Raspberries – Raspberries (1972)

Raspberries_13 out of 5 Stars!

I’ll admit, I was very late in investigating this short-lived band from Ohio, definitely because of its silly name and its overly clean and poppy TigerBeat magazine image. Nevertheless, at the time of this album’s release, and despite my growing obsession with groups such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, and Black Sabbath, etc. I clearly remember being instantly drawn to the band’s mammoth single “Go All The Way,” with its insanely heavy guitar “hook” and its ultra-memorable chorus, constantly being played on Chicago’s AM radio stations, and I had always kept Raspberries in the back of my mind as a band to “one day investigate.”

Well, that day finally arrived in the 1990s when I came across this album in a “$.99 discount” bin and snatched it up. Was I blown away then? No, not really…many of the tracks seemed way too tame/lame for my tastes.

But nowadays, twenty-plus years later…I surprisingly find myself going back to this album more and more, finally coming to appreciate the overall (and sometimes genius) pop sensibilities of Eric Carmen and company. Yes, some of the material is still a bit too “Beatles-oriented” for me—way too light and too overly orchestrated, such as “Waiting” or “With You In My Life”—but some of the album’s tracks, especially that darned catchy hit single I clearly remembered from 1972’s “AM radio days,” as well as the songs “I Saw The Light,” “Don’t Want To Say Goodbye,” “Rock And Roll Mama,” “Come Around And See Me,” or “Get It Moving,” now occasionally bring to mind diverse groups such as Cheap Trick, Stories, Badfinger, Susan, and (the magnificent) Starz. Go figure!

Anyway, despite some stunningly catchy material here, I still find myself giving only an average rating to the overall album, thanks to several tracks that continually rub me the wrong way and the occasional top-heavy orchestration. Happily the band’s next album showed some improvement and growth.

Get The Album Now!

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf (1968)

Steppenwolf_14 out of 5 Stars!

In the post “flower power” era of music, many of my favorite “heavy” American/Canadian bands adopted an intriguing yet similar style—a “definitive” sound—made popular by bands such as Grand Funk Railroad, Bloodrock, The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, etc…and (especially) Steppenwolf, who (arguably) were the potential “instigators” or “grand-daddies” of that particular unique “American” style.

Therefore, the debut Steppenwolf album will always hold a special place in my heart, thanks to the sizzling guitar tones merged with the distinctive Hammond organ, the freewheeling rhythm section and the raucous lead vocals, and an often-atmospheric production style. Certainly, in many respects, British bands had a similar sound, but that sound was somehow different, typically more classically oriented and not quite as “garage-rock” influenced. So the heavier American bands often tipped a hat more toward L.A.’s Steppenwolf for their overall inspiration instead of groups such as (for instance) Yardbirds, which influenced so many of the British bands in those days.

With the iconic (and outrageously overplayed) track “Born To Be Wild,” as well as the songs “Sookie Sookie,” “The Pusher,” “The Ostrich,” and “Hootchie Kootchie Man,” this album is nothing short of a pure classic—sorry, make that “CLASSIC”—which obviously inspired countless other acts in the United States and eventually defined a special “American sound of the era” that distinctly set it apart from its British counterpart sound/style. This is perhaps the ultimate “cruising” album, meant to be played while whisking down the highway with the wind in your hair, the sun at your back, and the feeling of American freedom racing through your veins. Just play it loud!!!


Get The Album Now!

Grand Funk Railroad – We’re an American Band (1973)

GrandFunk_AmericanBand4.5 out of 5 Stars!

One of my favorite albums by Grand Funk Railroad—or, for several albums, simply Grand Funk. Although overall I still prefer the “raw and untamed” atmosphere of the first five studio albums, this truly is the album that launched the band into worldwide mega-fame and it still sounds great after all these many years.

We’re an American Band is actually one of the band’s most consistent releases overall, with top-notch production quality (thanks to Todd Rundgren). The album includes some truly excellent songs, and also contains perhaps Mark Farner’s greatest vocal performances ever (on the outstanding “Creepin’,” “The Railroad,” and “Loneliest Rider,” and especially on the rollicking “Black Licorice”). And despite the famous title track being overplayed to death on just about every radio station known to mankind, I actually still enjoy hearing the song from time to time, so that says a lot about its staying power.

Additionally, the inclusion of keyboardist Craig Frost as an official (and fully credited) band member, is also welcome. Craig appeared as presumably a “guest” on the previous Phoenix album, but here he truly makes his presence known, especially when it comes to his Hammond organ excursions, which are quite impressive overall and seemed to add some energy to the band. And with Craig’s addition, the band strangely sounded quite comparable to Three Dog Night on numerous tracks, especially when it came to Mark’s vocals (which were not too dissimilar from Chuck Negron’s). Plus, when the band added background harmonies, the comparisons between the two groups were almost shocking, especially when compared back to back/side by side.

