Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Hot Chocolate - Every 1's A Winner


  

Released April 1978

This was Hot Chocolate's fourth album, and was far more pf a pop/soul one, following on from the direction taken on the previous album, "Man To Man". Once again, less of the conscious, aware material and more disco-ish funky r'n'b and smooth, catchy pop ballads. Compared to the previous album, the balance swings in the favour of ballads as opposed to party groovers. The social concerns of those great first two albums seemed a long time ago now as Hot Chocolate were well and truly a pop band - a very good one, mind.

TRACK LISTINGS

1. Every 1's A Winner
2. Confetti Day
3. Love Is The Answer One More Time
4. Some Times It Hurts To Be A Friend
5. So You Win Again
6. Stay With Me
7. Runaway Girl
8. Make You Feel Like A Woman
9. Put Your Love In Me

The title track was a buzzy guitar riff-driven extremely singalong hit single, while "Confetti Day" was an upbeat wry observational number about family members meeting up again at a wedding. These two are the only two really uptempo numbers on the album.

"Love Is The Answer One More Time" is the sort of grandiose, heartbreaking ballad that the group were coming to specialise in, with a huge, addictive chorus and big orchestration. "Some Times It Hurts To Be A Friend" is another in the same vein, with a few echoes of "Man To Man" from the previous albums, with sumptuous brass and string backing and a yearning vocal from Errol Brown.

"So You Win Again" was the group's enormous number one hit from the summer of 1977. It was pretty much a perfect pop/soul slow number, with an addictive chorus. "Stay With Me" is a laid-back, melodic gentle soulful number that doesn't pull up any trees but it perfectly pleasant. "Runaway Girl" revisits the old sad tale scenario of "Emma" and "Seventeen Years of Age". It is once more a slow tempo number. "Make You Feel Like A Woman" also ploughs the same slow burning furrow.

"Put Your Love In Me", which ends the album, is a quite adventurous song, sound-wise, with some haunting, mysterious guitar and keyboard sounds backing a sparse Errol Brown vocal. It was a chart hit, which was deserving as it was most atmospheric. Overall the album is appealing and competent, but nowhere near as good as the previous three.

C+

Hot Chocolate - Man To Man (1976)

  

Released August 1976

After two largely socio-political "message" albums in their debut brace, this was the album which saw Hot Chocolate move into more of a pop/r'n'b group, with a mix of mostly funky party groovers and a couple of lush ballads. There is a disco-ish vibe throughout but it is a muscular, solid one, as opposed to overtly commercial. This is still a good album. I remember seeing them live in 1976 and they showcased this album and put on an enjoyable, highly credible show.

TRACK LISTING

1. Heaven Is In The Back Seat Of My Cadillac
2. Living On A Shoe String
3. Sugar Daddy
4. Man To Man
5. You Could've Been A Lady
6. Sex Appeal
7. Harry
8. Don't Stop It Now
9. Seventeen Years Of Age

The opener, "Heaven Is In The Back Seat Of My Cadillac" is a wonderful slice of grinding, funky pop. It was a hit single and you can hear why. It is full of hooks both vocally and musically. the social message is not completely dead, however, and "Living On A Shoe String" addresses wealth disparity. It has a huge, thumping bass line, killer brass parts and a brooding, slow burning beat. It is a great track that shows Hot Chocolate at their best - serious but also soulful and funky. "Sugar Daddy" is a frantic, congas-driven and highly infectious funk workout.

The title track sees the first pop/soul ballad of the album. This was also a successful hit single. Despite its mournful, yearning subject matter (a relationship split) it is strangely catchy in a stately sort of way. Errol Brown's vocal is superb and the strings augment the slow pulse of the backing beautifully. The old "Brother Louie" spoken vocal bit makes an appearance too. "You Could've Been A Lady" had been a single back in the early seventies before the group made it big, and it gets an updating here, unsurprising as it would not be familiar to many of the group's new fans. It is largely faithful to the original and it always was a great, upbeat, captivating track.

"Sex Appeal" is another lively but bassy and brassy funker. "Harry" is a deep, strong slow number with a bit of a jazzy feel in its brass interjections at times but it is dominated by that typically Hot Chocolate big, pumping sound. I loved the ebullient "Don't Stop It Now" as a hit single back in 1976, but it is a blatant attempt at a "You Sexy Thing" re-write. It also has a few hints of The Staple Singers' "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" in its basic riff too. "Seventeen Years Of Age" ends the album on a haunting note with a sad ballad. As on the title track, the strings dominate the backing.

This was still a really good album, but it was possibly the group's last album to have genuine quality material throughout its track listing. There is a case for the next album, however, as well.

B-

Monday, 21 January 2019

Albert King - Born Under A Bad Sign (1967)


  

Released in 1967

This is an excellent collection of the superb single recordings Albert King laid down on the Stax label, utilising the instrumental talents of Stax house band Booker T. & The MGs. It was eventually released as King's first album for Stax. It is a magnificent merging of King's searing blues guitar work and the MGs' Southern funk/soul organ sound. It is now revered as one of the greatest electric blues albums ever released.

TRACK LISTING

1. Born Under a Bad Sign
2. Crosscut Saw
3. Kansas City
4. Oh, Pretty Woman
5. Down Don't Bother Me
6. The Hunter
7. I Almost Lost My Mind
8. Personal Manager
9. Laundromat Blues
10. As The Years Go Passing By
11. The Very Thought Of You

As most of the cuts were released as singles, they all have an upfront appeal to them. Highlights are the storming, brooding blues of the title track; my own personal favourite in "Crosscut Saw"; the insistent, bassy grind of "Oh, Pretty Woman" (not the Roy Orbison song, by the way); the horn-driven "Down Don't Bother Me"; the marvellous, chugging blues of "Laundromat Blues" and "The Hunter" (covered by both Free and Canned Heat in the early seventies. Check out the big, rumbling bass on "Personal Manager" and the guitar too, for that matter. Great stuff. The "unreconstructed" lyrics bring a smile to my face too.

This is an outstanding album that is so representative of its genre. Highly recommended if you want to dip into some stonking late sixties electric blues. The sound is a full, warm stereo and very impressive considering from whence it dates. However, "Born Under A Bad Sign", "Crosscut Saw", "Laundromat Blues" and "Oh, Pretty Woman" can be found wonderfully re-mastered on the "Stax - the Complete Singles" box sets.

B+

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Ace



Five-A-Side (1974)
Time For Another (1975)
No Strings (1977)

Ace - No Strings (1977)


  

Released in 1977

This was Ace's final album. By now, punk was pumping its fists all around and a laid-back album of AOR rock/soul was simple not culturally relevant anymore. It is perfectly listenable, taken out of context, but it is not as good as the group's other two offerings. It is very much a harmless slice of Southern Californian-influenced AOR. Completely inessential, it has to be said. Personally, I never felt Ace were particularly a "pub rock" band, but either way, many groups who were in 1974-76 were now veering strongly towards punk. Ace did the opposite and went full-on West Coast USA. A strange choice for a UK band in 1977. It was to be their final choice.

