Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Eric Clapton - No Reason To Cry (1976)


Released August 1976


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

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

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

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

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


Monday, 10 December 2018

The Temptations - Masterpiece (1973)


Released February 1973

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


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

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

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

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

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


The Temptations - All Directions (1972)


Released July 1972

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


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

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

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

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


Friday, 7 December 2018

Van Morrison - The Prophet Speaks (2018)


Released December 2018

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


The Carpenters - With The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra


Released December 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, 6 December 2018

David Bowie - The 1980 Floor Show (1973)


Recorded in October 1973

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


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

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

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

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


The Jackson 5 - Third Album (1970)


Released September 1970


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

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

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

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


Little Feat - The Last Record Album (1975)


Released November 1975

Recorded in Los Angeles

This was the last album from the classic 1970-1975 era for Little Feat. I have read some critics say that it is a "flat" album and that you can feel the tension and so on, as the band near a turning point in their career. Personally, I really don't see that. I think it's great. The sound and funky feel is wonderful, to me, anyway. Some have said it is too short. Maybe, but weren't all their albums?


1. Romance Dance
2. All That You Dream
3. Long Distance Love
4. Day Or Night
5. One Love Stand
6. Down Below The Borderline
7. Somebody's Leavin'
8. Mercenary Territory

"Romance Dance" is a typical slab of Little Feat funk/rock, with a full, muscular, punchy sound to it. Similarly, "All That You Dream" is big, bassy, powerful and full of funky rocking thump. There is a real soul to this that I love. The guitar and drum sound is superb, if you ask me. "Long Distance Love" is a beautifully laid-back piece of Southern soul rock with a bit of an Eagles feel to it. "Day Or Night" has an infectious, shuffling drum intro and another relaxed funky vibe to it. It is six minutes long and ends with a jazzy drum solo.

"One Love Stand" is very representative of Little Feat - rhythmic, soulful but with that country rock groove to it. Check out the killer guitar solo in the middle. "Down Below The Borderline" continues in the same vein, almost Steely Dan-esque in places. "Somebody's Leavin'" has a country soul feeling to it. "Mercenary Territory" is the sort of thing Traffic were starting to put out around now. I must admit I don't quite get the "flat" accusations. In many ways this is my favourite Little Feat album, but that's just me.


Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Little Feat - Feats Don't Fail Me Now (1974)


Released August 1974

This was Little Feat's fourth album and builds on the solid foundations of "Dixie Chicken". People knew what their brand of rocking Southern blues was all about by now. This is one of their most confident, realised offerings.


1. Rock 'n' Roll Doctor
2. Oh, Atlanta
3. Skin It Back
4. Down The Road
5. Spanish Moon
6. Feats Don't Fail Me Now
7. The Fan
8. Medley: Cold Cold Cold/Tripe Face Boogie

"Rock 'n' Roll Doctor" is a funky, swampy, bluesy slice of down 'n' dirty groove. It pretty much exemplifies Little Feat's music in one cut. "Oh, Atlanta" is a Status Quo-esque riffy Southern rocker that doesn't let up for is three minutes. It features some killer barroom piano in the middle. The guitar near the end is sublime too. A funky Meters-esque drum introduces the funky "Skin It Back". This is a great cut, with infectious rhythm and percussion. Some wonderful organ swirling around too.

"Down The Road" just drips with instinctive Little Feat soul/funk/rock. It is another track that sums up what they were as a highly influential band, in retrospect. Intoxicating bluesy guitar is all over this one. "Spanish Moon" has a great soulful sound to it. The horns are muscular and resonant. These albums have not been remastered but, you know, it doesn't matter, they sound great anyway. The title track is also packed full of bluesy rhythm with that boogie piano playing its part once again.

"The Fan" is a rock-ish, organ-driven groover. A bit proggy in places, would you believe. Quirkily appealing. Great drumming. Ditto guitar. The final "Medley", for some reason, includes two tracks from the "Sailin' Shoes" album from 1972. They sound good, though. A highly recommended album from a band at their peak.


Bruce Hornsby - Harbor Lights (1993)


Released April 1993

This was Bruce Hornsby' first "solo" recording, without The Range, although long-time drummer John Molo was still with him. It is still full of piano-driven, melodious AOR-style rock, with sensitive, observant lyrics, although this album has far more jazzy tinges than previous offerings.


