Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Wet Wet Wet




Popped In Souled Out (1987)
The Memphis Sessions (1988)
Holding Back The River (1989)
High On The Happy Side (1992)
Picture This (1995)
10 (1997)

Albert King




Born Under A Bad Sign (1967)
Years Gone By (1969)
Lovejoy (1971)
I'll Play The Blues For You (1972)
I Wanna Get Funky (1974)

Albert King - I'll Play The Blues For You (1972)

  

Released in 1972

TRACK LISTING

1. I'll Play The Blues For You
2. Little Brother (Make A Way)
3. Breaking Up Somebody's Home
4. High Cost Of Loving
5. I'll Be Doggone
6. Answer To The Laundromat Blues
7. Don't Burn Down The Bridge
8. Angel Of Mercy
9. I'll Play The Blues For You (Alternate Version)
10. Don't Burn Down The Bridge (Alternate Version)
11. I Need A Love
12. Albert's Stomp                                                            

This is a truly magnificent album that saw Albert King augmenting his blues guitar sound with Stax horns and Memphis soul sounds. It is wonderfully remastered here (in the Stax remasters series) in a warm, full, vibrant seventies-style separated stereo. It is simply pleasure to listen to.

All the material is top notch - the brooding but melodic, extended title track, the soulful "Little Brother" and the sublime grinding funky, lyrically cynical soul groove of "Breaking Up Somebody's Home", with its sumptuous horns, get the album off the a superb start. King's guitar is magnificent and the overall vibe is just cooking to boiling point. It drips with soul. Lots of echoes of Al Green and Ann Peebles all over it. The organ/bass/horns funky guitar interplay four minutes in is truly intoxicating. Great stuff. Man, I love this album.


"High Cost Of Loving" is a guitar-drenched pounder of a blues. The cover of Marvin Gaye's "I'll Be Doggone" is a live cut with a funky James Brown vibe to it. "Answer To The Laundromat Blues" is a tongue-in-cheek riposte to King's 1967 blues classic. It has an ad hoc live feel to it, although it would appear to be a studio recording. "Don't Burn The Bridge" is a searing piece of blues rock, in the BB King style, with some excellent guitar. As on all the album, the sound is absolutely first class. The final track on the original album is the slow-burning, horn-introduced blues of "Angel Of Mercy". A real copper-bottomed blues. The "Alternate Version" of "I'll Play The Blues For You" is scintillating too, replacing the spoken word vocal parts with more guitar and saxophone.

I simply can't recommend this album highly enough if you like the blues and you like Stax. You will be in Heaven.

B+

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

The Beat (feat. Dave Wakeling) - Here We Go Love! (2018)

  

Released May 2018

Both Ranking Roger and Dave Wakeling from The Beat have separate versions of the band (apparently amicable, unlike a similar situation with UB40). While Roger's two albums, particularly 2019's "Public Confidential", have real echoes of The Beat's classic early eighties music, this one doesn't really. While I think it is a good album, many don't, saying it doesn't sound much like The Beat. On the last point I agree. I don't really get why Wakeling just didn't issue it as a Dave Wakeling solo album, because that is really what it is.

TRACK LISTING

1. How Can You Stand There?
2. The One And Only
3. Redemption Time
4. If Killing Worked
5. Here We Go Love
6. Never Die
7. The Love You Give
8. You Really Oughta Know
9. You're Stuck
10. Every Time You Told Me
11. Dem Call It Ska
12. Drive Her Away
13. Be There For You

The opener, "How Can You Stand There?" is a lively, vibrant breath of fresh ska air, with an accordion backing in place giving it an almost Cajun feel. Wakeling's voice is instantly recognisable and the saxophone has that South African sound that The Beat used so much, but this doesn't really sound like a Beat record. It just sounds like a damn good Dave Wakeling ska/rock record. "The One And Only" is a very catchy, poppy number with a real early eighties new wave light pop, but slightly riffy feel to it. "Redemption Time" is a roots reggae meets ska number with great bass and an upbeat Beat-style rhythm. It is one of the album's best cuts, one of the most Beat-like.

"If Killing Worked" finds Wakeling returning to his wry, observational view of the world, something he did so well, lyrically, with The Beat. Despite its important message, this is a most uplifting, infectious song. I really like it. It has a new wave riffiness to it. "Here We Go Love" has echoes of Joe Jackson's early punky material with a rapid beat and sharp guitar riffs. It is littered with expletives, for some reason that isn't entirely clear on such a musically upbeat, "fun" song. Wakeling always had an ability to make a lively song cynical, however. "Never Die" is a mournful, evocative rock ballad, the like of which has not appeared on any Beat album (or two tone one, for that matter). It is tracks like this that make this a Wakeling solo album. It is actually rather moving. The orchestral brass and strings ending is certainly innovative and different.

"The Love You Give" is an appealing mid-pace new wave rock song with Wakeling sounding rather like Dexy's Midnight Runners' Kevin Rowland. It has a Nick Lowe feel to it too. "You Really Oughta Know" is very Madness-influenced in its jauntiness. "You're Stuck" is another upbeat, new wave number with slight hints of New Romaticism in its ABC-style chorus. "Every Time You Told Me" is a slightly bluesy number that reminds me of Southside Johnny, funnily enough. Again, it very different from anything the original Beat ever did.

"Dem Call It Ska" is a a rootsy ska piece of fun. "Drive Her Away" is another in that singalong new wave style that dominates the album. "Be There For You" sounds a bit like some of the stuff Bruce Foxton of the jam now put out, vocally anyway, despite its light reggae beat. It also reminds me of something else but I just can't put my finger on it.

As I said earlier this is a good Dave Wakeling album, but not really a Beat album.

B-

The Beat (feat. Ranking Roger) - Bounce (2016)


  

Released October 2016

This was the first of (so far) two comeback albums from The Beat's Ranking Roger and assorted musicians. Singer Dave Wakeling also has a version of The Beat. A bit like UB40, they are now two separate bands, which is a shame, but both are worth listening to. The albums are all enjoyable and it is nice to hear the artists still doing it, but they are bit like the Bruce Foxton (of The Jam) albums. While they are good, you can't help but feel that although they are pleasingly nostalgic, nothing will ever replace the original stuff. Incidentally, this album is produced by Mick Lister, once of minor new wave bands The Stowaways and The Truth.

TRACK LISTING

1. Walking On The Wrong Side
2. Busy Busy Doing Nothing
3. Heaven Hiding
4. Avoid The Obvious
5. Fire Burn
6. On My Way
7. Work Work Work
8. Talkin' About Her
9. Side To Side
10. My Dream
11. Close The Door

"Walking On The Wrong Side" is a soulful, mid-pace rocker with some typical Beat saxophone and Roger using a reggae-style vocal and some "toasting" passages. The saxophonist, whose identity I am not sure of, sounds a lot like Brian Travers of UB40 in tone, more so than he or she sounds like Saxa, the saxophonist on the original Beat albums. "Busy Busy Doing Nothing" is a catchy, new wave-sounding poppy number. "Heaven Hiding" is tuneful enough, again in a poppy sort of way but nothing as yet makes you think of The Beat. Until "Avoid The Obvious" that is. Roger's voice sounds remarkably like Dave Wakeling's and the rhythm behind the verses is a dead ringer for "Too Nice To Talk To", with that rumbling bass line and swirling saxophone.

"Fire Burn" has a deep, dubby beat and a brooding, slow burning feel and a feel of Third World and The Wailing Souls in places. It is one the album's best cuts. "On My Way" has vague airs of Men At Work's "Down Under", for me, in the chorus. The verses remind me of something else, but I can't put my finger on it. Some nice saxophone on it too. "Work Work Work" is a r'n'b commercial soul-influenced number with a bit of a simplistic lyric. "Talkin' About Her" has a tuneful, almost lovers' rock-style light reggae rhythm. Once again, it is a very poppy song, with none of the ascerbic political commentary or wry social observation that so characterised The Beat's original work. This sounds like the sort of stuff Chaka Demus & Pliers or Bitty MacLean released in the early nineties. Singalong and unthreatening.

