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.

Get The Album Now!

Puzzle – Puzzle (1973)

Puzzle_14 out of 5 Stars!

Is there anyone besides me who remembers this group? When hunting through my album collection not long ago, I yanked out the two platters by an extremely obscure band from Chi-town named Puzzle.

Now, I hadn’t heard these albums for decades, yet the moment I reviewed the song titles listed on the back covers, snippets of “tune memories” immediately raced through my mind and I itched to revisit these collections again.

Now, despite the band including a horn section, a rarity in and of itself, Puzzle truly offered nothing revolutionary in the Jazz-Rock/Jazz Fusion world. Indeed, the band sounded remarkably like Chicago, even featuring a lead singer (the band’s drummer) with a voice similar to Robert Lamm’s. Although since Puzzle did not include a trombonist, but two trumpeters and a sax player, the brass section is thinner—not as round or as full without the trombone—setting it apart from Chicago’s signature brass sound. Plus, groups such as Chicago, Ides of March, Blood, Sweat & Tears, and Chase had already been around for several years before Puzzle popped onto the scene, so again, the band offered nothing truly unique.

Still, the band had potential, and on its debut album, produced catchy, well-arranged material featuring wailing brass such as “On With the Show,” “You Make Me Happy,” “It’s Not the Last Time,” “Brand New World,” “Lady,” “Suite Delirium,” and the intriguing instrumental “The Grosso.”

Personally, I prefer Puzzle’s self-titled debut since the sophomore effort (boringly christened The Second Album) had a lesser emphasis on the brass instruments, yet Jazz-Rock lovers (especially those who enjoyed Chicago’s earliest albums and songs in the style of “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is,” “Saturday in the Park,” or “Beginnings”) will likely find some satisfying material on either platter (both of which appeared, oddly enough, on the Motown label).

Get The Album Now!

Lucifer’s Friend – Banquet (1974)

LucifersFriend_Banquet4.5 out of 5 Stars!

In 1974, Germany’s Lucifer’s Friend made the biggest, most jarring change in style yet. The Banquet album is a full-out foray into Jazz-Rock territory with the use of a brass section throughout. Hell, it’s basically Lucifer’s Friend meets Blood, Sweat & Tears.

To be perfectly honest, I hated the album at the time I purchased it, about a year after its release. The cover was so misleading, showing the band members, all dressed in black with their hook-handed mascot nearby, sitting at a banquet table in a gloomy Dracula-like castle, so I fully expected a return to the Heavy Metal sound of the cherished debut album, of which I was still so enamored.

Therefore, this foray into Jazz-Rock was a total shock to the system (and to my record needle) and everything just rubbed me the wrong way. Indeed, it took me three decades of letting the album sit on the shelf before I once again dared to give it another listen.

And what do you think happened? I’ll be damned, but I actually loved it.

Indeed, Banquet is now one of my favorite albums by the band, mostly due to two specific tracks, both masterpieces: “Spanish Galleon” and “Sorrow,” both of the songs surpassing the eleven-minute mark and being absolutely the best vocal performances John Lawton ever delivered on vinyl. The high-octane performances by the rest of the band (guitarist Peter Hesslein, keyboardist Peter Hecht, bassist Dieter Horns, and drummer Herbert Bornhold) shine through also, with the energetic instrumentation, complex arrangements, and wickedly wild horn section just adding to the treat.

So savor the Banquet provided by Lucifer’s Friend, one of the most amazing and diverse bands to have ever existed…

Get The Album Now!

Blood, Sweat & Tears – New Blood (1972)

BST_NewBlood4.5 out of 5 Stars!

After David Clayton-Thomas abandoned his post as lead vocalist, Blood, Sweat & Tears thankfully ventured onward, recruiting new vocalist Jerry Fisher (with his whiskey-soaked raspy voice) and several additional musicians (bringing the band to a ten-piece), including fantastic players such as Swedish guitarist Georg Wadenius, keyboardist Larry Willis, and sax player Lou Marini (destined for The Blues Brothers and “Saturday Night Live” band fame).