1. Harbor Lights
2. Talk Of The Town
3. Long Tall Cool One
4. China Doll
5. Fields Of Grey
6. Rainbow's Cadillac
7. Passing Through
8. The Tide Will Rise
9. What A Time
10. Pastures Of Plenty

The title track opener is an extended mid-tempo rock number with some excellent jazzy guitar improvisation near the end and killer piano too, as is to be expected. "Talk Of The Town" has some infectious jazz piano and an almost funky backbeat. It has some wry lyrics about small town gossip. Most tracks end with considerable "jamming"-stye instrumentation. This was a deliberate move on Hornsby's part. Hornsby likes to cut his musical chops, but it blends well with the lyrical content - lots of tales of regular American life and love. The musicianship is wonderful from all concerned but it always is matched by the story each song tells. Hornsby never shows off musically, he just loves to play and this albums exemplifies that perfectly. Check out the piano, bass and drums at the end of "Talk Of The Town" for proof.

"Long Tall Cool One" is a Steely Dan-esque melodious number about a mysterious character. The saxophone in the background, from the instantly recognisable Branford Marsalis, is intoxicating. "China Doll" is another funky shuffler that breaks out into a catchy, jazzy chorus. Some superb piano features on this one too. "Fields Of Grey" is simply gorgeous, summoning up the feel of The Drifters in many ways in its backing vocal harmonies. It is also very redolent of Hornsby's work with The Range, it has a great hook to it. Lovely bass line as well.

"Rainbow's Cadillac" is incredibly catchy with another piano-drive jazzy refrain. Great stuff. Probably the best cut on the album. "Passing Through" is another infectious, appealing number with some excellent wah-wah guitar. "The Tide Will Rise" is a Range-style number about the Virginia water shore, referencing "the Admiral's daughter" (from "Every Little Kiss") once more. I guess it rhymes so well with "water". It is a lovely, sweeping, atmospheric song.

"What A Time" is just sumptuous, featuring some top notch piano from Hornsby. Another great track.   "Pastures Of Plenty" is a more sombre, slow tempo rock number, with some great guitar breaks, to end what is a very enjoyable, moving and uplifting album. Highly recommended.


Bruce Hornsby & The Range

The Way It Is (1986)
Live At The Bottom Line (1986)
Scenes From The Southside (1988)
A Night On The Town (1990)
Harbor Lights (1993)*
Hot House (1995)*
Spirit Trail (1998)*
Here Come The Noise Makers (Live) (1999)*
Halcyon Days (2004)*

* recorded as Bruce Hornsby

Bruce Hornsby & The Range - Live At The Bottom Line (1986)

This is a rare Bruce Hornsby live album. It is one of those "official" bootleg releases take from radio broadcasts and now made available for release. For me, the sound is slightly superior to most bootlegs, no doubt because it is sourced from the radio broadcast. Personally, I find it perfectly listenable.


1. Jacob's Ladder
2. The Way It Is
3. The Long Race
4. Mandolin Rain
5. Extended Piano Solo
6. The Red Plains
7. I Know You Rider
8. Every Little Kiss
9. The River Runs Low
10. The Wild Frontier
11. On The Western Skyline
12. Till The Dreaming's Done
13. Down The Road Tonight

Hornsby and the band are on top form, and they play the whole of the "The Way It Is" album, plus "Jacob's Ladder" and "Till The Dreaming's Done" from the fortchcoming "Scenes From The Southside" album. There is also the previously unreleased "I Know You Rider" (which does suffer a brief sound dropout). Personal favourites are "Mandolin Rain", "Every Little Kiss" and the rocking closer, "Down The Road Tonight".

Look, if you are an "audiophile" you will find things to gripe about regarding the sound. If, like me, you are just happy to hear some Hornsby live material from this period then you will enjoy this. I saw them live in 1988 and they were great, so it brings back good memories.


Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Bob Dylan - Christmas In The Heart (2009)


Released November 2009


1. Here Comes Santa Claus
2. Do You Hear What I Hear?
3. Winter Wonderland
4. Hark The Herald Angels Sing
5. I'll Be Home For Christmas
6. Little Drummer Boy
7. The Christmas Blues
8. Adeste Fideles (Oh Come All Ye Faithful)
9. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
10. Must Be Santa
11. Silver Bells
12. The First Noel
13. Christmas Island
14. The Christmas Song
15. O Little Town Of Bethelehem

I really don't know what to make of this album. Parts of it are quirkily appealing, such as "Adeste Fideles" ("Oh Come All Ye Faithful") and "Hark The Herald Angels Sing", which has Dylan croaking his way through two favourite carols of mine. "The First Noel" is a nice one too. Be warned, though, his voice is desperately wheezy throughout and these recordings will certainly not appeal to the Michael Bublé/Rod Stewart Christmas album market. "Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem" is not quite so good, Dylan just about making it to the end. The carols are generally ok, though. For me, where the thing falls down is on execrable slices of Christmas cheese like "Here Comes Santa Claus" and "Must Be Santa". I find these pretty much unlistenable, like a drunken old Grandad doing a turn in the lounge on Christmas day.

