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Bang Zoom To The Moon
3 Out Of 5 Stars

By the time of "Love Bomb," tensions in The Tubes was at a boiling point. Fee Waybill was on the brink of launching his solo career, while the rest of the band wanted to get "Love Bomb" out there. For whatever reason, Capitol Records decided to put their muscle behind Fee's "Read My Lips" while "Love Bomb" slid under the radar. Even worse, Fee's album was a commercial dud. It turned into a lose-lose situation, effectively breaking up the band and Waybill with a solo stint that excited exactly no-one. Even worse, "Love Bomb" was easily as good as "Outside/Inside," the previous Tubes album.

The band had re-enlisted Todd Rundgren to produce again, as he also helmed one of the Tubes' most artistically satisfying albums, "Remote Control." As is typical with any Rundgren production, his hand weighs heavy on the proceedings here. But the Tubes had some great material up their collective sleeve, including the terrific first single "Piece By Piece." Todd even helped make an ahead of its time computerized video. But again, with no label support, it vanished with barely a trace. You can still find the vid on YouTube, and it's worth a look-see.

The real genius was to be found on what was originally the album's side two. A twenty minute collage of mini-tunes strung together as a medley, it should have been a critically acclaimed masterwork. It shows just how musically adept the Tubes in their prime truly were, even with the sideshow style of their burlesque concert act. Mixing found sound, narratives, and "Theme From A Summer Place" mashed up with "Wooly Bully" (keeping in mind that mash-ups weren't this commonplace as now) into another ahead of its time number (there weren't any other rock bands that I can recall at the time using samples), it holds "Love Bomb" up all by itself.

Still, Capitol bet on Waybill's solo career over this, and when you compare the two, it's frustrating. One one hand, you had the Tubes and Todd Rundgren working an arty album, and Fee recording with David Foster, most of Toto, and an up and coming songwriter named Richard Marx. Don't get me wrong, "Read My Lips" is as good as any 80's pop album from the period, but "Love Bomb" should have been salvaged from the scrap pile. Given a decent remaster from the folks at BGO Records but not adding any additional liner notes, this is a must for Tubes fans and probably Todd fans, too.

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Got Love If You Want It
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Philadelphia Singer/Songwriter Josh Zuckerman tries a bit more rocking for his third CD, "Got Love?" It seems to be a pretty good fit. Even more fun is that Josh also gets into the funk. Add some solid social messaging, and you've got "Got Love?".

Josh is a confident singer and he aligns his songs to his voice, making the album fit the artist. He's punchy without meriting a migraine, so the buzzing lead guitars of "I Thought You Love Me" convince you that they belong and aren't an annoyance. He even does the love ballads well, as the string saturated "Fall In Love Again" (shades of Five for Fighting here) prove.

My favorite though is the title track. Asking why anyone's love should be considered different from another's, "Got Love" lifts a bass-line from Cameo's "Word Up" and asks the always pertinent question...why isn't all love equal? It's among the best songs here, and given that he's working on a follow-up (this was released in 2009), I am eager to hear more about love from Josh Zuckerman.

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5 Out Of 5 Stars

I usually try not to give 5 star reviews to best of packages, but "Experience Hendrix" does everything right. Let us also face a dubious reality; Jimi Hendrix has been repackaged and reissued as much as, if not more than, The Doors, The Beatles or any other great artist to have ceased to be. How many versions of "Hey Joe" do you need, after all? However, with 20 songs from 5 albums, extensive liner notes, a lot of great pictures, "Experience Hendrix" beats any other single disc Hendrix anthology out there. It's also given a loving remaster, with the squeals of Hendrix guitars and the phase-crazy production in all its experimental glory.

All the songs you'd expect would be here ("Foxy Lady," "Purple Haze" and - even though I could go the rest of my life without hearing it again - the Woodstock version of "Star Spangled banner"), along with chocks of Hendrix incredible work. The delicate "Little Wing" always gets my juices going, "All Along The Watchtower" is one of those rare moments where an artist completely claims another writer's iconic work (Dylan) and the not as frequently heard songs from the uncompleted "First Rays of The New Rising Sun" show what Hendrix was imagining his future to be like. This is classic stuff, and issued in a classy set.


