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Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush: Live - Album Of The Week Club review

There's more to Frank Marino than that comparison. You know, the one they always make. But is 1978's Mahogany Rush Live proof?

Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush: Live
(Image: © Columbia)
Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush: Live

Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush: Live

(Image credit: Columbia)

Introduction
The Answer
Dragonfly
I'm A King Bee
(Excerpt From "Back Door Man")
A New Rock & Roll
Johnny B. Goode
Talkin' 'Bout A Feelin'
(Excerpt From "Who Do Ya Love")
Electric Reflections Of War
The World Anthem
Purple Haze

Frequently compared to Jimi Hendrix, Frank Marino developed his own fluid style, a compulsive progressive blues which helped to make albums like 1976's Mahogany Rush IV and the following year's World Anthem among the most well-received of their era, especially amongst his fellow musicians. 

It was onstage that Marino's band Mahogany Rush were most at home, and in 1977 they recorded several dates on their world tour in order to compile a live album, one completely devoid of studio overdubs.

“When I was a kid, I liked rock‘n’roll like Kiss," former Megadeth man Marty Friedman told us. "A lot of the other guitarists were into the blues, but I just couldn’t go there. The bluesy thing didn’t find a place in my experience. Maybe I was too young.

“But then I heard Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush, and I got it. I realised that blues playing could be just as exciting as any of the aggressive rock bands I liked. Guitar music just flowed out of him so naturally; he wasn’t putting up any kind of front at all. In his own way, he breathed a lot of life into a tired genre."

Europe's Joey Tempest told Classic Rock, "Hearing Frank Marino on this very recording, his guitar and vocal introduction into the raging version of the classic Johnny B Goode is - in my view - on the same level as Jimi Hendrix or Edward Van Halen hitting our eardrums for the first time. It is simply from another place, another dimension." 

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in February 1978

  • Earth - Jefferson Starship
  • Stained Class - Judas Priest
  • Van Halen - Van Halen
  • Crossing the Red Sea with The Adverts - The Adverts
  • The Kick Inside - Kate Bush
  • Tell Us the Truth - Sham 69
  • Watch - Manfred Mann's Earth Band
  • Bring It Back Alive - Outlaws
  • British Lions - Mott the Hoople
  • Drastic Plastic - Be-Bop Deluxe
  • Impeckable - Budgie
  • It Happened One Bite - Dan Hicks
  • Plastic Letters - Blondie
  • Street Action - Bachman–Turner Overdrive
  • Street Hassle - Lou Reed
  • What Do You Want from Live - The Tubes

What they said...

"Mahogany knew how to burn on stage, and this excellent LP really captures the vitality of its 1970s concerts. No one who is seriously into hard rock and metal should be deprived of hearing singer/guitarist Frank Marino let loose on live versions of Dragonfly, Electric Reflections of War, and The Answer. (AllMusic)

"It took a live album to bring out the raw energy of this band. Paced by the blistering Jimi Hendrix-influenced guitar licks of Marino, the trio really gets down with some hot hard rock. Marino's vocals never hinge on boredom as he maintains a feverish level of excitement" (Billboard)

"Outside of the funky Dragon Fly this is mostly blooz-by-numbers, covers, noodle soup or a combination of all three. I mean, there's "Jimi Hendrix-esque" guitar in the wake of the man - but I'd urge those looking to fill that void to go for the likeable and uncocky Robin Trower. (RateYourMusic)

What you said...

Mike Canoe: I am starting to realise I don't really like live albums. Don't get me wrong, there are live performances of songs that I absolutely adore, but live albums by one band that I want to listen to from start to finish are rare. Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush Live helpfully, if inadvertently, demonstrates why.

1) For me, live albums are not the best way to discover new music. I need to be familiar with the original version or I don't know what makes the live version special. Dragonfly is the only Mahogany Rush song I knew previously. Admittedly, it's not Marino's fault that I'm not familiar with more of his music. I wasn't old enough for him the first time around and, like previous picks, Trapeze or the James Gang, they don't bubble up enough on various media.

2) Live albums can have a lot of padding. Sometimes a song stretched out to double its length can be amazing, especially if the whole band is driving it along. I'm a King Bee, with its extended blues solo, doesn't work for me. Johnny B. Goode, with all three band members playing at full tilt, does.

3) Live albums seem almost contractually obligated to have at least one cover. I get it, the suits need something they can flog as a single and it can pique interest for a fan that already has the studio albums. Since it would be overly charitable to call the admittedly cool guitar effects showcase Electric Reflections Of War a song, the covers, if you include the standalone excerpts, equal the number of originals: five. Two of the band's five albums up to that point aren't represented at all.

