Cry Of Love – Brother (1993)

CryOfLove_Brother4.5 out of 5 Stars!

If you will, imagine Robin Trower’s classic Bridge Of Sighs album with a lead vocalist who’s a cross between Paul Rodgers (in bluesy raspiness) and Glenn Hughes (in Stevie Wonder-type funkiness) and you have Cry Of Love. Then again, picture Bad Company (any early albums) or Trapeze (circa the Medusa or You Are The Music… albums) with Robin Trower in the lead guitarist role, and once again you have Cry Of Love. Then again, the band’s Roots-Rock approach also brings to mind other similarly styled groups such as The Black Crowes, Humble Pie, and Free, with even a touch of Southern Rock in the vein of Ram Jam, Brother Cane, and the like.

As a random example of what I’m talking about, I dare anyone to listen to Cry Of Love’s “Bad Thing” and not make a comparison to Bad Company’s classic track “Can’t Get Enough,” especially when it comes to the chorus. Hmmm…wait a moment…”Bad Thing”/Bad Company? A bit eerie, but completely apt.

Anyway, Brother is fun album overall, and along with “Bad Thing,” it contains other exceptional Hard Rock tracks such as the rough ‘n’ tumble opener “Highway Jones,” as well as “Carnival,” “Too Cold in the Winter,” “Peace Pipe,” “Pretty As You Please,” “Drive It Home,” and the slow and bluesy “Saving Grace.”

I actually purchased this CD back when it came out, but as a fluke, a shot in the dark, based only on the fact that it “looked interesting enough” in my BMG Music Club catalogue. I needed to fulfill my purchase agreement with the club, you see, so I took a gamble, ordered the album, and crossed my fingers. Well, considering the type of music crammed onto the CD, I can say I won big!

So for those seeking some gritty and melodic Hard Rock with tasty guitar riffage from Audley Freed (who would end up joining The Black Crowes) and an exceptional vocalist named Kelly Holland (who sadly passed away several years ago), then look no further than Cry Of Love, one of the best bands “no one ever heard of.”

Kelly Holland…RIP.

 

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Free – Free (1969)

Free_Free4 out of 5 Stars!

The legendary band’s self-titled second album, just as solid as its debut release Tons of Sobs earlier that same year, came to be considered another cherished gem by many fans, including myself.

On this release—oh, hell, on just about every single album on which he appears—Paul Rodgers nails each performance, his gruff and emotionally charged voice always laden with drama and angst, and clearly showing why he’s considered one of the best singers in the biz. Not only do the musicians—drummer Simon Kirke, bassist Andy Fraser (RIP), and guitarist Paul Kossoff (RIP)—play their blues-loving hearts out on both the gruff and forceful rockers we well as the laid-back, sometimes-haunting, folk-inspired ballads, but the album also contains a wealth of classic songs in the form of “Broad Daylight,” “Trouble on Double Time,” “Mourning Sad Morning,” “Songs of Yesterday,” and the wonderfully stark “Free Me.” Plus, my two favorite tunes on the album, “I’ll Be Creepin'” and “Woman”—both destined to be admirably covered by Three Dog Night in future years—would have also seemed right at home on any platter by the future Bad Company.

With Rodgers’s soulful wailing, Fraser’s funk-heavy bass, Kirke’s solid percussion, and Kossoff’s tasty guitar riffs and often subtle and heart-rending lead insertions, this highly talented group not only entertained with seeming ease, but simultaneously created a signature sound for itself, one that’s never been perfectly duplicated in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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Free – Fire and Water (1970)

Free_FireWater4 out of 5 Stars!

Fire and Water was the first Free album I ever purchased (back in ’74), based not only on the classic track “All Right Now,” but also because the musical press had started reporting that Paul Rodgers was rumored to be joining up with Deep Purple as a replacement for Ian Gillan. Well, being a die-hard fan of Purple’s yet being completely unfamiliar with Rodgers’s previous work (aside from “All Right Now”), I wanted to see what I might expect on future Purple albums if the rumors proved true.

