THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Clap your hands & stomp your feet...here comes Giuda!

A Roman Holiday with the Racey Rock 'n' Rollers

The Eternal City's infernal rockers, Giuda

Vocals: Ntendarere Djodj Dama (Tenda)
Guitars & Vocals: Lorenzo Moretti
Guitar: Michele Malagnini
Bass: Danilo Valerii
Drums: Daniele Tarea

Thanks go to the Golden Lobes of sound-savvy Amy Linthicum for turning me on to this terrific high-energy group whose no-frills three-chord, three-minute call-and-response singalong tunes make them the ideal live rock band, one whose infectious celebration of it's-only-rock-n-roll-but-I-like-it "Dumb Fun" evokes the spirit of The Ramones, The Fleshtones, and countless bygone pub-rock bands from the '70s. In other words, they could open for Buzzcocks and give the headliners a run for their money.

Noddy Holder admits "I'm a Giuda Fan!"

Giuda (pronounced "Jew-da," from the Italian word for "Judas") is a glam-rock, football- and rollerball-loving Boot Boy quintet from Rome born from the punk-rock ashes of another band, Taxi.

The Taxi boys made some noise

Taxi was considered one of the best punk-pop bands in Europe, with a sound one reviewer compared to Chuck Berry fronting Bad Brains. Taxi released two albums on Los Angeles' Dead Beat Records label and toured the USA twice; but, after the death of drummer Francesco in 2007, singer Tenda and guitarist Lorenzo decided it was time for a reboot, and rebranded themselves as Giuda in 2008. Rewinding their mixtape influences from proto-punk to early '70s Glam, the Taxi boys added guitarist Michele, bassist Danilo (who played in an early version of Taxi), and drummer Daniele, to create a sound MOJO magazine described as "Junk Shop Glam" (a term coined by former Buzzcocks bassist Tony Barber and Jesus and Mary Chain bassist Phil King), one recalling the "stack-heeled sounds of Slade, The Sweet and The Faces." Not to mention T. Rex, Status Quo, and Mud. Giuda's "Wild Tiger Woman" even references Mud's iconic Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman-produced anthem, "Tiger Feet" (#1 UK Singles Chart, 1974): "Wild Tiger Woman, she's got 'Tiger Feet' and keeps up with the beat."

Label them what you may - "Pub Punk," "Futbol Hooligan Pop," "Boot Boy Glam," "Bovver Rock" - the sonic result is what Vive Le Rock magazine accurately pegged as "a foot-stomping, fistpumping riot of sound."

That sound is built on the cornerstones of Glam: slick production with lots of handclap overdubs, silly singalong lyrics celebrating "girls, rock and Saturday night," driving multi-tracked guitars mixed to the max, and that big tub-thumping  "shuffle" drum beat made famous by producer Mike Leander for the Gary Glitter Band (i.e., "Rock 'N' Roll, (Parts 1 & 2)"). Giuda even dabble with the occasional "vocal echo" and keyboard-syth effects, an obvious nod to The Sweet (circa "Fox On the Run").

In fact Giuda reference The Sweet a lot in all their "band asides" ("OK boys, let's go!"), and what is their "Teenage Rebel" but an update on Sweet's "Teenage Rampage"? Topically, the boys deconstruct Rock and Roll into its primal essence, as telegraphed in their song titles: "Don't Stop Rockin'" (not to be confused with Slade's "Keep On Rocking"),  "Roll It Over," "Rave On" (not a Buddy Holly cover!), and their latest single "Roll the Balls" (which may - or may not - be an example of low-slung cock-rock braggadocio):

And that's basically what Giuda is: a singles band. Perhaps the greatest aspect of the early '70s Glam movement in the UK was its celebration of the single as an artform in and of itself. This reaction to the late '60s glut of album-oriented rock, with concept albums and Prog bands devoting whole sides to a single song, paved the way for Punk and D.I.Y.'s similar revolution in the late '70s at 45 rpm.

