Thursday, 19 September 2019

Carly Simon



No Secrets (1972)

Carly Simon - No Secrets (1972)

You watched yourself gavotte...

  

Released on 28 November 1972

Running time 35.58

The early seventies was a good time to be a female singer/songwriter - Carole King's "Tapestry" was everywhere, then there was Joni Mitchell and later on Janis Ian. There was also Carly Simon, who has been a bit forgotten about. This was her biggest selling album and is worth revisiting. Oh, and there was every teenage boy's dream of a cover that made this a popular album to look at in the record shop - Carly proudly and clearly braless. Lordy.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Right Thing To Do
2. The Carter Family
3. You're So Vain
4. His Friends Are More Than Found Of Robin
5. We Have No Secrets
6. Embrace Me, You Child
7. Waited So Long
8. It Was So Easy
9. Night Owl
10. When You Close Your Eyes                                              

"The Right Thing To Do" is an easy-listening, laid-back AOR classic. Simon's voice is up there with that of Karen Carpenter in its beautiful tone. It was a huge hit, deservedly so, it is a truly lovely song. It has a similar instrumental backing to "You're So Vain". "The Carter Family" is a wry, observational Carole King/Janis Ian-style song that highlights Simon's ability to write a clever, character-driven song.

"You're So Vain" was the other "big one", a sensual, confessional song from a songwriter honestly confessing that "you had me several years ago, when I was still quite naive...". This was quite strong stuff in 1972. Who was it about? Everybody said Mick Jagger. Then they said Warren Beatty. Simon actually said it was about three men, although the only one she has ever named was Beatty. Jagger, by the way, sings some backing vocals on the track. It is a superb song, both musically and lyrically.

"His Friends Are More Than Found Of Robin" is a perplexing, plaintive song, sung in a quiet voice over a gentle piano. It is a nice song, but it sounds somewhat undercooked. The more full, solid rock sound of "You're So Vain" is back, however, on "We Have No Secrets". It is an attractive, very typically early seventies number that features some excellent acoustic guitar and drum interplay. "Embrace Me, You Child" has an impressive vocal and some enticing orchestration. The bass on here is very good, played by John Lennon's mate, Klaus Voorman. The drums throughout the album are played by ex-Sly & The Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark.


"Daddy, I'm no virgin..." sings Simon on "Waited So Long" on another confessional, slightly country-ish and upbeat bluesy song. It was a song that showed Simon to be singing as a mature, confident woman. Why is that important?  Well, in 1972, it was actually pretty rare for solo female artists, amazing as though it sounds. There is a Janis Joplin style of chutzpah on this, despite its relatively laid-back ambience. "It Was So Easy" is a pleasing, almost folk-rock sounding number with Simon providing a most melodic and winning vocal. "Night Owl" is a grinding, bluesy rocker that shows that Carly could give us a gin-soaked vocal when she felt like it. It features a good saxophone solo too. This short album finished with the peaceful, reflective Carole King vibe of "When You Close Your Eyes". All very soothing.

This was a most appealing album, I have to say, immaculately played and sung, with a bit of depth to the themes in the songs. It is worthy of the occasional check-out.

B-

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Billy Joel - River Of Dreams (1993)

These are the last words I have to say....

  

Released on 10 August 1993

Running time 49.10

In 1993 Billy Joel suddenly called a halt on his recording/songwriting career. He still occasionally tours, singing his material from 1972-1993, but since 1993 he has not released an album. He seemed to suddenly lose interest and also his muse. Fair enough, if he felt he hadn't got it in him, or hadn't got the desire then that was a fine, honest decision on his part.

This was an album that subsequently didn't get much of my attention, which is probably a bit of a shame, as it is not a bad album at all and a fair swansong.

TRACK LISTING


1. No Man's Land
2. The Great Wall Of China
3. Blonde Over Blue
4. A Minor Variation
5. Shades Of Grey
6. All About Soul
7. Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)
8. The River Of Dreams
9. Two Thousand Years
10. Famous Last Words                                           

"No Man's Land" is a crashing rock number to open with, with a bit of an Elvis Costello & The Attractions keyboard/drum sound, particularly at the beginning. It is a lyrically cynical song about big business and high-level corruption. "The Great Wall Of China" is a shuffling, powerful number, pretty typical of Joel's later material, full of power and purpose and appealing vocal delivery. Once again, the lyrics are realist and questioning. There is some great guitar soloing half way through from veteran Danny Kortchmar and Joel's voice is commanding and melodic throughout. It is a bit of a hidden Joel classic.

"Blonde Over Blue" has an attractive drum rhythm and another world-weary lyric. Joel's vocal is good, as are the synthesiser backing passages. Its appeal is not as instant as much of his earlier material, but a few listens and it gets there. "A Minor Variation" is a muscular, slow-paced but strong bluesy thumper of a number. It features a vibrant horn section. Joel could always deliver a bluesy vocal and he does just that here. "Shades Of Grey" is an ebullient, infectious song with Joel sounding committed and enthusiastic, as he sings two men's parts as they address each other.

"All About Soul" is one of the last Joel classics which features an absolutely killer, uplifting chorus that makes one remember just what a great artist Billy Joel was, what an ear for a tune he had and what a great voice too. I talk about him in the past tense because his career is now in the past, even though he is alive and well at 70 in 2019.

"Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)" is a tender piano ballad to one of his three daughters. Sometimes songs like this can be quite mawkish (John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart are all guilty), but I have to say that this one is quite delightful. The final Joel classic is to be found in the doo-wop glory of "The River Of Dreams" and its addictive harmonies behind Joel's falsetto vocal. He cuts loose on the piano too - like the true piano man he is. "Two Thousand Years" is a big, grandiose, anthemic ballad. There is something Elton John-ish about it. The final track is a sad but musically uplifting one in "Famous Last Words". "These are the last words I have to say..." sings Billy over an attractive rhythm and piano melody. This is a really good song and a fine one for Billy Joel to bow out on. Hey Billy - thanks, man.

B

The Rolling Stones - Some Girls Extras

Keep us blues....

  

Released in 2011

The extra tracks released on the “deluxe edition” of “Some Girls”  were controversial for being enhanced versions of original out-takes and demos from the original sessions given a contemporary makeover by the Stones in 2010. Personally, I don’t mind this at all, it has allowed some previously unheard material to be given new life - fair enough.

What is also notable is that the sound quality on these new tracks is far superior to the tinny sound of the original album. It is like having a new Stones album and doesn’t detract from the original “Some Girls” at all.

TRACK LISTING 


1. Claudine
2. So Young
3. Do You think I Really Care?
4. When You’re Gone
5. No Spare Parts
6. Don’t Be A Stranger
7. We Had It All
8. Tallahassee Lassie
9. I Love You Too Much
10. Keep Us Blues
11. You Win Again
12. Petrol Blues                                                                                        


“Claudine” is a rollicking piece of piano-driven bar-room blues and is a great start to this collection of songs. “So Young” is a solid piece of Stones rock, apparently it had been around on bootlegs for years and this latest recording doesn’t sound much different. It has a loose, rocking, “Exile On Main Street” feel to it. In fact, it rocks harder and more urgently than anything on the original “Some Girls”. “Do You Think That I Really Care?” has the country rock vibe of “Faraway Eyes” but it is faster in a sort of “Shattered” way. Jagger sings in that silly country voice again, something we have all just got used to and happily accept. Nobody else would get away with it would they? But it’s Mick Jagger, so we’ll forgive him most things. It is actually a really appealing track, so there you go.