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Thank You Happy BirthdayElephants Uncaged
4 Out Of 5 Stars 

After the long slow climb of their debut album, Cage The Elephant finally get to release their second. "Thank You Happy Birthday" has allegedly been in the can for some time, but with the long arc of the debut's success, these songs have been laying in wait for almost a year. The difference between the two albums is striking. Where the first album seemed to be chasing Kings of Leon's brand of southern steamed Stones, "Thank You Happy Birthday" finds Cage The Elephant racing away from the straight up, greasy rock of album one and lunging headfirst into "Nevermind" with a serious dusting of Pixies dust.

Their worldview reamins the same, with plenty of Us V Them raging. "Indy Kidz" and "Sell Yourself" are broadsides that seemed oddly aimed at the kind of kids who'd dig the band anyway. "2024" has a raging punk propulsion driving its screaming guitar, yet the final song "Flow" plays like a jam band's kiss goodnight. Vocalist Matt Schultz has surprising rock range in that he manages both the punk-funk angst of "Sell Yourself," the whispery croon of "Flow" and the gravely rock of "Aberdeen" and "Shake Down" (in my opinion, the disc's two best songs).

The rest of the band is keeping right up with him. "Thank You Happy Birthday" is a reckless sophomore album that lurches from style to style with total abandon and little regard for cohesion. Cage The Elephant are fortunate in that their newness gives them enough edge to keep this disparate batch of songs from collapsing in on itself. There are moments ("Indy Kidz" and "Around My Head") where the contrivance gets too obvious, but the pluses here far outweigh the minuses. "Thank You Happy Birthday" finds Cage The Elephant whupping the sophomore slump with a sturdy, rocking records.

Cage the Elephant  Showroom Of Compassion Sigh No More

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Thank You Pleased to meet you, Nice to know me
4 Out of 5 Stars

For a band often slogged off in their early days as grunge posers, Stone Temple Pilots built themselves a might strong body of work. "Thank You" tracks songs from their 5 top ten albums and adds both the new "All In The Suit That You Wear" and an unplugged version of "Plush" to make a very good single disc set. The only things that were missing for me, a casual listener, was their version of Zep's "Dancing Days" and the radio favorite "Pretty Penny."

Otherwise, "Thank You" focuses on STP's two secret weapons, guitarist Dean DeLeo and vocalist and perpetual rock causality/vocalist Scott Weiland. While Weiland went through personas as often as he went through rehab, DeLeo added a consistently heavy crunch to their songs, often offset by wonderful, melodic playing. His power of "Sex Type Thing" and the heaviest rocker here, "Down," pile drive their way into your head (and in the case of "Sex Type Thing," drove them to stardom). Then there's the Beatlesque chiming of "Lady Picture Show" and the bluesy "Sour Girl." DeLeo is one of the 90's unsung guitar heroes.

That is likely because he's overshadowed by Scott Weiland and all his accompanying drama. But Scott is a strikingly versatile vocalist, capable of the grungely howl that put them on the map to the soulful croon he employs on "Creep" and the acoustic version of "Plush." He is also one of the 90's more oddball frontmen, as anyone who ever saw his Bowie/Glam phase around the time of "No 4" could tell you.

Mix all these together and "Thank You" cooks like a great singles comp should. Despite not being on chronological order (and maybe even to its benefit), these fifteen songs hold together as a great listen. You can slip this in the player and keep cruising without hitting skip once. "Interstate Love Song" (from "Purple," my favorite STP CD) alone makes this a great in-the-car discs, so if all you need from STP is the radio stuff, "Thank You" fills the tank.