Everything about Giuda's presentation is authentically sincere, from French designer and Glam fanatic Tony CrazeeKid's distressed record sleeves and funky font typography to their vintage analog recording equipment (courtesy of UFO Hi-Fi). And theirs is no fleeting flavor-of-the-month fad. They are True Believers -  retro of style, but pure of heart. Or, as Johnny Rotten once screamed, "We mean it, man!"

Tony CrazeeKid

Even their sartorial look is consistent with their sound. As they moved forward into rock 'n' roll's '70s past, Giuda hitched up their high-cuffed jeans with suspenders, wrapped themselves in club futbol scarves and Tartan (like the Bay City Rollers and Faces), and buckled their boots for better stomping on the dancefloor - or in the terraces, from whence they took their lyrical cues from footy's rousing hooligan chants.

Giuda: Hooly Tunes for Terraces

But while Giuda embrace much of Glam, they draw the line at Glitter; no eyeliner or  makeup for these street toughs, who - in their white tees, denim jackets, and cropped haircuts - look like pint-swigging pub brawlers or gang-mod skinheads. No, they are more like Glam Punks (Glunks?).

And make no mistake, though these Romans support their city's football team AS Roma, they are otherwise total Anglophiles - singing in English and paying homage to the tunes and fashion of UK pop music circa 1970-1974. They even revel in misspelled song titles like Slade (e.g. "Crazee," "Kidz Are Back," Taxi's "Yu Tolk Tu Mach"). If only Top of the Pops were still on the air, they'd be headliners for sure.

Giuda are ready to "Get That Goal"!

Giuda toured the States in 2012 and 2013, but somehow we missed them when the appeared at Hampden's Golden West Cafe on September 7, 2012 as part of Celebrated Summer Records' 6th Anniversary Party. (Please come back, boys!)

Giuda on Tour!

Amy and I may have missed them live, but it's easy to play catch-up, thanks to the folks at Damaged Goods Records, who have released two Giuda albums on CD: 2010's Racey Roller and 2013's Let's Do It Again.


Giuda's debut, "Racey Roller" (2010)

"Racey Roller" Track listing:
  1. Number 10
  2. Back Home
  3. Get It Over
  4. Coming Back To You
  5. Racey Roller
  6. Tartan Pants
  7. Don't Stop Rockin'
  8. Speak Louder
  9. Here Comes Saturday Night
  10. Roll On

Listen Giuda's full album "Racey Roller."

(Note that Danilo Valerii played most of the drums on Racey Roller, forming a rhythm section with bassist Antonio Sebastianelli. But by the next album, Let's Do It Again, Danilo moved from behind the drums to replace Antonio on bass, with Daniele Tarea taking over the skins. To further confuse matters, another Danilo, producer Danilo Silvestri, also filled in on drums and percussion on some songs.)

On their debut, Giuda celebrate soccer playmakers in general - and Roma's Francesco Totti in particular - on "Number 10" - the jersey number typically associated with a team's best player (e.g. Totti, Lionel Messi, Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Ronaldinho, etc.).

There are two video versions of "Number 10," the official band release and one that is mostly a highlights reel of Totti's greatest goals for Roma and the Italian national team.

Guida - Official "Number 10"

Guida - Totti Highlights Version

"Back Home" continues the fun, a solid rocker propelled by an insistent beat and Tiziano Tarli's rousing piano key pounding.

"Get It Over" is another outstanding rave-up, featuring a Devo-like synth melody line, a fey audience call-out ("Clap your hands and stomp your feet...here comes Giuda!"), and even throws in a bunch of Glitter Band-style "Hey!...Hey!...Hey!"s at the end for good measure.

But my fave tune is the instrumental title song "Racey Roller," which concludes side 1 of the vinyl LP. Based on a riff nicked from Buzzcocks' "ESP," it samples racetrack sound effects with a call-and-response chant of "Racey...Roll-ahhhhh!"

Side 2 opens with "Tartan Pants" ("Sweet rock and roller/She dances in her Tartan pants...") and I'm sorry, you can't mention Tartan and Rollers without thinking of the Bubblegum-Glam of the original Tartan Horde, The Bay City Rollers, whose spirit is also captured on "Here Comes Saturday Night" (rekindling memories of the Rollers own speak-and-spell classic "S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y...Night!").

