I honestly have no idea why Mental As Anything – the Australian Rock quintet – are not superstars. And if not superstars, they should at least be a huge cult band beloved by music fans around the world. Or, at the very least, adored by fans of classic Pop acts like Nick Lowe, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, etc. Now that the Mentals are just about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary in 2017, it’s about time that the world started paying a lot more attention to them. They are truly one of the finest bands to emerge from Down Under in the last… err… 40+ years! Their blend of rootsy Rock and melodic Pop places them firmly between Nick Lowe’s side of Rockpile and Squeeze circa ’79 to ’81. The Mentals’ quirky sense of humor also fits that same comparison. However, the band were/are their own ‘thing’ and comparing them to other artists is ultimately unfair. While their music is filled with liberal nods to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s past, they don’t sound like any other band, past or present. Sure, you can hear their influences but it is hard to pinpoint any particular artist that may have inspired them along the way. Mental As Anything are true originals. They evolved over the years, adding more elements into their sound but they have never deviated too far from the sound that put them on the Oz map.
Peggy Lee had been a successful jazz vocalist for 33 years before she went into the studio to cut LET’S LOVE for Atlantic Records in 1974. With a career dating back to 1941, Peggy was still a respected jazz vocalist even though her albums weren’t selling as well as they once had. When Capitol Records dropped her in 1972 after 15 years of continuous service (2-3 albums per year), some may have thought that Lee would have spent the rest of her career playing nightclubs and appearing on Jerry Lewis telethons, but luck was always on Peggy’s side. And this time, her lucky charm was the cute Beatle, Paul McCartney, who penned and produced the album’s title track. By this time, Peggy was in her mid-50s and her vocal performances were far more subdued and intimate, which lent themselves perfectly to this lovely, lilting melody. Sounding like something penned for the McCARTNEY or RAM album, the song is a haunting gem and definitely worth the price of the album alone. Thankfully, there are plenty of other great tracks to enjoy on LET’S LOVE. Melissa Manchester’s “He Is The One,” the Stylistics’ classic “You Make Me Feel Brand New” (penned by Thom Bell and Linda Creed), Irving Berlin’s “Always” and the Dave Grusin/Peggy Lee co-write “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter” are other highlights. While the album might be classified as Jazz, there are definitely elements of Soul, Funk and Pop spread evenly over the tracks. Unlike many modern Jazz artists, Lee was open to taking chances and working outside the box during her career. In fact, her next album would consist of Leiber and Stoller covers! With musical assistance from Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, Harvey Mason, Chuck Rainey and others, LET’S LOVE is a fine addition to Lee’s vast catalog and certainly of interest to McCartney/Beatles collectors!
NOTE: This Wounded Bird reissue reproduces the Rhino Handmade edition and includes four bonus tracks from the same sessions including an alternate version of the title track.
Peace, love and pancakes,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee
Milwaukee’s Plasticland – founded by Glenn Rehse and John Frankovic (who has since left the band) – have remained unjustly overlooked for years… yet they have also been absolutely adored by critics off and on since they first formed some 36 years ago. The band has managed to stay on the fringe of the Alternative Rock scene but have never been fully treated like the Psych-Rock/Garage icons that they are. And I’m sure this review isn’t going to inspire a mass pilgrimage to the record store but if it piques the interest of a few of you, then we’re getting somewhere! Even though they signed to the esteemed Enigma Records in 1984, Plasticland couldn’t be bothered to cater to the mainstream. Their blend of Acid, Garage and Psych Rock wasn’t merely a tribute to the sounds that they loved – it was obvious that this music was part of their DNA. The band was capable of writing catchy songs with a built-in atmosphere that sounded both retro and modern at the same time. Perhaps that is why their recordings remain timeless today. Plasticland are to Psyche what The Fleshtones are to Frat/Garage Rock and The Cramps are to sweaty, swampy, primitive Rock ‘n’ Roll. They could have sold out in their early days and become ‘the new R.E.M.’ like a host of their contemporaries. Thankfully, they chose to stick to their guns and remain Plasticland.
A VERY NELSON CHRISTMAS
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: THIS CHRISTMAS TOO, the new holiday release by Matthew And Gunnar Nelson, is just about to be released. How are you feeling about the album and the journey it took to create it?
GUNNAR NELSON: I’m actually feeling fabulous about it — very accomplished and proud of the result. It’s been an incredible journey so far. Honestly it’s taken about four years to get to this point with this record. THIS CHRISTMAS TOO is a photo negative of the first release of last year. Allow me to explain: when we recorded this record we intentionally overcut by double. On last year’s release, half of the record had instrumental versions of these Christmas classics. The other half had vocal versions. This year, THIS CHRISTMAS TOO has the songs flipped. What was an instrumental track last year is now the vocal version and vice versa. Plus we’ve added two bonus tracks that were not on the first album, as well as the completely new take on our original Christmas hit single ‘This Christmas’ featuring Carnie and Wendy Wilson, who are driving the whole effort. The good news is, if you bought 2015’s THIS CHRISTMAS album, you’re not going to get a single duplicate on THIS CHRISTMAS TOO — they’re designed to complement each other perfectly.
