Sunday, 20 January 2019

Ace



Five-A-Side (1974)
Time For Another (1975)
No Strings (1977)

Ace - No Strings (1977)


  

Released in 1977

This was Ace's final album. By now, punk was pumping its fists all around and a laid-back album of AOR rock/soul was simple not culturally relevant anymore. It is perfectly listenable, taken out of context, but it is not as good as the group's other two offerings. It is very much a harmless slice of Southern Californian-influenced AOR. Completely inessential, it has to be said. Personally, I never felt Ace were particularly a "pub rock" band, but either way, many groups who were in 1974-76 were now veering strongly towards punk. Ace did the opposite and went full-on West Coast USA. A strange choice for a UK band in 1977. It was to be their final choice.

TRACK LISTING

1. Rock And Roll Singer
2. You're All I Need
3. Crazy World
4. Im Not Takin' It Out On You
5. Movin'
6. Gleaming In The Gloom
7. Let's Hang On
8. Why Did You Leave Me?
9. Found Out The Hard Way
10. C'est La Vie

"Rock And Roll Singer" is a rollicking piano and brass Chicago-esque opener, while "You're All I Need" sort of taps into that now quite long gone feel of "How Long" but with some very end of the seventies, easy listening vocals and some Santana-style guitar. "Crazy World" has a Doobie Brothers riff and some soulful, Boz Scaggs-inspired vocals. "I'm Not Takin' It Out On You" continues in the same Doobies/Eagles/later Tower Of Power albums vein. Like the previous album, much of the album's material is very US freeway/radio-friendly in feel, nothing like the UK in 1977 at all and, as another estimable reviewer has pointed out, the 1974 glory days of "pub soul" with "How Long" now seem a very long time ago.

"Movin'" has lyrics full of Americana-derived images with lyrics about "taking the coastal highway". Tracks like this are perfectly inoffensive but they seriously are nothing special. "Gleaming In The Gloom" reminds me of Traffic's mid-seventies output. It also has hints of Ace's best 1974 work, particularly in the guitar solo mid-song. "Let's Hang On" again ploughs that 1974 furrow but with a bit of a Jackson Browne-sounding vocal from Paul Carrack.

"Why Did You Leave Me?" is a pretty ordinary mid-pace rock ballad. Some nice guitar floating around on it though. The chorus is uninspiring, it has to be said. "Found Out The Hard Way" is a lively rocker once again featuring some impressive riffy guitar. It is one of the album's better cuts, for me. "C'est La Vie" is a sad-sounding number to end Ace's three year, three album recording career. All three of their albums were eminently listenable, but they never really made it, which was a bit of a shame, but listening to the albums, you can sort of hear why.

C+

Mike Oldfield - Hergest Ridge (1974)


  

Released August 1974

TRACK LISTING

1. Hergest Ridge Part One
2. Hergest Ridge Part Two

This was the much awaited follow-up to the unique, multi-million selling "Tubular Bells" and, for many, it was an underwhelming disappointment. Not for me. In many was I find it the more appealing album. It has a quiet, understated pastoral dignity to it, without the hammy instrument introductions of its redoubtable predecessor.

It follows the same pattern as "Bells' in that is comprised of two separate movements, packed full of all sorts of instruments, often layered over each other as in the case of a lot of the guitars. About seven minutes in to "Part One" is some beautiful Spanish guitar followed by some sublime woodwind (oboe?). It all sounds most relaxing laid-back and bucolic, like "summer" in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons".  There is a quiet grandeur to it, an almost baroque beauty. It is this that warms me to the album over "Tubular Bells". It has many hidden depths. Compared to "Bells" there are nowhere near as many distinct changes of pace, maintaining far more of the same ambience throughout. It takes twelve minutes into "Part One" for a clear change to arrive. Even then, it soon reverts to a constant groove, featuring some excellent lead electric guitar. Then we get some deep voice choral vocals. The voice sections are peaceful and relaxing, though, as is the gentle guitar beneath them. It is all very ambient. Right at the end of this first part, Oldfield can't resist a quick burst of tubular bells, before the movement quietly reaches its conclusion.

"Part Two" is similarly reflective in mood. Some delicious bits of glockenspiel enhance the opening minutes, augmented by more addictive guitar. I love the feel and sounds of this movement. At 2:40 some sumptuous guitar arrives and this is soon given some mysterious-sounding vocals over the top of it. They sound a bit incomprehensible, a bit like those used by David Bowie on "Low". Then a bit of mandolin is introduced before a bit of classical-sounding organ. Although "Part Two" changes a lot more (comparatively) than "Part One", the changes are not clashing, they do not break the mood, the spell. It still retains its slow, stately mood. Half way through features some nice woodwind, followed by some bagpipe-sounding guitars before we arrive at the album's most progressive, organ-driven "heavy" section. Here Greenslade meets Deep Purple organ interplays with some madcap, swirling guitar. It is the one section where the peaceful feeling of 75% of the album is broken for several minutes. For some, it is "about time too". Me, I prefer the sleepiness of "Part One" and the first half of "Part Two". The last couple of minutes see the pace drop and more vocals arrive over a mandolin backing to see the project to its close.

The two extra short tracks included are the jaunty, irresistible Christmas instrumental "In Dulci Jubilo", which was a huge hit and is now a seasonal staple and the attractive, guitar-led "Spanish Tune".

