Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Doobie Brothers

The Doobie Brothers (1971)
Toulouse Street (1972)
The Captain And Me (1973)
What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits (1974)
Stampede (1975)
Takin' It To The Streets (1976)
Livin' On The Fault Line (1977)
Minute By Minute (1978)
One Step Closer (1980)

The Doobie Brothers - Toulouse Street (1972)


Released July 1972


1. Listen To The Music
2. Rockin' Down The Highway
3. Mamaloi
4. Toulouse Street
5. Cotton Mouth
6. Don't Start Me To Talkin'
7. Jesus Is Just Alright
8. White Sun
9. Disciple
10. Snake Man

After a debut album that went largely unnoticed, this was the album that found people starting to take The Doobie Brothers seriously. There was quite a lot of upbeat country rock around in 1972 - The Eagles, in particular, ploughed a similar furrow. The Doobies, though, had a jazzy melodic rock side to them. Less blues and heavy rock, more soulful hooks. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the opener and massive hit single, "Listen To The Music", which is just such a classic seventies Americana driving on the freeway song. The goodtime, barroom, roadhouse rock is continued in the irresistible "Rockin' Down The Highway".  It is packed full of rocking piano, throbbing bass and killer guitar riffs. Great stuff. The Doobies were now employing two drummers, although to be honest it isn't that apparent.

"Mamaloi" is a slightly Caribbean-influenced groove with echoes of Little Feat about it. The title track is very redolent of CSNY, America and The Byrds in its airy, country/folk rock laid-back feel and its gentle hippy-ish vocal harmonies. "Cotton Mouth" has a huge, horn-driven, swampy funky beat. Sort of like Little Feat meets The Meters. "Don't Start Me To Talkin'" is a cover of a Sonny Boy Williamson upbeat Delta blues number. It bluesily rocks in a big way. The other successful single from the album was the gospel-influenced "Jesus Is Just Alright" which is slightly too evangelical for my taste. Great harmonies, riffs and rhythm on it though. It is incredibly US radio-friendly too.

"White Sun" is another CSNY-type song, with hints of Neil Young in there too. It has a beautiful melody to it. The rock returns with the Allman Brothers-esque extended semi-jam of "Disciple". The last few tracks, (indeed all the album), have shown that The Doobies had considerable variety to them. "Snake Man" is a short, acoustic blues to finish what was an appealing, impressive album that still sounds just as good today.


Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Mark Knopfler - The Ragpicker's Dream (2002)


Released September 2002


1. Why Aye Man
2. Devil Baby
3. Hill Farmer's Blues
4. A Place Where We Used To Live
5. Quality Shoe
6. Fare Thee Well Northumberland
7. Marbletown
8. You Don't Know You're Born
9. Coyote
10. The Ragpicker's Dream
11. Daddy's Gone To Knoxville
12. Old Pigweed

This album was where Mark Knopfler really built on the foundations of folk, blues, gentle rock and British/Americana folk traditions that he had begun on his first two solo albums. People hoping for Dire Straits-style extended guitar solos would not find them here. There is an acoustic emphasis on many of the tracks, with folky soloing and sensitive, thoughtful, socially aware lyrics, often built around working class characters from Northumberland. It is a very North-Eastern album. Yes, the songs may have a pastoral/bucolic fee, but there is also an edge of social injustice and the harsh reality of life. This is never expressed better than in the opener "Why Aye Man", about British builders having to travel to Germany in search of work. Despite its acoustic intro, there is also some killer bluesy guitar on this most evocative track. Its uplifting, singalong beat disguises its world-weary sadness, however.

"Devil Baby" is another beautifully melodic and sad song. Echoes of Americana and country rock blend perfectly with Knopfler's quiet British folk voice. This sort of material is similar to that Knopfler played in his Notting Hillbillies sideline. "Hill Farmer's Blues" again merges Americana stylings with Northern British pastoral issues. Knopfler sings of Northumbrian farmers "going into Tow Law...", (a County Durham town). Its percussion backing is almost Irish in its bodhran-like sound. "A Place Where We Used To Live" is very Elvis Costello-like in its slow, piano-backed ballad  delivery, and Knopfler's voice is very Chris Rea in places.