"Side To Side" is an upbeat, bassy ragga meets ska type of fast skanker with Roger's son, Raking Junior, on breakneck speed, tongue-twisting rapping vocals. It also has a very early nineties groove to it. "My Dream" has a very new wave feel to it in its riff, despite Roger's toasting. It is almost a "London Calling" riff. "Close The Door" is a rootsy cut, featuring the melodica, as made famous by Augustus Pablo and some vocals that put me in mind of The Police's reggae numbers. It is the album's most authentic reggae track.

Overall, of Ranking Roger's two contemporary albums, I prefer his 2019 one, "Public Confidential" over this one. This one s a perfectly enjoyable listen, but it is certainly not essential.

C+

Monday, 28 January 2019

The Beat - Special Beat Service (1982)


  

Released in 1982

This was The Beat's final album. After "Wha'ppen" saw the group tone down the frantic ska of their debut album in favour of a more laid-back, dubby but soulful sound they diversified even more with this, which often sounded far more like a new wave album than a two tone/ska one. There were influences from The Jam, Joe Jackson, Talking Heads, Dexy's Midnight Runners and even some of the New Romantic groups on here. There is nowhere near the amount of dub influence on this one.

It just didn't really do very well and the band called it a day soon after. Funnily enough, it was more successful in the USA, as "The English Beat". Americans wanted a mix of New Wave and New Romanticism, and the got it here. It is actually as innovative and adventurous as the previous album had been. I don't blame The Beat for trying to widen their style. After all, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Jam, Madness and The Specials had all done the same. Personally, I find it a refreshingly enjoyable album.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Confess
2. Jeanette
3. Sorry
4. Sole Salvation
5. Spar Wid Me
6. Rotating Head
7. Save It For Later
8. She's Going
9. Pato And Roger A Go Talk
10. Sugar And Stress
11. End Of The Party
12. Ackee 1-2-3

"I Confess" is a sort of Style Council-ish dancey, jazzy number (although they didn't exist yet) with a Kevin Rowland-influenced vocal. To be honest it doesn't sound much like The Beat at all. Even the saxophone is jazzy. Not much ska to be found here. It is pleasant enough, though, with a nice bass part near the end. At times it almost sounds like ABC or A-Ha it has to be said. "Jeanette" sees a welcome return to what one would expect from the Beat - an upbeat ska skanker with some South African-sounding saxophone. "Sorry" has a beguiling, understated backing, and a sort of melody that seems to be trying to be avant garde, with some Talking Heads-esque vocals and wailing, experimental saxophone sounds.

"Sole Salvation" is very much a new wave number that sounds a bit like some of the stuff The Jam put out right at the end of their career, although the dubby "Spar Wid Me" is a step back on to familiar with some killer riddims and sumptuous saxophone. "Rotating Head" is a jaunty track that has real echoes of the band's debut album. "Save It For Later" is a thumping groover with  a Byrds-style jangly guitar sound at times. It is probably the best track on the album. The group's last great one. "She's Going" is a catchy, very Joe Jackson-sounding number, with some Latin-ish guitars and appealing saxophone.

"Pato And Roger A Go Talk" has lashing of typical Saxa saxophone and some toasting from Ranking Roger and guest vocalist Pato Banton. "Sugar And Stress" is pretty typical Beat fare, although even this has a light, acoustic guitar solo in the middle. The romantic "End Of The Party" has Dave Wakeling sounding like Spandau Ballet's Tony Hadley, unbelievably. It goes without saying, really, that there is a sublime saxophone solo n the song. "Ackee 1-2-3" sounds as if it straight out of South African township in places. Great stuff.

I have to say I have really enjoyed getting into this again after overlooking it for any years, despite always being a big fan of the first two albums. It was a really good album.

B-

The Beat (feat. Ranking Roger) - Public Confidential (2019)


  

Released January 2019

After an excellent 2016 comeback with "Bounce", this is another highly enjoyable album from Ranking Roger and his impressive band who pretty much replicate the sound of the original 1979-83 sound The Beat to the note. It sounds so like the original group, as if they have never been away. Yes, there are lot of musical and vocal similarities to the material from the three early eighties Beat albums, but that doesn't bother me unduly, it is great to hear this sort of thing again, sounding so fresh and vibrant.