TRACK LISTING

1. Rock And Roll Singer
2. You're All I Need
3. Crazy World
4. Im Not Takin' It Out On You
5. Movin'
6. Gleaming In The Gloom
7. Let's Hang On
8. Why Did You Leave Me?
9. Found Out The Hard Way
10. C'est La Vie

"Rock And Roll Singer" is a rollicking piano and brass Chicago-esque opener, while "You're All I Need" sort of taps into that now quite long gone feel of "How Long" but with some very end of the seventies, easy listening vocals and some Santana-style guitar. "Crazy World" has a Doobie Brothers riff and some soulful, Boz Scaggs-inspired vocals. "I'm Not Takin' It Out On You" continues in the same Doobies/Eagles/later Tower Of Power albums vein. Like the previous album, much of the album's material is very US freeway/radio-friendly in feel, nothing like the UK in 1977 at all and, as another estimable reviewer has pointed out, the 1974 glory days of "pub soul" with "How Long" now seem a very long time ago.

"Movin'" has lyrics full of Americana-derived images with lyrics about "taking the coastal highway". Tracks like this are perfectly inoffensive but they seriously are nothing special. "Gleaming In The Gloom" reminds me of Traffic's mid-seventies output. It also has hints of Ace's best 1974 work, particularly in the guitar solo mid-song. "Let's Hang On" again ploughs that 1974 furrow but with a bit of a Jackson Browne-sounding vocal from Paul Carrack.

"Why Did You Leave Me?" is a pretty ordinary mid-pace rock ballad. Some nice guitar floating around on it though. The chorus is uninspiring, it has to be said. "Found Out The Hard Way" is a lively rocker once again featuring some impressive riffy guitar. It is one of the album's better cuts, for me. "C'est La Vie" is a sad-sounding number to end Ace's three year, three album recording career. All three of their albums were eminently listenable, but they never really made it, which was a bit of a shame, but listening to the albums, you can sort of hear why.

C+

Mike Oldfield - Hergest Ridge (1974)


  

Released August 1974

TRACK LISTING

1. Hergest Ridge Part One
2. Hergest Ridge Part Two

This was the much awaited follow-up to the unique, multi-million selling "Tubular Bells" and, for many, it was an underwhelming disappointment. Not for me. In many was I find it the more appealing album. It has a quiet, understated pastoral dignity to it, without the hammy instrument introductions of its redoubtable predecessor.

It follows the same pattern as "Bells' in that is comprised of two separate movements, packed full of all sorts of instruments, often layered over each other as in the case of a lot of the guitars. About seven minutes in to "Part One" is some beautiful Spanish guitar followed by some sublime woodwind (oboe?). It all sounds most relaxing laid-back and bucolic, like "summer" in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons".  There is a quiet grandeur to it, an almost baroque beauty. It is this that warms me to the album over "Tubular Bells". It has many hidden depths. Compared to "Bells" there are nowhere near as many distinct changes of pace, maintaining far more of the same ambience throughout. It takes twelve minutes into "Part One" for a clear change to arrive. Even then, it soon reverts to a constant groove, featuring some excellent lead electric guitar. Then we get some deep voice choral vocals. The voice sections are peaceful and relaxing, though, as is the gentle guitar beneath them. It is all very ambient. Right at the end of this first part, Oldfield can't resist a quick burst of tubular bells, before the movement quietly reaches its conclusion.

"Part Two" is similarly reflective in mood. Some delicious bits of glockenspiel enhance the opening minutes, augmented by more addictive guitar. I love the feel and sounds of this movement. At 2:40 some sumptuous guitar arrives and this is soon given some mysterious-sounding vocals over the top of it. They sound a bit incomprehensible, a bit like those used by David Bowie on "Low". Then a bit of mandolin is introduced before a bit of classical-sounding organ. Although "Part Two" changes a lot more (comparatively) than "Part One", the changes are not clashing, they do not break the mood, the spell. It still retains its slow, stately mood. Half way through features some nice woodwind, followed by some bagpipe-sounding guitars before we arrive at the album's most progressive, organ-driven "heavy" section. Here Greenslade meets Deep Purple organ interplays with some madcap, swirling guitar. It is the one section where the peaceful feeling of 75% of the album is broken for several minutes. For some, it is "about time too". Me, I prefer the sleepiness of "Part One" and the first half of "Part Two". The last couple of minutes see the pace drop and more vocals arrive over a mandolin backing to see the project to its close.

The two extra short tracks included are the jaunty, irresistible Christmas instrumental "In Dulci Jubilo", which was a huge hit and is now a seasonal staple and the attractive, guitar-led "Spanish Tune".

Personally, for some reason, I tend to play this album on hot summer mornings as opposed to during other seasons. Not sure why, must be something about its aura.

B-

Ace - Time For Another (1975)

  

Released in 1975

For me, this, Ace's second album, is a very US-sounding offering, full of country rock vibes, Eagles/America influence and just a general feel of Americana. It is an easier album to categorise than the previous year's debut and, while that album had a more raw soulful rock feel to it, this one is certainly a pleasurable listen. Listening to this, one would be pretty convinced that Ace were a US group as opposed to a UK one.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Think It's Gonna Last
2. I'm A Man
3. Tongue Tied
4. Does It Hurt You
5. Message To You
6. No Future In Your Eyes
7. This Is What You Find
8. You Can't Lose
9. Sail On My Brother
10. Ain't Gonna Stand For This No More

"I Think It's Gonna Last" is an Eagles-esque US-sounding rocker and the appealing "I'm A Man" gives us more Americana, in its upbeat, guitar-picking country rock sound. "Tongue Tied" is a melodic, laid-back AOR rock ballad. Its features Eagles meets The Doobie Brothers-style vocals and, again, sounds very much a US easy listening song. Lovely bass line underpinning it too and some excellent guitar. "Does It Hurt You" is a solidly country rock tune, full of America (the group)-influenced harmonies and a gentle steel guitar backing.

"Message To You" is a a number that evokes the group's big hit "How Long" more than anything else on the album thus far, but it still has some convincing Doobie Brothers guitar/vocal interplay making it far more of a US-sounding track than its predecessor. "No Future in Your Eyes" is a deliciously laid-back slow number with CSNY vocals and a softly funky guitar backing. It is a bit reminiscent of Eric Clapton's material from this period. "This Is What You Find" continues the sleepy, unthreatening, laid-back ambience. Ace were able to get away with this sort of (admittedly very pleasant) material in 1975. Give it a year or so, however, and it would become culturally irrelevant. The track features some sublime guitar/bass passages, however.

