Friday Full-Length: Shinki Chen and His Friends, Shinki Chen and His Friends

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Shinki Chen and His Friends, Shinki Chen and His Friends (1971)

One can scarcely find any information on Tokyo-based guitarist Shinki Chen that doesn’t refer to him in one way or another as ‘Japan’s Jimi Hendrix.’ Don’t get me wrong — Hendrix is Hendrix, and without him heavy rock and roll doesn’t exist as we know it, but the designation is more telling about the Western perspective of those making it than it actually is in conveying the character in Shinki‘s playing, which is writ large over his 1971 debut, Shinki Chen and His Friends (also discussed here). Isn’t every lead guitarist Something or Somewhere’s Jimi Hendrix, anyway? At least if they’re doing it right?

Shinki most certainly was that — doing it right — but again, that’s hardly the sum total of what’s on offer with Shinki Chen and His Friends, and all one has to do to realize that is make their way through the opening backwards psychedelic experimentalism of “The Dark Sea Dream.” It’s an intro, made basically of manipulated guitar noise, and yet at 4:51 it’s longer than all but two of the tracks that follow, the closing duo of “Corpse” (5:16) and “Farewell to Hypocrites” (12:52), the latter of which seems to be pieced together from a couple different jams. Not only does Shinki Chen and His Friends remain affected by this initial bend into weirdoism for its duration, but to hear the bass and vocals of George Yanagi and the keys of Hiro Yanagida on “Requiem of Confusion” as backed by Shinichi Nogi‘s drumming, it’s obvious the Friends portion of the four-piece outfit have a key role to play. Hell, “Requiem of Confusion” sounds like the blueprint on which Radio Moscow and too many other classic-styled heavy rock outfits were built, and to get into the fuzzy blues bounce of “Freedom of a Mad Paper Lantern” and the organ-laced sentimentality of “Gloomy Reflections,” there’s a progressive character in Shinki‘s playing and in the performance of the rest of the band that goes beyond being anything other than itself. We know well that by 1971, a heavy rock boom was taking place the world over, from post-hippie Californian fields to Nigerian psychedelic funk dancehalls to Australian barrooms, but as a player and a bandleader, Shinki Chen deserves to be in the conversation of underrated purveyors who had something no one else could offer in quite the same way.

With a song like “It was Only Yesterday,” on which the mix seems to be as fluid as the overarching groove itself, full of swells and recessions and pans between the organ and guitar while the drums remain buried far, far in the back and the fuzzy bass does most of the rhythmic work, part of it is down to finding just the right tempo at which to execute. Shinki Chen and His Friends, unlike much of the era’s output, isn’t just about nailing the heaviest or fastest part or about aping the blues. It’s not quite totally prog, and it’s not quite proto-metal, but it’s definitely psychedelia-plus, and its 39-minute run unfolds quickly by the time “Corpse” comes around with another open-feeling nod, distinct separation between keys, guitar, bass and drums, and a languid spirit that makes a fitting summary leading into the more expansive “Farewell to Hypocrites,” more raucous on the whole and rawer than a lot of the record, but still cohesive as it makes its way into the realms of “far out” and on to whatever lay beyond, Shinki‘s razor-sharp fretwork at the head of the forward charge.

The same year Shinki Chen and His Friends was released, Shinki would form the trio Speed, Glue and Shinki with bassist Masayoshi Kabe (who sniffed glue) and drummer/vocalist Joey Smith (who took speed). They’d put out one album in 1971 on Atlantic called Eve that’s worth driving through a hurricane to pick up and a self-titled 2LP compilation the next year, but that would mark the final recorded appearance of Shinki Chen, who by all reports simply decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and so stopped. Heck of a talent to let go to waste, but fair enough. Shinki Chen and His Friends, Eve and Speed, Glue and Shinki have all been duly bootlegged and reissued, and though his tenure was brief, Shinki Chen remains one of the standout players of the period.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I wrote the above at about 2:30 in the morning last night, so if it’s completely incoherent, I apologize. At that point I’d already been up for more than an hour. I went to sleep at about quarter after nine, woke up circa 1AM, and was awake for most of the night thereafter. I slept a bit between 2:45 — when I put the laptop back down — and 3:15, and 4:00 and 4:45, when the alarm finally went off, but yeah. Pretty terrible evening of rest on the whole. Doubt it will be my last.