“When You’re Gone” is something “Some Girls” lacks - some copper-bottomed Stones blues. It is a bit like “Back Of My Hand” from “A Bigger Bang” but faster. “No Spare Parts” is a country style slow number sung in the same style as “Do You Think That I Really Care?” but it is another strong song. There is a real vibrancy to some of this material, you have to say.

“Don’t Be A Stranger” is a vaguely reggae-sounding upbeat number with a summery breeziness to it.  Time for a Keith song - “We Had It All” is typical Richards, being a slow, sleepy romantic ballad. “Tallahassee Lassie” is a lively, southern bluesy cover of the old Freddy Cannon number. The Stones do it really well, full of vigour and enthusiasm with a hint of Creedence Clearwater Revival about their guitar sound. “I Love You Too Much” is a riffy, sensual Stones rocker in their late seventies/early eighties style. “Keep Up Blues” is a delicious helping of grinding, bassy blues. This is The Stones at their best and it is as good as anything they recorded in this period, to be honest. It has a great full sound to it too.

“You Win Again” is back to that good ol’ country bar. It is like the sort of song that Elvis Costello did on “Almost Blue”. It is an old Hank Williams song and was also covered by Van Morrison and Linda Gail Lewis on their album of the same name. “No Petrol” is a throwaway bit of piano and vocal blues that sounds like one of those early Dylan songs. I’m sure that is what Jagger is trying to sound like, in a very tongue-in-cheek way.

I have to say that listening to this side by side with “Some Girls”, this is by far the better collection of songs. It has far less of that 1978 cod-disco synthesiser-style backing and far more of a rootsy Stones sound. I guess the former was thought to be more popular in 1978, hence the make-up of the eventual album. Give me these other songs any day, though, and their warmer, fuller, bassier sound.

B+

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Blind Faith



Blind Faith (1969)

Blind Faith - Blind Faith (1969)

In the presence of the Lord....

  

Released in August 1969

Running time 42.12

Blind Faith was a short-lived "supergroup" consisting of Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker from Cream and Steve Winwood from Traffic, with additional help fro Rick Grech of Family. It was a short, six-track album of quality blues rock, as you would expect, that achieved notoriety for its original cover of a topless barely pubescent girl. Quite what the intention behind that was is unclear. It has since been replaced by a cover with a picture of the group on it (as shown here).

The group actually only lasted six months, yet this album was a critical success and remains highly thought of, often making "greatest albums of all time" lists. Funnily enough, although it is only forty-two minutes long, it seems much longer, probably because of the length of some of the songs.

TRACK LISTING


1. Had To Cry Today
2. Can't Find My Way Home
3. Well All Right
4. Presence Of The Lord
5. Sea Of Joy
6. Do What You Like                                     

"Had To Cry Today" is a chugging, Traffic-influenced mid-paced blues rock number. It features some solid bass and drums. Winwood's vocals just remind me of Traffic, unsurprisingly. This sounds very much like the sort of material that would have followed Traffic's eponymous second album. There is some excellent Clapton guitar soloing near the end. It sort of merges Traffic with Cream, which once again is no surprise. It has Traffic's soulfulness and Cream's deep power.

"Can't Find My Way Home" is an acoustically-driven folky song of the sort that Paul Weller or Ocean Colour Scene would do many, many years later. It is plaintively sung by Winwood. It taps in to the country/folk rock vibe of the later sixties/early seventies. A lot of critics didn't have much time for the  group's cover of Buddy Holly's "Well All Right", which I find puzzling, as I love it. It is big, bassy, upbeat and bluesy. I always enjoy listening to it. It has a great heavy bit near the end - lots of organ, piano, organ and thumping drums.

"Presence Of The Lord" was possibly Eric Clapton' first great self-penned song and it is certainly an impressive one although I have always felt it suffered a bit from a muffled, undercooked sound. Although this latest remaster is finally an acceptable one after many very poor masterings of the album, no amount of tweaking can make it sound any clearer. However, when Clapton's guitars soars in towards the end I guess it doesn't really matter so much. It has been better over the years in Clapton's many live performances of it. "Sea Of Joy" is an appealing, melodic track enhanced by some nice bass and organ. It is very Led Zeppelin-influenced, with Winwood doing his best Robert Plant. As with many folky blues rock songs of the period, it starts in laid-back style before getting heavier half way through. Rick Grech also contributes some superb electric violin on here.

"Do What You Like" is a fifteen-minute monster of a track written by Ginger Baker and, although parts of it cater to that late sixties/early seventies creature, the drum solo, there are other appealing bits, particularly early on - a great rumbling bass sound, an insistent, vaguely funky rhythm and a far better sound quality than on "Presence Of The Lord", for example. Although it has the obvious feel of a studio "jam" about it, it is certainly still enjoyable. Baker could drum, for sure. Take it for what it is, a child of its time, or just stop it after seven minutes!

I wouldn't say that this is one of the greatest albums of all time but it has something about it and it very representative of its era.

*

There are several non-album tracks that have surfaced on the "deluxe edition". They are:-

Sleeping In The Ground

This is an upbeat, Clapton-driven slice of archetypal blues rock. I guess these days room would have been found for more of this material to be included on the album. It is livelier in ambience than most of the original album's songs. There bonus tracks also include a slowed-down blues version of the track, which is also impressive. 

Can't Find My Way Home (electric version)

The acoustic number from the original is enhanced here with some buzzy Clapton guitar, to great effect as well. I think I prefer this version, actually. Something punchier about it. The guitar brings that to it. It is now a rock song as opposed to a folk/country rock song. 

Acoustic Jam

This is appealing enough, but it goes on for fifteen minutes and is only really worthy of a listen as background music while you're putting up a shelf or painting a room, let's be honest!

Time Winds

A more urgent, lively feel is to be found on this organ-powered instrumental. There is some nice bass on it too. 

B-

Monday, 16 September 2019

Love Affair



The Best Of Love Affair

Love Affair - The Best Of Love Affair

Hearts go astray....

  

The Love Affair were a considerably underrated rock/soul group from the late sixties that caught on to the Small Faces/Amen Corner/Spencer Davis/Traffic psychedelic rock in places but with far more of a catchy, soulful pop sensibility to their sound with a robust brass section and young singer Steve Ellis's magnificent vocals.

