Friday, 30 November 2018

David Bowie - Live At The Beeb

  

Although there is some excellent quality late sixties/early seventies material on this main 2CD box set, it is the "2000 Live At The BBC Radio Theatre" CD that I bought this for. Recorded a short time after Bowie's historic Glastonbury appearance (now thankfully available, at last) the sound quality is truly excellent and although the set list is shorter at fifteen songs, it contains not just '"greatest hits" but includes contemporary album cuts like "Seven" and "Survive", plus a stunning, almost jazzy version of "Always Crashing In The Same Car" and the wonderful "This Is Not America". "Absolute Beginners" is here too, in its barnstorming full version. Well worth getting your hands on this 3CD edition if you still can.

TRACK LISTING (CD 3)

1. Wild Is The Wind
2. Ashes To Ashes
3. Seven
4. This Is Not America
5. Absolute Beginners
6. Always Crashing In The Same Car
7. Survive
8. Little Wonder
9. The Man Who Sold The World
10. Fame
11. Stay
12. Hallo Spaceboy
13. Cracked Actor
14. I'm Afraid Of Americans
15. Let's Dance



B+

David Bowie - Live At Glastonbury (2000)


  

What a truly wonderful year 2018 has been for David Bowie live releases - "Welcome To The Blackout", the two concerts on the "Loving The Alien" box set and now this, his long-awaited Glastonbury headline appearance from 2000. This is manna from Heaven to Bowie enthusiasts. Admittedly it is a bit of a "greatest hits" exercise as opposed to, say, 2003's "Reality Tour" set list, but you have to expect that from the Glastonbury set up. You don't want people moaning "he didn't play "Let's Dance"...." after all.

TRACK LISTING

1. Wild Is The Wind
2. China Girl
3. Changes
4. Stay
5. Life On Mars?
6. Absolute Beginners
7. Ashes To Ashes
8. Rebel Rebel
9 . Little Wonder
10. Golden Years
11. Fame
12. All The Young Dudes
13. The Man Who Sold The World
14. Station To Station
15. Starman
16. Hallo Spaceboy
17. Under Pressure
18. Ziggy Stardust
19. "Heroes"
20. Let's Dance

21. I'm Afraid Of Americans

The first thing that hits you when the absolutely tip-notch band kicks into a haunting but powerful "Wild Is The Wind" is just how damn superb the sound is. Well, it is for me, at least. Nothing "bootleg" about it. Audiophiles may disagree but it suits me perfectly - full, muscular and bassy, as it should be. Bowie's voice is outstanding on this opener too, doing justice to a great song and the guitar at the end is sublime. One song in and I am completely immersed in this. Looks like another "Bowie day" coming up. "China Girl" is thumpingly more attacking than the original, which I like. More excellent guitar on here too. It's old 1974 mate Earl Slick, so what did one expect? Mike Garson is on piano too and you can hear his trademark sound all over the album (check out the bit at the end of "Fame").  I really like this interpretation of "China Girl". One of the best ones around. The piano is almost E. St Band at the end. The guitar/piano/vocal interplay is stunning.

  

"Changes" is given a huge, pounding sound in between Bowie's iconic verses. It is played in a "David Live" style, in terms of its full-on assault, well that's what it reminds me of anyway, although there is no saxophone. Look, I could carry on saying how wonderful every track is. I am sure you don't want to plough through all that but needless to say I just have to reiterate just what a pleasure it is listening to this. Just check out the verve and funky vigour of "Stay" - it's guitar its delicious bass, its funky drums. Just great stuff. Good Lord above I miss Bowie. Thankfully releases like this keep coming along with regularity to sate my appetite for more. I couldn't recommend this highly enough. There will be some who will no doubt disagree, as that seems to be the way with Bowie releases these days, but i am sure 90% will just sit back and enjoy this. Lovely to hear "Absolute Beginners" given an outing, in its full version too, (it makes my soul soar at the "it's absolutely true" bit), and "The Man Who Sold The World". Great to hear that. "Ashes To Ashes" is just barnstormingly atmospheric. "Golden Years" too. Wow. Wonderful. "Starman" is as good as  have ever heard it, too. It doesn't often get an airing, either.

I'm sure you can tell by now that the set list is great, Bowie is on fire, the band is marvellous, the sound similarly so. Bowie says at the beginning of "Life On Mars?" that he had been suffering from laryngitis earlier in the week. You would never had known. His voice is sublime. It is one of the finest live versions of "Mars?" I have heard, if not the best. Listening to it sound so good just makes me feel sad. He wouldn't want that, though, he would want his remarkable work to be enjoyed to the full. So I will.

A-

Bryan Ferry - Bitter Sweet (2018)


  

Released November 2018

After the slightly ill-conceived project of 2012's "The Jazz Age", which saw The Bryan Ferry Orchestra (sans Ferry) playing several Roxy Music/Ferry solo numbers in a muffled, mock-1920s mono way. For me, the deliberately lo-fi sound did not work, and furthermore, many of the songs were unrecognisable from their originals (to me anyway).

Here, however, although The Bryan Ferry Orchestra are back, there are considerable improvements on this one. Ferry makes an appearance on several songs and the sound is notably improved. Having said that, several of the numbers sound decidedly mono. Either way, there is much more clarity of sound on these recordings. Indeed, I am pretty sure they are mono. Good mono, however. There is still a bit of "muffling" here and there. I guess that is just the "smoky" sound they are trying to achieve.

TRACK LISTING

1. Alphaville
2. Reason Or Rhyme
3. Sign Of The Time
4. New Town
5. Limbo
6. Bitter Sweet
7. Dance Away
8. Zamba
9. Sea Breezes
10. While My Heart Is Still Beating
11. Bitter's End
12. Chance Meeting
13. Boys And Girls

"Alphaville" from "Olympia" kicks off the album in a staccato, almost 1930s Berlin jazz style. Ferry's ageing voice suits the interpretation perfectly. The sound is still slightly lo-fi, but it is miles better than the previous offering. "Reason Or Rhyme" from "Olympia" also has a vocal and is pretty appealing, offering a different feel to the original. Somewhat brooding and laconically melancholy in its jazzy backing. "Sign Of The Times" from "The Bride Stripped Bare" is a jaunty instrumental and pretty much unrecognisable from the rocking original. It is pleasant enough in its own right, though. "New Town" from "Bête Noire" is given a most agreeable jazz makeover and although it is enjoyable, I have to say, as with most of the recordings, that I prefer the originals. That is not really the point, however, is it?

"Limbo", also from "Bête Noire" is a lively instrumental and the original is discernible. Again, this is quite evocative and atmospheric. "Bitter-Sweet", the teutonic Roxy Music number from "Country Life" has a vocal and the song hasn't lost any of its sturm und drang. Ferry's vocal is even better than the original and the song sounds similarly mysterious and at times bombastic. Once more, it is full of atmosphere.

"Dance Away" from Roxy Music's "Manifesto" is give the instrumental treatment and its melody is there in a quirkily, "flapper"-ish fashion. I must say I quite like this one despite my misgivings over much of the instrumental interpretations. "Zamba" from "Bête Noire" has a haunting Ferry vocal. It is one of the album's best cuts. "Sea Breezes" from the first Roxy Music album has a most fetching jazz new incarnation despite its lack of vocals. This one works pretty well. Roxy's "While My Heart Is Still Beating", from "Avalon", has another excellent laid-back Ferry vocal and sumptuous backing. The song suits the new coat it has been given.

"Bitter's End" from the first Roxy Music album is performed without vocals but is melodically recognisable. "Chance Meeting" from the same album, like "Sea Breezes" is a track that Ferry has re-worked before, on his "Let's Stay Together" album. Here, he does so with vocals and it is another success, for me, anyway. Lovely oboe work (or at least I think it is an oboe!). The album ends with the title track from the "Boys And Girls" album. It is an intoxicating, ghostly track that has a dignified beauty to it.

Look, this is an enjoyable listen and I know that every year or two I will give it a whirl. Will it replace the originals? No. Does it better the originals? No. Does it really matter whether it does or not? No. Take it for what it is.

C+

Cat Stevens




Mona Bone Jakon (1970)
Tea For The Tillerman (1970)
Teaser And The Firecat (1971)
Catch Bull At Four (1972)
Foreigner (1973)
Buddah And The Chocolate Box (1974)

Cat Stevens - Buddah & The Chocolate Box (1974)


  

Released March 1974

After the experimental five track only album in “Foreigner” that perplexed critics and fans alike, Cat Stevens returned with an album that was far closer to his previous ones. It proved to be one of his most successful and fondly-remembered offerings.

This is slightly less of a folky album than its predecessors,  though, carrying more of a rock thump to it in places. The old Stevens subtlety and unassuming beauty is omnipresent, however.

TRACK LISTING

1. Music
2. Oh Very Young
3. Sun/C79
4. Ghost Town
5. Jesus
6. Ready
7. King Of Trees
8. A Bad Penny
9. Home In The Sky

The opener, “Music” is a vibrant, drum, guitar and piano driven number. Very “rock”. Even “Oh Very Young”, the melodic hit single, has a catchy, mellow rockiness to it when it kicks in. The tune is just so typical Cat, though. So mellifluous. The piano is sumptuous. The song is simply beautiful. “Sun/C79” has an intoxicating rhythm and pulsating attack from Stevens vocally and with his firmly strummed trusty acoustic guitar. “Ghost Town” is almost bluesy in places, with a harmonica backing and resounding drum sound.

“Jesus” is a short rumination upon the character of Christ and Buddha that unfortunately ends before it has truly got going. Many of the songs on the album were full of religious imagery, however.

“Ready” is another short but catchy number. “King Of Trees” is longer - a lovely piano-led melody, full of cadence and harmonious backing vocals, a full minute or so before Stevens arrives. It seems allegorial about the environment. These songs are so sincere, so intense, so serious, but so appealing too.

That familiar medieval-style keyboard is used on “A Bad Penny” to great effect, as it always is. Cat’s vocal is excellent on this one, as is the backing. “Home In The Sky” starts with sme a capella vocals before a churchy piano and organ lead us into an infectious slow and beautiful closer. “Beautiful” is a word I have used a lot. “Music is a lady that I still love” sings Cat. Yes, and she is beautiful.

B

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Mark Knopfler




Golden Heart (1996)
Sailing To Philadelphia (2000)
The Ragpicker's Dream (2002)
Shangri-La (2004)
Kill To Get Crimson (2004)
All The Roadrunning (2006)*
Get Lucky (2009)
Privateering (2012)
Tracker (2015)
Down The Road Wherever (2018)

* with Emmylou Harris

Buddy Holly - True Love Ways (with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)




Released November 2018

TRACK LISTING

1. True Love Ways
2. It Doesn't Matter Anymore
3. Everyday
4. Heartbeat
5. Raining In My Heart
6. Oh Boy
7. Rave On
8. Words Of Love
9. That'll Be The Day
10. Peggy Sue
11. Moondreams
12. Maybe Baby

Now, I am not opposed to a bit of innovation and certainly do not see any recordings as sacred cows not to be touched by any type of experimentation. However, that said, I do always have an opinion on whether the experiments work or not. For me, and I stress, for me only, I find this is a half and half venture.

I find the sweeping orchestration and twiddling around with pizzicato string pluckings work far better on those tracks on which Holly already had used considerable orchestration - "True Love Ways", "It Doesn't Matter Anymore" and, notably, "Raining In My Heart". Where it falls down is on the rock and roll numbers, like "Rave On", "Oh Boy", "That'll Be The Day" and "Peggy Sue". Basically, the ones with The Crickets. These songs do not, in my opinion, need any strings. Putting them on there blights the songs, robbing them of their essential rock and roll vitality and raw edginess. The string plucking in "Peggy Sue" is just annoyingly superfluous.

The "solo" Holly songs were beautiful anyway and are rendered more so by these new orchestrations. Although, as I said earlier, these songs were pretty well orchestrated anyway. "Raining In My Heart" possibly now has too much added to it, however. I have to say that I find "Everyday" interesting and quite quirkily appealing, though. Furthermore, the sound quality is outstanding throughout. "True Love Ways" provides an excellent example.

Many people will enjoy this album and it will allow them to re-visit Holly's wonderful musical legacy. If so, fair enough. I am not going to criticise them, or the album. It is just that, personally, I will stick with the originals.

C+

Out Came The Freaks!: Island Post Punk Anthology


  

This is a most enjoyable but ever so slightly flawed box set. A "post punk" compilation should surely include material by Magazine, Joy Division, Echo & The Bunnymen, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Gang Of Four, Doll By Doll, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Public Image, New Order and early Simple Minds amongst others? (More on that later...). Furthermore, wonderful as though the Roxy Music, Nico, John Cale and Brian Eno tracks are and how they definitely fit the musical tone, they date from several years before punk, let alone post punk. The reggae tracks do not really fit, either, let's be honest. Or the funk ones. For me, "post punk" was largely about moody keyboards, "industrial" somnolent ambience, evocative, dark guitar riffs, reflective, doom-laden lyrics. We don't get much of that here, it has to be said. Here, we get all sorts in the box - reggae, punk, funk, hip hop, rap, dance....

All that said, yes, I know that obviously there are restrictions in that they can only use what was recorded on the Virgin label or its subsidiaries. So this is not a criticism, really, the box set is truly outstanding in both content and sound quality. It throws up lots of interesting material that I may not have even come across, otherwise. I really enjoy listening to it, but when I do, I don't feel I am having a "post punk" session. Anyway, here are my personal highlights (with their genres in some cases) :-

"Re-Make Re-Model" - Roxy Music (glam)
"Baby's On Fire" - Brian Eno (glam-ish)
"Teenage Depression" - Eddie & The Hot Rods (more punk but there you go)
"Do Anything You Wanna Do - Eddie & The Hot Rods (ditto)
"Typical Girls"- The Slits (punky reggae)
"Ku Klux Klan" - Steel Pulse (reggae)
"Hiroshima Mon Amour" - Ultravox!
"Rock Lobster" - B-52s
"Broken English" - Marianne Faithfull (post punk? hmmm)
"11 O'Clock Tick Tock " - U2
"Warrior Charge" - Aswad (reggae)
"Television, The Drug Of The Nation" - The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy (hip hop)
"Busting Out" - Material & Nona Hendryx (more dance/funk?)
"Nasty Girl" - Betty Davis (funky but not really post punk)
"World Shut Your Mouth" - Julian Cope
"How Much Are They?" - Holger Czukay & Jah Wobble (dance)
"Dr. Mabuse (First Life)" - Propaganda (dance/synth pop)
"I'm A Wonderful Thing, Baby" - Kid Creole & The Coconuts (dance/pop)
"Wild Thing" - Tone Loc (dance/hip hop)
"No Sell Out" - Malcolm X (hip hop)
"Big Powder Dust" - Bomb The Bass (rap)

B-

Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart (1996)


  

Released March 1996

This was Mark Knopfler's first solo album after disbanding Dire Straits, and while here are some Straits-isms present here, there are also several nods towards the Celtic folk influences and historical storytelling that would be present on many of Knopfler's subsequent solo offerings. In that respect it is very much a "bridging" album between the two periods of his career.

TRACK LISTING

1. Darling Pretty
2. Imelda
3. Golden Heart
4. No Can Do
5. Vic And Ray
6. Don't You Get It
7. A Night In Summer Long Ago
8. Cannibals
9. I'm The Fool
10. Je Suis Desole
11. Rudiger
12. Nobody's Got The Gun
13. Done With Bonaparte
14. Are We In Trouble Now

It is a warm and personable album, kicking off with the Northumbrian pipes intro and then the grandoise majesty of the wonderful "Darling Pretty" ( a song I have always related to my wife, so personally it means a lot to me). It has a huge riffy opening and a dramatic, anthemic quality with Knopfler sounding as emotionally committed as he has done in all his career thus far. Some great guitar on it too. "Imelda" sort of recycles the "Money For Nothing" riff in a muscular, blues rock tale of the Filipina Imelda Marcos. This would have sat easily on the last Dire Straits album, to be honest. Some more guitar of the sort that many keep bemoaning he doesn't come up with anymore is on this one. The title track is sumptuously beautiful. The folky, Celtic airs are arriving now. I love Knopfler's solo work for things like this, more than I do Dire Straits, if I'm honest. It is such an evocative, atmospheric number. Love it. There is something vaguely Springsteen-esque (post 1990) about it too, for me.

"No Can Do" is a "Heavy Fuel"-style bluesy rocker with a solid riff and drums over Knopfler's now trademark laconic vocal. It has an almost funky beat at times. "Vic And Ray" is one of those folky, West End type tales of characters possibly from Knopfler's past. Although, as they are rent boys, let's hope he just observed them from afar! It is similar to some of the material on Dire Straits' debut album. More solid guitar parts near the end. "Don't You Get It" is an upbeat, lively Dire Straits-ish rocker. "A Night In Summer Long Ago" has the Northumbrian (or maybe Uillean?) pipes back for a song of true, romantic beauty. Forget "Money For Nothing". This is the soul of Mark Knopfler for me.

"Cannibals" is a Cajun-style rocker in a vaguely "Walk Of Life" style. It is ok, but not my favourite on the album. "I'm The Fool" is a laid-back, country-ish acoustic ballad with some lovely steel guitar in the background. Again, it sounds like Springsteen's slower 1992 era material in places. "Je Suis Desole" is a folky, lively number, another of my favourites. "Rudiger" is an interesting song about an obsessed autograph hunter. Once again, is is low-key, quiet and folk-influenced. It has a sort of Parisian feel to it.

"Done With Bonaparte" is a fascinating "history" song about the Napoleonic Wars. "Nobody's Got The Gun" is very reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen's "Man At The Top" in parts. "Are We In Trouble Now" is a somnolent, country ballad to end this most pleasurable album on. It is always enjoyable to dig this album out.

B+

Eric Clapton - I Still Do (2016)


  

Released May 2016

You know, it is getting a bit tiresome hearing all the "Clapton used to be "God", where are all the guitar solos? etc etc etc...". After many albums like this one over recent years, you would think by now that people would have got the picture by now that low-key, comfortable, laid-back blues-influenced material is what Eric Clapton wants to do these days. If you like it, as I do, you will enjoy albums like this. If you don't then carry on listening to Cream, Derek & The Dominoes, The Yardbirds and John Mayall's Blues Breakers. Personally, I enjoy listening to both.

As with albums from Van Morrison, Elton John, Bryan Ferry, Mark Knopfler and the like, you know what you're going to get from an Eric Clapton album now. The musicianship is excellent, as is the sound quality. The delivery is affectionate to the material and you feel Clapton is enjoying himself. These are honest albums. I they don't pull up too many trees I am actually not too bothered. I don't expect a man in his seventies to suddenly find a new muse.

TRACK LISTING

1. Alabama Woman Blues
2. Can't Let You Do It
3. I Will Be There
4. Spiral
5. Catch The Blues
6. Cypress Grove
7. Little Man, You've Had A Busy Day
8. Stones In My Passway
9. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine
10. I'll Be Alright
11. Somebody's Knockin'
12. I'll Be Seein' You

The album is the usual mix of covers of blues standards, some originals and JJ Cale songs that sound like blues standards, a Dylan cover ("I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine") and one slightly cringeworthy song performed with his young son in mind. There are enough crawling blues numbers on here to satisfy me, as these are my preference, "Alabama Woman Blues" confidently winds its way along, just as it should do. This is no different to the blues stuff The Yardbirds did in their early days, so nobody should have a problem with this. Yes, of course, Clapton and his band can trot this out in their sleep, but why not, it is instinctively brilliant. More power to them. JJ Cale's "Can't Let You Do It" ups the pace with a bit of Cajun-style accordion in the background. Again, it is all about the effortless interplay between Clapton and his band.

"I Will Be There" apparently features Ed Sheeran, credited as "Angelo Mysterioso" but it sounds more like Tracy Chapman to me! Either way, it is a fetching, melodic number. "Spiral" sees the blues return with a slow burning, muscular blues. If you like Clapton playing the blues, you can't go far wrong with this. The same applies to another Clapton-penned blues, the excellent, Chris Rea-esque "Catch The Blues". "Cypress Grove" has a flame that burns pretty convincingly, for me, anyway. If you find this stuff sleep-inducing, as many seem to do, then just stick with Clapton sixties/early seventies material. It's easy to do, people do it all the time with Rod Stewart.

B-

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Gladys Knight & The Pips




Everybody Needs Love (1967)
Feelin' Bluesy (1968)
Silk 'n' Soul (1968)
Nitty Gritty (1969)
If I Were Your Woman (1971)
Standing Ovation (1971)
Neither One Of Us (1973)
All I Need Is Time (1973)
Imagination (1973)
I Feel A Song (1974)

The Best Of The Buddah Years

Gladys Knight & The Pips - If I Was Your Woman (1971)


  

Released in 1971

Gladys Knight's time at Motown still had a few years left and she was going to carry on putting out solid, quality soulful albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. If I Was Your Woman
2. Feelin' Alright
3. One Less Bell To Answer
4. Let It Be
5. I Don't Want To Do Wrong
6. One Step Away
7. Here I Am Again
8. How Can You Say That Ain't Love
9. Is There A Place (In This Heart For Me)
10. Everybody Is A Star
11. Signed Gladys
12. Your Love's Been Good For Me

The title track is an excellent, bassy piece of slow-burning soul. Some great stereo sound and percussion ushers in a muscular cover of Traffic's "Feelin' Alright". Great piano break near the end too. "One Less Bell To Answer" is another cover, from The Fifth Dimension, but it is done so soulfully, with Gladys's vocal on top form, that you feel it is her own song. Covers of The Beatles "Let It Be" are not always what one needs, but in the hands (and voice) of Gladys you simply can't go wrong. It is superb. "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" is one of those typical Gladys soulful ballads. The bass is outstanding on it as well. That and the title track were the two big soul singles that made this a popular album.

"One Step Away" is horn-driven, Gladys soul-by-numbers. She can handle songs like this in her sleep. You can pretty much say the same for the rest of the numbers on the album. They don't really need analysis, other than that the class of Gladys, her Pips and her quality Motown backing band raises standard soul songs to a higher grade than maybe they are. "How Can You Say That Ain't Love" shows that Gladys can handle faster material as well. It is one of the better of the second side of songs. Check out her voice on "Everybody Is A Star" too. It is a nice album, I have to say, and the sound quality is excellent.

C+

Eric Clapton - Journeyman (1989)


   

Released November 1989

After spending most of the eighties courting the AOR market, albeit successfully, Eric Clapton tried, with this album, to launch himself as a credible, hard-hitting mainstream rocker. It was not a bad effort either, despite the eighties synthesisers still floating around in the background. A lot of the blues had gone, however. It is far more "AOR rock" than "blues rock" and Clapton gained a new audience of late thirties/forty somethings who regularly sold out his Royal Albert Hall concerts.

TRACK LISTING

1. Pretending
2. Anything For Your Love
3. Bad Love
4. Running On Faith
5. Hard Times
6. Hound Dog
7. No Alibis
8. Run So Far
9. Old Love
10. Breaking Point
11. Lead Me On
12. Before You Accuse Me

"Pretending" is a muscular, guitar and organ-driven opener, full of backing vocals and a strong vocal from Clapton himself. His vocals are more attacking and forceful than they have been in the past.  "Anything For Your Love" is a melodic, standard piece of rock of its time. "Bad Love" is probably the most well-known track on the album. It has a synth beginning worthy of eighties-era Fleetwood Mac, but then Clapton's guitar kicks in but then it is back to that easy, driving feeling. Just before the chorus it has shades of "Layla". Clapton contributes a searing solo in the middle too. "Running On Faith" is a sort of "Wonderful Tonight" remake, that ends with lots of gospel backing vocals.

"Hard Times" is one of the album's concessions to the blues. It is a laid-back, sleepy blues with some sumptuous saxophone in the middle. Elvis's "Hound Dog" is covered convincingly, with a committed, rasping Clapton vocal. "No Alibis", it has to be said, is a classic slice of late eighties stadium-style, big production rock. It is the most representative of its time, but I still like it. "Run So Far" is a Paul McCartney-ish tuneful number, all very harmless, though.

"Old Love" is a slick piece of adult rock. Clapton's voice is particularly soulful on here. "Breaking Point" is in the same vein, but more pulsating and solid. "Lead Me On" is a tender love song, with female backing vocals to the fore and Clapton giving us his "Wonderful Tonight" voice once more. "Before You Accuse Me" is a fine, rocking blues cover to finish on. The only real piece of rousing blues rock on the album.

This was a better album than much of his eighties offerings, but I still prefer his bluesier material.

C+

Eric Clapton - Clapton (2010)


  

Released September 2010

Eric Clapton attracted a reasonable amount of flak for this album, as indeed he does whenever he releases one in recent years. It was said to be too sleepy, too slow, too "old" , too unadventurous. Maybe, but there is an honest appeal to it. He doesn't need to court the charts, or popular opinion. If he wants to do a relaxed, nostalgic album suitable for a man approaching his seventies, then he will. Good luck to him. It is a simple but mightily impressive record of largely covers, but nobody knows how to cover this material better than Clapton. He is laying back and enjoying what he is playing, just like Van Morrison also does. Fair play to both of them. Sure, you know what you're going to get, but if you like it, where is the problem?

TRACK LISTING

1. Travelin' Alone
2. Rockin' Chair
3. River Runs Deep
4. Judgement Day
5. How Deep Is The Ocean
6. My Very Good Friend The Milkman
7. Can't Hold Out Much Longer
8. That's No Way To Get Along
9. Everything Will Be Alright
10. Diamonds Made From Rain
11. When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful
12. Hard Times Blues
13. Run Back To Your Side
14. Autumn Leaves

"Travelin' Alone" is an excellent, slow-burning bluesy opener, with some great guitar and overall bluesy feel. "Rockin' Chair" is a laid-back, jazzy blues. It is full of authentic atmosphere. "River Runs Deep" is a top notch piece of Clapton laid-back blues. It sounds a lot like Mark Knopfler's post-2000 output. The relaxing, traditional, jazzy blues feel continues on the enjoyable "Judgement Day". "How Deep Is The Ocean" is beautiful - melodic, well-sung and infectiously sleepy. The musicianship, it must also be said, is superb throughout this album, as is the sound quality.

"My Very Good Friend The Milkman" sees Clapton going all 1930's with some jazzy backing. Paul McCartney has also covered this and the music sounds like the stuff The Bryan Ferry Orchestra is offering up these days. I can't help but like it. It has a great piano/brass interplay part where Clapton introduces the musicians. "Can't Hold Out Much Longer" is a proper blues. Quite what anyone would want to complain about here is beyond me. This is a lot more of a bluesy album than was popularly thought upon release. The shuffling, New Orleans-style blues of "That's No Way To Get Along" harks back to those mid-seventies Clapton albums like "461 Ocean Boulevard". It has some sumptuous, infectious guitar bits underpinning it. Good stuff. Check out that piano/bass/guitar bit at the end. Gorgeous.

"Everything Will Be Alright" has a real bassy thump to it and a bit of a pop/rock feel too. It cooks at a level heat very successfully. I suppose many will find this sort of material boring, but if they do, what are they doing listening to it in the first place? Clapton has been like this for decades. "Diamonds Made From Rain" is a pretty "easy listening" it has to be said, but none the less attractive for it. "When Somebody Think You're Wonderful" is back to the 1930s again for some more singalong, crooning jazz. It still manages to get some excellent guitar into it though.

"Hard Times Blues" is an acoustic and mandolin-driven blues, with that 1920s/30s depression era feel to it. "Run Back To Your Side" is a stonking, slide-guitar blues. "Autumn Leaves" is so Chris Rea it almost is him. For me, this has been an excellent album , with a mix of several styles and not deserving of criticism from people who liked what Clapton did with Cream. I liked that era too, but I also like this.

B-

Eric Clapton - There's One in Every Crowd (1975)


  

Released March 1975

Hastily recorded and released after the success of "461 Ocean Boulevard", which was his first album for four years, this one did not quite hit the spot in the way its predecessor had done. It is similarly laid-back in its sleepy tones, not many searing blues cuts to be found. There is gospel, folk, low-key reggae and the occasional blues, but overall it is a pretty understated album.

TRACK LISTING

1. We've Been Told (Jesus Is Coming Soon)
2. Swing Low Sweet Chariot
3. Little Rachel
4. Don't Blame Me
5. The Sky Is Crying
6. Singin' The Blues
7. Better Make It Through Today
8. Pretty Blue Eyes
9. High
10. Opposites

"We've Been Told (Jesus Is Coming Soon)" is a somnolent, relaxing gospel song, with Clapton's gentle vocal recalling quite a bit of the previous album. It has an infectious, shuffling beat to it though. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is also a spiritual, given an appealing reggae makeover. It was a hit single, and deservedly so as it is lively and enjoyable. "Little Rachel" has a bluesy backing to it and another decidedly drowsy vocal. When the drums kick in it develops a bit of a bluesy thump, it has to be said, however. "Don't Blame Me" was written as an "answer" song to Bob Marley's "I Shot The Sheriff", which Clapton covered on the previous album. It has a convincing slow skank and Clapton's Marley impersonation is actually not as embarrassing as one might expect it to be.

Elmore James' "The Sky Is Crying" is the album's most authentic blues, with some copper-bottomed slide guitar. "Singin' The Blues" has that upbeat, "Mainline Florida"-style groove that Clapton would utilise a lot in the mid-late seventies, particularly on "Slowhand". Lots of backing vocals and funky-ish guitar. "Better Make It Through Today" is a slow-tempo, almost comatose number enhanced by some excellent mid-song guitar. "Pretty Blue Eyes" is an acoustic-driven country blues that ends up with a choral mid-song bit, somewhat incongruously.

"High" is another shuffling typical mid-seventies Clapton track. Again, I have to say it does have some killer guitar near the end. "Opposites" ends this perfectly pleasant, but remarkable album with a perfectly pleasant, unremarkable track.

Sound-wise, the best version is to be found on the "Give Me Strength: 74-75" box set recordings.

C+

Blondie






Blondie (1976)
Plastic Letters (1978)
Parallel Lines (1978)
Eat To The Beat (1979)
Autoamerican (1980)

Blondie Live At The BBC

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Aretha Franklin




I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You (1967)
Lady Soul (1968)

The Atlantic Mono Singles Collection

Respect: The Very Best Of Aretha Franklin

Billy Paul




360 Degrees Of Billy Paul (1972)
War Of The Gods (1973)
When Love Is New (1975)
Let 'Em In (1976)

ABBA








ABBA (1975)
Arrival (1976)
ABBA: The Album (1978)
Voulez-Vous (1979)
Super Trouper (1980)
The Visitors (1981)

ABBA Live At Wembley

10cc




10cc (1973)
Sheet Music (1974)
The Original Soundtrack (1975)

The Very Best Of 10cc

Deep Purple






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

Shades Of Deep Purple (1968)
The Book Of Taliesyn (1968)
Deep Purple (1969)
In Rock (1970)
Fireball (1971)
Machine Head (1972)
Made In Japan (1972)
Who Do We Think We Are (1973)
Burn (1974)
Stormbringer (1974)
Come Taste The Band (1975)
House Of Blue Light (1987)

Barry White




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

I've Got So Much To Give (1973)
Stone 'Gon (1973)
Can't Get Enough (1974)
Just Another Way To Say I Love You (1975)
Let The Music Play (1976)
Is This Watcha Wont (1976)
Barry White Sings for Someone You Love (1977)
The Man (1978)
I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing (1979)
The Message Is Love (1979)

Love Unlimited Orchestra (1974)

The 20th Century Singles Collection
The Complete 20th Century Albums

Trojan Boss Reggae


  

This is a companion to Trojan's "Classic Reggae" and "Original Reggae" compilations. It is full of lively, upbeat "skinhead" reggae dating from the first years after the term "reggae" was coined - 1968 to 1972. Lots of rock steady style beats made even faster with that trademark organ sound. The tracks on here contain far more rarities than the other two. Indeed, going from "Classic Reggae" downwards to this one is to travel from the most commercially popular to the most obscure. This is largely not "chart hits" reggae. It is skinhead pub reggae from the late sixties/early seventies. It is full of vitality and vigour, though, and makes an ideal summer party soundtrack if you want to go down the credible old school reggae road.

