Saturday, 19 January 2019

Love Unlimited Orchestra - Rhapsody In White (1974)

  

Released January 1974

After two successful albums in 1973's "I've Got So Much To Give" and "Stone 'Gon", Barry White oversaw this largely instrumental and highly influential album, adding vocals on a few tracks as well. It is pretty much like a Barry White album anyway, given that his actual albums contained lengthy instrumental passages. The album introduced string orchestrated, sweeping disco rhythms with that trademark "click-click" sort of guitar sound several years before disco became a genre. It was a sound that would see a million glitter balls attached to ceilings. Lush strings, staccato guitars and sublime production influenced so many producers and artists, becoming the sound of the mid-late seventies as much as any rock riffs, progressive experimentation or punk calls to arms. Listen to things like Michael Jackson's 1979 "Off The Wall" and you can detect the influence of this. In many ways it was way ahead of its time. It was similar to the albums from MFSB in Philadelphia from the same period, primarily instrumental but very far-reaching in their influence.

TRACK LISTING

1. Barry's Theme
2. Rhapsody In White
3. Midnight And You
4. I Feel Love Coming On
5. Baby Blues
6. Don't Take It Away From Me
7. What A Groove
8. Love's Theme

"Barry's Theme" launches the album with that guitar sound behind some rhythmic percussion before the trademark sound I was talking about kicks in. The strings float all over it and it has a superb atmosphere. The same applies to the beautiful "Rhapsody In White" with its wonderful bass line and addictive guitar sounds. The percussion is excellent throughout as well. Barry arrives on "Midnight And You" with a few growled vocals over a catchy funky melody. "I Feel Love Coming On" has a spoken vocal intro before its intoxicating beat takes over. There is some excellent bass/drum interplay halfway through which return at intervals throughout the track.

Barry adds his gruff, spoken vocal talents to "Baby Blues" in which he tells us, in his inimitable style about his lover's "baby blue panties...". Although it brings a chuckle when you listen to it now, it was actually quite risqué for 1973-74. It is very much a "lay down on that rug, baby..." song not only in White's vocal, but in the romantic arrangements. "Don't Take It Away From Me" is another of those "chicka-chicka" grandly melodic disco smoochers. "What A Groove" has a solid, muscular, funky groove, full of bass and uplifting piano parts. It is a track, though, where you feel a full vocal would make it even better. The album ends with "Love's Theme" which is now instantly recognisable with its strings and that distinctive wah-wah quacking guitar sound. There is a really addictive bass and guitar passage near the end.

It is easy to overlook this as "just an instrumental album", but it is more than that. It is very enjoyable firstly, the sound is superb and it is actually an important, ground-breaking release.

B+

Barry White - The Message Is Love (1979)


  

Released April 1979

This was Barry White's first album for CBS Records, after six successful years with 20th Century Records. It was certainly not a bad album, not by any stretch of the imagination, but, unfortunately, it heralded a decline in his career that he would only briefly recover from. Personally, I have all his albums up to this one, so this is where I turn off the road too. It has been a smooth, smoochy journey, however, and a most enjoyable one.

TRACK LISTING

1. It Ain't Love, Babe (Until You Give It)
2. Hung Up In Your Love
3. You're The One I Need
4. Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant For Me)
5. Love Ain't Easy
6. I'm On Fire
7. I Found Love

"It Ain't Love, Babe (Until You Give It)" is a pumping, horn and percussion-driven lively disco number. It is a solid, rhythmic and in possession of a strong, confident vocal too. "Hung Up In Your Love" is a lovely sounding number, with addictive cymbal work and a deep bass line. The horns are good too and the vocal is jazzy and laid-back. It is a gently breezy, slightly jazzy number in its feel. Both these tracks differ slightly from the material White had put out over the previous six years.

"You're The One" is a beautifully semi-funky, insistent, grinding soul slow burner. I love the feel of this track, actually. Beautifully sung and featuring another sublime bass groove. The strings are gorgeous too. Barry goes all toe-tapping and finger-snapping on the jaunty "Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant For Me)", which is a horn-powered disco groover. All those lengthy smoochers from 1973-74 seem a long time ago at this point.

