "Trip to Your Heart" very overtly is recognized to be the same "aahhhh ahhhhh ahhhhh ahhhhh" riff that LL Cool J samples for his 1990 comeback (not a comeback) single "Momma Said Knock You Out."  Sly and the Family Stone knocks you out!

Remember that tattered record sleeve?  It has a fairly thoughtful write-up on the back about the historical context of this debut album.  The language in it is a bit dated though.  For one, the author calls Mama Cass "portly" for no apparent reason.  As if just calling her Mama Cass, the singer of the insanely famous "Mamas and the Papas" wasn't enough.  It's interesting to read about Sly's early years as a record producer, radio disc jockey (that's a DJ in case you didn't know), and to learn the name of his first band, "The Stoners."  Unfortunately the rest of the write-up really dodges saying much about the actual LP.  Fleh.