Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Eric Clapton - No Reason To Cry (1976)

  

Released August 1976

TRACK LISTING

1. Beautiful Thing
2. Carnival
3. Sign Language
4. County Jail Blues
5. All Our Past Times
6. Hello Old Friend
7. Double Trouble
8. Innocent Times
9. Hungry
10. Black Summer Rain
11. Last Night

This is slightly different to Eric Clapton's other mid-seventies offerings in that although it is till made up of laid-back, bluesy folky rock, it is performed at The Band's studio with various members of The Band contributing throughout, thus making it sound very much like a Band album with Clapton guesting. You hear Robbie Robertson's guitar as much as Clapton's on "Sign Language" and that trademark Band organ is around a lot.

"Beautiful Thing" is slow tempo and melodious in a Band sort of way. "Carnival" is a slightly incongruous mock-Caribbean upbeat rock number. It is lively enough, despite Clapton's naturally sleepy voice. The afore-mentioned "Sign Language" is a duet with Bob Dylan and sounds very much like it ought to be on "Desire". It has a real vibe of that album about it. Dylan's vocal makes it very much a Dylan song. "County Jail Blues" is a muscular blues more typical of Clapton, but still very Band-esque in places, particularly the organ break. "All Our Past Times" is an Eagles-ish slow country ballad.

The second half of the album is far more typical Clapton. "Hello Old Friend" is the most well-known of the songs on the album. It has a shuffling, melodic beat to it and another quiet, laconic vocal. This is the most easily identifiable song in the pop/rock style Clapton made his own in the mid-seventies. "Double Trouble" is a pretty convincing blues, with some  quality guitar from Clapton.  The gospelly "Innocent Times" is actually sung by Marcy Levy, who co-wrote the song with Clapton. Her vocals also dominate the next track, the bluesy, shuffling "Hungry".

"Black Summer Rain" is a very "461 Ocean Boulevard"-style number. Sleepy blues rock. "Last Night" is a solid blues to finish off what is a listenable album, but one that, for some reason, I do not return to very often.

C+

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Temptations - Masterpiece (1973)


  

Released February 1973

This was the final of The Temptations/Norman Whitfield's seven "psychedelic soul" albums, dating back to 1969, and so good they had all been too. On this one, Whitfield let us creative juices run wild. There are only six tracks on the album, including the magnificent title track, running at fourteen minutes of heavily orchestrated, hugely atmospheric, immaculately played funky, conscious soul. It is a magnificent piece of work.

TRACK LISTING

1. Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)
2. Masterpiece
3. Ma
4. The Law Of The Land
5. Plastic Man
6. Hurry Tomorrow

"Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)" opens the album with a sweet piece of melodic soul, before we get the majesty of "Masterpiece". It is crammed full of brooding funk, cynical, socially aware lyrics and huge, sweeping orchestral runs. The whole thing, indeed the album, comes over as a sort of Whitfield solo, instrumental album, with The Temptations enhancing it with occasional vocals. The bass and percussion are sumptuous on this track, as they are throughout the album, it has to be said. Instrumentally, it certainly is a masterpiece. There wasn't really anywhere else the group could go after this, other than "back to basics". This was a high point in soul creativity, up there with any of the great rock or prog rock creations from the same period.

The second side of the original album began with "Ma", a track that started with some foreboding Native American style drums and a menacing atmosphere and vocal telling of "Ma'" and her backwoods Mississippi life. The riff is decidedly similar to that of Argent's "Hold Your Head Up". It is a great song, though, packed with feeling and soulful evocative parts. "The Law Of The Land" is the last truly great Temptations classic. It is a superb, uplifting, upbeat, pounding slab of soul magnificence. I love it and never tire of its infectious, pulsating rhythms. From its first few seconds, it kicks posterior. When the drums kick in - wow. One of my favourite tracks of all time, from anyone. Just perfect.

"Plastic Man" takes issue with hypocrisy and falseness. Once more, the musicianship and pounding, muscular funk are irresistible. Check out those horns too. "Hurry Tomorrow" is a final "message song" about the ills of the contemporary world. It is an eight-minute "mini classic", again very atmospheric, slow burning, and immaculately sung.