Surely it was time for a bit of trademark Barry White "lurrve" and we duly get it on the smouldering, gruff tones of "Love Ain't Easy" which has time flashing by in front of your very ears. The sound is top quality on this album as well, I have to say. This track has that "Just The Way You Are" feel to it. Sweet soul. Lovely saxophone on it too, just as on the afore-mentioned hit. Lovely easy listening horns come in at the end as well. "I'm On Fire" is a typical end of the seventies laid-back soul number. Nice late night stuff. All gentle brass and sweet backing vocals. "I Found Love" ends the album with a spoken intro straight out of the mid-seventies and once again familiar string orchestration and mid-range vocals from White. It is quite apt that my own particular journey with Barry White's music ended with this very Barry White sort of number. It is lifted by some sumptuous brass, though, in a way that earlier material was not. White would briefly re-surface with a hit in "Sho' You Right" in 1987, but, to all intents and purposes, his glory days were over now. They were great days, though. Thanks for the memories big man.

B-

Barry White - I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing (1979)


  

Released April 1979

This was Barry White's last album for 20th Century Records, and it was released at the same time as his first one for his new label, CBS, ("The Message Of Love"), so it got virtually forgotten about. That was a bit of a shame, as it is a good soul album, a sort of celebration of soul music, with a variety of influences at play - Motown, Atlantic, Stax, funk, sweet soul. All of those are in here on an album considerably different to the previous ones.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing
2. Girl, What's Your Name
3. Once Upon A Time (You Were A Friend Of Mine)
4. Oh Me, Oh My (I'm Such A Lucky Guy)
5. I Can't Leave You Alone
6. Call Me, Baby
7. How Did You Know It Was Me?

Barry begins the album by telling us that "I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing", not in an extended, growling, semi-spoken style, but in a short, sharp, Motown influenced poppy toe-tapper. It is completely different to any of the material on all his previous albums. "Girl, What's Your Name" starts with a more familiar spoken intro, but soon launches into a sweet, soulful, Delfonics-style soul ballad. It is a beautiful song. Again, it is comparatively short. Four minutes is short in Barry White terms. "Once Upon A Time (You Were A Friend Of Mine)" is a sumptuous soul ballad in the Harold Melvin style.

"Oh Me, Oh My (I'm Such A Lucky Guy)" ends the original "side one" with a slow burning gently smouldering ballad more typical of White over the years. It has a big, full bass sound and some excellent strings and percussion. Horns are also used, as they are on quite a bit of this album, a rarity for White.

The second side kicks off with an Atlantic soul-sounding track in "I Can't Leave You Alone" which, although not the George McCrae track of the same name has some similarities. It also has huge Aretha Franklin influences, as if it is White's homage to her. Atlantic/Stax-style horns punch their way all over this. Again, it is like nothing White has ever done before. "Call Me, Baby" sees Barry bring in the funk. A funky bass, guitar and drum riff underpins the whole lengthy, eight minute, workout. Once more horns are present. This is as funky as Barry has been thus far. The track gets into a groove and the last few minutes are instrumental, but it always remains rhythmic and invigorating. The sound quality on the latest remaster is excellent too.

The album ends with "How Did You Know It Was Me?", which is a sort of Philly soul meets disco number. It is infectious, vibrant and upbeat. The horns are excellent. Barry's vocal is soulfully powerful too. I am at a bit of a loss as to why this album disappeared without trace. Marketing, I guess. It was recorded as a contractual obligation. That doesn't mean to say it is a throwaway album, though. There is quality material on here. I actually really enjoy listening to it every now and again. Anyway, that was that for Barry White's glory years. For me, I have the first album on CBS (see my review) and that was that for me too. They had been six wonderful years too and the best of Barry White is so evocative of the period 1973-79, particularly 73-75. He left an impressive soul legacy. His influence cannot be underestimated.

B-

Friday, 18 January 2019

UB40 - Present Arms In Dub (1981)


  

Released October 1981

TRACK LISTING (in brackets are the original tracks the dub versions relate to)

1. Present Arms In Dub (Present Arms)
2. Smoke It (Don't Walk On The Grass)
3. B Line (Lamb's Bread)
4. King's Row (Sardonicus)
5. Return Of Doctor X (Dr X)
6. Walk Out (Wild Cat)
7. One In Ten (One In Ten)
8. Neon Haze (Silent Witness)

This was an adventurous thing of UB40 to do, after just two albums, they released a dub version of their second album. It was a bit different to much Jamaica dub, however, in that they didn't simply remove the vocals, several of the instruments and turn up the bass. They actually produced listenable instrumental versions of all the tracks from "Present Arms", almost re-writing the instrumental tracks, adding all sorts of additional noises and percussion in particular. There are captivating new saxophone parts here and there, keyboard riffs and also typical dubby reverb parts. There are also excellent new bass lines all over the tracks. Listening to "King's Row", for example, the dub version of "Sardonicus" it is like you are listening to a new track, to be honest. "B Line", the version of "Lamb's Bread" is packed to the brim with lots of electronic noises, infectious percussion and a copper-bottomed dubby bass line. These tracks are a mixture of convincing dub and inventive new instrumentation. Indeed , several of them are instrumental re-workings of cuts that already were instrumentals.