"You Can't Lose" is slightly more upbeat, albeit in a very Eric Clapton sort of way. More understated funk backs the track and the vocals are very Doobie Brothers. Nice wah-wah solo in the middle as well. "Sail On My Brother" sounds a bit like a Free rock ballad in both its sound, vocal delivery and its title. Not quite as muscular as Free, though, more like Fleetwood Mac. "Ain't Gonna Stand For This No More" is a slice of funky blues to finish off another enjoyable but not essential album.

C+

Ace - Five-A-Side (1974)

  

Released in 1974

Ace had a reputation as being a "pub rock" band, which was true to an extent, in that they had that average blokes from the pub image (compared to the peacock finery of the glam rock artists all around them). Musically, however, they were a bit difficult to pin down. They certainly weren't pub-style heads-down full-on bluesy r'n'b. They were also often pigeonholed as "blue-eyed soul", largely because of their superb, soulful only chart hit in "How Long", and singer Paul Carrack's "white soul" voice.  The rest of the album isn't really like that track, though, ploughing more of a rocky, piano-driven Americana-influenced slightly bluesy rock style that was actually somewhat unique and certainly didn't fit into the country rock genre that was so popular among other "serious" bands at the time. Anyway, this was their debut album and probably the best of the three they put out.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sniffin' About
2. Rock 'n' Roll Runaway
3. How Long
4. The Real Feeling
5. 24 Hours
6. Why
7. Time Ain't Long
8. Know How It Feels
9. Satellite
10. So Sorry Baby

"Sniffin' About" is a lively, rocking opener with a bit of a hint of The Eagles here and there and The Doobie Brothers too. For me, there is some Steely Dan floating around as well, airs of "My Old School" in places. It certainly builds the feeling that this is far more of a rock album than a soul one. "Rock 'n' Roll Runaway" has some driving piano and country style slide guitar contributing to an upbeat number. It comes to a somewhat abrupt end, rather as if it were a studio alternative take, which is a shame. "How Long" is a classic seventies single, with superb atmosphere, hooks and bass line. "The Real Feeling" is a mid-pace boogie-ish rocking number, which again suffers from a sudden ending, before its time.

"24 Hours" is a deep, bassy, almost funky workout, featuring some excellent organ and saxophone, and "Why" attempts to re-create "How Long" to an extent, although it is far more rocking, with a killer guitar solo. It is an excellent track. Perfect laid-back soulful rock. It is all very "adult", particularly in comparison to the contemporary output from artists like David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music who were far more ebullient and chart-orientated in their approach than this brand of thoughtful rock. "Time Ain't Long" is a grinding, bluesy rock groove with a bit of an Allman Brothers feel for me, just here and there. A sort of Southern states feel.

"Know How It Feels" is a mournful, somewhat under-cooked, unremarkable slow ballad. The vocal is a little muffled and undercooked. "Satellite", however, is a jaunty, piano-powered number that sounds like something Bruce Hornsby may put on "Harbor Lights" with its rolling piano riff. There is nice swirling saxophone on here too. "So Sorry Baby" ends the album on a solid muscular note with an organ-driven rocking, riffy track. Overall, this a highly credible, listenable album that would have appealed more in America in 1974 than in the UK. It is worth a listen, but it is nothing ground-breaking.

C+

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Love Unlimited Orchestra - Rhapsody In White (1974)

  

Released January 1974

After two successful albums in 1973's "I've Got So Much To Give" and "Stone 'Gon", Barry White oversaw this largely instrumental and highly influential album, adding vocals on a few tracks as well. It is pretty much like a Barry White album anyway, given that his actual albums contained lengthy instrumental passages. The album introduced string orchestrated, sweeping disco rhythms with that trademark "click-click" sort of guitar sound several years before disco became a genre. It was a sound that would see a million glitter balls attached to ceilings. Lush strings, staccato guitars and sublime production influenced so many producers and artists, becoming the sound of the mid-late seventies as much as any rock riffs, progressive experimentation or punk calls to arms. Listen to things like Michael Jackson's 1979 "Off The Wall" and you can detect the influence of this. In many ways it was way ahead of its time. It was similar to the albums from MFSB in Philadelphia from the same period, primarily instrumental but very far-reaching in their influence.

TRACK LISTING

1. Barry's Theme
2. Rhapsody In White
3. Midnight And You
4. I Feel Love Coming On
5. Baby Blues
6. Don't Take It Away From Me
7. What A Groove
8. Love's Theme

"Barry's Theme" launches the album with that guitar sound behind some rhythmic percussion before the trademark sound I was talking about kicks in. The strings float all over it and it has a superb atmosphere. The same applies to the beautiful "Rhapsody In White" with its wonderful bass line and addictive guitar sounds. The percussion is excellent throughout as well. Barry arrives on "Midnight And You" with a few growled vocals over a catchy funky melody. "I Feel Love Coming On" has a spoken vocal intro before its intoxicating beat takes over. There is some excellent bass/drum interplay halfway through which return at intervals throughout the track.

Barry adds his gruff, spoken vocal talents to "Baby Blues" in which he tells us, in his inimitable style about his lover's "baby blue panties...". Although it brings a chuckle when you listen to it now, it was actually quite risqué for 1973-74. It is very much a "lay down on that rug, baby..." song not only in White's vocal, but in the romantic arrangements. "Don't Take It Away From Me" is another of those "chicka-chicka" grandly melodic disco smoochers. "What A Groove" has a solid, muscular, funky groove, full of bass and uplifting piano parts. It is a track, though, where you feel a full vocal would make it even better. The album ends with "Love's Theme" which is now instantly recognisable with its strings and that distinctive wah-wah quacking guitar sound. There is a really addictive bass and guitar passage near the end.

It is easy to overlook this as "just an instrumental album", but it is more than that. It is very enjoyable firstly, the sound is superb and it is actually an important, ground-breaking release.

B+

Barry White - The Message Is Love (1979)


  

Released April 1979

This was Barry White's first album for CBS Records, after six successful years with 20th Century Records. It was certainly not a bad album, not by any stretch of the imagination, but, unfortunately, it heralded a decline in his career that he would only briefly recover from. Personally, I have all his albums up to this one, so this is where I turn off the road too. It has been a smooth, smoochy journey, however, and a most enjoyable one.

TRACK LISTING

1. It Ain't Love, Babe (Until You Give It)
2. Hung Up In Your Love
3. You're The One I Need
4. Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant For Me)
5. Love Ain't Easy
6. I'm On Fire
7. I Found Love

"It Ain't Love, Babe (Until You Give It)" is a pumping, horn and percussion-driven lively disco number. It is a solid, rhythmic and in possession of a strong, confident vocal too. "Hung Up In Your Love" is a lovely sounding number, with addictive cymbal work and a deep bass line. The horns are good too and the vocal is jazzy and laid-back. It is a gently breezy, slightly jazzy number in its feel. Both these tracks differ slightly from the material White had put out over the previous six years.