No 4  STONE TEMPLE PILOTS -Purple Core Stone Temple Pilots Tiny Music...Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop Shangri-La Dee Da
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Bring The Darkness Back
4 Out of 5 Stars

Well, someone must not have been happy with the Capitol/Interpol corporate merger. Just one album, the experimental "Our Love To Admire," and Interpol find themselves back with independent label Matador. This self titled album with the exploding gray Interpol logo with a black background sums the whole thing up; the music is dark and fractured. In short, a return to form.

This is both good and bad. While there is nothing here as mind blowing as "The Lighthouse" was on the previous album, Interpol's mixture of Joy Division/Psychedelic Furs malevolence and malaise pulses through the core of this album, with black growls like "Success" and the sad drone of "Always/The Man I Am" piercing through the murk. Alan Moulder did these mixes, which reflects his expertise in making bleakness sound alluring, with guitars sounding like they're blaring from the back of an auditorium and making things bass heavy. That approach works even better on the uptempo "Barricade," building the song to its final punch.

Overall, the knockouts are not as consistent as they were on "Our Love to Admire," but "Interpol" is more cohesive as an album. Interpol go back to basics on this album, and the payoff is worth the listen.

Turn on the Bright Lights  Our Love to Admire Antics: The Special Edition
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Made of MetalHigh Octane
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Halford's back and feeling competitive. "Made of Metal" pummels and pulses with songs about competitions, warriors, athletes and other fighting folks. I fully expect at least three of these songs to be adopted by wrestlers sometime in the coming TV cycle. Heck, the title songs is all about racecars. And you thought Nascar was only for country music types.

Nope. Shredders and Rob Halford's one of a kind roar can get into the pit with the best of them. Even if the car is some sort of demonic Hadesmobile. If that sounds appealing, then "Undisputed" (as in 'heavyweight champion of the world'), "Matador" and "Thunder and Lightning" will get your elbow into fist-pumping mode. Even without the sporty metaphors, Halford are giving fans plenty to groove on. "Hell Razor," 25 Years" and the ferocious "The Mower" are the kind of clear cutting metal fans would expect.

Curveballs exist, too. The slide guitar on "Til The Day I Day" will surprise some, but it sure works. And like "Angel" on Priest's "Angel of Retribution," "Fire and Ice" explores relationships, however volatile they may be. "I Know We Stand a Chance" does as well, which help give "Made of Metal" a heart. Guitarist Mike Chlasciak delivers on the solos, giving the album its attitude. As one would expect, the voice is pure Rob Halford. Where his projects outside of Priest are concerned, "Made of Metal" is just as enjoyable as "Resurrection."

Resurrection  Screaming for Vengeance (Exp) British Steel (Exp)
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Trans-Continental HustleNo Energy Crisis Here
4 Out of 5 Stars

I was a little concerned when I heard Gogol Bordello had made the leap to major labels (Colombia/American). Would the suits at CBS tamp down the energy of Eugene Hutz and his cross-cultural/generational band of music makers? Would Rick Rubin enhance these guys or suck them dry?

My fears were allayed as soon as "Pala Tute" kicked in. It's as ferocious and as fun/funny as anything the band has done to date. And as a reality check to the folks that have given "Transcontinental Hustle" tepid reviews, nobody, and I mean no-one, rocks an accordion and fiddle like Gogol Bordello. The buildup that climaxes "When Universes Collide" is new even for GB, showing that the band is still fine with taking risks. And both "Raise The Knowledge" and the title song continue to mine a fierce political streak.

In short, any band that claims to find their inspiration "in my headphones is Bob Marley and Joe Strummer" is going to have a hard time watering their sound down. "Transcontinental Hustle" is already one of  my favorite albums of the year, and I'm really happy that GB survived the transition with their soul intact.

Super Taranta  Legend: Best of Live From Axis Mundi (W/Dvd)
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Founding Member of ELO Killed by Giant Hay Bale

A giant bale of hay has killed a founding member of the Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) band after it tumbled down a hill and crashed into his van. Cellist Mike Edwards, 62, died after the 600 kg (1,323 lb) bale rolled down a steep field in Devon, southern England, smashed through a hedge and careened on to the road. He died instantly in the freak accident on Friday afternoon. 

