Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Rough Guide To West African Music




West African music is deliciously melodic and catchy, full of lilting guitars, rhythmic drums, often nasal high-pitched vocals all underpinned by a throbbing but deeply tuneful bass guitar. Saxophones and trumpets often interject the sound most effectively. The music also has an influence from Islamic Sufi-style music too, particularly in the acoustic based music of Mali. Music from Senegal and The Gambia tends to be more drum and guitar-driven, less stark, and fr more "danceable". Then there is Nigeria, with its infectious "high-life" guitar and saxophone music. The latter really gets treated as a genre in itself, however, and does not feature on this album. The thumb piano is often used to great effect too, particularly in Malian music, along with that special acoustic guitar sound (the kora) they have. Then, of course, there are the roots of the blues, which are deeply embedded in traditional West African music.

"Foliba" by Mali's Super Rail Band is a great way to kick off the compilation, although it is far more Senegalese or even Nigeria sounding than Malian, with its use of saxophones, pounding drums and throbbing bass lines. Toumani Diabate's "Djelika" is far more instantly recognisable as Malian, with a wonderful kora sound, together with a marvellously evocative thumb piano. It really is a most seductive sound. "Roucky" by Ali Farka Touré is a gruffly sung, slow song over a bluesy acoustic guitar sound. If you want the roots of the blues, they can be found in material like this. It is as bluesy as you will find.

"Toro" by Moussa Poussy is a more contemporary number with modern synthesised drum backing but it still has a traditional vocal and some fetching backing vocals. It reminds a lot of Salif Keita's "Soro" album. "M'Bote" by Sona Diabate is a folky, female voice very ethnic and traditionally folky sounding number. It has some sumptuous guitar joining it at the end. "Djama Kaissoumou" by Oumou Sangaré is a gently insistent, rhythmic Sufi-influenced haunting number. It has a delicious bass line throughout. "I Ka Di Nye" by Bajorou is another acoustic, folky song, this time with a plaintive male vocal.  "205" by E.T. Mensah is completely different from anything else on the album so far, however, being a jaunty, brass-driven upbeat number that sounds almost South African in places. Another different one is the almost jazzy, laid-back blues of "Utru Horas" by Orchestra Baobab.

Basically, overall, this album is far more dominated by the "kora"-driven sounds of Mali than most other musical styles, the lively, danceable opener of The Super Rail Band's "Foliba" is not representative of what is to come. It is a very atmospheric, laid-back album of the highest musical quality.

B-

The Rough Guide To The Music Of Cuba


  

Cuba is an island full of music. I am lucky enough to have visited the island and enjoyed sitting in tiny bars in Havana listening to music such as appears on this album played live by ordinary, amateur musicians. It is incredibly atmospheric. Cuban music is not all "The Buena Vista Social Club", although that album is certainly reflective of some Cuban music. There are serious salsa influences, and jazz ones too as well as Cuban folk music. All those styles are represented on this truly excellent compilation.

Some of my favourites are the infectious salsa of "En Casa Del Trompo No Bailes" by Orquesta Riverside; the gloriously Cuban "Santa Barbara" by Celina Gonzalez; more intoxicating salsa from "Descarga En Faux" by Ritmo Y Candela; the fetching voice of ageing vocalist Nico Saquito on  "A Orillas Del Cauto"; the effervescence of Los Van Van on "Amiga Mia" and the magnificent, rhythmic  Cuban jazz of Bellita Y Jazztumbata on "Oyelo Sonar".

Cuba also has had a long standing "big band" tradition, and this is reflected in Mario Bauza's "Mambo Rincon". Sierra Maestra's addictive "Dundunbanza" and Chico O'Farrill's "Descarga No. 2" are both impressive examples of upbeat Cuban music. In fact, the whole album is full of such material, to be honest. It is most enjoyable.

This is another highly recommended album from Rough Guides showcasing music from a country that just lives and breathes music in its very DNA.

B+

Greenslade - Greenslade (1973)


  

Released February 1973

Recorded at Morgan Studios, London

I'll be honest here, I hated Greenslade as a teenager in the mid-seventies. They played five times at Friars club in Aylesbury, where I lived. I didn't go to any of the gigs and I loathed the boys who carried Greenslade albums around under their arms at school. I was certainly not into "prog-rock" whatsoever. It was completely anathema to me.

However, time is a great changer. In recent years, I have begun to wonder what it was those boys liked so much and have started listening to stuff like this, along with The Strawbs, early Supertramp and Mike Oldfield. No ELP or Yes as yet, though. There are limits! Maybe I'll dare to dip my toes into those murky, incense, "loons" and cheesecloth waters at some later point.

Greenslade were formed by keyboardist Dave Greenslade and the eschewed the use of electric guitar, being just keyboards drums and bass (although I am convinced electric guitar turns up on at least one of the tracks on this album. The music is largely instrumental, yes there are vocals, but they sort of float in and out of songs without every annoying me too much or dominating the song. It is the instrumentation it was all about and I have to say that the material is not all typically prog-rock in sound or mood. There are definite blues influences in places, and even funk and jazz influences cropping up. For that reason I find it easier to get into this album and appreciate it more than others in the prog genre. A lot of the music is very laid back and, dare I say, ambient. After a couple of listens, you get quite hooked on it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Feathered Friends
2. An English Western
3. Drowning Man
4. Temple Song
5. Melange
6. What Are You Doin' To Me
7. Sundance                                              

"Feathered Friends" begins with an almost funky rhythm and is driven along by a melodious bass line. It has the usual proggy changes of pace and mood throughout its seven minutes and the vocals are very typically prog in that high-pitched, nasal and dreamy fashion that so many of its exponents seemed to sing in. "An English Western" is a shorter track with some archetypal prog organ swirls. "Drowning Man" is a bit Pink Floyd-esque and not a little pretentious in its quasi-religious "forgive us our trespasses" lyrics. As always with prog-rock, though, a sudden change of pace can yield a different feeling, and the song bursts out of its somnolence half way through, with some rhythmic and inventive organ, bass and drum interplay.