4) They are usually awkwardly sequenced. This album avoids what I consider the biggest sin of live albums in the CD age and beyond. However, it substitutes it with one nearly as annoying, breaking up parts of medleys into "excerpts." When you listen to I'm a King Bee" you can tell it's supposed to flow right into Back Door Man. Instead, we get a noticeable skip that hearkens back to the days of the 8-track 

Same with Talkin' Bout a Feelin'/Who Da Ya Love. If this had been sequenced as one track, it would easily be my favourite on the original album. Marino actually starts singing the latter about three minutes into the former, but we get another 90-second "excerpt" that feels as tacked on as it is. Even without the medley malady, the songs seem to start and end abruptly, dispelling the illusion that you are listening to one continuous show.

So, it is decidedly strange that for the second week in a row, I find myself reaching for the pat phrase "the exception that proves the rule." My favourite track is actually the added version of Johnny B. Goode from the California Jam. Yes, it's a cover and, yes, it's stretched out to a little more than eight minutes. But Marino and company take the Chuck Berry chestnut and make it their own - and sound like they're having a blast. Then they seamlessly transition into what sure sounds a lot like the aforementioned effects showcase Electric Reflections Of War." But now we're pumped and primed for it and it sounds awesome. Now, that's what makes a live version exciting!

In conclusion, most of the flaws I find with this album aren't the fault of Marino & Mahogany Rush, who admirably acquit themselves as a first rate power trio, but the clumsy way that the music industry generally handled live albums. When I need some psychedelic blues I haven't heard before, I know where to go.

Uli Hassinger: Here's my report of my first contact with Frank Marino. The first impression was the dull and muddy sound of the album, at least on my remastered CD from 2017. The second impression is that Frank's voice is very limited. The third impression is that the songs are insignificant. No catchy melodies, no harmony.

It's all about the guitar playing. Some great solos and effects but it needs to be embedded in a solid songwriting to keep you focused. That's what's lacking over the whole album.

Even the cover songs are not worth the time because the originals are much better. The only tracks which caught my attention were Electric Reflections Of War with its weird sounds and its thrilling rendition of the song's theme, and The World Anthem, which was moving as well. But beside these two songs it was a tough and boring trip. Compared to the great 70s live albums this is not worth mentioning. 4/10. 

Cameron Gillespie: For me this album is not perfect, but I think it's a good introduction to Mahogany Rush. I think any of their Live albums are a great place to start. Admittedly, I too would have liked to have seen more of their own music in this album given they had plenty of original material to use in addition to what was already there. 

However, it doesn't make me feel any less thrilled by this album! It's got a good flow, it's surprisingly well mixed in comparison to a lot of live albums from that era. My personal favourite stand out tracks have been, The Answer, Dragonfly, Talkin Bout A Feelin, and Purple Haze.

Warning! Unpopular opinion ahead: I sometimes prefer this version of Purple Haze to Jimi Hendrix's original. I know I'm walking on thin ice. It's an opinion that depends on the day. I find the Mahogany Rush version a little more intense and electrifying, but sometimes I don't want that.

To sum up how I feel about the album, this album highlights Frank's guitar wizardry, which is exciting. Being a guitarist, there are no tracks that I dislike or loathe. That being said, there are some tracks that don't do much for me i.e. Who Do You Love? 

The album is not perfectly mixed. It's rough around the edges in places, which gives it a more authentic feel. Frank's guitar tone is other-worldly and his solos are on point! To me it's a classic dose of saucy flaming blues rock guitar sorcery, that has been under appreciated, especially in the southern hemisphere anyway! I give it a solid 8/10. It's a solid record with some flaws, but all-in-all it's a groovy rock'n'roll record.

Gary Claydon: The Heavy Metal Holocaust at Port Vale F.C. in August 1981 was memorable for many reasons, so much so that I could write a lengthy essay about the day. I'll spare you that but will share one recollection.

It was a boiling hot day inside the old football ground. In addition it was also a 'dry' festival - no booze on sale! The punters were, understandably, somewhat soporific early on in proceedings. Vardis opened with a fine set that stirred some life into the crowd but Riot, try as they might, couldn't really maintain the momentum. 

I'd already decided before hand that the next band would be the least interesting of the day (turned out that would be Triumph, whose set was anything but a triumph) so it seemed like a good opportunity to retreat to the far end of the pitch and tune-out for a while. 

