Saturday, September 16, 2017

Blackwell - 1970 - Blackwell


01. Fake 3:50
02. Dirty Story 3:18
03. Heaven Or Worse 3:22
04. Something Real 2:33
05. Please, Mr Jupiter 4:05
06. Almost Gifted 4:21
07. Outside 2:44
08. Sleepy Weekend 2:20
09. Wonderful 2:35
10. Long Long Ago 7:16

Bass – Terry Wilson
Drums – Randy Dehart
Guitar – Jimmy Smith
Lead Vocals – Glenn Gibson
Organ, Piano, Arranged By – Johnny Bundrick

The Texas rock outfit Blackwell released four singles in two years on the interstellar Astro label, but the band's star never got much beyond regional gazing. John "Rabbit" Bundrick, a keyboard noodler, is the one member of the band to mingle with international rock stardom as a member of Free and part of the Who's outer circle of musical accomplices., This was their only release. It's a somewhat diverse mix of psych influenced hard rock, drippy soft ballads, and blues rock, featuring organ and some fuzz guitar. Be warned! It's a real Jekyll/Hyde LP. The good stuff (roughly half) is decent enough, though not Earth shattering, while the weak stuff has been likened to "puke music" by more than one good friend. The stand-out is arguably "Please, Mr. Jupiter", with it's "spacey" psychedelic intro sound effects, driving bass line, and vocal harmonies. If you don't like this one, might as well pack it in.

Perhaps someone heard the group's rather dark lyrical subject matter on songs such as "Dirty Story" and decided to give them the boot, or else it just was bad luck for the band, but a lack of any kind of promotion and the label's demise as soon as it came led the band to just release this one gem.

Based around the soaring, unearthly, and haunting vocals of Glenn Gibson and tight ensemble playing they could jam with heavy Hammond B3 action, but like European bands such as Asterix and my previous write up Leafhound (From England), this lot preferred to keep it to songs. Having mentioned both these bands Blackwell were both heavier and more poppsych oriented, but obviously full on into the underground vibes that were coming from across the pond where the music coming out was much more revolutionary than most American bands of that era. Clearly a beautiful, sad, and incessantly catchy song like "Something Real" or the amazing cleverness of "Heaven Or Worse" would have made for a great chart hit and just as clearly the band could be all out art rockers with late 60s psych roots still showing on the brilliant "Dear Mr. Jupiter," "Fake," and the sad ode to suicide written by their producer "Almost Gifted" should have made them huge, should have had them not just on Atco, but right up there with the cream on Atlantic. It just wasn't to be, unfortunately for Blackwell. They may have been too good to make it in the States, and certainly music of this sort would be pretty unwelcome with all the rednecks in the South. Worst of all, with Glenn Gibson out of the picture and Blackwell gone the group would first become the poor Southern rockers Bl**ntz and then the equally awful UK based Back Street Crawler/Crawler enjoying success and raves that Blackwell never had. Such is the music business. I've tried every album I could by with Bundrick on it hoping for the magic of Blackwell to come through, and there ain't none to be had of it. So it's best just to focus on this band as they were when they were young, hopeful, and fully Anglophiles in Blackwell. Gibson is clearly the band's major strength- his voice is unique and enigmatic as he flies above the inspired, tight, flawless ensemble playing of the group. The lyrics tend towards the fantasy side and a darker fantasy side I should add. "Dirty Story" is a great anthem for the combative and depressed with the following line:
"Promise Me One Certain Something That I Have Wished For All My Life/An Isolated Deep And Dark Grave Where I Can Spend One Peaceful Night"
This whole song is full of eerie lyrics and even eerier, freakier harmonies and music. Then there's the flip side with the celebratory, joyous, all out power pop brilliance of "Wonderful." This song is  one of the best on the album- a song with a hint of the Left Banke somewhere in the melodies of a mainly power chord driven pop ode to a day of perfect happiness. Blackwell had it all. There are no flaws to be found on this record and even when they delve into jazz/blues rock free form hysteria on "Long Long Ago" they never fail to impress. The going price is around $75 and up now. Buy this album at any price you find it at as this is a truly dynamic, creative record worth its weight in gold.

Bad Axe - 1976 - Bad Axe

Bad Axe 
Bad Axe

01. Cities Of Rage
02. Stray
03. Do What We Please
04. What Did I Do
05. Set Me Free
06. Vacation
07. Blues L.A.
08. Foggy Morning
09. Road To Makin' It
10. Take Your Time

Bass – Dana Strum
Drums – Steve Ward
Guitar – Dave Carruth
Vocals – Stacy Moreland

Recorded at Stronghold Studios, Van Nuys, CA

Featuring future Vinnie Vincents Invasion Dana Strum, this album is frighteningly ahead of its time - an almost mid 1980s progressive metal style is presented (listen to 'Cities of Rage' or 'Blues LA' to see what I mean here). Bad Axe comes out of the mid 70s Los Angeles underground, and often played with Quiet Riot and Motley Crue (and perhaps Mammoth (Van Halen) too) back in the day. It's still 1976, so there's plenty of straight up cock-rock moments to endure as well, especially towards the end.