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Reviews Written by
Neale Harmer (Horsham, West Sussex, England)

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At Folsom Prison / At San Quentin (Remastered / Expanded) (2CD)
At Folsom Prison / At San Quentin (Remastered / Expanded) (2CD)
Price: £8.99

63 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "This is being recorded - you can't say 'hell' or 'sh...!", 21 Mar. 2006
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On January 13th 1968 Johnny Cash and his roadshow played at Folsom Prison for the fourth time. Although they had been playing at prisons for around a decade, this was the first Johnny Cash concert that his record company had recorded with a view to releasing a live album. Cash had been hassling his record company for six years until they relented and he was vindicated when the single "Folsom Prison Blues" lifted from the LP released that same year was a top ten hit and the album became his best selling record thus far. He had no trouble convincing the suits that he should follow this up with another live prison recording and his San Quentin gig recorded on February 24th 1969 was duly released that year. This went on to sell even more than the Folsom LP - helped, no doubt, by the included hit single "A Boy Named Sue". This all happened eight years before punk rock, so Cash's mainstream success with these records is surprising because this was (is) raw stuff. Personally, I mostly prefer the live versions on these albums rather than the studio recorded versions. They appeal to the ageing punk rocker in me and Cash seems to relish the freedom from the corporate recording machine and it's insistence on adding cheesy backings to his songs. The recording quality on both albums is as good as you can expect and the occasional fluffed lyric and in-between song banter only adds to the live experience. The Folsom set even has a couple of announcements made over the Tannoy letting some inmates know that they have visitors waiting! (Someone's wife had unfortunate timing - imagine: "Honey, you're making me miss an historic gig, here!"). The songs don't cover every aspect of Cash's career up to 1968/69 because he tailored his prison sets to that environment, but there are some great versions of old favourites, some spiritual songs and even some comic stuff.

What you get here is the two expanded CDs from 1999 and 2000 respectively, in their proper jewel cases and both held together in a cardboard slipcase. This is good - both LPs wouldn't fit onto a single CD anyway, but with all the extra tracks that weren't on the original LPs you've got nearly two hours' music at a fantastic price. Each CD has a booklet that includes the original artwork plus extra photos and new liner notes from Steve Earle (Folsom) and Merle Haggard & June Carter Cash (San Quentin) but no lyrics. On Folsom, the songs aren't sequenced in the concert's original order but thankfully the crowd haven't been faded in and out, so you still get the feeling of hearing a live, uninterrupted concert. The San Quentin CD says it's the complete show and the sequencing seems more realistic. Inevitably the two albums get compared with each other - I play Folsom slightly more than San Quentin if only for superior versions of "I Still Miss Someone" and a rattling take on "Jackson" with June Carter's vocals showing an enthusiasm mixed with nerves. Tough crowd - I'm not sure about Cash's motives, playing to these murderers (and worse). There's a mention in the liner notes of giving hope to the hopeless and redemption to the sinners. You may feel that an orphanage would be more deserving of a free concert given by a big country star... but then you wouldn't get the same rowdy reception that electrifies these recordings. Never mind a ring of fire, Cash and his band must have had balls of steel to play to these crowds.

Johnny Cash commanded a lot of respect from the inmates - I can't think of anyone else who could successfully play gigs in maximum security jails during the turbulent late sixties (Elvis? The Rolling Stones?) and look like they mean it. As much as the prisoners respected Cash, you can still feel the tension. When Cash sings "I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die" a massive cheer goes up. That'll be their idea of a good time, then. Gulp. The fact that you can hear Cash touch these men with just his voice and guitar on "Send A Picture Of Mother", his voice almost breaking at the end, or get the crowd stomping their blues away for just a few minutes of "San Quentin" makes you realise what a special talent Cash had - the ability to communicate. You don't need to be a country music fan to enjoy this, but if you're looking for an introduction to Johnny Cash I'd say start with the 4CD "The Legend" box set which is a bargain from Amazon. If you want to experience the real deal as fictionalised in the excellent 2006 movie "Walk The Line", then "At Folsom Prison / At San Quentin" is the one for you and at this price (at almost any price) this is a must-have package.

Off the Record
Off the Record
by David Menconi
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £16.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Sex, Drugs and Rock �n� Roll! And a dodgy promoter�, 23 Jan. 2005
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Tommy Aguilar is a Tortured Artiste in the mould of Kurt Cobain and Ryan Adams (you know, the martyrdom about how tough their lives are... try a proper job, softies). His song titles include "Come Go Away" and "Go As You Are" and his habits include heroin and mucking-up crucial gigs. Tommy's talent is to embrace both - the kind of self-destructive behaviour that Grunge Kids find impressive nowadays.
His story is vividly brought to life by David Menconi in his first novel - all the ingredients are here: the unscrupulous promoter, the hapless manager and the seedy journalist. Menconi is music critic for the News and Observer paper in Raleigh, North Carolina and his first-hand knowledge of how young bands can be exploited rings true - especially to anyone like me that was in a "nearly-made-it" band.
If you're young enough to be starting out in your first band, this book will serve as a warning to the business-related dangers. If you're an ageing punk rocker you'll cheer for Tommy's anti-corporate attitude. This is a really good read - funny , moving (when a major character dies) and life affirming (the good guys... hey, buy your own copy!) Highly recommended.