Alliance Entertainment’s 661,000-square-foot distribution center in Shepherdsville, KY.
Raise your hand if you predicted the hot recorded music format of this decade would be…the vinyl record. In the U.S. alone, sales of the throwback records have climbed from under a million in 2007 to a whopping 11.9 million in 2015, their highest total since 1988. Aside from the questions this raises about listening habits and technology, here’s one more to consider: Who’s providing all the records? For about 50% of vinyl record sales in the U.S., the answer, at some stage, is Alliance Entertainment. Based in Sunrise, Florida, Alliance is a distributor for CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, and vinyl records, as well as musical instruments, pro audio, and a variety of other entertainment products. It’s Alliance’s focus on recorded media, however, that centers it in one of the fastest-changing—and most disrupted—categories of this century. Digital media and streaming services have irrevocably changed the market for CDs and DVDs, yet Alliance has set a blueprint for how a company in this arena remains at the top of its game. It’s currently billed as the nation’s leader in vinyl record sales, and the largest U.S. home entertainment wholesale distributor to mass merchants, internet retailers, and independent stores.
“Technology can be a double-edged sword when it comes to home entertainment media,” says Jeff Walker, president and CEO of Alliance Entertainment. “It has put some of our competitors out of business, but has allowed us to grow a brain trust of unmatched industry insiders and given us perspective to innovate and be more forward thinking when new products or opportunities come to us.”
For Walker, who started his career as a music retailer, heading up Alliance Entertainment is the latest link in a chain of moves through the music and entertainment industries. His original music distribution company, Super D, was founded as a side business—but emerged as a powerhouse that acquired all of its competitors: Phantom, MSI, Infinity Resources, and finally, in 2013, Alliance Entertainment, which lived on as the name of the merged company. Under Walker, Alliance would distinguish itself by the “one-stop” nature of its model. While some competitors have made their living on a relatively narrow, curated selection of music and film titles, Alliance carries the entire depth and breadth of its vendor catalogs, stocking a physical inventory of 400,000 titles within its distribution center. It’s a wholesaler to 2,900 customers and ships to 14,500 locations throughout the U.S.—as well as retailers in 76 countries worldwide. In addition, Alliance produces exclusive children’s home entertainment products through a dedicated subsidiary company, NCircle, and a full line of vinyl preservation and care products through a second subsidiary, Vinyl Styl. Its industry-leading AMPED Distribution operation offers physical and digital distribution services for both audio and video.
It’s Alliance’s success in this core category that’s allowed it to diversify, expanding from recorded media into categories as varied as video games, comic books, health and fitness products, and collectibles. With a formidable network of facilities, the company also provides third-party logistics (3PL) for some of the largest retailers in the world. Its inventory control systems, electronic data interchange (EDI), and data warehousing capabilities are also cutting-edge, “allowing us to maximize use of time and minimize costly mistakes,” says Walker. “With our dynamic sales and purchasing teams, even in lean years we have been able to survive and thrive. Our ability to adapt, quickly using state-of-the-art technology to face a changing economy, helps us to serve our ever-expanding customer base. We are the model of a 21st century one-stop distributor.”
For Alliance, the newest piece of the puzzle arrived just this summer with its acquisition of the AN Connect LLC retail music business. In purchasing AN Connect’s business and assets, which include vendor-managed inventory accounts for Walmart and Best Buy, Alliance added to its SKU base a huge assortment of CD, vinyl, DVD, Blu-ray, and electronic products. “With this acquisition, we will likely surpass the threshold of being a billion-dollar company,” says Walker. “We continue to expand our reach and service level domestically and internationally, as the world grows smaller through technological advances. We plan to keep chasing the dream of being the largest one-stop distributor in the world, while supporting our retail partners and allowing them to grow with us.”
