Thursday, 27 October 2016

"Teenage Licks/Ontinuous Performance" by STONE THE CROWS [feat Maggie Bell on Vocals, Lesley Harvey and Jimmy McCulloch on Guitars] (2015 Angel Air 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Keep On Rollin'..." 

England's Angel Air Label did a 2CD solid by the first two albums from Scotland's STONE THE CROWS back in September 2015 (see separate review). This October 2015 next-stage twofer gives us their 3rd and 4th platters on Polydor from 1971 and 1972 before the band imploded after the loss of their founder and inspiration Lesley Harvey (brother of Alex) from a freak electrocution accident on stage in May 1972.

Both their debut "Stone The Crows" and its follow-up "Ode To John Law” had been released in July 1970 and February 1971 to critical acclaim but few sales. Fronted by not one but two stunning Vocalists in Maggie Bell and James Dewar – Scotland's STONE THE CROWS also boasted the guitar talents of Leslie 'Les' Harvey (younger brother of Alex Harvey) and the songwriting genius of Keyboardist John McGinnis. Both Dewar and McGinnis had jumped ship by album number three "Teenage Licks" – replaced by Keyboard wizard Ronnie Leahy and then adding Jimmy McCulloch on Guitars for their final studio LP "Ontinuous Performance" (ex Thunderclap Newman and later with McCartney's Wings).

I've been after their wicked run of four albums on Polydor between 1970 and 1972 on affordable/decent CD remasters for years now – and at long last Angel Air of the UK (and in conjunction with the band) have acquired the tapes and remastered all four back into digital form and even found space to chuck on four bonus live tracks. Here are the pious birds of good omen...

UK released October 2015 – "Teenage Licks/Ontinuous Performance" by STONE THE CROWS on Angel Air SJPCD468 (Barcode 5055011704688) gives us their last two studio albums onto a 2CD set with four bonus tracks and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (49:22 minutes):
1. Big Jim Salter
2. Faces
3. Mr. Wizard
4. Don't Think Twice
5. Keep On Rollin' [Side 2]
6. Ailen Mochree
7. One Five Eight
8. I May Be Right But I May Be Wrong
9. Seven Lakes
Tracks 1 to 9 are their third studio LP "Teenage Licks" – released September 1971 in the UK on Polydor Super 2425 071 and January 1972 in the USA on Polydor PD 5020. Produced by MARK LONDON – Engineered by EDDIE OFFORD, GEORGE CHIANTZ and MARTIN RUSHENT.

10. Let It Down (Live)
11. Going Down (Live)
Tracks 10 and 11 are from the "Radio Sessions: 1969-72" – originally UK released May 2009 as a 2CD Stone The Crows set on Angel Air SJPCD272

For "Teenage Licks" STONE THE CROWS was:
MAGGIE BELL – Lead Vocals
LESLEY 'Les' HARVEY – Guitars, Recorders
RONNIE LEAHY – Keyboards
COLIN ALLEN – Drums and Percussion

Dundee Horns (pre Average White Band) featuring:
Roger Ball, Malcolm 'Molly' Duncan and Noel (?) who play brass on "Mr. Wizard"
Wee Marie (?) sings on "Faces" and "Don't Think Twice"

Disc 2 (48:05 minutes):
1. On The Highway
2. One More Chance
3. Penicillin Blues
4. King Tut [Side 2]
5. Good Time Girl
6. Niagara
7. Sunset Cowboy
Tracks 1 to 7 are their 4th and final studio album "Ontinuous Performance" – released October 1972 in the UK on Polydor Super 2391 043 and in the USA on Polydor PD 5037. Produced by MARK LONDON – Engineered by MARTIN RUSHENT and JOHN BROMLEY.

8. Good Time Girl (Live)
9. Penicillin Blues (Live)
Tracks 8 and 9 are from the "Radio Sessions: 1969-72" – UK released May 2009 as a 2CD Stone The Crows set on Angel Air SJPCD272

For "Ontinuous Performance" STONE THE CROWS was:
MAGGIE BELL – Lead Vocals
LESLEY HARVEY – Guitars on Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6
JIMMY McCULLOCH – Guitars on Tracks 5 and 7
RONNIE LEAHY – Keyboards
COLIN ALLEN – Drums and Percussion
Guests: Roger Ball and Malcolm Duncan of the Dundee Horns

