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|Review||by Joe Viglione|
In 2001 the legendary building that housed Boston's infamous Rat was demolished, but this recording (catalog #528, same as the address for the establishment on Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Boston) remains as evidence of what transpired in that "cellar full of noise." Inspired by Hilly Kristal's Live at CBGB's, this is truly the companion double LP to that disc on Atlantic, though the Boston compilation came close but failed to obtain major-label release. Recorded September 27, 28, and 29th, 1976, at the dawn of the "new wave," important and historic live recordings of some of the scenemakers live on within these grooves. Far from a definitive document — you won't find early Jon Butcher, Charlie Farren, Fools, or Nervous Eaters here, despite the fact that the Eaters ruled at The Rat — but you will find classic Willie Alexander after his stint with the Velvet Underground and before his MCA deal (which came when Blue Oyster Cult wife/rock critic Debbie Frost, played Alexander's single on The Rat jukebox for producer Craig Leon). Along with Willie Loco there is very early DMZ, so early that the drummer is future member of The Cars, David Robinson, as well as an early, vintage version of Richard Nolan's vital band Third Rail. This is the only place where you can find the original Susan with guitarists Tom Dickie and John Kalishes — years before Joan Jett guitarist Ricky Bird replaced Kalishes, and decades before John Kalishes joined the late Ben Orr of the Cars in solo projects in the 1990s. The rock history lesson is important to understand the impact of not only the musicians on this album, but the influence of the nightclub which spawned Live at the Rat. Willie Alexander's manic "Pup Tune" is perhaps the most concise representation of the Rat sound — it is grunge, it is deranged, it is a no-holds barred performance which has been re-released on best-of compilations and treasured over the years as a true musical gem. Of the 19 tracks, Willie Alexander is the only artist who gets three cuts: "At the Rat," the club's anthem; the aforementioned tribute to Ronnie Spector that is "Pup Tune"; and a live version of the original Garage Records 45 which began this new phase of his career, his ode to "Kerouac." Marc Thor, a legendary performer who never got a full album out, utilizes members of Thundertrain, DMZ, the Boize, and Third Rail for his "Circling L.A.," co-written by scenemaker Nola Rezzo. Eventual Roulette recording artist Sass do "Rocking in the USA," and, like Susan, and even Thundertrain, bring a more mainstream sound to the underground rock represented by the Boize, Third Rail, DMZ, the Infliktors, and the Real Kids. The Real Kids add "Who Needs You" and "Better Be Good" to the party, while this early Mono Mann phase has his "Ball Me Out" and "Boy From Nowhere" titles. Thundertrain crackle with "I'm So Excited" and "I Gotta Rock," Mach Bell's growl and stage antics the thing that made this otherwise suburban band an essential part of this scene. Bell would go on to front the Joe Perry Project on their final disc on MCA before Aerosmith reformed, and the resumé action of some of these players makes their performances here all the more valuable. Loco Live 1976, an album which includes tracks by Willie Alexander recorded exactly one month before Live at the Rat, is available on a Tokyo label, Captain Trip Records, and it serves as a good glimpse of what was going on before this pivotal center of new sounds brought in tons of recording gear and taped for posterity a very magical period in Boston history.
Chef's Salad: The Sound Of Boston From Studio B
|Review||by Joe Viglione|
Prior to Live at the Rat there were few compilations documenting the vital Boston music scene. Producer Wayne Wadhams, who hit the Top 40 in the '60s with his band the Fifth Estate and their version of "Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead," recorded this collection along with Miles Siegel and Allen Smith. It survives as an important document of excellent music from New England in the mid-'70s. A black and white photo on the back features 25 of the participants — their hairstyles and clothing quite telling — making for a warm community atmosphere. "30 Seconds With Michael Fremer" is perhaps the best-known bit and the highest-profile personality from this point in time. Michael Fremer was a comedian and disc jockey who used to emcee major concerts in the region. A full-length album with his bits was released on Kant Tell Records (a take-off of K-Tel, and it is as funny as this highlight on Chef's Salad. Wadhams was pushing "the sound of Boston," and his original composition for the Gang Band is a good ribbing at the Sound of Philadelphia that Gamble & Huff made so popular in the '70s. It's an excellent instrumental, and is a good indication of where the Fifth Estate might have headed. Samadhi's "Freedom Spark" is another instrumental, and it is a cross between Traffic and Full Circle (the CBS band produced by Wadhams). Moon Over Miami made a little noise during this era, and they would have been perfect on a bill with the Average White Band. Stu Nunnery's pop/adult contemporary "Suddenly" opens the album. The performance is great, but the song doesn't have that something extra that Randy Edelman and Tim Moore were able to instill into their well-crafted singer/songwriter albums. Don Ebbett fares a little better, as do Ervin & Ford. "The River and Your Wings," written by Jonathan W. Helfand, has a gospel/funk feel, and despite all the styles poured into this Chef's Salad — the folk-rock of Denis O'Neill, country sounds of Bill Ervin and Kenny Dulong — the reggae, pop, and comedy come together seamlessly, probably due to Wadham's experience. What remains is a snapshot that the music scene it represents can be proud of.