(This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Music Trades/www.musictrades.com)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(WORLD):
As the leader of British outfit The Pack, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kirk Brandon’s unique musical vision was far too adventurous to be constrained by the limits of Punk Rock so he folded that band and moved forward with new ideas. By 1980, he had formed Theatre Of Hate, which included bassist Stan Stammers, saxophonist John Lennard, guitarist Steve Guthrie and drummer Luke Rendle. During their first two years of existence, the band released a few studio singles as well as a live album, HE WHO DARES WINS. By the time the band entered the studio to work on their debut full length, Guthrie had departed and Brandon took over all guitar duties. With The Clash’s Mick Jones in the producer’s chair, TOH began work on what would become a milestone in Post Punk history – WESTWORLD! With a mix of tribal rhythms, Spaghetti Western riffs, Post Punk guitar slashing and Brandon’s passionate wailing, Theatre Of Hate was a band unlike any other. While the band was known for their live performances, they took on a different form in the studio. Pre-dating his Big Audio Dynamite recordings, Mick Jones brought a lot of his experimental ideas to the sessions, which worked extremely well with Brandon’s vision. The end result is still being talked about today…
While TOH folded in 1983 – making way for Kirk’s next project, Spear Of Destiny – their musical legacy lives on. The band has reformed with various line-ups over the years and are now making waves again with both a new album (KINSHI) and a deluxe three CD edition of WESTWORLD. This excellent reissue on Cherry Red includes a remastered version of the album alongside non-album singles, Peel Sessions, alternate mixes and a live concert taped during the WESTWORLD tour. Still sounding fresh and invigorating, this expanded edition is the definitive version of an album that helped pioneer Post Punk in the UK.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee sent off a few questions to Kirk Brandon, who was gracious enough to take the time to respond…
Back in the ‘glory days’ of Rock music – the ‘60s through the ‘80s – listeners were assaulted on Top 40 radio by ‘protest’ and ‘political’ music wrapped up in a good melody. From Bob Dylan to The Clash – just to name two of many – artists were inserting thought-provoking messages into those catchy tunes that you hummed throughout the day. Politics has weaved its way into lyrics for decades but when those artists became mainstream, their messages were embraced and understood by some while others remained blissfully unaware. And while politics has remained a hot topic in music ever since, there is very little that makes it into the Top 40 these days. But do people listen to radio anymore? Think about it – radio, the greatest platform for messages from the heart, has become a desolate desert of manufactured, mindless nonsense. Then again, people do like to feel safe and comfortable, so you can’t fault them for that…
On her debut effort, REVIVAL, Gillian Welch and her long-term sideman David Rawlings entered the recording studio under the production wing of trusted musicologist T-Bone Burnett. The album that would emerge in 1996 would go on to be nominated for a GRAMMY as the Best Contemporary Folk Album. Welch has since solidified her role as a steadfast champion of the modern day folk/rock scene. Gillian recently took time to answer questions regarding her latest release, BOOTS NO.1: THE OFFICIAL REVIVAL BOOTLEG, an archival set that documents the making of the very collection that put her on the map.
For 50 years, David Lindley has been one of the most respected – and commercially overlooked – musicians in Rock music. Sure, he made a name for himself with the completely original Psych outfit Kaleidoscope back in the ‘60s and he has been one of the most in-demand session musicians since the ‘70s (Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon, Rod Stewart, Graham Nash, The Youngbloods, Bruce Springsteen, Rickie Lee Jones, etc.) yet he has never received his due as a solo artist. However, his output has been so eclectic over the years that some of us are still trying to catch up! Do yourself a favor and read up on his career on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the ‘net. For now, I’m going to focus on a few of his ‘80s solo releases…
While The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks may have received more press coverage over the years, there is no denying that The Moody Blues are one of the greatest British Rock bands of all time. From their rough and raw R&B roots in the mid ‘60s to their Symphonic Rock masterpieces in the latter part of that decade, The Moody Blues reinvented themselves while also inventing Progressive Rock. Their continued success throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s, and beyond has ensured that new generations of fans have been able to experience their well-crafted Rock and Pop first hand. The simple fact that they are not in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame is an embarrassment to Rock Music itself.
One of the band’s driving forces, Justin Hayward, composed and sang the band’s biggest commercial hits (“Nights In White Satin,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” etc.) and has managed to balance a solo career in between his Moody Blues commitments. Hayward remains an exceptional songwriter nearly 50 years after he scored his first Moodies milestone (“Nights In White Satin”) and is arguably one of the finest vocalists in British Rock/Pop history. Though not a prolific artist these days, Hayward’s solo material is just as emotionally powerful as anything he has released with The Moody Blues. Under-appreciated by mainstream press for too long, Justin Hayward certainly deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Ray Davies and Pete Townshend if not Jagger/Richards or Lennon/McCartney.
Released just weeks apart, there are two Justin Hayward titles that focus on his solo material… with just a pinch of The Moody Blues to entice you. The first, ALL THE WAY, is a CD that collects fifteen solo recordings and offers a great introduction into his non-Moodies catalog. The second release is a most excellent DVD, LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE CAPITOL THEATRE. Filmed in 2014 during Justin’s tour for his SPIRITS OF THE WESTERN SKY album, the DVD finds Justin in great form performing solo and Moodies hits with equal amounts of love and passion. Aided by guitarist Mike Dawes and keyboardist/backing vocalist Julie Ragins, this trio breathes new life into Hayward’s back catalog including some of his biggest and best-known tracks. To see an artist perform a fifty year old song with as much conviction as a new composition is inspiring.
Expertly captured by director/film-maker/composer David Minasian, LIVE IN CONCERT AT THE CAPITOL THEATRE is a warm and wonderful experience to behold. As an added bonus, the DVD features the video to the brand new song “The Wind Of Heaven,” which is also featured on the ALL THE WAY CD collection. The beautifully photographed “Wind of Heaven” music video, co-directed by David Minasian and Trinity Houston, is a prelude to an upcoming major motion picture by the same producing duo. The song itself is a rare collaboration for Justin who co-wrote the epic piece with David. Justin, who readily admits he’s never really been successful writing with other people, believes “The Wind of Heaven” to be one of the nicest things he’s ever done.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to spend some time chatting with Justin Hayward about the new DVD, The Moody Blues and more…