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CHRIS SPEDDING/The RAK Years (4CD set) reviewed!

     Chris Spedding is a Rock ‘n’ Roll renaissance man. Ever since the British guitarist arrived on the music scene in the late ‘60s, he has been the personification of cool. He’s played (live and/or in the studio) with artists as varied as Sharks, Harry Nilsson, Roy Harper, Sixto Rodriquez, Roxy Music, John Cale, The Wombles and many others. His solo career started in 1970 but he didn’t make an impact until his fifth album, the self-titled debut album for the RAK Records label, was released in 1975. And that album is where the four CD set CHRIS SPEDDING: THE RAK YEARS begins. Containing his four albums for the label (including bonus tracks), this is an essential box set that will appeal to fans of Rock, Punk, Power Pop and most other guitar-fueled Rock genres.

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JUSTIN HAYWARD/Moving Mountains (reissue) reviewed!

While not the only lead vocalist in The Moody Blues, Justin Hayward is the most recognizable. His silky smooth voice can be heard on nearly all of their hits including “Nights In White Satin,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” “Tuesday Afternoon,” “The Voice,” and many others. One of Rock’s finest front men, Justin Hayward has also released a handful of fantastic solo albums over the years that have come and gone without much notice by commercial audiences. That is definitely a shame since Hayward always has something interesting to say and he has a lovely way of saying it.

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SAD LOVERS & GIANTS/Box set reviewed!

WHERE THE LIGHT SHINES THROUGH: THE BIGGER PICTURE 1981-2017
     If you are familiar  with veteran UK band Sad Lovers &  Giants, then I am confident that you are already a fan. For those who have  yet to experience SL&G, then pay close attention – they are soon to become your  favorite new/old band. On May 5, 2017, the always-amazing Cherry Red label will be releasing WHERE THE LIGHT SHINES THROUGH: THE  BIGGER PICTURE 1981-2017, a five CD set that is a must-have if you are  a fan of SL&G and ‘80s Post-Punk and New Wave music in general. The band’s  legacy is celebrated in this set which contains pretty much all the tracks from their  albums EPIC GARDEN MUSIC (1982), FEEDING THE FLAME (1983), THE  MIRROR TEST (1987), HEADLAND (1990), TREEHOUSE POETRY (1991) and MELTING IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME  (2002) plus singles, EP tracks, radio sessions and  rarities. A  stunning set to say the least.

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ROBYN HITCHCOCK: An EXCLUSIVE interview!

Always Pistachio:

STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Your self-titled album is about to be released. How are you feeling about the journey to make this album and the reaction to it so far?
ROBYN HITCHCOCK: Well, the people that normally like my records like this one, so far. And that’s it really – if you like this one, you’ll probably like the others. If not, I’m not your flavor. That’s why the record is simply my name. The journey? Well it was the lucky coincidence of my moving to Nashville at the same point that Brendan Benson was getting in touch, asking if I’d like to come and record with him there.

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MADNESS/Can’t Touch Us Now: New album reviewed!

MADNESS

CAN’T TOUCH US NOW

Available NOW

We all grow up. Some of us try to live in the past while others are happier living in the here-and-now.  Our favorite artists have it far more difficult, though. They grow older and move forward, maturing like the rest of us, yet they have fans that prefer them to stay exactly the same as they were when they first started having hits. British sextet Madness has certainly had their fair share of dealings with these types of expectations from their audience.  The young adults that recorded their first two albums in ’79 and ’80 – ONE STEP BEYOND and ABSOLUTELY – began to mature by the mid-‘80s and as soon as that happened, the band’s sound evolved. Their 7 and RISE AND FALL albums signaled their new-found confidence and each of them contained some big hits (most notably, “Our House”), but their audience wanted the band to remain the Ska-influenced nutty boys of old while the band just wanted to experiment and expand upon their sound. They were still selling a lot of records six years into their career but nobody seemed to really accept that the band that recorded “Yesterday’s Men” (a fab single in 1985) was the same gang that gave them “House Of Fun,” “Baggy Trousers,” and “One Step Beyond” just a handful of years before. By 1986, Madness called it quits.  Each member had personally outgrown the ‘image’ that people had of the band and they needed to shake those shackles before people could take them seriously… Thankfully, they reunited for live shows in the early ‘90s and have remained together ever since (although there have been solo and side projects released since they’ve been back). Not as prolific as they once were, a studio album from Madness is definitely cause for celebration.

