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Concrete Blonde


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Rock

Status:

Most recent release, "Rosalie" (single, 2011); most recent studio release, Essential (remastered compilation, 2005); most recent full-length, original release, Group Therapy (2002)

See also:

The Concrete Blonde official site

Wikipedia's entry for Concrete Blonde

CDBaby's page for Concrete Blonde

The Ectophiles' Guide entries for Johnette Napolitano's other projects, Pretty & Twisted and Vowel Movement

Comparisons:

Patti Smith, Rush

Covers/own material:

Own

General comments:

Concrete Blonde is at heart a hard core muscular rock and roll band, and a damned fine one. Yet as the albums rolled by, their music and lyrics increased in variety, polish, and emotional range. In the long run, this band showed steady and excellent improvement—a bit of a rarity.
     Musically, Concrete Blonde's roots are in hard core rock and roll. The driving guitars and beat are the heart of their sound, fine though not much distinguished from many other hard rock bands. Their signature is stamped by Johnette Napolitano's voice, a voice limited in range and style, and frankly she has trouble holding a tune. Yet somehow, she accepts her limitations and deploys her voice amazingly effectively. With experience, both the band and her voice gained subtlety and polish without sacrificing any strength or emotion.
     Lyrically, Concrete Blonde revolves around tales of the dark sides of urban life and love with a strong Los Angeles flavor. With time, Napolitano took the full songwriting reins and expanded her repertoire to include ghosts, vampires, and their ilk, a touch of humor, and eventually even religion and politics. For all of these subjects, she adds power and a few fresh insights by writing at a personal level. Still, all-in-all, lyrics are not the strength of the band. (dbx@aa.net)

Johnette Napolitano, the vocalist and songwriter, is brilliant. They are a very solid sounding rock band that keeps me swaying, dancing all around my house and then screaming for more. (72064.3606@compuserve.com)

Recommended first album:

Mexican Moon or Concrete Blonde

Recordings:


Concrete Blonde

Release info:

1987—I.R.S.—IRSD-5835

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

Recommended, highly so for harder tastes

Group members:

Johnette Napolitano
Jim Mankey
Harry Rushakoff

Comments:

Their debut is raw, unpolished, limited by several weak songs and filler. On the other hand, the album is full of energy and emotion, and several flat out great songs. Their talent shines through the unevenness. (dbx@aa.net)

Free

Release info:

1989—I.R.S.—X2-13001/CDP 24 1003 2

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

Recommended, highly so for harder tastes

Group members:

Harry Rushakoff
James Mankey—guitar
Johnette Napolitano—bass, vocals
Alan Bloch

Produced by:

Concrete Blonde

Comments:

In their second album, Concrete Blonde strengthened their weaknesses without weakening their strengths. The songs showed more musical variety, experimentation, and polish and even a wider lyrical emotions. The album eliminated any filler, while displaying several great songs. Unfortunately, this was partly achieved by keeping the album to 33 minutes long. (dbx@aa.net)

A bit heavy for my taste, but with qualities in the vocals and lyrics. (jbr@casetech.dk)


Bloodletting

Release info:

1990—I.R.S.—X2-13037

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended, must have for harder tastes

Group members:

Johnette Napolitano—vocals, bass
James Mankey—guitars, bass
Paul Thompson—drums

Guest artists:

Peter Buck (R.E.M.)—mandolin
Gail Ann Dorsey—bass
John Keane—slide guitar
Andy Prieboy—keyboards
Steve Wynn—vocals

Produced by:

Chris Tsangarides and Concrete Blonde

Comments:

The steady improvement continued, as the music gathered even more polish and professional sheen (at least by their standards :) ). This album contains several great songs, including "Joey" which put Concrete Blonde on the map. Yet this is their quietest album and lacks some of the raw spirit and fire that drove their earlier albums. (dbx@aa.net)

I can't stop playing this. (72064.3606@compuserve.com)