Well, of course the rumors proved false—Rodgers had actually turned down Deep Purple’s offer in favor of forming Bad Company—yet in my haste to sample Rodgers’s voice, I nevertheless discovered a talented and important band I might not have been prompted to investigate until years later.

But, although I adored Rodgers’s extraordinary vocal gifts upon first hearing this album, I didn’t automatically fall in love with Free itself. You see, apart from that mega-hit song “All Right Now,” along with “Remember,” the opening title track, and the killer “Mr. Big,” with the awesome guitar and bass solos in its middle section, I recall being slightly disappointed by the remainder of the album since I was hoping for even more tracks in a rocking, heavier vein (basically, I’d incorrectly assumed that Fire and Water would be loaded with tracks bathed in the same overall style and energy of “All Right Now”). This seven-song collection, however, seemed somewhat “ballad heavy” overall, way too light for my tastes at the time (remember, I was a die-hard Purple fan) and I listened to it in full only a handful of times before finally shelving it.

But then several years passed, and as my musical tastes broadened and I slowly acquired additional albums by the band—and also became a huge fan of Bad Company—I pulled out the album again. After several additional hearings, I thankfully came to fully appreciate the general “lightness” of the material, the stripped-down and often sparse instrumentation and the beautiful subtleties of songs such as “Heavy Load,” “Don’t Say You Love Me,” and “Oh I Wept, and the stellar yet laid-back performances of each musician.

Now, all these decades later, I consider Fire and Water (as well as Free’s other studio albums) an undeniable classic, with John Kelly’s bare-bones production rather charming and intriguing, making it seem as if the band is performing a live and intimate concert for the listener.

And RIP to both Andy Fraser and Paul Kossoff.

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Diamond Head – Borrowed Time (1982)

DiamondHead_BorrowedTime3.5 out of 5 Stars!

The generally exciting “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” era in the U.K. produced a slew of bands that, whether they fit the genre label or not, somehow got lumped into this category. Many bands (Iron Maiden, Saxon, Angel Witch, Tygers of Pan Tang, etc.) were appropriately categorized, whereas a handful of others (such as Nightwing or Girlschool, for example) seemed sadly mislabeled.

When it came to Diamond Head, another one of the “NWOBHM” groups heavily promoted by magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer at the time, most of the tracks on Borrowed Time easily fit this category (although a few tracks, such as “Don’t You Ever Leave Me”—mainly a Blues-Rock excursion—and “Call Me”—a Hard Rock, almost AOR, attempt at generating a hit single—didn’t quite). And certainly once Diamond Head released its follow-up album, Canterbury, and the majority of the “metalness” had disappeared, the genre label seemed horribly inappropriate.

But as I stated, Borrowed Time did indeed include some actual Heavy Metal that offered great promise for the band’s future (sadly unfulfilled), especially when it came to the songs “Lightning to the Nations,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Borrowed Time,” “To Heaven From Hell,” and the utterly outstanding “Am I Evil?” (later covered by Metallica, and quite commendably, I admit).

So to me, Borrowed Time (Diamond Head’s first “official” major label release) is probably its finest album (not counting the band’s previous 1980 “demo”). The musicianship is generally commendable, with guitarist Brian Tatler displaying great potential, while bassist Colin Kimberly and drummer Duncan Scott do a commendable job with the material. But also note: although on many tracks I rather enjoy Sean Harris’s voice when it comes to his range and timbre, his delivery style did take some getting used to—his tendency to ad lib melody lines where he often ended up all over the map, and his inclination to be too forceful at unexpected moments, occasionally proved frustrating and downright annoying, so “potential listeners/buyers beware.”

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Robin Trower – Victims of the Fury (1980)

Trower_VictimsFury4 out of 5 Stars!

When it comes to Robin Trower’s many releases, in my opinion, there’s never been a better album than Bridge of Sighs. But many of Trower’s numerous releases come a very close second, therefore, if interrogated by another Trower fan, it’s always difficult for me to select another specific favorite since the answer usually changes from day to day, depending on which album I yearn to hear.

