Jeff Beck Group – Rough And Ready (1971)

JeffBeck_RoughReady4 out of 5 Stars!

After his original band (with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood) fell apart, and after he recovered from a horrible car accident, legendary guitarist Jeff Beck eventually reformed his group with a whole new lineup of musicians, including the fantastic Cozy Powell (RIP) on drums and the underrated vocalist Bobby Tench. The new incarnation released two albums, with Rough and Ready being the first.

Whereas the Rod Stewart-era of the band featured mainly Blues influences, Rough and Ready drew more heavily on Beck’s fondness for Jazz and Funk instead, with gifted pianist Max Middleton and dexterous bassist Clive Chaman also included in the revised team and perfectly aiding the effort on tracks such as “Got the Feeling,” “I’ve Been Used,” “Situation,” “New Ways Train Train,” and “Max’s Tune.” And whether on the bustling and buoyant “Short Business” or the more dynamic and laid-back epic “Jody,” Beck shreds on guitar, his style instantly and wonderfully distinct in the rock ‘n’ roll universe. It’s no wonder he went on to influence thousands of future guitar players throughout the decades.

Although when this album first appeared, I remember how a lot of long-time Beck fans didn’t fully relish the band’s new direction. I, however, welcomed it, feeling that Beck and his highly skilled cohorts had created a unique Hard Rock style that no other group I know has truly duplicated. To me, Rough and Ready (and the band’s self-titled follow up album in 1972) is a rather overlooked and underappreciated classic.

Note: I also quite enjoyed the even jazzier/funkier Hummingbird, the band formed several years later by Tench, Middleton, and Chaman with a different guitarist and drummer.


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Journey – Look Into the Future (1976)

Journey_LookFuture4 out of 5 Stars!

Before the group hired Steve Perry and became mega-stars of the AOR/Arena-Rock genre, Journey was a band struggling to find a unique sound. The first album leaned toward a Prog-Rock style, with each of the two subsequent albums becoming more commercial. Look Into the Future, the band’s second, seemed a nice marriage between both styles.

Side A is more Hard Rock and AOR-oriented (and includes catchy tracks such as “On A Saturday Nite” and “She Make Me Feel Alright”—you can easily imagine Steve Perry singing these tunes).

Side B, however, contains only three lengthier, more Prog-oriented tunes, including the hypnotic title track, the almost Santana-esque “Midnight Dreamer,” and “I’m Gonna Leave You,” which features killer guitar and keyboard soloing, a slamming rhythm section, and odd time signatures, which helped to make this my favorite among the original trio of pre-Perry albums.

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Jefferson Starship – Dragon Fly (1974)

Starship_Dragonfly4 out of 5 Stars!

I find that 1974’s Dragon Fly is a rather underrated and occasionally forgotten platter, probably not too surprising considering it was one of the “transition” albums between two bands, Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship. After Paul Kantner’s “project” concept album Blows Against The Empire, which included Airplane alumni, four years passed before he recruited some additional musicians to release Dragon Fly, updating the band’s overall sound.

To me, this album is one of Jefferson Starship’s best, with the songs “That’s For Sure” and the rollicking title track—quickly to become a stable on FM radio stations—not only displaying the power of the revamped group’s trademarked gang vocals, but also the true potential of guitarist Craig Chaquico and violinist Papa John Creach. The melodic playing of bassist Pete Sears, creating a formidable rhythmic team with drummer John Barbata, proved highly impressive, while Grace Slick’s vocal performances on tracks such as “Devils Den,” “Hyperdrive” and “Be Young You” providing (as usual) the essential chills of excitement.

But it’s Marty Balin’s captivating “guest appearance” on the exceptional track “Caroline,” with Grace performing her stellar ad-libbed background vocals, that created the magic and most likely inspired the group to continue forward with Balin included in the permanent line-up, and eventually, to mega-success with its next album, the classic Red Octopus.

