Going Gaga; Byrne Notice
Owls Head — Lady Gaga: Born This Way (Streamline/Interscope, 2 CDs, 1:39:57). Somehow, I missed the arrival of Lady Gaga. Since then, though, I have heard her music on “Glee” and “American Idol,” and while I remain unimpressed by her over-the-top “look,” I have come to like a lot of her music. This new album opens strongly with two of its best: “Marry the Night,” which quickly turns into hard Euro disco; and the hit “Born This Way,” which is ultra-catchy and has a nice message of acceptance. And yes, it does resemble several of Madonna’s songs.
In fact, Lady Gaga often seems like a musical blender. Take “Judas,” whose opening slightly echoes the “Judas” of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and then becomes quite Abba-esque. “Americano” recalls, of all people, Dean Martin with its Italian style start, but like several tracks it turns noise and overly busy. “Hair” also nods towards Abba and has a solid beat, if silly lyrics (“I was as free as my hair”). There is an operatic foolery to open “Government Hooker” (political commentary?) and part of “Scheibe” is sung in German. The album gets back on track late in the going, with the standout “Highway Unicorn (Road To Love),” which is a bit romantic and throws in organ at the end. A solid guitar riff opens “Electric Chapel,” and “You and I” is another hit with some smooth parts. The disc closes with the anthematic “The Edge of Glory,” featuring The E Street Band’s Clarence Clemons (our prayers are with him) on sax.
The deluxe version of the album five remixes, the most intriguing on which is a “Country Road” version of “Born This Way.” Even this approach suit’s the song. The others are more dance remixes, with DJ White Shadow remixing both “Judas” and “Scheibe.” Grade: B+
David Byrne: Ride, Rise, Roar (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray disc, NR, 87 min.). While always a master musician, even with Taking Heads, such as the “Burning Down the House” tour I saw in Boston, Byrne liked to incorporate a lot of movement onstage. Here, he enlists three choreographers and three dancers. I guess you’d call it modern dance, but right form the start, it is wonderful. It fits so well with the music and the dancers even involve the backup singers in movement, “teaching” them steps during “I Zimbra.” For the opening “Once in a Lifetime.” there is a lot of arm movements and the male dancer even jumps over Byrne as he plays a guitar solo. During “Life Is Long,” the dancers began their work while on chairs, and Byrne also is seated. Another song with great movement is “The Great Curve.”
Amusingly, everyone wears a skirt for “Burning Down the House.” During “Air,” the dancers act as playing the guitars they hold, sort of a visual pun on “air guitar.” At this point, I should mention the music is superb as well, a combination of Talking Heads hits and newer material, written by Byrne and collaborator Brian Eno. These songs include “One Fine Day,” and are a bit more reflective. The outstanding show includes “Life During Wartime” and “Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.” In between the songs, and longer towards the beginning, Byrne and others recall the work put into the project. It is an intriguing backstage look. We even get to see Byrne’s home studio. Grade: A+
Rory Gallagher: Notes From San Francisco (Eagle, 2 CDs, 2 hours). The late Irish guitarists was one of the greatest ever and this release is an exceptional find: both “lost” studio material and a disc of live material that is worth the price of admission on its own. The time was November 1977. After a six-month world tour, Gallagher and band flew from Japan to San Francisco to work with American producer Elliot Mazer (he worked on Neil Young’s “Harvest,” Big Brother & The Holding Company’s “Cheap Thrills” and The Band’s “The Last Waltz”). Mazer recalls that the sessions grew “tense” as Gallagher thought the mixing process was “too complicated.” By the end of January 1978, Gallagher shelved the record and broke up his band of five years.
What we have here is that shelved album remixed by Daniel, the son of Gallagher’s brother/manager Donal, and his engineer. The album was originally recorded between “Calling Card” and “Photo Finish.” It opens with a very raucous rocker, “Rue the Day.” Next is “Persuasion,” which still rocks hard with the guitar and percussion, but is a bit softer. Then comes the slower, bluesier “B Girl” and, my favorite, “Mississippi Sheiks,” with fine slide guitar. The soft “Wheels Within Wheels” has a very nice piano ending. “Overnight Bag” is a mid-tempo song with very nice guitar and “Brute Force and Ignorance” has horns and a slight Mexican feel.”