My own personal highlights are:-

"Hang 'Em High" - Richard Ace
"John Jones" - Rudy Mills
"Reggae In Your Jeggae" - Dandy Livingstone
"On Broadway" - Slim Smith
"Red Red Wine" - Tony Tribe
"How Long Will It Take" - Pat Kelly
"(Too) Experienced" - Owen Grey
"Moon Hop" - Derick Morgan
"Black Panther" - Sir Collins & The Black Diamonds
"Sufferer" - Kingstonians

"River To The Bank" - Derrick Morgan
"A Live Injection" - The Upsetters
"Moon Walk (Twistin' The Night Away)" - Nyah Shuffle & Sprong
"Reggae In The Wind (Blowin' In The Wind)" - Lester Sterling


These tracks are like the Northern Soul of reggae - often quite unknown, sometimes of variable sound quality but always of interest.

B-

Billy Bragg - Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)


  

Released November 1984

Recorded in London

After the mini LP that was "Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy" from 1983, this was Billy Bragg's first full album of songs, still largely delivered in a raw, edgy fashion featuring his voice and his crashing, jangling electric guitar. There have been additions, though, a delicious trumpet and organ in places, plus a sweeter tone to the guitar.

The songs are the now established subjects of political, corruption, injustice and naive, nostalgic love.  Bragg does all of these so well.

TRACK LISTING

1. It Says Here
2. Love Gets Dangerous
3. The Myth Of Trust
4. From A Vauxhall Velox
5. The Saturday Boy
6. Island Of No Return
7. St. Swithin's Day
8. Like Soldiers Do
9. This Guitar Says Sorry
10. Strange Things Happen
11. A Lover Sings

"It Says Here" is a magnificent, vitriolic condemnation of the gutter press that has my full support. "They offer you a feature on stockings and suspenders while calling for stiffer penalties for sex offenders...". What a great line. It is one of favourite Bragg songs. "Love Gets Dangerous" has an addictive guitar riff of a deeper, fuller tone than on the previous album. Bragg explores the cynical side of relationships. He uses double tracked vocals as well, for the first time. "The Myth Of Trust" has a bass riff and a mysterious moody feel to it. The clash of the electric guitar riff sounds like some of Steeleye Span's early electric folk rock work. I remember initially finding this album less easy to get into than its predecessor. My view has changed over the years. It has hidden depths.

"From A Vauxhall Velox" gently lampoons Dylan's "From A Buick 6" on an edgy, guitar-driven stream of consciousness, rapidly sung number. The lyrics are pretty incomprehensible, something about the class system... The song also has a Chuck Berry-style "bridge" in the middle. "The Saturday Boy" is just beautiful. One of those so evocative, movingly nostalgic tales of school and teenage love.  It is disarmingly fetching. "We'd sit together in double history twice a week and somedays we'd walk the same way home and it's surprising how quick a little rain could clear the streets...". Then that sumptuous horn kicks in and I feel decidedly tearful. Great stuff.

"Island Of No Return" is an anti-war song telling of Bragg's time in the British Army and also The Falklands War. "St.Swithin's Day" is the best track on the album. Another of those great, atmospheric love songs. It is timelessly beautiful. It also uses a bit of bass and percussion at one point. "The polaroids that hold us together will surely fade away, like the love that we spoke of forever on St. Swithin's Day...". Lines like that are up there with the best of them.

"Like Soldiers Do" sees Bragg revisiting Army memories once more. "This Guitar Says Sorry"  has always seemed a bit of a cacophonous mess to me, however. Sorry Billy, not one of my favourites. "Strange Things Happen" brings back echoes of the previous album. Whereas much of the earlier material showed signs of progression, this is very much in the same vein as the previous offering. "A Lover Sings", however, is a different kettle of fish, featuring an infectious organ backing and an almost soulful feel and vocal from Billy. Great lovelorn lyrics too.

This was the bridging album between the debut and the next one, which would go "full band" and really develop Bragg as a credible singer/songwriter.

B-

Monkey Business: The Definitive Skinhead Reggae Collection


  

The skinhead fascination with reggae in the 1968-1972 period (particularly the sixties years) was an odd thing. It was completely authentic, however, along with cherry red boots with however many lace holes were required and grandad shirts with braces went a musical taste for the stomping, regular beat of Jamaica rock steady that was morphing into "reggae". The phrase was coined in 1968 and the Trojan label in particular released some absolutely classic singles. They were the Motown of Jamaica - a veritable conveyor belt of two-three minute hit singles. Lots of them are contained on this estimable compilation, as well as a lot of the lesser-known numbers that now have a "cult" appeal. Stuff that was played in the skinhead pubs in the late sixties before they went off for a "ruck" before the "'Ammers" match. Of course, there were endless negative aspects to the skinhead culture that don't even need emphasising, but there was something strangely fascinating about this bizarre fusion of a delinquescent youth culture and the youth music from an island whose inhabitants they supposedly hated and didn't want in the UK. All pretty incomprehensible. One of music's more perplexing genres. Highly recommended though.