|Review||by Joe Viglione|
The Allen Weinberg cover of this CD features a beautiful photograph by Chip Simmons showing fields, a mountain reaching up to fluffy white clouds against a blue sky, and a young girl holding a white Hula-Hoop above her head. This cover is a good reflection of the instrumental sounds recorded in Studio A of Boston's Berklee College and mixed at Rainbow Studios in Oslo, Norway. The music of keyboardist, arranger, and composer Karl Lundeberg is pretty and mellow. Anders Bostrom's flute glides alongside Philip Hamilton's percussion and use of voice as an instrument, especially in the third track, "Croton Drive." Producer Wayne Wadhams, who had a hit in the '60s with his group the Fifth Estate, is known for getting a sparkling clean sound, while allowing the group members to be themselves. He's the perfect complement to this five-piece group. Their performance on "San Sebastian" is smooth and inspired. If Enya performed with Edgar Froese, it might sound something like this subtle but intense series of compositions.
|Review||by Joe Viglione|
Susan was the hard rock band that got the gigs at the Rat in Boston in the '70s. Their thunderous sound was created in no small part by John Kalishes, who could have passed as Leslie West's little brother. Kalishes would join the late Ben Orr to create a Led Zeppelin-meets-the Cars group toward the end of the '90s. It is that powerful sound that is missing from Falling in Love Again. The original Susan was documented on the Live at the Rat album and those two tracks give a hint of their significance. By the time they landed a management contract with Tommy Mottola, Ricky Byrd had replaced Kalishes and despite Byrd's enormous talent — he would eventually join Joan Jett & the Blackhearts — the change came too quickly. This album sounds like a band in transition rather than a strong debut. Byrd shines on "A Little Time," one of two strong tracks on side one, but the band's performance on another Byrd composition, "I Was Wrong," is downright embarrassing for a group once so mighty. "Marlene," which features Marlene Dietrich, and "Falling in Love Again" have that "Be My Baby" drum sound and comes closest to what Susan was all about. The Leland brothers were a phenomenal rhythm section, and Charles Leland had that Bowie look down pat. It was Leland who was the star during their club days, but on this debut, Leland doesn't fit with the Tom Dickie and "Ricky Bird" material he has to work with. Dickie brings some life to the record with his vocals on "Really Gonna Show," but the material is still substandard. Tom Dickie maintained his relationship with the Mottola organization, moving over to Mercury to record two albums as Tom Dickie & the Desires. Falling in Love could have been so much more — it's a document of a band recording after their prime, and even decent songs like "Don't Let Me Go" and "Love the Way" aren't strong enough to carry this disappointing and fragmented production.
TOM DICKIE COMPETITION
|Review||by Joe Viglione|
Tom Dickie reinvented his formula after the failure of Susan on RCA. He brought half of Boston's underground band Fox Pass on board — guitarist Mike Roy and singer/songwriter/poet Jon Macey (formerly Jon Hall, who changed his name to Macey to avoid confusion with John Hall, leader of the group Orleans). "Downtown Talk" kicks off the Competition LP and remains the best song by this pop band. Resplendent with drug references, "Downtown Talk" has a hard-hitting riff and catchy melody. The title track's calypso feel is a nice diversion from the rest of the LP. "Waiting, Waiting" has a boss riff and is perhaps the album's best performance. With Champion Entertainment and Tommy Mottola to open doors for Tom Dickie & the Desires, including gigs with Hall & Oates and Cheap Trick, this band had multiple opportunities, but Competition is a pastiche of sounds, and the record misses the mark. The very creative album cover, with the band members looking in and out of mirrors, hints at the potential. "Downtown Talk" was a regional hit, but the great underground songs that Macey and Dickie forged in the '70s playing Boston area clubs are conspicuous in their absence. "You've Lost" and "Count on You" have melodies and are catchy pop, but something is missing. Perhaps producer Martin Rushent was miscast for this recording. The Velvet Underground/Tommy James roots, so much a part of the regional success of Fox Pass, have been traded in as the Desires emulate .38 Special and Survivor. The result is much too calculated and homogenized for these talented people.