Look, I know Dylan is clearly having a good time doing this and if he wants to do it, fair enough, he has every right to do so and it remains a genuine oddity of a Christmas album.


Mark Knopfler - Privateering (2012)


Released September 2012

This was Mark Knopfler's first double album and it is a good one, too. It covers all his bases - folk, Celtic folk, Americana blues, rock and even a few nods to the old Dire Straits days, only a few mind. It is full of Bruce Springsteen, Chris Rea and Van Morrison influences in places as well as going full on with Knopfler's trademark laconic voice and often wry, witty, observational lyrics. It maybe a sprawling album, but it is a good sprawling. There isn't a duff track on the album. In many respects it is his finest creation.


1. Redbud Tree
2. Haul Away
3. Don't Forget Your Hat
4. Privateering
5. Miss You Blues
6. Corned Beef City
7. Go, Love
8. Hot Or What
9. Yon Two Crows
10. Seattle
11. Kingdom Of Gold
12. Got To Have Something
13. Radio City Serenade
14. I Used To Could
15. Gator Blood
16. Bluebird
17. Dream Of The Drowned Submariner
18. Blood And Water
19. Today Is Okay
20. After The Beanstalk

"Redbud Tree" is a delightful, acoustic, folky and gentle opener. "Haul Away" is sad, mournfully Celtic, very much like "Piper To The End" from "Get Lucky". "Don't Forget Your Hat" is full of bluesy slide guitar, a Chris Rea-esque blues full of great harmonica and thumping, addictive beat.
"Privateering" is typical acoustic Knopfler traditional sounding folk looking back to pirate times, but maybe through rose-coloured spectacles. It kicks in to a powerful rock refrain half way through. Lots of atmosphere present here.

"Miss You Blues" is beautifully heartbreaking, very Springsteen-esque in its folky feel. Lovely typical Knopfler guitar at the end as well. "Corned Beef City" is wonderful, trademark Knopfler blues rock, upbeat and featuring truck stop lyrics about bacon, egg and sausage. Great stuff. Great rock guitar on it. I love this one. There is some Dire Straits-ish “Brothers In Arms”-style guitar at the start of the laid-back “Go, Love”. It is a beautiful song full of killer guitar.

“Hot Or What” is a copper-bottomed slice of tongue-in-cheek Knopfler blues. There is a lot of Van Morrison about it, for me. “Yon Two Crows” is Dire Staits-ish but also very traditionally folky in its feel, with a Northumbrian/Celtic feel too. “Seattle” takes us to the bars of the USA on a most evocative, atmospheric narrative song. "Kingdom Of Gold" is a low-key, sombre acoustic folk ballad. It goes on a bit too long maybe. "Got To Have Something" is a rousing, staccato, Dylanesque shuffling blues rocker featuring some great piano. "Radio City Serenade" is a lovely Knopfler ballad packed with emigré maudlin emotion. Its Celtic feel, sung from someone in the USA, is so moving as is usual from Knopfler on these sort of things.

"I Used To Could" is a sleep but muscular blues and "Gator Blood" is a swampy Americana blues as you may imagine from the title. "Bluebird" is a slow tempo guitar-driven ballad and "Dream Of The Drowned Submariner" is even more sleepy but quirkily fascinating, lyrically. "Blood And Water" is another one harking back to a bit of Dire Straits guitar sound, but only here and there. "Today Is Okay" is a Van Morrison-style blues grinder. "After The Beanstalk" is a country-ish Band-influenced pice of Americana to finish this excellent album. Yes it tapers off a bit toward the end, but that is a minor gripe. No tracks are not worthy of a listen. Probably best to listen to either disc one or disc two in isolation though to avoid that feeling of too much Knopfler in one sitting.