Bloodletting is my favorite album of all time. I have seen Johnette thrice in concert, and when she does "Tomorrow Wendy" it's truly a chilling experience. She usually prefaces it with a short speech.
     Johnette had two friends in LA who died from AIDS, and in my opinion, this theme runs throughout the album ("The Sky is a Poisonous Garden," "I Don't Need a Hero"), culminating with "Tomorrow Wendy." I see the title track "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)" as another AIDS song. Considering all the blood imagery, the vampire is a perfect metaphor for HIV/AIDS. Of course, music can be a powerful Rohrshach Test. I know the album has other themes— lost love ("Caroline"), alcoholism ("Joey"), etc. When this album came out, I found out that a good friend was HIV+. He died a few years later. We played this album all the time. But the reason that this album is still my favorite is not purely sentimental. I really think it's a masterpiece, and that Concrete Blonde is one of the most underrated bands ever. (Plasterofstevie@aol.com)

But Johnette's subject matter tends toward the gothic, especially Their Best Album Ever, Bloodletting, while the music is nowhere near ethereal or even goth and might be a lot closer to somewhere between punk and metal, but is, in any event, definitely exemplar of the crunchy side of ecto. (burka@jeffrey.net)


Walking in London

Release info:

1992—I.R.S. Records—X2-13137

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for harder tastes

Group members:

James Mankey—guitars
Harry Rushakoff—drums, percussion
Johnette Napolitano—bass, vocals

Guest artists:

Bernadette Colomine—vocals, voices
Tom Petersson—bass
Andy Prieboy—vocals

Produced by:

Chris Tsangarides and Concrete Blonde

Comments:

With some success under their belts, the band returned to their more driving edge, yet without tossing the improved musicianship and production and variety of style and lyrics. Those lyrics tended more towards love and humor than usual. Don't look for deep insights here, but a fun spirited album. (dbx@aa.net)

Mexican Moon

Release info:

1993—I.R.S./Capitol—CDP 7-81129-2

Availability:

Wide on release

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended; must have for harder tastes

Group members:

Johnette Napolitano—guitars, bass, percussion, keyboards, vocals
James Mankey—guitars, bass, guitar synthesizer, vocals
Harry Rushakoff—drums
Paul Thompson—drums, percussion

Guest artists:

Sean Freehill—drum programming
Andy Prieboy—piano, voices

Produced by:

Concrete Blonde

Comments:

On Mexican Moon, Concrete Blonde shows a broader range both lyrically and musically. Oh, their signatures still are scrawled all over the album. Johnette Napolitano wrote tales of the dark sides of urban life and love, which she sings in her unconventional muscular voice. Her band backed that up with muscular rock and roll. However, Napolitano extended her lyrical range, especially writing more philosophical songs about religion and life and death. Musically, a number of songs showed a softer side ("Mexican Moon" can even be called beautiful) and much more variety of tempos and styles. All-in-all, this album finds the full band running at top speed, a shame considering this is reputedly the last Concrete Blonde album.
     In spite of its obvious quality, this album still did not click with me. Too many of the songs slid by without making much of an impression, or even made a negative impression. That surprised me, since I usually like Concrete Blonde a lot. My guess is that my tastes and the band's tastes just didn't mesh this time. Even so, this album is still quite worthwhile, holding some of Concrete Blonde's best songs. (dbx@aa.net)

After the disappointing Walking In London, Concrete Blonde regain their focus and release what I consider their best album ever. If this is truly the band's swan song, then it brings new meaning to going out on a high note (as well as all the other terrific notes Johnette Napolitano is capable of singing). (drumz@best.com)

Another superb outing by Johnette and the guys. (pearceja@wl.wpafb.af.mil)

Their best so far, in my opinion. (vickie@enteract.com)


Still in Hollywood (b-sides, etc.)

Release info:

1994—I.R.S.

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

For Concrete Blonde fans

Comments:

Concrete is no longer with us, but they've given us some great music. Johnette can belt it out with the best of them. (SANDOVAL@stsci.edu)

Well, the band is no more, but at least we now have all those hard to get B-sides all collected nicely in one easy-to-get place. (pmcohen@voicenet.com)


Recollection: The Best of

Release info:

1996—I.R.S.

Availability:

Wide

Comments:

A compilation for those looking for a taste of what the band was like.


Thanks to Jens P. Tagore Brage and Doug Burks for work on this entry.

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Entry last updated 2015-05-09 16:35:42.
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