"Temple Song" is a short, very late sixties song in feel with some delicious bass, cymbals and keyboards interaction which all most betrays psychedelic jazz qualities in places. "Melange" is my favourite track on the album. I am sure there is electric guitar all over this one, from its chunky opening riffs to its electric guitar-sounding extended ending. Maybe Dave Greenslade reproduced the sound somehow on his keyboards, but it sounds very guitar-ish to me. Maybe it is bass and electric piano? Either way, it is a superb track, with intoxicating cymbal work, bass and organ. Some floaty trippy backing vocals are there too, plus some great bass. Really impressive. Very "ambient" to use current terminology. This stuff could be sampled.


"What Are You Doin' To Me" sounds quite like Argent to me. It is one of the heaviest, rockiest cuts on the album. There are slight airs of Steely Dan in places, would you believe. Only vague ones though, but they are there. Something about the vocal tone at times. "Sundance" is the final track on the album, and an impressive one it is too, beginning with some classically-influenced piano before kicking into some serious heavy rock passages with Greenslade's organ swirling around all over the place, together with some spacey keyboard interjections. It ends with some full-on Deep Purple organ-driven rock.

I have to say that this remaster, while having an excellent, sonorous bass sound throughout, is also a little bit muffled, drum-wise. Maybe that was how it was originally recorded and will always remain so. It is notable how the second CD of "live at the BBC" material from the album actually sounds less muffled and much clearer and defined. The sound on these are truly superb. I almost prefer listening to the album this way ("What Are You Doin' To Me" is that only one not played live) The tracks are all exceptionally well played, showing what a good live band they were, although the thought of seeing them in concert in the seventies filled me with horror at the time. As regards the cover art - stuff like that was partly responsible for punk!

B-

Bruce Springsteen - River Plate Stadium Amnesty International (1988)




This is, finally, the recording of Springsteen's set from the Amnesty International concert in 1988 that was televised at the time at featured an energetic and enthusiastic performance from Springsteen in front of a huge, lively Argentinian crowd.

The sound quality is, as is often the case on these "legal but not official" old radio transmissions (or even on Springsteen's official live downloads) is certainly not "audiophile", but, as far as i am concerned, it is fine for me. It has a real live atmosphere to it, and Springsteen is a live performer who is all about the sheer "oomph" of the performance as opposed to audiophonic perfection. The sound is punchy, with good bass reproduction and solidity. As I said, fine by me. Incidentally, there are two of these recordings around, this one has the better, clearer, louder sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. Born In The USA
2. The Promised Land
3. Cover Me
4. I'm On Fire
5. The River
6. Cadillac Ranch
7. War
8. My Hometown
9. Dancing In The Dark
10. Glory Days
11. Raise Your Hand
12. Twist And Shout
13. Chimes Of Freedom

The set kicks off with a muscular "Born In The USA" and the anthemic "The Promised Land". Other highlights are the rocking, joie de vivre of "Cadillac Ranch" followed by Edwin Starr's "War", an excellent duet with Sting on "The River" and a wonderful conclusion of Eddie Floyd's "Raise Your Hand", an extended "Twist And Shout" and the final, rousing cover of Bob Dylan's "Chimes Of Freedom", which features Tracy Chapman, Sting and Peter Gabriel, among others, taking turns of lead vocals. Great Stuff. I have wanted to get hold of this version of the song for ages, because, infuriatingly, on the video of the concert, the credits roll and it gets cut off after a minute or two.

Springsteen, as always, puts so much energy and commitment into his performance it takes your breath away. Only a performer as dynamic as he is can inject so much power and verve into a decidedly average track like "Cover Me", which just comes alive here.

B-

Rough Guides


The Rough Guide To The Music Of Cuba
The Rough Guide To The Music Of Lucky Dube
The Rough Guide To The Music Of South Africa
The Rough Guide To West African Music

The Rough Guide To The Music Of South Africa




South African "township jive" is some of the most vibrant, uplifting music you will ever hear. Plenty of it is included on this incredibly enjoyable compilation. If you want evidence of the captivating nature of this music, check out the irresistible "Groovin' Jive No. 1" by Noise Khanyile and the Jo'Burg City Stars. It is literally impossible to keep your feet still as that infectious drum kicks in, backed by that trademark lilting guitar sound and those rubbery, mellifluous bass runs popularised on some of Paul Simon's "Graceland" album.

Other highlights are the growling voice of Mahlathini (& The Mahotella Queens), the wonderful, upbeat and sheer liveliness of Yvonne Chaka Chaka's celebratory "Motherland" and "Udlame" by The Soul Brothers. The well-known vocal talents Ladysmith Black Mambazo are present on here as well with "Kangivumanga".

As well as township jive, South Africa has a distinct style in is jazz - as the township melodies and joie de vivre mix intoxicatingly with traditional jazz styles. Examples on here are "My Kind Of Jazz" by Teboko and "Jive Township" by The African Jazz Pioneers. More experimental, jazz-wise, is the extremely impressive improvisations of "Celebration" by Bheki Mseleku.

There is also South African reggae in the presence of the much-missed "Father of South African reggae", Lucky Dube, whose wonderful, evocative voice and a reggae style that merges township guitars with classic reggae skanking. The song included here is the mighty "House Of Exile", about Nelson Mandela. Overall, this is a highly recommended album reflecting some of the vivacious, ebullient and varied music of South Africa.

B+

Monday, 29 October 2018

Dire Straits






All reviews done are highlighted in orange. To read a review click on an album title.

Dire Straits (1978)
Communiqué (1979)
Making Movies (1980)
Love Over Gold (1982)
Brothers In Arms (1985)
On Every Street (1991)

Alchemy (1984)
On The Night (1993)

Live At The BBC

Deacon Blue - A New House (2014)


  

Released September 2014

Unfortunately, this album suffers from the same poor production as its predecessor, "The Hipsters", from 2012. Quite what possessed either Deacon Blue or their producers to think that this showed their wonderful music in the best light is beyond me.

