Thursday, 4 May 2017

"Loading Zone/You're Not Alone" by ROY BUCHANAN (February 2017 Beat Goes On Reissue - 2LPs onto 2CDs - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Extraordinary Chops..."

Between 1972 and 1976 - master-player ROY BUCHANAN pumped out a whopping six albums on Polydor Records (five studio and one live) - yet the guitar-mad buying public in his native Blighty didn't seem to notice nor care. Even a budget compilation from April 1976 simply called "Roy Buchanan" and priced at £1.70 on Polydor's Flashback Series (2482 275) didn't tempt. Over in the USA his records had been charting in the lower ends of the Top 200 (1973's "Second Album even made it up to No. 89) - but in the main no matter how good or even hair-raising his playing was - commercially Roy Buchanan never ignited to the degree his talent deserved (his 1975 "Live Stock" set didn't even receive a UK release – only Polydor USA).

In fact since his horrible passing in a suspicious US Police-internment 'accident' in August 1988 aged only 39 (still the subject of intense speculation) – in 2017 Roy Buchanan's name isn't spoken with the same awe as say Stevie Ray Vaughan, Rory Gallagher or Jeff Beck. Musical insiders knew him but few else seemed to - with Beck even dedicating his gorgeous and Soulful cover version of Stevie Wonder’s "'Cause We Ended As Lovers" on 1975's "Blow By Blow" to RB (Buchanan was said to have been deeply touched). A known unknown. So I'd like to argue that this fab little 2CD reissue from BGO screams that he should be.

Some history first - after his contract expired with Polydor - Buchanan wasn't without a label for long. Ahmet Ertegun of the mighty Atlantic Records quickly snapped him up and soon had RB going the same way as his musical contemporaries of the time (Guitarist Janne Schaffer, Bassist Stanley Clarke, Keyboardist Patrice Rushen and Drummer Narada Michael Walden to name but a few) - down the road of commercial Fusion Rock largely trail-blazed by Jeff Beck's double-whammy of "Blow By Blow" and "Wired" in 1975 and 1976 (both produced by George Martin of Beatles fame). Which finally brings us to this superlative 2017 twofer from England's Beat Goes On that gathers together Buchanan's "Loading Zone" and "You're Not Alone" from 1977 and 1978. Both issued on Atlantic in the USA – these records have been off the CD reissue radar for years - especially the amazing "You're Not Alone". They both feature a truly stellar cast of likeminded and talented musicians (see list below) as well as genuinely blistering guitar work from RB. Here are the fretful details...

UK released 24 February 2017 - "Loading Zone/You're Not Alone" on Beat Goes On BGOCD1279 (Barcode 5017261212795) offers 2LPs as straightforward remasters onto 2CDs and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (41:01 minutes):
1. The Heart Of The Battle [Side 1]
2. Hidden
3. The Circle
4. Adventures Of Brer Rabbit and Tar Baby
5. Ramon's Blues
6. Green Onions [Side 2]
7. Judy
8. Done Your Daddy Dirty
9. Your Love
Tracks 1 to 9 are his seventh album (sixth studio) "Loading Zone" - released June 1977 in the USA on Atlantic Records SD 18219 (reissued on Atlantic SD 19138) and July 1977 in the UK on Polydor 2391 295. Produced by STANLEY CLARKE - it peaked at No. 105.

"Loading Zone" musicians:
ROY BUCHANAN - Lead Guitars on All Tracks
SCOTT MUSMANNO and RON FOSTER - Lead and backing Vocals on "The Circle" (also co-wrote the song)
STEVE CROPPER [of Booker T & The MG's] - Lead Guitar - 2nd Solo on "Ramon's Blues" and 1st and 3rd Solos on "Green Onions" – also Rhythm Guitar on "The Circle" and "Done Your Daddy Dirty"
RAYMOND GOMEZ - Rhythm Guitar on "The Heat Of The Battle", "The Circle" and "Done Your Daddy Dirty"
MALCOLM LUKENS - Keyboards on "The Heat Of The Battle", "Ramon's Blues", "Judy", "Done Your Daddy Dirty" and "Your Love"
JAN HAMMER - Acoustic Piano on "Hidden"
STANLEY CLARKE - Bass on "The Heat Of The Battle", "The Circle" and Bass, Strings and Flute on "Adventures Of Brer Rabbit And Tar Baby"
DONALD "Duck" DUNN [of Booker T & The MG's] - Bass on "Green Onions"
WILL LEE - Bass on "Judy" with Bass, Flute and Strings on "Your Love"
DENNIS PARKER - Bass on "The Circle", "Ramon's Blues" and "Done Your Daddy Dirty"
NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN - Drums on "The Heat Of The Battle" and Drums and Piano on "Your Love"
DAVID GARIBALDI - Drums on "The Circle", "Ramon's Blues", "Green Onions" and "Done Your Daddy Dirty"