Anyway here is is in all its foot-stomping, boot-lacing, braces-extending glory. Some of my highlights are listed below:-

"Fatty Fatty" - Clancy Eccles
"54-46 Was My Number" - Toots & The Maytals
"The Liquidator" - Harry J. All Stars
"007 (Shanty Town)" - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
"Double Barrel" - Dave & Ansil Collins
"Monkey Spanner" - Dave & Ansil Collins
"Young Gifted & Black" - Bob & Marcia
"Long Shot (Kick De Bucket)" - The Pioneers
"Monkey Man" - Toots & The Maytals
"Cherry Oh Baby" - Eric Donaldson
"Fat Man" - Derrick Morgan
"Wet Dream" - Max Romeo
"Israelites" - Desmond Dekker & The Aces
"Singer Man" - The Kingstonians
"Hang 'Em High" - Richard Ace
"Clint Eastwood" - The Upsetters
"Moonlight Lover" - Joya Landis
"The Law" - Andy Capp
"Pressure Drop " - Toots & The Maytals
"Cuss Cuss" - Lloyd Robinson
"A Live Injection" - The Upsetters
"Reggae In Your Jeggae" - Dandy Livingstone
"Red Red Wine" - Tony Tribe
"Skinhead Moonstop" - Symarip

B+

Monday, 26 November 2018

Billy Bragg




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

Life's a Riot With Spy Vs. Spy (1983)
Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)
Talking With the Taxman About Poetry (1986)
Workers' Playtime (1988)
Don't Try This At Home (1991)
William Bloke (1996)
England, Half-English (2002)
Mr. Love & Justice (2008)
Tooth & Nail (2013)
Bridges Not Walls (2017)

Billy Bragg - Life's A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy (1983)


  

Released May 1983

Recorded in London

This was actually just a seven track extended EP, lasting just sixteen minutes of ex-soldier Billy Bragg, who nobody knew anything about at the time, and his clashing, reverb-soaked electric guitar and un-reconstructed Essex, glottal-stop droning voice. Never mind the voice, which admittedly is an acquired taste, he had a commitment and political honest morality that was admirable, to me, anyway.  He had a Clash-like punk ethic and an articulate, intelligent and thoroughly unpretentious anger. He wasn't merely a fist-pumping tub thumper but he had a message to get across and he was going to use his Woody Guthrie-inspired travelling troubadour persona to do it. The musical backing would develop on later albums, but here it was just the man and his guitar. It is raw, edgy, lo-fi and very "alternative". Very home produced. Therein lies its appeal, however.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Milkman Of Human Kindness
2. To Have And Have Not
3. Richard
4. A New England
5. The Man In The Iron Mask
6. The Busy Girl Buys Beauty
7. Loves Town Revisted

These songs were almost like demos for the sort of material that would be given better musical backing on later albums. Politics are never far from the surface, of course, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It was often overlooked at the beginning that Bragg could also pen a sensitive lyric too, as a song like the evocative "The Milkman Of Human Kindness" proves. "To Have And Have Not" is about getting qualifications and trying to avoid the social inequality between rich and poor. He already had his finger on the pulse regarding the university of hard knocks. "At 21 you're on top of the scrapheap, at 16 you were top of the class". He also questions own political persona with disarming honesty.

Nobody does little vignettes and characterisation of ordinary people quite like Billy Bragg. His songs are full of characters that we have all known. "Richard" is one of them. Another delightful little social sketch is the atmospheric, cynically moving "A New England". "I love you then as I love you still, I put you on a pedestal, they put you on the pill...". Bragg delivers these words mournfully yet sensitively as he gazes off into the distance into the wet night streets over the top of his beer. "I don't want to change the world, I'm not looking for a New England". I'm just looking for another girl." Absolute classic Billy Bragg.

"The Man In The Iron Mask" is a brooding, stark typically Bragg love song. It is mysterious and haunting, showing that Bragg had a talent for writing this sort of song. "The Busy Girl Buys Beauty" has Billy exploring his frustration with the (in his opinion) vacuous lives of some older teenage girls as they move into womanhood. I can't help but feel it is just a little patronising though. "Lovers Town Revisited" is one of the best songs on the album, a short, sharp tale of trouble outside nightclubs.

While this was a hard-hitting introduction to the music and lyrics of Billy Bragg, for me, there was much better to come.

B-

The Ethiopians - Engine 54 (1968)


    

Released in 1968

TRACK LISTING

1. Engine 54
2. My Love
3. You Got The Dough
4. Train To Skaville
5. Give Me Your Love
6. Train To Glory
7. Long Time Now
8. Woman's World
9. Unchanged Love
10. Come On Now

By 1968 the exciting, upbeat sounds of Ska and Bluebeat had begun to be replaced in the often-changing musical tapestry of Jamaica by Rock Steady. This, The Ethiopians' debut alum, was much more n the Rock Steady genre than ska, although the title track is often considered to be ska, it isn't, really. It is considerably slower. "My Love" is actually a fifties-style  rock'n'roll ballad with precious little Rock Steady in it at all, if any. The Ethiopians merged sixties rock/soul with Jamaican rhythms very successfully, and people around the release of this album started to take notice of this type of Jamaican music. Reggae, of course, had yet to be coined as a phrase or a genre. Toots & The Maytals' "Do The Reggay" came out in the same year.

That said, listen to "You Got The Dough". It is full of reggae skanking rhythms. It was just that nobody had given it a name. Well, they had I guess - Rock Steady. "Train To Skaville" is classic slow tempo ska, however and it possibly the best known track on the album, dominated by its horn riffs. "Woman's World" is almost calypso and sounds like something from the late fifties.

"Train To Glory" was later covered by Bunny Wailer and a variation of "Long Time Now" was done by Johnny Nash. This was a far more influential album than the actual sum of its parts. For an album dating from Jamaica in 1968 the sound quality on the latest Trojan remaster is pretty good.

C+