Wednesday, 19 June 2019

UB40 - Live In Montreux (2002)


Recorded live in Montreux, Switzerland on 19 July 2002

Running time 01:07:18


1. The Way You Do The Things You Do
2. Here I Am (Come And Take Me)
3. One In Ten
4. If It Happens Again
5. Homely Girl
6. Kingston Town
7. Reggae Music
8. Don't Break My Heart
9. Love It When You Smile
10. Rat In Mi Kitchen
11. Rudie
12. Cover Up
13. Red, Red Wine
14. Can't Help Falling In Love
15. Cherry Oh Baby
16. Many Rivers To Cross

This was recorded in 2002, a full fifteen years after UB40's previous live album, "Live in Moscow"  and twenty years after "UB40 Live". It is a solidly played live album, a healthy mixture of hits and contemporary album tracks. The group's trademark sounds are all here - that punchy brass section, their keyboard-driven skanking and Ali Campbell's unique, nasal twang of a voice. All the songs are delivered as an endless run of examples showing just what a professional outfit UB40 had always been. The rift within the group that would splinter them into two separate bands was still six or seven years away and there is an enthusiasm present that all their fans will admit that they miss.

The sound quality on the album is excellent, with a lovely, warm bass tone and the live atmosphere is there without it being overwhelming. I wish it could have covered the full set, however. It is nice to hear contemporary tracks like "Rudie", "Cover Up" and "Love It When You Smile" played though. The ragga toasting on "Reggae Music" is a good inclusion too.


UB40 - Guns In The Ghetto (1997)


Released on 1 July 1997

Running time 38:36

It had been four years since UB40's most successful album, 1993's "Promises And Lies", but this offering didn't really register much at all. Most hints of politicised lyrics had disappeared and also the group seemed to have almost lost the knack for a hit tune, something that certainly was not the case on the previous album. It is all very polished, digitised pop reggae, with programmed drums replacing "proper" drums and the skanking is nowhere near as pronounced. Yes there is a reggae beat, but it is largely keyboard-driven. For me, this is where UB40 really started to hit a rut, reggae authenticism giving way to contemporary rhythmic beats. Furthermore, the sound suffers from the "loudness" prevalent at the time and I have to turn down the bass settings on my sub-woofer specifically for this album, otherwise it shakes the whole house.


1. Always There
2. Hurry Come Up
3. I Love It When You Smile
4. I've Been Missing You
5. Oracabessa Moonshine
6. Guns in The Ghetto
7. Tell Me Is It True
8. Friendly Fire
9. I Really Can't Say
10. Lisa

"Always There" is a pleasant enough opener, with some nice bass parts, Ali Campbell's vocals are as nasally sleepy as ever. "Hurry Come Up" is a shuffling groove, with a decidedly digital backing. Some nice brass near the end. "I Love It When You Smile" has a laid-back, gentle feeling, with some good saxophone in parts. Again, Campbell's voice is getting more somnolent by the minute. "I've Been Missing You" comes and goes without really registering either one way or another.

"Oracabessa Moonshine" is a swoony, jazzy number with a nice atmosphere and melodic vocal about jacaranda trees and bathing in the sea. Very suitable for a hot summer's day. It is a bit Third World-ish. "Guns In The Ghetto" is the one track on the album that really makes you sit up  and say "yes! That's what I expect from UB40". Campbell's voice is as you would expect - sad and quietly expressive. It has more of a reggae groove, some subtle brass and a heartbreaking lyric about gun violence. It is probably the mark of a special band that, even at their most underwhelming, they can still come up with a classic.

"Tell Me Is It True" finds the group bravely diversifying somewhat with acoustic guitars and a jaunty jazzy vocal. "Friendly Fire" has a lively rhythm to it and lyrics that you might think were militarily inspired/political but actually is about a relationship going wrong. "I Really Can't Say" is a catchy enough tune. "Lisa" is another perfectly inoffensive track. Look, there isn't a bad track on this album, but apart from the title track, there just isn't one that sticks in the memory for long.