Bay City Rollers: Turning Tartanese (I really think so)

Giuda Horde

Fittingly, there is also a Giuda Horde. These French fans of the band even recorded a song for their favorite Roman rascals, "Giuda We Love You."

This rekindles memories of Nick Lowe's tongue-in-chic faux band, The Tartan Horde. Under this name, Lowe released two singles, "Bay City Rollers We Love You" and "Rollers Show." Both songs appear on his Disco Bros./Tartan Horde split single, as well:

"Bay City Rollers We Love You"

"Rollers Show"

Disco Bros./Tartan Horde split single

Of course, the roots of the fanclub shout-out single can trace its way back to the 1964 Fab Four ditty, The Carefrees' "We Love You Beatles" (which itself was adpated from "We Love You Conrad" from the movie musical Bye-Bye Birdie).

Racey Roller signs off with "Roll On," which lifts the guitar hook from Chuck Berry's "Oh Carol" (that's OK, the Rolling Stones did it countless times) as the boys chant the virtues of rolling (around a racetrack? Around a rollerball track? Who knows?).



Giuda's sophomore effort, "Let's Do It Again" (2013), with a fashion look Devo would be jealous of

  1. Wild Tiger Woman
  2. Yellow Dash
  3. Get That Goal
  4. Teenage Rebel
  5. Rave On
  6. Hold Me Tight
  7. Roller Skates Rule O.K.
  8. Fat Boy Boogie
  9. Get On the Line
  10. Hey Hey
Let's Do It Again has a great cover of the boys decked out in Devo gear, with knee pads, roller skates, and even a St. Louis Rams football helmet. It opens with the aforementioned killer single "Wild Tiger Woman" and its infectious call-and-response chants of "Wild! Wild! Wild! Wild!" over clawing guitars and boogie-woogie piano and that knowing nod to Mud's "Tiger Feet."

Next up in "Yellow Dash," a song about...who knows?...that after an opening guitar blast straight out of The Beatles' "Revolution," bounces along on a mid-tempo melody akin to T. Rex's "Hot Love."

Giuda continue their passion for footy on "Get That Goal" ("Party starts here, score us a beer"), wherein team Giuda win the World Cup 1-0 over, presumably, The World. Forza Giuda!

Guida play "Get That Goal" live (Munster, Germany)

The song even tips its hat to The Sweet's "Ballroom Blitz" when Tengo shouts "Come on boys, make some noise!"

Of course, soccer shout-outs are nothing new. Consider Slade's 1978 single for their East Sussex home side, Brighton & Hove Albion F.C., "Give Us a Goal":

"Teenage Rebel" and "Rave On" continue the non-stop solid rocking, while "Hold Me Tight" is as close to a ballad as Giuda will ever get, with Tenda channeling Elvis as he hiccups his way through lovey-dovey images of sitting with his gal "under da moonlight" (Tenda tends to have trouble pronouncing those English "th"s!).

Giuda also continue their passion for roller skates, following "Racey Roller" with an almost carbon copy driving instrumental, "Roller Skates Rule O.K." The song title references another '70s glam band that influenced them, Jook. (Jook's "turn-ups, braces & boots" look likewise influenced the tartan-trimmed Bay City Rollers. Jook bassist Ian Hampton and guitarist Trevor White later joined Sparks, appearing on their Propaganda and Indiscreet albums.)

"Jook Rule" LP (Sing Sing Records, 2013)

"Hey Hey" is a song about singing "Hey Hey!" A good rock and roll song (as The Ramones and Gary Glitter know so well) should always throw in a few hey-makers! And no better example exists than Giuda's album closer, as performed below at Hellfest 2015:

And there you have the heart of soul of Giuda, a rock and roll band singing about life's simple pleasures, chief among them: rock and roll. As guitarist-composer Lorenzo told New Noise Magazine in a 2014 interview:
“We grew up in Rome’s suburbs and listened to British and U.S. rock ‘n’ roll music without really understanding the lyrics. Music for us has always been a matter of instinct and aesthetics. The important thing is what music and words can convey together, the emotions they give. Sometimes words have a relative importance. We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band, I would say that we are a ‘pop’ band in the best way and our lyrics talk to the people, telling them about the things we love and the things we don’t like. Get ‘Hold Me Tight,’ can you imagine a more serious subject than being in love with someone?”
Or as New Noise critic Hutch puts it:
"Like the wheels on a skate lifted in high kick, with such a strong start, perpetual motion will keep the movement of Giuda rolling along." 
Roll on, Giuda, roll on!