This, for me, along with "Cloud Nine", "Puzzle People" and "Psychedelic Shack" was among the best of The Temptations' psychedelic soul albums. Well worth a listen.

B+

The Temptations - All Directions (1972)


  

Released July 1972

After treading water somewhat with the previous year's "Sky's The Limit" and "Solid Rock" from the beginning of 1972, talented producer Norman Whitfield and a re-vamped Temptations were back with anther "psychedelic soul" classic album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On
2. Run Charlie Run
3. Papa Was A Rolling Stone
4. Love Woke Me Up This Morning
5. I Ain't Got Nothin'
6. The First Time (I Ever Saw Your Face)
7. Mother Nature
8. Do Your Thing

The album kicks off with the "fake live" sound of "Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On", which s three minutes or so of rumbling funky soul. "Run Charlie Run" is a socially aware anti-racist song, that gratuitously and wryly uses the "n' word to make its point, played over a cookin' horn-driven backing. Up next is an absolute classic. A track that proved The Temptations were anything but finished, not for a while at least. Here you get the full twelve minute version. "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" has that intoxicating bass and slow burning funky orchestration of an intro before Dennis Edwards comes in with his legendary "it was the third of September..." opening line. Great stuff. Funnily enough, Whitfield first used the song with his other main group, The Undisputed Truth. Good as they were, this is the definitive version, no doubt about that.

The old "side two" began with "Love Woke Me Up This Morning", an orchestrated soulful ballad. This was following the trend of these psychedelic soul albums of having the hard-hitting aware stuff on side one and the gentler, romantic offerings on side two. After the previous three, this lighter number sits a bit incongruously. "I Ain't Got Nothin'", while soulful in its sound, however, was a much darker, brooding song and far more typical of the group's output at this time. Their cover of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face)" is impressive and the yearning nature of the song suits the album. "Mother Nature" sees a return to a conscious, "message" number. It is a delicious, bleak slice of concerned soul with a sumptuous bass line and vocal. "Do Your Thing" is a slow tempo, funky and mysterious burner to end on.

The album obviously revolves around " Papa" but there are other notable contributions too and The Temptations showed, with this one, that they still had a couple of great albums left in them. The next, and last great one, would come the following year.

B-

Friday, 7 December 2018

Van Morrison - The Prophet Speaks (2018)


  

Released December 2018

Van Morrison seems to put albums out every six months at the moment. Just when you think you must give the previous one a third listen you get another one. Many people will no doubt dismiss this as "yet another Van Morrison album" and ask "why doesn't he retire?". Well, why should he. He enjoys doing what he does. Personally, I am really enjoying this one thus far. Yes, I accept a considerable bias, as I buy everything he puts out, but if I thought it was rubbish, I would say so. It is not. The jazzy, blues, r'nb -influenced mix of covers and six originals is a good one, reflecting both his musical roots and his wish to continue writing his own material in that style. His vocals are still superb, coping with everything his similarly impressive musicians throw at him. The sound quality is absolutely outstanding. (The album's cover is a strange one, though).

The album is basically jazz and blues, alternating from track to track and often merging the two. It washes over you for an hour as you can imagine. This is what Van Morrison does these days and he does it well. I am happy to go along with it. Others may not be. That is their choice. I make no apologies for liking the album (now on second listen).

TRACK LISTING

1. Gotta Send You Back To Where I Got You From
2. Dimples
3. Got To Go Where The Love Is
4. Laughin' And Clownin'
5. 5am Greenwich Mean Time
6. Got To Get You Off My Mind
7. Teardrops
8. I Love The Life I Live
9. Worried Blues/Rollin' And Tumblin'
10. Ain't Gonna Moan No More
11. Love Is A Five Letter Word
12. Love Is Hard Work
13. Spirit Will Provide
14. The Prophet Speaks

"Gonna Send You Back To Where I Got You From" sets the tone of the album with some typical organ-powered Morrison jazzy soul. Nothing new here, but if you have been sold on this sort of stuff for years, like me, then you will like it. "Dimples" sees that faithful organ swirling around all over the place again, like a smoky sixties London jazz club. "Laughin' And Clownin'" is trademark Morrison blues while "5am Greenwich Mean Time" is jazzy blues of the type he does with his eyes shut. Yes, I know so many people will say they have heard it all before and that is certainly true. You know what you're gonna get. If you want it then that's fine. If you want something that sounds like music he did forty-fifty years ago then you won't be satisfied.