Prior to, I’d been doing pretty well this week in that regard, especially considering The Patient Mrs. has been away the last few days and that’s always a kink in the sleep pattern. I got home from work around 6:30, feeling frustrated about that very fact and any number of other things, so yeah, I guess that was enough taken in combination with feeling anxious around a work off-site for today — it’s different! — and not really knowing what’s going on this weekend (supposed to have family up, but might not on account of impending weather). Plus there’s dog poop outside I need to pick up, and there was the Shinki Chen writeup to do. Quite literally these are the things that keep me up at night. At least last night they were.

I repeated my mantra, “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay it’s okay,” but to no avail. I’ve been taking herbal supplements for anxiety the last couple weeks at the kind recommendation of a reader, but have a doctor’s appointment on Monday for a physical and might ask for something a little more defizzle-your-brain on a chemical level, just to even me out a bit for a while. Feeling uneven.

Also, anybody got $200,000 they don’t need? Ha.

Okay. Sorry we didn’t get that Samsara Blues Experiment stream up today. There were some timing issues. It’ll be premiered on Monday with the cover art. Here’s the rest of what’s in the notes:

Mon.: Attalla full-album stream/review; Samsara Blues Experiment track premiere/artwork reveal.
Tue.: Los Natas LP review; Phlefonyaar video premiere.
Wed.: Drug Honkey track premiere; Cybernetic Witch Cult video premiere.
Thu.: Review and track premiere for the new Lord (yes!).
Fri.: Q&A and track premiere for Doctor Cyclops; new single premiere from Mirror Queen.

Busy week. Busy weekend, accordingly. I’ve finished mapping out what will be included in the Quarterly Review in two weeks, and I’d like to start organizing the covers, links, tags and so on for those posts this weekend. I also have a bio to write for Lords of Beacon House and copy to assemble for the Roadburn ‘zine, and that Los Natas review will have to be written on Sunday since I don’t have a turntable in my cubicle at work, etc., etc. I don’t expect to sleep much.

But anyway. I gotta get my last cup of coffee (house coffee, as opposed to that which I’m bringing with me to the office) and get ready to head out, get through this Friday and get started as quickly as possible on the aforementioned weekend. I hope you have a great and safe and stress-free one and that all is well on your end generally. I hear on the social medias that Mike Scheidt of YOB is having (more) surgery today. Send him good thoughts for an easy time and speedy recovery. Surgery blows.

Thanks for reading. Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Rainbow, Rising

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Rainbow, Rising (1976)

Listening to the searing precision in Ritchie Blackmore‘s guitar, Ronnie James Dio‘s soaring voice, the powerful rhythmic thrust of Jimmy Bain on bass and Cozy Powell on drums and the grandiose flourish of Tony Carey‘s keys, Rainbow Rising sure sounds like the moment when heavy rock became heavy metal. Narratives are never so cut and dry, but this was an important transitional moment. Gone was psychedelia unless you were Hawkwind, and even heavy rock was fading out in favor of the nascent punk movement. Rainbow made their debut in 1975 with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (discussed here), and even between that album and this follow-up that arrived a year later on Polydor Records with the revamped lineup around Blackmore and Dio, one can hear that transition taking place. To boil it down to a track? Think of “Starstruck” on Rising and “Man on the Silver Mountain” from the preceding record. The two share a lot in common — big hook, big groove, etc. — but “Starstruck” is leaner, tighter, and true to the hard-clenched fist on the iconic Ken Kelly cover art, more aggressive. Both LPs were produced at least in part by Martin Birch, who would also work on 1978’s Long Live Rock and Roll, and it really does seem to have been a shift in vision (or at least a move closer to an initial vision) on the part of Blackmore driving the evolution of the band in this direction.

As to where Rising ultimately fits in the pantheon of heavy rock/metal, I don’t think there’s any question it’s one of the greatest albums ever released. From the opening charge of “Tarot Woman” with Carey‘s clarion keyboard intro to the swaggering crotch-thrust of “Run with the Wolf” down to the two side B epics, “Stargazer” — a blueprint that Dio would follow for the rest of his career as heavy metal’s greatest frontman in Black Sabbath and especially his own Dio band — and closer “Light in the Black,” it is a close-to-perfect execution of early metal. Yes, Sabbath, Zeppelin and Blue Cheer, Cream and Hendrix before them laid out the foundation — not to mention Blackmore‘s own work in Mk. II Deep Purple — but even in the three-minute bass-led stomp of “Do You Close Your Eyes” one can hear Rainbow splintering away from the bluesy vibe on which heavy rock was founded and toward a graceful execution that over the next couple years would continue to take shape as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Again, narratives are never so cut and dry, and lest we forget that Judas Priest also issued Sad Wings of Destiny in 1976, that Sabbath were still roaming the countryside and that soon enough the willfully-ungraceful Motörhead would kick dirt in everybody‘s face with the raw power of their execution and volume, but Rising is nonetheless a pivotal document without which the NWOBHM and the formative work of bands like Iron MaidenAngel Witch and Saxon simply wouldn’t have existed in the shape it did. Of course, by the time those acts came around, Rainbow would be onto exercising different influences toward a more commercialized sound — they never put out two records with the same lineup — but that doesn’t change how essential a moment Rising continues to represent. Hell, listen to the guitar, bass and drum gallop at the start of “Light in the Black.” It’s the roots of thrash spreading out. Rainbow may have been deeply (and purply!) informed by the heavy rock of the earlier portion of the ’70s, but Rising was when they took that and remade it in their image, and 41 years after the fact, its ongoing relevance is inarguable.