Nevertheless, despite the praise for the music itself, I still detest the cover art. Sure, when it first appeared in record stores, the cover had a shiny/mirror-esque quality that was “sort of” cool at the time, but now that the album has been re-released dozens of times without that lamination, and in various sizes, the cover just seems about as bland as one can get. Although I did relish the original album’s gold vinyl…ah, the rare colored vinyl…those were the days, huh?  Regardless, the cover sucks big time, which is a crying shame for such a special album.

Now, a final special note—seeking out this album with the bonus tracks included is well worth the effort, especially when it comes to the songs “Hooray” and “The End” (both energetic rockers that easily remind me of the band’s “older days”). Damn, I wish both tracks had been included on the album’s original release, but the time limits regarding vinyl prevented that from happening.

Anyway, to me, this could potentially be considered the band’s masterpiece (or at least, one of them), and (unfortunately) it’s also the band’s last truly great album.

Get The Album Now!

Human Zoo – My Own God (2016)

HumanZoo_MyOwnGod4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This terrific (and sadly obscure) German group has been around for about a decade, and in that time has released four superb albums, this one being the most recent.

When it comes to the music on My Own God (and, frankly, on each of the band’s albums), Human Zoo plays high-powered Hard Rock with beautiful AOR flourishes.

On this particular release, on “One Direction,” “NSA,” and “Love Train,” Human Zoo seems to draw inspiration primarily from its German countrymen, with Scorpions, Pink Cream 69, Jaded Heart, or Bonfire-inspired heavy yet melodic tracks, while at other times (on songs such as “Solitaire,” “Like A Bitch” or “4U”) either Switzerland’s Gotthard or perhaps Finland’s Brother Firetribe seem like chief inspirations.

But the inclusion of the occasional saxophone solo or accents—highly unusual for a band of this nature—on tracks such as “Cry Baby Cry” or “My Own Illusion,” really sets this group apart from the others, adding an unexpected treat. And with the sax and some keyboard-accented AOR-type songs appearing on the album, such as “A Day To Remember,” “Wave Your Flag,” and “Reminds Me Of You,” several North American groups as diverse as Michael Stanley Band or Harem Scarem also spring to mind.

So to me, each Human Zoo album is special—always well-performed and well-produced, with ultra-catchy and melodic riffs and choruses—making each new release by this group an “auto buy.”

Get The Album Now!

Max Webster – Max Webster (1976)

MaxWebster_MaxWebster4 out of 5 Stars!

I adored this fun-loving band from Canada, mainly due to its musical uniqueness and its sometimes-silly image.

In many respects, Max Webster was a straightforward Hard Rock act, but with highly imaginative musicians in its midst, giving the band an Art Rock flair.

One moment a track would be rolling along “normally,” until ace-guitarist Kim Mitchell tossed in a weird riff or guitar tone, or his vocals would take on a manic quality, or some amusing lyrics would appear to tickle the brain. Look no further than the tracks “Hangover,” “Blowing The Blues Away,” and “Summer’s Out” for some fine examples of these traits.

Whereas at other times, just when all seemed “normal” again, keyboardist Terry Watkinson would add strange synth leads or eerie and colorful background washes or creative chord changes to the mix (“Here Among The Cats” or “Summer Turning Blue”), or the rhythm section would plop in some off-time beats or frantic fills (“Coming Off The Moon” or “Only Your Nose Knows”), or the band (in general) would unexpectedly venture into full-on Progressive Rock territory (“Lily”) to turn songs completely upside down.

And sometimes, just plain wackiness ensues, as on the truly crazy track “Toronto Tontos.”

Therefore, because of these “never knowing what to expect” characteristics, Max Webster seemed almost a precursor to groups such as It Bites…a band offering undeniably catchy, mature, and professional music, yet also quite a bit off-the-wall.

And I loved every minute of it!


Get The Album Now!

Badfinger – Straight Up (1971)

Badfinger_StraightUp3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Always (and rather unfairly) compared to The Beatles (generally not a band I ever worshipped—yes, I admit, I’m a Stones fan), largely thanks to the group’s relationship with Apple Records, Badfinger was a band over which I was never overly enamored, although I always respected the group’s occasionally brilliant songwriting skills despite the somewhat-patchy albums. Plus, I sympathized with the group’s professional (legal) tragic circumstances in which Badfinger found itself (management hell—ie. greed) and the horrible personal tragedies that followed, with two of the band members sadly taking their own lives.