"Got To Go Where The Love Is" is a Stax-ish, upbeat, bass soul/blues number. It has some killer jazz guitar and punchy Stax horns. Morrison's vocal is superb too. Check out the full, thumping bass too. No signs of ageing on this one whatsoever. I love it. Solomon Burke's "Got To Get You Off My Mind" is done well, with some stonking organ/bass interplay and a great vocal. "Teardrops" is a return to copper-bottomed blues as is "Worried Blues/ Rollin' And Tumblin'". The virtuoso organ on this is wonderful. "I Love The Life I Live" is a back to jazz stylings once more. 

"Ain't Gonna Moan No More" has Van facing up to his past griping and telling us he's not going to do so, over a delicious slow organ-driven melody. There is some exquisite trumpet and a jazzy organ solo. As with all the album, the musicianship is top quality. "Love Is A Five Letter Word" merges jazz and the blues beautifully. "Love Is Hard Work" continues in the same vein, with some great jazz percussion and saxophone. 

"Spirit Will Provide" is a Morrison song in that laid-back soulful but jazzy style he has utilised for twenty years or more now, while "The Prophet Speaks" features some sumptuous Spanish-sounding guitar over its once more laid-back, jazz melody. Great bass near the end and harmonica too. It ends this enjoyable album with a suitably peerless quality. If you like Van Morrison, of course, you will like this. If you are an "Astral Weeks/Moondance" Van fan, then stick with those. For me, it's just too late to stop now....

B+

The Carpenters - With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


 

Released December 2018

TRACK LISTING

1. Overture
2. Yesterday Once More
3. Hurting Each Other
4. I Need To Be In Love
5. For All We Know
6. Touch Me When We're Dancing
7. I Believe You
8. I Just Fall In Love Again
9. Merry Christmas, Darling
10. Baby, It's You
11. (They Long To Be) Close To You
12. Superstar
13. Rainy Days And Mondays
14. This Masquerade
15. Ticket To Ride
16. Goodbye To Love
17. Top Of The World
18. We've Only Just Begun

I have a slightly ambiguous relationship with these albums, which seem to be everywhere these days - Elvis, Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, The Beach Boys....now The Carpenters. Half of me prefers to listen to the originals, which I consider to be the default recordings of the songs, but there is a part of me that enjoys these sonic experiments and finds them a most enjoyable listen.

The Carpenters' music would seem to be tailor-made for this type of makeover, as they were always brilliantly orchestrated anyway, like Buddy Holly's romantic (non rock 'n' roll) numbers. Therefore, songs like "Yesterday Once More" are not going to sound too dissimilar to the original, other than I have to say that the sound on this album is absolutely superb. Nice and warm and bassy, which is to my taste. There is a real fullness to the sound.

It is quite good that this is not simply a "greatest hits" album as well, and tracks like "Hurting Each Other", "I Just Fall In Love Again" (with it's "Goodbye To Love" guitar part), The Beatles' "Baby It's You" and "I Believe You", among others, make an appearance. It is also a nice touch that before the vocals arrive on some of the tracks, you get an orchestral part with snatches of other tracks. For example, a bit of "Rainy Days And Mondays" floats around before Karen starts singing "I Need To Be In Love". That didn't happen on the Buddy Holly album, for example. You get brief instrumental introductions to each song that gives the album a real continuity. (The Christmas track half way through only works in December, of course, you won't want it coming on in July!).

I have to admit to a weakness for the jazzy, laid-back tones of "This Masquerade". It is done beautifully on here. Now - yes, yes, yes! They have left the iconic fuzz guitar solo at the end of "Goodbye To Love"! Plus some Beatles-esque French Horn (?) just before it enhances my favourite Carpenters track.

The album highlights just what a great voice Karen Carpenter had (as if anyone needed convincing) and I have to say that and what an instinct for a melody Richard Carpenter had. He conducts the orchestra throughout, apparently. Whatever one's musical taste or background, it is difficult not to accept that this music is sheer quality.

