Saturday, June 1, 2013


It's too bad cover art doesn't sell records. Trillion may have fared better commercially had people based their purchasing decisions solely on the sort of fantasy-based graphic that graces the band's self-titled debut. First released in 1978 on Epic Records, Trillion was the first of two records from this Chicago-based pomp-rock quintet. Despite an impressive start -- "Hold Out," "Big Boy," "Give Me Your Money Honey" and "Never Had It So Good" deliver hooks and harmonies aplenty -- the second half of the album sags badly. "Fancy Action" and "Hand It to the Wind" lack the melodic punch found on the first half of the record, while "Bright Night Lights" and "Child Upon the Earth" reveal a band that simply didn't have enough creative juice to make it to the finish line. People have in the past compared Trillion's multi-part harmonies and complex arrangements to that of Kansas and Styx, but those bands had something Trillion didn't -- hits. Lead singer Dennis "Fergie" Frederiksen found fame and fortune -- or at least another gig -- when he joined Toto for their 1984 Isolation album, while a revamped Trillion released Clear Approach in 1980. One cannot live on cover art alone, however, and the band called it quits shortly thereafter.

Notes: Here is an audio-only YouTube clip of a song called "Hold Out" from Trillion:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Pavlov's Dog ● Pampered Menial

Every once in a while The "I-Own-Every-Record-You'd-Never-Buy" CD Consumer's Guide stumbles upon a great record. That record in this case is Pampered Menial, the first of two albums from an obscure St. Louis-based band called Pavlov's Dog. As is often the case, such greatness -- particularly greatness cloaked in complete obscurity -- comes with a disclaimer. Despite the band's impressive musical chops, Pavlov's Dog features what might be the strangest vocalist in this history of rock (a bold statement, I know, but you'll have to trust me). His name is David Surkamp and the man can sing. Kind of. If you can get past Surkamp's glass-shattering vocal acrobatics -- and that's a big if -- you're in for a treat. Pampered Menial is an often brilliant mix of progressive-tinged hard rock and muscular melodic pop. The band rocks hard on more complex numbers like "Song Dance" and "Natchez Trace," while "Julia" and "Of Once and Future Kings" reveal a softer, more relaxed approach to the band's intricate compositions. Sadly, the vocals -- an acquired taste at best -- are most likely what prevented Pavlov's Dog from even sniffing commercial success. The band released a second record -- 1976's wryly titled At the Sound of the Bell -- before calling it quits, Surkamp giving way to Rush's Geddy Lee as sole owner of rock's most unusual voice.

Notes: You've got to hear it to believe it: From Pampered Menial, here is an audio-only YouTube clip of Pavlov's Dog's "Song Dance:"

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cottonwood ● Camaraderie

You know you're a strong candidate for The "I-Own-Every-Record-You'd-Never-Buy" CD Consumer's Guide when your lead singer dies on the day of your album's release. It's this tragic piece of bad luck that apparently derailed Cottonwood, a country-flavored rock quintet from California. The details are fuzzy--time, age and an assortment of narcotic substances usually have that affect on most early '70s rock-related drug deaths--but legend has it the band's vocalist overdosed on the same day Camaraderie hit stores. Whatever label support the band had quickly evaporated and Cottonwood disappeared forever. Assembled by former Love guitarist Gary Knowles, Cottonwood released its lone album--a pleasant collection of largely acoustic-based pop rock--in 1971 on ABC Records. "Cottonwood" and "Thank You Mr. Man" best represent the group's mellow, harmony-laced sound, while "Passin' Through" and "Red" provide a much-needed shot of hard-rock guitar. The band stumbles through a couple of maudlin ballads ("In My Life" is particularly inept), but they are the exception to an otherwise rewarding set of turn-of-the-decade rural rock. The end was abrupt, of course, and the sad set of circumstances surrounding the band's demise comes with a strange, almost eerie twist; Camaraderie's front cover suggests these guys were having the time of their lives.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thunder and Roses ● King of the Black Sunrise

First released in 1969 on United Artists Records, Philadelphia-based Thunder and Roses' biggest claim to fame is oddly tied to the grunge rock movement of the early '90s. Despite its not entirely undeserved cut-out bin status, King of the Black Sunrise somehow found its way into the hands of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, who convinced his bandmates to cover the song "White Lace and Strange" (the previously unreleased track appears on Nirvana's 1994 With the Lights Out box set). It turns out that Cobain had good taste; "White Lace and Strange" is the best song on the album. Not far removed from the loud, pulverizing metal Blue Cheer was exploring--a band then riding high with its almost unrecognizable version of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues"--King of the Black Sunrise shifts somewhat aimlessly between blues-based hard rock ("I Love a Woman," "Moon Child"), acoustic-flavored country pop ("Country Life") and extended psychedelic jams ("Open Your Up Your Eyes"). The band also offers up a serviceable if not particularly memorable cover Jimi Hendrix's "Red House." Thunder and Roses' career was even shorter than the grunge movement--this was the trio's only album--and is probably best left to Nirvana completists, record collectors and music bloggers (that's me and, yes, I do own a copy). King of the Black Sunrise was reissued on cd in 2011 courtesy of Kismet Records.