TRACK LISTING

1. Bethlehem Begins
2. For John Muir
3. A New House
4. An Ocean
5. The Living
6. I Wish I Was A Girl Like You
7. Win
8. Wild
9. March
10. Our New Land
11. I Remember Every Single Kiss                      

The opener, "Bethlehem Begins" has an infectious, rumbling drum intro and a great bass line too, but when it kicks in to its chorus, the usually strident vocals of Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh are practically submerged by the muffled, tinny backing. Such a shame because it is a really good song. The funky, guitar-driven rock of "For John Muir" is a bit of an improvement, particularly in the verses. Like the previous track, though, it when the full-on chorus arrives that the problems occur. The title track is an excellent, atmospheric, very typically Deacon Blue song, suffering from the same chorus section faults, but a captivating build up that sounds vaguely like Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill". As on the previous album, I feel that Deacon Blue's main asset, the melodious musicality expressed in the trademark vocals of their two vocalists is being completely buried under this crashing, unsubtle production. At the risk of repeating myself, "An Ocean" is exactly the same, a good sound on the build up that completely goes astray as the chorus launches. It is a pity because these are good songs. Given a production such as on their first four albums they would all sound so much better.


"The Living" is an anthemic typical Deacon Blue, which suffers less than the others so far and has a sumptuous bass line and some excellent vocals actually a bit higher in the mix for once and a nice guitar drum riff driving it along. "I Wish I Was A Girl Like You" gets is mostly right, with a deep bass and drum sound and discernible vocals. It has a catchy rhythm and a great atmosphere to it. Proper Deacon Blue. Look, I am writing this as someone who has everything they have ever released and love the band dearly. My criticisms are ones that can be levelled at quite a lot of post 2000 album productions. Bruce Springsteen ("Magic"), Elvis Costello ("When I Was Cruel") and Paul McCartney ("Memory Almost Full") have all suffered from poorly produced albums in that period. I just want one of my favourite bands' work to be give the best quality sound, and on these albums they didn't get it.

"Win" is a lovely, appealing and melodic number with a nice bassy warmth to it. "Wild" is a quirky number with some staccato guitar and a catchy refrain. "March" has a solid, muscular riff throughout and some swirling new wave-style organ, also a rumbling bass sound and some excellent vocals. This is slightly more like it. "Our New Land" is a plaintive, acoustically-backed song, although Ross's voice sounds a bit strained on it, maybe he is just getting older. "I Remember Every Single Kiss" has a mysteriously attractive rumbling bass and piano intro and is a beguiling song that brings to mind the "Whatever You Say, Say Nothing" album. In fact, in many ways, this whole album has shades of that one. They are both not instantly gripping albums, that take time and repeated listens to get into. The sound problem will always remain, however, although the second half of the album is an improvement on the first, for some probably totally coincidental reason. Funnily enough, when played live, such as on "Barrowlands 2016" the tracks from these albums sound so much better.

C+

Traffic - Gold


  

This is an excellent compilation covering Traffic's output from the late sixties psychedelic/folk rock period to the funky jazz rock, slightly prog-rock-ish extended grooves of the early-mid seventies. The years concerned are 1967-1974. The sound, as if often the case on these "Gold" compilations, is absolutely superb, remastered, bassy and in excellent stereo.

The sixties material includes druggy, trippy numbers such as "Paper Sun" and "Dealer", with its frantic bongos, flutes and typically psychedelic vocals. "Coloured Rain" pretty much sums up the kaleidoscope feel of the age, man. "Hole In My Shoe" was a big hit, with its Eastern percussion and guitar and bizarre, detached vocals about a shoe letting in water. It is such an evocative track of its age. I remember as a kid being quite fascinated by its sound. The plaintive "No Face, No Name, No Number" is also a very nostalgic late sixties number, again full of those contemporary Eastern influences that seemed to be almost compulsory at the time. You can really hear the inventive, experimental nature of the group's music in "Heaven Is In Your Mind". Yes, it is all a bit late sixties, dreamy-style, but there is some serious adventurous instrumentation in tracks like this. The guitar at the end is not the first time I will mention Paul Weller, who must have listened to this before writing "Can You Heal Us Holy Man" in 1993. "Smiling Phases" perfectly mixes hippy sixties rock with soul, exemplifying what made Traffic stand out from the crowd. They married all sorts of styles.

"Feelin' Alright" showed the band's desire to produce some funky edges to their rock. "You Can All Join In" is lyrically not the best, but the guitar sound is excellent. "Pearly Queen" had touches of late sixties/early seventies blues rock, and featured some serious heavy guitar soloing too. "Dear Mr. Fantasy" showed the first touches of that extended, bassy and soulful rock that would so influence artists like Paul Weller many years later. The same applies to "Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring", with its jazzy touches and swirling melodic organ together with a Stax-y soul vocal.

The seventies material includes the funk rock of "Light Up Or Leave Me Alone", the solid, funky, inventive rock of "Rock & Roll Stew", title tracks from the albums "Low Spark Of High-Heeled Boys" and "Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory". "Rainmaker" is very "proggy" in its lyrics and vocal delivery, also in its Jethro Tull-ish instrumentation, with flute to the fore. All very dreamy and trippy. Some Doors influences in there too. You can again hear the style Paul Weller would be influenced by so much in "Empty Pages". Weller was also highly influenced by tracks like "Glad" for his "Cafe Bleu" Style Council material in 1984.

There is also the authentic folk of "John Barleycorn Must Die" and one of my favourites, the catchy, organ-driven slightly Dylanesque and wonderful "Walking In The Wind". Overall, this is a highly recommended collection of excellent material from this influential band that straddled the musical changes of the late sixties and early seventies with confidence.

B-

The Clash Goes Jamaican - Various Artists




This is a most interesting compilation. Given The Clash's love for reggae, it is not surprising that someone eventually came up with the idea of having various reggae artists covering The Clash's music in authentic reggae style. The artists are not well-known ones, but it doesn't matter, the sound quality and delivery is excellent. In fact, I haven't heard of any of the artists.

The songs are played in various reggae styles - rocksteady, dub, roots, lovers, ska. There are thirty-one tracks on the album, and a bit like The "Bryan Ferry Orchestra's" jazz interpretations of Ferry and Roxy Music's material, some are more recognisable than others. More of these are identifiable compared to that album, however. Some have vocals, others are purely instrumentals. Surprisingly, two of The Clash's most authentic reggae cuts, "Armagideon Times" and "Guns Of Brixton" are not one here. I think the intention was more to "reggae-fy" less obvious contenders.