As I sat there, watching the small, multi-coloured bottles of Panda Pop taking flight in the sunshine like flocks of overweight hummingbirds, the music began to filter back into my consciousness, along with the realisation that these guys were sounding pretty damn good, so I stirred myself and headed back towards the stage to take in what would, arguably, be the best set of the day, better even than headliners Motorhead or Ozzy including the late, great Randy Rhoads.

"These guys" were Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush.

Now, I'd never been much of a fan of Frank Marino. Like many, I'd - lazily - dismissed him as a Hendrix impersonator, based mainly on P.R. and interviews which did little to dispel that impression. Nor did the odd bits of his material I heard from time to time. I've never had a problem with artists wearing their influences on their sleeves but, even so, to me, Marino's playing, as good as as it is, came across more 'Hendrix tribute' than 'Hendrix inspired'. 

It wasn't 'til I saw him at HMH that I realised just how great a guitarist he is. That day Frank & his band were a lot heavier, a much more muscular sound than the blues & jazz jamming I associated them with. It was a great set and, not long after, I went out & bought the Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush: Live album. And was disappointed.

As live albums go it isn't particularly bad, although it's not helped by the somewhat flat production. It's just that on record it all sounded a little bit dull. Some great soloing but too many cover versions. I don't mind the odd cover but I want to engage with the band's own material first & foremost. The best part of the album is the first two tracks, The Answer and Dragonfly but after that I kind of switch off.

I have dabbled with some of their other stuff down the years but, just like this live album it never really grabbed me. 5/10 but I'll add an extra point for reminding me of the brilliant set at HMH.

Alex Hayes: A second live album in the space of just three weeks? I'm well up for that. This time around, it's a showcase for the talents of the second greatest band to ever emerge out of Canada with the word 'rush' somewhere in their name.

To be honest, I could literally just 'copy and paste' most of my review from a fortnight ago, so similar are my sentiments here. I love the vibe of a good live rock'n'roll album, and this is a pretty good live rock'n'roll album, but they always kind of make me wish that I'd been old enough to go to gigs back in the 70s and 80s.

The main draw here would have to be the soaring, Hendrix-esque guitar work from Frank Marino himself which, yeah, impressed the hell out of me. I don't have much more to say really, only that the album is possibly a tad too cover version heavy. That didn't particularly spoil my enjoyment though.

Decent stuff and good fun. I'll give this album the same score as I did a fortnight ago. 7/10.

Kevin Miller: Talented band, but far too many covers for me. More than that though, I just want to know how they’re going to count the votes with five different polls and half of them not including all the possible numbers.

Brian Carr: I've heard Frank Marino's name bandied about sporadically over the years, but other than the cool track Strange Dreams, never sought out his music, so it was cool to see this album chosen. 

As others have pointed out, Live starts out well - The Answer and Dragonfly showcase Marino's considerable guitar chops in the context of some cool sounding songs. Then the rug gets pulled out as we lapse into bar band territory (albeit one with a pretty stellar guitarist). It made me wonder if the cover choices were fresher in 1978 than they are more than 40 years later. Did Marino revere his influences so much that he couldn't resist paying homage or did he struggle to write original tunes? 

Considering how well I liked the opening Live tracks and the aforementioned Strange Dreams, it seems like a good idea to seek out more of his work, but this release won't be added to my Apple Music library.

Roland Bearne: Ok, starting with the positive; the production here is a brilliant rendition of a live set. I love that. I know the square root of sod all about the artist other than a name which popped up occasionally in mags. He's a really good guitar player nothing unique or jaw dropping. I think the best thing here is capturing a great live vibe. I've stayed up late to do this, why? Cos I love this page. This choice is a bit dull though. I do love a great live album, but didn't feel this was one. 6.

Jim Collins: I saw the tour this was recorded on. The term "jaw-dropping" doesn't really do justice to the guitar pyrotechnics I witnessed that night.

Alistair McIntösh: Frank is a great guitarist and he certainly showcases his skills on this album. But there are just too many covers on it to make this a great album or even a great Frank Marino album. For that you have to go to What's Next, Tales Of The Unexpected or Double Live, which came out in the 90s. Now that is a great Frank Marino live album.

Richard Cardenas: This record was always a disappointment for me. I was fortunate enough to see this band several times including this tour and I always felt this fell incredibly short.

Specifically with the choice of songs. There were so many more great tunes that would have better represented the band. Why include covers at the expense of these great cuts.