Chris Rea - Wired To The Moon (1984)


Released in 1984

Running time 42:01

Chris Rea had a strange career thus far. This was his sixth album and, apart from some popularity for the songs "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" and "I Can Hear Your Heart Beat" he had been something of a commercial disaster, not fitting in with either new wave or new romantic trends. The mid-eighties rise of "adult", "wine bar" music helped him succeed more than he had, but that would be more in 1986 and 1987. His follow-up to this, the Springsteen-esque, rocky "Shamrock Diaries" was far more successful than this was. He was still treading water at this point. This album did very little and has subsequently been almost forgotten about.


1. Bombollini
2. Touché d'Amour
3. Shine, Shine, Shine
4. Wired To The Moon
5. Reasons
6. I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It
7. Ace Of Hearts
8. Holding Out
9. Winning

"Bombollini" is a six-minute plus opener that gets in on the contemporary trend for South American pipe music. It has a few lyrics, but not many and doesn't really get anywhere, suffering from poor, muffled, unremastered sound. Much better is the summery, white reggae of "Touché d'Amour". Rea's band pull off the reggae rhythms quite convincingly, it has to be said. "Shine, Shine, Shine" epitomises that late night ambience, the whole low volume background music thing.

"Wired To The Moon" gets the drummer working a bit, with more of a regular mid-pace rock beat. Rea's growly but melodic voice just washes over you on these songs. He really has a pleasing voice. "Reasons" is a great track, sort of Rea meeting Mark Knopfler and Bruce Springsteen and coming up with a really infectious rock song. Good stuff.

"I Don't Know What It Is But I Love It" is similar to some of the material Elton John was putting out around the same time. It is upbeat and hooky, particularly on the rather cheesy but infectious chorus. On so many Chris Rea albums there is always one superb song. On this one it is the marvellous, evocative "Ace Of Hearts". It is packed full of melodic emotion. It also breaks out into some impressive rock half way through. Good old Chris, he could always come up with an understated classic. "Holding Out" is another Elton John-ish, piano-driven number. "Winning" is a big, muscular bluesy Dire Straits-ish rocker to end with, clocking in at another six minutes. It features lots of great guitar including Rea's trademark slide.

You know, this album should have done much better than it did. Thankfully for Rea, his next few albums would redress the balance in his favour.


Chris Rea - On The Beach (1986)


Released on 1 April 1986

Running time 48:40

After the Springsteen-esque "Shamrock Diaries", Chris Rea diversified a little on this one, creating that relaxed, easy-listening ambience that would come to be something many people associated him with to the expense of his more rocky, bluesy material. This is archetypal slow and reflective "adult"  Chris Rea. There are lots of listeners around who want nothing more from him. Forget his searing slide guitar, just give us "On The Beach". As often the case with Chris Rea over the years, though, you feel he doesn't quite know which direction to take. This was definitely the start of his "easy listening/AOR" period. This is very much an album for a hot afternoon or a lazy late summer night.


1. On The Beach
2. Little Blonde Plaits
3. Giverny
4. Lucky Day
5. Just Passing Through
6. It's All Gone
7. Hello Friend
8. Two Roads
9. Light Of Hope
10. Auf Immer Und Ewig

As with many Chris Rea albums, there is one absolute killer track on it. Here it is the sumptuous title track which has been recorded several times by Rea. This one is probably the best, its syncopated jazzy rhythms played slightly slower and that summery bossa nova feel coming across utterly irresistibly. Rea's voice is as warm as a summer's afternoon on this. It is one of his finest moments. Some sound effects of waves gently lapping on the shore lead into the similarly laid-back "Little Blonde Plaits". The soporific, gently hypnotic vibe continues on the beautiful "Giverny", which breaks out into a lovely, rhythmic number a minute or so in.

