Thursday, August 21, 2014

Revisiting a Classic - The Hangmen!

Nineteen eighty nine was a big transition year in rock music: Aerosmith released PumpMötley Crüe was at their height in glam rock releasing Dr. Feelgood, and Skid Row had one of the year’s biggest hits with 18 to Life. Meanwhile, in a grungy apartment in Seattle, a young Kurt Cobain quietly began his destruction of hair metal by preparing for the release of Nirvana's debut album Bleach.

Somewhere stuck in the middle, was the LA based band The Hangmen. They are often labelled as a hair metal band, but that seems far from an accurate description. They would be way closer to punk rock than metal: perhaps a mix of 25% heavier blues with about 75% Stooges era punk rock. Singer Brad Small cites Iggy Pop and Gun Club as influences, and both artists are clearly represented in their style.

Their debut self-titled album was the sole release with Capitol records who quickly dropped the band following mediocre sales. While they never lived up to Capitol’s expectations of the “next big thing” in rock, this is one hell of an album and I feel that it is a must-have for any punk/hard rock collection.

The Hangmen's lineup for this album was: Bryan Small on guitar and vocals; Billy Catterson on guitars and vocals; Johnny Holiday on bass and vocals; and Lenny Montoya on drums and vocals. 

This album was produced by Vic Maile who also produced Motörhead’s Ace of Spades and The Who’s Live at Leeds. While I was scouring the net for interviews with Bryan Small, the same response kept coming up: he was never satisfied with the production and sound of this debut album, although he was happy with the songs. Major label relationships never seemed to work out for The Hangmen and they seemed happier on the independent circuit. 

While never gaining huge recognition, The Hangmen have stuck together and are still performing today (well... kind of... Bryan Small is the only original member). There was an eleven year stretch between this debut and the follow up album Metallic I.O.U., but have since released a total of five albums on indie label Acetate Records.

This album has long been out of print, so you may have to do a bit of hunting to track this one down. It's sure worth the effort. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Revisiting a classic: Joni Mitchell - Clouds

Here is my normal routine when trying a new-to-me Joni Mitchell album:

1) Listen to it through for the first time, quickly decide it's not her best and toss it aside.

2) Two hours later I have some medley or verse in my head, trying to figure out where I heard it before, then remember I heard it on the Joni album earlier. Dig out the album and give it a second spin.

3) Like the album a bit better the second time, but still think it's a bit too 'out there' for me. Put the album in the record shelf and decide that even though it's not her best, I can appreciate it.

4) A few days later I still can't get the songs out of my head, decide to give it one last try before its lost forever in the record library.

5) Fall completely in love with the album, play it continuously for weeks on end, burn every other album in my collection deciding they are no longer needed as nothing could ever compete.

Ok... maybe I exaggerated a little bit on the last one, but I think I've made my point.

Clouds is the latest Joni album to make its way through my ritual. I picked this album up while digging through a thrift store last year and finally got around to giving it a shot.

Released in 1969 on Reprise records, Clouds is Joni Mitchell's second studio album featuring ten beautiful songs often only accompanied by Joni's acoustic guitar (the only other musician who contributed is Stephen Stills who added some bass and guitar). Love songs like Tin Angel "Still I'll take a chance and see, I found someone to love today", and songs about war: The Fiddle and the Drum "Oh, my friend, What time is this, To trade the handshake for the fist" dates this album perfectly in the love/war movement of the late 60's.

Like most of Joni’s albums, the cover featured her own art work and in this case it’s a self-portrait. Unlike Joni's first album, which was produced by David Crosby, she handled the production for all of this album on her own except for the opening track, Tin Angel, which was produced by Paul Rothchild (producer of the first five albums by The Doors).

This album won Joni her first Grammy award for best folk performance in 1969.

It's always difficult for me to choose one Joni album as a favorite, as they all are held in high regard within my collection, but Clouds is definitely one of my deserted island discs.