"You're The One" is a beautifully semi-funky, insistent, grinding soul slow burner. I love the feel of this track, actually. Beautifully sung and featuring another sublime bass groove. The strings are gorgeous too. Barry goes all toe-tapping and finger-snapping on the jaunty "Any Fool Could See (You Were Meant For Me)", which is a horn-powered disco groover. All those lengthy smoochers from 1973-74 seem a long time ago at this point.

Surely it was time for a bit of trademark Barry White "lurrve" and we duly get it on the smouldering, gruff tones of "Love Ain't Easy" which has time flashing by in front of your very ears. The sound is top quality on this album as well, I have to say. This track has that "Just The Way You Are" feel to it. Sweet soul. Lovely saxophone on it too, just as on the afore-mentioned hit. Lovely easy listening horns come in at the end as well. "I'm On Fire" is a typical end of the seventies laid-back soul number. Nice late night stuff. All gentle brass and sweet backing vocals. "I Found Love" ends the album with a spoken intro straight out of the mid-seventies and once again familiar string orchestration and mid-range vocals from White. It is quite apt that my own particular journey with Barry White's music ended with this very Barry White sort of number. It is lifted by some sumptuous brass, though, in a way that earlier material was not. White would briefly re-surface with a hit in "Sho' You Right" in 1987, but, to all intents and purposes, his glory days were over now. They were great days, though. Thanks for the memories big man.

B-

Barry White - I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing (1979)


  

Released April 1979

This was Barry White's last album for 20th Century Records, and it was released at the same time as his first one for his new label, CBS, ("The Message Of Love"), so it got virtually forgotten about. That was a bit of a shame, as it is a good soul album, a sort of celebration of soul music, with a variety of influences at play - Motown, Atlantic, Stax, funk, sweet soul. All of those are in here on an album considerably different to the previous ones.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing
2. Girl, What's Your Name
3. Once Upon A Time (You Were A Friend Of Mine)
4. Oh Me, Oh My (I'm Such A Lucky Guy)
5. I Can't Leave You Alone
6. Call Me, Baby
7. How Did You Know It Was Me?

Barry begins the album by telling us that "I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing", not in an extended, growling, semi-spoken style, but in a short, sharp, Motown influenced poppy toe-tapper. It is completely different to any of the material on all his previous albums. "Girl, What's Your Name" starts with a more familiar spoken intro, but soon launches into a sweet, soulful, Delfonics-style soul ballad. It is a beautiful song. Again, it is comparatively short. Four minutes is short in Barry White terms. "Once Upon A Time (You Were A Friend Of Mine)" is a sumptuous soul ballad in the Harold Melvin style.

"Oh Me, Oh My (I'm Such A Lucky Guy)" ends the original "side one" with a slow burning gently smouldering ballad more typical of White over the years. It has a big, full bass sound and some excellent strings and percussion. Horns are also used, as they are on quite a bit of this album, a rarity for White.

The second side kicks off with an Atlantic soul-sounding track in "I Can't Leave You Alone" which, although not the George McCrae track of the same name has some similarities. It also has huge Aretha Franklin influences, as if it is White's homage to her. Atlantic/Stax-style horns punch their way all over this. Again, it is like nothing White has ever done before. "Call Me, Baby" sees Barry bring in the funk. A funky bass, guitar and drum riff underpins the whole lengthy, eight minute, workout. Once more horns are present. This is as funky as Barry has been thus far. The track gets into a groove and the last few minutes are instrumental, but it always remains rhythmic and invigorating. The sound quality on the latest remaster is excellent too.

The album ends with "How Did You Know It Was Me?", which is a sort of Philly soul meets disco number. It is infectious, vibrant and upbeat. The horns are excellent. Barry's vocal is soulfully powerful too. I am at a bit of a loss as to why this album disappeared without trace. Marketing, I guess. It was recorded as a contractual obligation. That doesn't mean to say it is a throwaway album, though. There is quality material on here. I actually really enjoy listening to it every now and again. Anyway, that was that for Barry White's glory years. For me, I have the first album on CBS (see my review) and that was that for me too. They had been six wonderful years too and the best of Barry White is so evocative of the period 1973-79, particularly 73-75. He left an impressive soul legacy. His influence cannot be underestimated.

B-

Friday, 18 January 2019

UB40 - Present Arms In Dub (1981)


  

Released October 1981

TRACK LISTING (in brackets are the original tracks the dub versions relate to)

1. Present Arms In Dub (Present Arms)
2. Smoke It (Don't Walk On The Grass)
3. B Line (Lamb's Bread)
4. King's Row (Sardonicus)
5. Return Of Doctor X (Dr X)
6. Walk Out (Wild Cat)
7. One In Ten (One In Ten)
8. Neon Haze (Silent Witness)

This was an adventurous thing of UB40 to do, after just two albums, they released a dub version of their second album. It was a bit different to much Jamaica dub, however, in that they didn't simply remove the vocals, several of the instruments and turn up the bass. They actually produced listenable instrumental versions of all the tracks from "Present Arms", almost re-writing the instrumental tracks, adding all sorts of additional noises and percussion in particular. There are captivating new saxophone parts here and there, keyboard riffs and also typical dubby reverb parts. There are also excellent new bass lines all over the tracks. Listening to "King's Row", for example, the dub version of "Sardonicus" it is like you are listening to a new track, to be honest. "B Line", the version of "Lamb's Bread" is packed to the brim with lots of electronic noises, infectious percussion and a copper-bottomed dubby bass line. These tracks are a mixture of convincing dub and inventive new instrumentation. Indeed , several of them are instrumental re-workings of cuts that already were instrumentals.

While I am a fan of deep, thumping, authentic Jamaican dub, I feel there is certainly enough "proper" dub floating around to not render this a "plastic" dub album, and the use of a lot of inventive instrumentation makes it a more than interesting style of dub album. Not many dub albums have ever broken into the UK album charts. This one did.

B-

Al Stewart - Modern Times (1975)


  

Released January 1975

This album was the one which saw Al Stewart make the transition from narrative, folk rock singer to being a well-produced, slick, polished, AOR, mainstream radio-friendly artist. Alan Parsons is the producer and he came up with a lush, layered, high quality sound production. The previous album had been full of historical narrative folk tales. Here the songs are more relationship ones and far more commercial in their feel. So begins Al Stewart's classic pop rock classic period, typified by songs that have both a comforting, laid-back feel but also a beguiling lyrical nature. The sound quality on the latest remaster is superb too.

