Monday, September 21, 2020

New music: Little Richard, Ace Frehley, Rick Hromadka, Aimee Mann

If you like variety when it comes to music, check out my latest roundup of essential new releases...

Little Richard
Titles: The Rill Thing; King of Rock and Roll (Omnivore Recordings)
You might like if you enjoy: Little Richard, Prince, Vintage Trouble, Billy Preston
Tell me more: When Little Richard passed away at the age of 87 on May 9, 2020, it rekindled interest in the life and music of the pioneering rock and roll great. Now Omnivore Recordings has reissued expanded versions of two of his most important albums, 1970's The Rill Thing and 1971's King of Rock and Roll. Best known for his string of seminal '50s hits ("Tutti Fruiti," "Long Tall Sally," "Rip It Up" and many more), the Macon, Georgia native enjoyed a well-deserved comeback with these ambitious early '70s LPs where his signature vocals were at their peak. The Rill Thing was recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama and finds Little Richard — who also produced the album  delivering an album that fuses blues, soul, funk and R&B together flawlessly. There are a plethora of fantastic moments on the album including the potent rock 'n' soul leadoff track "Freedom Blues," Creedence Clearwater Revival-mining "Greenwood, Mississippi," the ambitious title track (which runs more than 10 minutes!), the New Orleans swoop "Lovesick Blues," a joyful horns-draped version of The Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" and bonus track "Shake A Hand (If You Can)." 

Fourteen months after the release of The Rill Thing, Little Richard rebounded with the equally convincing King of Rock and Roll, produced by H.B. Barnum. The expanded LP features a fine mix of original songs, along with reworked covers of Motown and rock classics. Listening to the spirited '50s title track, gospel-meets-soul version of "Joy To The World," rocking take on The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" and joyful "The Way You Do The Things You Do" all find the rocker tapping into all of his strengths. The funky "Green Power," soulful ballad "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and retooled "Born On The Bayou" shine an especially bright light on his elevated vocal excellence during this period. Both of these Cheryl Pawelski-produced reissues come with essential bonus tracks, new liner notes penned by Bill Dahl, photos and ephemera. Information:

Ace Frehley
Title: Origins Vol. 2 (Entertainment One)
You might like if you enjoy: Ace Frehley, Lita Ford, Robin Zander, Bruce Kulick
Tell me more: Revisiting classic tracks from the top-tier likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and The Kinks can be challenging because the originals endure in their timeless perfection. But on his new dozen-strong set Origins Vol. 2 KISS founding member Ace Frehley (lead guitar, vocals) is able to meet that challenge by covering beloved classics with virtuoso guitar work, a hard rock edge, an unbridled sense of joy and a little help from some good friends. Among the smoking cuts on the disc is a high-octane tear through the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (featuring Lita Ford on lead vocals), a rousing cover of Humble Pie's 1972 blues-rocker favorite "30 Days In The Hole" (with Cheap Trick frontman Robin Zander able to deliver on the lead vocals delivered by the late Steve Marriott in the original) and the mind-bending Hendrix cut "Manic Depression" (with Frehley and Grand Funk Railroad's Bruce Kulick both soloing). KISS lost more than a step with the departure of Frehley in 1982 (he did rejoin the band from 1996 to the end of 2001); just listen to the blistering take on Mountain's "Never In My Life" and Cream's "Politician" to hear Frehley's killer guitar work in spades. Other treasures on the LP include a cool take on Paul Revere & the Raiders' "Kicks" and a cover of his former band's "She" (featured on the 1975 album "Dressed to Kill"). Get Origins Vol. 2 and crank it up! Then go back and discover the Spaceman's 2016 album Origins Vol. 1. Information:

Rick Hromadka
Title: Better Days (SodaStar Music)
You might like if you enjoy: Jason Falkner, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Maple Mars, the Lickerish Quartet
Tell me more: Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Rick Hromadka's Better Days is the perfect find for those in search of music that is melodic, memorable and expertly crafted. Hromadka (Maple Mars, Ruby Free, Double Naught Spies) and a batch of musical pals have created an album that is one of the best power pop releases in memory, a surging and artful effort that is bolstered by excellent song craft, experimental flourishes aplenty and nuanced musicianship. The atmospheric opener "Better Days," exhilarating melodic rocker "Searchlight," psychedelic-aimed "Drive On" and breezy "The Ever After" are early highlights on the album. The driving "Full Blown Freakout," genre bending "Robot Lover" and lavish "The Last Volcano" make the second half of the disc equally strong. Better Days, set for release on Sept. 22, will be available on vinyl and digital. Information:

Aimee Mann
Title: Avalanche (HBO's "I'll Be Gone In The Dark")
You might like if you enjoy: Aimee Mann, Leonard Cohen
Tell me more: Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has released a evocative version of Leonard Cohen's ballad "Avalanche," which is now featured as the title track for HBO's true-crime docuseries "I'll Be Gone In The Dark." Covering Cohen can be tricky and few artists have done it with the power and artful grandeur to do the original material justice; Mann's haunting and faithful cover of "Avalanche" is sheer joy and well worth discovering. The song can be streamed or downloaded now. Information:

Robert Kinsler

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