TRACK LISTING


1. Bringing On Back The Good Times
2. Hush
3. Everlasting Love
4. A Day Without Love
5. Handbags And Gladrags
6. Rainbow Valley
7. So Sorry
8. The First Cut Is The Deepest
9. Let Me Know
10. Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday
11. Baby I Know
12. 60 Minutes (Of Your Love)
13. Someone Like Me
14. One Road
15. I'm Happy
16. Tobacco Road                                                           

"Bringing On Back The Good Times" is a horn-drenched piece of poppy soul with one of those killer late sixties choruses. "Hush" is a track that showed the group's liking for latter-era Small Faces-style psychedelia. It is full of swirling, crazy sixties organ, man, rumbling bass, buzzy guitar and general freaked-out vibe.

Then, of course, there is "Everlasting Love". This song is up there in my top ten songs of all time. I was ten when it came out and I loved it and I still do. If any song sums up the sixties for me, it is this. From the introductory huge drum beat, to the throbbing bass, the massive punch of the horns and then Steve Ellis's remarkable, soulful voice. For a lad of eighteen it was a phenomenal achievement. When I hear this, I am always ten years old, playing football in the playground. It is simply wonderful.

Just check out the video of this. Everything about it screams "1968", even down to the graphics on the front of the drum. I absolutely love it. What is the girl in the bowler hat up to? Far out, man. I love the typically sixties "go-go" dancer as well. Great stuff.



"A Day Without Love" is in the same vein as "Everlasting Love", with more sumptuous horns, another great Ellis vocal and a Northern Soul thump to the beat. This is quality sixties pop. If there was one song tailor-made for Ellis's rasping voice, it is Mike D'Abo's "Handbags And Gladrags". Ellis's harpsichord-backed Stonesy take on it is easily up there with Rod Stewart, Chris Farlowe and Kelly Jones of The Stereophonics' versions. "Rainbow Valley" also has some of the same horn backing and vibe of "Everlasting Love". Its chorus is uplifting in that rising, dramatic way. It also has a typically hippy feel to it in its lyrics.


"So Sorry" has a big, bassy thump to it and some infectious congas on the backing. This has the group going a bit Blood, Sweat & Tears in the powerful, bluesy soul sound. It has a great psychedelic-ish/freakbeat guitar solo. Ellis's interpretation of Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is The Deepest" is one of the best ever of the song. It is freaking superb. He really is one of the great underrated British soul/rock vocalists of the period. The group show that they could do upbeat bluesy rock too in the impressive "Let Me Know", which is very Spencer Davis in its sound. It is full of superb guitar and it goes without saying that the vocals are peerless. The same applies to the the gritty, slow white soul of "Gone Are The Songs Of Yesterday". Ellis sounds very like Chris Farlowe on this one.

"Baby I Know" has a lot of the sound of "Handbags And Gladrags" to it, in both its backing and vocal. The chorus is big and catchy. There is something of Tom Jones in here too. "60 Minutes (Of Your Love)" is a massive, pounding piece of Small Faces-influenced psych-ish rock. It is really good, considerably removed from the pop of "Everlasting Love" too. "Someone Like Me" is a slow, piano and bass-backed soul ballad. It has something of "Every Little Bit Hurts" to it. "One Road" is again very Small Faces-esque and is a rhythmic, orchestrated, acoustic and melodious number. The group were moving now to that very late sixties/early seventies big soul sound. "I'm Happy" is a short slice of freakbeat-inspired stuff. More Small Faces influences abound, together with The Jimi Hendrix Experience, particularly in the drum sound. It is very short but contains some excellent, hazy guitar. "Tobacco Road" is one of those songs that many late sixties/early seventies groups covered. It starts very slowly before easing into some quality blues a minute or so in. Many other covers of it were much faster.

This is an excellent compilation from a group who were a lot better than they were ever given credit for. It is enjoyable late sixties soul/pop/rock/soul and well worthy of a listen. The sound quality is surprisingly good too, considering its date of recording - full, bassy and in nice stereo.

B-

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Neil Young - Freedom (1989)

Send me a cheeseburger and a new "Rolling Stone"....

  

Released on 2 October 1989

Running time 61.11

This is, for me, one of Neil Young's finest albums. The racks were sourced from a variety of aborted previous projects and are out together to make a long album (for 1989) of over an hour's music. It is simply a great rock album, full of all sorts of influences - rock, folk, Americana, Tex-Mex, soul -  and delivered by a confident, wordly-wise and prophetic-sounding Young, backed by a great collection of musicians.

TRACK LISTING

1. Rockin' In The Free World (live acoustic version)
2. Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part 1)
3. Don't Cry
4. Hangin' On A Limb
5. El Dorado
6. The Ways Of Love
7. Someday
8. On Broadway
9. Wrecking Ball
10. No More
11. Too Far Gone
12. Rockin' In The Free World                               

The album kicks off with a live acoustic version of the rack that ends it - "Rockin' In The Free World". It contains a superb Dylanesque harmonica solo from Young. The song fades out with the audience singing away. A real highlight in Young's career is up next - eight minutes of cinematic glory in "Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part 1)". It is very, very Bob Dylan-influence, even down to the "they can't get no relief" "All along The Watchtower" lyric. It's not just that, though, it is the whole structure, the delivery, the sound, the lyrics, the ambience. "Send me a cheesburger and a new "Rolling Stone"..." is a great line too. There is some wonderful Mark Knopfler-style guitar throughout the track and some excellent saxophone too. The song is truly wonderful, I have to say and Young out-Dylans Dylan. Check out that great bass/percussion bit around six minutes in as well.

"Don't Cry" is a slow-burning plaintive number more in keeping with Young's recognisable style over the years, the same can be said of the gentle, acoustic, airy strains of "Hangin' On A Limb", which has some America-style harmonies and backing vocals from Linda Ronstadt. It is a beautiful song and has a quiet, lilting melody that stays in your head.

"El Dorado" is an attractive, Mexican-influenced piece of slow bluesy rock, complete with castanets and lyrics about "mission bells", "señoritas" , "Tiajuana" and "Mariachi bands". It contains more of that Knopfler-esque guitar and a deep, infectious bass line. Listening to it is six minutes well spent. "The Ways Of Love" is a return to an acoustic sound, on a song that has a sort of waltz beat to it and a bit of country twang to its guitar sound. There is a nice harmonica near the end. "Someday" has a piano intro that reminds me somewhat of a slowed-down version of The Bangles' "Manic Monday" intro. It breaks out into a stately, mid-pace rock beat backed up by some insistent "chain gang"-style male backing vocals. It is another of my favourites on the album. The saxophone solo part is positively E St. Band, particularly when you hear the accompanying piano and drum sound too.


You may imagine The Drifters' "On Broadway" would not be an automatic choice for Young to cover, but he does it really well, giving it a big chugging rock beat and some searing guitar throughout. It's great. Young's vocal is surprisingly impressive too. He sounds like he's really loving it when he sings "I can play this here guitar" and launches into a huge grungy solo. Who would have thought The Drifters could go grunge?