TRACK LISTING

1. Carol
2. Sirens Of Titan
3. What's Going On?
4. Not The One
5. Next Time
6. Apple Cider Re-Constitution
7. The Dark And Rolling Sea
8. Modern Times

"Carol" is a melodic polished opener with airs of John Lennon about it, in the vocal delivery and hints of Paul McCartney and Steve Harley in the backing. There are both electric and acoustic guitars interplaying most convincingly. "Sirens of Titan" is short, but catchy in its poppy, laid-back feel. "What's Going On?" is so Beatles-esque and could well have been on "Help!" or "Rubber Soul". Stewart makes it his own, however, with a sumptuous acoustic guitar solo in the middle and some excellent harmonica near the end. "Not The One" is a gentle, soft rock ballad. All very melodic and sensitive, thoughtful lyrics.

"Next Time" has an an acoustic guitar riff straight off "Led Zeppelin III" and a haunting feel to its quiet vocals. The title of "Apple Cider Re-Constitution" sounds like something off George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass", by its title,  but it is a vibrant, rocking Dylanesque "Blonde On Blonde" era number. It is a most appealing, captivating track. The bass and lead guitar and drum sound are all pretty infectious. "The Dark And Rolling Sea" is a seafaring, folky tale that has its melody based on the old Irish folk song "The Maid Of County Down". The title track is an extended melodious soft rock/folky number with more of those enigmatic lyrics. There hints of Dylan here and there on this one too. There is a grandeur to this track, and indeed to the whole album. It is always worth a listen.

B

Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Staple Singers



Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972)
Be What You Are (1973)

The Very Best Of The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers - The Best Of The Staple Singers




TRACK LISTING

1. I'll Take You There
2. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
3. Respect Yourself
4. Long Walk To D.C.
5. Be What You Are
6. Everyday People
7. Heavy Makes You Happy
8. My Main Man
9. Trippin' On Your Love
10. City In The Sky
11. This World
12. Oh La De De
13. Touch A Hand, Make A Friend

This is a wonderful compilation of the best of this iconic gospel/soul group, whose peak years were in the early/mid seventies. The vocals, led by Mavis Staples, were absolutely superb and uplifting and the music was full of typical Stax horns and infectious funky soul rhythms. The lyrics were spot on with regard to their message, which was one of racial equality, and end to discrimination and an increase in tolerance between everyone. The message was not delivered with aggression, it was done so with a gospel fervour and vitality that was totally captivating.

The highlights on here are many, but the obvious ones are the bassy, catchy "I'll Take You There"; the earnest, pumping soul of "Respect Yourself"; the intoxicating riff and vocal of "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" and the funky "Heavy Makes You Happy". Lesser known tracks but just as irresistible are the ebullient, pounding "This World"; the effervescent, call to self-awareness of  "Be What You Are" and the annoying familiar "Touch A Hand, Make A Friend" that sounds so like something by someone else, subsequently, but I cannot put my finger on what it is. There is also a stonking cover of Sly & The Family Stone's "Everyday People" which is so suited to the vibrant Stax backing and the country gospel of "Long Walk To D.C.".

It is all great stuff, mind, not a duff track on the album. Also worth checking out are "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself" from 1972 and 1973's "Be What You Are", both of which are excellent albums.

B+

The Staple Singers - Be What You Are (1973)

  

Released in 1973

After the uplifting gospel soul of "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself", The Staple Singers were back the following year with this excellent album. Although the gospel influence is always there this is a bit more of a punchy, horn-driven soul album. The hard-hitting messages are still there, of course. The Staple Singers always had something wise to say.

TRACK LISTING

1. Be What You Are
2. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
3. Medley: Love Comes In All Colours- Tellin' Lies
4. Touch A Hand (Make A Friend)
5. Drown Yourself
6. I Ain't Raisin' No Sand
7. Grandma's Hands
8. Bridges Instead Of Walls
9. I'm On Your Side
10. That's What Friends Are For
11. Heaven

The album starts with the brooding, soulful groove of "Be What You Are", featuring those trademark Stax horns and the expected great vocal. The classic, infectious "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" is next, with its killer riff that was appropriated by Hot Chocolate for both "You Sexy Thing" and "Don't Stop It Now", to an extent. The lengthy "Medley", which is basically two songs - the soulful, "message" song of  "Love Comes In All Colours" and the cynical put-down of "Tellin' Lies" - is sublime in the delivery of both songs. Both are full to the brim with soul.

"Touch A Hand (Make A Friend)" drives me mad because it reminds me so much a of subsequent song by someone else but it is going round in my head and I can't put my finger on it. Either way, it is an irresistibly catchy number. Again, the message is one of love and tolerance. "Drown Yourself" is a gloomy song about reaching the point of no return. The backing is suitably sombre and bluesy. Here the message is one for those who have no love in their hearts for anyone or anything. They might as well head down to the river and drown themselves. Indeed.

"I Ain't Raisin' No Sand" is an infectious, semi-funky grinder with some sublime brass sections and a super-funky vocal from Mavis Staples. It ends with a superb bit of funky voice/percussion/guitar interplay. Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands" is given a brassy, gospelly makeover. "Bridges Instead Of Walls" (how relevant once more is that nowadays) re-works the feel of "If You're Ready" slightly in its rhythm. Again, its message cannot be argued with. "I'm On Your Side" is a beautiful ballad, packed full of Stax soul.

"That's What Friends Are For" is a deliciously funky/brassy/soul/jazzy number with superb vocals and backing. It doesn't get much better than this. "Heaven" is a big orchestration ballad with the gospel influence making itself known. Overall, this has been an outstanding album, slightly better than the previous one, although both are excellent. Highly recommended (if you can get hold of it, which is difficult).

B+

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes - Into The Harbour (2005)


  

Released in 2005

This is an excellent, soulful, bluesy album from Southside Johnny and, like most of post 2000 material, while not matching the glory days of the seventies, is certainly superior to his eighties output. It is one of his most "soul" albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. Happy
2. Dancing On The Edge Of The World
3. You're My Girl
4. Into The Harbour
5. Hang Down Your Head
6. The Time Between
7. When Rita Leaves
8. Don't Call Me Baby
9. Tear Stained Letter
10. All In My Mind
11. Nothing But A Heartache

The Rolling Stones' "Happy" would seem to be tailor-made for The Jukes kicking, punchy horns and also for Southside's gritty, earthy vocal delivery. It is true. It is a great opener. "Dancing on The Edge Of The World" is a wonderful, anthemic-sounding piece of Asbury Park-ism. This is Southside Johnny as we have loved him for decades. His voice is yesterday, today, tomorrow. Glorious. The track sounds like a classic late sixties Temptations number. "You're My Girl" is solid enough, but a bit clumsy in places. The bass line and soulful middle vocal section saves it however. Even on the album's comparative chuggers, Southside's voice soars above everything else.

The title track is a slow, mournful ballad with Southside's voice showing a few signs of age, but somehow that enhances the appeal of the track. "Hang Down Your Head" is a Tom Waits cover given a marvellous Jukes-style makeover, while "The Time Between" is a big, brassy soulful ballad. Delbert McClinton's evocative, melodic tear-jerker "When Rita Leaves" is just magnificent. Southside on absolute top form. I love this song.

