Mott – Shouting & Pointing (1976)

Mott_Shouting5 out of 5 Stars!

After legendary Mott The Hoople lost Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson, then found a replacement vocalist in Nigel Benjamin and a keen guitarist in Ray Majors, the revised lineup shortened its name to simply Mott and released the album Drive On to mixed reviews. I, for one, thought the album rather disjointed, with some truly brilliant fare mixed with way too many hackneyed moments, but nevertheless showing the quintet’s potential.

The following year, however, after finding its “musical legs” with the new band members, Mott returned with Shouting & Pointing. Not only did that potential displayed on the debut album come to fruition, but far exceeded all of my initial expectations.

In my eyes, Shouting & Pointing is a lost and (mostly) forgotten gem, 5 Stars all the way!

The A Side is a perfect collection of tunes, from the bombastic “Shouting and Pointing,” to the rocking “Collision Course” and “Storm,” to the outstanding ballad “Career (No Such Thing as Rock ‘n’ Roll).” On these four tracks alone, Nigel Benjamin shows his true talent, his vocals sassy and sneering and soaring, while Ray Major also displays his chops with some expert riffs, fills, and power chords. Morgan Fisher’s piano excursions were never more awesome, while the long-standing rhythm team of bassist Overend Watts and drummer Dale “Buffin” Griffin kicked butt in the same tight and driving tradition as they did in “Hoople.”

And the B Side is pretty damned good also, and a bit more diverse. With Overend Watts taking control of the microphone, “Hold On, You’re Crazy” kicks off the proceedings, reminding me of the tune “Born Late ’58,” which he wrote and also sung on MTH’s The Hoople album. “See You Again” is a sparse and catchy rocker with wonderfully tasty and countrified guitar fills likening back to Major’s previous group Hackensack, whereas the rip-roaring “Too Short Arms (I Don’t Care)” is pure Mott The Hoople, with a slightly out-of-tune piano tinkling throughout, giving the impression of the band performing in a smoky pub in some hidden corner of London. “Broadside Outcasts” is the strangest song, a tune that, thanks to the chord patterns during the bridge and the overall instrumentation, partially seemed destined to become another teenage-rebel anthem similar to those written by David Bowie for Mott The Hoople such as “All The Young Dudes” or “Drive-In Saturday” (the latter was offered to MTH, but the band oddly turned it down), but the chorus kicks in with tongue-in-cheek vocal silliness and turns the song completely topsy-turvy. And finally, the band recorded a rousing version of Vanda/Young’s “Good Times” to close out the album, which easily blows the original version by The Easybeats to smithereens.

It’s a crying shame that Mott broke up shortly after releasing this album (or rather, it lost Nigel Benjamin and replaced him with John Fiddler, ultimately becoming British Lions). With Shouting & Pointing proving exactly what this lineup could accomplish, I had prayed Mott would stay together forever.

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The Brecker Brothers – The Brecker Bros. (1975)

BreckerBros_14 out of 5 Stars!

Randy Brecker’s time with the original line-up of Blood, Sweat & Tears proved short-lived unfortunately, and I heard nothing more significant from this talented trumpeter until he joined up with brother Michael (sax) in another fleeting group called Dreams (which also included ace drummer Billy Cobham).

Eventually, however, the siblings found a more permanent gig for themselves by forming The Brecker Brothers, which released its first album back in ’75.

Certainly initial comparisons to Blood, Sweat & Tears are understandable, but instead of sticking to strictly Jazz-Rock, the band also injected a healthy dose of Funk into its overall style. Heck, the vigorous and buoyant opening track is called “Some Skunk Funk”—which lives up to its name, by the way—and other flamboyant ditties such as “Twilight,” “Rocks,” “A Creature of Many Faces,” and “Sneakin’ Up Behind You” occasionally toss more Funk influences into the sophisticated song arrangements, although often blended with Jazz, Soul, and even Progressive Rock due to their general complexity. Thus, the debut album by The Brecker Brothers becomes almost a melding of Blood, Sweat & Tears with Tower of Power, only a mostly instrumental version of such.

Regardless, this debut, featuring—as one would expect—an impressive blaring-and-blazing horn section (the brothers along with the legendary David Sanborn on alto sax), plus a stunning array of Jazz-oriented backing musicians, is a thoroughly energetic and enjoyable affair, not only for “brass enthusiasts” like myself, but also for those who delight in often-intricate Jazz-Fusion material.

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Flash – Flash (1972)

Flash_14 out of 5 Stars!

Okay, Prog-Rock fans, think back—which of you, when hearing the track “Small Beginnings” for the very first time, thought it was a song by Yes?

If you raised your hand, you are certainly not alone. I distinctly remember, the day after catching the song on the radio, I headed to my local record store to hunt for a Yes album including that song title, then when finding none, being informed by the friendly, all-knowing shop-owner that the song in question was by a new group named Flash instead.

Well, at least I didn’t feel so naive once I subsequently learned that both guitarist Peter Banks and keyboardist Tony Kaye (both original members of Yes) were included in the band’s ranks. And with bassist Ray Bennett often mimicking the playing technique of Chris Squire, and singer Colin Carter having a range, timbre, and delivery style similar to Jon Anderson’s, no wonder Flash had a nearly identical character as Yes on “Small Beginnings,” enough so that the band had completely fooled me and many other Yes fans, I’m sure.

Anyway, although Flash’s self-titled debut has that undeniable Yes-stamp, the band did manage to add numerous touches of its own on tunes such as the mellower “Morning Haze” and “The Time It Takes,” as well as on the longer, more elaborate “Children of the Universe” and the thirteen-minute “Dreams of Heaven.”

Flash released two additional albums in quick succession, each bearing a slight drop in quality, before vanishing (until recently, that is, although I have not heard the 2013 release by the revamped version of the group featuring Carter and Bennett). Regardless, this is my favorite Flash album and recommended for devotees of—that’s right, you guessed it—Yes.

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Time Horizon – Transitions (2015)

TimeHoizon_Transitions4 out of 5 Stars!

Like this talented California band’s debut album Living Water, Transitions is another engaging foray into Progressive Rock territory with Pomp-Rock keyboards and a strong AOR influence, especially when it comes to the beautiful melodies and some of the song arrangements included.

And singer Bruce Gaetke has a highly emotive voice for such an often-difficult task of cohesively linking the various genre styles. Indeed, Time Horizon’s material isn’t too far afield from the more commercial Steve Walsh-era Kansas tracks (those primarily found on albums such as Monolith, Audio-Visions, Power, etc.). And like Asia and its offshoot group GPS, bands I sometimes consider more Pomp-Rock than Prog-Rock thanks to the rich, layered keyboards and the more straightforward song arrangements, Time Horizon attempts the same balancing act between genres and does so with practiced ease on songs such as “You’re All I Need,” “Prisoner, and “Only Today,” to name but a few.

Therefore, this album should most certainly appeal to many fans of the aforementioned bands, as well as groups such as Magnum, Saga, Kerry Livgren/AD, Prophet, White Heart, Hybrid Ice, Styx, and Nightwing, acts that often included healthy portions of both Prog-Rock and Pomp-Rock into the occasionally AOR-styled material.

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