Monday, 19 November 2018

Paul Simon - Paul Simon (1972)


    

Released January 1972

After the demise of Simon & Garfunkel the previous year, Paul Simon cast off the shackles off what Simon & Garfunkel had become - big, dramatic ballads like "Bridge Over Troubled Water" without the musical explorations and adventurousness that Simon so liked. He had tried to get them into the duo's work, subtly, but now has was free to do his thing.

Funnily enough, though, despite the convincing experiment with reggae on "Mother and Child Reunion" and Caribbean calypso-style rhythms and "world music" sounds on "Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard" (the album's two big hit singles) the album was pretty low key. Quiet, gentle songs, intelligent, perceptive lyrics. Simon set his stall out for many subsequent albums. "Duncan" is a beguiling, interesting song, with a witty first couple of lines and "Everything Put Together Falls Apart" is a laid-back, walking pace acoustic number, of the type that would typify much of Simon's work over the next few years. "Run That Body Down" is wry and observantly astute. This is a long way removed from the grandiose, stately ballads of Simon & Garfunkel. The latter track has some fetching wah-wah style guitar in the middle. It is a "grower" of a song and one of my favourites on the album. Simon began a tradition that would serve him well over the years - employing the finest musicians.

"Armistice Day" sees Simon delving into the blues, with some impressive guitar backing another lyrically interesting song. These songs are proper, serious "adult" songs and now, nearly fifty years later they haven't dated at all. I have to say, also, that, for 1972, the sound is truly outstanding on the latest remastering. "Peace like A River" has a big, resonant bluesy slow tempo beat to it. Another very enjoyable cut. "Papa Hobo" is another observant, environmentally-consciousness song with some infectious backing. The song morphs into the short, bluesy instrumental "Hobo's Blues". Simon's exploration of the blues continues with the bottleneck guitar of "Paranoia Blues", which, after a reflective opening, launches into a huge, thumping chorus part. "Congratulations" is a suitably understated acoustic number upon which to end this gently appealing album.

B-

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Eric Clapton - 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)


  

Released July 1974

Yes, all of Eric Clapton's solo albums in the seventies were laid-back, but this is probably the most laid-back of all of them, and possibly the most appealing of all his albums. He had not recorded for nearly three years, going through a "drugs hell" period and sitting around, Elvis-style, watching TV. He then got his act together and started going back to his blues roots in his listening habits. People expecting "God"-like guitar solos, however, were to be disappointed.

Its influences are the blues, of course, but also country rock, r'n'b, soul and, notably, reggae, which was still not too popular with the rock fraternity at the time, although Bob Marley's "Catch A Fire", from the previous year, had helped to change that. Clapton's voice is laconic and understated throughout, as is the backing and overall, it is a most relaxing album. As beautifully low key as a sunny afternoon in the house on the cover. Incidentally, though, I always felt the cover should have been taken on a sunny day, as opposed to the milky white sky it had.

The rousing (comparatively) blues of "Motherless Children" kicks the album off, while "Give Me Strength" is a reflective, quiet slice of country-ish blues. The fifties shuffler "Willie & The Hand Jive" is as close to lively as Clapton gets on the album and "Get Ready" is an intoxicating, grinding piece of soul/rock, with slight reggae influences in the guitars, that almost "skank" at times. Clapton and the backing vocalist are in perfect sync throughout the track. "I Shot The Sheriff" covers Bob Marley's iconic reggae track quite convincingly, with Clapton and his band getting the bass, organ, guitar and drums right, which white artists often fail to do when playing reggae, like Led Zeppelin on "D'Yer Make'r", notoriously.

"I Can't Hold Out" is a sublime piece of gentle blues rock, with an addictive keyboard riff underpinning it. It is quite soulful too, and exemplifies a real change from the rock of his Derek & The Dominoes material from a few years earlier. The drum rhythm is almost funky at times. "Please Be With Me" is a beautiful, gentle acoustic number. "Let It Grow" continues in the same vein, a bucolic, almost folk-rock number that is nothing like any of his previous material. It ends with some evocative guitar from Clapton, but it is still pretty understated.

"Steady Rollin' Man" has Eric bluesily rocking on a grinding, shuffling serving of blues rock, that was of the style that would come to typify Clapton's work over the subsequent three or four decades. It is a great track, though, one of my favourites from the album. "Mainline Florida" closes the original album with another mid-tempo chugging rock number, full of atmosphere and understated riffs and vocals. Finally some guitar kicks in, but then it finishes, unsurprisingly. The whole album has been appealingly understated. You can just let it wash over you on a Sunday afternoon, as I am doing right now.

B+

Tower Of Power - Tower Of Power (1973)


  

Released May 1973

This was Tower Of Power's third album and they underwent a few line up changes - Skip Mesquite left and was replaced by Lenny Pickett on saxophone. He sessioned for Elton, The Meters and the Brothers Johnson among others as well. The excellent, honey-voiced Lenny Williams was brought in to give them permanent lead vocalist. It was awarded a gold record for sales and is one of their most rounded, confident, fulfilled offerings. The band had thirteen musicians playing on this album and you can tell. It is musically most impressive.

The opener, "What Is Hip?" is a superb slice of Meters-style funk, with the band's punchy horn section at its best. "Clever Girl" is a laid-back, smooth piece of soul, while the jaunty, upbeat "This Time It's Real" has Northern Soul written all over it. "Will I Ever Find A Love" is an orchestrated, slow soul ballad, with sweeping strings and a confident, soulful vocal.

Just when you thought they had deserted the fun, it was back, big time, with the seriously cookin' "Get Yo' Feet Back On The Ground". However good the soul stuff is, it is on these down 'n' dirty workouts that you get the best of Tower Of Power, in my opinion. Just check out those irresistible funky rhythms, the drum, bass and organ interplay. Marvellous. Stuff like this was actually quite ahead of its time, although having said that, The Meters had been putting out seriously good funk since the late sixties. "So Very Hard To Go" was actually a hit single too, which was unusual. It has a Temptations feel to it, and a wonderful horn refrain. Memphis-style Stax-y guitars drive it along too.

"Soul Vaccination" is so deliciously funky it is making me hungry. It cooks to the nth degree. Those lilting, funky guitars are thoroughly addictive, as is the drum rhythm. It doesn't get much better than this, as for the saxophone break - wow. That is not even mentioning the beauty of the bass solo half way through. Musicianship of the highest quality, a band totally in tune with each other. "Both Sorry Over Nothin'" is pure Otis Redding soul, with added funk too. I know this was Tower Of Power's most successful album, but why they weren't huge is a mystery to me. There is some seriously great material on this album. The soul/funk brilliance continues on the impressive "Clean Slate".