Mark Knopfler - Get Lucky (2009)


Released September 2009

By now, it was high time people stopped comparing Mark Knopfler's solo work with his Dire Straits output. They are completely different entities. Knopfler has now created almost his own genre of traditional-sounding folk/rock songs. They sound as if they are from a bygone age, but they are written by him, most atmospherically. Amidst the Celtic and folk airs, there is still a large debt owed to the blues and swamp rock styles, however. There are just do Dire Straits-style guitar solos, so let it go, eh, people? Every time he releases an album we get the same old gripes from people claiming to be "huge fans" bemoaning the fact that they now find his music "boring". The boring thing is not Knopfler in this instance. If Dire Straits were your thing, listen to them, do not expect the same from Knopfler. It's the Eric Clapton syndrome.


1. Border Reiver
2. Hard Shoulder
3. You Can't Beat The House
4. Before Gas And TV
5. Monteleone
6. Cleaning My Gun
7. The Car Was The One
8. Remembrance Day
9. Get Lucky
10. So Far From The Clyde
11. Piper To The End

The opener, "Border Reiver" begins with a Celtic style flute and explores the tradition of the cross-border England/Scotland raiders, brought up to date, about truck drivers. "Hard Shoulder" is a gentle, acoustic, bass and percussion ballad, with Knopfler never getting out of second gear, but appealingly so. Some nice orchestration features at the end. "You Can't Beat The House" is a 4/4 time bluesy number with hints of Elvis Costello's "Americana"-style offerings. "Before Gas And TV" is a folky,  Celtic-style lament with some fetching Northumbrian pipes and bags of atmosphere. "Monteleone" is a laid-back, sensitive ballad about making guitars.

"Cleaning My Gun" sees some swampy blues brought to the table. Knopfler does this sort of thing so well. It has vague hints of Bob Dylan's "Mississippi", in places, for me. "The Car Was The One" is a nostalgic ode for a Britain from a time gone by (1963). There is a lot of looking back to people and situations from times past - in both images and characters. Mostly honest blue-collar workers, soldiers or sailors, sportsmen and gamblers. Very Springsteen-esque in parts, but with far more historical context. Knopfler knows his social and cultural history. "Remembrance Day" is a heartbreaking tale of a village cricket team who went away to fight in WW1. Even the children's choir at the end cannot detract from its moving ambience. "Get Lucky" is about travelling farm workers and gambling.

The final two tracks are two of the most emotional. "So Far From The Clyde" is about Glasgow shipworkers, while "Piper To The End" tells the story of Knopfler's uncle, an army piper who died in his early twenties, in WWII. It is such a beautiful, tender song and a fitting way to end this thoughtful, sensitive, gentle album.


Monday, 3 December 2018

Siouxsie & The Banshees - Juju (1981)


Released August 1981

"Post Punk" was, by 1981, pretty credible. Joy Division, Ultravox!, Simple Minds, Echo & The Bunnymen, U2, Doll By Doll, Magazine, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, New Order and Gang Of Four were just some leading the way in guitar-driven earnestly morose, bleak, "industrial" music. Another who should be added to that list, particularly with the release of this seminal album of grungy, piercing, searing guitars, tribal drums, haughty, arch vocals and swirling keyboards is Siouxsie & The Banshees. This was when they completely threw off their "punk" chains and became "gothic" post-punkers.

From being "the high priestess of punk", Siouxsie Sioux now became the first "goddess of goth" as a new genre/sub-culture was born. Guitarist John McGeoch had previously been at the vanguard of post punk with Joy Division and Magazine. He, along with drummer Budgie's rhythmic contributions produced a veritable dismal wall of sound. The rumbling bass sound is excellent throughout the album too.


1. Spellbound
2. Into The Light
3. Arabian Nights
4. Halloween
5. Monitor
6. Night Shift
7. Sin In My Head
8. Head Cut
9. Voodoo Lounge

Sioux's vocals and lyrics are arty, depressing, creepy and disturbing at times, especially on tracks like the unnerving "Head Cut", "Voodoo Dolly" and "Halloween". "Spellbound" is a cascading, bristling but brooding opener, and "Arabian Nights" is marvellously atmospheric. It has a tuneful chorus, but elsewhere in it are various weird noises and paranoia acted out aurally. There are all sorts of claustrophobic undertones to the whole album. "Into The Light" brings brief relief, but basically this is not an uplifting album. It is a dense, intense, dark creation to be listened to on dark winter days. Just check out the sombre, fuzzy tones of "Night Shift" or the staccato rhythms of "Monitor".  It has been hugely inflluential in subsequent years, it has to be said. It was genuinely trail-blazing.