"Wrecking Ball" was written a long time before the Bruce Springsteen track of the same name. Young's song is a fetching, tender rock ballad, with a nice, deep bass and drum rhythm and a wistful vocal from Young. Talking of nice bass, "No More" has a delicious line, together with some upbeat drums and bluesy rock guitar. It is an appealing slice of catchy mid-pace, melodious rock. "Too Far Gone" is a delightful country rock ballad featuring an impressive guitar solo. The studio version of "Rockin' In The Free World" is robust and rocks big, as you would expect. It is one of Young's best rockers, overflowing with riffs and pounding drums. Listen to that solo near the end - quality, just a pity it suddenly fades out.

This is a varied, stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable album fro beginning to end. There is not a bad track on it.

B+

Friday, 13 September 2019

David Bowie - Non-Album "rarities"

 

David Bowie has a huge wealth of music that for one reason or another did not appear on his albums. I have listed and commented on just some of them here. For the information regarding dates of recording, I have referenced Nicholas Pegg's definitive Bowie reference book, "The Complete David Bowie". The opinions expressed regarding the tracks are, of course, my own. Sometimes they may concur with Pegg's, which is probably not surprising, but not intentional.

Conversation Peace 1969/2000/2019

This was a rejected song from the 1969 "Space Oddity" sessions. It is a pleasant, melodic, wistful number with Bowie's voice sounding very much like it did on some of the plaintive 1966-68 recordings. It contains some beguiling lyrics - "I live above a grocer's store owned by an Austrian". It is largely acoustically driven with a fetching rhythmic beat to it. The drums were apparently played by a session drummer whose identity has been long forgotten. It was not "Space Oddity" drummer John Cambridge, but a jazz musician, which may help to account for the unusually rhythmic groove.


It underwent a remix in 2019 which has given it far more bass oomph and a general warmth of ambience that makes it a more attractive number. "My essays lying scattered on the floor..." sings Bowie. Was he recalling some past student days?

The song was also re-recorded for the discarded "Toy" sessions in 2000 and is much slower in pace, with none of the breezy joie de vivre of the original and a considerably more sonorous Bowie vocal.

Shadow Man 1970/2000

This plaintive ballad was originally recorded in the "Hunky Dory" sessions but the original recording was never released. It was re-recorded in 2000 for the abortive "Toy" sessions, given a torch song-style piano and deep strings backing. The song, lyrically, is very much in the Bowie of 1968 vein and it is hard to see it fitting in on "Hunky Dory".

Lightning Frightening 1971

This is a quirky outtake from 1971 which features Herbie Flowers on bass and Bowie on saxophone. It is an odd slice of hippy-ish blues with some strange lyrics saying "I'll give you back my farmland, I'll give you back my house..." in some sort of bucolic protest. It features some appealing bluesy harmonica and lively saxophone that make it quite a catchy number. I can't imagine it fitting either "Hunky Dory" or "Ziggy Stardust" however.

The song fades in at the beginning, giving it a real "demo" feel, despite subsequent good sound quality. A guitarist called Mark Pritchard contributes a convincing solo near the end. The song is said to seriously resemble Crazy Horse's "Dirty, Dirty", which was released in the same year and listening to them both one after the other, you can definitely hear the similarities, more in the music than the vocal. Bowie was going through a Neil Young phase in 1971 so it is probably no coincidence.

Bombers 1971

This was a song from the "Hunky Dory" sessions that is full of lyrics about nuclear bombs, sirens and wastelands and the like. It has a liveliness and a post-apocalyptic lyric that suited "Ziggy Stardust", musically, but its vocal is hauntingly plaintive, in that typically sixties Bowie style. There was plenty of that vaudeville, music-hall hamminess that Bowie had ditched by the time "Ziggy" was recorded.

The track was apparently going to open "side two" of "Hunky Dory" instead of "Fill Your Heart". In many ways, I would have preferred it, but there is something of the sixties whimsicality to it that irritates me a little, so maybe not.

The Supermen 1970/1971

This is a re-recording, from 1971, of the final track on 1970's "The Man Who Sold The World" album. It doesn't have the big, rolling, tympani-style drums of the original nor the sonorous backing vocals. Neither is Bowie's vocal anywhere near so mannered or theatrically high-pitched. This alternate version is pretty "Ziggy" in many ways, featuring gentle acoustic verses and a far more melodic, tender vocal from Bowie before a big Mick Ronson guitar interjection leads into a robust, solid, riffy chorus. It is very "Spiders" in its instrumentation and indeed, this is the version Bowie would subsequently play live. Which do I prefer? Both have good points, but if I had to make a choice at gun-point, it would always be this rocky alternate version.

Holy Holy 1970/1971

This track was originally recorded in 1970 and in this form it is a very sixties-sounding, early T. Rex-influenced number, driven along mainly by Herbie Flowers' inventive bass, drums and backing vocals with the lead guitar considerably down in the mix and featuring a very typically late sixties Bowie vocal. it sounds in this form a lot like the final, superior material from the stuff that appeared on the "Deluxe Edition" of "David Bowie", once Bowie had started to record some credible songs. It was actually released as a single and duly disappeared without trace.

Then there is the summer of 1971 re-recorded "Spiders" version, which is so much better. It is faster -featuring lots of searing Mick Ronson guitar, pounding rock drums and a stronger vocal from Bowie. I say that, though, and it has me suddenly wondering whether it is the same vocal track. Maybe not. I cannot find any mention that it is, anywhere. In fact, I'm sure it is different. The vocal is slightly deeper, more resonant. Either way, the second recording turns it into a proper early seventies rock song that indeed was initially pencilled in for inclusion on "Ziggy Stardust". It would have been better than "It Ain't Easy", that was for sure!

Round And Round 1971

This was a cover of Chuck Berry's "Around And Around". It was recorded in late 1971 as part of the "Ziggy Stardust" sessions and was due to be track four on "side one", before "Starman" replaced it. It is given the full-on Spiders from Mars treatment and features some red-hot guitar from Mick Ronson. Bowie, whose voice was never the most convincing in a straight ahead rock 'n' roll format, copes pretty well with it. It rocks in a full, bassy and muscular fashion.


Sweet Head 1971

Another one from the late 1971 "Ziggy" sessions this is a risqué rocker with a refrain that is almost punky in its intensity. Ronson's guitar again calls all the shots throughout this excellent track. It would have fitted in fine to the "Ziggy" album. It is actually the only song apart from "Ziggy Stardust" that mentions Bowie orange-haired creation by name. It is populated by salacious sexual references - "bob your sweet head..." and "give me sweet head..." as well as the cheeky "while you're down there....". No doubt had I heard this when I first got into Bowie, aged thirteen in 1972, I wouldn't have understood any of this. It is one of these rarities that I feel would really have done the business had it been included on the album it was intended for. It is a quality track that can consider itself unfortunate not to have made the final cut.

Velvet Goldmine 1971

Also from those same sessions as "Round And Round" and "Sweet Head" is this, another truly excellent number that really should have made the album. It is a solid-paced, chunky number with a strong Bowie vocal, quality Ronson guitar, a melodic rumbling bass from Trevor Bolder and a big, clunking "Hunky Dory" style piano. Its backing vocals are deep and sonorous in a sort of "Volga Boatmen" style, or maybe like some of those found on "The Man Who Sold The World" album. It ends with some jaunty whistling and madcap laughing vocals fading away in the background.