"Lucky Day" doesn't up the pace either, being similarly slow in pace and featuring some delicious Spanish guitar. Its influence is vaguely Latin in places. The guitarist in Rea is never far from the surface however, and some excellent playing enhances the sleepy "Just Passing Through". Some classically-influenced piano makes an interjection as well.

The old "side two" begins with some upbeat eighties synth pop/rock with the album's liveliest number so far in "It's All Gone". Despite its liveliness, it is no "Stainsby Girls" or "Steel River". It has a serious message about the decline of Rea's home town of Middlesbrough. That gets a bit lost in the poppy backing, unfortunately. It is over seven minutes long and features some excellent instrumental improvisation at the end. "Hello Friend" is a moving Rea heartbreaker. He does this sort of thing so well, so sensitively.

"Two Roads" has some funky guitar and brass and a solid beat and is slightly more punchy than a lot of the album's material. Both "Light Of Hope" and "Auf Immer Un Ewig (Forever And Ever)" see a return to the slow, reflective pace of most of the album. Although this album barely gets beyond walking pace, it is still a pleasant listen.


Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Dave Alvin

King Of California (1994)

Dave Alvin - King Of California (1994)


Released on 1 May 1994

Running time 54:49

I can't believe this album has passed me by for so long. I have only just discovered after reading a comment from someone saying that it is the album contemporary-era Bruce Springsteen would love to have written. You know what - they are dead right. If Springsteen had released this instead of "Western Stars" it would be received as a work of genius.

Alvin and his brother Phil were in a group called The Blasters, and I have to admit ignorance of both them and their work. He then decided upon a solo career and what he delivers here is country blues with tinges of rock here and there. Alvin has an expressive voice and writes some seriously good lyrics in the Springsteen-esque cinematic, character-driven style. There are influences of Bob Dylan, bluesy Rolling Stones, Ry Cooder and later-era Johnny Cash floating all around the album. In turn I am sure both Springsteen and Mark Knopfler will have heard this and been influenced by it. Mary Chapin Carpenter too. Mexican and Tex-Mex sounds make occasional appearances too. It is a highly atmospheric slice of little-known (to many people) Americana. I am delighted to have come across it.


1. King Of California
2. Barn Burning
3. Fourth Of July
4. Goodbye Again
5. East Texas Blues
6. Every Night About This Time
7. Bus Station
8. Mother Earth
9. Blue Wing
10. Little Honey
11. (I Won't Be) Leaving
12. What Am I Worth
13. Border Radio

The opener, "King Of California" has echoes of early Bob Dylan in its verse structure. It is a gently strummed, dusty-sounding acoustic number that develops into some frantic finger-picking and ends with a punchy rock beat. "Barn Burning" is a shuffling, bluesy groove with an infectious rhythm and some "Ballad Of Hollis Brown"-style lyrics. The influence on here is quite Tom Waits-ish with that loose, lively sound that Springsteen achieved on his "Sessions Band" recordings. I think Joe Strummer would have loved this too. I read somewhere that Alvin was too nervous to say hello to Strummer on the one occasion when they were in the same place. A nice story. In the whole interview, Alvin came across as a genuine, sincere and thoughtful guy, and one who knows his music history too.

"Fourth Of July" is full of fairground day atmosphere, rather like Springsteen's rarely-heard rarity, "County Fair". It really is a great song. "Goodbye Again" is a fetching country duet with vocalist Rosie Flores. It has some nice Mexican-style guitar and accordion on it too. "East Texas Blues" features, as you might expect, some bluesy acoustic guitar and uses the blues tradition of repeating the same lyrics twice before finishing the verse with a new line. It is a beguiling, mysterious song. "Every Night About This Time" is a quiet, tender song with Alvin singing deeply and movingly. It is a bit of an archetypal down on one's romantic luck country lament. Half way through a solid rock beat kicks in to give it some stately power.

"Bus Station" is a song of the road. Alvin whispers/semi speaks his vocals in the way Mark Knopfler would make an entire career out of. It is quite Johnny Cash influenced too. Lyrically, not only Springsteen can write this sort of thing. "Mother Earth" is a blues, country stomp. Knopfler can be heard all over "Blue Wing" too, uncannily so.