"Spanish Bombs" is done in a melodious, easy style with a fetching female vocal and some sumptuous Rico Rodriguez-style trombone at the end. "White Riot" is turned into a dubby instrumental, which is certainly interesting. Of course, it takes away all the song's fire and attack, but it is a good piece of dubby groove anyway. "Ghetto Defendant" uses the same slightly sampled spoken vocals of the original and the beat is not much changed from the original. "Train In Vain" is given a lively ska makeover, as is "London Calling", which is given a mysterious vocal. "White Man (In Hammersmith Palais)" keeps in intoxicating original skank ad has a convincing vocal. Nothing experimental on this one, more like a reasonably authentic cover version.

"I Fought The Law" has a vibrant, lively ska bluebeat rhythm. It is irresistible. "Clampdown" sounds not so much like reggae, but more like early T. Rex, with its frenetic bongo backing. A dubby groove doesn't really work with "Janie Jones", though. "Washington Bullets" has a croaking "toasting" Prince Far I-style vocal order a Latin acoustic rhythm. "Bankrobber" has a rocksteady sixties beat to it, driven by melodic keyboards. "Revolution Rock" is dreamily dubby in an Aswad/Third World sort of way. "Stay Free" has a seventies mid-pace, horn-driven ska beat that really suits it. "Straight To Hell" is beautifully dubby, with no vocals. "Safe European Home" skanks it up to the max and with a growling vocal sounds superb. "Lovers Rock" is played dubby and rootsy by Chris Murray and in a sort of psychedelic way by Sarah Connors (quite who Sarah is is unclear - the track has a male vocal).  "Rebel Waltz" is a ska-ed up slice of dub.

Ok, I could go on about the style of each track, but I am sure you get the picture. It is an interesting album of covers done in a myriad of reggae styles and is worthy of half an hour's dipping into every now and again.

C+

T. Rex - Bolan Boogie (1972)


  

Released April 1972

Between 1971 "Electric Warrior" and July 1972's "The Slider" came this compilation album of T. Rex's recent singles, 'b' sides and some earlier songs from their hippy, trippy Tyrannosaurs Rex albums (notably "Beard Of Stars"). At the time, despite being a compilation, it was treated as a "proper album". After all, it contained recent hit singles, so many customer were not really aware that much of the other material was "filler" from earlier in the band's career. I remember really liking the cover, all black with bright seventies-style lettering. The title "Bolan Boogie" was instrumental in pushing Marc Bolan forward as the essence of T. Rex. It was now all about him, no question. A star was born.

It is a bit of a patchy affair, but sill enjoyable, although the difference in quality between the later and earlier material is pretty apparent. Also, as opposed to T. Rex's other albums, it has not been remastered, so the CD available does not have such good sound quality as their other albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. Get It On
2. Beltane Walk
3. The King Of The Mountain Cometh
4. Jewel
5. She Was Born To Be My Unicorn
6. Dove
7. Woodland Rock
8. Ride A White Swan
9. Raw Ramp
10. Jeepster
11. Fist Heart Mighty Dawn Dart
12. By The Light Of The Magical Moon
13. Summertime Blues
14. Hot Love

The highlights are obvious - the huge singalong hit "Hot Love" and two tracks introducing that iconic Marc Bolan guitar riff - "Get It On" and the underrated "Jeepster". "Beltane Walk" and "Woodland Rock" are jaunty, lively sort of rock 'n' roll folk, if that makes sense, with Bolan stamping his quirky vocal presence all over them. "The King Of The Mountain Cometh" has an acoustic, dreamy and beguiling appeal, as indeed does the entrancing "By The Light Of A Magical Moon" and "Raw Ramp" is a chunky, solid number from the "Electric Warrior" period It was the 'b' side of "Get It On".

They do an infectiously appealing cover of Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues", full of congas and acoustic riffery and this was the 'b" side to the hit single "Ride A White Swan", which remains Bolan's most affectionately remembered early single. "Catch a bright star and place it on your forehead, say a few spells and baby there you go....". Bolan established the whole "bopping elf" persona with this one. Such a great song.

C+

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Eagles




All reviews done are highlighted in orange. Click on an album title to read the review.

Eagles (1972)
Desperado (1973)
On The Border (1974)
One Of These Nights (1975)
Hotel California (1976)
The Long Run (1976)

The Eagles: Selected Works (1972-1999)

The Eagles - On The Border (1974)



   

Released March 1974

Recorded In London and Los Angeles

After two excellent and varied country rock/harder rock albums, The Eagles were back with a similar mix of styles showing that were never always simply the "easy-listening" laid-back country rockers they have often been perceived to be.

TRACK LISTING

1. Already Gone
2. You Never Cry Like A Lover
3. Midnight Flyer
4. My Man
5. On The Border
6. James Dean
7. Ol' 55
8. Is It True
9. Good Day In Hell
10. The Best Of Your Love                                      

The Jackson Browne-esque "Already Gone" is a superb piece of of solid West Coast US rock. It is powerful, riffy, melodic and atmospheric. One of the Eagles' best tracks. "You Never Cry Like A Lover" goes from being hugely powerful to quiet and tender between its verses and chorus. It is both melodious and muscular. "Midnight Flyer" is a finger-pickin' bluegrass-ish piece of fun. It is lively, jaunty and just enjoyable. It has some excellent bass and drum interplay at the end. "My Man" is a country tribute to the recently-deceased Gram Parsons. It is a Parsons-esque, laid-back, slide guitar-driven song. It is quite lovely. "We who must remain, go on living just the same..." is a touching refrain.

The title track has that characteristic Don Henley, throaty vocal over another solidly grinding, mid-pace rock beat. It is almost funky r 'n' b in its feel. It has an intoxicating instrumental break two-thirds of the way through. "James Dean" is a corker of an Eagles rocker. Back in 1973 I remember hearing this played by Johnnie Walker on Radio 1 as a teenager. It was the very first time I had heard The Eagles. Funny how one remembers things like that.