Amsterdam 1971

Bowie always liked the whole Jacques Brel/Berlin in the 1930s decadent thing and this Brel song is perfect for that - a tale of drunken sailors and prostitutes. Bowie had been playing it live for a few years before he recorded it in the summer of 1971. It is a robust acoustic and evocative torch song and I first met it as the 'b' side of "Sorrow" in 1973. I found its images and atmosphere truly captivating. It was totally unlike anything I had ever heard from Bowie thus far. I always remember its abrupt ending too. Apparently it was going to be in the "It Ain't Easy" slot on "Ziggy Stardust". I wish it had.

John I'm Only Dancing 1972/1973/1979

I loved this single back in 1972 when it came out. I was far too young at thirteen to pick up on the homosexual references, as most were. It passed the BBC censorship (but not in the USA). It became a top twenty hit here. It is a nice mix of a catchy acoustic intro/ongoing riff and some vibrant Spiders rock. I remember being blown away by how great the sound was when my father allowed me to play the single on his stereo. I still love hearing it today.

The original single mix dates from July 1972 and is the best one. A subsequent one was re-recorded in January 1973 using saxophone in place of the acoustic guitar riff. It is ok, but not as good as the original, neither is the 1979 remix which seems to tone down the sharpness of the acoustic guitar. For me, the original single version will always be the best - that crystal clear strummed acoustic intro and then the consecutive drumbeats leading into Bowie telling us that "Eileen's pretty neat, she always eats her meat...". Hmm.


All The Young Dudes 1972

The legendary anthemic song that Bowie gave to ailing mates Mott The Hoople in the summer of  1972 (they were originally offered "Suffragette City") and they took right up the charts, making the song their own. Bowie's version was recorded in December 1972 and suffers in comparison to the Mott classic. The saxophone dominates this version (the Mott one was driven by acoustic and electric guitars) and, dare I say it, Ian Hunter's vocal is the definitive one.

A most interesting rarity is the version of that has Mott's original instrumental backing but Bowie's vocal that he recorded as a guide for Hunter to follow. I must say it has a certain appeal. It includes Hunter's spoken "outro" but Bowie sings the verses. It has a certain nostalgic fragility about it, especially in Bowie's ever so slightly tentative vocal.

By the way, I'm sure the "boogaloo dudes" line was inspired by Bowie's mate Marc Bolan.

Oh man, I need TV....

Oh brother you guessed....I'm a dude, man.

Growin' Up 1973

Now this is an odd one. Thought to be a reject from the "Pin Ups" sessions, it was actually recorded in November 1973, a month after that album's release. It is a cover of a song from Bruce Springsteen's debut album from 1973, "Greetings From Asbury Park, New Jersey". As a Springsteen aficionado as well as a Bowie one, I find it strange hearing Bowie doing Bruce. Listened to objectively, however, he does a pretty good job and if you listen to the vocal you can hear the first strains of that high-pitched soulful voice that he would utilise on the following year's "Diamond Dogs" and subsequently on "Young Americans". In that respect it was a bit of a landmark in Bowie's development as a vocalist.

It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City 1973

Another Springsteen cover that nobody categorically knows from whence it came. It is believed to hail from the late 1973 "Diamond Dogs" sessions that produced "Growin' Up". For many years it was thought to come from the "Young Americans" sessions but the backing sounds nothing like that band and indeed members of that group have no memory of having played it. It is also far too rough-edged and rocky for the 1975 soul-influenced material. Whatever its source, though, it is a credible cover of a good song. Bowie again does it justice.

The Man Who Sold The World/Watch That Man 1973 (Lulu recordings)

Two other interesting rarities are Lulu's two Bowie covers that were recorded originally during the "Pin Ups" sessions and finished off by Bowie at the time of the "Diamond Dogs" sessions, featuring Bowie on saxophone, Mick Ronson on guitar, Trevor Bolder on bass, Mike Garson on piano and Aynsley Dunbar on drums - basically the "Pin Ups" band. "The Man Who Sold The World" actually sounds really good and duly gave Lulu a top ten hit. "Watch That Man", however, doesn't quite work for me, sounding somewhat clumsy, as if Lulu is a bit perplexed by the lyrics. Bowie's backing vocals at the end are jazzily quirky but a bit bizarre.

Dodo 1973

This was recorded in September 1973 in the sessions for "Diamond Dogs". It is a lively, brassy song with the sort of dark, futuristic lyrics that would dominate that album. It has a smoky-sounding Bowie vocal and plenty of brass and saxophone in its backing. The chorus of "she's a dodo, oh no..." is somewhat clumsy, though. It was originally titled "You Didn't Hear It From Me", which was the next line.

It makes another appearance in a funked-up medley with "1984" that was included on the 30th Anniversary edition of "Diamond Dogs". The song is altered quite a bit here and is far funkier. Had this medley been included on "Diamond Dogs" it would have contributed to a far funkier ambience on what was more of a glammy album.


Candidate 1974

This is a different song to the "Candidate" that appears as the middle part of the "Sweet Thing" trilogy on "Diamond Dogs". It was, however, recorded in the sessions for that album, on New Year's Day 1974. It is an impressive, soulful but upbeat song with a jaunty, swing-style drumbeat driving it on together with some breezy Mike Garson piano. It contains a sexually suggestive opening couple of lines and an odd reference from Bowie about his being "the Führerling", starting his unfortunate fascist fascination earlier than we thought. It is an appealing song, though, and showed the direction Bowie's music was beginning to take, despite it not making the album. If this and "Dodo" had been on "Diamond Dogs" it may have sounded quite a lot different.

Rebel Rebel (US Single Version)/ Reality Tour Remix 1974/2002

This is quite a different take on the glammy hit single. It misses out the iconic introductory guitar riff and starts with the line "hot tramp I love you so.." before progressing into a rhythmic, conga-driven piece of soul/rock that once more provided a signpost as to Bowie's future musical direction. It was this version that Bowie played live on "David Live" and "Cracked Actor" and indeed for many years afterwards. In 2002, Bowie re-worked the song for the Reality Tour, using a quiet, atmospheric guitar opening before crashing into that recognisable riff. He opened the shows with this and recoded a studio version as well. I like both these versions but I will always prefer that scratchy, riffy glory of the original.

After Today 1974

This appealing piece of disco/soul dates from the August 1974 "Young Americans" sessions. It is a lively number with a falsetto vocal from Bowie at times and lots of funky saxophone. It would actually have made a nice addition to the album it was rejected from, its upbeat sound providing a contrast with some of the slower-paced deep soul numbers that were eventually chosen. At the end, Bowie laughs and exclaims "I was getting into that...". Indeed he was, he should have stuck with it.