TRACK LISTING

1. Maniac
2. Public Confidential
3. Who's Dat Looking
4. On The Road
5. Dangerous
6. Long Call Short Talk
7. Giving It Up
8. A Good Day For Sunshine
9. Skank Away
10. Civilisation

"Maniac" take me right back to the debut album with its dubby rhythms, catchy vocals and swirling saxophone. Roger utilises his "toasting" vocals a lot on this album, probably slightly more than on the  originals. The title track is a Madness-influenced number, with some deep, sonorous saxophone underpinning and and infectious beat/refrain. The sound quality is excellent throughout the album, it is worth saying too.

"Who's Dat Looking" pretty much uses the "Mirror In The Bathroom" backing beat but it is still an invigorating number with some great saxophone/bass interplay in the middle of the track. "On The Road" is an upbeat, rootsy toasting number, with echoes of UB40 about it, particularly in the saxophone sound. The roots feel continues on "Dangerous", with its Prince Far I-style growling vocals. It confronts the issue of knife crime head on in the lyrics. "Long Call Short Talk" is a melodious skank and even more fitting that description is the infectious "Giving It Up", which is the most singalong track on the album.

"A Good Day For Sunshine" is another typically Beat track that sounds as if it is straight off the debut album with a "Ranking Full Stop" backing riff. "Skank Away" is, funnily enough, less of an upbeat skank and more of a ragga-style groove. "Civilisation" again has a saxophone riff straight out of UB40 but it has that Beat liveliness about it.

Overall, this album is a bright, invigorating breath of fresh air. It ends before you know it, such is the pacy pleasure (not necessarily a bad thing in the age of 75 minute CD albums). Highly recommended.

B-

Sunday, 27 January 2019

The Beat




I Just Can't Stop It (1980)
Wha'ppen (1981)
Special Beat Service (1982)
Bounce (2016)*
Here We Go Love! (2018)#
Public Confidential (2019)*

The Very Best Of The Beat

The Beat Live In London

* The Beat featuring Ranking Roger
# The Beat featuring Dave Wakeling

The Beat - Wha'ppen (1981)


 

Released June 1981

Recorded at The Roundhouse, London

This was The Beat's second album, following on from the frantic ska rhythms of their stunning, lively debut, "I Just Can't Stop It". If anything, for me, this was the better album. It was more subtle and showed a real development in the band's songwriting. There were some really impressive, often very acutely socially aware songs on here. They were not all simple good-time ska skankers. The pace is far slower than the hundred miles an hour of the debut album, concentrating more on dub rhythms, with influences from South African township music, roots reggae and also from soul. Personally, I feel this was the group's finest achievement. It is an excellent album. My own personal memories are of playing it endlessly upon release while in bed with tonsilitis.

TRACK LISTING

1. Doors Of Your Heart
2. All Out To Get You
3. Monkey Murders
4. I Am Your Flag
5. French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud)
6. Drowning
7. Dream Home In New Zealand
8. Walk Away
9. Over And Over
10. Cheated
11. Get A Job
12. The Limits We Set
13. Too Nice To Talk To                                

The beautifully bassy, atmospheric opener, "Doors To Your Heart" is a melodious, saxophone and semi-dub reggae addictive slow burner of a song, and "All Out To Get You" was an insistent, singalong single. It had a completely irresistible rhythm. The drum/bass/guitar/saxophone interplay is superb throughout the whole album. This band could play, make no mistake about that.

"Monkey Murders" saw the band explore roots reggae with some dubby bass and a wonderful, almost South African township-sounding saxophone, while the Talking Heads-esque "I Am Your Flag" was a wry, upbeat political rocker, criticising overt nationalism. "French Toast (Soleil Trop Chaud)" was, as its title suggests, a journey into vocal "toasting" (semi-spoken lyrics over a dub beat). It is another one with South African influence. "Drowning" is beautifully laid-back in its bassy rhythm and also cynical in its message, as indeed is the sombre, brooding "Dream Home In New Zealand", with its dubby hints in its backing. The ubiquitous saxophone from veteran saxophonist, "Saxa", is just so damn good. Slightly different is the simply gorgeous ska ballad "Walk Away" which features more sumptuous saxophone.