"Quality Shoe" borrows heavily from Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" and is an upbeat country song in praise of a good pair of shoes. "Fare Thee Well Northumberland" is a slow, bluesy piece of British folk that shows you don't have to come from the Mississippi Delta to write and sing stuff like this. I love it. "Marbletown" is a very finger-picking acoustic folk number with Dylanesque airs. "You Don't Know You're Born" has a shuffling, bluesy beat and is probably the most Dire Straits-like number on the album. The guitar at the end is almost Shadows-like in places. "Coyote" has hints of Bruce Springsteen's post 2000 work about it and also features some excellent rumbling blues guitar too. The title track is beautifully gentle and atmospheric. "Daddy's Gone To Knoxville" is a lively slice of country honky tonk swing, as far from Dire Straits as you could get, in many ways. "Old Pigweed" has Knopfler sleepily signing off in what has become his now trademark semi-spoken laconic vocal style.

This material would certainly not please the stadium rock fans that Dire Straits attracted, but Knopfler doesn't give a damn about that. Neither do I. Although I own all the Dire Straits albums, it is these solo ones I return to far more regularly.


Monday, 17 December 2018

Mark Knopfler - Kill To Get Crimson (2007)


Released October 2007

This is another gentle, tastefully low-key "adult" album from Mark Knopfler. It is another fusion of folk, Americana, country, blues and rock which combine to create Knopfler's unique, instantly recognisable sound. Knopfler's sound is a by now trademark, distinctive easy groove that features several styles, none of which dominate. It is all about the mood, the sound, merged with the lyrics, often sensitive, observant and haunting. It is musically unthreatening, but always understated in its comfortable beauty. It all sounds so wonderfully effortless.


1. True Love Will Never Fade
2. The Scaffolder's Wife
3. The Fizzy And The Still
4. Heart Full Of Holes
5. We Can Get Wild
6. Secondary Waltz
7. Punish The Monkey
8. Let It All Go
9. Behind With The Rent
10. The Fish And The Bird
11. Madame Geneva's
12. In The Sky

"True Love Will Never Fade" is so Springsteenesque is could almost be him. It sounds very like "If I Should Fall Behind" and others from that period. "The Scaffolder's Wife" is a tender ballad telling of one of Knopfler's "ordinary people" characters featuring some laid-back Dire Straits-ish slow guitar. It is beautiful and moving. "The Fizzy And The Still" is another quietly attractive number. "Heart Full Of Holes" is the sort of song that sounds as if it should be sung at a local pub's folk night - all acoustic plucking and earnest, softly delivered lyrics. A few minutes in, the band kick in with a vaguely country waltz beat which adds an appeal to the song. This is a quality song.

"We Can Get Wild" is a later era Dire Straits-ish slow tempo bluesy rock song, with a subtle, shuffling rhythm and the usual quiet vocal. "Secondary Waltz" is an appealing, nostalgic song about schoolboys being taught to waltz, complete with a waltz beat and violin and accordion backing. It is a most atmospheric song. Quite lovely too, with a fetching Celtic feel. a change of mood and rhythm comes with the almost world music percussion intro of "Punish The Monkey", which sounds as if it should be on a Paul Simon album. There is an addictive bluesy sound to it too.

"Let It All Go" is one of those typical, haunting, Knopfler slow blues rock with Mark getting mournfully nostalgic in his lyrics and whispered but wise-sounding vocal delivery. "Behind With The Rent" has echoes of the first Dire Straits album, with some nice brass backing near the end. "The Fish And The Bird" is very Celtic folk in its haunting, plaintive feel. "Madame Geneva's" is a torch-type morose tale of a drinker's life, packed full of atmospheric lyrics. The Van Morrison-esque "In The Sky" ends this understated album in suitably low-key fashion. It is another slightly Celtic-influenced folk song, featuring some subtle saxophone, unusually.  Listening to this album is a relaxing, thoughtful experience. It doesn't pull up any trees, it sits quietly there, watching their branches gently sway.


Sunday, 16 December 2018

Bruce Springsteen - Springsteen On Broadway (2017)


Recorded live on Broadway in 2017

This a is a strange product to review. Taken from Springsteen's four month solo residency at a Broadway theatre which saw him, a guitar, a piano and a nostalgic ageing man's hatful of evocative memories deliver a physical autobiography. I am sure it was an interesting and captivating performance (although not a concept I would particularly have had any interest in attending, preferring a full on band to solo acoustic shows), however, it does not really transfer well to CD, download or vinyl. Half of the time is taken up with Springsteen's extensive monologue introductions to each song. These are often several minutes in length. Even the songs often have a spoken narrative section half way through before he returns to the song.