A floppy six for me. Sad because this band is one of the greatest live acts I’ve ever seen and someone I’ll be seeing again this May. If Covid doesn’t screw it up that is.

John Davidson: It's back to 1978 for Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush Live. Frank Marino was one of those artists who I had a passing interest in at the time when I was discovering heavy blues based guitar rock but who didn’t really hit the spot and on the basis of this album I can see why.

While he is undoubtedly an excellent guitarist he doesn’t really have the songs.

It’s an album that I borrowed from the local library (yes you could do that then), but I didn’t tape at home… a good quality TDK or BASF C90 was a serious investment in 1978 .

The album opens up auspiciously enough with The Answer and Dragonfly - both of which show Frank Marino’s talent on guitar and have a groovy slightly funky rhythm. But after that I’m afraid it is mostly downhill.

I’m not so keen on the standard blues of King Bee, Back Door Man and Who Do Ya Love though the guitar work remains good.

A New Rock & Roll bucks the trend, romping along enjoyably (though it does suffer from the mix) before we revert back to Johnny B Goode. It's not that it's a bad version (in fact the guitar solos are excellent) but it hardly speaks to the artists or the labels confidence in his songwriting that five albums into his career have five cover songs on an album that lasts less than 45 minutes. Which is a shame because the only real clunker on the album is the rather lifeless and uninspiring World Anthem.

For all the record company's early talk of how Marino was visited by the spirit of Jimi Hendrix in the aftermath of a bad LSD trip, Talkin Bout a Feelin is the first song where I felt like he was aping him rather than simply playing in a way that Hendrix had inspired, though the inclusion of Purple Haze doesn’t exactly do much to dispel the myth.

I’m a great believer in stamping your own voice on a cover version (as Hendrix did with All Along the Watchtower) but this is closer to tribute band territory in terms of faithfulness.

Looping back to the mix/production it is worth calling out that it suffers from that slightly muddy 70s live recording style where the bass/drums dominate the mix. On the upside it does sound like you are there, but as a record in its own right it could be crisper. Although they aren’t available on streaming I did find studio versions of both The Answer and Dragonfly on YouTube and they sound better on the studio album.

So, overall, much as I did in 1978 when I borrowed it but didn’t tape it, I found that this was worth a listen but I’m not inspired to buy it or add it to my regular playing list. 5/10

Greg Schwepe: So, I own exactly one Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush CD, and this is it! Perfect choice to review.

I had read an article about Frank in one of my guitar magazines a few years ago and then realised he’s on my list of “Guitar Players Who I Need To Check Out.” Went to Amazon, found a used copy of this and bought it. This album must have been mentioned specifically in the article, otherwise I have no idea how I just happened to buy that one. And a good choice it was!

A truly “International” album. How so? Well, you’ve got a guy with an Italian last name from a French speaking city (Montreal) grooving on songs and artists from the U.S. And one of those artists (Jimi Hendrix) headed to England to make it big. All over the globe here!

I also found in the “International Guidelines For Writing Album Reviews” that any review of a Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush album must contain a reference to Jimi Hendrix. “Reviewer must state that Marino is a “Hendrix Clone”, “Hendrix Devotee” or similar reference…” Strangely enough, that same rule sometimes applies to Robin Trower!

The frst two tracks come out of the gate blazing, with Frank totally shredding on his Gibson SG. The Answer and Dragonfly are totally rockin’ and funky. Great groove. Also, Frank has great guitar tone with whatever amp, pedals, and effects he might have been using.

Album contains the requisite blues and Chuck Berry covers, which go over well. And Hendrix (here’s where I meet the review requirement about mentioning Hendrix) gets covered with a smokin’ version of Purple Haze. Even the extended jams kept my attention. Not too much excessive wanking going on here. While you hear the term Blues Rocker describe some artists and guitarists, I prefer to think of Frank Marino as more of a “Rock Blueser”, if that’s a thing. More on the rock side of things with the vibe and tone.

On this Expanded Edition of Live you also get a couple tracks recorded at the 1978 Cal Jam II festival, an album I also have and probably my first exposure to Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. The two tracks here were tucked away on side four of the vinyl Cal Jam II album, probably not played as much by me as the sides with Aerosmith and Ted Nugent.

I give this one a 8 out of 10 as it’s something I can listen to over and over. Good introduction to the artist if you’ve heard nothing else.

Bill Griffin: A good album but not really representative of the band whose music is a lot more sophisticated than demonstrated here.

Final Score: 7.10⁄10 (73 votes cast, with a total score of 519)

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