Log 22
Log 22
Offered by wantitcheaper
Price: £5.38

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dutch Courage., 11 Sept. 2003
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This review is from: Log 22 (Audio CD)
Most of the mainstream musical pap (no, it's not a typo) we are fed is sung by puppets who'll do whatever they're told if it'll further their careers. This is why you've got to respect the underground people who make music like their lives depend on it. Bettie Serveert have been releasing music since 1992's 'Palomine' LP. They are part of a handful of underrated Northern European Bands With Guitars (see also: Daryll-Ann, Johan, Mew, Ronderlin) who have all made great albums but gained little recognition in England or America. I doubt that this album will make Bettie Serveert follow the Cardigans' career arc but maybe that's why we love them (when I say 'we' I mean myself and about a dozen other Indie nutters). On this CD, the band's creative nucleus of Carol Van Dyk and Peter Visser are augmented on some songs with brass, strings, vibraphone, random sound effects and other assorted weirdness that - crucially - never detracts from the group's traditional format of guitar/bass/drums.

'Log 22' is certainly value for money at just over sixty minutes duration. Although some of the songs are over six minutes long, fans of a Short Pop Blast will enjoy 'Smack' and 'Not Coming Down' which are a little over two minutes each. Fantastic. As a singer, Carol Van Dyk is no Mariah Carey. Amen to that - Carol's singing is a triumph of emotion over technique - Mariah Carey's singing is no emotion and all technique, as we all know (when I say 'we' I mean anyone with two ears and a heart). The lyrics are occasionally wrist slashing stuff - witness this from 'Cut 'N Dried': 'I don't wanna leave but you know that you always can'' Ouch. However, the band also know how to rock out and have fun and Peter Visser's guitar ranges from E-bowed chills to axeman riffage - sometimes even in the same song ('The Ocean, My Floor'). The band's Velvet Underground influence is still evident, as one might expect from a group who once released an entire album of VU covers. 'White Dogs' lasts over eight minutes, the last six minutes of which consist of two chords repeated over a backing reminiscent of 'I'm Waiting For The Man' mixed with Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side'. If you liked some of Bettie Serveert's previous stuff in 6/8 time ('Leg' and 'Private Suit') then you'll like 'Have A Heart' and 'Captain Of Maybe'.

These people care about their music. The CD's booklet has all the lyrics and the lovingly constructed cut-and-paste artwork echoes the band's disparate sound. None of these songs will knock you out on first listen but you'll find yourself humming bits and pieces some days later. The thrill of experiencing something new is all the recommendation you need. In a world that doesn't care, bands such as Bettie Serveert deserve more than they will probably ever get.

Ramones: Expanded And Remastered
Ramones: Expanded And Remastered
Price: £5.87

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Punk Rock Mother Lode!, 24 Aug. 2003
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Never underestimate the power of music. When I first heard this album in 1976 it changed my life. I'd always loved music but in the mid seventies the only guitar-based music coming out was prog rock or teenybop. This LP, the Ramones' first, changed all that - forever. It had fourteen songs in half an hour (the longest was 2:35!) and the songs had titles like 'Blitzkrieg Bop' and 'Beat On The Brat'. This was neither prog rock nor teenybop! The production harked back to the early days of rock 'n' roll in that the primitive recording made it sound loud at any volume. The bass guitar was in the left speaker and the rhythm guitar was on the right, with the drums and vocals in the middle - and virtually no overdubs! Back then, a Nick Kent review in the NME said something like "this record will destroy your speakers" and although time has lessened it's shock value, time cannot diminish this albums' power. It's hard to believe that anyone hasn't already got this record. If you like punk then you should already have this. If you're a music historian you'll already know that this album is as influential as "Sgt Pepper". If you drive a car you'll need this blasting out as an antidote to all the dullards driving around with disco music at full volume.

Rhino Records have done a fabulous job on all the other Ramones 2001 reissues - "Leave Home", "Rocket To Russia" and "Road To Ruin" are all essential purchases - and this album is no exception. The mastering is far superior to any previous Ramones CD compilations/reissues, being as close to the original (vinyl!) sound as is possible. The sleeve notes are extensive (and actually written by someone who was there) and the booklet is packed with rare photos, the lyrics and the original artwork. This CD has eight bonus tracks, seven of which are demos recorded before the original LP, thus giving an insight into how some songs evolved. The demo versions of "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and "Judy Is A Punk" were previously only available on the rare Norton Label 7" single while the demo versions of "I Don't Care", "Now I Want To Sniff Some Glue" and "You Should Never Have Opened That Door" are all previously unreleased. "I Can't Be" and "I Don't Wanna Be Learned/I Don't Wanna Be Tamed" were previously on the "All The Stuff (And More) Volume One" compilation but they sound better here - all the demos are decent quality recordings. The final extra track is the single version of "Blitzkrieg Bop" (memo to Rhino - there's a typo on the back cover!) which has dispensed with the extreme left/right panning of the bass and guitar.

One of my favourite moments is when the sound of a chain saw (brought into the studio to be recorded!) segues into the beginning of a song (erm... "Chain Saw") and you realise what Johnny's guitar sound is based on. Then there's the call to arms of "Hey ho, let's go!" from "Blitzkrieg Bop", the (often underrated) pop sensibility of "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" and the (often unacknowledged) humour in "Beat On The Brat" and "Loudmouth". Since this album was originally released, I've enjoyed music from bands influenced by it's attitude (Black Flag, Clash, Smiths) and it's music (Buzzcocks, Pixies, Nirvana) but I still come back to the original. Over 25 years on and it still sounds right. Playing this record can still raise a confused frown from Squares the world over. The "back to basics" approach of punk began with this album and for anyone who heard it back in 1976, nothing would ever be the same again. You need this record.
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