Incredibly, the same six man line-up that recorded ONE STEP BEYOND in 1979 is the same line-up on their latest album, CAN’T TOUCH US NOW. That, in itself, is pretty damn impressive. This is only their fourth all-original album since WONDERFUL – their first studio ‘reunion’ album in 1999 – and their second since the critically acclaimed THE LIBERTY OF NORTON FOLGATE (2009). Like RISE & FALL and  NORTON FOLGATECAN’T TOUCH US NOW finds the band taking off their rose-colored glasses and revealing the shady underbelly of London (and British life in general). From religion and politics to lost souls in turmoil, CTUN is a trip through the darker side of jaunty. This is a raw look at the real world by middle aged men who still know how to easily craft Pop gems that ‘feel’ like classic Madness songs but reveal different layers with each listen.  Lee “El Thommo” Thompson’s sax still blurts and swings; Chris “Chrissy Boy” Foreman’s guitar still twangs and stings; Mike “Monsieur Barso” Barson’s keyboard work is so highly under-rated; Daniel “Woody” Woodgate and Mark “Bedders” Bedford are still one of the most creative rhythm sections in Pop/Rock; and Graham “Suggs” McPherson remains the ultimate front-man – you’ll always get an equal mix of tongue-in-cheek and heart-on-sleeve.

“Mr. Apples” is a worthy first single but the real meat in CTUN reveals itself over repeated spins. “Good Times,” “(Don’t Let Them) Catch You Crying,” “You Are My Everything,” and the title track are the ones that hit you first, slowly giving way to a host of other gems like “Pam The Hawk,” “Blackbird,” and “Soul Denying”. While a slow-burning album may not be welcome in a digital-on-demand world where everyone feels like they are entitled to their instant gratification right now, CTUN ultimately pays off big time for Madness fans and those who love thoughtful, well-crafted albums. If you’re looking for “Our House,” “It Must Be Love,” etc., go buy the old albums.  This is an album created by six guys who gratefully acknowledge their past but prefer to move forward.  For the record, I kept getting a feeling that this might be the band’s studio swan song… but I hope not!

NOTE: While I haven’t mentioned it above, I did want to address one issue: Although not an “official” member of Madness on their debut album, Cathal ‘Chas Smash’ Smyth became an integral piece of the Madness puzzle from 1980 onwards. Sadly, he has chosen to take a break from Madness and his presence is most certainly missed on this album – much like when bassist Bedford and guitarist Foreman took separate brief sabbaticals from the band in the past.

Also, read Part One of my MADNESS overview, which takes a look at a very British band from an American teenager’s point of view.  You can find it HERE!

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PET SHOP BOYS: Spaz reviews the album SUPER!

   Super, the 13th studio album by British duo Pet Shop Boys, is a prime example of why the Electronic/Dance act will never be part of a nostalgic ‘80s package tour – they are too busy moving into the future to live in the past. When they scored their first big hit 31 years ago with “West End Girls,” PSB were a delicious mixture of smarmy Pop and then-modern Electronica. Vocalist Neil Tennant’s deadpan (and slightly campy) vocals and Chris Lowe’s melodic, percolating Euro/Electropop backdrop made for some exciting records back in the day, earning them worldwide success and hits in every corner of the world.  By the ‘90s, their star had faded a bit in the U.S. although they still released innovative and exciting albums that were snapped up by audiences In vastly different time zones than the States. Thankfully, PSB have continued to make fresh, forward-thinking records over the years. They’ve kept on top of Dance and Electronic music trends and have embraced them wholeheartedly.  You’ll still find elements of their ‘80s and ‘90s sound on Super but you’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re looking for “West End Girls 2016” because Neil and Chris have moved on.

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