The album closes with return to late-night soul with the beautiful "Just Another Day". If you like seventies funk and soul, you can't go for wrong with this. The sound quality, as on all Tower Of Power's albums, is excellent as well.



The Meters - Struttin' (1970


  

Released June 1970

This was The Meters' third album, By now you knew what you were going to get - their, at the time, quite unique brand of funky guitar, organ, drum and bass-driven workouts, like a series of extended studio jams, but quite intoxicating. That it was more of the same doesn't matter. If you like their sound you'll like it.

The opener, "Chicken Strut" gets aboard the contemporary "Funky Chicken" groove train, patented by Stax's Rufus Thomas, complete with obligatory chicken noises. "Liver Splash" is a classic Meters, Memphis-style, Stax-ish instrumental groove, driven along by some sublime bass, organ and insistent drums. The next cut is a bit of a surprise, to say the least - a cover of Glen Campbell's iconic, evocative ballad, "Wichita Lineman", full of telegraph-sounding guitar and a catchy upbeat, rhythmic drum part on the end of the verses, which, funnily enough, doesn't sound incongruous. The original is so perfect in itself that this doesn't really work, but, listened to while trying to forget the original, it's ok.

That addictive rhythm continues on the wonderful, bassy groove of the instrumental "Joog". "Go For Yourself" is a delicious organ-driven instrumental. "Same Old Thing" has them going very James Brown. The funk The Meters came up with is totally energising, I have to say. "Clap Your Hands" is similarly catchy, while "Darling Darling Darling" is a sumptuous slice of Stax-style soul, with a Sam Cooke-esque vocal and bass and organ riffs to die for. Look, the album continues in the same vein to the end - funky as hell instrumentals on the whole like the irresistible "Britches" that just take over as you listen to them. As I said earlier, you know what you're going to get and if it is to your taste, you're in for a treat. Their cover of Lee Dorsey's Northern Soul classic "Ride Your Pony" is given a sixties-style funky, pounding makeover. Great stuff. A highly recommended classic album of its genre. Check out the various solos on "Funky Meters Soul" for compelling evidence.

B

Little Feat - Little Feat (1971)


  

Released January 1971

Recorded in Los Angeles

Released in 1971, this debt album from Little Feat was not really like their subsequent albums, with their funky, rhythmic rock that became their trademark. This one was still influenced by late sixties/early seventies country rock on cuts like "Strawberry Flats", with its chunky riffs and Band-style vocal delivery. There were echoes of "Tumbleweed Connection" period Elton John too. There were also flavours of psychedelia and blues to the album in many places, such as on the opener, "Snakes On Everything". It is very much an Americana album (although to be honest I feel all their albums are) and a country one too. I guess it is an American roots album, like the early ones from the Band.

"Truck Stop Girl" brings to mind The Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet" work and The Band, once more. The plaintive, piano-driven ballad "Brides Of Jesus" is very influenced by early Neil Young. The next track, "Willin'" is very country-ish slide-ish blues, while the more typical Little Feat rock sound is present on the muscular guitar of "Hamburger Midnight", the heaviest cut on the album. It has some searing guitar on it in the middle. The blues is present, big time on the six-minute Howlin' Wolf medley of "Forty Four Blues/How Many More Years" which is packed to the brim with blues harmonica and slide guitar.

"Crack In Your Door" is a rousing Band-esque number, while "I've Been The One" is very Jackson Browne-like in its vocal delivery, melody and lyrics. "Takin' My Time" is similar in its quiet piano/vocal atmosphere, very Elton John-esqe and the short closer "Crazy Captain Gunboat Willie" is a brief return to rocking Americana. Overall, this is an enjoyable, retrospective and evocative album. Although it didn't do particularly well at the time, its influence has been greater over the years.

B-

Saturday, 17 November 2018

War - The World Is A Ghetto (1972)


  

Released October 1972

In 1972, black consciousness was all over the place - Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone, The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth. War were another exponent, but they were more of a funk/ jazz/rock outfit as opposed to soul. Along with The Meters and the underrated Tower Of Power, they were one of the great pioneering funk bands. A seven piece full of excellent instrumentalists, this was a superb, cooking album of "blaxploitation" ghetto living early seventies style.

The album only contained six tracks - the pulsating, energising funk of the comparatively shorter "The Cisco Kid" and "Where Was You At" lead us into the laid-back funky groove of "City, Country, City", which meanders her, there and everywhere, seemingly allowing all the members a solo piece, from relaxing, soulful harmonica to frantic jazzy keyboards and funky percussion. A bit like Santana's "Caravanserai" album, this is intense, serious adult instrumental music, nothing remotely commercial about it. The bass, drums, percussion and keyboard passage around ten minutes in is intoxicating.

"Four Cornered Room" is an inscrutable, slow-tempo workout, with occasional backing vocals before leading into some dreamy, hippy verses about sitting in my four-cornered room. Then we get a spoken, seventies-style "rap" about consciousness and understanding. For 1972, stuff like really was adventurous and boundary-pushing, both musically, lyrically and conceptually. This cut is brooding, soulful, portentous and sombre. The title track is in its full ten-minute version here. It has a captivating soul vocal and a pulsating, insistent slow groove to it. Throughout this album there are elements of jazz, blues and even psychedelia left over from the sixties. Check out the jazzy saxophone on the title track over that rumbling bass. Brilliant stuff. It doesn't sound at all dated, even all these years later.

The album closes with "Beetles in The Bog", a slightly incongruous, chanted vocal number that has a funky rhythm but a bit of a Sly Stone "There's A Riot" era somewhat drunken-sounding vocal. This is a minor thing, though, overall, this was a most credible effort.

B-

Santana - Caravanserai (1972)


  

Released October 1972

After three ground-breaking albums of red hot fusion of latin salsa rhythms and rock electric guitar, Santana changed their line-up slightly and also their style, slightly, releasing this now classic album of extended jazzy, stream of consciousness largely instrumental workouts. Yes, the trademark percussion is still there, particularly on frenetic cuts like "La Fuente Del Ritmo", but much o te material is quite trippy, meandering but infectious journeying into slowed-down jazzy guitar sounds, freaky keyboards, man, and intoxicating rhythms, such on the captivating closer, "Every Step Of The Way". It is almost classical in its powerful, dramatic execution, full of surging keyboard riffs, wonderful Carlos Santana guitar and frantic percussion.

There are only three tracks with vocals, the evocative "Stone Flower",  the psychedelic "All The Love Of The Universe" and "Just In Time To See The Sun". The album had no hit singles and, listening to it, you feel that sense of intense seriousness. I remember at school when this came out, I was fourteen at the time. There was one boy who carried this album around under his arm. Looking back, that was a remarkably mature choice for a fourteen year-old. The album is full of musical complexity but it utterly uncommercial. After their triumphs at Woodstock in the late sixties, the release of this started a downturn in Santana's popularity. They became a band for the discerning members of the cognoscenti for a while, until a renaissance in the late seventies with their cover of The Zombies' "She's Not There" and a further one in the late nineties with "Supernatural". That said, listen to this a few times and it starts to get into your bloodstream. Its pulsating rhythms, improvisation and sheer musical adventurousness have gained it considerable critical kudos in subsequent years.

The album is unpredictable, beguiling and highly listenable. Just don't expect a singalong - sit back and try to absorb its sheer brilliance. Take two tracks like "Waves Within" and "Look Up (To See What's Coming Down)" as examples, then the power of the intro to  "Just In Time To See The Sun". That guitar on "Song Of The Wind" and the cymbal work behind it. Phenomenal stuff. Highly recommended. They really don't make music like this these days. Wonderful cover art too.

B

1970




Click on an album title to read the review.

Deja Vu - Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 
Chicago II - Chicago
Morrison Hotel - The Doors
Moondance - Van Morrison
Psychedelic Shack - The Temptations
Bridge Over Troubled Water - Simon & Garfunkel
Sentimental Journey - Ringo Starr
Bitches Brew - Miles Davis
First Step - Faces
Elton John - Elton John
Farewell - Diana Ross & The Supremes
McCartney - Paul McCartney
Mona Bone Jakon - Cat Stevens
Right On - The Supremes
ABC - Jackson 5
Let It Be - The Beatles
In Rock - Deep Purple
Self Portrait - Bob Dylan
Diana Ross - Diana Ross
Fire And Water - Free
Fotheringay - Fotheringay
Gasoline Alley - Rod Stewart
Hark! The Village Wait - Steeleye Span
On Stage - Elvis Presley
Struttin' - The Meters
John Barleycorn Must Die - Traffic
Signed, Sealed & Delivered - Stevie Wonder
Eric Clapton - Eric Clapton
Sunflower - The Beach Boys
Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon - Status Quo
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out - The Rolling Stones
After The Gold Rush - Neil Young
Idlewild South - The Allman Brothers Band
Beaucoups Of Blues - Ringo Starr
Abraxas - Santana
Curtis - Curtis Mayfield
Mad Shadows - Mott The Hoople
The Magnificent 7 - Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Four Tops
Led Zeppelin III - Led Zeppelin
New Morning - Bob Dylan
Tumbleweed Connection - Elton John
New Ways But Love Stays - The Supremes
The Man Who Sold The World - David Bowie
His Band And The Street Choir - Van Morrison
Tea For The Tillerman - Cat Stevens
All Things Must Pass - George Harrison
Cruel Sister - Pentangle
John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band - John Lennon
T. Rex - T. Rex
Highway - Free

The Rolling Stones - Voodoo Lounge Uncut (Live) (1994)


  

** this review is for the music only, not the DVD **

Yes, this is another Rolling Stones live album, with many of the same songs on the set list, and, although, it is marketed as "Voodoo Lounge Uncut", there are actually only four songs from that album on here - "You Got Me Rocking"; "Sparks Will Fly"; "I Go Wild" and Keith Richards' "The Worst". Much of the rest of the set is made up, as I said, from the "usual suspects".

That said, there is a looseness and energy to this live performance that separates it slightly from some of the many Stones live albums available. It is quite difficult to explain but Mick Jagger's vocals seem more improvised, Richards' guitar similarly so. Check out the rhythmic groove of "Beast Of Burden". Just something about it. A few subtle set list changes too, such as "Satisfaction" appearing seventh track in. There is also quite a lot of Jagger "chat" with the audience. There are a few rarities too - superb blues covers of "Stop Breaking Down" (with Robert Cray) and "Who Do You Love" (with Bo Diddley) ; welcome appearances for "Not Fade Away", "It's All Over Now", "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" (which sounds great) and "Dead Flowers" (sung acoustically, along with "Angie"). There is a beauty to both of these latter performances. Cheryl Crow also guests on vocals on "Live With Me", successfully.

The sound quality is excellent and I am finding that I am enjoying this one a lot. There is an energised freshness to the delivery that is discernible, to someone who has all their live recordings, at least, and that is pretty much who this will appeal to.


B+

Friday, 16 November 2018

Fleetwood Mac - 50 Years - Don't Stop




I am exactly the sort of Fleetwood Mac fan that this excellent compilation is aimed at. Yes, I have all the early blues albums from the Peter Green period, "Rumours" and "Tango In The Night" but that's as far as it goes for me with the Mac. So, this one suits me fine. I am not sure whether the remasters on here are new ones done specifically for this collection or whether they are taken from the recent "deluxe edition" remasters of their classic albums. Either way, I have to say that the sound quality is simply superb. (Just trying to ascertain it, I think the remasters date from 2015). Check out "Seven Wonders" or "Don't Stop" as they pound out of your speakers and you realise that, as clich├ęd a band as they were in the seventies, rather like The Eagles, for what they did, there were not many better. The musicianship is peerless and the vocals of either Stevie Nicks or Christine McVie (or both of them in their perfect harmony) are sumptuous. Both melodious and strong when necessary.

You can't move for 50th anniversary collections at the moment and this, of course, in this case, (as with all of them) emphasises that Fleetwood Mac have been around for one hell of a long time. They are one of those bands that had two incarnations - the early, raw bluesy one featuring the talents of guitarist Peter Green is completely different to the West Coast, easy rock of the one most people will be buying this collection for. No group had two so utterly different styles under the same group name and some of the same members. Yes, that smooth, easy on the ear, warm sound of tracks like "Think About Me" or "Love Shines", the slick disco of "Family Man", the radio-friendly pop of "Oh Diane" and the huge hits from "Rumours" is pretty irresistible at times, but, for me, you can't beat that stonking early blues sound. So, I urge people not to dismiss that part of their career and try not to listen to the seventies/eighties material only. Highlights are "Black Magic Woman"; "Shake Your Moneymaker"; "Need For Love So Bad"; "Man Of The World" and "Station Man". These are all energetic, muscular blues cuts of the highest quality, dating from the "British Blues Explosion" of the mid-late sixties. Fleetwood Mac came in at the end of that, but they were good, of that there is no doubt. Check out the psychedelic, dreamy rock of "Hypnotized" too.

So, as a "casual" Fleetwood Mac kind of guy I can heartily recommend this to anyone of a similar outlook. It is a really enjoyable listen from a quality band(s).

B+

Mark Knopfler - Down The Road Wherever (2018)


  

Released November 2018

This is Mark Knopfler's first album for three years or so. You know what you're going to get from him by now - immaculately played, laid-back folky, slow tempo rock. If you like Knopfler, you will like this. It is as simple as that. Nothing much changes in the material he has been putting out for many years now. Having said that, however, I have to say that, of all his solo albums, this contains the most musical diversity. Look, it's not "Sgt. Pepper" or "A Night At The Opera" in its chocolate box diversity, but, for Knopfler, it is by far the most changeable, track by track, album he has released. His voice largely remains the same, calm and melancholic, but musically, there is quite a lot in here. It isn't all just a gently strummed acoustic guitar.

The album's opener, "Trapper Man" is a lengthy robust number with a muscular drum sound, some bluesy guitar interjections and Knopfler's usual quiet, gentle vocal. There is a contemporary-sounding drum section at one point, but largely it is a regular fare, with some trademark guitar throughout. There are vague echoes of Bruce Springsteen's later post-2000 work in places, particularly near the end. Just hints, though, in the piano riff. "Back On The Dance Floor" is a shuffling, infectious bluesy number that harks back a bit to Dire Straits' final album "On Every Street". Something about the rhythm and guitar work reminds me of Knopfler's collaborations with Bryan Ferry, notably "Valentine" from Ferry's "Boys And Girls" album. "Nobody's Child" is a typical, walking pace, sensitive song with Knopfler's quietly reflective vocal sung over some Dire Straits-style slow guitar. One thing I am noticing is he is using this old Straits guitar sound circa "Brothers In Arms"/"On Every Street" a lot more than he has done on recent albums.

"Just A Boy Away From Home" is an appetising slice of slow blues, like Chris Rea's bluesy material. The leading guitar riff reminds of something but I can't place it at the moment. For some reason it sounds like "You'll Never Walk Alone". The more it plays, of course, I realise it is exactly that. What were hints have now turned into the instantly recognisable melody. The writing credits include Rogers and Hammerstein, credited for the obvious lift.

"When You Leave" is a slow, fifties-influenced, smoky jazzy number, like something from Frank Sinatra's sombre, late night, feeling sorry for himself period. It is enhanced by some lovely, evocative jazzy saxophone. "Good On You Son" is more typical of Knopfler's early solo work. It tells of someone who has emigrated to Los Angeles as far as I can tell, although parts of the lyrics are somewhat inscrutable. It has some great "Young Americans"-influenced saxophone and an intoxicating, relatively upbeat (for Knopfler) rhythm. "My Bacon Roll" is one of those atmospheric, nostalgic Knopfler songs. The song appears to be reminiscing about "team building" exercises in some job or other and also a selection of traditional cafe breakfast fare. Knopfler has such a knack with quirky, beguiling songs like this. Laconic, wry and gently witty at times.

"Nobody Does That" that sees old Mark getting the funk, with some punchy kick posterior horns and some funky guitar and saxophone. "Drovers' Road" has some "Brothers In Arms"-style guitar and a folky feel to it, with subtle Northumbrian pipes in the background. It is another marvellously atmospheric number. "One Song At A Time" is a lengthy, subtly rhythmic shuffler of a song that tells of Knopfler's days in Deptford, South London in the old "Sultans Of Swing" days of 1979. "Floating Away" is musically beautiful and Knopfler's sleepy voice certainly suits the "floating away" title. Some entrancing guitar on this one too. As with all his lyrics, you just feel Knopfler is a man with a lot of wisdom, a lot of world-weary head-shaking as he watches everything floating away. He is also a man with a lot of sensitivity, as the tender "Slow Learner" exemplifies. He tells of how he likes to take things slow, and sings at a suitably languid walking pace over a drowsy jazzy background.

Just when you think it is all getting a bit somnolent Mark gives us a bit of jaunty, Caribbean-style rhythm on the appealing "Heavy Up". Good old Mark, though, he still sounds groggy despite the lively beat. It has some excellent Rico Rodriguez-style trombone at the end. "Every Heart Is In The Room" closes the non-"deluxe" version of the album slowly and soulfully.  On the bonus track, "Rear View Mirror", Mark goes all Van Morrison/Georgie Fame on a lively, Hammond organ-driven slice of jazzy fun. "Matchstick Man" is an emotional ballad about gigging far from home in Penzance.

It is a moving, thoughtful, at times uplifting, at times sorrowful and reflective album. If you like Mark Knopfler you will love it, of course. I am probably writing to the converted but I can find no reason for anyone to be disappointed.

B+

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Neil Young - Harvest (1972)


  

Released February 1972

After the demise of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Neil Young continued the contemporary trend for country rock with this, his most popular album. Considered a classic by so many, I am not sure it quite deserves that accolade. That said, of its genre, it is pretty good, let's be honest. However, "Deja Vu" by CSNY is more than its equal, as are albums by The Band or even America from the same period. There is something adventurous in a lot of its material, though, that makes it a bit more special.

The album begins with the resonant, Dylanesque "Out On The Weekend", with its huge drum sound and Young's confident vocal. The title track is an appealing slice of country rock, while the Band-esque, plaintive "A Man Needs a Maid" is Young singing against a piano and strings backing. I have always had a bit of a problem with Young's voice on tracks like this. I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but there you go. Quality songs like this would be considerably enhanced by a better voice. However, Young's voice gives them their plaintive quality, it can be successfully argued. "Heart Of Gold" is the album's best-known track. I like Young's voice on this one, and love the song too. It is packed full of atmosphere.

"Are You Ready For The Country?" is one of the album's rockiest tracks and, despite its folky verses, "Old Man" has some powerful passages in the chorus refrains. Again I find it very Band-influenced. It is another most evocative number. "There's A World", rather surprisingly, sees Young accompanied by The London Symphony Orchestra, and, this time unsurprisingly, the track is over-orchestrated. Personally, I would prefer it without the huge sweeping string sound.

"Alabama"  is another rock number, with some excellent guitar. "The Needle And The Damage Done" is an acoustic lament for music's drug addiction victims. It is very CSNY in its feel. The final track, the lengthy "Words (Between The Lines Of Age)" is excellent. A track that varies in mood and tempo and styles - orchestrated, rock, reflective, powerful. Possibly the best track on the album. Yes, this is a fine album, undoubtedly a leader in its country rock genre and it has something that raises it above just an average album, but I still don't feel it is an absolute classic.

B-

Stevie Wonder - Music Of My Mind (1972)


  

Released March 1972

After the previous year's "Where I'm Coming From" had seen Stevie Wonder starting to broaden his horizons and experiment with different sounds and types of songs, he went the whole hog here and released this entirely self-played album. Wonder took on all the instruments and this was the first of several albums on which he would do the same thing (with just the occasional bits of help). This is still not quite the finished article, though, and, despite its brave intentions, is not as good as the next four albums would be. I have always found it to be a somewhat patchy album, which maybe a tad unfair, considering the dexterity of its implementation.

"Love Having You Around" is a lengthy and pulsating, funky cooker of an opener, full of clavinet, bass and pounding drums. "Superwoman" is another extended track, with definite vibes of some of the material on "Fulfillingness' First Finale". It has a real laid-back soulful feel to it. It is what would come to be regarded as typical Stevie Wonder. Half way through it changes pace into its "Where Were You When I Needed You" section. To be honest, the two halves are like two separate songs.

"I Love Every Little Thing About You" is a poppy, catchy number that you would imagine would have been a single, but wasn't. Stevie's percussion is intoxicating on this one. The track "Sweet Little Girl" seems to have attracted a fair amount of criticism over the years but I have always found it quite   rousing in its funky beginning, but I have to admit when it goes into the spoken bits it loses something. It does have a reassuring thump to it though. My favourite has always been the melodic "Happier Than The Morning Sun" with its infectious clavinet backing and gentle vocal.

"Girl Blue" is a shuffling, rhythmic number and "Seems So Long" is a delicious slice of Wonder sweet, syrupy soul sung over some equally appealing percussion. "Keep On Running" brings back the funk, big time, with probably the album's funkiest cut, with backing vocalist helping Stevie out. "Evil" is a slow tempo, low key closer to this adventurous, and, to a certain extent, ground-breaking album. Despite is grand intentions, however, there was much better to come from Stevie Wonder in the next five years.

C+

Stevie Wonder - Where I'm Coming From (1971)


  

Released April 1971

Whereas "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" from the previous year had signposted Stevie Wonder's desire to break out from the shackles of the Motown hit factory conveyor belt and release "proper albums" of adult music covering adult themes, this was the album that really saw the true change.

The album kicks off with the semi-funky introductory, socially-conscious track of "Look Around", featuring Stevie's now trademark clavinet. This is developed even more on the funkiest track he had released thus far, the barnstormingly down 'n' dirty "Do Yourself A Favor", which has huge hints of the multi-instrumentalist numbers he would lay down on the decade's subsequent offerings. It is the direct forefather of material like "You Haven't Done Nothin'" and even "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It". Check out that swirling organ sound and pounding drum sound. At over six minutes, this was not the sort of song he was releasing only two years earlier. The standard twelve-track album had now turned into a nine-track one. "Think Of Me As Your Soldier" is a typical, slow tempo Wonder ballad of the sort he would do so much in the next ten to fifteen years.

"Something Out Of The Blue" is a reflective, almost sombre, romantic song. Totally uncommercial. Sumptuously orchestrated. Very "adult". "If You Really Love Me" was the hit single from the album - a jaunty, brass-driven number that is interspersed with some slow tempo typical Wonder ballad-like passages. It is catchy and enjoyable. "I Wanna Talk To You" is a bluesy piece with Wonder trying to sound like an old blues man. It is quirkily appealing, but certainly an acquired taste that wouldn't appeal to the "For Once in My Life" market. It rambles on far too long, though, it has to be said.

"Take Up A Course In Happiness" is a bit of an oddity, A strange, jolly, sixties-style show number that pretty much defies description. It lies pretty incongruously with the rest of the album's material. Fair play to Stevie, however, as he tried to produce albums of varied material. Berry Gordy must have been incandescent. Don't mess with the formula? Stevie and Marvin Gaye were ripping it up and throwing it in the bin.

The album gets back on track with the dignified beauty of "Never Dreamed You'd Leave In Summer" and concludes with another sumptuous ballad in the lengthy "Sunshine In Their Eyes". It also featured a children's choir chorus and some upbeat, jazzy interjections. Quite adventurous stuff. I have to say that apart from "If You Really Love Me", this was an utterly uncommercial album that must have mystified buyers at the time. It definitely set the trend for Wonder's subsequent seventies material. It does sound a bit unfulfilled, though, and not quite the finished article, one not quite sure of its direction. Very much a "work in progress" album from an artist finding his new direction.

C+

Stevie Wonder - Signed, Sealed, Delivered (1970)

  

Released August 1970

This was Stevie Wonder's first album of the seventies, and, like fellow Motown artists Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, he was starting to rebel, (if that is the right word to use - probably not), against the Motown "hit factory" conveyor belt of poppy, chart-aimed material. He wanted to express more social concerns in his music, and introduce more experimental sounds - electronic keyboards, funkier rhythms. This was very much an album that showed the first telling signs of that change, however it still has some strong echoes of the previous decade hanging around, particularly at the beginning.  For me, it is the last of the sixties albums, as opposed to the first one of a new era. There is definitely change in the air, nevertheless, so maybe on reflection it is the start of "seventies Stevie". "My Cherie Amour" was the one that saw the sixties out.

Certainly, the album's two biggest hit singles - the poppy, singalong "Never Had A Dream Come True" and the eminently sixties-ish classic Motown of  "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" did little, initially, to suggest that a sea change was in progress. The likeable, quirky, upbeat cover of The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out" showed a willingness to experiment with changing the sound and feeling of a well-known song. It has a decidedly funky, clavinet introduction. It really rocks and thumps, actually. Great stuff.

"Heaven Help Us All" showed that social conscience coming through for probably the most palpable way on any of his songs thus far. It is a soulful, at times gospelly warning of the perils of guns, street crime, poverty and war. It is melodic and uplifting, musically which adds extra poignancy due to its sombre subject matter. It was the most hard-hitting, portentous number he had recorded. It also became a hit single. From its first notes, you feel this is a song worth listening to. "Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day....". Stevie had never been so "conscious".  "You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover" is a grinding, powerful piece of funk. This is as funky as Stevie has sounded. Proper adult music a long way from the tuneful pop of a few years earlier. "Sugar", while a love song, had a funky bass line and rhythm to it.

"Don't Wonder Why" is a big-production typical Wonder ballad, full of lush orchestration and trademark vocals. At nearly five minutes, this is no throwaway three minute poppy number. "Anything You Want Me To Do", however, sounds more like early/mid sixties to early seventies. Very much a blast from the past, sound-wise. "I Can't Let My Heaven Walk Away" features some of that trademark harmonica in a very typical piece of early seventies Motown. "Joy (Takes Over Me)" is another bluesy, harmonica-enhanced workout. "I Gotta Have A Song" is probably the one that points most strongly to the tone of much of his seventies material in its easy-going, laid-back verses. The same vibe is continued even more in the effortless groove of "Something To Say".

The sound, by the way, as on all the Stevie Wonder albums, is a lovely, full, punchy Motown stereo. It is a most enjoyable listen. Whereas "My Cherie Amour" had seemed to be a bit of a "treading water" album, this one was far more "on it", so to speak.

B-

Bob Dylan - The Cutting Edge: The Bootleg Series Volume 12


  

This is an abridged double CD of highlights of the many demos and outtakes recorded for the three classic mid-sixties albums "Bringing It All Back Home", "Highway 61 Revisted" and "Blonde On Blonde". There is, of course the full box set version of God knows how many CDs and multiple takes of "Like A Rolling Stone" from the shortest ones lasting a minute or two to the full, virtually complete versions. Personally, I can do without all those semi-versions of the same song. I do, however, enjoy listening to complete alternate versions of the songs I know so well. This double CD is pretty ideal for that. I have enhanced the collection by downloading those tracks from the larger box set that do not appear on here. Around forty-five takes will do for me.

It does make for a fascinating look into Dylan's development of these songs and his painstaking perfectionism. All the alternate versions and outtakes are impressive and the sound quality equally so. Often demo versions are not the best, sound-wise. This is not the case here. In some cases, the sound is as good, if not better than the take eventually used on the albums. Listen that full, throbbing bass on "Subterranean Homesick Blues (Take 1, Alternate Take)". Superb. There is an appealing looseness to this take, as there is on a lot of the material. You get the impression that Dylan was thoroughly enjoying himself. There is no discernible feeling of tightness or tension. He does, however, say that a bassy take of "Mr. Tambourine Man" was "driving him mad" and that "I screwed up" at the end of "Like A Rolling Stone". It is also most intriguing to hear a full-on rocking version of "Visions Of Johanna". Check out the jaunty, semi-reggae of "Just Like A Woman", too. The great thing about these versions is how different they are to the ones that were eventually released, often radically so, making them really interesting to listen to.

Listen to the raw, edgy bluesiness of "Outlaw Blues (Take 2, Alternate Take)", or "Sitting On A Barbed Wire Fence" - this is stuff worthy of a listen, even if you are familiar and happy with the eventual albums. Highly recommended.

B+

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Elton John - 17.11.70 (1971)


  

Released April 1971

Recorded in New York City

This was a live album not really intended for release. The recorded live tracks eventually came out on this abridged version of a live show containing only six tracks, but a fair old slice of rousing live atmosphere from Elton and his three piece outfit, with Nigel Olsson on drums and Dee Murray on bass. Elton has stated in interviews since that he considers this to be his finest live album. It certainly highlights just what fine musicians Olsson and Murray were at the time. Guitarist Davey Johnstone didn't join the band until 1972. The later, remastered edition, the one I have, contained an extra track ("Amoreena)". This was also recorded in the period when Elton John was bigger in the US than he was in the UK, which was certainly true at the beginning of his career.

So, on to the album. It kicks off with the muscular, thumping power of the rousing "Bad Side of The Moon". The bass is huge and the drums resonant and solid. Add Elton's clunking piano to that and you have one hell of a full, pulsating sound for a three-piece. His vocal is also outstanding too, full of bluesy grit. "Amoreena" continues that classic early seventies Elton John bluesy groove. Nigel Olsson's drumming is on fire on this one and Elton's piano at its rollicking, melodic best. There is a real energy and attack on these live cuts, an enthusiasm that you get in someone at the start of their career. Comparatively youthful verve and vigour.

"Take Me To The Pilot" is a piano and drum driven ball of funky, staccato energy. Sure it is a bit raw and edgy, but therein lies its rough and ready appeal. Elton's piano work is outstanding on here. "Sixty Years On" is as evocative as it is on the "Elton John" album. The drums on it are absolutely powerhouse, possibly too much so, compared to the original, but it suits the tone of the album. The band's cover of The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women" is given the full bluesy bass, piano and drum treatment and, funnily enough, it works, without any guitar riffage. Elton's vocal suits the song perfectly.

"Can I Put You On" is a classic of Elton John's style from this period. It never appeared on an album apart from this live cut, which was a shame. It has that driving piano-driven bluesy sound that characterised so much of his output at the time. The final cut, the mighty and dramatic "Burn Down The Mission" lasts a full eighteen minutes and includes diversions into "My Baby Left Me" and "Get Back". Despite is length, however, it never loses your interest. Some great interplay between the three musicians in it. Overall, this is one hell of a quirky little live album from a time when Elton John was not a huge superstar. Highly recommended.

B+

Al Green




Albums reviewed are highlighted in orange. Click on an album title to read the review.

Back Up Train (1967)
Green Is The Blues (1969)
Gets Next To You (1971)
Let's Stay Together (1972)
Call Me (1973)
Al Green Is Love (1975)

Al Green - Let's Stay Together (1972)


  

Released January 1972

After 1971's "Gets Next To You" this is another classic Willie Mitchell-produced Al Green album full of those sumptuous Memphis horns driving along a solid soul rhythm and Green's at times husky at others so smooth voice soaring above everything. The sound on these early seventies Memphis-style soul albums is invariably excellent too, vibrant and intoxicating.

The huge hit from the album kicks it off - "Let's Stay Together". It really needs no introduction. It is Memphis soul perfection. Green's voice controls the whole thing beautifully. An absolute soul classic.   The quality continues in the punchy, laid-back but powerful "La-La For You", which has beautiful horn passages and Green sounding James Brown-esque in his gruff delivery. Check out the lovely introduction to "So You're Leaving". On this one, Green's voice sounds very Curtis Mayfield in its higher pitch. The percussion, drums, bas, horns, backing vocals. They all blend so well on this number, as indeed they do on the whole album. Just as with "Gets Next To You" and 1973's "Call Me" you know what you are going to get - honest, grinding soul of the highest quality. Even those who aren't huge soul fans can find themselves respecting this. It really is pretty flawless.

"What Is This Feeling" follows the same recipe. Most of the songs are pretty similar, to be honest, but it doesn't really matter. It is half an hour or so of a great soul vibe. Green's vocals are effortless, almost improvised at times - sometimes rasping, sometimes honey sweet, sometimes deep, other times growling. He is not often, surprisingly, mentioned as one of the truly great soul singers, but surely he is.

"Old Time Lovin'" sees Green slowing down things on a gospelly, yearningly soulful number, while "I've Never Found A Girl" has just the most infectious, soulfully driving rhythm. This one is such a great example of the genre. It is simply a perfect piece of early seventies, cooking Memphis-style soul. The child of the great late sixties Stax material. "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" is a six minute slice of entrancing soul beauty. It is full of sweeping but subtle strings and an appealing organ underpinning the whole thing, not to mention Green's matchless vocals. Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield - Al Green deserves to be mentioned in the same breath.