Guida Non-LP B-Sides:

"Crazee" ("Number 10" B-side):

"Kidz Are Back" ("Get It Over" B-side):

"Kukulcan" ("Yellow Dash" B-side):

"Maybe It's All Over" ("Wild Tiger Woman" B-side):

"It's My City" ("Teenage Rebel" B-side):


Related Links:
Giuda on Bandcamp
Giuda on Facebook
Giuda on Twitter
Listen to Giuda's best tracks at www.last.fm.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Spider's Web *****

The Spider's Web
Directed by Ray Taylor and James W. Horne
(Columbia Pictures, 1938, 15 chapters, 300 minutes, b&w)
Columbia Pictures' "The Spider"

"What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to"...retrieve this outstanding 15-chapter Columbia serial that, though it entered the public domain January 1, 1967, is still rather hard to find as an official DVD release. Thankfully, it's available as a DVD-R from a couple of online vendors (classiccliffhangers.com, comicweb.com), as well as from vendors that sell their wares at the various sci-fi, comic book, and memorabilia conventions that come to town, such as the recent Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention at the Wydham Hunt Valley. That's how my movie serials-collecting friend Dave Cawley scored his coveted copy. Of course, you can also view episodes for free at YouTube.com and Comicweb.com.

I've only watched the double-length (30-minute) introductory chapter, "The Night Terror," on YouTube, but I'm already hooked. See if you agree with my enthusiasm by checking out this episode below:

The Spider's Web (1938), Chapter 1: "The Night Terror"

Inspired by this taste of two-fisted thrills to come, I read up on The Spider's Web. Following is what I've found...


The Spider's Web is a 1938 Columbia Pictures movie serial (the fifth of the 57 released by the studio) based on Harry Steeger's popular 1930s pulp magazine character The Spider. It is widely considered to be Columbia Pictures' crowning achievement in serial cliffhangers.

"The Spider's Web...is almost invariably ranked by serial buffs as Columbia Pictures' greatest chapterplay...Despite a fair share of minor flaws, its winning combination of strong production values, vivid atmosphere, excellent action sequences, and breakneck pacing - and its overall air of exuberant energy - cannot be matched by any of the studio's other releases..." - Jerry Blake, Serials expert (filesofjerryblake.com)

Harry Steegar's Spider was created to be Popular Publications' answer to Street and Smith Publication's vigilante hero, The Shadow. In the pulps, his stories were written by Norvell Page and Reginald Thomas Maitland (R.T.M.) Scott. Though similar to the Shadow, the Spider was a millionaire playboy, Richard Wentworth, a WWI veteran and amateur criminologist who was the last surviving member of a wealthy family. But while Wentworth was a friend of police commissioner Kirk, The Spider was decidedly not. Like a later crime-fighting arachnid-masked vigilante, Marvel Comics' Peter Parker/Spider-Man, The Spider is misunderstood by the authorities, who consider him no different than the criminals he fights against.

Based on a screenplay by Spider pulp writer Norvell Page, The Spider's Web was directed by serial-and-western veteran Ray Taylor and serial-and-comedy veteran James W. Horne. The series proved wildly popular when first released in 1938; according to Wikipedia, "it was the most popular serial of that year, according to a tally published in The Motion Picture Herald, and was such an exhibitor favorite that Columbia used it to launch a series of reissues in 1947." A sequel, The Spider Returns, was released in 1941; of the Spider's Web principal actors, only Warren Hull and Kenne Duncan returned in their original roles for the sequel.

