THE GUESS WHO REMASTERS "#10" and "ROAD FOOD"
After the relative soft sales of 1973's Artificial Paradise The Guess Who regrouped that same year to forge a straight ahead rock and roll album purposefully out of step with the burgeoning glam rock movement. Leader Burton Cummings in particular was bothered by the increase in musicians wearing androgynous makeup and high heels.
The release of "#10" (not their tenth album) showed the band as the working class, hard working guys they had started out as and is defined by Cummings taking control and creating what some consider essentially a solo album. The democratic approach that shaped Artificial Paradise would not be used here, Cummings directed the feel and sound of the album following his own clear vision untainted by outside suggestions. He also insisted that there would not be various band members getting lead vocal spots as on previous records.
One person who still stood out as an individual was lead guitarist Kurt Winter who contributed some of his most ferverent playing on tracks like "Musicione", "Self Pity" and "Cardboard Empire" although still shut out of adding to the actual songwriting process.
Cummings addresses the glam fad he despised so in the sarcastic "Glamour Boy" ironically reaching number twelve on the singles chart, no doubt more for BC's impressive vocal performance than the subject matter.
Even the album cover showing the guys dressed casually in denim jeans and loose shirts was an intentional statement in the age of glitter rock.
The new 2012 Iconoclassic reissue has been completely remastered revealing more of the sturdy interplay between the musicians than ever before. Voluminous liner notes from Ralph Chapman with interview excerpts from various band members again give an excellant insider's perspective on the drama during the recording sessions.
The previously unreleased bonus track is a rare stripped down mix of "Glamour Boy" removing the extraneous orchestra and dubbed in crowd noise uncovering the solid playing between the core band.
The follow-up to "#10" was 1974's Road Food further insisting the band was made up of non-rock star regular people. Betraying this "average joe" persona however were numerous cynical references to the inner workings of the music business, a topic few among the band's fan base would be able to relate to. Lyrically songs like "Atilla's Blues", "Pleasin' For Reason", "Ballad Of The Last Five Years" and the title track "Road Food" all were somewhat dark ruminations on the lives of burned out rock stars. Some levity was offered with the excellent album opener "Star Baby" and the humorous (some may say novelty) song "Clap For The Wolfman" a top ten hit.
Although Kurt Winter and co-guitarist Donnie McDougall play with considerable passion and authority, Road Food would mark the end of their respective tenures in The Guess Who.
The remastered Road Food is even more generous with bonus tracks, presenting two previously unreleased songs. The first is "Sona Sona" which was part of the 1974 film project the band was involved with that never got finished. Other tracks from this endeavor were released as the bonus material on Iconoclassic's 2011 Flavours reissue. The song itself had been released previously on 1988's Track Record compilation (and the 2003 Anthology collection) but that version featured guitar overdubs by Domenic Troiano, this is a beautifully sparse arrangement with just piano and percussion. The other bonus track is a fantastic raw rehearsal take of the album cut "One Way Road To Hell" which is far more aggressive than the finished version.
What's next in the Iconoclassic Guess Who reissue series? Hopefully they'll tackle the final studio album in the band's catalogue 1975's Power In The Music then, oh I don't know....an archival live release or maybe a rarities compilation?
The possibilities are endless....
THE GUESS WHO REMASTERS "FLAVOURS"
Originally released in 1975, Flavours was the first album with ex-James Gang guitarist (and the only non-Winnipegger in the group's history) Domenic Troiano.
Flavours showed the band was no longer content with simply pumping out the hits, now they were experimenting a bit with new sounds and textures. Troiano's energetic and eccentric playing elevates tracks like "Diggin' Yourself" and "Dirty" while pushing the band to a new level of musicianship.
In addition to being gloriously remastered, this 2011 reissue now boasts four bonus tracks originally recorded for a 1974 film that never got off the ground. Among the four lost treasures is the ballad "A Fool, A Fool, I Met A Fool" (which Cummings has performed live) and early versions of "Your Backyard" and "Roll With The Punches", both of which were re-recorded for Burton's solo career.
Once again Iconoclassic records provides excellant liner notes making this the definitive Flavours on CD. Next up in the reissue series, 1973's classic "#10" album.