Siouxsie & The Banshees

The Scream (1978)
Join Hands (1979)
Kaleidoscope (1980)
Juju (1981)
A Kiss In The Dreamhouse (1982)
Hyaena (1984)
Tinderbox (1986)
Through The Looking Glass (1987)
Peepshow (1988)
Superstition (1991)
The Rapture (1995)

Nocturne (Live) (1983)
At The BBC

Siouxsie & The Banhsees - Tinderbox (1986)


Released April 1986

This is a very rock-ish album from Siouxsie & The Banshees, probably their most so. Lots of pounding drums and post-punk guitar runs together with swirling, confident vocals. It is a short, sharp album, only thirty-eight minutes. It is very typical fare, exemplifying that whole post-punk rock sound so prevalent in the early mid-eighties.


1. Candyman
2. Sweetest Chill
3. The Unrest
4. Cities In Dust
5. Cannons
6. Party's Fall
7. 92
8. Lands End

"Candyman" is a lively, pulsating opener featuring a great bass line rumbling underneath the beat. There is a metronomic uniformity to the sound, continuing into the very post-punk-ish "Sweetest Chill" with its searing Echo & The Bunnymen-type guitars. The ambience changes slightly with the slower-tempo "The Unrest". Throughout the album, though Siouxsie's vocals are typically haughty and grandiose. The lyrics are also bleak, as you would expect.

"Cities In Dust" is a dance/pop-ish slightly more commercial number with some Human League-esque synthesiser backing. It is probably the most instantly appealing number on the album. "Cannons" briefly stars sonorously slowly before bursting into a trademark early/mid-eighties Siouxsie rock number. Lots of frantic percussion, cannon shot sound effects and jangling early U2-style guitars. "Party's Fall" continues in the early U2 vein, with very Larry Mullen-esque drumming and Edge guitar runs too. This could have easily been on "Boy". It has a nice riffy bit at the end.

"92" is a sombre, haunting and lengthy number more typical of a few years earlier. "Lands End" starts with an intoxicating drum rhythm that continues throughout a rather early Roxy Music-influenced number that is one of the album's best. The drumming is superb on this one as are the vocals. By now, though, one knew what Siouxsie & The Banshees would deliver. They had become ever so slightly formulaic. They did change that for the next offering, however.


Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Temptations - Solid Rock (1972)


Released January 1972

This was The Temptations'/Norman Whitfield's fifth "psychedelic soul" album. Eddie Kendricks had gone by now, but the remaining voices are still superb, and the socially conscious vibe is still just as strong. It is a pretty determinedly uncommercial album, to be honest, and often slips under the radar.


1. Take A Look Around
2. Ain't No Sunshine
3. Stop The War
4. What It Is?
5. Smooth Sailing (From Now On)
6. Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)
7. It's Summer
8. The End Of Our Road

"Take A Look Around" is a hard-hitting "message song". "Ain't No Sunshine" is, of course, the Bill Withers song made famous by Michael Jackson. It is done well here, with a slowed-down vocal intro.  It is largely an instrumental groove for the first four of the song's seven minutes. The percussion on it is infectious .

The album was notable for its twelve-minute anti-Vietnam war psychedelic soul workout, "Stop The War" that begins with The Lord's Prayer, a tolling bell and some weird electronic noises. It irritated some no doubt, but it is a masterpiece of psychedelic soul. It is slow, meandering, indulgent maybe, but funky as hell in places. "Does anybody give a damn - about the brothers in Vietnam...?" is repeated endlessly as the wah-wah and frantic percussion builds up into a maelstrom of funky confusion and the vocal arrives after four minutes. It is a titanic track, make no mistake. Utterly uncommercial. It merges into Edwin Starr's "War" half way through. This was strong stuff in 1972. It cannot be underestimated how brave it was to put out this sort of thing.

"What It Is?" was also covered by Norman Whitfield's other project, The Undisputed Truth. Their version is slower and funkier, actually. The Temptations' one is buried in lots of fuzz guitar and less rhythm and different lyrics. "Smooth Sailing (From Now On)" is a break in the fervency of the message, giving us a poppy mid-sixties-style Motown number. "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" was also covered by the Undisputed Truth. The Temptations released it as a single. It was pretty upbeat and poppy too. "It's Summer" is a remake of a track they did two years earlier on the "Psychedelic Shack" album. This is possibly the better version. Lovely vocal harmonies on it.