In the serial, Warren Hull portrayed Richard Wentworth and "The Spider." Pleasant and smiling in civilian life, Wentworth is sometimes ruthless as The Spider, using his two .45 semi-automatic pistols against any public enemies who attack him. He is even not above shooting an an old lady in the back (OK, maybe it's a henchman in disguise). No doubt his disdain for due process rankles the legal authorities, who see him as just another hood.

Warren Hull also played Blinky McQuade, Wentworth's undercover alter ego, an over-the-hill safecracker who, disguised with glasses and an eyepatch, rubs elbows with the criminal underworld as a means to get valuable crime-fighting information Blinky also serves as comic relief in between all the fast-paced action sequences.

In the pulps, Wentworth adopted the hunchback persona of "Tito Caliepi," to infiltrate the underworld. Blinky McQuade is the serial's equivalent of this disguised faux-criminal. Wentworth is clearly a master of disguise; while flying with his fiancee, he describes how the authorities will greet him during their honeymoon to Hong Kong by donning a sampan, glasses, and mustache (all conveniently stored in his snug two-seater plane!) - and a cringe-worthy Chinese accent. These were definitely pre-PC times!

Nita Van Sloan and Richard Wentworth in an airplane built for two

The Spider's nemesis is "The Octopus," a masked crime lord who, wearing a Klansman-style white cloak, is only ever seen by his henchmen while sitting in a throne-like chair. He is bent on crippling America with a wave of terror as he sets about to control "the very nerve centers of the nation" - its multi-tentacled transportation systems. Likewise, the Octopus is himself a cripple, needing a cane to hobble around on his peg-leg. He demands tribute from railroad magnates and other "captains of industry." Interestingly, author Frank Norris wrote a novel called The Octopus, that emphasized the control of "forces"—such as the power of railroad monopolies—over individuals.

The rest of the cast includes perky Iris Meredith as Nita Van Sloan, Richard Wentworth's fiancĂ©e; Richard Fiske as Jackson,Wentworth's driver; Kenne Duncan as Ram Singh, Wentworth's Sikh bodyguard; Donald Douglas as Jenkins, Wentworth's butler; and Forbes Murray as Commissioner Kirk.

Nita hopes The Spider chooses baby powder over gunpowder

Drive, he said
"Yes, Saheeb!"

"You rang, sir?"
The definitive authority on The Spider's Web is reviewer Jerry Blake, whose web site The Files of Jerry Blake (www.filesofjerryblake.com) is a treasure trove of information about movie serials and "other cliffhanger material."

He lauds The Spider's Web for both its well-paced action sequences and its casting.

Jerry Blake on the action:

"...the real strengths of the Spider's Web lies not in its script but in its action scenes and lead performances. Directors Ray Taylor and James W. Horne...fill the serial with an impressive array of action sequences, with the assistance of a stunt team that incudes George DeNormand, Dave O'Brien, Bud Geary, and Tom Searle. The action scenes benefit from considerable variety, with gunfights (usually lethal ones) predominating but plenty of fistfights, chases, and acrobatic stuntwork mixed in...The action scenes are further enhanced by the serial's high percentage of nocturnal scenes, which casts a memorably ominous mood over the proceedings. The serial's atmosphere is also enhanced by the well-appointed locations, which consist chiefly of Columbia's city-street backlots; these locales, with an unusual amount of extras on the sidewalks and vehicles on the roads, not only help the directors and photographers in giving a gritty detective-pulp feel to the action, but also aid in sugesting the bustling life of the city under threat - which makes the Spider's crusade seem more urgent than that of many serial heroes, who tend to conduct their war with master criminals in a kind of vacuum free of bystanders." - Jerry Blake
Jerry Blake on the cast:

"As aforementioned, the serial's leading performances are another big factor in its success. The charismatic Warren Hull gives his character a suavity, intelligence, and aristocratic self-assurance rare in serial heroes, ans makes both the "millionaire socialite" and "brilliant detective" aspects of his character utterly credible. However, he never comes off as too slick or too arrogant, displaying convincing esteem and affection for his crimefighting aides - and for his misunderstanding friend the Commissioner as well - throughout the serial... 
Iris Meredith's delicate beauty and quietly courageous bearing make her an equally appealing heroine; her wryly good-humored reaction to the postponement of her character's marriage to Wentworth in the first chapter endears her to the audience from the start... 
Richard Fisk plays the part of Jackson with infectious energy and enthusiasm, making is character a cheerful daredevil ten times more interesting than most non-comic serial sidekicks... 
Kenne Duncan is also terrific as the knife-wielding Ram Singh, forbiddingly stern most of the time but always conveying a fierce love of battle beneath the stoicism, both through his air of repressed excitement and the gusto with with he delivers warlike maxims ('He who treads the path of evil shall meet with evil; I will ruin the pigs!')... 
Don Douglas, as the fifth member of Wentworth's team, has a much less active role than Meredith, Fiske, or Duncan, but still gives butler Jenkins a proper combination of intelligence and imperturbability... 
Forbes Murray is excellent as Commissioner Kirk, his tremendous affability and his briskly professional manner keeping him from ever seeming like a nuisance or a fool... 
Marc Lawrence - one of the screen's great gangsters in films ranging from Key Largo to Hold That Cloak, is a welcome presene as the Octopus' second-in-command; his slick, smug, and cooly menancing characterization is so good that it's a definite disappointment when he's killed off a little after the halfway mark... 
The Octopus is himself one of the less interesting masked serial heavies...the Octopus' dangerous 'third arm' and his off-screen execution chamber are overall more memorable than the villain himself."

The Octopus' identity was listed in the credits as "?" but (spoiler!) he was played by veteran actor Charles Wilson. Apparently a late "reveal" reveals him as a supposedly kidnapped banker named "Chase."

Warren Hull went on to portray Mandrake the Magician in Columbia Pictures' 1939 serial of that name, where he once again teamed up with Forbes Murray.

Iris Meredith would resurface in another Columbia superhero serial, The Green Archer (1940).

Ram Singh catches up on his reading

After playing in a number of Republic Western serials, Kenne Duncan would end his career performing in the films of his pal Ed Wood, Jr. He once again donned a turban to portray the spiritualist Dr. Acula in Wood's Night of the Ghouls (1959) and he was Lt. Matt Carson in The Sinister Urge (1960). He also appeared in Wood's TV pilot Crossroad Avenger and showed off his cowpoke shooting skills in the Wood short "Trick Shooting," as shown below:

Watch all 15 chapters of "The Spider's Web" here:

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Record Store Day 2015: Side by Side 7-inchers

Over, Under, Side by Side

Though I grew up with vinyl and love my record collection, I'm not a big fan of Record Store Day, the national event that honors independent records stores and their plastic wares on the third Saturday of each April. This year Record Store Day falls on April 18th and, as usual, there will be long lines of avid vinyl collectors queuing up early to fork over outrageous sums for limited edition 7- and 12-inch platters of coveted tracks on wax.

Not me. I'll be at work, though I'm sure my record-loving better half Amy will be out trying to score that "new" Buzzcocks 7-inch "The Way/Generation Suicide" on 1-2-3-4 Go! Records (with iconic cover art by Malcolm Garrett) because it has that Steve Diggle B-side that wasn't included on last year's 'cocks CD The Way.(Though it previously also appeared as the B-side of last year's "It's Not You" 7" single.)

But even if I wasn't working, I've reached the point where I no longer collect things. Blame it on a laborious move to a new house and the relief I felt when I finally emptied out that storage facility of all my accumulated clutter.

7 and 7 Is

But I am a fan of good ideas, and one of the better ones to emerge from Record Store Day is the "Side by Side" singles concept started in 2011 by Warner Bros.and now popularized by Rhino Records. Basically, it's two groups playing the same song on a split 45 rpm 7-inch record: one side features the original artist performing an iconic tune, while the flip side features a signature cover version of the same ditty by another artist. Like "No Fun" performed by The Stooges on one side, and The Black Keys on the other, to cite one famous example. Often the vinyl itself is a picture disc or sports an unusual (non-black) color. And, at $7.98 a pop, the SxS singles may be pricey, but aren't outrageously pricey.

