Saturday, August 1, 2020

Ozzy Osbourne - No Rest For the Wicked

Having only reviewed two Ozzy albums prior to now, I find it hard to believe I ran through most of R.E.M.'s discography and barely gave Ozz or Sabbath any attention. While part of this blog's original intention in 2010 was to highlight slightly obscure musicians or albums, I obviously presented a lot of more mainstream material with my own perspective. No Rest For the Wicked certainly qualifies among Ozzy's lesser works in terms of not only reception but his own production team's take on it. When his discography got a full reissue in the early 2000's, No Rest For the Wicked did not get a full makeover for album art or even updated production values. While the 1995 remaster of Ultimate Sin sounds incredible today, No Rest For the Wicked sounds like somebody hosed off the car rather than running it through the wash.

A huge part of Ozzy's sound always depends on his guitarists. With Zakk Wylde, the internet's favorite pinch harmonic punching bag, Ozzy sort of reverted to a more AC/DC and Black Sabbath sound. Granted, there are songs in the same vein as his prior albums, but Zakk was the first fanboy in his band. He supposedly built a shrine to Randy Rhoads, adored Jake E Lee, and would not shut up about Sabbath. Apparently, Ozzy found the long haired, bell-bottom kid a little peculiar. Sharon probably made the call to spritz Zakk up with some Aquanet at the time, but Zakk is a huge reason Ozzy's No More Tears helped the singer transition into the 1990's. By the way, I still love Zakk's playing and a lot of his work with Black Label Society and his solo album, Book of Shadows.

"Miracle Man" features a pretty simple riff with heavily processed guitar tone and Ozzy's similarly effected vocals. The live version featured as a bonus track shows the song's better qualities, but we still get a really tight Ozzy song that could hang with Jake E Lee's better songs. Furthermore, Zakk's solo is pretty memorable though a little mechanical. The next track, "Devil's Daughter," provides a youthful sound that we haven't heard in prior releases. Zakk and Randy Castillo deserve a lot of credit for this transition, though Castillo's drums sound like they're played via tuna cans. This is also a longer track that has a nice instrumental bridge and solo, and the baby and animal noises remind me a little of Roger Waters.

"Crazy Babies" gives us a party track we haven't heard from Ozzy before. While Sabbath and early Ozzy albums are good moody teenage bedroom music, this could be in a playlist with Van Halen and not stand out too much. "Breakin' All the Rules" remains a personal favorite, though it lacks the same energy of "Miracle Man" or "Crazy Babies." Slow it down, and you have a Sabbath jam.

The album takes a turn with "Bloodbath in Paradise," as we return to the more political Ultimate Sin sound. Even Zakk seems to be trying to channel Jake E Lee more. Again, the drum sound could help the mix if the producers knew anything about recording something other than pots and pans. While I like the song, it could benefit from being two minutes shorter. The longest track on the album, "Fire in the Sky," has a lot going for it, and we know Ozzy isn't afraid of synths or dramatic introductions. If Ozzy was just a singer with a bunch of two-to-three minute songs, I don't think he would be as revered. His early albums always let musicians breathe. I cannot say the same for his more recent output, of course. Oh, Zakk's solo is good, but a little restrained. His licks throughout the song give him a little more creative freedom.

"Tattooed Dancer" has a cool riff and gives us more of the party vibe, but definitely comes off as filler. "Demon Alcohol" is skippable for sure. Even Ozzy's vocal is a little too raw during the chorus in comparison to the rest of the album as if the producers just forgot to process it. "Hero" is pretty forgettable and about as intriguing as an empty Saltines box.

If I can blame anyone for the short comings of this album, its Baker and Olsen. Similarly to Max Norman, the guys have no idea how to make Ozzy's sound fuller. Again, these songs fill out so much more live. Ron Nevison did the best job in the 80's and I wish he returned for this one.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Boz Scaggs - Middle Man

Continuing the green motif from Silk Degrees, we have Boz Scaggs first album in the 1980's. While Down Two Then Left focuses more on 70's white boy Funk, Middle Man has a harder edge with a noticeable shift in direction and production.

The first difference immediately present in "Jojo" is the keyboard sound. The classic female background vocals and strings are present, though in a more calculated method. Lyrically, "Jojo" fits in with "Lido Shuffle" fairly well. "Breakdown Down Ahead" is the true star of the album with classic Steve Lukather guitar and a hard, tight beat resulting from the drums playing perfectly with the bass and keys. Interestingly enough, this album seems to foreshadow a lot of trends in R&B and Soft Rock of the 1980's despite having been recorded in 1979.