"Ol' 55" is a classic steel guitar, harmonious "freeways, cars and trucks" ballad that The Eagles did so well. It is actually a Tom Waits cover, but it suits the group perfectly. "Is It True" is a powerful rock song, again with some great harmonies, but also some copper-bottomed chunky guitar. "Good Day In Hell" is a wonderful rocker, full of riffs and searing guitars runs and a great rock vocal. The album is ended by the classic, unforgettable country ballad "The Best Of Your Love". That track is pretty much perfection. These early Eagles albums are most enjoyable, only short, but varied, and the sound and playing is high quality. They were far more than just a "best of" group. Their albums were great too.

B-

Ian Hunter - Short Back 'N' Sides (1981)


  

Released in 1981

Having bought this album excitedly upon day of release, back in 1981, I have always had a mixed opinion of it. Some of it is superb, some decidedly ordinary.

TRACK LISTING

1. Central Park 'n' West
2. Lisa Likes Rock 'n' Roll
3. I Need Your Love
4. Old Records Never Die
5. Noises
6. Rain
7. Gun Control
8. Theatre Of The Absurd
9. Leave Me Alone
10. Keep On Burning                    

Ian Hunter had teamed up with Mick Jones and Topper Headon from The Clash, as well as Mick Ronson on this album. By now ex-punks like Jones and Headon now freely admitted their love for Hunter. Four years earlier they would have been condemning him as being a "has been". I was never convinced by that, anyway, Jones always loved Mott the Hoople and he would never have dared to insult Hunter. The album starts with one of my favourite Hunter solo songs of all time - the vibrant, rocking "Central Park And West", which has a killer opening riff and some great Hunter vocals. "I Need Your Love" is a saxophone and guitar-driven, Springsteen-esque singalong number. "Lisa Likes Rock 'n' Roll" was written for Mick Ronson's then young daughter. It is a fine song for a four-year old, but it doesn't really cut it as a copper-bottomed Hunter rocker. It is ok, I suppose, with its Bo Diddley rhythms, and there are some mildly amusing lyrics.

Nobody does an evocative, heart-rending rock ballad like Ian Hunter and he gives us a classic here in "Old Records Never Die", written in the wake of John Lennon's death. It does not directly mention him, but when you know the subject matter, it makes a moving song even more poignant. It has a killer sliding guitar riff which makes the song, as well as some fetching violin from Tymon Dogg (who featured on The Clash's "Sandinsta!"). "Noises" is a strange, experimental track and in many ways it is pretty pointless. It has a funky, rocking beat when it eventually gets going, but it goes on for over five minutes not really getting anywhere, with Hunter griping about noises, often in spoken passages, a bit like Mick Jagger on 1983's "Too Much Blood". There is some brief interesting, Mike Garson-ish piano, but not enough to really rescue it.

"Rain" actually follows the same sort of pattern - an extended number with Hunter's vocals semi-spoken over a chugging beat. This one has a slightly more appealing instrumental backing, however, and, due to that, is far more attractive as a track. "Take your washing off the line...it's gonna rain" beseeches Hunter. It is no work of genius, but has an odd appeal. "Gun Control" is more of the solidly rocking Hunter we have come to expect. A throbbing bass line powers a cynical song about the "gun lobby" movement in the USA. It could be interpreted as Hunter supporting the movement, but in fact he is singing wryly from their point of view.

"Theatre Of the Absurd" is a favourite of mine. A shuffling cod-dub reggae number with some great dubby guitar lines and some "boing boinging" synth drum sounds back a great Hunter vocal. "There I was stuck in London, part of my history, it was just like being in school again, but I felt something moving in me..". Captivating lines from Hunter and listen carefully you can hear Mick Jones's backing vocals. That was the album's last great point. "Leave Me Alone" is a bit of a strange song, with Hunter putting on an odd croony deep voice over an upbeat, vaguely disco-style backing. It doesn't sound like Ian Hunter at all and the chorus is awful. "Keep On Burning" starts with a promising organ and guitar slow burn intro and a typical dignified, soulful Hunter vocal and you think "this is going to be a great one", with Hunter in Dylanesque/Steve Harley mode, and, to be fair, is is pretty good, almost anthemic in places. I am sort of reassessing it, it now sounds better than I remember it. It is spoilt by its frenetic, pace-changing, piano-boogie ending, which is completely needless and incongruous. Overall, this was a patchy album, and Hunter would not release any really good material for another fifteen years or so.

C+


Saturday, 27 October 2018

The Eagles - Desperado (1973)


  

Released April 1973

Recorded in London

This, The Eagles' second outing was a mix of vibrant country rockers and finger-picking country folk numbers, with the balance in favour of the former. It really is, in places, quite a heavy rocking album, far more so than many would imagine. Like their debut album, strangely, it was recorded in the cold English winter, in 1972-1973, as opposed to California or Arizona. To add to that expected US West image, though, the group appear on the cover on a grainy photo looking like Old West outlaws.

TRACK LISTING

1. Doolin-Dalton
2. Twenty-One
3. Out Of Control
4. Tequila Sunrise
5. Desperado
6. Certain Kind Of Fool
7. Doolin-Dalton (Instrumental)
8. Outlaw Man
9. Saturday Night
10. Bitter Creek
11. Doolin-Dalton/Desperado (Reprise)                    

 The opener, "Doolin-Dalton" (what did that mean?) was influenced by The Band, and had a real bluesy rock power, despite its country feel in the vocals and theme. "Twenty-One" was more of a melodic light country folk number. The rock power is back, however, on the gloriously riffy and powerful "Out Of Control", a track that showed that The Eagles could really rock, despite their laid-back, easy country rock image. "Tequila Sunrise" is a track well-known to many, it is melodiously atmospheric, beautifully sung and played and just has that hot, dusty, travelling through South-West USA feeling about it.


"Desperado" is a beautiful, evocative piano and strings backed ballad that kicks in half way through with a huge rock backing and the vocal is just superb. The rocking "Certain Kind Of Fool" has a real hint of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers about it (three years before that band came into existence), with echoes of Little Feat and The Doobie Brothers too. A snatch of "Doolin-Dalton (Instrumental)" leads from this track into the muscular, solid rock of "Outlaw Man" is almost Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque in its whiskey-swilling rocking bluesiness. The end of the track has the band really giving it some.