For me, I just simply have no desire to listen to Springsteen's monologues again and again, however interesting they may be first off, which they often are, as he is an inveterate storyteller. People such as myself who have been aficionados of his music and live performances for several decades now (I date back to 1978) are more than familiar with his upbringing his father and his mother now and all that stuff about searching for dreams and travelling down those roads and so on. We have heard the stories many times before, accompanied by Springsteen's nervous little laugh, so it is nothing new. Neither are the narratives followed by the E. St Band launching magnificently back into a song, such as on "Live 1975-1985"'s "Growin' Up", here they just carry on in to more low-key, acoustic performances. Yes, sometimes the acoustic rendition provides something special, such as on "Born In The USA", with its sublime bottleneck guitar, but you can't convince me that "The Promised Land" is better, acoustically. All that said, the section about his mother and the song "The Wish" had a serious lump in my throat. It is genuinely moving. "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out" has the same effect too. Furthermore, Springsteen's piano playing has improved considerably, it has to be said. On "Freeze-Out" it is almost "Professor"-like.

You know, I feel it would have been good for Springsteen to have put some of these great narrations to music, rather like Van Morrison did in "On Hyndford Street", where he narrates memories from his youth over a subtle backing. I'm thinking in particular of the "smell of coffee grounds" section of the intro to "My Hometown", about Freehold, New Jersey. Or made some of the memories into songs.
So, taking all my feelings into account, it just doesn't really do it for me, neither do I feel it really works well as a live recording. It is not something I would wish to revisit once heard. Just as I wouldn't read an autobiography again and again. That doesn't mean I haven't enjoyed it the once.

TRACK LISTING (songs sung)

1. Growin' Up
2. My Hometown
3. My Father's House
4. The Wish
5. Thunder Road
6. The Promised Land
7. Born In The USA
8. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
9. Tougher Than The Rest
10. Brilliant Disguise
11. Long Time Comin'
12. The Ghost Of Tom Joad
13. The Rising
14. Dancing In The Dark
15. Land of Hope And Dreams
16. Born To Run


Mark Knopfler - Shangri-La (2004)


Released September 2004

Mark Knopfler has a skill of producing Americana-influenced folky laid-back rock that often deals with uniquely British characters - North Eastern colliers, Northumbrian farmers, North Sea fishermen, dodgy cockneys and the like, as well as a few American characters in there too. This is very much the blueprint for Knopfler solo albums - socially aware, sensitive lyrics largely about British working characters and backed by American folk-influenced music. This is more of an American-styled album, though, with slightly less of the British folk and Celtic influences as one previous (and subsequent) albums.


1. 5.15 a.m.
2. Boom, Like That
3. Sucker Row
4. The Trawlerman's Song
5. Back To Tupelo
6. Our Shangri-La
7. Everybody Pays
8. Song For Sonny Liston
9. Whoop De Doo
10. Postcards From Paraguay
11. All That Matters
12. Stand Up Guy
13. Donegan's Gone
14. Don't Crash The Ambulance

"5.15 a.m." is one of Knopfler's socially aware songs, full of imagery of the industrial North-East UK, quite what the song is about though, I'm not quite sure. It seems to be about a cockney coming up to the North East, "Get Carter"-style and getting killed, and some stuff about one-armed bandits too. a bit confusing, but very atmospheric all the same. Musically, it is folky but rockily upbeat, as, too, is the next track, the bluesy rock of "Boom, Like That", which deals with a Ray Kroc, who apparently launched the MacDonalds franchise. Knopfler appears inspired by Kroc's entrepreneurial spirit. Some excellent guitar features throughout. There are still hints of Dire Straits here and there, but this is very much a Knopfler solo album. This is exemplified by the laid-back folky blues of "Sucker Row" - Knopfler's semi-whispered, quite vocals and that trademark understated bluesy guitar. "The Trawlerman's Song" also fits the bill, exhibiting the same characteristics. Most of the material on this album are country-folk ballads and bluesy, slow tempo quiet, reflective, lyrically thoughtful numbers. The album is quite melancholic and doesn't have the "history" narrative songs that featured on his first two solo albums. The songs here are more character-driven ones.