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Jane – Together (1972)

Jane_Together3.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Hannover, Germany, Jane introduced itself to the world with Together, a six-song collection that featured a fairly decent merging of blues-inspired Hard Rock and rather “jamming style” Progressive Rock, not unlike other Krautrock groups of the early ’70s, including Birth Control, Gomorrha, Eloy, Frumpy, Epitaph, etc.

The balance between guitar and Hammond is rather even, with no one instrument truly dominating the overall proceedings, and the interchange between guitarist Klaus Hess and keyboardist Werner Nodalny is one of the band’s strengths. As a fan of these merged aforementioned genres might expect, the three shorter tracks (“Wind,” “Try To Find,” and “Together”) are more straightforward Hard Rock, whereas the longer tunes (“Daytime,” “Spain,” and “Hangman”) display Jane’s mild flirtation with a Progressive Rock style, where Psychedelic touches also infiltrate.

Note, I said “mild flirtation” since the band would further develop and include Prog touches more often on future albums, whereas on this debut, with mostly simple chord patterns, nothing too adventurous being performed, the Prog-Rock factors are less commanding, reminiscent of how other principally Hard Rock groups such as early Lucifer’s Friend, Mountain, or Wishbone Ash, for example, also toyed with the Prog-Rock genre.

Regardless, Together proved a fairly solid introduction to Jane, giving hints of even better things to come.

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Jack Yello – Xeric (2009)

JackYello_Xeric4.5 out of 5 Stars!

On Xeric, its second and (unfortunately) final album, Germany’s Jack Yello successfully replicates the original Marillion sound, only with an updated/heavier style when it comes to the guitar and rhythm section.

Be that as it may, lead vocalist Dirk “Bovie” Bovensiepen is often strikingly similar to Fish when it comes to his tone, delivery, and accent, so fans of early Marillion platters will likely enjoy this high-quality collection of Neo-Prog tracks as much as I do.

Sadly, Jack Yello seems to have fallen off the radar, but if the band is still indeed an active entity, I sincerely hope this talented lot creates more material of this nature for future release.

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James Gang – Yer’ Album (1969)

JamesGang_YerAlbum3.5 out of 5 Stars!

The debut album from James Gang is perhaps best remembered for being the platter that brought guitarist Joe Walsh and his instantly recognizable voice to the attention of Hard Rock audiences.

Maybe not as focused as the band’s future releases due to the diversity of musical styles included, with the performances occasionally a tad “loose” and some short, silly, and irritating “studio” bits breaking up the flow, Yer’ Album does contain a slew of enjoyable material nonetheless, such as the songs “Take a Look Around,” “Lost Woman,” “Collage,” and the rollicking “Funk #48.”

Although it’s not my favorite overall collection of tracks from James Gang (I actually prefer the albums during the “Tommy Bolin era” half a decade later), this release is still considered a Hard Rock classic by many, and rightfully so.

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Jeseter – Siddhartha (2016)

Jeseter_Siddhartha4 out of 5 Stars!

Hailing from the Czech Republic, the highly talented Jeseter is a “new discovery” for me, but from what I’ve learned, the group (that started life as a “Yes tribute” band, of all things) has released a trio of albums since 2008, with 2016’s Siddhartha being the most recent.

On this collection, the often-complex music, featuring numerous tempo changes, varied song segments, and imaginative instrumentation with the periodic inclusion of everything from violin to brass to harmonica, contains a wide mixture of Prog-Rock influences. Of course, considering the band’s origins, I was expecting music in a similar vein as Yes. Instead, what I hear are nods to classic groups such as Gentle Giant, Colosseum, and PFM, as well as tips of the hat to more modern acts such as IQ, Spock’s Beard, and The Flower Kings, with oddly very little in the way of “Yes comparisons.” Additionally, some fierce jazzy sections, especially when brass is included, aren’t too far afield from music found on albums by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

As I said earlier, imaginative instrumentation abounds here, making for an enjoyable Prog-Rock experience.

