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Folk/Americana - Released August 8, 2013 | Castle Communications

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Pop - Released January 14, 2020 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released March 5, 2019 | Castle Communications

Visions of Excess is the title of a collection of essays by the late French writer, bibliophile, cultural critic/anthropologist, and pornographer Georges Bataille. Bataille's work has always been close to Marc Almond's heart, so much so that he's been part of a tribute gig to him released as The Violent Silence. Almond's work as a solo artist apart from Soft Cell has been so wide-ranging and abundant -- wildly careening between post-pop R&B, cabaret songs, electronics, classic and kitschy pop, glam, French chanson, disco, and more -- that it embodies the entire notion of "excess." That's far from a bad thing, and though he's missed the mark with his records from time to time, he's never done anything that would be remotely considered untrue to his vision. Each recording has been a snapshot of where Almond as an artist was at the time of any work's creation. Sure, this is a lot to say for a pop singer, but then Scott Walker and Jacques Brel were pop singers, too, as was Lotte Lenya in her native Germany before the Second World War, and it's from this tradition that Almond's work comes. Indeed, his life -- both aesthetic and everyday -- is the stuff of a collection of poems by Paul Verlaine or Charles Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde or Laure, Bataille's gloriously infamous poet lover. Stardom Road is more than just another collection of covers from Almond. He's done them before, but never like this. According to Almond -- whose last three studio recordings (1999's Open All Night, 2001's Stranger Things, and 2003's Heart on Snow) have been deeply focused, beautifully executed efforts -- this offering, his first since a motorcycle accident in 2004 that almost killed him, is a portrait of all of his major influences rolled into one, a musical biography of sources, as it were. And indeed, with tracks written by Charles Aznavour, David Bowie, Al Stewart, Bert Kaempfert, Bobby Darin, James Last, Sol Weinstein, and a few others, he's at least got chapter one down, to be sure. It's an ambitious sortie into the world of pop. Almond appears with everything from strings to full-on horn sections and orchestras as well as in some slightly smaller settings. There's a deeply moving duet with Antony Hegarty on Fran Landesman's classic early-'50s anthem "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," and with Sarah Cracknell on Westlake's "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten," which is a slightly modern update of the original arrangement by Keith Mansfield. Then there's the nugget "Backstage (I'm Lonely)," with Jools Holland on piano and Kiki Dee and Anna Ross on backing vocals (and some additional lyrics by Almond). These aren't merely name-check collabs for Almond. He put every ounce of inspiration into these performances. The arrangements in these tracks and a few others are top-notch, full and beautiful and gloriously overblown. But there's another side as well, such as his beautiful acoustic guitars, piano, drum kit, and strings reading of Aznavour's anthem "I Have Lived," in English. It's expressive, redemptive, and full of revelation. Indeed, Almond sings this one as if he's written it himself: "I'm an artist/I've never been a saint...." (For the uninitiated, along with Edith Piaf, Maurice Chevalier, Charles Trenet, Léo Ferré, and of course Serge Gainsbourg, Aznavour is a bona fide hero of French culture.) The version of Darin's "Dream Lover" is a dark mirror image: a single electric guitar and programming are the backdrop of this cut, and if director David Lynch ever hears this he'll be signing Almond to sing on one of his soundtracks. It's an awesome interpretation of the song, and even Darin would be proud. Yep, there is a cover of Barry Ryan's "Kitsch" here, and of course Almond plays it up because what the tune expresses has been part and parcel of Almond's aesthetic from the word go: trash and treasure, the gutter and the palace, or perhaps the palace of the gutter. Likewise, Al Stewart's "Bedsitter Images" and Bowie's "London Boys" offer different sides to the same story: the terminal outsider, whose deep loneliness leads him to dreams and visions of grandeur, longing, and the desire to be loved for what he is -- decadent, hopelessly out of step, and in pain. But Almond's no whiner; he celebrates his condition as an artist. There is a new song here, too -- an original called "Redeem Me (Beauty Will Redeem the World)," which sums up the artist, the person, and the various personas and rolls them into one. The words, delivery, and melody in all its swinging breezy gentleness need to be heard; it's an injustice to quote those lyrics out of that context. The set finally ends with Weinstein's "The Curtain Falls." Accompanied by Igor Outkine's accordion, strings, and a tuba, it is a beautiful, deeply moving, and warmly sad yet humorous sendoff into the silence. Almond's voice has never been less histrionic, yet more expressive; Stardom Road eclipses even Open All Night as his finest studio moment as a solo artist. ~ Thom Jurek
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Pop - Released August 1, 2013 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released June 6, 2011 | Castle Communications