"Back To Tupelo" features some "Brothers In Arms"-style guitar over its nostalgic, sensitive lyrics about Elvis and his films. "Our Shangri-La" is similarly quiet and low-key, but all the same is quite beautiful, melodic and moving. "Everybody Pays" has a sumptuous organ intro and bass line, some impressive guitar too. "Song For Sonny Liston", about the legendary boxer, is bluesily evocative, with an Eric Clapton feel about it. It is one of my favourites on the album. "Whoop De Doo" is pretty mournful, however. "Postcards From Paraguay"'s shuffling, infectious beat lifts the mood back up slightly.

"All That Matters" and the incredibly Springsteenesque "Stand Up Guy" are both very low-key, unthreatening and quiet. It is now that the album becomes a bit same-y. The tempo changes a bit with the skiffle beat of the otherwise pretty inessential "Donegan's Gone". The final track is a good one, though, the tango-ish slow rhythms and accordion of "Don't Crash The Ambulance".

The album, like "Sailing To Philadelphia" is way too long, though, running out of steam before it's over an hour of running time is up. You can just put it on and let it wash over you, however.


Mark Knopfler - Sailing To Philadelphia (2000)


Released September 2000

Nine years or so after Dire Straits' last album, many people saw this, Mark Knopfler's second album, as something of a Straits-like creation. I am not so sure I agree with that. The guitar solos have gone and the lyrics are very much Knopfler solo ones, as opposed to the style he used to write for Dire Straits. We have historically-influenced songs and ones telling of the lives of the ordinary working characters Knopfler so admires. These type of songs did not really feature in the Dire Straits canon, so, for me, it is very much a Knopfler solo offering. The influences are Americana, Van Morrison (who appears on one track) and Bob Dylan and the album, while having its laid-back rock feel, is also quite a folky one.


1. What It Is
2. Sailing To Philadelphia
3. Who's Your Baby Now
4. Baloney Again
5. The Last Laugh
6. Do America
7. Silvertown Blues
8. El Macho
9. Prairie Wedding
10. Wanderlust
11. Speedway At Nazareth
12. Junkie Doll
13. Sands of Nevada
14. One More Matinee

"What It Is" is sort of reminiscent of Dire Straits' later material, particularly in its guitar breaks, but it also has that folky feel that would characterise so much of Knopfler's solo work from this point on. Knopfler's semi-spoken, whispery vocal is to the fore. The final guitar solo is very Dire Straits. "Sailing To Philadelphia" is one of his "history" songs, telling of the creation of the "Mason-Dixon line" across the USA. It is a very folky, sleepy song and very evocative. It also features James Taylor singing the role of Charles Mason to Knopfler's Jeremiah Dixon. "Who's Your Baby Now" is an acoustic-driven, upbeat rocky number with echoes of Tom Petty in there somewhere. "Baloney Again" is a shuffling bluesy rock number with a staccato beat and a laconic Knopfler vocal. Some more excellent guitar features on this one.

The appealing "The Last Laugh" features Van Morrison duetting with Knopfler. Morrison's vocal brings the song to life, it has to be said, with a real soulful vibrancy. "Do America" is a lively, rocky Americana-style number with organ breaks that bring to mind Elvis Costello And The Attractions. The melodic "Silvertown Blues" is another infectious Straits-ish yet folky number, with hints of Bruce Springsteen's "Lucky Town". "El Macho" has a suitable latin flavoured syncopation, with some fetching trumpet making a change from guitar backing. "Prairie Wedding" is a walking pace slow folk blues, full of desert and dustbowl imagery.

"Wanderlust" is a punchy, bassy, slow tempo mournful number with Knopfler giving us his best growly, whispered vocal. "Speedway At Nazareth" is a very Americana-ish slice of folk blues with more echoes of some of Bruce Springsteen's post 1995 work. "Junkie Doll" begins with some classic Rolling Stones-style blues guitar and has Knopfler reminiscing about earlier days in London's Turnpike Lane and Turnham Green. It has a bit of a Feel of The Faces about it too. By the sleepy "Sand Of Nevada" and the quiet, moving "One More Matinee" the album has probably lasted two tracks too many, to be honest. Overall, though, it is an impressive and highly enjoyable album.