"Over And Over", with its upbeat, jazzy backing and impressive brass; the bleak and wonderfully bassy and dubby "Cheated";  the frenetic protest of "Get A Job"  and the dryly observational "The Limits We Set" all continue the quality songwriting and infectious melodies that this album overflowed with. The non-album single "Too Nice To Talk To" was once again incredibly catchy and a worthy hit from a most worthy band. Highly recommended. The best of 1981.

B+

The Beat - I Just Can't Stop It (1980)


  

Released May 1980

The Beat slightly lagged behind Madness, The Selecter and The Specials (the other main two-tone groups) in putting out their first album. They had some singles out before, however, "The Tears Of A Clown" and "Mirror In The Bathroom", so they had gained an audience and this was quite an anticipated album. Personally, The Beat were my favourite two-tone band. They were a six-piece and featured veteran fifty-plus (at the time) saxophonist, "Saxa". They had an ear for a melody and also for a wry, observational and culturally relevant lyric. The music was essentially ska, full of lilting guitar licks, dub infuences and that deep, gloriously tuneful saxophone wailing away beneath nearly every tune. They were great live too. I remember being up at the front at one of their gigs and singing the "Saxa oh la - good God!" bit in "Jackpot" to Ranking Roger as he sang it straight back to me, smiling.

TRACK LISTING

1. Mirror In The Bathroom
2. Hands Off She's Mine
3. Two Swords
4. Twist And Crawl
5. Rough Rider
6. Click Click
7. Big Shot
8. Whine And Grine/Stand Down Margaret
9. Noise In This World
10. Can't Get Used To Losing You
11. Best Friend                                                    
12. Jackpot

This debut album was, like many debut albums from the period, was upbeat, "in your face" and following the punk feel of debuts by The Clash, The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers. The pace doesn't let up for pretty much all of what is a breackneck ride. The album kicks off with two stonking hit singles - the staccato "Mirror In The Bathroom" and the lively, catchy "Hands Off She's Mine". "Two Swords" is a cynical, socially aware anti-fascist "message" song done in an almost punky style and "Twist And Crawl" is a short, sharp frantic ska rocker, as is "Click Click". Both "Rough Rider" and "Jackpot" are pure Jamaican-influenced organ-driven, irresistibly melodious skankers.


"Big Shot" and "Noise In This World" are also upbeat rockers and "Best Friend" was a catchy, rhythmic single. "Whine And Grine/Stand Down Margaret" was superbly, rebelliously political at the time, demanding the resignation of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Yes, many people probably won't get the meaning these days. The album's one slow song, "Can't Get Used To Losing You" was a cover of a sixties hit for Andy Williams, but it works exceptionally well, with an excellent vocal from the talented Dave Wakeling.

The sound is good on the latest remaster and any play of this will guarantee to put a bit of a spring back into your step. They were right, they just couldn't stop it. The vibe continues from beginning to end of this excellent album. Highly recommended.

B+

Santana - Supernatural (1999)

  

Released June 1999

This is the album that, for some reason, launched the by now respected, grizzled, headbanded veteran Carlos Santana back into the commercial stratosphere. People who had no Santana albums suddenly started buying this in their millions, enticed by the intoxicating Latin rhythms, guest appearances, contemporary music fusion and Santana's instantly recognisable, iconic guitar sound. Due to all the guests contributions and the length of the album (an hour an a quarter, with all tracks over four minutes in length, at least) the album lacks a little cohesiveness and direction. It is more a selection of excellent Santana collaborations with other artists, as opposed to a unified Santana album, if you get my point. That doesn't mean it is not good. It is good. Very good in places. The sound quality is excellent and the musicianship, as you might imagine, is exemplary. It got all sorts of Grammy awards and the like, not that I ever pay much attention to those.

The album does, for me, have a bit of a feel of a an album of various songs that have Carlos Santana guesting on them as opposed to the other way round.

