Friday Full-Length: Masters of Reality, Sunrise on the Sufferbus

Posted in Bootleg Theater on August 23rd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Masters of Reality, Sunrise on the Sufferbus (1993)

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Now, if you’re playing a kind of then-modern heavy rock that’s super-informed by the blues rock and songwriting modus of the later ’60s and early ’70s, having Ginger Baker on drums is like communing with Buddha, and amid Goss‘ ultra-tight, radio-friendly craft on songs like the boogie-laced opener “She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On)” and “Tilt-a-Whirl,” the somewhat more pastoral “Rolling Green,” the cult-rock prescient “J.B. Witchdance,” the blues bouncer “Ants in the Kitchen,” and even the less grounded smooth meander of “Rabbit One,” Baker nails it. His style of play is a graceful complement to Goss‘ intricate but accessible guitar work, flowing melodic voice and flourish of psychedelic elements here and there, and while I won’t take away from Googe‘s bass, Sunrise on the Sufferbus becomes about this meeting of minds between Goss and Baker, each one stepping up to the other’s considerable presence in the material and not necessarily competing, but challenging each other to be more on point in the task before them. Whether it’s the popping snare and crisp toms in the later “Gimme Water,” which follows the brief and actually-drumless “Madonna” — can you imagine having Ginger Baker on your record and then being like, “Hey man, it’s cool to sit this one out?” — or the languid fuzzy roll of “V.H.V.,” the collaboration brims with personality and still never loses sight of the fact that the songs are most important. The songs are paramount. The songs are everything. Songwriting bloody songwriting. It’s the songwriting, stupid.

Masters of Reality have a few genuinely unheralded classics in their catalog — “Why the Fly?,” “Deep in the Hole,” “The Ballad of Jody Frosty” — but if Chris Goss had never written another song after “100 Years (Of Tears on the Wind),” you’d still have to say he beat the universe. Masters of Reality Sunrise on the SufferbusAnd in just four minutes! The song begins with a fade in of guitar and drums and sets up a waltz of resonant strumming and jazzy ride cymbal and maybe mellotron (?) before Goss unveils the subtle raciness of the hook — “I’ve found my place in bed/Three feet beneath your head/I wanted to stay home/I couldn’t think of nothing new” — and croons into the next verse with the same final line repeating at the end, then comes back around and cycles through one more time, and that’s it. Done. But it’s beautiful and theatrical and lush and affecting, and genuinely shifts the mood of the listener even as the band follows it up with “T.U.S.A.,” which finds Baker taking lead vocals on kind of a goofy semi-spoken rant about how no one in America can make tea properly, which is to say, how the British do it. “Now this is serious,” Baker says in the opening line, signaling that of the many things the song might be, serious is not one of them.

But even that goofball transition is pulled off with aplomb and just like the 48-second wisp of melody “Bicycle” that led into “100 Years (Of Tears on the Wind),” “T.U.S.A.” leaves it behind immediately — on to the next thing. That’s very much how Sunrise on the Sufferbus operates, but in the three or four minutes of each track, the band builds entire worlds. “She Got Me (When She Got Her Dress On)” puts you at some mythical Americana county fair in god knows what year, while “Jody Sings” up-strums classic folk driven simply by the sweetness in Goss‘ voice, and while there’s often a playful aspect to it, as on closer “The Moon in Your Pocket,” that does nothing to pull back from the achievement of craft that the album ultimately is, in fact adding to it because fun is just one more thing Masters of Reality are willing to be.