"Little Honey" is a marvellous piece of country blues rock, full of late sixties Rolling Stones influence and breaking out into some slide guitar-driven rock at the end of it. Great stuff indeed. "(I Won't Be) Leaving" is a slow, mournful sad tale. "I sit up smoking, wipe the ashes off the bed....". Alvin has a great turn of phrase, creates evocative images and comes up with lyrics Springsteen would have been proud of himself. "What Am I Worth" features female co-vocalist Syd Straw duetting with Alvin on an upbeat, amusing country romp. "Border Radio" is incredibly Springsteen-esque, before "The Ghost Of Tom Joad" and before "Western Stars". It must also have influenced Mark Knopfler greatly. You can hear it in every line and cadence.

In many ways, this is what Springsteen's "Western Stars" album would sound like without that melodramatic string and brass orchestration. It is truly a relatively undiscovered gem, certainly it was for me.


Monday, 17 June 2019

Chris Rea - New Light Through Old Windows (1988)


Released on 17 October 1988

Running Time 1:00:13

Funnily enough, this was the first Chris Rea album I ever bought, on the back of liking the "Stainsby Girls" single. At the time I didn't realise, initially, that the album was made up of re-recordings of tracks previously issued on other albums. Many artists have done this sort of thing later in their careers, but this was a comparatively early and brave move for Rea. What is good about these recordings is that they have a great sound to them (the early albums all suffered comparatively from poor-ish sound) so the album stands on its own feet as a credible one, and not one of re-hashes.

It was actually marketed as "The Best Of Chris Rea: New Light Through Old Windows", so I just assumed it was a "best of" compilation. It took me quite a while to realise it wasn't quite that straightforward. For a long time, these were the only versions of these songs I knew.

TRACK LISTING (in brackets are the albums the songs originally appeared on)

1. Let's Dance (from "Dancing with Strangers")
2. Working On It (single)
3. Ace Of Hearts (from "Wired To The Moon")
4. Josephine (from "Shamrock Diaries")
5. Candles (from "Water Sign")
6. On The Beach (from "On The Beach")
7. Fool (If You Think It's Over) (from "Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?")
8. I Can Hear Your Heartbeat (from "Water Sign")
9. Shamrock Diaries (from "Shamrock Diaries")
10. Stainsby Girls (from "Shamrock Diaries")
11. Windy Town (from "Dancing With Strangers")
12. Driving Home For Christmas (single)
13. Steel River (from "Shamrock Diaries")

"Let's Dance" is big, brassy and infectious and "Working On It" is full of trademark Rea slide guitar riffs. "Ace of Hearts" is a beautiful, evocative laid-back ballad, packed full of soul and Dire Straits-esque guitar backing. "Josephine" is one in what was now typical Chris Rea style, with his gruff voice dominating over a vaguely summery, reggae-ish backing.

"Candles" is not as keyboard-dominated as it is on the "Water Sign" album and features an excellent Knopfler-influenced guitar. "On The Beach" has a superb sound to it, with that catchy shuffling intro taking centre stage. Rea's voice on this is superb, as indeed is the song's whole ambience.

Both "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" and "I Can Hear Your Heartbeat" had been quite popular semi-hits, but had not been ubiquitous enough for me not to think these were their original incarnations. They both sound great on here anyway. My two favourite tracks have always been the Springsteen-esque "Stainsby Girls" and the epic "Steel River" Both of them, for me, are far better on these recordings than their originals. "Dancing to Motown, making love with a Carole King record playing...". Great line

"Shamrock Diaries" is punchier here, but unfortunately lacks the saxophone that enhanced is original recording. "Windy Town" is a most atmospheric number with areal North-East England feel. Oh, and then there is "Driving Home For Christmas". Yes, it also has bags of atmosphere, but, of course, it can only be played once or twice in December and that's it.