TRACK LISTING

1. (De La) Yaleo
2. Love of My Life
3. Put Your Lights On
4. Africa Bamba
5. Smooth
6. Do You Like The Way
7. Maria Maria
8. Migra
9. Corazón Espinado
10. Wishing It Was
11. El Farol
12. Primavera
13. The Calling
14. Day Of Celebration                        

"(De La) Yaleo" is a lively Latin groove, full of rhythm, bass, funky organ and, of course Carlos Santana's trademark guitar. Some excellent piano on it too. "Love Of My Life" is a laid-back, bassy, contemporary "r'n'b" number that ends with some delicious Santana guitar and percussion interplay. Some lovely salsa rhythms underpin it too. "Put Your Lights On" is a bluesy r'n'b grinder with a gruff vocal and some seriously heavy guitar riffs. "Africa Bamba" features some delicious Spanish guitar in its intro and a catchy Spanish vocal, despite its opening line about dancing with a Portuguese girl.

"Smooth" was a hit single (I think, or of not it was certainly played on the radio a lot). It is a muscular but melodic, insistent and pumping Latin soul groove. "Do You Like The Way" is a hip/hop thumper with Lauryn Hill and CeeLo Green on vocals. Green's vocals are excellent. It has moved into being a soul song by now, after Hill's hip/hop opening. The "shoo-be-doo-ba-ba" vocal bit brings to mind The Style Council's "Long Hot Summer".

"Maria Maria" was the album's other big hit with Santana memorably being name checked in the lyrics before his guitar parts. It is full of contemporary hip/hop beats. Its huge bass part, though, is way too pounding, slightly distorting the sound of the song (and I love bass). The Spanish guitar parts are superb, however, as are the West African-influenced vocals. "Migra" is great, with a magnificent rolling drum sound, handclaps and a captivating, tribal-style rhythm. Santana's guitar swirls and soars all over the place and some Mexican-sounding brass enhances it even more. It is an underrated number on the album.

"Corazón Espinado" is a classic slice of salsa-influenced rock with more authentic Spanish lyrics. "Wishing It Was" is a slow burning dance-ish groover, a bit Prince-like. "El Farol" is a beautiful guitar-led instrumental. "Primavera" is a sumptuous laid-back, soulful Latin number with the by now obligatory Spanish vocals. "The Calling" is (nominally) the final track, and features Eric Clapton trading guitar licks over a solid hip-hop-ish beat and a gospelly vocal. After a ten-second break, at eight minutes, the "hidden" track, "Day Of Celebration", comes in. It is a grinding, industrial funky type of number with English lyrics, completely different from anything else on the album.

The album is a long listen, one that you can dip into, to be honest, but the quality is there throughout. It certainly had something about it. Its mass appeal would seem to back that up.

B


Santana - Amigos (1976)


  

Released March 1976

Recorded in San Francisco

After three album of ambient, sometimes experimental, jazz fusion music in "Caravanserai", "Welcome" and "Borboletta", Santana, now with only Carlos Santana and bassist David Brown (it would be his final album) left from the original line-up, reverted to a more poppy, far more Latin-influenced sound that recalled the great days of "Santana III". The album is certainly their most instantly accessible since then, but probably not the best. It was definitely a turning point in that it marked a rebirth of Latin sounds in the group's music, which had been somewhat hidden by jazzy, funk sounds on the previous three albums. For many it was a welcome return to the Latin grooves which had attracted them to Santana in the first place.

TRACK LISTING

1. Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana)
2. Take Me With You
3. Let Me
4. Gitano
5. Tell Me Are You Tired
6. Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)
7. Let It Shine                                                

The albums seven tracks contain some lengthy workouts, beginning with the toe-tapping "Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana)". Carlos Santana's guitar is well to the fore, over the captivating salsa-style rhythms. It gets a bit ambient for the last two minutes or so, as if they couldn't completely give up that stuff. "Take Me With You" is a lively, organ-driven, Latin percussion meets prog-rock doodling instrumental. Half way through you get a delicious slowed-down bass and guitar passage. The track then meanders gently to its end, guided there by Santana's trademark guitar.