The band recorded the LP The Ballad of Jody Frosty in 1994, and some of that material would show up on 2004’s Give Us Barabbas — including “The Desert Song” with Baker on drums — but Masters of Reality‘s next released studio album wouldn’t be until 1999’s Welcome to the Western Lodge (would someone please put this on YouTube so I can close out a week with it?). By then, the band was just Goss and drummer John Leamy, and Goss had cut his teeth as a producer in the fledgling Californian desert rock scene, working with Kyuss and Fatso Jetson, among others. That style would inform 2001’s Deep in the Hole (discussed here) and the subsequent European touring with Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, then both of Queens of the Stone Age, that resulted in the 2003 live album, Flak ‘n’ Flight (discussed here). After Give Us Barabbas in ’04, it would be five years until the arrival of 2009’s Pine/Cross Dover (review here), which stands as their most recent offering. Goss posted a couple tracks on Soundcloud a while back, and I got offered an interview with him a few months that as yet I’ve been unable to make happen that I’d still love to do, but there’s nothing like a release date for a new Masters of Reality album or anything like that. Would be nice, and could certainly happen eventually, but that’s about the extent of what I know on the subject.

I admit, I picked this one just for me because I wanted to listen to it, but as always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

Well, the Massachusetts era would seem to be over. We closed the sale on the place in East Bridgewater, MA, on Wednesday. Drove up for it, sat in the office giggling with our lawyer, who is an old college friend of The Patient Mrs., signed and dated all the whatnot. We ended up getting our asking price for it, which astounded me. Hard not to think the entire market is going to collapse, but whatever. Tidy profit on the sale — all the money’s spent, but I’m still gonna sneak a chunk out to buy a lens, hopefully today and celebrate the new New Jersey homecoming tomorrow night at Starland Ballroom — where else? — for C.O.C., Crowbar and Lo-Pan. That’ll be a good time even though I’m going alone.

We also yesterday came down to NJ with the last moving truck, stuff going essentially from one storage unit to another. I got to say a brief hello to the bulk of my CD collection — hello goodbye — which I’d pretty much have to win the lottery in order to have enough space to properly display. That kind of sucks. Here’s this library you’ve been enjoying building for the last quarter-century-plus, stuck in anonymous moving boxes. Would be out of sight out of mind but for the rental cost of the storage unit. But even in this house, there isn’t really a place where it could work, and the climate control here like so much else is a work in progress. We’ve got new windows coming on Monday. That should help, but even if I didn’t have a toddler hell-bent on destruction, I’d still basically need every available inch of wall in the house for a shelf, and that’s neither feasible nor fair. So, you know. Boxes.

And every couple years, more boxes. I don’t sell CDs.

I do, however, keep buying them.

My phone is busted, so I need to get that taken care of today, and between that, that lens purchase (assuming the wire transfer from the house sale comes through), donating some dishes and maybe another trip to Costco, that’s pretty much the day. Should be plenty. Next week look out for the C.O.C. live review and an Orange Goblin live review, as I’ll be hitting their show with The Skull in NYC on Tuesday, and a track premieres Italy’s Bretus and Esogenesi. Didn’t mean to do an Italian doom theme, but kind of did anyhow. I might go see Bask and Begotten as well the night after Orange Goblin, but we’ll see. That’s a lot and I’m just a poor boy. Might be nice to get a couple shows in before The Patient Mrs. goes to a conference next weekend and then starts her new job and life explodes all over again.

But anyway, we’re in Jersey now. There’s work to do but there always is, and sooner or later we’ll start calling this place home without even thinking about it.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re at C.O.C. in Jersey tomorrow or Orange Goblin in NYC on Tuesday, please say hi. Otherwise, cheers.

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Friday Full-Length: Jethro Tull, Aqualung

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 20th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

Jethro Tull, Aqualung (1971)

