The Buffalo Killers are still comfortably riding the Way Back Machine that has taken them into some alternate version of the early 1970s (an aural Twilight Zone that has been their home since brothers Andy and Zachary Gabbard broke up Thee Shams), but their fourth album, Dig. Sow. Love. Grow., makes it clear that the mellower tone that dominated their 2011 release 3 was, for the most part, just a passing phase. Dig. Sow. Love. Grow. (which in true period fashion was released a bit less than a year after 3) sounds genuinely amiable as the Buffalo Killers kick out some midtempo jams, but the band hits noticeably harder this time out, and these ten songs sound less like the work of a bunch of Laurel Canyon refugees and more like the proud Midwesterners they really are. Despite its title, DSLG thankfully doesn’t generate much of a hippie vibe; instead, this is the work of a power trio that knows how to cut a deep groove, and Joey Sebaali’s drumming (which is fittingly high in the mix) can be counted on to give this music the swift kick it often needs, even on slower and sunnier numbers like “Farewell.” Andy Gabbard’s guitar work is thick and satisfying throughout, his brother Zachary’s bass work is a solid intermediary between the melodies and the grooves, and if the vocals sometimes sound like the work of someone who won a Joe Walsh soundalike contest, at least the James Gang Rides Again vibe fits this music just right. 3 sounded as if the Buffalo Killers were reaching for something bigger and grander than they’d attempted on their first two albums; Dig. Sow. Love. Grow., on the other hand, is a simpler and more organic effort that suggests these guys just want to rock, but it succeeds well enough to be as satisfying as its predecessor.
Listening to Miles Davis’ originally released version of In a Silent Way in light of the complete sessions released by Sony in 2001 (Columbia Legacy 65362) reveals just how strategic and dramatic a studio construction it was. If one listens to Joe Zawinul’s original version of “In a Silent Way,” it comes across as almost a folk song with a very pronounced melody. The version Miles Davis and Teo Macero assembled from the recording session in July of 1968 is anything but. There is no melody, not even a melodic frame. There are only vamps and solos, grooves layered on top of other grooves spiraling toward space but ending in silence. But even these don’t begin until almost ten minutes into the piece. It’s Miles and McLaughlin, sparely breathing and wending their way through a series of seemingly disconnected phrases until the groove monster kicks in. The solos are extended, digging deep into the heart of the ethereal groove, which was dark, smoky, and ashen. McLaughlin and Hancock are particularly brilliant, but Corea’s solo on the Fender Rhodes is one of his most articulate and spiraling on the instrument ever. The A-side of the album, “Shhh/Peaceful,” is even more so. With Tony Williams shimmering away on the cymbals in double time, Miles comes out slippery and slowly, playing over the top of the vamp, playing ostinato and moving off into more mysterious territory a moment at a time. With Zawinul’s organ in the background offering the occasional swell of darkness and dimension, Miles could continue indefinitely. But McLaughlin is hovering, easing in, moving up against the organ and the trills by Hancock and Corea; Wayne Shorter hesitantly winds in and out of the mix on his soprano, filling space until it’s his turn to solo. But John McLaughlin, playing solos and fills throughout (the piece is like one long dreamy solo for the guitarist), is what gives it its open quality, like a piece of music with no borders as he turns in and through the commingling keyboards as Holland paces everything along. When the first round of solos ends, Zawinul and McLaughlin and Williams usher it back in with painterly decoration and illumination from Corea and Hancock. Miles picks up on another riff created by Corea and slips in to bring back the ostinato “theme” of the work. He plays glissando right near the very end, which is the only place where the band swells and the tune moves above a whisper before Zawinul’s organ fades it into silence. This disc holds up, and perhaps is even stronger because of the issue of the complete sessions. It is, along with Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew, a signature Miles Davis session from the electric era.
Sabotage is the final release of Black Sabbath’s legendary First Six, and it’s also the least celebrated of the bunch, though most die-hard fans would consider it criminally underrated. The band continues further down the proto-prog metal road of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, and this time around, the synthesizers feel more organically integrated into the arrangements. What’s more, the song structures generally feel less conventional and more challenging. There’s one significant exception in the blatant pop tune “Am I Going Insane (Radio),” which rivals “Changes” as the most fan-loathed song of the glory years, thanks to its synth-driven arrangement (there isn’t even a guitar riff!) and oft-repeated one-line chorus. But other than that song and the terrific album opener, “Hole in the Sky,” the band largely eschews the standard verse-chorus format, sticking to one or two melody lines per riffed section and changing up the feel before things get too repetitive. The prevalence of this writing approach means that Sabotage rivals Vol. 4 as the least accessible record of Sabbath’s glory years. However, given time, the compositional logic reveals itself, and most of the record will burn itself into the listener’s brain just fine. The faster than usual “Symptom of the Universe” is a stone-cold classic, its sinister main riff sounding like the first seed from which the New Wave of British Heavy Metal would sprout (not to mention an obvious blueprint for Diamond Head’s “Am I Evil?”). Like several songs on the record, “Symptom” features unexpected acoustic breaks and softer dynamics, yet never loses its drive or focus, and always feels like Sabbath. Less immediate but still rewarding are “Thrill of It All,” with its triumphant final section, and the murky, sullen “Megalomania,” which never feels as long as its nearly nine and a half minutes. But more than the compositions, the real revelation on Sabotage is Ozzy Osbourne, who turns in his finest vocal performance as a member of Black Sabbath. Really for the first time, this is the Ozzy we all know, displaying enough range, power, and confidence to foreshadow his hugely successful solo career. He saves the best for last with album closer “The Writ,” one of the few Sabbath songs where his vocal lines are more memorable than Tony Iommi’s guitar parts; running through several moods over the course of the song’s eight minutes, it’s one of the best performances of his career, bar none. Unfortunately, after Sabotage, the wheels of confusion came off entirely. Yes, there were technically two more albums, but for the non-obsessive, the story of Osbourne-era Sabbath effectively ends here.