Powell and Carey would stick around for Long Live Rock and Roll, but Bain was out — a mistake on Blackmore‘s part not keeping this band together — and replaced by Bob Daisley, and that 1978 final installment in their initial trilogy would also mark the final collaboration between Blackmore and Dio, whose styles were complementary in a manner few guitarists and vocalists have ever been. Dio, who had come from boogie rockers Elf at just the right moment to catch hold of Blackmore‘s attention when he was disaffected by where Deep Purple were headed, went on to proffer further metal majesties in Black Sabbath and, from 1983 until his passing in May 2010, he’d work with the Dio band to inscribe a singular legacy — his periodic returns to Sabbath and later Heaven and Hell didn’t hurt either. Rainbow continued on with Down to Earth in 1979, Blackmore bringing in frontman Graham Bonnet and following a tumultuous course of change through the middle of the ’80s before being put to rest for the next decade. Blackmore, having reunited and split again with Deep Purple, did another run with Rainbow before founding the Renaissance-themed Blackmore’s Night, and in 2015 resurrected the band again for limited shows, swearing off the possibility of new material as he had once sworn off playing rock and roll entirely. They have live dates booked for June in the UK.

Whatever may or may not come of that, Rainbow‘s Rising stands among the most classic of classics. One could and probably should and probably somewhere in the world — looking at you, Britain — does teach a two-semester college course on everything this incarnation of the group had to offer, and it’s my sincere hope you’ve enjoyed the chance to revisit their work.

Thanks for reading.

Working late today. Speaking of mistakes. I had to miss some time earlier this week picking up The Patient Mrs. at the airport as she was returning from a conference in Texas, so decided it was best if I stick around the office for a few extra hours to make up the time. It was, of course, the wrong decision, but it’s quiet here after everyone leaves and if you actually have work to do, easy enough to get it done. The question is “if,” but I always manage to find a way to keep myself busy.

Hope you had a good week. As I think I noted last Friday or maybe the Friday before, I’ve been dealing with some uptick in my general level of anxiety lately. Part of it is the precariousness of my work situation — I’m on a year-long contract that expires in June that may or may not be picked up for permanent hire. Part of it is probably related to my food intake — I don’t eat much these days that isn’t either salad or protein powder/bar-based. And part of it is “other,” but “other” of some substance. I’m healthy, at least physically.

Probably healthier than I’ve ever been, if one wants to go by the totally fucked way in which those things are generally measured. But yes, very anxious. I’ve made a mantra of “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay” that I repeat to myself on the regular, to varying effectiveness. I’d like to go to a doctor and get some of those chill-the-fuck-out pills I keep hearing such good things about, to help carry me over for a little bit as other medication has in the past for depressive issues. Never a permanent solution, but something to get you over a hump when you need it. I feel like I might need it, and I think The Patient Mrs. would agree, going by her nigh-on-frantic search to find me a new primary care physician, which I haven’t really had since we moved north from New Jersey three years ago. Every doctor I’ve been to up north, on one level or another, has pretty much been an asshole. The guy who took care of my foot at least got the job as “done” as it was going to get, but he did so while hitting on my wife, so yeah, still counts as asshole.

At least baseball’s back on.

Next week is frickin’ packed. Embarrassingly so. Still some stuff to shake out, but here’s what’s in the notes as of now:

Mon.: Review of the new Solace tape, video from Black Mirrors, news on Freak Valley, My Dying Bride and more.
Tue.: Maybe a Mothership review/track premiere, otherwise a Death Alley review, plus new Shadow Witch video, news, etc.
Wed.: Review/track premiere for the new Wounded Giant, video from Six Organs of Admittance.
Thu.: Review/track premiere from Green Meteor, video from Dandy Brown, announcement from No Man’s Valley.
Fri.: Review/premiere for the new The Devil and the Almighty Blues, plus whatever else comes down the wire between now and then.