Nevertheless, to this day, I occasionally enjoy a few of the band’s early releases, including Straight Up, where (to me) the band’s songwriting skills truly shine. The mega-hit “Baby Blue” is perhaps my favorite single the group ever produced (apart from the excellent “No Matter What” from the previous album), and the melodic “Day After Day” wasn’t too far behind. Both exceptional tracks! The remaining tracks are mostly decent slices of melodic (and often light) Power Pop, with some of them (“Money,” “Suitcase,” and “It’s Over”) seemingly potential hits in their own right.

Additionally, on Straight Up, Badfinger’s third album, the band seemed to truly gel, with finally a welcome cohesiveness regarding its overall sound, style, and instrumentation. If only the band had been allowed to experiment and navigate its own career without the damned continual interference from its “sharky” management and the record company executive demons…ah, well, a sad tale…

Anyway, this is probably my favorite Badfinger album, one I’ve found myself playing on a semi-regular basis in recent years.


Get The Album Now!

Sass Jordan – Racine (1992)

SassJordan_Racine4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Sass Jordan…who, you might ask?

Plainly and simply, Sass is a female version of Rod Stewart, especially on this particular album, a down-and-dirty collection of Blues Rock tracks in the same realm as Faces. Indeed, on the final track “Time Flies,” Sass even sardonically utters the ad-libbed lyrics “Miss Judy…you’re so rude,” thus giving a firm nod to the track “Miss Judy’s Farm” from Faces’s classic A Nod Is as Good as a Wink album.

Regardless, the tracks “You Don’t Have to Remind Me,” the aforementioned “Time Flies,” “Make You a Believer,” “If You’re Gonna Love Me,” and “Cry Baby” are only a handful of the highlights…indeed, each of the eleven tracks is a gem in its own right.

Therefore, for fans of Faces-style rock with some Rod Stewart/Janis Joplin-inspired vocals along with a healthy dose of Kim Carnes, Joanna Dean, and Alannah Myles, grab a copy of this now! This Canadian singer is an undiscovered gem of a vocalist.

Get The Album Now!

Robin Trower – Bridge of Sighs (1974)

Trower_BridgeSighs5 out of 5 Stars!

It’s a rare occurrence for an album to appear on the music scene that truly possesses a unique sound/style (despite some obvious influences). Certainly Robin Trower’s debut solo album from the previous year (Twice Removed From Yesterday) contained his own particular Hendrix-inspired sound/style, but it was 1974’s Bridge of Sighs album that—with its seemingly perfect collection of tracks, its songwriting adroitness, and its overall stellar musical performances and production qualities—not only solidified the group’s sound/style, but also popularized it to the Nth degree.

The album bursts forth with “Day of the Eagle,” a classic track in its own right, loaded with Trower’s “signature guitar sound,” a rollicking rhythm in its first section, then a bluesy laid-back second half, along with a note-perfect performance from James Dewar on vocals, just the sort of track that begs to be played at top volume…and often.

Next comes the hypnotic title track, which has the power to completely mesmerize the listener, making one feel as if they’re floating on a misty river where the water had been replaced by guitar-riff magic. Simply outstanding! The song’s final “chill wind” sound effects lead perfectly into the next track, the stripped-down and mellow “In This Place,” which features perhaps the album’s most beautiful and interesting vocal melody, as well as excellently placed drum fills by Reg Isidore and sparse bass notes by James Dewar, and stunning examples of Trower’s bluesy lead guitar insertions throughout.

The funky “The Fool and Me” and the slamming “Too Rolling Stoned” (both classic gems) are further examples of just what this talented trio of musicians could do with some catchy, upbeat material. Both tracks showcase Robin’s wicked guitar riffs, as the rhythm section energetically pumps away in the background, while Dewar delivers commendable vocal performances in his unique, highly recognizable manner.

As for the remaining tracks, “About To Begin” is another dreamy ballad, while “Lady Love” is a straight-forward and catchy rocker (with cowbell included) and the blues-heavy “Little Bit of Sympathy” offers more guitar brilliance, with Trower delivering that tremendously successful “signature” sound, never sounding so perfectly dissonant and (at times) so wonderfully evil.

Therefore, with not one filler track, this album is nothing short of a 5-Star masterpiece, an album that will forever be embedded in my memory as a true classic—a stunning nostalgic moment based on my initial hearing of the album—which also had major universal consequences (ie. it musically influenced scores of other bands in its wake). So Bridge of Sighs remains, to this day, a truly special and moving experience every single time I hear it, and each repeated listening is one I actually cherish, especially since it (somehow) magically whisks me back to the year 1974 and the feelings of youth. Absolutely brilliant!

Get The Album Now!