"Simone" has a dramatic introduction and leads into a typical Funk laden Boz track. While I enjoy "You Can Have Me Anytime," I think it's wrongly placed as the fourth track. "Middle Man" really belongs behind "Breakdown Down Ahead." The cheesy synth could use a rest, but so could half of the 80's. Similarly, the more live feel of "Do Like You Do in New York" should be earlier in the album.

"Angel You" should've been a single. Someone smarter than me probably never considered it as such. "Isn't It Time" sounds more in line with the 80's than "You Can Have Me Anytime" in terms of ballads. "You Got Some Imagination" should not be the last song on the album. In fact, I think the only glaring flaw in Middle Man is the track listing. Again, "You Got Some Imagination" could be a single, yet many people probably never heard it because it was buried so deep.

Admittedly, I am not as familiar with the Boz releases after Middle Man, but it's crazy that there's an eight year gap until Other Roads. While I'm not sure of the circumstances, this is a good album to go out on a hiatus on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Boz Scaggs - Silk Degrees

Before streaming, there were these things called commercials that came on cable TV. If you were a teenager in the 2000's, you'll no doubt remember staying up late and seeing hour long commercials for CD's by Time Life. Even in the late nineties, companies like Time Life put together compilations and they apparently sold well enough that they just kept making them. My first exposure to Boz Scaggs was a brief snippet of "Lowdown," during one of these commercials, and I initially thought he was kind of a cheesy joke. He was white, but he had a nasally soulful voice. Not unlike hearing Rick Astley on the radio and thinking he was a black man, my brain tried to piece together what the hell I was hearing versus what I saw.

I began talking about him in school, and brought him up during my French class because my teacher occasionally let us play music. Here I was with long hair and black clothes, and everyone expected me to play Metal. No, I was gyrating my hips to "Lowdown." This eventually led to an inside joke that ran until my senior year. That teacher actually signed my yearbook and referenced Boz in her note.

My mother bought me a live Greatest Hits CD, which I still listen to on Spotify, and we bonded over this strange 70's R&B singer. Unlike your Christopher Crosses, Doobie Brothers, or Steely Dans, Boz had weird credentials and a unique sensibility. He played with Steve Miller, Duane Allman, and even put together the band Toto (as evidenced by their participation on Silk Degrees). How he went from a Bluesy singer and guitar player to a smooth big dicked ladies man is a crazy transformation.

The album's opening track, "What Can I Say," introduces us to a mixture of female backing vocals and a heavy string arrangement. Other than Boz's crooning, we have some funky bass, typical guitar upstrokes, and piano dominating the background mix. Then there's a saxophone solo while the strings move into a montage sound. I could easily hear them played at the beach or in a grocery store. What differentiates Boz's sound is the voice. He has the cadence of a smooth saxophone.

Then you have "Georgia," which has some of the most memorable lyrics on the LP. Of course, the awesome chorus doesn't hurt. Here Boz sounds a little more optimistic. He's so laid back in "What Can I Say," but there's a sense of longing in "Georgia" that sells the message. "Jump Street" has a harder edge we don't hear very often on a Scaggs production, and it reminds me of Daryl Hall's grittier tracks.

Both Glen Campbell and Boz Scaggs covered Allen Toussaint, and he deserved a lot more acclaim. His voice, keyboard playing, and songwriting made for some tremendous songs. "What Do You Want the Girl to Do" has a less mellow upbeat feel compared to the original. The beat is more apparent and Boz makes the song his own.

As you know, I believe the longest track on an album should be either the best or well worth our time. "Harbor Lights" definitely fits that mold. Honestly, it's a perfect song. You have the lovely keys, and you know I'm a sucker for electric piano, and Boz's delicate vocals careening over the instruments with a nice jam at the end. The live version gets even crazier. But then we have the hit: "Lowdown."

Other than the signature bass lick and obvious funk from the guitars meshed with flutes, we have a groovy track that would work as an instrumental. Boz presents a rather unromantic notion: your girl is kinda ditzy and she's taking advantage of you whilst telling everyone you're a fool. I like that Boz allows his musicians to breathe. This entire album has stellar production because it's not just a vehicle for Boz's voice despite that it's his album.

The classics don't end with "Lowdown," either. "It's Over" feels like a song you heard on the radio a million times yet never grow tired of. "Love Me Tomorrow" has that chill Caribbean feel that brings listeners back every time. "Lido Shuffle" is an interesting pick for track nine because it's a classic Box song. The producers were smart to put "We're All Alone" as the final track. That gives those who prefer dry faces and not crying in front of their mommies a chance to cut the record short.