I love this record. Jethro Tull‘s oh-yeah-they’re-the-band-with-the-flute reputation and the sort of over-the-top aspects of Aqualung, whether it’s Ian Anderson‘s vocal delivery or grandiose songwriting too often get the focus when it comes to modern perceptions of Tull, but their early work is a landmark in heavy rock as well as prog, albums like 1968’s debut This Was and 1969’s Stand Up setting the stage for the proggy indulgences that really took hold with 1972’s single-song wonder Thick as a Brick and continued to develop from there. Aqualung, released in 1971, is sort of the middle ground between the impulses of blues rock and prog. You of course have the opening title-track, a great, crashing thing, with its vocal proclamations and guitar-led grandeur, but it’s still the riff that makes it, and later cuts like “Hymn 43,” “Locomotive Breath” and “Wind-Up,” let alone the unmitigated groove of the subsequent “Cross-Eyed Mary,” follow a similar course. Even “Mother Goose,” which is acoustic, follows its central guitar figure. That song is practically flute-less, as is the subsequent quiet contemplation “Wond’ring Aloud,” but perhaps the best blend of Anderson‘s flute and Martin Barre‘s guitar is the expansive side B opener “My God.” There’s an audible switch in the tape when the choral vocals and extended flute solo kick in (it’s 25:03 into the album), and that’s a pivotal moment for the band. The tone of the woodwind instrument changes and the feel becomes more orchestral, brazenly moving away from heavy rock to something with greater aspirations.

Tull would of course head in that direction in the years that followed, forging an influential legacy in classic prog, but Aqualung remains their defining moment and it’s easy to speculate that the reason why is because songs like “Up to Me” refuse to give up their rock and roll swagger in the name of forging a new take on classical music’s technical focus. Of course, “Aqualung” became one of rock’s great characters — do I need to reference “Sgt. Pepper” or “Corporal Clegg”; two military figures, yes, but “Aqualung”‘s veteran status is unknown — but even in its smallest passages, “Cheap Day Return,” “Wond’ring Aloud” or “Slipstream,” Aqualung is afraid to be neither sweet nor sour, and even if Jethro Tull had never released another album, it would be enough to ensure legendary status.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Had a pipe burst this week. It froze. The townhouse we’re in apparently isn’t much for insulation, so much to the surprise of The Patient Mrs. and I on Monday afternoon, steam started flooding the guest room and water started streaming down from the kitchen ceiling. That ceiling, now stained, will need painting. The carpet upstairs, maybe cleaning will do it rather than outright replacement? Took two days to dry out the floor, dehumidifier and box fan and towels. Took the plumber about 20 minutes to fix the busted pipe. Suggested we keep the heat up more on colder nights. It was at 60 when it broke. Also had the plumber back this afternoon to look at our hot water. These are the joys of home ownership. The American Dream: A Year on Unemployment Spending Money on Home Repair. At least it’s supposed to be above freezing this weekend, though as I understand it will rain the whole time.

Oh, I used to go to shows. Now I just stay home and think about the weather. That’s my life now. I’ve canceled my trip to Roadburn in favor of the Northeastern Meteorological Conference in New Haven.

Not really, but it has been a lot about the weather. I’m still going to Roadburn. One must get right with one’s gods, after all.

Seems kind of like I’m checking out early, but what the hell. A particularly efficient day is a welcome change from the norm, and a (lukewarm) shower and a run to the grocery store await. Monday starts with a video premiere from Mammoth Mammoth, and then we get deeper from there. Reviews of Blut and Mansion, and hopefully The Midnight Ghost Train, and a look at the Skunk Hawk tape and a little more of this or that. The early part of this week — like, Monday through Thursday — had a lot of premieres, and I’m into that since it’s basically just a review with some exclusive audio attached, but those don’t always do a lot to whittle down the stuff on the pile. And after the late-2014 50-reviews-in-one-week purge, there’s already a pile built back up. Might have to make “Last Licks” a seasonal thing.

Whatever. Too much music is a good problem to have, and if I can’t keep up, well at least that keeps me busy. Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and realizing how much more I need this than it needs me, I guess is what I’m saying.

On that note, I’ll skip out. Not actually skipping because my foot’s all messed up, but figuratively skipping for the deep, resonant, warm joy I feel inside. Dianetics!

Have a great and safe weekend, and please check out the forum and radio stream. If you get the chance to dig into the new podcast, that’d rule as well.

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