After all that rocking out, it is time to retire to the roadhouse or cantina for a bit of country mournfulness. "Saturday Night" provides just that with a lovely piece of laid-back country balladry. "Bitter Creek" is a delightful, tuneful CSNY/America-influenced harmonious slice of country folk.

The album ends with a reprise of "Doolin-Dalton" that sounds much more folky and laid-back than the first version of the song and merges into a reprise of "Desperado" in its solid rock passage. Instead of being the repetition of previous tracks that it would seem to be, it actually works well. The album as a whole, is a largely upbeat, if a bit short, piece of work. The current remastering is good quality as well.

B-


Deacon Blue - The Hipsters (2012)


  

Released September 2012

Firstly, I have to say that this album suffers a lot from poor sound/production. You have to turn it down quite a bit (and I like my music loud), but on the big chorus, orchestrated bits, it sounds very clashing and tinny. There is not, for me, enough clear electric guitar, enough subtle bass guitar, enough "proper drumming" and the vocals are distant and indistinct. The latter is such a shame as Ricky Ross and Lorraine McIntosh's vocals are Deacon Blue, to a great extent.

TRACK LISTING

1. Here I Am In London Town
2. The Hipsters
3. Stars
4. Turn
5. The Rest
6. The Outsiders
7. That's What We Can Do
8. She'll Understand
9. Laura From Memory
10. It Will End In Tears
11. Is There No Way Back To You                      

Anyway, after an eleven year absence, Deacon Blue returned with this album and, production apart, it is a good one. "Here I Am In London Town" is a typical Deacon Blue low-key, plaintive album opener, with Ricky Ross's vocal over a solemn piano and subtle string backing. "The Hipsters" is a catchy, anthemic Deacon Blue song, with big orchestration and a catchy chorus. It is here that the production really blights the song. When the chorus kicks in, Ross's voice is too far down in the mix, almost drowned by the synthesised backing and what sound very programmed drums. It is a shame, because it is a good song. The production on their earlier albums was certainly not like this. I just wish the songs on here could be played and produced like the material on "Raintown" or "Fellow Hoodlums". Similarly,  "Stars" is a captivating song that deserves better. On much of their previous material, Ross's voice soared above the music, joined by Lorraine McIntosh, on this album, it is difficult to pick out their vocals in the same way. Of course, you can hear them, but not in the same way, as far as I'm concerned anyway. The drums sound programmed and muffled too.


"Turn" opens with a vocal, so it is a lot clearer, despite the production's best efforts to bury the song, it mostly fails and the song remains a discernably good one. Briefly I could hear the bass guitar, which is unusual on this album as mostly all I can detect is the sonorous bass thump of the drum programming. "The Rest" has a good jangly guitar and drum intro and an endearing vocal that once again gets a considerable pounding from the backing. The track has that great Deacon Blue rousing, anthemic quality to it, however, which redeems it. "The Outsiders" also possesses the same good points, with a most captivating refrain.

No amount of bad production, however, can hide the glory when Lorraine launches "That's What We Can Do" and her and Ricky soar into one hell of a chorus, reminding of exactly what I have always loved about Deacon Blue. I have see them do this in concert a couple of times and they do it much better live, sound-wise, than it is on here. In fact, that goes for the whole album.

"She'll Understand" gets it almost right. It is a fetching, powerful duet between the two vocalists. "Laura From Memory" is a melodic but bassily thumping number with a most appealing vocal refrain. Ross still has just such a knack of nailing down a hook for a song. "It Will End In Tears" has a killer of a keyboard intro, a lovely melody and a detectable bass rhythm. I love this song. Nice organ break in it too. When Lorraine's vocals come in at the end it is thoroughly uplifting.

"Is There No Way Back To You" ends the album in a sort of dignified Elvis Costello ballad way. The piano bit in the middle is evocative and subtly majestic. There are eleven excellent songs on this album, a vibrant, upbeat atmosphere. I just wish it could be re-recorded, with different production emphasis.

B-

Ian Hunter - Rant (2001)


  

Released April 2001

Recorded in New York City

TRACK LISTING

1. Still Love Rock 'n' Roll
2. Wash Us Away
3. Death Of A Nation
4. Morons
5. Purgatory
6. American Spy
7. Dead Man Walking (Eastenders)
8. Good Samaritan
9. Soap and Water
10. Rip Off
11. Knees Of My Heart
12. No-One                                          

"England's such a ripoff" Ian Hunter's by now endearing croaky voice growls out, from his tax exile house in the USA. Forgive my cynicism. I can understand his dissatisfaction, but not from someone who hasn't lived there for ages. I agree with his sentiments on the song, though, from my position and it certainly rocks with a fire old Ian hasn't lit under himself for years. Yes, "Ripoff" is undoubtedly a corker of a track. This is also Hunter's most overtly political album, he is indeed having a "rant", although, as often has been the case with Ian Hunter (and I have enjoyed his music since 1972) I am never quite sure where he is coming from politically. He has, for me, always been a bit of a mix of contradictions. His love/hate relationships with both the USA and the UK, for a start. Either way, nevertheless, the albums rocks, big time. His best since 1979, by far.

The brooding, menacingly pounding beat of "Good Samaritan" is another highly convincing number on this vibrant album. Hunter's voice rides confidently over the solid backing. "Purgatory" has an infectious, funky-ish guitar opening of a track that sounds like The Rolling Stones' late eighties/early nineties material. "American Spy" is full of Tom Petty-style riffs and a classic industrial-strength Hunter vocal. "Dead Man Walkin'" has a "Streets Of Philadelphia"-style drum beat and one of those great stately Hunter piano backings and a sad yearning vocal. "All the world's a stage, it's just that I ain't on it anymore...." sings Hunter, with breathtaking honesty. "What am I supposed to do now...sink to the bottom of obscurity..." he asks, on what is a very moving song. It is almost as if Hunter has given up on himself at this point.