I plan on reviewing other Boz Scaggs releases, but I make no promises. Check out Silk Degrees.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Wampler Tumnus and Velvet Fuzz

I wanted a new podcast to binge, so I searched for guitar related shows on Spotify. One of the first to pop up was Chasing Tone with Brian Wampler. I recognized the Wampler name, so I decided to listen and ended up hearing most episodes. The fact that Brian is not only into gear but promotes other companies he likes while being a genuinely nice guy made me take interest in his work.

Recently, I really got into pre-amp/boost pedals. In Overloud, there is a TC Electronic pre-amp that sounds a bit like a dirty compressor without squashing notes. The more I researched, I found that a pre-amp/boost was something I needed all of these years. Well, TC Electronics doesn't make that pedal anymore and the closest I could find was the Xotic RC Booster, which my new Zoom pedal emulates. Still, my quest for better tone continued and I wanted a Wampler pedal.

Amazon had a deal on Tumnus pedals and it is advertised as not only an overdrive but a boost. Essentially, most pre-amp pedals are overdrives, and this one had a treble control. Though, I never took interest in the Klon Centaur, I had my excuse to buy a Wampler pedal.

While I somewhat despise that the Tumnus is so versatile that I cannot rely on one setting at a time, this isn't a complaint about the pedal or design. Here's the thing: This pedal sounds spectacular clean, slightly driven, or turned to eleven. Brian Wampler managed to make my new favorite overdrive. His podcast also gave me ideas about pedal placement. Normally, I'd set this sort of box before delays or compressors, but as a boost pedal it makes things sound so damn good. As an overdrive, it pairs perfectly with my Roland Jazz Chorus or my Marshall. Now, I can't use the same settings with each amp or even every guitar. This used to be my custom, but not so much these days.

Imagine an overdrive that doesn't color your tone like a Tube Screamer but has a unique tonality that's highly adjustable. It makes my Roland sound exotic. It makes my Marshall go beyond perfection. Every time I play this, I want to hug Brian Wampler, though I probably wouldn't because I'm incredibly awkward and don't generally like people touching me.

I obsessed over my next Wampler purchase. I didn't have any interest in another overdrive because the Tumnus is perfection. I actually considered buying a second Tumnus. The Deluxe Tumnus didn't interest me as much because it has more knobs, and my brain can't handle more control. I like a simple three knob design. I use my Triangle Big Muff and Fuzz Face way more than my Big Muff Tone Wicker because I end up tweaking it more than playing.

The Velvet Fuzz was in the back of my mind for weeks already. The Youtube demos sounded so good. I just couldn't justify yet another fuzz! I have five other fuzz pedals and so many emulation options. But this is what changed my mind: I had a dream that I was in Brian Wampler's work room and pulled a Velvet Fuzz off the shelf to play. He stopped making them and was perfectly fine with me trying it out.

Since my brain gave me the obvious answer, I ordered a Velvet Fuzz yesterday morning and received it today.

The thought of sounding more like Eric Johnson thrilled me. Admittedly, while it has Johnson vibes, this is basically a really smooth fuzz that sits between a Big Muff and a Fuzz Face in terms of tonality. Unlike my Big Muffs, it blends with amp gain better. Supposedly, part of the Velvet circuit has remnants of the Wampler Plexi Drive. It sounds spectacular through my Marshall, though I had to make some adjustments with my Roland. Granted, most gain based pedals sound the same through the Roland with the exception of the Tumnus. A Big Muff really growls through the Roland, but the Velvet is more smooth and doesn't distract from the notes.

Oddly enough, the Tumnus and Velvet Fuzz pair well together and make an incredible lead tone. I'm not a gigging player, but I really want to incorporate these in future recordings. Now, I told my wife to not let me buy anymore pedals because it's becoming a very bad habit. Wampler pedals aren't inexpensive, but certainly worth the money. Plenty are available on the used market too. I generally buy my pedals new simply because used pedals could have issues that the manufacturer may not vouch for.

I cannot recommend Wampler products enough.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Toby Keith - 1993 Self Debut

I swore I reviewed this album before, but apparently not. Jimmy Pardo has a Youtube series entitled "Jimmy's Records and Tapes," and his latest episode for 1993 names Toby Keith's debut as his favorite for the year. For those of you not in the know, Jimmy isn't Southern. He's pretty fucking Yankee.

In February 2012, I downloaded Keith's Greatest Hits and proceeded to download his debut only a few days later. Now, I cannot define why I got the Toby Keith bug, because in 2012 I regarded him as pretty obnoxious and patriotic. In 1993, this was not the case. He was a goofy, shy dude with a poodle puff that hearkened back to Keith Whitley. Also, "I Should've Been a Cowboy" is a song everyone knows, and it haunted me as a child. I could not leave the house without hearing it in the 90's.