Who Can I Be Now? 1974

This dates from the 1974 "Young Americans" sessions and is a truly outstanding song. It was inexplicably jettisoned in favour of "Across The Universe". It was one of the tracks selected to be on "The Gouster" album, which was never released. It features a great saxophone intro from David Sanborn and one of those smoky/interjection with falsetto vocals from Bowie supported by multiple backing vocals. The verses are evocative and soulful, while the chorus is big and brash, with the vocals loud and the saxophone wailing. as with all the "Young Americans" material, though, there is a slightly muffled muddiness to the drum sound, for me, anyway, although the 30th anniversary remaster suffers less so than the others. The title was chosen as the title for the second of the box sets covering Bowie's career, presumably as a reference to his many identity/image changes in the period.


It's Gonna Be Me 1974

Another from the August 1974 sessions, this was also left off the eventual album, which was once again a questionable decision. It was also another of the tracks that was going to be on the aborted album, "The Gouster". There are two versions of the song in existence. The original one and one that Tony Visconti added strings to, which was lost. but was subsequently remixed by Visconti from his original master tapes.

The original "Gouster" one is full of late night atmosphere and one of Bowie's finest vocals to date - so far removed from the late sixties/early seventies. It is quite sparse in its backing - mainly piano, jazzy guitar, drums, bass and backing vocals. A lot is spoken about Bowie's supposed "soul" phase but on this one I have to say that he is at his most credibly soulful. The improvised vocal around five minutes in is superb.

The Visconti strings version is from the 30th Anniversary edition and has wonderful sound quality and Tony has done a great job on the remixing. The sound is outstanding. Once more, there is a "which do I prefer?" quandary. It's a difficult one. I actually love both of them, for different reasons - the minimalist soulfulness of the original and the warmth of the strings one. It's a 1-1 draw.

Some Are 1975/1976?

Now, Bowie's music completely changed. This was an out-take from the "Low" sessions and is thought to date back as early as 1975 for some. Bowie himself disputed this, claiming it came from a bit later. Anyway, it was part of his collaboration with Brian Eno and is a sonorous keyboard piece with occasional mysterious, haunting vocals about "sleigh bells in snow". It included some wolf noises in the background and is full of atmosphere. It would have been fine on "Low"'s second side.

All Saints (unknown)

This has been included on CD as part of the unreleased material from the "Low" sessions. However, Tony Visconti had no memory of working on the track and is adamant that the tape loop deep synthesiser sounds of the beguiling instrumental were not the sort of thing they used either on "Low" or "Heroes". He believes it dates from the eighties, therefore. Either way, it is an intriguing and interesting piece. It certainly fits the vibe of those two albums. For that reason, I will probably always feel that is where it dates from, even though I know I am probably wrong.

Sound And Vision (1991 Remix)

This is a remix of the hit single from "Low" It is notable for its "new" drum sound - a big, warm, pounding affair that adds more rhythm to the track. The saxophone near the end is considerably enhanced and there are less synthesiser breaks. I like it although I prefer the original. I enjoy quite a few re-mixes but invariably they never take the place of the originals.


Abdulmajid 1977/1990s?

Tony Visconti believes this Eastern-influenced instrumental was definitely worked on during the "Heroes" sessions, but the version that eventually surfaced had been re-mixed and added to during the nineties. He could tell, again, the with the "Low" material, from the type of instruments used. Who am I to disagree? Once more, it is an impressive track and would have suited the "Heroes" album.

I Pray, Olé 1979? 

Nobody quite knows the provenance of this track, which was included as a bonus track on a reissue of 1979's "Lodger" album. It definitely as similarities to "Lodger" material - "Red Sails" and Repetition" in particular, in is drum sound and keyboard riff. Tony Visconti has no knowledge of it and says it is definitely not from the "Lodger" sessions. He suspects it may be from around the "Scary Monsters" period, but updated by Bowie in the early nineties.

With regard to the song itself, it is energetic and appealing enough, but is nothing special. Add it to a play of "Lodger", however, and it doesn't sound out of place.

Crystal Japan 1980

This (unsurprisingly) Japanese-influenced instrumental is from the 1980 sessions for "Scary Monsters". It has a very "Heroes" feel about it, though, in its deep, reverberating and mournful  synthesiser passages. It has a lot of the ambience of "Moss Garden", for me.

This Is Not America 1984

Recorded in 1984 as a theme song for a film, and co-written with jazz rock musician Pat Metheney, this is an attractive, laid-back piece of melodic and typically eighties jazzy wine-bar fare. It was a sizeable hit and fond Bowie getting in on the whole "sophisti-pop" thing that was so popular around 1984.


Dancing In The Street 1985

Recorded for 1985's "Live Aid" with The Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger, this is an acceptable-only cover of the Martha Reeves & The Vandellas Motown classic. It served a purpose and raised lots of money for a good cause, but it is not the finest moment from either artist, let's be honest.

Absolute Beginners 1985

There is only one version for me of this well-known Bowie song and that is the eight minute full length version which is packed with great saxophone, tinkling piano, a killer melody and Bowie's towering vocal. A copper-bottomed Bowie classic. It's absolutely true....

That's Motivation 1985

This was also from the "Absolute Beginners" film and utilises the same melody from the introduction to "Absolutely Beginners". It is a strange, hammed-up, theatrical mish-mash of different musical passages but is has some good points - the rhythmic percussion, the horns, the lively jazziness. Bowie's vocal is very dramatic and "stagey" but the song sort of grows on you and begs a few listens.

Julie 1986

From the sessions for "Never Let Me Down", this is a poppy, beaty and enjoyable song that would have been suitable for the album. Its rhythm is quite infectious and the whole thing is strangely carefree for a Bowie song.

Girls 1986

Bowie wrote this for Tina Turner and it appeared on her "Break Every Rule" album. His own recording of it dated from the "Never Let Me Down" sessions and is not a bad track at all. It starts atmospherically, almost in a sort of "Lady Grinning Soul" mode - piano and vocal, before it breaks out into a big saxophone-driven eighties-style chorus. Some have expressed reservations about that part of the song. Not me. I have to say I really quite like it. It is a quality Bowie rarity and is more than the equal of much of the material on "Never Let Me Down" (which is also an album that I like a lot more than many do).

When The Wind Blows 1986

This was also a song written as a theme for the animated film of the same name. It is an underrated little gem of a song. Although it has a big, thumping drum backing it has an evocative vocal from Bowie and a real feeling of dramatic emotion running all through it. It has an uplifting horn bit right at the end as well.

Underground 1986

Bowie was really in demand for movie themes in 1986, and this one is for the film "Labyrinth". It is a catchy number with a bit of very mid-eighties disco guitar, synthesiser riffs, an infectious drum sound and, of course, a suitably strong vocal. It also features some gospelly backing vocals. This, together with "When The Wind Blows" and "Absolute Beginners" were three excellent movie themes from 1985-86 that perhaps serve as a bit of a contrast with his regular work from the same period.

As The World Falls Down 1986

Also from the "Labyrinth" soundtrack is this pleasant, romantic number. Bowie's vocal is endearing croony over a slow but tuneful backing. It is simply a very nice song.

Within You 1986

This was the other Bowie vocal track from "Labyrinth". It is less instantly appealing than the other two and, although Bowie's falsetto vocal is convincing it suffers from a bit too much cinematic orchestration for my taste.