While I am a fan of deep, thumping, authentic Jamaican dub, I feel there is certainly enough "proper" dub floating around to not render this a "plastic" dub album, and the use of a lot of inventive instrumentation makes it a more than interesting style of dub album. Not many dub albums have ever broken into the UK album charts. This one did.

B-

Al Stewart - Modern Times (1975)


  

Released January 1975

This album was the one which saw Al Stewart make the transition from narrative, folk rock singer to being a well-produced, slick, polished, AOR, mainstream radio-friendly artist. Alan Parsons is the producer and he came up with a lush, layered, high quality sound production. The previous album had been full of historical narrative folk tales. Here the songs are more relationship ones and far more commercial in their feel. So begins Al Stewart's classic pop rock classic period, typified by songs that have both a comforting, laid-back feel but also a beguiling lyrical nature. The sound quality on the latest remaster is superb too.

TRACK LISTING

1. Carol
2. Sirens Of Titan
3. What's Going On?
4. Not The One
5. Next Time
6. Apple Cider Re-Constitution
7. The Dark And Rolling Sea
8. Modern Times

"Carol" is a melodic polished opener with airs of John Lennon about it, in the vocal delivery and hints of Paul McCartney and Steve Harley in the backing. There are both electric and acoustic guitars interplaying most convincingly. "Sirens of Titan" is short, but catchy in its poppy, laid-back feel. "What's Going On?" is so Beatles-esque and could well have been on "Help!" or "Rubber Soul". Stewart makes it his own, however, with a sumptuous acoustic guitar solo in the middle and some excellent harmonica near the end. "Not The One" is a gentle, soft rock ballad. All very melodic and sensitive, thoughtful lyrics.

"Next Time" has an an acoustic guitar riff straight off "Led Zeppelin III" and a haunting feel to its quiet vocals. The title of "Apple Cider Re-Constitution" sounds like something off George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", by its title,  but it is a vibrant, rocking Dylanesque "Blonde On Blonde" era number. It is a most appealing, captivating track. The bass and lead guitar and drum sound are all pretty infectious. "The Dark And Rolling Sea" is a seafaring, folky tale that has its melody based on the old Irish folk song "The Maid Of County Down". The title track is an extended melodious soft rock/folky number with more of those enigmatic lyrics. There hints of Dylan here and there on this one too. There is a grandeur to this track, and indeed to the whole album. It is always worth a listen.

B

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Staple Singers



Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972)
Be What You Are (1973)

The Very Best Of The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers - The Best Of The Staple Singers




TRACK LISTING

1. I'll Take You There
2. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
3. Respect Yourself
4. Long Walk To D.C.
5. Be What You Are
6. Everyday People
7. Heavy Makes You Happy
8. My Main Man
9. Trippin' On Your Love
10. City In The Sky
11. This World
12. Oh La De De
13. Touch A Hand, Make A Friend

This is a wonderful compilation of the best of this iconic gospel/soul group, whose peak years were in the early/mid seventies. The vocals, led by Mavis Staples, were absolutely superb and uplifting and the music was full of typical Stax horns and infectious funky soul rhythms. The lyrics were spot on with regard to their message, which was one of racial equality, and end to discrimination and an increase in tolerance between everyone. The message was not delivered with aggression, it was done so with a gospel fervour and vitality that was totally captivating.

The highlights on here are many, but the obvious ones are the bassy, catchy "I'll Take You There"; the earnest, pumping soul of "Respect Yourself"; the intoxicating riff and vocal of "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" and the funky "Heavy Makes You Happy". Lesser known tracks but just as irresistible are the ebullient, pounding "This World"; the effervescent, call to self-awareness of  "Be What You Are" and the annoying familiar "Touch A Hand, Make A Friend" that sounds so like something by someone else, subsequently, but I cannot put my finger on what it is. There is also a stonking cover of Sly & The Family Stone's "Everyday People" which is so suited to the vibrant Stax backing and the country gospel of "Long Walk To D.C.".

It is all great stuff, mind, not a duff track on the album. Also worth checking out are "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself" from 1972 and 1973's "Be What You Are", both of which are excellent albums.

B+