"Don't Call Me Baby" is a Philadelphia soul-sounding number, with some Stax horns. "Tear Stained Letter" is an upbeat, rockabilly-sounding romp. "All In My Mind" is a typical big, brassy Asbury Park rock ballad. "Nothing But A Heartache" brings to mind The Small Faces' "Tin Soldier", initially, before those huge horns kick in. It also has more than a few Animals' influences in its backing. Overall, this is an enjoyable album but I have to admit I don't play it as much I do the previous one, "Going To Jukesville".

B-

G.T. Moore & The Reggae Guitars - G.T. Moore & The Reggae Guitars (1974)


  

Released in 1974

This is a great "forgotten" seventies album. I used to own it back in the mid seventies. It is possibly the finest reggae album from a white group, before The Clash, The Police, Stiff Little Fingers and the like started to dabble in reggae. In 1974, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones were experimenting with reggae, but this London-based group went the whole hog and were a reggae group, as their name suggests. It is a shame that they never got the success they deserved. The only way of getting hold of the album now is via this download, which sounds to me like a "needle drop" i.e. recorded straight from a vinyl record. It highlights the limitations and frustrations of vinyl for me - scratches and crackles. They are only slight, though, and I am prepared to accept a bit of a dull sound in order to hear this album once again and bring back those memories of 1975. G.T. Moore's name, incidentally, was Gerald Thomas Moore.

TRACK LISTING

1. Painted Ladies
2. Book Of Rules
3. I'm Still Waiting
4. Bye and Bye
5. Way Over There
6. Move It On Up
7. Thou Shalt Not Kill
8. Bad Johnny
9. Knocking On Heaven's Door

"Painted Ladies" is an upbeat opener, with some convincing skanking rhythms and Moore's slightly cockney vocal. It is a fine piece of "white reggae". "Book Of Rules" is a superb cover of The Heptones' hit. It was this song that first attracted the teenage me to this group. The reggae rhythms sound completely authentic. It is only the vocal that mars the group out as not Jamaican. The music they have down pat. "I'm Still Waiting" is actually a cover of the Diana Ross hit, and although the reggae sounds are impressive, it doesn't quite do it for me, although it features some catchy reggae horns.

"Bye And Bye" has a great skanking sound, full of rumbling bass and a catchy vocal. It has a folky intro and outro, for some reason. "Way Over There" is a melodic groove that meanders along in a Ken Boothe style. "Move It On Up" (not to be confused with Curtis afield's "Move On Up") is a sort of reggae meets funk and rock. It has a lively, "live" feel, but the sound is more muffled than it ought to be. "Thou Shalt Not Kill" has one of the album's most bona fide reggae sounds and also carries a rootsy devotional message. It is only Moore's decidedly un-Jamaican-sounding voice that slightly mars the overall credibility. There are a few audible vinyl crackles on this one too.

"Bad Johnny" is a horn-powered skanker and the album ends with possibly the finest ever cover of Bob Dylan's "Knocking On Heaven's Door". In fact, ever since hearing this in 1975, I have always subconsciously sung "knocking on Heaven's door - I never felt like this before..." as this is how Moore sang it at the end of this version. The rendition has stuck in my mind ever since. Great stuff.

B-

Barry White - The Man (1978)


  

Released October 1978

This was released at the height of the disco boom and quite a lot of the material is extended dance-floor style in a way that Barry White had not done quite so clearly before. The numbers are upbeat, infectious and the emphasis on the vocal is underplayed, they are far more about the groove. It is a far more of a disco album than a "lay down next to me, baby" one. Although in some ways it is a "more of the same" album, as Barry White albums are, in some ways it is just a little different. Just a little, mind. Actually, not really too much, but a "Barry-ologist" will notice the small variations.

TRACK LISTING

1. Look At Her
2. Your Sweetness Is My Weakness
3. Sha La La Means I Love You
4. September When I First Met You
5. It's Only Love Doing Its Thing
6. Just The Way You Are
7. Early Years

"Look At Her" is an impressive, string-dominated disco grinder with White's vocal floating in and out  of the instrumental dance-floor groove. There are good "hustle"-style horn breaks on it too. The disco groove continues on the sumptuous "Your Sweetness Is My Weakness". The has some great bass lines and subtle electric funky guitar ones too. The vocal comes into its own near the end of the track's eight minutes plus. "Sha La La Means I Love You" has an addictive Latin intro, sumptuous, kicking horns and a samba-ish beat to it throughout. Similar to the previous album, the original "side one" contained three extended rhythmic danceable numbers, whereas "side two" concentrated more the ballads.

The lush, ballad side of the album opens with the sublime, sweet syrup of "September When I First Met You". It is a gorgeously string-backed soulful ballad. Sure it doesn't pull up any trees, but it has a heck of a laid-back soul atmosphere. The vocal is more upbeat than those gruff, semi-whispered ones of the mid-seventies glory days. "It's Only Love Doing Its Thing" is a smoocher, but it also has a it of a slow-pace dance groove to it, featuring some killer percussion and addictive horn breaks. Personally, I love this track.

Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are" as actually made famous by this, White's sublime soulful cover, which was a huge hit. Excellent stuff. Everyone knows the song, it is just gorgeous. It is included here in its full-length incarnation, with Barry's spoken intro. There is a superb saxophone solo on it too. The album ends with the bassy and funky slow-burning "Early Years" which some seriously good guitar and more intoxicating percussion. It has a jazzy feel to it and an ambience that is slightly different from White's usual material.

I actually think this is a pretty good album that has often been overlooked and has hidden depths, together with great sound and production quality. It is easy to write off these later Barry White albums, as he really made his name with the first three albums, but I have to admit I have enjoyed listening to this, and the previous two a great deal, in their latest remasters.

B-

Hot Chocolate - Hot Chocolate (1975)


  

Released November 1975

This was Hot Chocolate's second album, and it is just as credible and underrated as their debut "Cicero Park". It carried a solid social message in the "What's Goin' On" style that belied their apparent chart pop existence. They were actually much more than just that, as this album proves. It is an impressive mix of social comment, soul rock/disco rhythm, brass backing and accessible funk.

TRACK LISTING

1. Hello America
2. The Street
3. Call The Police
4. Dollar Sign
5. You Sexy Thing
6. A Child's Prayer
7. A Warm Smile
8. Amazing Skin Song
9. Love's Coming On Strong
10. Lay Me Down

"Hello America" is a lively, brassy opener that delivers the message that is prevalent throughout a lot of this album. It has echoes of the previous album's "Disco Queen" in its sound. "The Street" is a haunting, atmospheric soulful number backed by excellent percussion, keyboards and brass. Again, it carries a social message. "Call The Police" is a horn-driven slice of funky soul with a delicious bass line, Hard-hitting comment and convincing vocal from Errol Brown. "Dollar Sign" is an emotive, brooding slow-paced number bemoaning high finance and wealth disparity. The first four tracks have all been "conscious" ones which sets the tone. However, there was still room for some classic pop/soul.