As I said, packed.

I’ve also slated the Quarterly Review for the end of this month. It’ll run the week of March 27 through March 31. I might add a sixth day again, depending on what comes together, but I’ve already had it in the planning stage since the start of February, so yeah, it’s well in motion. Lot of good stuff in there, and I’ll have another batch of Radio Adds before then as well.

Speaking of the Radio: it’s been on the backup drive all week, as you may or (more likely) may not have noticed. The Raspberry Pi that hosts the main server shit the bed and with work I just haven’t had time to reinstall the operating system as I need to do. It’s on my weekend agenda, but so is traveling to Connecticut for The Patient Mrs.‘ mom’s birthday dinner on Saturday, so it’ll very likely be Sunday before I get there. And then at least three more days to deal with how terribly I will have invariably fucked it up. Ah, the gently correcting tones of Slevin. I can hear them now as he directs to insert the SD card facing the right way, no doubt for a second, then a third time.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. From the lonely, empty office in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I’m signing off. See you back here Monday for more good times, and in the interim, please check out the forum and (backup) radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 23rd, 2015 by JJ Koczan

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (1968)

In the vast annals of weirdo rock, there’s a special place for The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The soul of “Child of My Kingdom,” the progressive theatrics of “Time,” the classic proto-Satanic heavy rock of “Fire,” the organ-laced social commentary groove of “Come and Buy,” and because hey, why not, covers of Sreamin’ Jay Hawkins and James Brown (no relation) — it’s an album that, at nearly 50 years old, could be read as a founding moment for what would become prog as much a watershed moment for psychedelia. Its titular figure, vocalist Arthur Brown, served as a template for the likes of Alice Cooper, and while the actual band The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were short-lived in this incarnation (at least until 1988’s Strangelands), the 1968 self-titled debut has nonetheless been a signpost for freaks lost in a sea of normalcy: This Way to Where Things Don’t Make Sense in the Best Way Possible. It’s a long sign. It would have to be.

The album — and I don’t even know which version of it is above, but it’s one of them — is rendered human by two things: Its jazzy, schooled-sounding underpinnings and the acknowledgement that the reality in which it takes place is crazy. Brown, keyboardist/orchestrator Vincent Crane, bassist Nick Greenwood, and drummers Drachen Theaker and John MarshallThe Who‘s Pete “I’m Writing a Book” Townshend as associate producer — conjured nightmares of the acid era, and these songs are as much beyond psychedelia as they are of it. But they’re not happenstance, and calling it “Crazy” proves that. While they weren’t the only ones at the time seeming to fly off the rails with sound or stage visuals, that consciousness might be The Crazy World of Arthur Brown‘s greatest contribution to progressive rock, since as the likes of Pink FloydKing CrimsonJethro Tull and of course Arthur Brown continued to delve deeper into what eventually took shape as the style, it was that sense of being in control of the moment that would be so pivotal to making it what it was. Even when control seemed impossible, which on a lot of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, it definitely does. And yeah, if they only came down long enough to name the band and record and then took lysergic flight again, it still counts. Still counts. He’s the god of hellfire. It counts.

You can take a pretty cold, academic appreciation of what it has to offer and its various , but the bottom line is that The Crazy World of Arthur Brown continues to present a vision that nothing else quite matches, and which doesn’t quite match anything else. It is warped in the truest and most satisfying of stylistic senses.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I’m not sure I have it in me to articulate how done I am with this week.

Very done.

Okay, yeah, maybe I did have it in me after all.

Next week is already busy. Monday’s locked in with premieres from Cities of Mars and Young Hunter. Tuesday is a song from Malady; folky Finnish prog — you’re gonna love it, as I do. Wednesday a track premiere from The Heavy Eyes. Thursday a full-album stream from Sunder, formerly known as The Socks, and Friday is… something else? Well, if nothing else I’ll put up that Lee Dorrian interview about With the Dead. A lot, a lot, a lot coming up. I already have something slated for Monday, Nov. 2 as well, so yeah, pretty packed. Good thing I don’t have a full-time job or anything that includes, I don’t know, a modest expectation of my time and mental faculties. That would make everything terrible.

Oh yeah, Monday night is also the Acid King/Gozu show in Boston. Might be Wednesday before I can get a review posted of that, but as soon as I can I will. I think that will be the only show I’ve been to this month — again, this whole “having a job” thing — but I’m going to try to make the most of it. Much as one can, anyhow.