Police said they used photographs and YouTube footage to identify Edwards and are investigating whether the bale may have fallen from a tractor working on farmland near the road. Edwards, who played with the band between 1972 and 1975, is believed to have swerved into another vehicle as the bale crushed his cab.

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Day 16. A song that you used to love but now hate

Day 17. A song that you hear (too) often on the radio.

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We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (American Land Edition) (CD/DVD)Pete Seeger done the old fashioned way
2 Out of 5 Stars

"The Seeger Sessions" is Bruce Springsteen's vanity project. A very nice one, and a noble purpose. But much like other established artists that have ventured into well intentioned forays (Joe Jackson's big band, Elvis Costello's country, Linda Ronstadt and Rod Stewart dive into standards), merely recreating something doesn't make it great.

Which is what happened to "The Seeger Sessions." It may be the closest thing to a recorded hootenanny released on a major label in the last 20 years, and the musicianship is superb. What's missing is a feeling that this is flowing naturally. Springsteen sings several of the songs like he's gargling - the affectation is obvious. Why it was considered necessary is something I don't get. While I can comprehend the idea of recording them live with a mostly acoustic band, the end result is mostly stagecraft without emotional investment other than a good time for the musicians.

The real moment for me came just a few months ago. I got to see Tao Rodriguez Seeger (Pete's grandson) play live and Tao incorporates several of Pete's songs into his sets. The encore was "Bring 'Em Home," a raging anti-war anthem. Tao tore into it with all the edge of The Clash. On this CD, Springsteen treats it like a museum exhibit. Bruce and the band perform it like they're giving a reading to a college study. When Seeger wrote the song, he was p-o'd and meant it. When Tao sang it, he (to paraphrase The Sex Pistols) meant it, maaaan. And here, Springsteen and the gang want you to know that they really, really like it, and isn't that great? Well done and proficient, yes. But Pete Seeger isn't a museum piece, and shouldn't be presented as one.
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Bob Seger. Greatest Hits, Vol. 2Get them as a pair
4 Out of 5 Stars

It took almost ten years to happen, but Bob Seger finally gathered a second set of hits on CD to complete the original, 1994 set. "Greatest Hits Volume 2" puts a pair of his highest charting songs (the number 1 "Shakedown" and the number 2 "Shame On The Moon") in with several non-album songs like "Chances Are" and "Understanding." It also goes back to "Beautiful Loser" for a pair of songs.

Bob Seger - Greatest HitsSince his big three are "Night Moves," "Stranger in Town" and "Against The Wind," the lion's portion of this disc is drawn from those CD's. Any aficionado of classic rock radio is going to know most of these by heart. Seger knew how to lay down solid rocking/driving sounds, with "Rock and Roll Never Forgets" being a terrific example. he also became a first class balladeer as time went on, evidenced here by "Fire Lake" or "Tryin' To Live My Live Without You."

However, you still need "Like a Rock," "Night Moves," and, of course "Old Time Rock and Roll" among others to get the complete set. So while I can fully recommend this first volume of Bob Seger's best, you really need to get this and first Greatest Hits along with it.

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Ultimate SantanaSo So Santana
4 out of 5 Stars

This would be a three star compilation if not for the Tina Turner version of "Play The Game," which blows the Michelle Branch version out of the water. It also shows up why this "Ultimate Santana" is overall a weak collection. Santana has made some of the most incredible fusion of styles out of the many 60's and 70's guitar gods, but by the 80's and 90's, he was churning out mediocre albums on a regular basis. You'll note that - other than the three big early hits "Black Magic Woman," "Oye Como Va" and "Evil Ways," his Columbia albums are absent from this set. That is because Clive Davis took a chance on signing Carlos to Arista, then shepherded Santana into a studio with a clutch of guests to record "Supernatural."
Carlos rose to the challenge, hooking up with talent that was worthy of his skills (Eric Clapton) and some that made him sound modern to the times (the inescapable "Smooth," with Rob Thomas). It was a flawless album that deservedly brought Santana back to commercial prominence and won a slew of Grammys (ala Bonnie Raitt's "Nick Of Time").