Recently, that album has been 1980’s Victims of the Fury, Trower’s seventh studio release, which also features long-standing collaborator, the exceptional singer/bassist James Dewar (RIP), and rock-steady drummer Bill Lordan, and of course, Trower’s outstanding guitar solos and riffs.

Again, the material on offer here is similar to the sound/style of the Bridge of Sighs masterpiece, with bluesy, often funky, and mesmerizing tracks such as “Mad House,” “Roads to Freedom,” “The Shout,” “Jack and Jill,” “Only Time,” and the title tune. In fact, all of the tracks as a whole seemed a step up from the more lackluster fare found on the previous release, Caravan to Midnight, which wasn’t a horrible album by any means, just somewhat mellower and less impactful.

So in my opinion, even though Victims of the Fury doesn’t quite hit that lofty “5-Star” benchmark set by Bridge of Sighs, it sure comes damned close.

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Golden Earring – Golden Earring (1970)

GoldenEarring_GoldenEarring4 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 1970, when the band’s big breakthrough song “Radar Love” wouldn’t even be on the “radar” (sorry, couldn’t resist) for several more years, Golden Earring released a self-titled album (its sixth studio collection overall, I believe), also nicknamed “The Wall of Dolls” based on a song title as well as the bizarre cover art background.

Regardless, this ended up being my favorite period of the band’s lengthy history, before it hit the (relative) “big time” and the albums started sounding a bit overproduced.

Here, the more stripped-down style and the occasionally “darker” atmosphere on tracks such as “I’m Going to Send My Pigeons to the Sky,” “The Loner,” “Back Home,” the mellower “See See,” and the aforementioned “The Wall of Dolls” (which strongly reminds me of The Guess Who, thanks to the instrumentation featuring electric piano and singer Barry Hay’s gruff performance) gives Golden Earring a rough and youthful edge. The mostly guitar-driven, Blues-based Hard Rock with a touch of Psychedelic Rock, even Prog-Rock ala Jethro Tull (thanks to the trickier song arrangements and the inclusion of flute mixed with acoustic and electric guitar on “Yellow and Blue” and “Big Tree, Blue Sea”), along with a hungry, almost rebellious “punk” attitude, especially from vocalist Hay, pervaded the vinyl grooves and proved both entertaining and enchanting.

Thankfully, Golden Earring continued on with this particular style/attitude for two additional albums, 1971’s Seven Tears and 1972’s Together, which I also continue to enjoy on a regular basis. And with the arrival of drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, this album is the first to feature Golden Earring’s classic and endurable line-up of musicians, which not only makes it a definite milestone, but also marks the beginning of the band’s most satisfying era to my ears.

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The J. Geils Band – Live! Blow Your Face Out (1976)

JGeils_LiveBlowYourFaceOut4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Live! Blow Your Face Out is easily one of my favorite live albums of all time, displaying Boston’s The J. Geils Band at its peak and in its true element, rockin’ out and funkin’ out to an adoring audience.

On high-energy versions of songs such as “Musta Got Lost,” “So Sharp,” “Love-Itis,” “Southside Shuffle,” “Detroit Breakdown,” “Back to Get Ya,” “(Ain’t Nothing’ but A) Houseparty,” the haunting “Chimes,” and of course, the hit “Give It to Me,” you can practically hear the perspiration trickling from the foreheads of all band members to the stage as they dish out classic after classic of soulful R&B tracks, with each instrument, especially Magic Dick’s spectacular harmonica, wailing up a storm. And all the while, singer Peter Wolf uses his exceptional skills as a former DJ to rile up the crowd into a frenzy between each song, making for nothing short of a huge and rip-roaring affair.

Nope, there ain’t nothing but a house party here, and done the J. Geils way. Simply electric!

(RIP to Mr. J. Geils himself…the world is gonna miss you!)

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Nazareth – No Mean City (1979)

Nazareth_NoMeanCity4 out of 5 Stars!

