Thursday, 24 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 8 - Gillan "The Japanese Album" (1978)

This is one I'd never heard of until recently. The first album by the band Gillan, after Ian Gillan disbanded The Ian Gillan Band (hopefully that sentence all made sense!), and I'd always thought that "Mr Universe" was the first Gillan LP, but nope it was this.

Only released in Japan, Australia and New Zealand at first, the album was available on import in the UK. When the band recorded "Mr Universe" the following year later some of the tracks from this album were re-recorded for that one. From the sound of this, they kept the best ones.

Originally entitled simply "Gillan", "The Japanese Album" is very much an LP of two halves. Some of the tracks are sub-metal pub-rock, whilst others still stand out decades later as rightful classics (I'm looking at you, "Fighting Man"). The whole album does suffer from songs being stretched out beyond their legitimate length by simply repeating the chorus 3 or 4 times over different instrumental solos, but then that's more a symptom of late 70's Metal than a specific fault of the band.

At the time, Gillan's style of music fitted in perfectly with the burgeoning New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, but now 30 years down the line you can kind of hear that he's still dragging a lot of old Deep Purple musical themes along with him. Maybe that's not a bad thing, if you like those themes, but in 2010 it does sound a bit dated.

However, I'm very familiar with Gillan's work from 1979 onwards, and it's nice to hear what to me is a "lost" album from just before they hit the big time.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 7 - May Blitz "May Blitz" (1970)

May Blitz have a pretty recognisable sound, a feeling that I've heard them before. They're what was called "Heavy Rock" back when this, their first LP, was released, but their "retro" sound is also back in favour today.

5 or 6 years after this LP was release "Heavy" would mean "Deep Purple" or "Led Zeppelin", but back at the fag end of the 60s, it was a term used for bands like "Free", "Cream", "Iron Butterfly" and the "The Jimi Hendrix Experience"; and you can hear the echo of those bands in May Blitz's debut album.

You can also hear the precursor of the sound that "Black Sabbath" would take and eventually metamorphose into the 1970s "Heavy Metal" genre (in fact I'd put money on this album sharing many a 70s record collection with the LPs "Black Sabbath" and "Paranoid"). Sadly May Blitz never had the success of Sabbath (though I think they deserved it) and the group disbanded in 1971 after their second and final album.

The production is sharp, with the wonderful bleakness that only a three-piece band can give you, and the usual blues influence prevalent in so many bands from the 69/70 years is pleasingly absent. This is early 70s British Heavy Rock at its best.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 6 - Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush "Strange Universe" (1975)

Now I always wanted to like Mahogany Rush. Their name sounded like "Rush" (another band I liked), and Frank Marino looked like my kind of guitar hero - long-haired and dynamic.

This is their third album, and it just doesn't do it for me. Frank's guitar is excellent. Very Hendrix. As is his singing. The album's kind of mid-70s Progressive Rock (or the American equivalent, Pomp Rock), almost spacey in places. But the sum is somehow less than the whole for me. The songs are well-played and well-sung, but they're also well dull.

Ah well, you can't like everything can you.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 5 - Peter Green "In The Skies" (1979)

I first heard this on the radio in the mid-80s and at the time had no idea who Peter Green was, but liked the album. I now know that Peter Green was the driving force behind early Fleetwood Mac, who left in 1970 after basically taking too many drugs, and that this was his first attempt to dip his toe in the water after 8 years as a virtual recluse.

It's not what you'd call a mind-blowing album, but it has a warm and quietly persuasive rhythm section that gets under your skin, and some tasty blues guitar work that wins you over. Snowy White's on this one as well, and Pete Bardens from Camel on keyboards.

Good album for a late winter's night in front of the fire with a bottle of fine wine and a spliff.

(See what I did there? Advising you to listen to someone's drug rehabilitation album while smoking marijuana?" How very Rock 'n' Roll)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums No 4 - Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen " We've Got A Live One Here!" (1976)

I honestly didn't think I'd like this, but I've heard of Commander Cody and I thought I'd give them a go. The band name leads you to expect something a bit trippy and psychedelic, or maybe something along the lines of Country Joe & the Fish, but this is actually a pretty straightforward Country & Western/Southern Boogie/Bluegrass band, and a surprisingly listenable album at that - probably because it's live and everyone seems to be having a good time. The band is in good humour, tight and professional. It's like listening to a Blues Brothers Concert. Nice one.

Favourite track - "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)"

Dave's 500 Bus Albums. No 3 - Rare Bird "Rare Bird" (1969)

I've been meaning to have a listen to UK progressive rock band Rare Bird for years , and finally here's their debut album from 1969. What I would call "creepy keyboards". You know the kind of thing - The Nice, Emerson Lake and Palmer - that echoey Hammond sound that you associate with Keith Emerson, Jon Lord, and chase sequences through Swinging London in Hammer horror films set in the early 70s.