Supernatural (Legacy Edition)Unfortunately, that made everyone try to re-bake the cake for "Shaman," a much lesser effort that essentially turned Santana into a guest on his own album. Ditto for "All That I Am." Frankly, Chad Kroger of Nickelback doesn't merit the honor of carrying Carlos' guitar cases, yet here he is, singing "Into The Night." And while Santana's music may have inspired hip-hoppers and rappers, that doesn't mean they share his virtuosity. So Baby Bash or The Product G&B tracks? Phooey. Listen to the actual soul that Tina Turner invests in her song, and then listen to Jennifer Lopez. Like Santana, Tina has the goods. many of the rest of these "Ultimate" guests? Not so much.
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BackspacerMeet Eddie Ramone
4 Out of 5 Stars

I guess getting Bush out of the White House has calmed Eddie Vedder down a little. "Backspacer" is an open and airy slice of rocking - dare I say it - fun from Pearl Jam, whose righteous rage has clouded many of their albums for the last ten years or so. This time, they take a cue from one of their influences by making a short (barely 35 minutes) album with tightly wound songs, the longest of which sprints to the four minute mark. Just call it "Rocket To Seattle."

The lead single, "The Fixer," sounds like "Wishlist" on speed-dial. Complete with an "Uh huh huh huh" intro and some super power chords, Eddie enunciates (!!) the manners in which he'd like to save a little love in his life. (Curiously, it is also one of the numbers Vedder didn't write.) Like much of their self-titled 2006 album, "The Fixer" and songs like "Got Some" and "Supersonic" are the sound of Pearl Jam openly embracing classic and classicist rock, with guitarist Stone Gossard banging out muscular riffs in almost gleeful abandon.Vedder has also broken into a sensitive place. With songs like "Just Breathe," which sounds like a leftover from his soundtrack for "Into The Wild," he and the band touch a nerve that their younger selves would have only been able to stab a claw hammer into. It's their best ballad to date.

Their age is kind of showing on "Backspacer." "Ten" has reached its 20th anniversary, and "Backspacer" reunites the band with producer Brendan O'Brien to excellent results. The difference is that all parties are now OK with just being a terrific rock band without forcing embellishments or drawing out the proceedings. The band still treats Rock as the means to deliver a message (as "Got Some" and "Unknown Thought" still show); just now the message is delivered with a firm handshake instead of the shaken fist.
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Joel and I attended a concert at Philadelphia's world cafe theater Wednesday night to see Tao Rodriguez Seeger. He's the grandson of folk legend Pete Seeger, and the apples remain close to the tree. Seems Tao is not just a folk lefty, he's a loud folk lefty. He led his three piece band through a loud and racous set of originals and covers in both English and Spanish, as well as some very choice cover songs. Where Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Sessions covered Pete like it was a hootenanny, Tao makes Pete sound like The Clash.

What started out as a crowd of maybe 200 was dwindling towards the end; I suspect they were expecting Tao the come out and strum like it was a 1959 union rally. Having seen Tao perform as his Grandpa's music director for a show at the Newport Folk Festival last summer, I was kind of suspecting something a bit more acoustic myself. However, his drummer (Robim McMillan) tore into his drums for the intro and his bassist (Jacob Silver) locked right on in. This was some on-fire and hard focused swaety rock and roll. And frankly, hearing Pete's "Bring 'Em Home" like it was taken from "London Calling" was nothing short of exhilarating.

Doesn't hurt that Tao's pretty easy on the eyes, too. Get out and see him if he comes to your town.
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CenterfieldBecause Baseball is Starting...
5 Out  Of 5 Stars

Probably one of the 80's most unexpected comebacks was this album. John Fogerty dropped "Centerfield" in early 1985, the same year Bruce Springsteen was dominating the world with Born in the U.S.A.. Prior to this, Fogerty's post CCR albums had not been wildly received, with his The Blue Ridge Rangers being released under a pseudonym and the second slipping through the cracks...followed by a nine year silence.

