Toto celebrates 40

By Tom Von Malder | Oct 02, 2019
Photo by: Eagle Rock Toto's new live album celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Owls Head — Toto: 40 Tours Around the Sun (Eagle Rock, 2 CDs or 3 LPs, 2:09:54). Toto has been touring the globe during 2018-19 in celebration of the band’s 40th anniversary. This live set was recorded March 17, 2018 in front of 18,000 fans at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. The 25-song set list includes the band’s hits, rarely performed live deep cuts and the two new tracks they recorded on their new greatest hits album, “40 Trips Around the Sun.” DVD and Blu-ray versions of this concert will be released Nov. 15.

The core of the band throughout those 40 years have been vocalist-guitarist Steve Lukather, keyboardist-vocalist David Paich and keyboardist Steve Porcaro, joined here by longtime vocalist Joseph Williams and touring members percussionist Lenny Castro and saxophonist Warren Ham, both with the band since the beginning, drummer Shannon Forrest and new bassist Shem Von Schroeck. The band lost founding member Jeff Porcaro to a heart attack in 1992.

The show opens with the band’s newest song, “Alone,” followed by the hit, “Hold the Line” from their 1978 debut album. Not long after, they play “Spanish Sea,” the band’s new single which has echoes of their huge hit “Africa” in its opening. Several songs last about the 7-minute mark, including solid versions of the mid-tempo “I Will Remember” and the rocking “English Eyes,” both highlights. “Lea” is bolstered by its layered vocals.

Mid-concert there is a mini acoustic set that features some rarities: “Human Nature,” which Steve Porcaro originally wrote and the band recorded as a demo that Michael Jackson’s producer, Quincy Jones, heard and grabbed for Jackson, who had the Top 10 hit version; and first-time-live versions of “Holyanna” and “No Love,” the latter now that the band has Ham to play harmonica. Later in the concert, both “Mushanga” and “Stop Loving You” are played from “The Seventh One” album. Also being played on this tour live for the first time is “Lion,” which features two Lukather guitar solos. There also are two instrumentals: “Jake to the Bone” and, my favorite, “Dune (Desert Theme).”

Two of the band’s biggest hits get the big treatment, with a rocking, 8-minute version of “Rosanna” and an 11-minute version of “Africa” that includes a drum solo, solos by Castro and Ham and a crowd sing-along. Grade: A

Vince Mendoza: Constant Renaissance (BCM+D CD, 22:18). Written by six-time Grammy Award-winning composer, arranger and conductor Mendoza, this EP consists of three movements, performed by trumpeter Terell Stafford, alto-saxophonist Dick Oatts and the Temple University Studio Orchestra.

Mendoza was at Temple University and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts last March as part of a week-long residency with students at the Boyer College of Music and Dance. The residency produced the premiere of “Constant Renaissance,” which was recorded under Temple’s music production label. Mendoza originally wrote the piece with Stafford and Oatts in mind, both of whom are on the jazz faculty at the university.

The music was inspired by jazz luminaries who hailed from the City of Brotherly Love – Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and John Coltrane -- each providing the musical influence to one of the three distinct movements. According to a press release, Mendoza’s aim was to honor Philadelphia’s jazz history, where he feels, “many of the important innovations in jazz were born in the clubs and streets of this city.”

The opening movement, “Bebop Elation,” begins with some strong Big Band swing, before quieting down a bit. Even quieter is the moody “Solace and Inspiration,” which features pretty strings and is dedicated to Holiday. “Love, a Beautiful Force” turns swirly and upbeat. Grade: B+

HeavyDrunk: Holywater (4142 Music CD, 57:45). This is the third album for Nashville-based soul-blues 9-piece HeavyDrunk and the first for 4142 Music. The ensemble includes vocals, drums, bass, keyboards, two guitars, two horns and a pair of soulful background singers. All but two of the songs were written or co-written by HeavyDrunk bandleader/frontman Rob Robinson. The covers are the Rolling Stones’ "Slave," with Robinson adding a second verse, and "Midnight in Harlem," penned by Mike Mattison and Derek Trucks.

The bluesy opener, "If I Loved You Hard Enough," features a provocative opening line, "I grabbed her by the hair of her head and drug her across the Piggly Wiggly parking lot," as it is a song about dysfunctional love. It features lots of backing vocals on the chorus. There is nice guitar on “Walking to the Mission in the Rain,” which Robinson says, in a press release, was based on observations of a block in a big city. The title track is more stripped down, with horns and a mellowness apart from the rest of the album.