B-

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Slade - Slade Alive! (1972)


  

Released March 1972

This album, released as Slade were right in the middle of their glam rock domination of the charts and "Top Of The Pops". It s actually a classic live album of a solid band rocking hard, and must have puzzled much of their teenage audience, who bought it, as I did, aged fourteen, expecting to hear three minute glam handclapping anthems. What I and many others got was seven extended heavy, bluesy rock workouts. Sure it was loud and brash, but it did not really sound as I had expected Slade to sound, live. Still, I got into it and it became part of my musical education.

The opener, "Hear Me Calling" sounds more Deep Purple than Slade, it is heavy as hell, full of guitar riffage, sledgehammer drums. "In Like A Shot From My Gun" has Noddy Holder in more typical Slade vocal style, but the backing is still industrially heavy metal in its sheer thump. There is a palpable live atmosphere, though, and you really sense the crowd getting into it. "Darling Be Home Soon" is a plaintive ballad initially, although it gets the full band treatment eventually, it is still a slow tempo number. It has an absolute killer guitar solo in the middle though and the famous Noddy Holder belch.

"Know Who You Are" is a superb blues grinder and "Keep On Rocking" is an all-out rocker that sounds like a Little Richard song, but was written by Slade.

"Get Down Get With It" is the one recognisable Slade song, of course, and Noddy gets the crowd worked up into their full foot stomping best. The original album ends with a storming cover of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild".

The extended version that is now available has far more material and several of the popular singles as well, but my memories of this album will always be the original seven songs.

B-

1975




Click on an album title to read the review.

Blood On The Tracks - Bob Dylan
Commoners' Crown - Steeleye Span
Down By The Jetty - Dr. Feelgood
Urban Renewal - Tower Of Power
Bolan's Zip Gun - T. Rex
Rock 'n' Roll - John Lennon
Young Americans - David Bowie
On The Level - Status Quo
Physical Graffiti - Led Zeppelin
Just Another Way To Say I Love You - Barry White
The Best Years Of Our Lives - Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
Katy Lied - Steely Dan
The Original Soundtrack - 10cc
There's One In Every Crowd - Eric Clapton
Hair Of The Dog - Nazareth
Ian Hunter - Ian Hunter
Straight Shooter - Bad Company
Survival - The O' Jays
Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy - Elton John
Venus & Mars - Paul McCartney & Wings
There's No Place Like America Today - Curtis Mayfield
Your Mamma Won't Like Me - Suzi Quatro
Made In The Shade - The Rolling Stones
Metamorphosis - The Rolling Stones
One Of These Nights - The Eagles
Why Can't We Be Friends? - War
Tonight's The Night - Neil Young
The Basement Tapes - Bob Dylan & The Band
KC And The Sunshine Band - KC And The Sunshine Band
Atlantic Crossing - Rod Stewart
Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen
Love To Love You Baby - Donna Summer
Fighting - Thin Lizzy
Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd
Crisis? What Crisis? - Supertramp
Another Year - Leo Sayer
Face The Music - Electric Light Orchestra
Still Crazy After All These Years - Paul Simon
America's Greatest Hits - America
Live! - Bob Marley & The Wailers
Rock Of The Westies - Elton John
Siren - Roxy Music
All Around My Hat - Steeleye Span
Malpractice - Dr. Feelgood
A Night At The Opera - Queen
Marcus Garvey - Burning Spear
Horses - Patti Smith

Deep Purple - Machine Head (1972)


  

Released March 1972

Recorded in Montreux, Switzerland

There were four truly classic Deep Purple albums - "In Deep" (1970); "Fireball" (1971); this one from 1972 and "Burn" from 1974. This is possibly the most popular and, in many ways, is the band at their absolute peak. The band were all about huge drums, mighty guitar riffs, wailing vocals and frenetic, church organist gone crazy keyboards. They were the best at what they did - big heavy, clunky, bluesy, powerful rock in its most essential form.

The opener is an absolute killer, "Highway Star" and features one of the best organ vs guitar battles in rock history as Jon Lord and Ritchie Blackmore trade riffs. The song never lets up from its furious tempo and Ian Gillan's vocal is one of his best. He was one of the great heavy rock vocalists, without question. At the time, I was a teenager into glam rock, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott The Hoople and I have subsequently learnt to love Deep Purple, but even then I remember borrowing this album from a friend and loving this dynamic track. Some may find "Maybe I'm A Leo" a tad plodding, but it has a solid bluesy thump to it that I find pretty irresistible. "Pictures of Home" is a bit "proggy" in its stylings at times, but this is blown away by the pounding drums and searing guitar solo half way through. When Purple hit those drum/guitar/organ interlays there is no-one to match them of their kind. Just check out the bass solo on this one too. Phenomenal.

"Never Before" starts with some rhythmic but muscular drums and an almost funky guitar intro before we get a classic Gillan vocal - "my woman, a bad woman...." in true seventies, long haired, be-denimmed style. Then, of course, there is the iconic "Smoke On The Water" with that riff that has inspired ten billion plus air guitar poses. Apart from the riff, I have always loved the percussion on it, and Jon Lord's punchy, swirling organ. Gillan's vocal is peerless, it goes without saying. A true classic of its genre. It is still loved by many all these years later. There really is nothing better. The sound on this latest remaster is breathtakingly powerful.

"Lazy" starts with Jon Lord doing his mad church organ thing, like a demented professor of music before the band kicks in and Gillan's bluesy vocals don't arrive until after four and a half minutes. Some blues harmonica joins in and we get the purest bit of blues rock from the band on the album. "Space Truckin'" is a glorious, riffy closer with Ritchie Blackmore commanding the whole thing from beginning to end, driving a stake into one's heart. This is, without a doubt, one of the finest hard rock albums of all time. A fine example of its genre.

B+

Deep Purple - Fireball (1971)


  

Released July 1971

Despite some critics, particularly at the time, condemning this album for not being as full on rock as "In Rock" (probably because of the incongruous presence of "Anyone's Daughter"), there is still bucketloads of classic Deep Purple rock on here.

The opener, the title track, is crammed full of wailing vocals from Ian Gillan, crashing guitar riffs and Jon Lords's trademark madcap, swirling neo-classical organ all over the place. "No No No" is more head-down chugging riffy rock, as indeed is the bluesy, industrial power of "Demon's Eye". Classic heavy rock, however you want to look at it. Turn it up and tell yourself it doesn't rock. Thought so, can't do it. It has a killer organ solo in it too, as is pretty much par for the course.