The live disc’s material comes from four nights in December 1979 at San Francisco’s The Old Waldorf, with Van Morrison in the audience. This shows Gallagher’s refigured, three-piece band. (Reportedly Gallagher was influenced by seeing a Sex Pistols concert.) Gallagher went for a more primal, raw sound and every blistering note is captured here, from the slamming “Follow Me,” the storming “Shinkicker,” the fast “I’m Leavin’,” the soaring “Calling Card” to the closing cover of “Sea Cruise.” There’s a bit of Jimi Hendrix style to the guitar flash in “Off the Handle.” This is superb music. Eagle Records, by the way, is reissuing several Gallagher albums as well. Grade: studio B; live A+
Ozzy Osbourne: Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman, 30th Anniversary Collectors Edition (Epic/Legacy CDs). The anniversary editions of these two classic metal albums can be bought separately or together in a larger box that includes a bonus DVD. If Osbourne is known for anything post-Black Sabbath, it is these two albums, originally released in 1980 and 1981. Osbourne had co-founded Black Sabbath in 1968 with guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward, but Osbourne was sacked by the band in 1979 due to his alcohol and drug use. His solo career, in which he has sold more than 100 million records, began with “Blizzard of Ozz,” whose band included guitarist Randy Rhoads from Quiet Riot, drummer Lee Kerslake of Uriah Heep, bassist/lyricist Bob Daisley of Rainbow (interestingly, Rainbow leader Ronnie James Dio replaced Osbourne in Black Sabbath) and later Uriah Heep and keyboardist Don Airey.
Fan favorites on “Blizzard” include “I Don’t Know,” “Crazy Train” and “Mr. Crowley.” In addition to the nine original tracks, there is the non-LP B-side “You Looking at Me, Looking at You,” never before released in the United States, an unreleased 2010 guitar and vocal remix of “Goodbye To Romance” and a 1:13-long Rhoads guitar solo.
“Diary of a Madman,” which gave us “Over the Mountain,” “Flying High Again,” “Believer” and the title track, comes in a Legacy edition with a bonus, previously unreleased live disc. There is an undeniable level of excitement on the live disc, recorded during the Blizzard of Ozz tour, which I caught in Portland (Ozzy was doing his best Richard Nixon that night with his peace hand signals. Yet, Osbourne is probably the worse singer when it comes to enunciation. The joy here is hearing the late Rhoads on guitar, including a showy solo on “Suicide Solution.” You even get to hear Tommy Aldridge’s drum solo on “Steal Away (The Night).” Completing this lineup was bassist Rudy Sarzo, also from Quiet Riot. The set ends with three Black Sabbath songs, “Iron Man,” “Children of the Grave” and “Paranoid.”
“Diary” also is available in a single disc edition, without the live disc, but really the two-disc version is the way to go unless you want to spring for the limited edition deluxe box, which includes all three CDs reviewed here, plus vinyl versions of both albums, but not the live disc, a 100-page coffee table book, a two-sided wall poster, a full-size replica of Osbourne’s iconic gold cross and a DVD. The DVD includes the documentary “Thirty Years after the Blizzard,” which chronicles Osbourne’s years with Rhoads, including previously unseen footage of the two filmed in 1981 and 1982, rare archival photos and films and new interviews with Osbourne, his wife/manager Sharon Osbourne, Lemmy of Motorhead, Steve Vai, Nikki Sixx, Rob Halford, Zakk Wylde, Bill Ward and others. The DVD also has more than 70 minutes of additional rare live performances and interviews, including 30 minutes of newly-discovered , never-bootlegged footage of Osbourne and Rhoads shot from the front of the stage at New York’s Palladium on May 2, 1981. Grade: Blizzard A-; Diary with live disc A; overall package A
Jeff Grace: Stake Land (Scream Works CD, 48:16). This label is new to me, but appears to be a home for horror film soundtracks. Grace’s score for “Stake Land” is definitely not your typical horror score. The main title is symphonic, while a violin opens “Lockdown Town” and a cello is used on “The Brotherhood.” Grace, who has done nine scores now for horror producer Larry Fessenden, also uses the piercing sound of the South African vuvuzela and even a fiddle on the down-home “Strivington Band. The film is a post-apocalypse vampire road movie, in which a recently orphaned teenager is taken in by a wayward hunter, who tries to get both to safety in Canada. Grade: B
Nathaniel Levisay: Dawning (Scream Works CD, 30:20). From the same label comes this sometimes electronic, sometimes piano score, performed by The Mare Incognitum Nautae. The music is more edgy and modernist, again not a traditional film score. Instead of orchestration, one hears the buzz of chainsaws, “crazed” violins and bumping cardboard boxes. The film takes place in a Northern Minnesota cabin and explores the relationships between a brother, sister, their father and step-mother after a mysterious stranger arrives and says he has come to save them -- but he does not tell them from what. Grade: B-
Michael Richard Plowman: Age of Heroes (Moviescore Media CD, 39:25). This is a more traditional, orchestrated score for a film that tells the story of the 30 Commando, one of the most respected, secretive and exclusive special forces regiments formed during World War II, from which the SAS was born. It tells of their training and first mission into occupied Norway to capture a deadly new radar technology. However, they crash land in a village where the Nazis have been executing civilians. By the way, one member of the group was the author Ian Fleming (the James Bond novels). The film stars Sean Bean as Jones and James D’Arcy as Fleming. The score has three main themes, which are then broken up for other themes. Grade: B