No Mean City is one of my favorite Nazareth albums—the band’s tenth studio release, if memory serves me correctly. This is also the first Nazareth album to include Zal Cleminson, the guitar hero of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, who injected a boost of energy into the band, not only contributing his songwriting chops, but adding his distinctive guitar tones to the proceedings and finally giving Nazareth that dual-guitar punch I felt it needed.

Unlike most (if not all) previous Nazareth albums, no outside songwriters were used for No Mean City—the group reworked no “cover tunes”—and includes not only some sterling kick-ass rockers such as the opener “Just to Get Into It,” but also “Simple Solution (Parts 1 & 2),” “Claim to Fame,” “What’s in It for Me,” and the brutal “No Mean City (Parts 1 & 2),” but also the track “Star,” probably the finest ballad Nazareth ever recorded.

Moreover, the album features my best-loved Nazareth cover art of all time, thanks to artist Rodney Matthews, which clearly gives a hint as to the killer material on offer.

Though perhaps not as perfect as previous Nazareth collections such as Hair of the Dog or (my favorite) Razamanaz, the power and consistency of material on No Mean City easily matches that of other top-tier albums such as the previous Loud ‘n’ Proud, Play ‘n’ The Game, and Expect No Mercy, making this one another gem in the band’s vast catalogue.

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Buffalo – Dead Forever (1972)

Buffalo_DeadForever4 out of 5 Stars!

Although perhaps not as memorable as the band’s second album Volcanic Rock (reviewed previously on this blog), Buffalo’s debut still remains a strong introduction to this gang of hard-hitting Australian blues rockers.

On Dead Forever, the guitar work is wonderfully heavy yet melodic, reminding me of a cross between early Wishbone Ash, Cream, Flower Travellin’ Band, and Mountain (while one of the two vocalists sounds almost like Kenny Stewart from Dirty Tricks).

Of the eight tracks on this album, the band includes two covers, the first being “Pay My Dues” by Blues Image (from that band’s Open album), and the other being a terrific Heavy Psych version of “I’m A Mover” by Free (originally included on its Tons of Sobs debut), which Buffalo rearranged, then toyed with various rhythms and extended the running time past the ten-minute mark, making the track seem like a completely different tune. Meanwhile, John Baxter’s wild guitar rules the roost, his solos and riffs on tunes such as “Bean Stew,” “Leader,” “Forest Rain,” “Ballad of Irving Frank,” and the boogieing title track make for an enjoyable affair. Again, Dead Forever isn’t nearly as hard-hitting as the next album in the band’s catalogue, but the memorable, well-performed riffs and driving rhythms are fairly impressive and offer plenty of hints of what will come next.

Were this album released in today’s market, it would certainly be labeled as “Stoner Rock,” and the description would be quite appropriate.

A shame the cover art is ugly as hell, though—indeed, all five of Buffalo’s covers were rather putrid—but don’t let that stop you from investigating this talented group, especially its first three albums.

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Humble Pie – Smokin’ (1972)

HumblePie_Smokin4 out of 5 Stars!

Give me a dose of Steve Marriott’s raspy and raucous and rampaging vocals soaring over slamming Hard “Boogie” Rock and I’ll always be happy.

On the band’s fifth release, Humble Pie was at the top of its game, offering up some classic and (yes, I have to say it) smokin’ tracks, such as “Hot ‘n’ Nasty,” “C’mon Everybody,” “The Fixer,” “Road Runner,” and “30 Days in the Hole,” with the diminutive Marriott flexing his gigantic “vocal muscles” and belting out a storm over Clem Clempson’s heavy and sizzling guitar riffs, and the formidable team of bassist Gregg Ridley and drummer Jerry Shirley never sounding tighter or more thundering.

Smokin’ was a perfect example of a hungry band unafraid to add elements of Folk, Soul, and Funk into its overall solid Blues-Rock foundation to add tasty variety and further expand its sound.

Humble Pie is one band I wish could have lasted forever and ever and ever with this line-up of musicians, who really jived as a cohesive team…but alas, it ended all too soon.

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