Atomic Rooster experienced several lineup changes during their initial tenure in the early '70s, with Nice 'n' Greasy being the band's last before disbanding. By this time the band's musical direction had shifted from hard rock and progressive rock to a style more closely resembling blues/funk. The addition of Chris Farlowe gives the music an aggressive edge, while John Mandella's guitar work beckons images of John McLaughlin. The effort is genuine, and songs such as "Take One Toke" and "Can't Find a Reason" show the band's diversity, but there are too many inconsistent moments and nonsensical lyrics. It's too bad that Vincent Crane did not keep the band together for longer period of time, as they were obviously a talented group of musicians with a definitive sound, just lacking a firm direction. ~ Robert Taylor
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Rock - Released April 7, 2018 | Castle Communications

Although the best of the Kinks' early work is among the best British Invasion music, their initial pair of albums was far less consistent than those of the Beatles, Stones, and Who. Aside from the great "You Really Got Me," this was a shabby, disappointing set with surprisingly thin production. As R&B cover artists, the Kinks weren't nearly as adept as the Stones and Yardbirds; Ray Davies' original tunes were, "You Really Got Me" aside, perfunctory Merseybeat-ish pastiches, and a couple of tunes that producer Shel Talmy penned for the group ("Bald Headed Woman," "I've Been Driving on Bald Mountain") were simply abominable. The rave-up treatments of the R&B standards "Got Love If You Want It" and "Cadillac" were good, and the simple "Stop Your Sobbing" would eventually be covered by the Pretenders, but overall this is really patchy. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Rock - Released August 1, 2013 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released March 1, 2017 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released June 20, 2011 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released June 20, 2011 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released June 20, 2011 | Castle Communications

When The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was released in November 1968, the Davies brothers unveiled an album that was out of time. It was a pop masterpiece that was steeped in nostalgia for an Olde England and some thought it was almost backward-looking, though today it is considered one of the most influential records of its time. What’s more, it proved that there’s more to life than just Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards! Following that spectacular record, their fans were wondering what could possibly come next. The idea didn’t come from either of the brother’s creative brains but in fact from the producers of Granada Television who commissioned them for… a rock opera! The plot takes place in post-war England and revolves around Arthur, a carpet-layer who emigrates with his family to Australia as he struggles to find his place in the world. The story was inspired by the Davies brothers’ older sister Rose who moved down under in 1964 with her husband Arthur. Her move left a mark on Ray, who later composed Rosie Won’t You Please Come Home in 1966 for the album Face to Face. In any case, it provided more than enough material for the English songwriter to produce these deliciously crazy and ironic songs. In the end, the film was never shot and so Arthur was released in October 1969 with no visual aid.Almost as brilliant and nostalgic as , the record’s instrumental richness, skillful songwriting and intelligent compositions went to prove once again that The Kinks were just as creative as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. On Shangri-La, one of their most impressive compositions, the Davies brothers mix pop, rock and blues. Dave’s guitar playing is particularly impressive, revealing both thick riffs (Brainwashed) and intricate ballads (Young and Innocent Days). Unfortunately, the public didn’t exactly lap up the unusual, daring songs of this baroque farandole, instead opting for The Who’s Tommy. Though fortunately, time has been kind to Arthur and today the record is considered a genuine masterpiece. © Marc Zisman/Qobuz
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Soul - Released August 1, 2013 | Castle Communications