THE ELEVENTH HOUR Tom Dickie 1982
|Review||by Joe Viglione|
With a crisper sound than its predecessor, the Competition LP, Ed Sprigg's production of The Eleventh Hour helps the revamped Tom Dickie & the Desires, but not enough. Singer/songwriters Tom Dickie and Jon Macey as well as guitarist Mike Roy are all playing synthesizers, replacing Gary Corbett from the first album. Mickey Currey has departed, and Chuck Sabo handles the drums and percussion on this disc. With the band having a chance to jell since Competition, the songs are more concise, perhaps even a little more determined, yet they are hampered by the big '80s sound, which was not what these pop fellows were about. "Victimless Crime" is probably the best-known song from this collection, presenting the baseless philosophy that drug abuse creates harm only to the addict and no one else suffers effects from it. Interesting that, years after writing this, Macey became a drug counselor preaching the tenets of Narcotics Anonymous. For songs tinged with drug innuendo when they aren't being blatant about it, there is none of the abandon that marked groups from the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith to Blue Cheer when they invoked psychedelic privilege. "Stolen Time" may be the best example of where the record goes wrong, with its poppiness mired in '80s production that, as stated, hardly fits this band. "Gone to Stay" is nice enough, but where are the guitars? For three musicians who are proficient with their axes, the album has a singular guitar sound. "Our Eyes" would be a nice album track for Brian Hyland, a summery pop song covered in too much technology, a bit reminiscent of Macey's '70s song "When I Say Good-bye" without the bite. "So Mystified" has experimentation, which the record needs more of (and not just the songs that dabble in it on side two). This track could have been the band's "I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)" with a little more time in the incubator. "Don't Want to Live Without You" cries for the jangly guitars to be up in the mix, but it's the drums that slap back from this clean production. "What Happened" has clever riffs, but Trevor Horn could have made it more radio-friendly. Therein lies the problem with the second Desires album: it is closer to where the band should be, but it still misses. "What Happened" is the question. "Patience Is a Virtue" has an eerie, almost Beatlesque ambiance; it picks up where "House of Mirrors" from the first album left off. "They Don't Know Anymore" could be from the Velvet Underground's Loaded album, and as The Eleventh Hour comes to a close, the band members start providing some of the sounds that they love so much. But there is no breakthrough hit, no single identifying sound or song. "If I Could Paint" is a nice idea and indicative of the songs and performance here. Good ideas that never quite jell, music that needed a stronger personality to help in its creation. A Phil Spector, Jeff Barry, or ABBA's Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson — someone these musicians have respect for — could have helped shape the sounds and get the performances. Both albums by Tom Dickie & the Desires showed promise and have their moments, but they could have been so much more.
|Review||by Joe Viglione|
When DMZ made their debut on Sire, it was as disappointing as major-label debuts by fellow Bostonians Private Lightning, the Nervous Eaters, and Willie Alexander's Boom Boom Band. As Alexander's locally produced demos by Dr. & the Medics madman Craig Leon (who also produced the Ramones) were superior to the final product by Willie on MCA (also produced by Leon), the Turtles' wacky Flo & Eddie just didn't know what to do with DMZ. Four Craig Leon-produced tracks released on BOMP — which is the parent company of Voxx — and five demo tapes that were recorded on four-track comprise this excellent collection. "When I Get Off" was the number two Garage Record of the Year in 1978 in Boston's Real Paper, and it is a psychedelic masterpiece. The dueling guitars, slashing riff, and great Corraccio bass complement Mono Mann aka Jeff Connolly's blitzkrieg vocals. Here is a slice of pyschedlia that is the fans outdoing the bands they idolize. Also, as with Willie Alexander's demos, it seems Craig Leon did a much better job on smaller budgets. The lyrics are sexist, but fun in "Barracuda" — definitely not the Heart song — "Lift up Your Hood," and the aforementioned "When I Get Off." There is also a cool cover of Roky Erickson's "You're Gonna Miss Me" and a fantastic album jacket of the band photographed at what looks like the Rat nightclub inside a red background covered in barbed wire fence. There's even a cool inside joke, Bomb records instead of Bomp, the famous label founded by Greg Shaw. A definite statement about the heart and soul of demos having a special something major-label homogenization fails to establish. Rudy Martinez of Question Mark & the Mysterians has even covered a Connally composition written for Mono Mann Jeff's current group, the Lyres.
THE VARMINTS ASSORTED VARMINTS
THE REAL KIDS
1)ALL KINDSA GIRLS
2)BAD TO WORSE
3)BETTER BE GOOD
5)DO THE BOOB
THE RAIN THE PARK & OTHER THINGS
WE CAN FLY