Thankfully, "Wash Us Away" sees him lifted up again, although in a very nostalgic mode, thinking back to his childhood in the 1940s. As with many of Hunter's songs, though, as much as the song sounds inspiring, I am always left by wondering exactly what he was on about. It sounds meaningful so therefore it must be. Joe Strummer's solo material has the same effect on me. "Morons" is a bit of a low point on the album, despite its Mott The Hoople-esque, promising piano introduction and convincing first verse, the chorus is pretty awful. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, it has a Dickensian vigour about it in places. Any doubts I had about "Morons" are blown away by the wonderful "Knees Of My Heart", a pulsating classic Hunter rocker in praise of his long-suffering wife Trudi, still with him after so many years. "I bought you a house with a burglar alarm system.." is a great, typically wry Hunter line.

"No One" is an archetypal Hunter mid-pace rock ballad, full of those characteristic rises and falls and dramatic big chorus. When the guitar solo comes in you almost feel it is Hunter's old mate Mick Ronson. "Still Love Rock And Roll" does what you would imagine it would - it blows away all the cobwebs and rocks with a huge thump. He even ends with a "Golden Age Of Rock And Roll" "that's all""Death Of A Nation" perfectly exemplifies the dichotomy I find in Hunter's lyrics. Exactly what is he bemoaning as he imagines talking with The Queen, Prince Charles and Winston Churchill? He is speaking of a nation dying - what, in 2000, under a Labour government? Things had been much worse, Ian. Despite my misgivings over the lyrics, the song has one hell of an atmosphere to it. It is one of my favourites of his. Actually the song is far more relevant in 2018. "Look what they've done, it's the death of a nation...". Indeed.

"Soap 'n' Water" is a slow burning number with Ian ranting at someone or other about something or other. Not quite sure who or what, but it sounds good in that majestic Hunter fashion, as the whole album has.

B-

Paul McCartney - Ram (1971)


  

Released May 1971

Recorded in New York and Los Angeles

After the deliberately "home-made" feel of 1970's "McCartney", Paul McCartney continued in the same vein, to an extent, although this album benefits from a much fuller, more powerful production - more electric guitar, for example. It did still have that ramshackle feel to it, though, as if it were recoded in one of McCartney's farm buildings (it had not, see above). The whole "folk rock" laid-back thing was de rigeur at the time - Dylan, CSNY, The Byrds, Van Morrison, they were all at it. Why not McCartney? He ad a ten year legend to de-construct, after all. I am being facetious, but you certainly got the impression he just wanted to do some carefree, enjoyable music under no pressure. That is exactly what this album is. It doesn't really beggar too much analysis.

TRACK LISTING

1. Too Many People
2. 3 Legs
3. Ram On
4. Dear Boy
5. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
6. Smile Away
7. Heart Of The Country
8. Monkberry Moon Delight
9. Eat At Home
10. Long Haired Lady
11. Ram On (reprise)
12. In The Back Seat Of My Car                          

"Too Many People" is a confident, solid rock song, with potent drums and electric guitar and a memorable hook. "3 Legs" is a light, folky and vaguely bluesy, enjoyable but inessential number. "Ram On" has McCartney in Beatles-style vocal tone, but is a pretty throwaway short piece of innocent, unthreatening fun. It doesn't really get anywhere, neither it supposed to. Stuff like this sounds like something laid down in a spare few minutes in the studio, with no real intention release.

The wistful, Beatles-esque "Dear Boy" has a hint of the material that Wings would put out over the subsequent years. It is, like all the album, cheerful, melodic and unashamedly unchallenging. McCartney still also had time for a bit George Martin-style orchestrated whimsy in the irritating but annoyingly memorable "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey". The former with its "Yellow Submarine" silly voices and the latter with its cheery brass and more haughty voices give Beatles followers their dose of McCartney silliness. Personally, I have always hated it, but still find myself singing along to it. It is another very Wings-like prototype. You almost expect it to launch into "ho hey ho" near the end.

As I said at the beginning, though, there is a fuller, rockier sound to some of this album, and we get some more rock with the chunky introductory riffs, electric guitar backing and doo-wop of "Smile Away". If this had been on "Abbey Road" everybody would have said it was great. As it was, the public at the time remained underwhelmed by McCartney's output, which was a bit of a shame because, if one forgets about The Beatles, this isn't a bad album. Then again, though, if it hadn't been for The Beatles, he wouldn't have got away with an album as quirky as this.

"Heart Of The Country" is blissfully pleasant and endearing, McCartney expressing the pleasures of his bucolic life. Lyrically and musically, it is enjoyable. "I want a horse, I got sheep, I want to get me a good night's sleep...". 

"Monkberry Moon Delight" is another Wings-ish jaunty rocker. It is more proof that this is a more fulfilled, credible album than its predecessor. I have always quite the rock 'n' roll groove of "Eat At Home". "Let's eat in bed" declares McCartney, as if he were singing to Yoko. "Long Haired Lady" is musically inventive, atmospheric and credible. It amazingly manages to eke six minutes out of not much at all though. The brass part at the end is appealing, however, but the track is two minutes too long. "Ram On" is briefly and pointlessly reprised before the album's final and possibly best track, "In The Back Seat Of My Car". It is a bit indulgent in places, but it is full of good points as it veers tunefully here and there.

It is a shame the heavy "Oh Woman, Oh Why" from the bonus material didn't make it on to the album, or the seriously powerful rock of "Rode All Night". It would be a totally different album, and perceived so differently.

C+

Friday, 26 October 2018

The Rolling Stones - Blue And Lonesome (2016)

   

Released December 2016

Recored at British Grove Studios, London

Running time 42.36

Apparently recorded very quickly, in an "almost live" studio setting, in order to give the album a raw feel, this was the long-waited Rolling Stones album of Chicago blues covers.