Born in the Midwestern U.S., soul singer Geno Washington found himself in the position of leading a U.K. group of hopped-up rhythm & blues players while stationed overseas. As the vocalist for the Ram Jam Band, Washington delivered gritty, high-energy performances with all the gusto of any of the better-known names of late-'60s rocking soul while the band backed him up with equal fire. Foot Stompin' Soul is a massive greatest-hits collection, with over 50 tracks from the group's most active years. Washington fronts the Ram Jam Band through a set list of mostly covers, but one that covers a wide spectrum of classic soul sounds, ranging from Motown fare to funk-infused takes on the Beatles and the Stones. ~ Fred Thomas
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Rock - Released January 7, 2008 | Castle Communications

By 1976, Uriah Heep was on shaky ground. Although they had scored a big success with Return to Fantasy, the group was suffering from personality conflicts (vocalist David Byron left after this album) and division over their musical direction. This tension is visibly apparent on High and Mighty, an album that shows flashes of the group's old firepower, but is ultimately sunk by a combination of unfocused experimentation and uneven songwriting. It starts promisingly with a solid first side: "One Way or Another" is a surging, dramatic hard rocker that features Ken Hensley trading verses with bassist John Wetton, and "Misty Eyes" is an engaging up-tempo tune that trades the group's hard rock thunder for a sound built on some tasty acoustic guitar riffs. It also contains one of the group's finest songs in "Midnight," a meditation on the price of success that neatly balances Mick Box's soaring guitar leads with an array of lush keyboard textures from Ken Hensley. This song is also notable for the dramatic, heart-wrenching vocal it is given by David Byron. However, High and Mighty fails to maintain this standard of quality on its second side. Several of the songs find the band flirting with pop elements in a way that doesn't complement their hard rocking style: "Can't Stop Singing" starts curiously with "Monty Python"-style mock tribal chants before devolving into a silly keyboard pop tune, and the hard rock energy of "Woman of the World" is sunk by the ridiculously bouncy beat and English music hall-style piano it is saddled with. The second side also sports a surprisingly lame and derivative rocker in "Make a Little Love," a throwaway that sounds like an uninspired attempt to duplicate the sound of Bad Company. All in all, High and Mighty is far too uneven to win Uriah Heep any new fans, but it contains enough solid rockers to make it worth a listen for the group's devoted ones. ~ Donald A. Guarisco
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Rock - Released August 8, 2013 | Castle Communications

4 stars out of 5 -- "Paul Williams attacks the songs like a ravenous troll, eviscerating 'Gorgon' and the superheated shuffle of 'Strangeher' with red-eyed relish."
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Rock - Released December 15, 2008 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released March 1, 2017 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released August 8, 2013 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released August 13, 2012 | Castle Communications

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Rock - Released March 1, 2017 | Castle Communications

Ray Davies and company had already participated in one failed television musical when the movie Percy came along -- it wasn't as original as Arthur, nor did Davies have nearly as much to do with its creation, but he still outdid himself given the material at hand. Directed and co-produced by Ralph Thomas, who had been responsible for some brilliant thrillers (The Clouded Yellow, Above Us the Waves) and very popular comedies (Doctor in the House) in past decades, Percy was the story of the world's first penis transplant (it was probably inspired, or at least justified, by big-budget efforts of the period like Myra Breckinridge). Although virtually unseen in the United States, it was still popular enough to yield a sequel (Percy's Progress), but its real impact came from its soundtrack. Davies wrote some hauntingly beautiful ballads and some solid blues and country as well -- "God's Children" and "Animals in the Zoo" have turned up on some career anthologies, but there's a lot more to Percy than those two tracks. "Completely" is as fine a slow blues as the band ever recorded, with a sizzling performance by Dave Davies, and "Dreams" is a pretty solid rocker, even up alongside "Animals in the Zoo." To this day the album has never appeared in the U.S. catalog -- recorded at the tail end of their contract with Pye Records in England and Warner/Reprise in America, and connected with a movie that was never going to see much exposure in the U.S.A., Reprise passed on it at the time. ~ Bruce Eder
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Rock - Released March 1, 2017 | Castle Communications