Tuesday, July 25, 2017

HOWARD JONES/Best 1983-2017 (3CD) reviewed!


     While he achieved a lot of chart success early in his career (1983 to 1989) and still tours and releases new music, Howard Jones’ musical legacy has been somewhat overlooked since his heyday. While he certainly hasn’t been forgotten, he has become increasingly difficult to categorize… which is both a good and bad thing. He’s been labelled a Synthpop artist, a teen idol, a New Waver and an Electropop pioneer while also being lumped into the Adult Alternative category. Some have even pointed out his Jazz-influenced chord progressions and R&B leanings. In all honesty, Howard Jones is all of this and more.  And thankfully, Cherry Red has just released the three CD BEST 1983-2017, which really showcases Howard’s many talents. A set this comprehensive reminds the listener that Howard Jones is much more than an “’80s relic”. He was never a one-trick pony and this release backs that statement up.

     DISC ONE focuses on his major label years (’83 to ’92). Here, you’ll find hits like “New Song,” “Things Can Only Get Better,” “What Is Love,” “No One Is To Blame,” “Everlasting Love,” and “Like To Get To Know You Well” alongside lesser known greats like “Specialty” and “Will You Still Be There?” From bubbly Pop to tender ballads, Howard was unpredictable and hard to pigeon-hole even during his hitmaking years. DISC TWO picks up at the tail end of the major label years and then focuses on the recordings released on his own independent DTox Records label. For anyone that lost touch with Howard’s music during those years will realize just what they missed once they hear tracks like “Just Look At You Now,” “Soon You’ll Go,” “Revolution Of The Heart,” “Someone You Need,” and the Electro-Glam stomp of “Eagle Will Fly Again”. Again, Howard’s desire to challenge himself musically throughout his career kept his art relevant even when many of his contemporaries gave up on creating new music. DISC THREE collects nine rarities including acoustic live versions and a remix of “You’re The Buddha.”

    BEST 1983-2017 reminds us of more than just Howard Jones’ hits – it shows that he has never lost his way, musically. He’s always moving forward but never forgetting where he came from.  Perhaps it’s time that you caught up with Howard Jones?  This is the best place to start.

BEST: 1983-2017

Keep on truckin',
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

Thursday, July 20, 2017

THE INMATES/The Albums 1979-1982 (3CD set) reviewed!

     In the late ‘70s, the Rock world was being turned on it’s head by Punk and New Wave. The pretentious ‘old guard’ (i.e. Prog rockers, Folk singer/songwriters, Pop stars, etc.) were handed their walking papers by the press, who latched onto the shouty, belligerent Punk kids. By ’79, you were more likely going to read about the exploits of Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash before you’d stumble upon a review of ELP’s latest live gig. And by that time, reviews of ELP, Yes and the like were leaning towards scathing.  However, while the press fell over themselves to discover the latest Punk craze, Pub Rock and British Rhythm & Blues was also a happening thing.  Dr. Feelgood were already established and Nine Below Zero were on their way to becoming legendary. While not always recognized as such, The Inmates were certainly one of the best of the Pub/R&B bunch (in fact, they still are!). With Cherry Red’s three CD box set, THE ALBUMS 1979-1982, The Inmates are finally receiving the credit and attention that they deserve. Containing the band’s first three studio albums (plus bonus tracks), this is a long over-due look at the band’s excellent early output.

     In 1979, there was nothing more inspiring than to be driving around town and hear the opening notes of “Dirty Water” blasting through car speakers. While the song was not penned by the band – it was written by Ed Cobb and originally recorded by The Standells in 1965 – The Inmates made it their own.  It also received plenty of airplay on ‘Modern Rock/New Wave’ stations like KROQ in L.A. Taken from their debut album FIRST OFFENCE, “Dirty Water” was the band’s only hit in the U.S. Yet, like many bands, they had a load of tracks that could have been just as popular had they received airplay.  FIRST OFFENCE is a solid album from beginning to end. On the album, the band’s edgy Rock ‘n’ Roll is more ‘60s Rolling Stones than Punk Rock, although the energy of British music of that era is rushing through The Inmates’ veins. Bill Hurley’s vocals are Jagger-esque while the band’s authentic Rock steam offers up a mix of Stones and American Garage Rock. Sure, it’s retro, but Pub and R&B was always about traveling back to Rock’s roots. A mix of originals and covers, FIRST OFFENCE is nothing short of a great British R&B/Rock album. You can feel the sweat dripping from the speakers. Vic Maile’s production may not have transferred their live energy to the studio but he sure made them sound great!