The album’s title, New Blood, says it all, with the band injecting some stunningly fresh energy and even more Jazz-Rock/Prog-Rock inspirations into its overall sound. Although the album included no blockbuster singles, tracks such as “Down in the Flood,” “Alone,” “Over The Hill,” along with the minor hits “So Long Dixie” and “I Can’t Move No Mountains,” simply blazed with BS&T’s signature horns and brimmed with jazzy rhythms, while the band’s rollicking version of Gerry Goffin/Carole King’s “Snow Queen” merged with Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” with Georg Wadenius delivering one of his unique “dual guitar/vocal” solos, proved to be a savory marriage of Jazz-Rock-Prog at its best.

Although changes in band personnel would quickly follow (it did after each new BS&T album, truth be told), this album also began one of the group’s most exciting and creative periods when it came to its outstanding brass arrangements, both its own songwriting and selection of cover tunes, and the merging of Jazz, Prog, and Hard Rock influences, with the next platter, No Sweat, being more of the same experimental concoction, but even jazzier.

Just as a quick aside…in 1973, when in eighth grade, one of my classmates and I gleefully dove into the Blood, Sweat & Tears back catalogue during our endless quest for more music to absorb. Learning of this, my teacher and his wife, also extremely fond of this group, invited both my friend and I to see the band perform at their former college in Chicago. We attended the concert (part of the tour for the next album, No Sweat)—my very first concert by a “professional band”—and of course, I was enamored. After the show, while walking past the side “alleyway” of the auditorium, I happened to notice the band actually leaving the building to get on their bus—and with no other fans in sight. Well, being bold (and a rabid music-lover), I raced down the alleyway to meet them, much to the confusion and shock of my friend, our teacher, and his wife. But I ignored their frantic calls for me to return to them and proceeded to meet the band, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. I also recall which band members joyfully shook the hand of a thirteen-year-old budding musician & music enthusiastic and talked to me, and I also recall which band members did not.  Anyway, it was a special moment in my life (imprinted in my brain), so “Thank You” all these many decades later to vocalist Jerry Fisher, guitarist Georg Wadenius, trombonist Dave Bargeron, drummer Bobby Colomby, and bassist Jim Fielder, who spent several minutes happily answering my eager questions and making this particular fan feel special. Oh, and “Thanks But No Thanks” to the other band members who turned up their noses and gave me the stink eye.  🙂

Get The Album Now!

Lucifer’s Friend – An Overview

LucifersFriend_revisedAlbums In My Collection

– Awakening
– Banquet
– I’m Just A Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer
– Good Time Warrior
– Lucifer’s Friend
– Mean Machine
– Mind Exploding
– Sneak Me In
– Sumo Grip
– Too Late To Hate
– Where The Groupies Killed The Blues

An Overview

Lucifer’s Friend is probably one of the most unique bands in rock’s history, seeing that, early in their career, they kept altering their style with each new album.

Formed in Germany back in 1970, they blasted onto the scene with their debut Lucifer’s Friend album, which made quite a few future metal-heads sit up and take notice (I certainly did when I first heard the album a few years later). The album featured wickedly heavy guitar and Hammond organ, driving rhythms, and a wide-ranged English singer by the name of John Lawton who possessed an instantly recognizable voice and could belt out the tunes (including producing killer screams) in a style similar to both Ian Gillan (Deep Purple) and Dave Byron (Uriah Heep). And like those other singers, I consider John Lawton one of my favorite rock singers of all time. On this album, the band chose to also deliver eight tracks in the style of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, only with darker, more eerie undertones (probably to fit the name of the band and to match the bloody, sinister-looking cover featuring their hook-handed mascot…a cover that gave me nightmares, therefore I loved it, of course). To my mind, this is probably one of the best early metal albums in history, rivaling Purple’s In Rock and Heep’s Look At Yourself albums, and today, it’s considered a classic Krautrock album. It’s probably one of the best albums I bought in my earliest days of collecting records (and at full import price) way back in the 70s. A perfect 5-Star affair if I’ve ever heard one! Unfortunately, the band never produced another album with the exact same sound.