Here are some of the 7-inchers Rhino has in store for Record Store Day 2015:

SYD BARRETT/R.E.M. – "Dark Globe"
7-inch black, gold, red and white vinyl. Limited edition of 11,700 copies.

Listen to R.E.M. cover "Dark Globe."

7-inch white/clear. Limited edition of 15,000 copies.

Listen to Bowie play "Kingdom Come."

7-inch olive green vinyl with red/yellow splatter, limited edition of 5,500 copies.

Listen to Stiff Little Fingers cover "The Message." 

7-inch pink and bronze vinyl. Limited edition of 7,000 copies.

Listen to Lemonheads cover"Brass Buttons."

7-inch Heavy Magenta splatter on Aqua Blue opaque. (4,000 copies)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Head's Off to BVE's "Anne Bolelyn/All Stood Still" Single (Flower Records, 2013)

 BLACK VELVET EXPRESS - "Anne Bolelyn/All Stood Still"
(Flower Records, 2013; artwork by Ron Komber, Jr.)
New single available on iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby

Head’s up to the dynamic duo of Dane Williams and Michael Fiore (pictured left), the musical partnership better known as Black Velvet Express, for this delightful digital double-sider that celebrates both martyred 16th-century English Queens ("Anne Boleyn") and Cold War-era sci-fi aliens ("All Stood Still")!

The timing couldn’t have been better for an Anne Boleyn revival, with the April debut of “Wolf Hall” (based on Hilary Mantel's historical novel series) on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre and an upcoming Broadway production to boot. Few historical women, have been as celebrated in pop culture as the esrtwhile Marquess of Pembroke and second wife of King Henry VIII, whose tragic end - she was beheaded in May 1536 - has made her the poster child of romantic victimhood. Regardless of one's take on her historical significance - was she a manipulative concubine or a rebellious feminist unjustly vilified for her defiance of Tudor-era norms of wifely obediance? - she continues to fascinate each new generation that encounters her.

Where've you been, Anne Boleyn?

Film, stage and television portrayals abound, from Ernst Lubitsch's 1920 silent Anna Boleyn through 1969's Anne of a Thousand Days and the 1970 mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, up through Natalie Portman's take in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and Natalie Dormer's award-winning turn as Anne on Showtime's The Tudors (2007-2010). Look closely and you can even see her portrait hanging along the Hogwarts staircase in 2001's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (after all, she was accused of being a witch - among other things - at her "trial"!).

Musically she's been the subject of everyone from Donizetti (the 19th century opera Anna Bolena) to Rick Wakeman ("Anne Bolelyn" from 1973's The Six Wives of Henry VIII), with shout-outs from artists as diverse as Cat Stevens ("Ghost Town" from 1974's The Buddha and the Chocolate Box), Tori Amos ("Talula" from 1973's Boys for Pele), and Courtney Love (2010's "Old Age").

BVE: "Where the Stars Kiss the Moon" (Flower Records, 2010); artwork by Ron Komber, Jr.
And now Anne Bolelyn’s quite literal separation from King Henry VIII is the subject matter of Black Velvet Express’s first new release since 2010’s Where the Stars Kiss the Moon, the space-rock concept album inspired by their love of the 1956 sci-fi film Forbidden Planet.

The boys still love their '50s sci-fi cinema, as witnessed in "All Stood Still," which takes its title from Robert Wise's 1951 classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (and certainly not from the unnecessary 2008 Keanu Reeves remake of the same title!), the "We come in peace, Earthlings" film that gave us the immortal catchphrase "Klaatu barada nikto."

After all, it's what brought them together years ago, after Baltimore native Fiore underwent his "Dave Grohl Transformation" - switching from playing drums (most notably in 1980s New Wave band The Accused) to strumming guitars - and wrote the tune that would become the title track of that 2010 BVE release.

Williams and Fiore met through Voices

Williams and Fiore initially met when a Baltimore, Md., management company assembled musicians from neighboring East Coast states to form a concept band called group Voices. Besides their shared love of sci-fi, the pair soon found that they also shared an affinity for the type of melodic rock exemplified by the Killer B's - Beatles, Badfinger, Bowie - as well as artists as diverse as George Harrison (Fiore's Fab Four fave), Cream, Mott the Hoople, and Pink Floyd. They've been friends and collaborators ever since.