Anytime someone brings up good Country albums, I often mention this. I have yet to have anyone scoff at me. If this blog is meant to do anything, it is making you listen to the albums I review. If you like Country music, get on Spotify, Youtube, or Pirate's Booty and listen to it today.

Granted, I only like seven out of the ten songs.  "Some Kinda Hold on Me," "Valentine," and "Mama Come Quick" are filler. I probably deleted them off my hard drive in 2012. Other than the obvious hits, "Under the Fall" is classic 1990's Country. "Ain't No Thing" has a sweet callback feel, and "Close But No Guitar" is one of my favorite songs of the decade.

There's your album review. I like it. Go listen.

Now, I am curious what the hell I was doing in 2012. As I examine my college folder for Spring semester of 2012, I remember not being able to sleep and often missing class as a result. I had an Art History teacher who I despised, and even went to the department chair regarding her behavior and my grade, but I made it out of her class with a C. Honestly, I had it pretty easy that semester because I took two online classes and only had to show up to class once a day Monday thorough Thursday. As I gaze through my photos from this period, I found one I took on a playground on February 5th. Still, I can't remember what the hell I was doing whilst listening to Toby Keith, and I cannot give you an answer as to why.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy 2020

I am not writing as many reviews lately for several reasons. Other than working a full time job and going to graduate school, I have a wife that requires most of my attention. That leaves five percent of my time free for writing, playing guitar, or video games. Frankly, my mental energy only allows me so much creative space to work with.

Another reason is that I find writing reviews for old albums is slightly redundant and stupid. Who wants to actually read my thoughts on Brian Eno? Very few. With my attempt at podcasting, I found that my best way to express editorial style opinions is in the written form, so maybe I will return to that style. However, the Blog as we once knew it is dead.

There was also the whole matter of me changing the URL for this blog for a few months to kill a lot of Google results. Removing my pen name, which is still in use for my music, has a lot to do with that. See, over the course of almost fifteen years, I inadvertently created an image/persona for myself that doesn't reflect who I am outside the internet. I'm in my late twenties and trying to focus on a career, and it's time to put that behind me.

What can we expect from Nostalgia is Evil in this coming year? Probably nothing unless I crave a format to express my opinions.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Brian Eno - Another Green World

I have Brian Eno to thank for all of my creative impulses as an Experimental musician, which led me to many failed experiments I never realized were unlistenable until I grew up a little. Eno is not throwing darts at a board. He knows how to control these ideas and make music rather than just noise.

That said, I never gave Another Green World the same attention as Here Come the Warm Jets or Before and After Science. I regard this LP as a series of experiments that resemble songs rather than a complete thought akin to those records. As blasphemous as it sounds, I never liked Taking Tiger Mountain despite multiple tries. Eno knows how to capture brilliance, but he also annoys the living hell out of me at times.

"Sky Saw" relies on the same noise over and over. To a casual listener, I might understand if they try to stab the speakers. I like this one, but it takes an acquired taste for Eno's genre. "Over Fire Island" comes and goes too quickly. I love the mood Eno evokes and the simplicity. Despite that I often listened to this while in Virginia or driving around my little town, this track sounds so urban and futuristic. "St. Elmo's Fire" offers the first complete song and the best Fripp guitar solo of the 1970's. I often wonder how Eno came up with these odd lyrics and melodies, and the Fripp/Eno relationship as they probably get on each other's nerves. "In Dark Trees" serves as a complete thought or answer to "Over Fire Island," so maybe "St. Elmo's Fire" should be track two or later in the line up? Even more crazy is Eno's instrumentation. I find it strange that his peers don't recognize his ability as an actual musician.

Who can't love "The Big Ship"? Such a fantastic track. Again, Eno composes a brilliant orchestration as the sole musician. "I'll Come Running" gets a lot of flack for the simplistic lyrics, but Eno never focused much on words. I suppose his glam image and increasing reclusive tendencies as a public figure intersect here. By "Another Green World," I get a little bored. I like this, but Eno's inability to present an album in the traditional format gives me whiplash. "Sombre Reptiles" is not so good, though. "Little Fishes" isn't a song. "Golden Hours" possesses little value as a song. "Becalmed" needs editing. The rest is the reason I rarely listen past track six.

Eno frustrates me because I know he possesses so much talent yet wastes his time chasing bad experiments. I had more patience for that as a teenager when I thought everything on an album should be a masterpiece, but I realize most popular musicians cannot pull off perfect records. Eno has several missteps here. Thankfully, Spotify and other streaming devices make it so easy to ignore entire chunks of albums.