Instead, they decided to make the first of many changes to come when, in 1972, they released their second album, Where The Groupies Killed The Blues. Here, the band abandoned the Deep Purple/Uriah Heep Hammond-heavy metal of their debut in favor of tunes with more complicated arrangements, the addition of piano & synths, acoustic guitar, strings, etc. and many of the tracks have serious Progressive-Rock tendencies. The abrupt change in sound was jarring to many listeners, including myself, but the album was quite good nevertheless, and although it took some getting used to, it eventually grew on me.

The third album a year later saw yet another change in style. I’m Just A Rock ‘N’ Roll Singer is (for the most part) less complex, more straight-forward hard rock on many tracks, some jazzy influences on others, and a few off-the-wall songs tossed in that definitely lean toward Prog-Rock.

Then, in 1974, the band made the biggest, most jarring change in style yet. The Banquet album is a full-out foray into Jazz-Rock territory with the use of a brass section throughout. Hell, it’s basically Lucifer’s Friend meets Blood, Sweat & Tears. To be honest, I hated the album at the time. The cover was so misleading, showing the band, all dressed in black with their hook-handed mascot nearby, sitting at a banquet table in a gloomy Dracula-like castle, so I fully expected a return to the sound of the cherished debut album, of which I was still so enamored. Therefore, this foray into Jazz-Rock was a total shock to the system (and to my record needle) and everything just rubbed me the wrong way. Indeed, it took me three decades of letting the album sit on the shelf before I once again dared to give it another listen. And what do you think happened? I’ll be damned, but I actually loved it. Indeed, it’s now one of my favorite albums by the band, mostly due to two specific tracks: “Spanish Galleon” and “Sorrow,” both of the songs surpassing the eleven-minute mark and being absolutely the best vocal performances John Lawton ever delivered on vinyl. The rest of the band shines through also, with the energetic instrumentation, complex arrangements, and wickedly wild horn section just adding to the treat.

Then in 1976, the band’s next album Mind Exploding appeared. Thankfully, I remembered thinking at the time, it was yet another shift in style, this time a mixture of Heavy Rock with Jazz-Rock again included on several tracks, and with enough complicated arrangements so that it could probably be semi-classified as Prog-Rock, at least on a handful of tracks. This album grabbed me immediately, and it still remains another huge favorite of mine.

Shortly afterward, something unthinkable happened in the Rock World. Uriah Heep fired their original, long-time singer Dave Byron. But, no shock to me, they offered the job of replacing him to John Lawton. I felt him the perfect choice for Heep, since John’s voice could sound eerily similar to Dave Byron’s. But how would Lawton leaving Lucifer’s Friend affect the band? Would they continue?

Thankfully, they did, and yes, you guessed it, they had another change in style. For the albums Good Time Warrior (1978) and Sneak Me In (1980), the band hired singer Mike Starrs (Colosseum II), who had a voice occasionally similar to John Lawton’s, so that didn’t seem too troubling for me. And for once, the band adopted a similar style two albums in a row, this one more Hard Rock with AOR. And although these albums typically get rated low at various music-review websites, I have no problem with them. In fact, Sneak Me In is quite commendable in my eyes, with many of the songs on offer having memorable melodies. And on both albums, the musicians gave solid performances. Therefore, two decent albums that never got the plaudits they deserved.

Then, a year later, John Lawton left Uriah Heep, and where did he go? Sure enough, he returned to Lucifer’s Friend, replacing Mike Starrs, and once again the band altered their sound. On Mean Machine (1981) they returned with a harder rocking album again, not nearly as heavy as their debut release, but the heaviest album they’d produced in more than a decade. Unfortunately, the album wasn’t well-received and, eventually, the band called it quits. Temporarily, of course.