All that changed the moment the crackling riff from "The Old Man Down The Road" roared from MTV. Sounding more alive and energized than either of the solo LP's would have suggested was coming, it swamp-rocked it's way to the Top Ten, and driving "Centerfield" to number one. There was a lot of nostalgia here, as "Old Man" sounded so much like "Running Through The Jungle" that Fogerty's arch-nemesis at the time, Saul Zaentz, sued him for self-plagerization (Fogerty won). "Big Train From Memphis" memorialized Elvis, and the title track became appropriated by baseball teams nationwide. Fogerty was fired up, eager to prove his place in the rock pantheon, and filled with righteous indignation over his betrayal by Fantasy and his former bandmates.

It made "Centerfield" feel good and effortless, a triumphant return of one of Rock and Roll's good guys. But under closer scrutiny (and kind of like Springsteen's juggernaut), there is a dark streak to "Centerfield." "I Saw It On TV" took a direct shot at Richard Nixon, a broad swipe at Ronald Reagan and a not-so-optimistic glance at the way that the sixties seemed to be drifting into hazy nostalgia rather than a warning beacon we shouldn't let fade.

The old man rocks among his dreams, a prisoner of the porch;
'The light,' he says 'at the end of the tunnel,
Was nothin' but a burglar's torch.
And them that was caught in the cover are all rich and free,
But they chained my mind to an endless tomb
When they took my only son from me.'

Even meaner in spirit (and therefore, cooler) were the two potshots at Zaentz, for whom Fogerty all but spits upon in "Mr Greed" and "Vanz Can't Dance" (originally "Zanz" before a threatened lawsuit prompted a revision). That meanness turned to spite by the time Eye of the Zombie came out (and Fogerty went into another almost decade long hibernation), but when placed next to such good-timey fare like "Rock and Roll Girls" and the sheer rock joy of "Searchlight," the personal zingers were understandable. After all, Fantasy HAD screwed him over, and this was Fogerty's chance to vent. It wasn't until the 90's that he played a CCR song in public again, bitterly refusing to allow Zaentz a peeny of royalties. Having great new music made it all the more entertaining, as Fogerty hit the road with this album.

"Centerfield" remains Fogerty's best solo album and a highlight of the mid-eighties. He has also since come to terms with his past, and the terrific Revival is easily his best CD since this one.
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By the WayMild Peppers,
3 Out of 5 Stars

It takes seven songs in to "By The Way" before the familiar popping base of Flea and the rapping howl of Anthony Kiedis. The first six tracks? Gently melodic songs that play out as cool, focused. I guess we should have seen this coming from the muted blue colors in the soft art cover; this is the Peppers cooling off after the fiery "Californication." There's plenty of decent songs on "By The Way," problem is, there's nothing excellent. The songs come off as self-searching, introspective and slow. The title song and the "Warm Tape" are the best of the ballads here. But the band's always worked best under the operative "Red Hot" part of their name. This is like asking for the espresso burrito and finding out they put cool ranch on your meal.

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Back to Philadelphia,
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Todd Rundgren went back to his hometown and went for the sound of Philadelphia on "Nearly Human." There's a delightful abundance of Philly White Guy Soul spread across this poppy return to form, as he decided to eschew the gimmicks and just have his band record the album live in the studio. This resulted in two of his best late 80's songs, "The Want of a Nail" with Bobby Womack and the ballad of despairing "Parallel Lines."

His sense of fun is also back, as his spry cover of Elvis Costello's "Two Little Hitlers" indicates. The Tubes join him for a rocking number called "Feel It" (both Prairie Prince and the late Vince Welnick eventually joined Todd in a few of his touring bands). And finally, there's the stunning "Hawking." Todd sings his heart out on one of his most soulful ballads. As usual, "Nearly Human" shares many of the delights of knowing you're not always going to get a standardized album when Rundgren decides to let one out. This remains one of his better 80's albums.


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September 2015

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