While Gish had placed the Smashing Pumpkins on the “most promising artist” list for many, troubles were threatening to break the band apart. Singer/guitarist/leader Billy Corgan was battling a severe case of writer’s block and was in a deep state of depression brought on by a relationship in turmoil; drummer Jimmy Chamberlin was addicted to hard drugs; and bassist D’Arcy and guitarist James Iha severed their romantic relationship. The sessions for their sophomore effort, Siamese Dream, were wrought with friction — Corgan eventually played almost all the instruments himself (except for percussion). Some say strife and tension produces the best music, and it certainly helped make Siamese Dream one of the finest alt-rock albums of all time. Instead of following Nirvana’s punk rock route, Siamese Dream went in the opposite direction — guitar solos galore, layered walls of sound courtesy of the album’s producers (Butch Vig and Corgan), extended compositions that bordered on prog rock, plus often reflective and heartfelt lyrics. The four tracks that were selected as singles became alternative radio standards — the anthems “Cherub Rock,” “Today,” and “Rocket,” plus the symphonic ballad “Disarm” — but as a whole, Siamese Dream proved to be an incredibly consistent album. Such compositions as the red-hot rockers “Quiet” and “Geek U.S.A.” were standouts, as were the epics “Hummer,” “Soma,” and “Silverfuck,” plus the soothing sounds of “Mayonaise,” “Spaceboy,” and “Luna.” After the difficult recording sessions, Corgan stated publicly that if Siamese Dream didn’t achieve breakthrough success, he would end the band. He didn’t have to worry for long — the album debuted in the Billboard Top Ten and sold more than four million copies in three years. Siamese Dream stands alongside Nevermind and Superunknown as one of the decade’s finest (and most influential) rock albums.
Of course, Highway to Hell is the final album AC/DC recorded with Bon Scott, the lead singer who provided the group with a fair share of its signature sleaze. Just months after its release, Scott literally partied himself to death (the official cause cited as acute alcohol poisoning) after a night of drinking, a rock & roll fatality that took no imagination to predict. In light of his passing, it’s hard not to see Highway to Hell as a last testament of sorts, being that it was his last work and all, and if Scott was going to go out in a blaze of glory, this certainly was the way to do it. This is a veritable rogue’s gallery of deviance, from cheerfully clumsy sex talk and drinking anthems to general outlandish behavior. It’s tempting to say that Scott might have been prescient about his end — or to see the title track as ominous in the wake of his death — trying to spill it all out on paper, but it’s more accurate to say that the ride had just gotten very fast and very wild for AC/DC, and he was simply flying high. After all, it wasn’t just Scott who reached a new peak on Highway to Hell; so did the Young brothers, crafting their monster riffs into full-fledged, undeniable songs. This is their best set of songs yet, from the incessant, intoxicating boogie of “Girls Got Rhythm” to “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It).” Some of the credit should also go to Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who gives the album a precision and magnitude that the Vanda & Young LPs lacked in their grimy charm. Filtered through Mutt’s mixing board, AC/DC has never sounded so enormous, and they’ve never had such great songs, and they had never delivered an album as singularly bone-crunching or classic as this until now.
George “Buddy” Guy (born July 30, 1936 is an American blues guitarist and singer. Critically acclaimed, he is a pioneer of the Chicago blues sound and has served as an influence to some of the most notable musicians of his generation, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the 1960s Guy was a member of Muddy Waters’ band and was a house guitarist at Chess Records. He can be heard on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” as well as on his own Chess sides and the series of records he made with harmonica player Junior Wells. Ranked 30th in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”, Guy is known for his showmanship on stage: playing his guitar with drumsticks or strolling into the audience while playing solos. His song “Stone Crazy” was ranked 78th in Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time.
Tres Hombres is the record that brought ZZ Top their first Top Ten record, making them stars in the process. It couldn’t have happened to a better record. ZZ Top finally got their low-down, cheerfully sleazy blooze-n-boogie right on this, their third album. As their sound gelled, producer Bill Ham discovered how to record the trio so simply that they sound indestructible, and the group brought the best set of songs they’d ever have to the table. On the surface, there’s nothing really special about the record, since it’s just a driving blues-rock album from a Texas bar band, but that’s what’s special about it. It has a filthy groove and an infectious feel, thanks to Billy Gibbons’ growling guitars and the steady propulsion of Dusty Hill and Frank Beard’s rhythm section. They get the blend of bluesy shuffles, gut-bucket rocking, and off-beat humor just right. ZZ Top’s very identity comes from this earthy sound and songs as utterly infectious as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Move Me on Down the Line,” and the John Lee Hooker boogie “La Grange.” In a sense, they kept trying to remake this record from this point on — what is Eliminator if not Tres Hombres with sequencers and synthesizers? — but they never got it better than they did here.