Notes: Here is an audio-only YouTube clip of "White Lace and Strange" by Thunder and Roses:

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Tonton Macoute

According to Haitian Creole mythology, Tonton Macoute is a boogeyman, an urban legend used to scare children. This centuries-old myth became a reality in 1959, however, when Haitian dictator Francois Duvalier created a paramilitary outfit called the Militia of National Security Volunteers, also known as Tonton Macoutes. Instead of frightening misbehaving youths, these Tonton Macoutes terrorized a nation. What does all this have to do with an early ‘70s British jazz-rock ensemble? Well, outside of a shared name, not much. In fact, Tonton Macoute’s self-titled debut, first released in 1971 on the short-lived Neon label, is anything but scary. A largely instrumental collection of jazz-styled prog-rock, this seven-song lp features plenty of horn breaks—the saxophone is particularly prevalent—and the Holy Trinity of progressive-influenced hard rock: Multiple time changes, complex rhythmic patterns and extended song structures. Sadly, the band's challenging, more complicated numbers--"Don't Make Me Cry," "Just Like a Stone" and "Flying South in Winter" among them--failed to find an audience and the group dissolved within a year. The label followed suit; Neon Records shut its doors in 1972.

Notes: Here is an audio-only YouTube clip of “Don’t Make Me Cry” by Tonton Macoute:

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Despite evidence to the contrary--an oversized platform shoe on the front cover, a blatantly misspelled song title--Jump's self-titled debut is most definitely not a glam record. First released in 1971 on Janus Records, this Los Angeles-based quartet's lone lp is actually prototypical stoner rock, a big, lumbering slab of organ-heavy hard rock. "Love Wit Chu Mama" kicks things off (the nod to the spell-checked challenged Slade is obvious) and ultimately establishes the framework on which the rest of the album is built--heavy guitar riffs entangled with a series of pounding keyboard fills buttressed by gruff, smokey vocals. "Close as Touch" and "Enough of This Circus" are like-minded numbers--heavy on the crunch and relatively short on creativity--while both "Having a Wonderful Time" and "Life, Leave Us Part as Friends" attempt, with mixed results, at revealing the band's more sensitive side. Strangely, the album's best moment is the straight ahead, more pop-oriented "Here I Lie with You." It's this song that effectively blends together both of the band's personalities with just the right mix of acoustic guitar and hard rock harmony and hints at what might have been. What was was a quick trip to the cut-out bin and a long, inevitable journey to The "I-Own-Every-Record-You'd-Never-Buy" CD Consumer's Guide. Jump was done by the end of the year, another oversized platform shoe buried in the attic of rock and roll's ever-expanding lost and found.

Notes: Here is an audio-only YouTube clip of Jump's "Love Wit Chu Mama:"

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The “I-Own-Every-Record-You’d-Never-Buy” CD Consumer’s Guide has recently developed a somewhat strange fascination with progressive-influenced jazz fusion. Strange, I know. I usually like my rock and roll with a healthy dose of lyrical content. Lyrics certainly aren’t at the forefront of guitarist Gary Boyle’s Isotope, a three-record band from the UK's then-burgeoning Canterbury scene. The quartet’s self-titled debut, first released in 1974 on Gull Records, eschews words for a series of intricate jazz-flavored instrumentals. Armed with a serious set of musical chops—and a band name only a ‘70s mother could love—Isotope is more jazz than rock, its songs highlighted by a complex series of guitar and keyboard exchanges. The frantically-paced “Then There Were Four” is a brilliant opener, while both “Oh Little Fat Man” and “Honkey Donkey” further flex the band’s musical muscle. Acutely aware that speed kills, the band slows it down for a couple of sensitive ballads, including “Sunshine Park” and “Windmills and Waterfalls,” two brief but effective tracks. Isotope wasn’t a huge commercial success, but it does represent one of the genre’s more interesting efforts. Two more records followed—1975’s Illusion and Deep End from 1976—before Boyle split to pursue a solo career.

Notes: Here is an audio-only YouTube clip of “Then There Were Four” by Isotope: