Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Billy Joel - River Of Dreams (1993)

These are the last words I have to say....

  

Released on 10 August 1993

Running time 49.10

In 1993 Billy Joel suddenly called a halt on his recording/songwriting career. He still occasionally tours, singing his material from 1972-1993, but since 1993 he has not released an album. He seemed to suddenly lose interest and also his muse. Fair enough, if he felt he hadn't got it in him, or hadn't got the desire then that was a fine, honest decision on his part.

This was an album that subsequently didn't get much of my attention, which is probably a bit of a shame, as it is not a bad album at all and a fair swansong.

TRACK LISTING


1. No Man's Land
2. The Great Wall Of China
3. Blonde Over Blue
4. A Minor Variation
5. Shades Of Grey
6. All About Soul
7. Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)
8. The River Of Dreams
9. Two Thousand Years
10. Famous Last Words                                           

"No Man's Land" is a crashing rock number to open with, with a bit of an Elvis Costello & The Attractions keyboard/drum sound, particularly at the beginning. It is a lyrically cynical song about big business and high-level corruption. "The Great Wall Of China" is a shuffling, powerful number, pretty typical of Joel's later material, full of power and purpose and appealing vocal delivery. Once again, the lyrics are realist and questioning. There is some great guitar soloing half way through from veteran Danny Kortchmar and Joel's voice is commanding and melodic throughout. It is a bit of a hidden Joel classic.

"Blonde Over Blue" has an attractive drum rhythm and another world-weary lyric. Joel's vocal is good, as are the synthesiser backing passages. Its appeal is not as instant as much of his earlier material, but a few listens and it gets there. "A Minor Variation" is a muscular, slow-paced but strong bluesy thumper of a number. It features a vibrant horn section. Joel could always deliver a bluesy vocal and he does just that here. "Shades Of Grey" is an ebullient, infectious song with Joel sounding committed and enthusiastic, as he sings two men's parts as they address each other.

"All About Soul" is one of the last Joel classics which features an absolutely killer, uplifting chorus that makes one remember just what a great artist Billy Joel was, what an ear for a tune he had and what a great voice too. I talk about him in the past tense because his career is now in the past, even though he is alive and well at 70 in 2019.

"Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" is a tender piano ballad to one of his three daughters. Sometimes songs like this can be quite mawkish (John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart are all guilty), but I have to say that this one is quite delightful. The final Joel classic is to be found in the doo-wop glory of "The River Of Dreams" and its addictive harmonies behind Joel's falsetto vocal. He cuts loose on the piano too - like the true piano man he is. "Two Thousand Years" is a big, grandiose, anthemic ballad. There is something Elton John-ish about it. The final track is a sad but musically uplifting one in "Famous Last Words". "These are the last words I have to say..." sings Billy over an attractive rhythm and piano melody. This is a really good song and a fine one for Billy Joel to bow out on. Hey Billy - thanks, man.

B

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls Extras

Keep us blues....

  

Released in 2011

The extra tracks released on the “deluxe edition” of “Some Girls”  were controversial for being enhanced versions of original out-takes and demos from the original sessions given a contemporary makeover by the Stones in 2010. Personally, I don’t mind this at all, it has allowed some previously unheard material to be given new life - fair enough.

What is also notable is that the sound quality on these new tracks is far superior to the tinny sound of the original album. It is like having a new Stones album and doesn’t detract from the original “Some Girls” at all.

TRACK LISTING 


1. Claudine
2. So Young
3. Do You think I Really Care?
4. When You’re Gone
5. No Spare Parts
6. Don’t Be A Stranger
7. We Had It All
8. Tallahassee Lassie
9. I Love You Too Much
10. Keep Us Blues
11. You Win Again
12. Petrol Blues                                                                                        


“Claudine” is a rollicking piece of piano-driven bar-room blues and is a great start to this collection of songs. “So Young” is a solid piece of Stones rock, apparently it had been around on bootlegs for years and this latest recording doesn’t sound much different. It has a loose, rocking, “Exile On Main Street” feel to it. In fact, it rocks harder and more urgently than anything on the original “Some Girls”. “Do You Think That I Really Care?” has the country rock vibe of “Faraway Eyes” but it is faster in a sort of “Shattered” way. Jagger sings in that silly country voice again, something we have all just got used to and happily accept. Nobody else would get away with it would they? But it’s Mick Jagger, so we’ll forgive him most things. It is actually a really appealing track, so there you go.

“When You’re Gone” is something “Some Girls” lacks - some copper-bottomed Stones blues. It is a bit like “Back Of My Hand” from “A Bigger Bang” but faster. “No Spare Parts” is a country style slow number sung in the same style as “Do You Think That I Really Care?” but it is another strong song. There is a real vibrancy to some of this material, you have to say.

“Don’t Be A Stranger” is a vaguely reggae-sounding upbeat number with a summery breeziness to it.  Time for a Keith song - “We Had It All” is typical Richards, being a slow, sleepy romantic ballad. “Tallahassee Lassie” is a lively, southern bluesy cover of the old Freddy Cannon number. The Stones do it really well, full of vigour and enthusiasm with a hint of Creedence Clearwater Revival about their guitar sound. “I Love You Too Much” is a riffy, sensual Stones rocker in their late seventies/early eighties style. “Keep Up Blues” is a delicious helping of grinding, bassy blues. This is The Stones at their best and it is as good as anything they recorded in this period, to be honest. It has a great full sound to it too.

“You Win Again” is back to that good ol’ country bar. It is like the sort of song that Elvis Costello did on “Almost Blue”. It is an old Hank Williams song and was also covered by Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis on their album of the same name. “No Petrol” is a throwaway bit of piano and vocal blues that sounds like one of those early Dylan songs. I’m sure that is what Jagger is trying to sound like, in a very tongue-in-cheek way.

I have to say that listening to this side by side with “Some Girls”, this is by far the better collection of songs. It has far less of that 1978 cod-disco synthesiser-style backing and far more of a rootsy Stones sound. I guess the former was thought to be more popular in 1978, hence the make-up of the eventual album. Give me these other songs any day, though, and their warmer, fuller, bassier sound.

B+

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Blind Faith



Blind Faith (1969)

Blind Faith - Blind Faith (1969)

In the presence of the Lord....

  

Released in August 1969

Running time 42.12

Blind Faith was a short-lived "supergroup" consisting of Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream and Steve Winwood from Traffic, with additional help fro Rick Grech of Family. It was a short, six-track album of quality blues rock, as you would expect, that achieved notoriety for its original cover of a topless barely pubescent girl. Quite what the intention behind that was is unclear. It has since been replaced by a cover with a picture of the group on it (as shown here).

The group actually only lasted six months, yet this album was a critical success and remains highly thought of, often making "greatest albums of all time" lists. Funnily enough, although it is only forty-two minutes long, it seems much longer, probably because of the length of some of the songs.

TRACK LISTING


1. Had To Cry Today
2. Can't Find My Way Home
3. Well All Right
4. Presence Of The Lord
5. Sea Of Joy
6. Do What You Like                                     

"Had To Cry Today" is a chugging, Traffic-influenced mid-paced blues rock number. It features some solid bass and drums. Winwood's vocals just remind me of Traffic, unsurprisingly. This sounds very much like the sort of material that would have followed Traffic's eponymous second album. There is some excellent Clapton guitar soloing near the end. It sort of merges Traffic with Cream, which once again is no surprise. It has Traffic's soulfulness and Cream's deep power.

"Can't Find My Way Home" is an acoustically-driven folky song of the sort that Paul Weller or Ocean Colour Scene would do many, many years later. It is plaintively sung by Winwood. It taps in to the country/folk rock vibe of the later sixties/early seventies. A lot of critics didn't have much time for the  group's cover of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right", which I find puzzling, as I love it. It is big, bassy, upbeat and bluesy. I always enjoy listening to it. It has a great heavy bit near the end - lots of organ, piano, organ and thumping drums.

"Presence Of The Lord" was possibly Eric Clapton' first great self-penned song and it is certainly an impressive one although I have always felt it suffered a bit from a muffled, undercooked sound. Although this latest remaster is finally an acceptable one after many very poor masterings of the album, no amount of tweaking can make it sound any clearer. However, when Clapton's guitars soars in towards the end I guess it doesn't really matter so much. It has been better over the years in Clapton's many live performances of it. "Sea Of Joy" is an appealing, melodic track enhanced by some nice bass and organ. It is very Led Zeppelin-influenced, with Winwood doing his best Robert Plant. As with many folky blues rock songs of the period, it starts in laid-back style before getting heavier half way through. Rick Grech also contributes some superb electric violin on here.

"Do What You Like" is a fifteen-minute monster of a track written by Ginger Baker and, although parts of it cater to that late sixties/early seventies creature, the drum solo, there are other appealing bits, particularly early on - a great rumbling bass sound, an insistent, vaguely funky rhythm and a far better sound quality than on "Presence Of The Lord", for example. Although it has the obvious feel of a studio "jam" about it, it is certainly still enjoyable. Baker could drum, for sure. Take it for what it is, a child of its time, or just stop it after seven minutes!

I wouldn't say that this is one of the greatest albums of all time but it has something about it and it very representative of its era.

*

There are several non-album tracks that have surfaced on the "deluxe edition". They are:-

Sleeping In The Ground

This is an upbeat, Clapton-driven slice of archetypal blues rock. I guess these days room would have been found for more of this material to be included on the album. It is livelier in ambience than most of the original album's songs. There bonus tracks also include a slowed-down blues version of the track, which is also impressive. 

Can't Find My Way Home (electric version)

The acoustic number from the original is enhanced here with some buzzy Clapton guitar, to great effect as well. I think I prefer this version, actually. Something punchier about it. The guitar brings that to it. It is now a rock song as opposed to a folk/country rock song. 

Acoustic Jam

This is appealing enough, but it goes on for fifteen minutes and is only really worthy of a listen as background music while you're putting up a shelf or painting a room, let's be honest!

Time Winds

A more urgent, lively feel is to be found on this organ-powered instrumental. There is some nice bass on it too. 

B-