Then, of course, there is the notorious "Anyone's Daughter", which had fans all of a tizzy when they heard it on the radio, horrified that the Purple had gone all "Led Zeppelin III" with this stompy piece of uncomfortable-sounding folk-influenced semi-rock. Its lyrics lampoon the innuendo-laden fare that the band usually serve up, and it contains not a little tongue in cheek humour. Yes, it doesn't really sit easily with the rest of the album, but it is not that bad, really.

"The Mule" is a fantastic vehicle for each member's finest playing. Ian Paice's drums are excellent on here. While being a powerful drummer, in my view he has more subtlety, on occasions than John Bonham, with whom he was invariably compared. As a teenager in the early/mid seventies, I hated this stuff, preferring my glam rock, Bowie, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople. In later years, however, I have got into it somewhat, acknowledging that these guys could play, for sure. A fugue-like, churchy organ introduces the eight-minute "Fools" where Purple leave their bluesier roots behind for a while and go a bit "progressive". The track is indulgent, to an extent, but it contains some serious rock power. Just check out the bit a couple of minutes in when the guitar and drums kick in properly for the first time. Yes, it goes a bit "proggy" in the middle, but what the hell, I still like it.

"No-One Came" is just sheer Purple power, six minutes of muscular, thumping heavy bluesy rock. There is more superb organ and huge riffage in this track. Deep Purple. They are what they are, nobody did this sort of thing as well as they did. This was actually a really good album, in my view anyway. In many ways, I find it more polished than "In Rock" and it definitely has a better sound quality. The well-known non-album single, the catchy "Strange Kind Of Woman" is included on the
latest remaster, as is the excellent, frenetic 'b' side, "I'm Alone".

B+

The Supremes - Touch (1971)


  

Released June 1971

The Supremes were considerably under-shadowed by their ex-main voice, Diana Ross, who was releasing some credible Motown/soul albums in these early seventies years. The Supremes, though, put out some good material themselves, although their singles outshone the albums.

This is a pleasant enough album that is pretty par for the course for Motown in 1971 - immaculate production, appealing melodies, big horn-driven production, lush string arrangements. The opening track, "This Is The Story" serves to exemplify that type of track. The next one, the wonderful "Nathan Jones" stands as evidence of those great singles. What a great track it is. Rumbling bass, thumping drums, clunking piano, wah-wah guitar, intoxicating percussion and the girls on perfect vocal form. It should be in any "best of Motown" compilation. "Here Comes The Sunrise" has airs of the verses of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" about it, while "Love It Came To Me This Time" has lead voice Jean Terrell sounding almost exactly like Diana Ross.

"Johnny Raven" would maybe have made a good single, but somehow it doesn't quite get there, despite its "Stoned Love"-style percussion backing and "Nathan Jones" echoes at times. The title track was a slow-paced ballad and was bizarrely chosen as a single. Let's be honest, none of the rest of the songs pull up any trees, so to speak, they just wash over you pleasantly enough but without particularly sticking in the mind. This is simple an enjoyable, inoffensive early seventies Motown album. "Time And Love" ventures dangerously close to schmaltz, however.

C+

Al Green - Gets Next To You (1971)


  

Released March 1971

The Al Green albums from the early seventies are not albums that can be given detailed, in depth analysis. They are simply great soul albums, showcasing that horn-driven Memphis soul sound to great effect. Green's voice is a smoother Otis Redding, but a gutsier Sam Cooke. He also has the soul strength of James Brown. You can listen to any of the three early seventies works of this album, "Let's Stay Together" or "Call Me" as examples. They are all equally as invigorating, energising and uplifting.

On this album producer Willie Mitchell and Green laid down the foundations of their classic sound - big bass lines, thumping drums and those horns punching a hole in the wall. Just check out the first track - the Temptations' erstwhile upbeat "I Can't Get Next To You" is slowed down to be a down 'n' dirty soul grinder. It almost sounds like a completely different song. "Are You Lonely For Me Baby" is cooking, industrial strength soul. Lord have mercy. You can literally take any of these songs and enjoy them. The bass lines are all sumptuous, the horns so melodic yet powerful, the guitars so infectious and Green's voice is just sublime. The well known song on this album would do fine as an example. "Tired Of Being Alone" is just delicious but even the lesser-known songs like "God Is Standing By" is of equal top notch soul quality. Green can handle a cover too - The Doors' "Light My Fire" is given the Mitchell/Green treatment, and how. Slowed down groove and horns all over the place.

The tempo on each track is pretty constant - slow burning, sensual, insistent and steadily pulsating. Green's funky, soulful voice compliments it perfectly. Listen to the muscular funk of "I'm A Ram", or the slightly psychedelic organ breaks on the wonderful "Driving Wheel". Look, I don't need to go on about each track individually, if you want some copper-bottomed early seventies soul quality, you can't go far wrong with this. The remastered sound is superb as well.

B-

The Doobie Brothers - The Doobie Brothers (1971)


  

Released April 1971

Recorded in California

This was a somewhat inauspicious debut album from a group who would go on to make some of the seventies' most scintillating, upbeat country rock.

The opener, "Nobody" has lots of hints as to the sharp, punchy country rock sounds that The Doobies would serve up over the new decade, it is full of great guitar riffs, harmonious vocals and some cutting acoustic riffs underpinning it. "Slippery St. Paul" is a bluesy, acoustic number that sounds as if it has come from The Rolling Stones' "Beggars' Banquet". It has a lovely bass line too. "Greenwood Creek" continues the country blues feeling. The sound is a bit rough and ready, but there is an energetic, enthusiastic rawness to it that is appealing, a bit like The Eagles' debut album. It has some killer harmonica on it. "It Won't Be Right" is a CSNY-style country rocker, but with a rougher, gutsier voice. Mott The Hoople tried to sound like this on their "Wildlife" album, but this sounds much better.

"Travelin' Man" is a laid-back, once more very country rock number. All very 1971. It has a nice bass and guitar interplay bit near the end. Relaxing stuff. A typical Doobie Brothers "Listen To The Music" type riff introduces "Feelin' Down Farther". Listening to this, there is no-one else it could be but the Doobie Brothers. "The Master" is a rhythmic number with a hint of The Band about it. "Growin' A Little Each Day" has a downhome country vibe while "Beehive State" has some seriously impressive electric guitar work and some "heavy-ish (for 1971)" overtones to it. It is probably the densest, hardest rocking of the album's songs. "Closer Every Day" drifts along on a warm, smooth bass line and the album ends with a short traditional finger-picking blues in "Chicago".

Overall, this is not an album that demands much in depth analysis. It is an enjoyable, appealing debut album from a band who would go on to fine-tune their sound over the years and produce better stuff, but this was a good start.

C+