"The End Of Our Road" is a funky, muscular and lively number to end what was a bit of a schizophrenic album containing two tracks that appeared on The Undisputed Truth's album released in the same month and a remake of a track from two years earlier, and, of course the lengthy anti-war number. One got the feeling that they, and Whitfield, were now treading water somewhat. Maybe they had one last great album in them? We would soon find out.


The Undisputed Truth - Face To Face With The Truth (1972)


Released January 1972
Now, we all know that The Temptations were the trail-blazers for Norman Whitfield's unique brand of socially-conscious "psychedelic soul" and they produced six wonderful albums exemplifying the genre. However, it is also a pertinent thing that Norman Whitfield never produced the same song twice in the same way and he used five Temptations tracks on this album, but produced in a totally different way - either stretched out, slowed-down or speeded up. The other two tracks were made famous by Gladys Knight/The Isley Brothers and Marvin Gaye. The result is a magnificent slice of aware "message" music - full of buzzy guitars, sumptuous horns, funky breaks, intoxicating percussion and kick posterior make and female vocals. Although The Temptations were great, in some ways, the ideal vehicle for Whitfield's powerful music was The Undisputed Truth.


1. You Make You Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth
2. What It Is?
3. Ungena Za Ulimwenga (Unite The World)
4. Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)
5. Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me
6. Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me
7. What's Going On

The first of the seven tracks, "You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth" is slower than The Temptations' version and it really gets the message across. "What It Is?" is upbeat, lively and full to the brim with pulsating funky soul. Joe Harris, Brenda Joyce and Billie Calvin lay down some fantastic vocals here and throughout this impressive album. The sound is also absolutely wonderful in its remastered format. Big, warm, full and bassy. The first huge production track is "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)" which is merged with Gladys Knight's "Friendship Train" to deliver one hell of a message for racial and cultural unity.

"Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" is a short, sharp, pounding single-style cut, as indeed is the bassy, rhythmic take on "Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me". This album has it all. It really was a golden age for soul/funk. They don't make albums like this anymore. "Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me" is magically soulful with one sublime vocal. Superb. Marvin Gaye's iconic "What's Goin' On" is given a nine-minute, extended soul workout full of killer vocals and infectious percussion. It is the match of the original. This is a most underrated, highly recommended album. Ain't that the truth. Can you dig it?


Saturday, 1 December 2018

ABBA - ABBA Live At Wembley (1979)


Recorded at London's Wembley Arena in  November 1979, this live album (a comparative rarity from ABBA) finds them performing at the peak of their powers and popularity, to a sell-out, enthusiastic crowd. The sound quality is truly outstanding throughout, as is the musicianship from Bjorn, Benny and their top-notch band. Agnetha and Anni-Frid are on their usual harmonious and crystal clear vocal form.


1. Gammal Fåboldpsalm
2. Voulez Vous
3. If It Wasn't For The Nights
4. As Good As New
5. Knowing Me, Knowing You
6. Rock Me
7. Chiquitita
8. Money Money Money
9. I Have A Dream
10. Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)
11. S.O.S.
12. Fernando
13. The Name Of The Game
14. Eagle
15. Thank You For The Music
16. Why Did It Have To Be Me?
17. Intermezzo No. 1
18. I'm Still Alive
19. Summer Night City
20. Take A Chance On Me
21. Does Your Mother Know
22. Hole In Your Soul
23. The Way Old Friends Do
24. Dancing Queen
25. Waterloo

Now, I am not a fully paid-up ABBA fan, so to speak, but I have to own up to a liking for them, however uncool hat was as a punk in 1979. Still, I was in good company with Elvis Costello. I get this album out every now and again and play it through and it is just such a pleasurable experience. As well as all the hits, there are some interesting rarities (non-single album tracks) as well, such as "If It Wasn't For The Nights"; "As Good As New" (both from "Voulez Vous"); "Why Did It Have To Be Me" (from "Arrival"); "I'm Still Alive" (sung live here, but never recorded in the studio); "Hole In Your Soul" (From "ABBA: The Album"); and "Intermezzo No. 1" from "ABBA".

The great hits are all here, nearly all great, but the children's choir version of "I Have A Dream" is a huge chunk of Swedish cheese and I have to declare a loathing for "Does Your Mother Know". Those minor qibbles aside, it is a thoroughly enjoyable album. Nicely presented in a hardback CD cover too, with some excellent pictures from the gig, one of which, refreshingly, clearly shows Agnetha to be a true girl of the seventies. It's all in that blue jump suit shadow, you see.