"Let Me" is a funky, upbeat number with some lively vocals and a groove that brings to mind Tower Of Power in places. The old "side two " begins with "Gitano" (it means Gypsy in Spanish) which starts with some Mexican acoustic guitar before bursting into a wonderful Latin rhythm, complete with Spanish lyrics. It sounds like something from the salsa clubs of Havana. This sort of overtly Latin material was an attempt to win back old fans and halt the band's commercial slide that the ambient, jazzy stuff had brought, however good it might have been. You wouldn't have got anything like this on "Caravanserai", for example. The track doesn't let up from beginning to end and is a breath of warm Latin air.

"Tell Me Are You Tired" is a beautiful slice of Santana soul, with a sumptuous bass line and excellent vocals from new vocalist Greg Walker. After a minute or so, it kicks into some serious funk/rock before reverting back to the deep, warm soul it began with. "Europa (Earth's Cry, Heaven's Smile)" reprised that distinctive "Samba Pa Ti" guitar sound that was so popular and it gained some fresh chart success for the group, at last. It is a wonderful, evocative piece, with Santana's guitar peerless and the guitar/bass/rhythm interplay in the last third of the song is totally sublime. A funky wah-wah guitar introduces the infectious "Let It Shine", which also had some success as a single. It has a thumping bass sound, some European-sounding keyboard riffs and a funky vocal. It is a beguiling song, with hidden depths.

While I enjoyed the more experimental, jazz fusion albums, to a great extent, I also feel there was something inherently Santana about this album. It had a vibrancy that those albums did not have, despite their good points. It is far more of a commercial album, comparatively. Oh look, I like all of them, but this is the more instant, uplifting listen. Maybe this because I am listening to it after the rewarding, but challenging, tones of "Welcome".

B

Santana - Welcome (1973)


  

Released November 1973

After the ambient, laid-back grooves of "Caravanserai" and the John Coltrane jazz-influenced Carlos Santana/John McLaughlin collaboration of "Love, Devotion, Surrender", this was an experimental, futuristic album that perplexed Santana's Latin rock fans even more than the previous two. It was pretty much a jazz album with rock influences rather than the other way round. It is largely divided into to two distinct parts - the old vinyl "sides". Overall, the first one is lighter and more lively, with more vocals, the second more intense and instrumental.

TRACK LISTING

1. Going Home
2. Love, Devotion & Surrender
3. Samba De Sausalito
4. When I Look Into Your Eyes
5. Yours Is The Light
6. Mother Africa
7. Light Of Life
8. Flame-Sky
9. Welcome
10. Mantra                                                    

The album begins with four minutes of ambient percussive noise in "Going Home", which, if I have to be honest, while it sets the mood, doesn't really get anywhere and is a minute or so too long. It is arranged by John Coltrane's widow, Alice Coltrane, however. I still find it superfluous though. "Love, Devotion & Surrender" takes its name from the Carlos Santana/John McLaughlin album from the same year. It is an upbeat, rhythmic rock-ish number with a laid-back soully jazz vocal from Santana and an attractive female vocal from Wendy Haas. As you would possibly expect, "Samba De Sausalito" is a Latin-influenced instrumental groove, full of enticing percussion and funky keyboards.


"When I Look Into Your Eyes" is a delicious soft rock groove with a lovely soul vocal from new band member Leon Thomas. Wendy Haas joins in as well, most fetchingly. "Yours Is The Light" has a "Girl From Ipanema" salsa-style vocal and indeed, rhythm (or is it bossa nova?). Definitely Afro-Brazilian. Santana's guitar arrives for the first really notable time to keep his devotees happy, no doubt. His soloing is, of course, impressive. "Mother Africa" is an instrumental featuring African instruments such as the appealing marimba at the beginning and the shekere, a percussion instrument made from a gourd. Half way through, some futuristic jazz vibes send it all a bit spacey, man, and some jazzy saxophone joins Santana's guitar to render it a most intriguing and ground-breaking track.