Robert Lawson 2011
THE GUESS WHO REMASTERS "SO LONG, BANNATYNE" and "ROCKIN'"
"Goin' A Little Crazy" is a Zappa-inspired mix of genres perhaps trying too hard to be cutting edge. For sure when Cummings' ragged voice screams "It's all going a little crazy!" he seems to be describing the band's overall mental state which was dwindling fast. Better is "Pain Train" featuring some of Kurt Winter's most expressive lead guitar playing.
The strongest cut without a doubt is Burton's heartfelt epic "Sour Suite". The blend of his sensitive piano playing and introspective vocals with a small string ensemble makes this easily one of the man's finest performances. Its no wonder "Sour Suite" is often still a regular part of the set list for Guess Who reunion and Burton solo tours. This new edition of So Long,Bannatyne adds the March 1971 non-album hit single "Albert Flasher" along with its fantastic b-side "Broken".
Disenchanted with the general indifference by fans and critics that greeted So Long, Bannatyne, in January of 1972 the band retreated to the studio where in five days flat they knocked out the back-to-basics follow-up appropriately titled Rockin' . The opening volley "Heartbroken Bopper" is highlighted by searing guitars and later a ferocious Kurt Winter solo. On "Guns Guns Guns" Cummings makes a strong pro-environment statement that ends with Winter and Leskiw exchanging aggressive guitar licks.
One of the oddest songs in the Guess Who catalog ends the album. A lengthy piece consisting of three very different segments individually titled "Hi Rockers!", "Heaven Only Moved Once Yesterday" and "Don't You Want Me" this track needs a bit of explanation. "Hi Rockers!" is simply Burton Cummings and engineer Brian ("Bri") Christian having a semi coherent conversation as two wasted bar patrons (surely method acting at its finest) while a jukebox in the background plays the 1959 song "Sea Of Love". What's interesting about this segment (and make no mistake, its the only thing interesting about this part) is that the band couldn't get the rights to use Phil Phillips' original "Sea Of Love" so they recorded their own rendition, pressed a vinyl 45 rpm copy and played it on a real jukebox brought into the studio. "Heaven Only Moved Once yesterday" was actually originally done by bassist Bill Wallace and Kurt Winter's pre-Guess Who group Brother and the final part "Don't You Want Me" is a Burton Cummings original.
The bonus tracks on the new edition of Rockin' are that super rare recording of "Sea Of Love" barely audible in "Hi Rockers!" and a real rarity, "Lost Sheep" a flowing experimental song from the band Brother. Interestingly is that "Heaven Only Moved Once Yesterday" is actually just the first part of this previously unknown song which then goes into very different and spacey areas. Both bonus cuts are fantastic and really add to the enjoyment of the album and understanding of that strange last number.
Both reissues improve greatly on the previous 2004 editions which were plagued by excessive compression, poor mixing choices and even sub par artwork. By correcting those issues, adding bonus tracks and detailed liner notes these are easily the definitive versions of these long lost classics by one of Canada's greatest bands and the pride and joy of Winnipeg Manitoba: The Guess Who.
Robert Lawson 2010.
In the early 1970's The Guess Who were at a bit of a crossroads. Sure they survived (and in fact triumphed) after the loss of founding guitarist Randy Bachman but after the very successful Share The Land album the band was starting to splinter. While new guitarists Kurt Winter and Greg Leskiw were definitely making their respective mark as exciting and complimentary axe wielders and songwriters, increasing drug use and paranoia was starting to take its toll. Also Burton Cummings was starting to feel the strain of the unending cycle of recording and touring.
After years of radio hits the group wanted to become more of an album orientated band and their interest was in showing off their experimental tenancies with ambitious, challenging new music. The latest two CDs in the Guess Who reissue series offers an opportunity to re-evaluate the albums released during this troubled period.
Originally issued in 1971 So Long, Bannatyne was the result of difficult recording sessions that led to a somewhat inconsistent album. The disc kicks off strong with "Rain Dance" a slightly aboriginal beat with superb alternating solos by Winter and Leskiw. Next is the great "She Might Have Been A Nice Girl" showcasing a nice co-lead vocal between Cummings and Greg Leskiw. Greg also takes lead vocal duties on "One Divided" one of two tracks composed solely by him.