Also, one final note to fans of the genre who may investigate Jeseter—unlike the group’s first two albums, the song titles associated with Siddhartha are listed in English, whereas the lyrics are actually sung in the band’s native language like on the previous albums, so anyone tempted to purchase this release and expecting English lyrics shouldn’t be surprised. Regardless, whatever language is used, the band remains a gifted and creative lot, full of great promise.

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Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses (1978)

JethroTull_HeavyHorses4 out of 5 Stars!

After Jethro Tull’s “classic period” that ended with Minstrel in the Gallery, the band (to me) turned more “rustic,” softening its blues-inspired Hard Rock edge and putting a heavier emphasis on Folk-oriented tracks, although many still with Progressive tendencies.

At the time, I was not overly thrilled with the change in direction and prayed for another Thick as a Brick or Aqualung, but as the years passed, Tull’s music from the late-’70’s era eventually grew on me, and the trio of albums where this new rustic style is most prevalent (Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch) have actually become some of my favorites by the band.

On this album, with imaginative tunes such as “And The Mouse Police Never Sleeps,” “Rover,” “No Lullaby,” “Journeyman,” and the lengthy title tune, not to mention the excessively catchy “Moths,” “One Brown Mouse,” and “Acres Wild” included, I find myself playing Heavy Horses quite often and now celebrate Jethro Tull’s diversity throughout its lengthy career.

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Elton John – Madman Across the Water (1971)

EltonJohn_Madman4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although I was never a huge fan of Elton John’s “mid-seventies and after” career once he transformed himself into the flamboyant, glammy-glasses, boas and feathers, and platform-wearing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Liberace,” I did enjoy several of his earliest unpretentious and lighter piano-featured releases, especially his fourth studio effort, Madman Across the Water. Talk about capturing lightning in a bottle, where every aspect of the songwriting process, performances, and production seem blessed with musical magic.

Most of the tracks on this album are absolutely haunting—due not only to John’s engaging melodies and Bernie Taupin’s thoughtful, creative lyrics, but also to the overall musicianship from those involved, including Paul Buckmaster’s undervalued orchestrations—and they continue to hold a certain majesty even to this day.

Songs such as the title track, along with “Tiny Dancer,” “Indian Summer,” “Levon,” “Rotten Peaches,” “Razor Face,” and the poignantly stark “Goodbye” are simply mesmerizing, making Madman Across the Water near perfect in my eyes, and it undoubtedly remains one of Elton John’s most enduring releases, a true classic.

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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson – Thick as a Brick 2: Whatever Happened to Gerald Bostock? (2012)

JethroTull_ThickBrick24.5 out of 5 Stars!

How can a band/musician follow up a masterpiece of an album? And would a band/musician even dare to attempt such a chore? Well, many have indeed tried, and sadly, a large majority have failed.

But as for this “sequel” to Thick as a Brick, well, it’s not a failure in the least. Indeed, it’s quite excellent overall, and Ian Anderson (main-man of Jethro Tull) was not only courageous in his attempt, but should be enthusiastically commended for his efforts.

Now, the big question…is the sequel as wonderful as the original?

No, unfortunately not, no 5-Star release. How could one reasonably expect this sequel to be as fantastic? Nevertheless, this collection of tracks is certainly a well-above-average release in the world of Prog-Rock, at least a 4.5 Star album, and even though the rest of the Jethro Tull band (especially Martin Barre) is not included on this release, Ian comes damned close in duplicating the “original band sound,” nearly replicating the style/tones and even the production of the masterpiece album in question.

It’s been too damned long for a new Tull album, especially one reminiscent of the sound/style of the band during its “classic period,” so this Ian Anderson solo release was a welcome addition to my collection of “Tull albums,” despite the different name credited on the cover, and it could very well fit into the band’s back catalogue.


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