     1980’S SHOT IN THE DARK is also an energetic blast of pure Rock fun.  Produced by Maile again, the band sounds more confident and their originals blend well with their choice of covers. Tracks like “(I Thought I Heard A) Heartbeat” and “Why, When The Love Has Gone” should have been big hits back in the day. While “Stop It Baby” sounds like a label-requested retread of “Dirty Water,” the rest of the album solid back to front. Their take on the Jagger/Richards rarity “So Much In Love” is ace. “Crime Don’t Pay,” “Sweet Rain” and “Waiting Game” are other high points.  Chartwise, the album didn’t perform as well as the debut but it is equally exciting and fun. The quality control level is quite high on the album, especially when the band attempts to add other influences beyond those that shaped FIRST OFFENCE.

     Perhaps in a bid to achieve some commercial success, 1981’s HEATWAVE IN ALASKA blends the British R&B sound of the first two albums with touches of Rockabilly, Pub Rock and Pop. However, the album still retains the The Inmates’ rock ‘n’ roll swagger. Squeeze fans will take delight in the band’s Difford & Tilbrook-penned “On The Beat,” which is certainly quirky and closer to the Rockabilly feel of “Messed Around” than early Squeeze Pub rockers like “Cat On A Wall.” Though some of the tracks were influenced by the Rockabilly revival that was sweeping the UK at the time, the band sticks to their Pub/R&B roots for the most part. “You Can Bet (A Broken Heart)” – written by Phil Everly – is reminiscent of Ian Gomm’s early solo work. “Remember, I’ve Been Good To You” is a blissful slice of soulfulness from The ‘Mates. Even the band’s originals (penned, for the most part, by guitarist Peter ‘Gunn’ Staines) sound like Rock standards at this point.  Perhaps not as raw as FIRST OFFENCE, HEATWAVE IN ALASKA is yet another fine album by those chaps in The Inmates!

     THE ALBUMS 1979-1982 is a trip back in time yet remains timeless in every way. If you love Dr. Feelgood, Nine Below Zero, Kursaal Flyers, Brinsley Schwarz, Tyla Gang and the rest of the scruffy Pub legends, then you need this.  It's also perfect if you just love some great Rock 'n' Roll!

Friday, July 7, 2017

THE VAPORS: Ten Reasons...


Ten Reasons Why You Should Love:


     UK Power Pop/Mod/New Wave quartet The Vapors are back!  Three of the four original members – singer/songwriter/guitarist David Fenton, lead guitarist Edward Bazalgette and bassist Steve Smith – have reunited and are playing a run of live dates in the UK! 

Friday, June 16, 2017

The return of SHANIA TWAIN!


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Thursday, June 15, 2017) – International superstar Shania Twain is set to release her brand new album NOW on Sept. 29. Three decades into her storied career as the “top-selling female country artist of all-time,” Shania confidently embraces the moment on her triumphant fifth full-length album on Mercury Nashville and her first album since 2002. Assuming the role of sole songwriter for the first time and overseeing production as a co-producer, this is the woman the world knows and loves at her brightest, boldest and best. NOW, offered as both a 12-track standard and a 16-track deluxe, is available for preorder now and includes an instant download of the album’s lead single “Life’s About to Get Good.” The joyful new tune premieres today on country radio platforms around the globe.

Monday, June 12, 2017

LOS STRAITJACKETS/What's So Funny... review!

     A few years back, it wasn’t a shock to see that British singer/songwriter Nick Lowe would be touring with American instrumental Rock combo Los Straitjackets.  Both Nick and the ‘Jackets occupy the same musical universe although they are on opposite ends of the galaxy.