This is true "progressive" rock music, and isn't what we'd now label as "prog rock" (a far more melodic style of music). Rhythms and time signatures change at the drop of a hat, the soundscape is very stark and brittle, dominated by keyboards and bass, and at first listen you'd swear there was no guitar anywhere in the mix. Overall it has a doom-laden and cavernous sound, but you can definitely hear the influences of many of the later 70s bands in here. Bits of Black Sabbath sound like this, and a lot of Genesis. In fact the Genesis debut album wouldn't look out of place next to "Rare Bird" on the shelves of a 1971 University student's room. This is not to say that these bands were directly influenced by Rare Bird, but more that this album gives us a window into a style of music that was very prevelent at the time.

Is it a classic? Probably. Is it any good? I'm not sure. To my ears in 2011 it's a difficult listen and to be honest I think time has passed Rare Bird by.

Dave's 500 Bus Albums. No. 2 - Scorpions "Comeblack" (2011)

Formed in Hanover in 1965, Scorpions (note lack of "the") are coincidentally another German rock band who do not deserve the label "krautrock" (except perhaps their first LP "Lonesome Crow" which is a good example of what "krautrock" is often taken to mean). The decision to sing in English has directly resulted in their continuing success as a worldy-reknowned Heavy Metal act, and personally one of my favourite bands. They seemed to be everywhere in the Metal Years of the 1980s.

And now they're retiring. This is their final album, and an unusual choice. "Comeblack" consists half of re-recorded Scorpions classics ("Rock You Like a Hurricane", "Wind of Change", "Still Loving You" to name but three), and half of cover versions ("Tainted Love", "Children of the Revolution" etc). Is it any good? Well, yes. It's not a "Blackout" or a "Bat Out of Hell", but every track shows the band's musical proficiency, and the album is full of Scorpions trademark wall of sound riffing and bleeding-ear solos. Klaus Meine's voice is a bit more "cautious" than I remember, but the he is in his 50s and he's been screeching out vocals for the band since 1970.

Yeah, it's a good album, and I found myself wanting to sing along to more than one track. On the strength of one listen ("Tainted Love") the wife's asked for it to be put onto her USB pen drive for the car. What more can you say? Recommendation enough.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Dave's 500 Bus Albums. No. 1 - Virus "Remember" (1973)

An occasional series dedicated to the my 45-minute bus journey to work...which is just long enough for me to listen to two albums per day.

Apparently often labelled as "krautrock" (simply because they were German!), Virus were a band from Westphalia who produced just two LPs in 1971, and are a perfect example of that forgotten hard rock sound that flourished in between the Psychedelic swan-song of Woodstock and the birth of Glam circa 1973. A sound that I love. Think Ten Years After, Pink Fairies, even Grand Funk.

Released in 1973 (and re-released on CD in 2004), this final album is simply a live broadcast for Radio, recorded in Koln in April that year, which is probably why it's mono. The sound though is excellent. You can hear echoes of Jefferson Airplane in there, and a bit of Traffic, but the main thing that stands out is that this is a good old rock & roll band without a trace of self-indulgence. Where are they now? Who knows. They burned briefly and they didn't burn brightly, but they acquitted themselves well while they were here, and it's a shame they weren't around longer.

I will be interested to see if I can dig up the other two albums ("Revelation" and "Thoughts"). Meanwhile this album will be staying on the mp3 player for a while.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Faster Pussycat, Download Download!!

Well a week it a week? Probably more. Anyway, things are faster all round now. I bit the bullet and bought five new 200AV HomePlugs - one of them a wireless extender - to replace my 85Mbs ones. They're marketed as 200Mbs, but that's not really the whole story. There is a Transmit and a Recieve rate, and they can be different. Also, it can depend on your wiring and where the plugs are in relation to each-other. The further away a pair of plugs are, the lower the data rate between them.

Luckily there is a utility you can run on each PC, and it will show the data rates on all plugs relative to the one you are connected to by ethernet. Looking at mine at the moment, I'm getting Transmit/Receive rates of 129/95, 72/117, and 102/60. All in Megabits per second.

Unfortunately there's no immediate way to identify which plug is which as it lists them by MAC address. The old 85Mbps system allowed you to change the name of each plug, so you could label them as "Router", "Xbox" etc. Obviously the data rate to the one with the router is the one that determines internet download speed. All of these seem higher than the 36Mbps my fibre now provides, but that's obviously not he whole story, as speed tests only show a maximum of about 21Mbs through the HomePlugs.

Incidentally this helps to identify the plug connected to the router, as while a speed test is running, you can see the data rate fluctuating on one of the devices.

Although that's only 21Mbs, it's still 10x what I was used to on ADSL, so I shouldn't complain. I'm just intrigued is all.