"You Sexy Thing" is next. It is probably Hot Chocolate's signature tune. For many, it is the only song they know from the group. Amazingly it was originally the 'b' side to the ballad "Blue Night", as producer Mickie Most was not convinced it would be hit. Eventually, the single was flipped around and the rest is history. It was number two to Queen's iconic "Bohemian Rhapsody". The track has an infectious, lively disco-ish rhythm but also a catchy chorus ensuring its pop appeal. The other big hit from the album was the stark but tuneful "A Child's Prayer" with its beautiful string orchestration and sincere lyric.

"A Warm Smile" is a laid-back, romantic soul ballad, but it still carries an inherent sadness in both its beat, orchestration and Brown's vocal. It still manages to make its point about "living in a crowded city..." even in a simple love song. "Amazing Skin Song" pulls no punches in its "Brother Louie"-style tale of an interracial relationship. "Love's Coming On Strong" is a soulful love song with some sublime brass parts. "Lay Me Down" is a sort of country/soul/gospel number, if there is such a thing. The last two tracks are probably the least potent on the album, far less so than the first four tracks. So, to an extent, the album drifts away just a tiny bit. Personally, I prefer "Cicero Park" but this is still a solid album. I remember listening to it as a teenager in 1975 and realising that it had something more about it than simply great pop/soul singles.

B-

Monday, 14 January 2019

The Staple Singers - Be Altitude: Respect Yourself (1972)


  

Released in 1972

This is marvellous stuff. Gospel/soul fusion perfection from one of the seventies' most potent and influential vocal/horns backed groups. I also have to make the point that this Stax remaster is absolutely top notch. The big, bassy, brassy, punchy sound and Mavis Staples' soaring lead vocal come thumping out of your speakers. The best I have ever heard the material.

TRACK LISTING

1. This World
2. Respect Yourself
3. Name The Missing Word
4. I'll Take You There
5. This Old Town (People In This Old Town)
6. We The People
7. Are You Sure
8. Who Do You Think You Are
9. I'm Just Another Soldier
10. Who
11. Walking In Water Over Our Head
12. Heavy Makes You Happy (Alternate Version)

"This World" is an absolutely stonking opener, full of gospel verve and vigour and captivating drum rhythms. Can that be beaten? Sho'nuff it can - by the wonderful, pounding "Respect Yourself". Great rhythm, great vocals, great lyrics. A superb civil rights anthem. "Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day...". Indeed. Just check out those horns too. "Name The Missing Word" has a magnificent, pulsating bass line and a killer vocal. It has sweeping soulful strings, soaring horns and menacing guitar. As for the vocal, it is just peerless. Then there is "I'll Take You There", an anthemic, uplifting anthem of a song that has become known by so many. It is probably the group's most famous number and rightly so. From the first notes of that "Liquidator"-style intro and then the syncopated rhythm topped off by Mavis Staples' "mmm, hmmm" gospel vocal it is an absolute delight. The music is played by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, superbly, as indeed they do on the whole album.

"This Old Town (People In This Old Town)" is a catchy, upbeat, but brooding and soulful cooker of a track. Some of the guitar on these tracks, played by Eddie Hinton, is simply superb. Again, Mavis's vocal is a titanic, towering one. She had one of the truly great gospel/soul voices but never quite got the credit she deserved. She is rarely mentioned in lists of the great soul voices, which has to be wrong. "We The People" is superbly funky and oh man, those Stax horns. "Are You Sure" has a delicious bass line rumbling under the laid-back but insistent quiet, assured vocal. "Who Do You Think You Are (Jesus Christ Superstar?)" is a somewhat pious, devotional song, with "Pops" Staples on vocals this time. It still has a great soul feeling to it.

"I'm Just Another Soldier" is an uplifting slice of gospel soul. The Stax horns drive it along as Mavis's voice soars once again. "Who" is a shuffling piece of praise. The final two tracks are bonus numbers. "Walking In Water Over Our Head" is an irresistibly catchy, Motown-influenced number. "Heavy Makes You Happy" is an alternate version of the groups' earlier hit single.

This is a highly recommended example of gospel/soul Heaven. Let it lift you up.

B

Chicago - Chicago XI (1977)


  

Released September 1977

This was unfortunately Terry Kath's last album with Chicago before he tragically killed himself in a gun accident at home. It was also their first album after their huge global hit "If You Leave Me Now" (which was always, ironically, quite unrepresentative of their overall sound, even though it was their biggest hit). It is certainly not all an "easy listening" album, containing some blues, jazz, soul, funk and classically-influenced material. It was a bit of a cultural anachronism, however, coming at the height of punk and disco and having no relation to either. The album is an inventive one one full of variety. It doesn't fit into any pigeonholes and certainly has considerable credibility.

TRACK LISTING

1. Mississippi Delta City Blues
2. Baby, What A Big Surprise
3. Till The End Of Time
4. Policeman
5. Take Me Back To Chicago
6. Vote For Me
7. Takin' It On Uptown
8. This Time
9. The Inner Struggles Of A Man
10. Prelude (Little One)
11. Little One
12. Wish I Could Fly
13. Paris

The opener, "Mississippi Delta City Blues" is a superb, bassy, funky upbeat blues, with Kath on gruff vocals. The ubiquitous brass section plays a big part too. It is very much a throwback to the group's early albums. "Baby, What A Big Surprise" is an appealing rock ballad, with Peter Cetera on high-pitched vocals. It has some grandiose-sounding horn parts. "Till The End Of Time" is a rock 'n' roll-style slow number but with a deep, soulful vocal and some Stax-ish horns. "Policeman" is a jazzy, infectious number about, obviously, a policeman. It has a touch of bossa nova about its rhythm. "Take Me Back To Chicago" is a catchy jazz/soul number with some funky guitar/backing vocals.

"Vote For Me" is an ebullient and cynical song about the two-faced nature of politics. It features some fine organ/piano interplay. "Takin' It On Uptown" has some heavy rock guitar and a bluesy rock vocal over a thumping drum sound. There is an underlying funk beneath the rock foundations of the track. Its wah-wah guitar, from Kath, is superb too. "This Time" is trademark, melodic Chicago soul/rock, with sumptuous brass backing and a great soul vocal. It has a bit of a Doobie Brothers vibe to it.

After a lot of soul/rock tinged with funk we get a rather incongruous classical instrumental piece in "The Inner Struggles Of A Man". For me, it doesn't really fit and it merges into the short "Prelude (Little One)" which then goes into "Little One" which brings the laid-back soulful ambience back. It again features some sublime brass sections. There are touches of Stevie Wonder in the vocal delivery. "Wish I Could Fly" is a Doobie Brothers-style piano and guitar-driven instrumental. "Paris" is a rhythmic, piano-driven light, jazzy vocal ballad.