TRACK LISTING

1. Just Your Fool
2. Commit A Crime
3. Blue And Lonesome
4. All Of Your Love
5. I Gotta Go
6. Everybody Knows About My Good Thing
7. Ride 'Em On Down
8. Hate To See You Go
9. Hoo Doo Blues
10. Little Rain
11. Just Like I Treat You
12. I Can't Quit You Baby                                        

"Just Your Fool" kicks the album off in a lively fashion, full of blue riffs, blues harp, barroom piano and a general all round rollicking feel. The sound is a tiny bit dense and muffled, though, throughout the alum. Maybe that was the intention, giving it that authentic blues sound, or maybe trying to replicate The Stones' sixties blues covers in its sound. "Commit A Crime" is a big, bassy thumper of a number. It is clear that The Stones are playing here for the sheer, unfettered enjoyment of it. Mick Jagger's vocal on this one, and indeed on all of them, is excellent, sounding half his venerable age. His blues harp (harmonica) is already sounding the dominant accoutrement to the album. Little Walter's "Blue And Lonesome" is solidly powerful, again the sound is a little indistinct, but I am sure by now it is deliberate. All the tracks are relatively short. This is not an album for drawn out "Midnight Rambler"-style soloing, it would seem. "All Of Your Love" has a copper-bottomed blues riff, killer piano and another peerless vocal. If I didn't know better I would swear they put a hissy background on this track to make it sound more genuine. Actually, I'm sure they did. It's 2016, no need for any hiss.

"I Gotta Go" starts with some wonderful harp from Jagger. The sound, again, is almost mono, but a dull mono at that. In fact some of their original sixties mono blues covers actually sound much better. It is not a huge criticism, however, this material is still smokin' hot. "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" has a superb riff played by Eric Clapton. It is so good to hear these two giants of sixties UK blues playing together so well, all these years later. "Ride 'Em On Down" is an upbeat rocking blues, one of the liveliest on the album so far. "Hate To See You Go" has that riff that seems to have appeared in a thousand blues songs. Play it - you'll know the one I mean.


"Hoo Doo Blues" is a menacing, down 'n' dirty grinder of a number. It is maybe the most authentic-sounding of all of them. "Little Rain" is a slow, powerful but mournful blues. "Just Like I Treat You" is a frantic blues rocker. Jagger sounds great on this one. Eric Clapton joins the boys again for a searing solo on "I Can't Quit You Baby" which has a great "live" feel to it. In conclusion, you would have thought this album has Keith Richards' stamp all over it. Funnily enough, it is Jagger who dominates the whole thing. He seems to be revelling in it.

Despite the admittedly less than perfect sound (to my taste) this is still a highly enjoyable, pure album  from a band who burst on to the scene, and into our lives, playing the blues. If this is to be their last studio album, then they went out playing the blues. As it should be.

B-

Paul Weller - Illumination (2002)




Released September 2002

Recorded at Black Barn Studio

This is probably one of the Paul Weller albums that I return to the least, for some reason. It is something of a "treading water" album, to a certain extent. The glory years of pastoral rock from 1993-1997 were long gone, and 2000's "Heliocentric" has functioned in a similar way to this one. The are a few experimental concessions to contemporary music, though, in the synthesised horn backing on "It's Written In The Stars". It was an album unlikely to be a huge commercial success but it was one that would be still enjoyed by Weller's large army of steadfastly loyal fans. It was very laid-back in tempo and acoustically-backed as opposed to electric, although still employing a solid bass sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. Going Places
2. A Bullet For Everyone
3. Leafy Mysteries
4. It's Written In The Stars
5. Who Brings Joy
6. Now The Night Is Here
7. Spring (At Last)
8. One X One
9. Bag Man
10. All Good Books
11. Call Me No. 5
12. Standing Out In The Universe
13. Illumination

"Going Places" is a pleasant piece of acoustic rock, although the sound is a little undercooked in places. This is remedied in the upbeat, rocking thump of the cynical "A Bullet For Everyone" that has Weller rocking in reassuringly familiar fashion, but also backed by some driving seventies style organ. "Leafy Mysteries" is one of those catchy acoustic and bass-driven melodic numbers Weller had learnt to do so impressively, full of lyrics about "breezes" and "dappled orchards". It is another song about Weller being at peace with himself in relaxing, rural surroundings. He had been pushing this line for ten years now, odd for one who was originally so decidedly urban, "Sounds From The Street" and all that. To be fair, though, "Tales From The Riverbank" had been an early expression of his bucolic side.

The afore-mentioned "It's Written In The Stars" employs contemporary horn loop sampling techniques and uses that slightly irritating crackling, scratchy sound to accompany the programmed-sounding drums. The bass is great on it, though, and you have to admire Weller for his willingness to experiment on this track. The "horn" riff was later used a lot on an advertisement (I can't remember what for, but Weller must have done pretty well out of it). "Who Brings Joy" is a wistful, plaintive acoustically backed Nick Drake-ish number. It always amused me somewhat when Weller played songs like this live and his laddish, Jam-fan following would bray "wraaay" upon its introduction, as if they liked it. Of course they didn't, they were just waiting for a couple of Jam songs to be played. Either way, they stuck with him, year after year. "Now The Night Is Here" is a bassy but folky slow paced reflective number about peace and joy and being in love. This is a Weller very much in a good  place. He is maturing gracefully, yes, the old fire hasn't completely gone out, but he is subtly adding "age appropriate" themes into his songwriting.

"Spring (At Last)" is an ambient, dreamy instrumental (I think they called it chill-out), with some Eastern sounds and flute doodling at the end. "One X One", while still a laid-back song, in a sort of Groove Armada style, had a nice solid bass sound, although the guitar backing is still resolutely acoustic. Finally, near the end, Weller brings his electric guitar impressively crashing in. Despite that, apart from "A Bullet For Everyone", all the material so far has been laid-back, low-key and relaxing in theme. The same applies to the rather fetching, shuffling "Bag Man".

"All Good Books" has another sumptuous bass line and a catchy, dignified rhythm and it again certainly does not break the mood of the album thus far. Finally an electric opening riff introduces the acerbic, steady rock of "Call Me No. 5", which sees a throaty Weller duetting with the even throatier Kelly Jones of The Stereophonics. It is an impressive, powerful number. The rock mood continues with the more typically Weller sound of "Standing Out In The Universe". The song would not have been out of place on "Wild Wood", in a "Shadow Of The Sun" sort of way. It has a searing guitar solo, enhanced by some sweeping strings.

"Illumination" is a sombre, mournful acoustic number to close this thoughtful, serious and intelligent album. Despite its good points, though, one felt that Weller had to inject a bit of new life into his subsequent albums in order to avoid stagnation. Thankfully, he did just that.

C+