Disc 2 (40:05 minutes):
1. The Opening... Miles From Earth [Side 1]
2. Turn To Stone
3. Fly... Night Bird
4. 1841 Shuffle
5. Down By The River [Side 2]
6. Supernova
7. You're Not Alone
Tracks 1 to 7 are his eight-album "You're Not Alone" - released May 1978 in the USA on Atlantic SD 19170 (no UK release). Produced by RAYMOND SILVA - it peaked at No. 119 on the American LP charts.

"You're Not Alone"
ROY BUCHANAN – All Lead Guitars
RAY GOMEZ – Acoustic and Rhythm Guitars
GARY St. CLAIR – Lead Vocals on "Down By The River"

The card slipcase is classy and the 20-page booklet features brilliant and in-depth liner notes from noted Mojo contributor CHARLES WARING. The albums inner artwork is repro'd - musician credits - and properly great work from Waring explaining Buchanan's standing amongst his contemporaries and his almost inexplicable inability to get arrest chart-wise in the UK. But for most fans - it will the thrill of these albums Remastered in High Def by ANDREW THOMPSON that will have them licking their chops. Even Stanley Clarke was at the helm of "Loading Zone" - I always found its production all over the place - whilst the simple 'crank it and record it live' mentality that surrounded "You're Not Alone" seems to have worked better. "Loading Zone" sounds great - especially thrill-moments like "Ramon's Blues" - but the very "Wish You Were Here" sounding "You're Not Alone" is fantastic - rocking like a mother one second on Joe Walsh's "Turn To Stone" then suddenly coming on like James Vincent or Jeff Beck or David Gilmour on a Fusion-Rock tip the next. In fact for me "You're Not Alone" is a masterpiece and wildly overlooked - had it come out in 1972 maybe the world would have jumped up and noticed its vague spacey panorama of sound stages - but as it arrived primarily only in the USA in 1978 - England once again passed on a goody. Let's get to the music...

Both albums are a mix of Rock and Fusion with the second especially more to the latter. 1977's "Loading Zone" opens with Stanley Clarke's "The Heat Of The Battle" and we're very much in "Blow By Blow" and "Wired" territory - guitar pyrotechnics ahoy. Buchanan's own "Hidden" comes on all acoustic and piano and is pretty like the softer passages of a Mike Oldfield opus - his playing Soulful. I'm not sure what anyone was thinking when they made the decidedly poppy "The Circle" - Scott Musmanno leading vocals in what feels like an awkward child on the album complete with 'aah' backing vocals. A short Rockabilly interlude comes with the dismissible "Adventures Of Brer Rabbit And Tar Baby" - but at last the album ignites with "Ramon's Blues" where a super-band that includes Steve Cropper from Booker T & The MG's gives the six-and-a-half-minute Blues Instrumental a huge boost. Buchanan and Cropper share solos (Roy on one and three while Steve takes Number Two) – ending a patchy LP side on a real high.

Side 2 opens with a cover of the 1962 Stax classic "Green Onions" that includes the original Booker T & The MG's hustlers - Steve Cropper on Guitar with Donald "Duck" Dunn on Bass. Again Buchanan and Cropper shares lead guitar solos (SC on 1&3 while RB takes 2&4) over an eight-minute instrumental with Malcolm Lukens trying to fill in on organ for Booker T. Jones. Although RB's playing is at time hair-raising - about halfway through it's already overstaying its welcome. By direct contrast - drummer Narada Michael Walden's "Judy" offers a Fusion slowy worth having even if RB's guitars are far too distant in the mix. Another highlight comes in the dirty Rock-Funk of the appropriately titled "Done Your Daddy Dirty" - his slide playing wild and brilliant as the boys boogie gamely in the background. The album ends on another pretty Narada contribution but unfortunately Roy chooses to sing (he never had a great voice) and then dollops it with strings and brass. It's dreadful stuff.