Personally, for some reason, I tend to play this album on hot summer mornings as opposed to during other seasons. Not sure why, must be something about its aura.

B-

Ace - Time For Another (1975)

  

Released in 1975

For me, this, Ace's second album, is a very US-sounding offering, full of country rock vibes, Eagles/America influence and just a general feel of Americana. It is an easier album to categorise than the previous year's debut and, while that album had a more raw soulful rock feel to it, this one is certainly a pleasurable listen. Listening to this, one would be pretty convinced that Ace were a US group as opposed to a UK one.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Think It's Gonna Last
2. I'm A Man
3. Tongue Tied
4. Does It Hurt You
5. Message To You
6. No Future In Your Eyes
7. This Is What You Find
8. You Can't Lose
9. Sail On My Brother
10. Ain't Gonna Stand For This No More

"I Think It's Gonna Last" is an Eagles-esque US-sounding rocker and the appealing "I'm A Man" gives us more Americana, in its upbeat, guitar-picking country rock sound. "Tongue Tied" is a melodic, laid-back AOR rock ballad. Its features Eagles meets The Doobie Brothers-style vocals and, again, sounds very much a US easy listening song. Lovely bass line underpinning it too and some excellent guitar. "Does It Hurt You" is a solidly country rock tune, full of America (the group)-influenced harmonies and a gentle steel guitar backing.

"Message To You" is a a number that evokes the group's big hit "How Long" more than anything else on the album thus far, but it still has some convincing Doobie Brothers guitar/vocal interplay making it far more of a US-sounding track than its predecessor. "No Future in Your Eyes" is a deliciously laid-back slow number with CSNY vocals and a softly funky guitar backing. It is a bit reminiscent of Eric Clapton's material from this period. "This Is What You Find" continues the sleepy, unthreatening, laid-back ambience. Ace were able to get away with this sort of (admittedly very pleasant) material in 1975. Give it a year or so, however, and it would become culturally irrelevant. The track features some sublime guitar/bass passages, however.

"You Can't Lose" is slightly more upbeat, albeit in a very Eric Clapton sort of way. More understated funk backs the track and the vocals are very Doobie Brothers. Nice wah-wah solo in the middle as well. "Sail On My Brother" sounds a bit like a Free rock ballad in both its sound, vocal delivery and its title. Not quite as muscular as Free, though, more like Fleetwood Mac. "Ain't Gonna Stand For This No More" is a slice of funky blues to finish off another enjoyable but not essential album.

C+

Ace - Five-A-Side (1974)

  

Released in 1974

Ace had a reputation as being a "pub rock" band, which was true to an extent, in that they had that average blokes from the pub image (compared to the peacock finery of the glam rock artists all around them). Musically, however, they were a bit difficult to pin down. They certainly weren't pub-style heads-down full-on bluesy r'n'b. They were also often pigeonholed as "blue-eyed soul", largely because of their superb, soulful only chart hit in "How Long", and singer Paul Carrack's "white soul" voice.  The rest of the album isn't really like that track, though, ploughing more of a rocky, piano-driven Americana-influenced slightly bluesy rock style that was actually somewhat unique and certainly didn't fit into the country rock genre that was so popular among other "serious" bands at the time. Anyway, this was their debut album and probably the best of the three they put out.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sniffin' About
2. Rock 'n' Roll Runaway
3. How Long
4. The Real Feeling
5. 24 Hours
6. Why
7. Time Ain't Long
8. Know How It Feels
9. Satellite
10. So Sorry Baby

"Sniffin' About" is a lively, rocking opener with a bit of a hint of The Eagles here and there and The Doobie Brothers too. For me, there is some Steely Dan floating around as well, airs of "My Old School" in places. It certainly builds the feeling that this is far more of a rock album than a soul one. "Rock 'n' Roll Runaway" has some driving piano and country style slide guitar contributing to an upbeat number. It comes to a somewhat abrupt end, rather as if it were a studio alternative take, which is a shame. "How Long" is a classic seventies single, with superb atmosphere, hooks and bass line. "The Real Feeling" is a mid-pace boogie-ish rocking number, which again suffers from a sudden ending, before its time.

"24 Hours" is a deep, bassy, almost funky workout, featuring some excellent organ and saxophone, and "Why" attempts to re-create "How Long" to an extent, although it is far more rocking, with a killer guitar solo. It is an excellent track. Perfect laid-back soulful rock. It is all very "adult", particularly in comparison to the contemporary output from artists like David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music who were far more ebullient and chart-orientated in their approach than this brand of thoughtful rock. "Time Ain't Long" is a grinding, bluesy rock groove with a bit of an Allman Brothers feel for me, just here and there. A sort of Southern states feel.

"Know How It Feels" is a mournful, somewhat under-cooked, unremarkable slow ballad. The vocal is a little muffled and undercooked. "Satellite", however, is a jaunty, piano-powered number that sounds like something Bruce Hornsby may put on "Harbor Lights" with its rolling piano riff. There is nice swirling saxophone on here too. "So Sorry Baby" ends the album on a solid muscular note with an organ-driven rocking, riffy track. Overall, this a highly credible, listenable album that would have appealed more in America in 1974 than in the UK. It is worth a listen, but it is nothing ground-breaking.

C+

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-