The character song, "I Can't Be Satisfied," spotlights the horns and a vintage Hammond B3 organ, while including some chicken-like pecking on one instrument and closing chicken sounds to match the song’s story. The offensively-named "Somebody's Got to Take Them Panties Off" is a tongue-in-cheek approach to seduction, but revisiting the deliberate outrageousness of the opening track. “Pick You Up Along the Way” is funky. The female vocalists are excellent on “Slave.”

Among the gospel-infused background vocalists is Renee Armand, of whom Robinson says, "She’s not singing lead on anything on this record, but I’m sure it will come to that. She has a rich history. She's written for Michael Jackson and she wrote with Hoyt Axton. She has one of those voices … when you hear it, you just kind of have to stop. Kind of like, 'Well, OK, if there’s anything on earth that’s just close to what an angel sounds like, it’s that." Grade: B+

Flamin’ Groovies: Vaillancourt Fountain, Justin Herman Plaza, San Francisco, CA, September 19,1979 (Liberation Hall CD, 51:29). Little thought was put into the title, as it just states the place and the date of this concert, which is just now seeing the light of day. The band’s forte has always been a mix of early rock ‘n’ roll, British Invasion pop and, later, new wave style rock. The band’s peak period came after it signed with Sire Records in 1976, as its sound expanded to include post-1961 rock. This version of the band was led by Cyril Jordan and released three albums: “Shake Some Action.” “Flamin’ Groovies Now” and “Jumpin’ in the Night.”

This concert originally was broadcast live on KSAN in San Francisco, and this recording is taken from the soundboard. There are 16 songs, including staples “Shake Some Action,” “I Can’t Hide” and “All I Wanted.” Their jangly guitar style is featured on “Between the Lines” and the then-new “Tell Me Again.” Covers include The Beatles’ “Please Please Me” and “From Me To You,” The Rolling Stones’ “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Paint It Black,” Chuck Berry’s “Around & Around” and “Let It Rock,” Moby Grape’s “Fall On You” and NRBQ’s “I Want You Bad.” The sound is slightly muffled, but overall is not bad. Grade: B+

Flamin’ Groovies: Gonna Rock Tonite!: The Complete Recordings 1969-71 (Grapefruit, 3 CDs). This import collection includes the albums “Sipersnazz,” “Flamingo” and “Teenage Head,” plus 17 bonus tracks. It comes with a 24-page, illustrated booklet, with a solid band history written last October by David Wells. The releases originally were on the Epic and Kama Sutra labels. The original band leader was Roy Loney, who wrote about half the early material, often with Cyril Jordan (see above live album), who was obsessed with The Beatles. The bonus tracks include four single versions, plus recorded songs that did not make the albums. Grade: A

Commander Cody and His Western Airmen: Live From the Sunbanks Festival, Electric City, Washington, September 8, 2018 (Liberation Hall CD, 48:28.). Back when it was Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, they often shared a bill with the Flamin’ Groovies. The originally band was formed in 1967 by George Frayne IV, aka Commander Cody, the singer and keyboardist. The band's style mixed country, rock, western swing rockabilly and jump blues on top of a foundation of boogie-woogie piano, patterned after the rowdy barroom country of Ernest Tubb and Ray Price.

In his notes for this live album, Commander Cody writes, “No frills, no overdubs, nothing fancy, just four like-minded reprobates doing what we do best: playing their hearts out and creating good time rock and roll music. Tim Eshliman and I have been working together, on and off, playing and producing for 40 years. He plays bass and sings a lot in this band. Sean Allen, western swing hall of famer and pedal steel whiz plays the electric guitar in this group and sings a lot of the songs on this album. Steve Barbuto is the drummer here, been backing the Commander Cody groups for going on 25 years and sings ‘Don't Let Go’ for the first time live… I think this is the best album I've done in 45 years -- just basic rock and roll from the ozone.”

The 11 tracks include country swing on “One of Those Nights” and “Truck Drivin’ Man,” pop with “Hello Josephine,” piano-filled “Don’t Let Go” and “Oh Momma Momma,” humor on “They Kicked Me Out of the Band” and the jaunty “Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ But the Leaves.” Grade: B+

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