****

Crazy Horse



Crazy Horse (1971)

Crazy Horse - Crazy Horse (1971)

I don't want to talk about it....

  

Released in 1971

Running time 38.59

After backing Neil Young so impressively on 1969's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and 1970's "After The Goldrush", it was not surprising that Crazy Horse decided there was a market for their own material. Free from the unique, reedy trilling voice of Young and from his often perplexing lyrics, they produced an album of straight ahead bluesy Americana rock. Guitarist Nils Lofgren, producer/keyboardist Jack Nitzsche and guest Ry Cooder add quality to the proceedings too. There is a Little Feat sort of feel to the album with rock, country, blues and folk styles explored.

TRACK LISTING

1. Gone Dead Train
2. Dance Dance Dance
3. Look At All The Things
4. Beggars Day
5. I Don't Want To Talk About It
6. Downtown
7. Carolay
8. Dirty, Dirty
9. Nobody
10. I'll Get By
11. Crow Jane Lady                                              

"Gone Dead Train" is a powerful piece of chugging bluesy rock to open with, featuring some great guitar, both soloing and driving riffs. Danny Whitten's lead vocal is gruffly suited to this sort of rock. It is the biggest, riffiest rocker on the album. "Dance Dance Dance" is the only Neil Young song they cover (although "Downtown" is a Young/Whitten co-write) and is a stomping country hoedown with drummer Ralph Molina on lead vocal duties. It is propelled along by an infectious Cajun fiddle. "Look At All The Things" has Whitten sounding very like Young, funnily enough. Musically it is Young-esque too in its powerful yet country rock sound. Its refrain reminds me of The Rolling Stones' "Moonlight Mile", which was also from 1971. This whole album sounds very 1971.

"Beggars Day" is a heavy-ish rock number written and sung by Lofgren. It mixes a hard rock backing with some swirling, almost psychedelic sounds at times. It was later covered by Scottish rockers Nazareth on their 1975 "Hair Of The Dog" album. It is a robust piece of rock and one of my favourites from the album. Rod Stewart fans, and indeed everyone, are surely familiar with Whitten's beautiful  ballad "I Don't Want To Talk About It". It is simply a lovely song. Stewart really did it justice and made it his own. Danny Whitten tragically died a year after this album was released and never got to see his song become globally popular.

The catchy, upbeat folky pounder "Downtown" has a bluesy singalong refrain and as soon as you hear it you sort of feel you've heard it before. It reminds me a lot of The Band. "Carolay" is also a very appealing song, full of uplifting harmonies and a very "Americana" ambience, like The Byrds, America, The Band, Little Feat and Bread all mixed into one. It sounds as if Whitten is singing Carol Ann" at several points. "Dirty, Dirty" is very, very similar to a David Bowie rarity from the same year called "Lightning Frightening". Bowie was going through a Neil Young phase at the time, so it is probably no coincidence that he found himself listening to this and was influenced by it. Musically, it is a thumping, regular-paced bluesy rocker, actually not very "Bowie" at all.

"Nobody" is a most attractive, melodic and upbeat rock number (with an intro that sounds like Cream's "I Feel Free") as indeed is the very Byrds-esque and harmonious "I'll Get By". There are Searchers and Beatles hints in there too. The final cut is the lively New Orleans blues-ish "Crow Jane Lady" which features Nitzsche on lead vocals. This was a very proficient, appealing and listenable album which established Crazy Horse as a credible band in their own right. It is such a shame that Whitten died so soon after this.

Incidentally, the best sound remastering to be found of this album is on "Scratchy - The Complete Reprise Recordings".

B-

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Free - Fire And Water (1970)

There she stood in the street....

  

Released on 26 June 1970

Running time 35.01

This was the album that broke it big for UK blues rockers Free, together with a triumphant appearance at that summer's Isle of Wight Festival. Although their first two albums had been bluesily brilliant, for some reason, it was this album that really took off for them. Together with Led Zeppelin and with Deep Purple making themselves heard too, heavy, hairy blues rock was really popular at the turn of the decade. Cream had also been playing blues rock in the late sixties as too had their ex-member Eric Clapton by the seventies in his may incarnations (Derek & The Dominoes, Blind Faith). So, muscular blues rock was the thing and Free supplied it, to the nth degree. Singer Paul Rodgers and his mates strutted around in their tight jeans and tie-dye t-shirts, pumped full of testosterone, leering at girls and bemoaning being tricked in love.

TRACK LISTING

1. Fire And Water
2. Oh I Wept
3. Remember
4. Heavy Load
5. Mr. Big
6. Don't Say You Love Me
7. All Right Now                                              

"Fire And Water" is deliciously booming and bassy, deep as hell itself, enhanced by a cutting guitar solo from a then on fire Paul Kossoff, a pounding drumbeat and Paul Rodgers' ebullient vocals. "Oh I Wept" is a copper-bottomed slow burning Free rock ballad, with a monster bass line and titanic drums. "Remember" is also played at the slow, metronomic pace that many Free songs are. Kossoff's guitar is sensational on this, he never sounded better. Indeed, probably from soon after this release, everything started to go downhill for him, as he spiralled into serious drug addiction.

Most of Free's songs are dignified and insistently slow in their pace, very rarely do they speed it up  and the robust bass and piano blues of "Heavy Load" perfectly exemplifies this. The piano, played by bassist Andy Fraser (obviously recorded separately from his bass), is used more on this song than on most and Kossoff's guitar is hauntingly memorable. "Mr. Big" has an addictive drum beat and an almost funky bass sound from the always excellent Fraser. From a band that was still so young, the musicianship and confidence is stunning. Check out that guitar/bass interplay just after three minutes in until the end. Cracking stuff. As huge as Led Zeppelin had become by now, you have to say that Free deserved to be up there with them, because they were great. It is a shame and a bit of a mystery as to why they didn't ever really reach those heights. As detailed in the reviews of their subsequent albums, it all started to implode a bit after this.

In keeping with the perhaps surprisingly laid-back tempo of most of the album, "Don't Say You Love Me" is the tenderest number on offer, with a yearning vocal from Rodgers and yet another delicious bass backing. The track suffers a little from hiss at times, but it is easily overlooked by the quality of the song. Oh did I forget? How could I? - "I said love - Lord above - now you've gone and tricked me in love...". One of the greatest rock riffs of all time, if not THE greatest introduces the truly magnificent behemoth of beat that is "All Right Now". Look, it doesn't matter how many times I hear this/have heard it over many, many years I simply never tire of hearing it - that riff, Fraser's sublime bass runs, Kossoff's guitar and Rodgers' sensational rock vocal. It actually sits slightly incongruously with the rest of the album as it ups the tempo and is a commercially-orientated rocker. It duly gave the band their longed for big hit, reaching number two in the charts.

The 2002 edition has several bonus tracks, two of the best are stonking BBC live studio performances of "Fire And Water" and "All Right Now". The power on these tracks is awesome.

This was probably Free's finest album, although it is not necessarily my favourite. It often works out that way - the acknowledged best album is not one's personal favourite. I could make a case for the first two, but actually, thinking about it, yes, this was their finest half hour and yes, I probably would vote for it accordingly.