If you’ve already downloaded the latest podcast, thanks.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 28th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Rainbow, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975)

Thing is, by 1975, most of the decade’s best heavy rock had already been made. The psychedelic era was over. Black Sabbath had done Master of Reality, and Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Stooges and Pink Floyd had (at least arguably) hit their peak, not to mention the slew of heavy rock acts that popped up and had by then receded — Sir Lord Baltimore, Cactus, Atomic Rooster, Buffalo and the like. Some had gone super-prog like Jethro Tull and others, like King Crimson, were already there. Hawkwind still had some cool stuff going on, as did plenty of others and heavy metal proper would start to take shape before 1980, but still. All of a sudden, here’s Ritchie Blackmore, out of Deep Purple post-Stormbringer, linked up with some dude named Ronnie James Dio from a band called Elf, and they blow out one of rock and roll’s all-time powerhouse records. With most of Elf as their backing band, Blackmore and Dio concocted one of rock’s most essential debuts in 1975’s Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow, reviving the former’s career and establishing the latter as a major presence on some of the world’s biggest stages.

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow was the first of three records that, by my judgment, are indispensable. No single one of them is perfect, but when Rainbow, who shifted their lineup after Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow to become a more permanent project, locked in, they simply could not be argued with. The first album has more than a few of those moments. Of course there’s “Man on the Silver Mountain,” and the ripping Quatermass cover “Black Sheep of the Family,” but even the subdued groove-blues of “Catch the Rainbow” has movement at its center, and the fantasy elements that came together across “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves” and “The Temple of the King” established what became the lyrical basis of a good portion of Dio‘s career. True, Craig Gruber (bass), Gary Driscoll (drums) and Micky Lee Soule (keys, clarinet) kind of got the shaft in being ousted before 1976’s Rising — to be replaced by Jimmy BainCozy Powell and Tony Carey, respectively — and they basically had their singer swiped out from under them by Blackmore, but the results speak for themselves. Ritchie Blackmore’s RainbowRising and 1978’s Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll are as much monuments to ego as to talent, but they prove just how much room there was for both in this band at that point in time.

And GruberDriscoll and Soule made their presence felt in cuts like “If You Don’t Like Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the closing Yardbirds cover “Still I’m Sad,” both of which played off a strong sense of boogie while also showcasing Blackmore‘s inhuman ability and command as a lead guitarist. Any given day, I could pick any one of the first three Rainbow records as my favorite, but no question the first of them was a special moment put to tape and had a kind of let’s-try-this-and-see-what-happens air to it that even a year later they’d never be able to capture again. A complete classic.

I hope you enjoy it.

By way of a confession, and a transgression I hope you’ll forgive, I didn’t put the Rainbow record on while I typed out the above. A couple minutes here or there, but I’ve had a severe-enough headache for most of the night that I couldn’t really hang with the front to back and wanted something I knew well enough that I wouldn’t need to. My brain feels like it’s throwing itself against the sides of my skull like it’s trying to break a door down so it can escape. I almost went with Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll for “Sensitive to Light” alone. It would be only too appropriate as I sit here and type in the dark, which I think is actually bad for a headache with the light from the computer monitor, but I’ve got that turned way down as well. Still a bit of throb going on.

Anyway, I’ll crash out shortly. If you’re in the States, I hope you had an excellent Thanksgiving yesterday. Much family time on my end. Tomorrow, The Patient Mrs. and I drive back north to Massachusetts from New Jersey — I got my license back (did I tell you about that? It was like I pulled a bad card from the Monopoly deck; “bureaucratic issue, go directly to the Registry of Motor Vehicles”), so I can actually drive — and hopefully we’ll get some rest before next week starts. Could use a quiet afternoon, to be honest. And some Advil.

Next week, look out for a Balam track stream on Monday, plus reviews of Deadpeach, a new split between Goya and Wounded Giant and Stone Machine Electric‘s new tape. We’re getting on December, so it’ll be time to start the year-end wrap-ups soon, and I have a few new ideas for that I’d like to work in, provided there’s time. Or maybe they’re not new and I thought of the same stuff last year, didn’t get to it and forgot to write it down. That’s entirely possible. Either way we’ll try again. I’m also already planning out this year’s best-of podcast. It will be up before Xmas. Not that it would be a huge draw either way, but I might talk on it. Probably not. But maybe.

Gonna try to get my interview with Alunah online this week as well, so keep an eye out for that.

All the best to you and yours as we move into the holiday season. Before we get there, though, I hope you have a great and safe weekend.

Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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