Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Review - Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway

While there have been other Alice Cooper Band biographies (including Alice’s own Me, Alice and No More Mr. Nice Guy by guitarist/songwriter Michael Bruce) I would state that Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs!: My Adventures in The Alice Cooper Group is the definitive biography. It is, after all, written by the bassist of the group, Dennis Dunaway (with Chris Hodenfield) and we all know that bassists are often methodical beasts. Plus he had a journal and many letters written during this time period. In a friendly way, Dennis points out that Alice the man is prone to exaggeration and embellishment and during their heyday if a rumor sprouted up somewhere it was encouraged. For instance the chicken incident. Dennis notes that the band itself brought the chicken and you can see in some film of the event where Alice pulls the chicken from the bag. However it was never the bands intent that the chicken be killed by the audience, though when it happened the controversy was free press.

Dennis also clarifies the origin of many of the concepts and themes that made the band famous, usually attributing them to himself or his wife, who made the bands outlandish clothing on no budget overnight. Being the quiet fellow and thinking that it was a band effort, he usually did not speak up to defend his intellectual property, thinking that in the end it was all part of being in a band. Bass players are often like that. But he also gives mountains of credit where it is due, not only to the individual members of the band but also to their innovative lighting guru, management and roadies. There’s also the matter of how to divide writing credits when one is in a band kicking around ideas. As an example he quoted the original poetry that was morphed by the band into the song “Desperado.” No writing credit for Dennis on that one but there would be no “Desperado” without his initial page of inspiration. It’s refreshing that there’s no bitterness or “I told you so” in his tone, just a telling of how things happened. There are other clarifications throughout the book, though I’ll leave those for the reader to discover*.

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! is highly recommended. Even though I had heard most of these stories before, from multiple sources, it was nice to hear them again from a more objective viewpoint. As a music junkie it would have been nice to read more stories behind the creation of every album. Yes, I understand that the albums were cranked out about every six months under a dizzying whirlwind of touring and drugs and partying but still... I mean, the School’s Out album has some amazing bass lines on it (amazing songs, too) but the only song Dennis wrote about is the title track. I suppose you can’t always get what you want. Oh wait, that’s another band.

* But I have to say that Dennis puts to rest the idea that Bob Ezrin taught the band to play their instruments. Bob helped tighten their songwriting arrangements but they band was already very adept, as the two Zappa-label albums will attest.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Music Review - Deadweight - Half-wit Anthems

Deadweight is yet another band that found out about after they had disbanded and thus missed out on the opportunity to spread the good word via ”Whatzup*. This band is, as far as I know, unique to the world of rockdom, being formed of a drummer (Paulo Baldi), a violinist (Ben Barnes) and a cellist (the curiously named Sam Bass), the last two running their instruments through distortion and other effects. Whereas many bands with traditionally classical instruments attempt to bridge the world between classical and non-classical music Deadweight ditched all that and went straight for the rock jugular. Except that rock music played on fretless instruments sounds a bit rubbery and off, which suits Deadweight just fine because it allowed their sense of humor and fondness for quirky and funky rhythms to expose themselves.

Any power trio has the challenge of filling the sonic space and the songs off their second** album, Half-Wit Anthems, shows that Deadweight takes the challenge personally. There doesn’t appear to be much in the way of multi-tracking so what you get is pretty much how they would sound in concert, which is a massive fuzzy wall of hard alterna-rock sound. Most of the songs, including the exciting opening track, “The Grind”, showcase a crazy-high level of spastic energy. I mean, you almost work up a sweat just listening! Also most of the songs, including the second song, “Sweet Depression”, work in some serious groove into the rhythms so you’re swaying while you sweat. On “Ba Ba Wa Wa” they plug the distorted violin into a wah pedal and things get way out of hand, but wonderfully so. A particular favorite of mine is the frenzied instrumental “Barstool” which douses your ears in gasoline and sets everything aflame while dancing cheerily on the aforementioned barstool. Every now and then, like in the verses of “Josh Song” and “Black and Grey”, they go really nuts and turn off the distortion devices, which only adds to the contrast in the chorus when the effects are kicked back on.

All in all Deadweight write crazily-inventive and yet melodic stuff! The overall feel is untamed and a bit dangerous, like a wild party. One big hindrance for me, though, was that the songs are packed with drug use references. Even if used in a humorous fashion (“I need a toke ‘cause I can’t cope”) it’s not really my thing and it gets tired after a bit.

* Plus make a few bucks.

** It pays to check a Wiki page. I thought this band only had two albums but I didn’t know*** about their first, Opus One, which has now been ordered.

*** I have this tickle in the back of my brain that I DID know about this album but never got around to ordering it.****

**** I got around to ordering it. In fact it’s on the desk right next to me but I haven’t gotten around to listening to it.

Hard Root Beer Review - Root Sellers

Next up in the hard root category is by a company called Root Sellers. They also make a hard birch beer but I haven't ventured that far off the beaten path.

I'll get right down to the punch and state that this is the best hard root beer (not liquor*) that I've had yet. The maker is proud of it's high quality and actually lists the ingredients on the label! These include "botanicals, molasses and pure cane sugar". They are also proudly and staunchly gluten free so Celiacs rejoice!

Flavor-wise it's got a good, strong root beer flavor up front with a bit of odd aftertaste on the tail end, though not enough to put one off the trail. This stuff is obviously not flavoring added to beer which makes me wonder if this after-taste is a natural part of brewing hard root beer. There are some nice nuances of vanilla but the flavor isn't overly complex, though it is very authentic. It also isn't gaggingly sweet, like you're drinking candy. There's also just enough carbonation to keep things interesting.

Root Sellers puts this 6.7% product in generously-sized pint cans, selling for about ten bucks for four pints. Not as pricy as imports of delicious dark British stout but still...

* R.I.P. Blackmaker