So what's on offer here?

Artwork by Ron Komber, Jr.

A Side: "Anne Boleyn"
(M. Fiore, D. Williams)
Dane Williams: guitars, vocals
Michael Fiore: guitars
Gerard Moore: bass
Brian Hughes: drums
Available on iTunesAmazonCD Baby

A guitar riff opens in the left channel, switches to the right channel, and comes to rest in full stereo balance as Dane Williams steps to the mic to lyrically set the chamber pop-rooted tableaux for this lushly produced powerpop tune.
A young girl's charms of her wit and grace
Speaks to the heart's most royal estate

The court of the King is a temping place
When Winter's cold wind sparks a lover's embrace

The flame of desire inside of the heart
When love don't answer, tears the soul apart

Like trees reaching for the skies at dark
The passion and fire of a million stars
Then comes the hook-laden chorus, powered by Williams' silky smooth backing vocal "aaahs" (deftly multi-tracked by engineers Drew Mazurek and Dan Skeen)...

Where've you been? Where've you been?
Where've you been? Where've you been?

Anne Bolelyn
Then, right on cue, comes the sweetest slide guitar segue since George Harrison's All Things Must Pass, a riff that sticks to the lobes like glazed honey and holds the whole pop confection together for the duration of its four minutes of sonic glory. And after another verse and chorus, there's a pure powerpop moment when Williams and Fiore trade perfectly overlapping lead guitar and slide guitar motifs.

It all leads to the dramatic end the listener knows is coming: the inevitable "heads will roll" coda, the denouement de decapitation:
Tales of the Queen in her lover's bed
Sadness and sorrow will quickly spread
When each broken heart's on a thread
When you lose your love, don't lose your head

It's a slick, well-engineered production full of hooky hooks and merry melodies that rise above the song's downer subject matter. That's what good pop does!

Ron Komber, Jr.'s Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still"

B Side: "All Stood Still"
(M.Fiore, D. Williams)
Dane Williams: guitars, vocals
Michael Fiore: guitars, backing vocals, tambourine
Angelo Cammarata: bass
Taso Kotsos: drums
Availble on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby

When all stood still it saved us
It saved you and me

BVE's "All Stood Still" - not to be confused with the Ultravox song of the same title from their 1981 album Vienna - returns the lads to their sci-fi obsessions, in this case Robert Wise's film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). Unlike many American sci-fi movies from the '50s, in which evil aliens stood in as symbols of fascism or our new nemeses, the Commies, Wise's film was a pacifist plea for empathy, cooperation and peaceful co-existence among diverse peoples. It might as well have been called "What's so funny 'bout Peace, Love and Understanding?"

In BVE's hands, this leisurely-paced rock ballad (running over 6 minutes), which churns along on chunky Mick Ronson guitar chords and spacey solo guitar runs, references a Christ-like outlier who comes to shed light on a world of blight.

I remember when there was darkness and despair
War and hatred, destruction everywhere
I looked up to the sky and what did I see
I saw a silver savior coming to save me

The silver savior (OK, it's Michael Rennie in Klaatu's shiny space suit!) spoke of "peace and love and kindness in the air." In Robert Wise's film, the World didn't listen, but BVE imagines a more positive outcome. They even add a "Hey Jude"chorus at the halfway mark, with Williams and Fiore chirpily chanting an infectious "Na-na-na-na" over guitar leads that pepper the melody like comets blazing past.

Here's hoping this duo continue to work together and follow up with another long player in the not-too-distant future. If these two songs are any indication, that future looks very bright indeed.

Fiore & Williams: BVE's Dynamic Duo

Be sure to check out BVE's web site (www.BlackVelvetExpress.com), which allows fans to view the lyrics and register for a free cover art print, view the lyrics. The website also provides song samples and the ability to purchase the EP thru CdBaby.com., iTunes, Rhapsody, and other digital distributors.