*

As with all the Free albums, I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters. On all the albums I like both remasterings, but as with many of them I prefer the 2002 ones for the sheer rich thump and visceral power of the reproduction.

B+

Free - Highway (1970)

Ride a pony....

  

Released in December 1970

Running time 36.58

This was recorded in the late summer/early Autumn of 1970 after Free's successful performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in late August. It is an album of relaxed ambience on the whole, more low-key than the bluesy hard rock of its three predecessors. Like Mott the Hoople did on "Wildlife", Free tried to dabble a little in country rock and a general feeling of mellow, bucolic looseness. However, don't despair, hard rocking Free fans, because even the supposed "romantic" numbers are supremely robust and brawny. Free didn't do gentle, they never had. It has always been my least favourite of the six Free studio albums, yet each time I listen to it I find my affection for it grows.

It was far less successful than its predecessor, "Fire and Water", however, and it was said that the album's commercial failure and the death of Jimi Hendrix during the recording sessions contributed to guitarist Paul Kossoff's descent into drug addiction that would see the band temporarily splitting up in 1971.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Highway Song
2. The Stealer
3. On My Way
4. Be My Friend
5. Sunny Day
6. Ride On A Pony
7. Love You So
8. Bodie
9. Soon I Will Be Gone                         

"The Highway Song" is an appealing, rhythmic bluesy whisky-swilling number with a slightly tinny intro that deepens in resonance as it progresses. Its lyrics, concerning a "farmer's daughter" seem very typical of rock at the time. Free liked a bit of this sort of rusticity, as did Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple. Back to the music, there is some attractive piano bits on here and some classy lead guitar. "The Stealer" has a big, chunky, piledriving riff and is a solid, muscular piece of strutting Free blues rock, the sort we had come to expect. When the guitar crashes in after a minute and a half or so you think "laid back? Are you sure about that?". Listen to that massive bass too.

"On My Way" is a laid-back number but is still in possession of a sublime bass line and the now ubiquitous excellent Paul Rodgers vocal. There are vague hints of country rock to it, but it still retains some typical Free power. The same applies to the ballad, "Be My Friend", which, although a slow and reflective number, still carries a huge, bassy thump to its backing. Both these tracks could be described as being comparatively laid-back, yet, Free being Free and Rodgers being Rodgers, they are still blessed with immense strength.


"Sunny Day" is as close to a peaceful song as Free were going to get. It is slow and melodic, but once more very potent. Whatever Free did dripped in testosterone. That is brought right up to the fore again on the infectious staccato rock of "Ride On A Pony". The chorus has some great riffage to it and Rodgers' vocal is irresistible. There are definitely some gems to be found on this album.

"Love You So" is another relatively solemn ballad as also is the tuneful, slightly folky "Bodie", the lightest number on the album. As with the others, though, it retains its torque, especially at the end. "Soon I Will Be Gone" has echoes of the slower material to be found on the band's first two albums. It features some heavy guitar interjections in it as well. Overall, this album could probably do with a few more upbeat numbers, and the non-album single, the jaunty blues of "My Brother Jake" would have been a suitable candidate. The other bonus track "Only My Soul" is a melodic and appealing number. "Rain" is a surprisingly laid-back, gentle number too, with a bit of a country rock feel to it.

*

As with the other Free albums, I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters. In this case I prefer the 2002 ones for their heightened bassiness and overall resonance. It suits this album better, for me, anyway.

B-

Free - Free At Last (1972)

A little bit of love....

  

Released in June 1972

Running time 36.38

By April 1971, blues rockers Free had released four excellent studio albums and one live album in a little over two years. Then, unfortunately, tensions between singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser spilled over and they fell out, big time. The group split up for the rest of the year, Rodgers and Fraser went off to undertake comparatively unsuccessful solo projects, before the band made up and started recording again, which resulted in this album.

They seemed to make a conscious effort to record smoothly again, mainly for the sake of ailing guitarist Paul Kossoff, whose drug dependency was increasing rapidly. However, this album is thought by a fair few to be the group's worst offering, containing, for them, few real rockers in the "All Right Now" style. Let's be honest, though, Free's music was never about breakneck rockers, was it? It was always a slow-paced, stately, solid blues rock. For me, this was not a bad album at all, indeed, I much prefer it to "Highway".

Things were not to last, however. Kossoff was unable to complete a chaotic tour and a disillusioned Fraser left the band for good. Japanese bassist Tetsu Yamauchi was drafted in, along with American keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and another album was released, 1973's "Heartbreaker", which proved to be Free's last. The title of this album would seem to signify a coming to an end here, though, as did the final track. It was the last album from the original foursome.

TRACK LISTING

1. Catch A Train
2. Soldier Boy
3. Magic Ship
4. Sail On
5. Travellin' Man
6. Little Bit Of Love
7. Guardian Of The Universe
8. Child
9. Goodbye                                                   

"Catch A Train" is a pretty impressive piece of Free rock to open with. Yes, its pace is slow-ish but it packs one hell of a punch, and features some searing guitar and a sumptuous, rubbery bass line. Rodgers' vocal, it goes without saying is right up there. I would put it on any "best of Free" playlist. "Soldier Boy" is an atmospheric, comparatively low-key number that ends possibly before it should. Its instrumentation is impressive and showed that Free could do the subtle passages when necessary.

"Magic Ship" has a beautifully deep, warm bass underpinning it and Rodgers' vocal complements the slow dignity of the track superbly. Kossoff's lead guitar is seriously good as well. The guitar/drum/piano interplay towards the end is excellent. Free were pretty unique in producing this sort of stuff. They really were special. "Sail On" continues the quality. After a quiet vocal and piano intro that old Free power kicks in. It is heavy, bluesy rock of the highest order. The rock power of Deep Purple and the blues of Led Zeppelin merge here in places with Free's undoubted individual talents to give them their own unique sound. Up next are two proper Free classics - the blues rock nirvana of the majestic "Travellin' Man" and the catchy "Little Bit Of Love", propelled along by a most melodious and infectious bass line. With tracks like these two in it, this could never be a disappointing album, could it? This is top notch fare.

"Guardian Of The Universe" is powerful enough in its rock ballad way, but is probably a minute too long. While it has some convincing moments, it has a bit of an air of studio demo about it for me. "Child" is an understated slow number with a great Rodgers vocal and Fraser's bass once again without compare. The anthemic "Goodbye" would appear to be a melancholy farewell from the band - "we've come to the end of our road together..." sings Rodgers, prophetically. As this was the final offering from the original foursome that formed one of the UK's best-ever blues rock bands, the words were apt.

Bonus tracks on the 2002 edition include "Molten Gold (Burnin')" which is a steadily cooking piece of archetypal Free blues and a bluesy cover of The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women".

Give this album a little bit of love. It more than deserves it.

*

Regarding the sound, I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters and enjoy both of them. The 2002 is fuller and bassier, but the 2016 remaster is possibly the more rounded overall.

B