Luckily album Number two "You're Not Alone" elevates this release into something else. The beautiful "Opening - Miles From Earth" written by Mauritian keyboardist Jean Roussel is pure synth-tinkering Fusion in the vein of James Vincent and "Space Traveler" or Dexter Wansel and "Life On Mars". But then - suddenly and without warning - the in-between tracks silence bursts into the biggest guitar riffage you've ever heard as RB does a cover of Joe Walsh's "Turn To Stone". I've loved this JW stunner for over 45 years - turning up first on Walsh's 1972 "Barnstorm" debut album after he left The James Gang and then again in a more polished form on his US 1974 (UK 1975) album "So What". Here Buchanan takes a feel of both disparate JW versions (the rough grungy guitar of the original and the mellow polish of the remake) and throws in keyboard passages that meld Rock and Fusion. It's amazing stuff. But then he comes on all "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" with the equally cool "Fly...Night Bird" where a beats comes in half way through that might have Pink Floyd lawyers feeling itchy. It then proceeds to go into a David Gilmour type guitar solo that seems to last forever - RB with his axe ramped up to 13 and beyond as he races up and down the frets like he's trying to out Jeff Beck. That perfect side then ends on a fabulous Rock Boogie penned by RB called "1841 Shuffle" - chugging its way into a fantastic groove that surely someone somewhere shoulda-oughta noticed.

Side 2 opens with another smartly chosen cover version - this time from Neil Young's second solo LP in 1969 "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere". Buchanan gives "Down By The River" over nine-minutes and the track even includes Luther Vandross on Backing Vocals (dreaming of a solo career) alongside vocalist Alpha Anderson who did stints with disco-darlings Chic. RB's version of this rocker has lead vocals from the obscure Gary St. Clair who'd previously recorded one self-titled LP in 1971 on Paramount Records (PAS 6020). With the plead of St. Clair and the almost church-like backing vocals - Buchanan's "Down By The River" feels like CSN revisiting their own song while his note-bending floats over the "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" meets Joe Walsh's "County Fair" rhythm section. It's epic stuff and an inspired cover.

"Supernova" is a straight-up Rock 'n' Roller with its skirt up in the air while RB goes all Marty McFly on his axe. The combined talents of Roussel, Newmark, Weeks and Silva wrote the outer-space synth piece "You're Not Alone" - an eight-minute instrumental that again feels like Pink Floyd circa 1975 - Buchanan sounding like David Gilmour giving it some British suburban misery on the guitar. An impressive finish to an impressive album...

Although there are several brill bits on "Loading Zone" - for me it's definitely the weaker of the two LPs. But "You're Not Alone" is a gem – an overlooked Rock-Fusion winner that warrants a second go-round. In fact I'd argue that if ever a reissue deserved your inner axeman worship - then this is it. Well done once again to BGO for such a tasty job done - and Rock On RB wherever you are...

BGO CD reissues/remasters for Roy Buchanan are...

1. Roy Buchanan/Second Album
August 1972 and March 1973 debut and second studio albums – reissued April 2002 as a 2CD set on Beat Goes On BGOCD 541 (Barcode 5017261205414)

2. That’s What I’m Here For/Rescue Me
February 1974 and February 1975 third and fourth studio albums – reissued August 2008 as a 2CD set on Beat Goes On BGOCD 806 (Barcode 5017261205414) Note: Rescue Me was known as "In The Beginning" in the USA

3. Live Stock/A Street Called Straight
November 1975 and October 1976 fifth and sixth albums (fifth is live) – reissued April 2005 on Beat Goes On BGOCD 682 (Barcode 5017261206824)

4. Loading Zone/You’re Not Alone
June 1977 and May 1978 seventh and eight LPs - reissued February 2017 on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1279 (Barcode 5017261212795)
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