Despite its often catchy songs, this album still has a decidedly uncommercial feel for me, making it an interesting offering which needs several listens.

B-

Sunday, 13 January 2019

The Tom Robinson Band



Power In The Darkness (1978)
TRB 2 (1979)

Barry White - Barry White Sings For Someone You Love (1977)


  

Released August 1977

After treading water considerably for a year or so, Barry White slightly tweaked his sound for this album to a more slick, polished soul sound with more of a beat and the vocals sung as opposed to whispered or growled. The result is a pretty good album, with excellent sound quality too.

TRACK LISTING

1. Playing Your Game, Baby
2. It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me
3. You're So Good, You're Bad
4. Never Thought I'd Fall In Love With You
5. You Turned My Whole World Around
6. Oh What A Night For Dancing
7. Of All The Guys In The World

"Playing Your Game, Baby" has a melodic, mid-pace and pleasing feel about it, which a solidity and a strong, firm soulful vocal from Barry. It is sung, not whispered. "It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me" taps into the contemporary disco trend with a rhythmic, disco-ish groover. It was Barry's most "disco" groove thus far, with a captivating, insistent drum-driven beat and a good vocal too. "You're So Good, You're Bad" has an infectious Latin-style rhythm in its extended intro. Again, it is quite pulsating and upbeat (comparatively) with some of his previous material. Once more, the vocal is good and the croaky throat problems that seemed to beset White on 1975's "Just Another Way To Say I Love You"are now long gone.

"Never Thought I'd Fall In Love With You" has a Philadelphia soul vibe to it, with lots of sweeping strings and a gentle brass sound. Just when you thought the album would pass by without a sleepy, "come over here baby", semi spoken vocal track, we get the lengthy romantic late night groove of "You Turned My Whole World Around". It already sounds a nostalgic track for 1973-74. Time for bed? Not quite yet, baby. "Oh What A Night For Dancing" is up next with its sweet soul tones and Barry sounding very much like Teddy Pendergrass. It is not as upbeat a track as you might imagine, but it has a Harold Melvin-esque soul punch. It is quite an unusual type of soul for Barry White. "Of All The Guys in The World" sees Barry's female backing vocalists join him on a horn-driven but rather unremarkable closer to the album.

The old "side one" (the first three tracks) is definitely the best part of the album, however, the second side just seems to drift away a little. Barry White's best recording days were over by now, but this one kept the fires burning just a little longer.

C+

The Strawbs



From The Witchwood (1971)
Grave New World (1972)

Witchwood - The Best Of The Strawbs

Pentangle




The Pentangle (1968)
Sweet Child (1968)
Basket Of Light (1969)
Cruel Sister (1970)
Reflection (1971)

Light Flight - The Best Of Pentangle

Earth Wind & Fire



Earth Wind And Fire (1971)
The Need Of Love (1971)
Last Days And Time (1972)
Head To The Sky (1973)
Open Our Eyes (1974)
That's The Way Of The World (1975)
Spirit (1976)
All 'N' All (1977)
I Am (1979)
Faces (1980)
Raise! (1981)

Chicago



Chicago Transit Authority (1969)
Chicago II (1970)
Chicago III (1971)
Chicago V (1972)
Chicago VI (1973)
Chicago VII (1974)
Chicago VIII (1975)
Chicago X (1976)
Chicago XI (1977)

Chicago - Chicago VII ( 1974)


  

Released March 1974

Recorded in Colorado

Despite the commercial success of 1973's "Chicago VI", the music media and, indeed, some of the band itself, had expressed misgivings about their departure from the lengthy jazzy material of their first three albums into shorter, more poppy, airy sounds. So, they returned, one more time, to the tried and trusted double album format of funky jazz fusion workouts. It was their jazziest album to date, but it also included some of the poppier, rockier material too. It had initially been planned as a jazz-only album, but a compromise was reached, thus it became another double album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Prelude To Aire
2. Aire
3. Devil's Sweet
4. Italian From New York
5. Hanky Panky
6. Life Saver
7. Happy Man
8. (I've Been ) Searchin' So Long
9. Mongonucleosis
10. Song of The Evergreens
11. Byblos
12. Wishing You Were Here
13. Call On Me
14. Woman Don't Want To Love Me
15. Skinny Boy

"Prelude To Aire" has Chicago going all Santana, with world music drum rhythms and flute pounding and floating all around. "Aire" itself is a bit of a throwback to the band's early albums - a horn-powered, jazzy instrumental. It also features some excellent guitar in the middle passage. The instrumental vibe continues with another Santana-esque number, "Devil's Sweet". There are distinct echoes of Miles Davis in this too, for me. It is a ten minute number, so we had a whole side of music before any vocals arrived. Like those late sixties/early seventies days. The drumming is excellent on here, even including a solo, unusual for a studio album.

"Italian From New York" continues the instrumental groove, this time featuring some decidedly futuristic electronic ARP sounds, as if Brian Eno had found his way to the Caribou ranch in Colorado. Mixed with some funky, buzzy wah-wah guitar, it makes for a heady mix. Saxophone arrives as it morphs into "Hanky Panky" too. Pretty adventurous stuff.

Vocals finally arrive in the Beatles-esque but also funky rock of "Life Saver". This is still very much in the vein of the first three albums. The old "side two" closed the first disc of the double album with the laid-back folk-rocky "Happy Man". As competent, interesting and listenable as the instrumentals had been, I can't help but feel that the album sort of starts here.

"(I've Been) Searchin' So Long" was a lush, polished ballad of the sort that the band would come to do more of in the future, featuring Peter Cetera's higher-pitched voice (compared to both Robert Lamm and particularly Terry Kath's deeper voices). The strangely-named salsa-influenced instrumental "Mongonucleosis" (one "g" away from the name of a disease) is lively and energetic. "Song Of The Evergreens" is a slow-paced, evocative bluesy, brooding rock number. About half way through it changes tempo rather like songs by America did during the same period and becomes much faster.

"Byblos" is a laid-back folk-rock number with some simple beautiful cymbal work. It develops into more of a jazzy vibe as it progresses. "Wishing You Were Here" features three Beach Boys (Dennis and Carl Wilson and Al Jardine) on harmony vocals. The song is introduced by the sound of waves. It is very similar to the sort of material The Beach Boys were putting out at the same time - laid-back and breezy. "Call On Me" is a catchy, bright and brassy poppy number with a slick vocal from Cetera. "Woman Don't Want To Love Me" rekindles the brassy funk that they used to do so well. Great wah-wah guitar comes in near the end. "Skinny Boy" is a soulful groove with hints of Little Feat and The Band. It features an excellent vocal from Robert Lamm.

This is a somewhat sprawling, but inventive and highly interesting album. It is worthy of several listens to truly appreciate it. I have to say that I prefer both "Chicago V" and "VI", however.

B-