Although the 8-page inlay has new liner notes from Malcolm Dome and includes interviews with Maggie Bell and Colin Allen as well as a few photos – it's a disappointingly slight affair that doesn’t even bother to provide catalogue numbers for the LPs or proper release dates. What you do get is a potted history of the Scottish band arising out of the ashes of The Power who were managed by Zeppelin's Peter Grant. Grant had them change their name because an American group had already nabbed it – and it was he who suggested the much cooler moniker of STONE THE CROWS. A nice touch is that each CD is a picture disc of the album front covers – and the inner gatefold artwork for the beautiful-looking "Teenage Licks" album (done by C.C.S.) is used as a backdrop to the text on most pages. But there are sloppy typo errors in the band names like Jimmie instead on Jimmy and Collen instead of Colin. The inside of the rear inlay advertises other Stone the Crow and Maggie Bell releases on Angel Air...

There is no mention of who remastered the albums but there is a credit that the material is licenced from Maggie Bell and Colin Allen. The audio is a mixed bag of brilliant clarity one moment followed by awful hiss the next (thankfully the later is more in ascendancy).

The moment you play the two opening tracks of "Teenage Licks" - the kick-ass boogie of "Big Jim Salter" and the Rod Stewart soulful saunter of "Faces" - you're aware of two things - the great Remaster and why Maggie Bell won 'Vocalist Of The Year' so many times in those early years. Her rasp is fabulous and combined with the huge organ sound achieved by Leahy - the effect is like The Faces meets The Stones in 1971 with a woman leading out front instead of Jagger or Rodders. I still don't know the identity of 'Wee Mary' credited on the back cover of the album who harmonises so perfectly with Maggie Bell on "Faces" - answers on a postcard please. We then get the Brian Auger funky "Mr. Wizard" - a chugger written by Allen, Bell and Harvey. It starts with Auger organ notes floating over a cool backbeat but is soon joined by what Maggie Bell nicknamed the 'Dundee Horns' - several members of the Average White on brass. And dig that Harvey guitar work as Maggie roars about incantations. It's a dreadful cliché to cover a Dylan song but Stone The Crows turn "Don't Think Twice" into something Rock-Soulful - a superb version with real power.

Side 2 opens with the rollicking "Keep On Rollin'" - a boozy piano/guitar boogie with Maggie letting rip on those 'carry our heavy load' images while Harvey riffs alongside some Leahy organ soloing. The Scottish Traditional "Ailen Mochree" is 25-seconds of Maggie doing an Acapella rendition before things get all guitar/organ trippy and weird on the McGinnis composition "One Five Eight". I love this track - just when you've pigeonholed Stone The Crows as purely a good-time band - they give you the slightly Proggy five-minutes plus of "One Five Eight". Surely one of everyone's fave raves is the brilliant Faces boogie of "I May Be Right But I May be Wrong" - the kind of early Seventies piano/guitar romp that I've stuck on countless 70ts Fest CD-Rs. The album then ends on the slow piano and acoustic guitars of "Seven Lakes" and you're left thinking - why didn't this corking LP create more of a stir?

After three good LPs failed to make an impression on the British album charts – inexplicably the public seemed to notice record number four and the weirdly titled "Ontinuous Performance" charted first week of October 1972. Spurred on by this – Polydor launched "Good Time Girl" backed with "On The Highway" as a British 45 in November 1972 (Polydor 2058 301) but it failed to make the desired impression. No other singles were tried. With the whole album dedicated to Harvey who had passed in May 1972 from a freak accident (killed on the stage) - many feel "Ontinuous Performance" is somehow a lesser album but I've always liked it. Leahy's "One More Chance" allows Maggie to be Soulful while the (admittedly hissy) slide of "Penicillin Blues" lets both Harvey and Bell give it some Delta like its in their very DNA. I love the slinky instrumental "King Tut" but I'd warn that it's incredibly hissy here. 

Things cheer up with the obvious British Rock 'n' Roll single of "Good Time Girl" - where Maggie assures us that she's not after the local talent (no matter what the people might say). The nine-minute Leahy composition "Niagara" rocks for a few minutes before slowing down into an ambling Blues for its centrepiece - Harvey proving why his guitar playing was such a loss to the band. The power-ballad of "Sunset Cowboy" ends Side 2 with a very Soulful feel as Maggie matches Leahy's echoed piano playing. Very tasty indeed...even if it is a tad hissy in places...

It's not all undiluted genius for sure but Scotland's Stone The Crows are remembered with huge affection – and on the strength of this cool British CD Reissue - it's easy to hear why...

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