I would have loved it if they had given the delightfully bonkers "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft" an orchestral makeover though....

B

Thursday, 6 December 2018

David Bowie - The 1980 Floor Show (1973)


  

Recorded in October 1973

Only three months after his supposed "last ever gig" at the Hammersmith Odeon, David Bowie was playing a US TV special, bringing along ex-Spider Mick Ronson on guitar and Trevor Bolder on bass. Pianist Mike Garson was in the band too. Drums were played by "Pin Ups" drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Apparently it was a joyless affair, with Bowie insisting on running through the songs sometimes up to forty times. Ronson was left distinctly underwhelmed by the occasion - "I turned up, put me make up on, played, put me guitar away, took me make up off and went home..."- is how he described the proceedings. Despite having "killed off" Ziggy Stardust, there were still lots of Ziggy-isms to be found in both Bowie's look and costumes for this event. All very strange, really.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sorrow
2. Everything's Alright
3. Space Oddity
4. 1984/Dodo
5. I Can't Explain
6. Time
7. The Jean Genie
8. I Got You Babe

Bowie played three songs from "Pin Ups" - a slapdash "Everything's Alright", a riffy, clunky "I Can't Explain" and "Sorrow", whose backing track sounds distinctly like the original single as opposed to being played live. "Space Oddity", "Time" and "The Jean Genie" (thankfully played straight, not slowed down) are given run outs, plus the as yet unreleased "1984/Dodo", the former of which would end up on the following year's "Diamond Dogs" album. There is also a cover of Sonny & Cher's "I Got You Babe" with Marianne Faithfull (who dressed bizarrely as a nun for the song), which is thoroughly unremarkable. Faithfull seems to be trying to imitate German chanteuse Nico, badly.

The whole show was intended to break Bowie "big" in America, but the whole "cabaret"-style pretentiousness didn't succeed. It was a precursor to the lavish stage show of the "Diamond Dogs" tour, however. The latter was much better, though, and "David Live" and "Cracked Actor" are excellent live albums, whereas this is not. The musicianship is ok, if a little uninspiring, but the sound isn't too great. It is listenable, but hardly "audiophile".

I listen to it occasionally as a historical document, so to speak.

C-

The Jackson 5 - Third Album (1970)


  

Released September 1970

TRACK LISTING

1. I'll Be There
2. Ready Or Not (Here I Come)
3. Oh How Happy
4. Bridge Over Troubled Water
5. Can I See You In The Morning
6. Goin' Back To Indiana
7. How Funky Is Your Chicken
8. Mama's Pearl
9. Reach In
10. The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage
11. Darling Dear

This album starts perfectly, with "I'll Be There", possibly The Jackson 5's finest ever song. It is just the definitive Motown soul ballad. Michael's vocal is sumptuous. This album was a transitional one between the bubblegum, pre-teen pop of the first two to a group wanting to be taken seriously asa credible soul group. The Delfonics' "Ready Or Not (Here I Come)" is covered superbly, packed full of soul. "Oh How Happy" has Jermaine's deep voice on lead vocals on an appealing poppy number with some gospel undertones. This has been a great start to the album, but unfortunately, it is now time for the by now seemingly obligatory cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water". All Motown artists did one. Actually, they do it well, with Jermaine on lead again and some super harmonies, but there is no need for it, really.

"Can I See You In The Morning" has some excellent fuzz guitar and funky wah-wah too. It sounds very Temptations, psychedelic soul-esque. Michael produces one of his first great, soulful vocals. Good stuff. This is a seriously underrated track. "Going Back To Indiana" is a lively, poppy piece of rocking soul. It has a killer guitar solo in the middle too. "How Funky Is Your Chicken" gets in on the whole Stax/Rufus Thomas "Funky Chicken" craze. "Mama's Pearl" was a big hit single, and is in the "ABC"/"I Want You Back"/"The Love You Save" upbeat, totally irresistible vein. Listening to it even now is just such a pleasure. It is full of youthful vigour and energy.

"Reach In" is credible, adult-oriented Motown soul. "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage" is instantly recognisable as a smokey Robinson song. Michael does it justice. "Darling Dear" is another acceptable soul number to end what is a most pleasurable half hour's listen. Nice Motown stereo sound too.

B-