In 1994, I was shocked to learn of a brand new album from the band, this one named Sumo Grip (and released under the name Lucifer’s Friend II). And with good reason, since several of the long-standing musicians didn’t return for the reunion. John Lawton, however, did return, lending his vocal genius to the tracks, this time more in an lighter, AOR vein. Although the album is quite decent in some respects, I truly find it their weakest work of all. And that seemed to be the end of the band again.

But…

I’ll be damned, but in 2015, twenty-one years after that last album, the band has once again reformed, releasing a “best of” compilation album Awakening, which actually included four newly recorded tracks featuring John Lawton behind the microphone and a return to the Hard Rock style.

And blessing of all blessings, in 2016, a brand new, full-length album called Too Late to Hate emerged, with the band’s sound falling stylistically somewhere between the magnificent debut album and Mean Machine, Hard Rock bordering on Heavy Metal. In truth, this is one of Lucifer’s Friend’s strongest efforts since the early days, and it immediately found a place for itself among the Top 5 of my all-time favorites within the band’s catalogue of releases. Lawton’s voice is still recognizable, pristine, and emotionally charged, although he no longer shoots for the ultra-high notes, which is understandable considering his maturity, while the band’s instrumentation is still amazing, with the new keyboardist standing out as he employs a few unorthodox synth backgrounds that bring to mind the often-strange playing style of the great Colin Towns (ex-Gillan keyboardist). And on the majority of the twelve tracks, not only do the catchy melody lines stick in your head, but the band comes across as a fully revitalized and thriving force, still powerful and hungry to deliver more. Highly enjoyable!

Anyway, the band has been nothing if not experimental and diverse throughout its lengthy and patchy career. Some of their albums remain on my “best albums of all-time list” and I, for one, hope they stick around a while. But now one can only wonder if the band will release new material in future years. And if so, the most vital question remains…in what style will it be? Knowing the band’s unique history all too well, I wouldn’t even want to venture a guess.

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Get The Album Now!

Ten Wheel Drive – Construction #1 (1969)

TenWheelDrive_Construction4 out of 5 Stars!

Construction #1 is the debut album from yet another female-led Brass-Rock/Jazz-Rock band, similar in style to both Cold Blood and Janis Joplin’s I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! album, all popping up in 1969.

Ten Wheel Drive is fronted by a terrific vocalist named Genya Ravan, whose voice and delivery is similar to both Janis Joplin and Lydia Pense (from Cold Blood). To be more precise, imagine Janis Joplin fronting Blood, Sweat & Tears or Chicago, and that’s what you’ll get with Ten Wheel Drive.

Several tracks (such as “Tightrope,” “I Am A Want Ad,” or “Polar Bear Rug”) feature slamming rock riffs that rival the best Blues-Rock bands of the era, while a few tracks (such as “Lapidary,” “House In Central Park,” and, especially, “Candy Man Blues”), or some sections of tracks such as the lengthy, wildly diverse, and ever-shifting “Eye Of The Needle,” are a bit lighter and offer a jazzy feel. The guitars generally sizzle, and the occasional piano offers beautiful accompaniment, while the rhythm section pounds and drives where necessary. And of course, what sets this band apart from most, is the solid brass section, playing exciting arrangements that match the jaw-dropping complexity and surprising maturity of early Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago. Indeed, the brass sounds clean and crisp throughout, creating a perfect backdrop for a vocalist with Ravan’s powerful style.

Overall, for both brass enthusiasts like myself as well as fellow devotees of female singers, Construction #1 offers up fascinating material, and is probably the most innovative of the band’s four studio releases. Too bad Ten Wheel Drive (and Ravan herself, who went on to have a lengthy solo career) never achieved the enduring fame it so greatly deserved.

 

Get The Album Now!