"Light Of Life" has another relaxing jazzy feel and suitable vocal from Thomas. It is augmented by a beautiful bass and occasional guitar from Santana. As is often the case, instrumentals now see the album out, beginning with the gorgeous eleven minutes of "Flame-Sky". Santana's guitar has free rein here. John McLaughlin returns on this track too to joust with Santana. It is all very "free-form" and has some excellent rock-ish passages. The title track has some slow-pace Santana guitar but it is still dominated by experimental percussion sounds with differentiate it from the more instantly appealing material on earlier albums. It is a very ambient number that drifts slowly to its conclusion peacefully without ever getting above walking pace. The bonus track on the most recent CD release, "Mantra" is an intoxicating shuffling slice of futuristic jazzy rock groove.

While the old "side one" is definitely invigorating, I find the old "side two" an acquired taste. I understand why it is considered musically adventurous and it certainly is that, but there are other passages on Santana albums that I prefer more. The "Borboletta" album, for example. Some see this as one of Santana's finest creations. I know where they are coming from, but my choice of listening from this period is "Borboletta" and "Caravanserai".

B-

Santana - Borboletta (1974)

  

Released October 1974

Those initial three frantic Latin rhythm meets jazz and seriously searing guitar albums seem a long time away now as the emphasis is now vey much on ambient jazz/funk/soul fusion. Keyboards and percussion are the dominant features, with Carlos Santana's trademark guitar only making occasional appearances. Its bright, tropical turquoise cover featuring a butterfly somehow suits the vibe of the album. The album is actually quite upbeat at times, far more than 1972's "Caravanserai" and 1973's experimental, often intense "Welcome". It is still full of extremely influential material, despite its supposedly laid-back reputation.

TRACK LISTING

1. Spring Manifestations
2. Canto De Los Flores
3. Life Is Anew
4. Give And Take
5. One With The Sun
6. Aspirations
7. Practice What You Preach
8. Mirage
9. Here And Now
10. Flor De Canela
11. Promise Of A Fisherman
12. Borboletta                                            

"Spring Manifestations" is an ambient, tropical-sounding short sound effects into before a sumptuous bass line leads into the intoxicating, laid-back groove of  "Canto De Los Flores". Bassy percussion, flutes and gentle keyboards are the order f the day on this, not a guitar solo to be found. Vocals arrive for the tuneful, catchy jazz/soul of "Life Is Anew". Once again, a funky keyboard dominates, as opposed to a guitar. It has a killer organ/percussion interplay in the middle, however. Then Carlos's guitar finally gets here, impressively, of course. A rhythmic percussion/drum sound drives the funk rock of "Give and Take", together with shared soul groove vocals. This almost sounds like a blaxploitation slice of urban funk. The drum/guitar play-off half way through is powerful and entrancing, as is the saxophone. This is a solid, muscular kick-posterior cut, it has to be said, stronger than anything on an album like "Caravanserai".

"One With The Sun" is a deliciously laid-back easy Santana groove. It has hippy echoes in both its sentiments and sound. Some excellent guitar augments the track near the end.  The instrumental "Aspirations" fades in with some typically Santana frantic-pace percussion together with some cool organ and futuristic-sounding jazzy saxophone (the like of which David Bowie used a lot on "Low" and Heroes" in 1977 and 1978). It is one of the albums most experimental, innovative cuts.


Santana's guitar gracefully introduces "Practice What You Preach", which is a gently soulful vocal number. Vocals continue on the addictive funky rhythm of "Mirage". It is the album's instantly catchy and melodically memorable track. The guitar cuts into the rhythm and the drum beat is warmly insistent throughout. That is that for vocals now, and we get four instrumentals to finish the album. "Here And Now" is a psychedelic-sounding guitar and drum groove with some seriously pounding drums which effortlessly segue into the frantic percussion of "Flor De Canela". This is very much a typical Santana track and anyone listening to it would immediately recognise it as such. This blends into the extended "Promise Of A Fisherman", continuing the same percussion rhythm. Santana's guitar is given far more breathing space on here, however and he lets it float around, along with the organ. The title track ends the album, as it had begun, with jungle noises and African-sounding vocals over some random percussion sounds. In conclusion, this is a more vibrant album than it has often been given credit for. A bit of an underrated treasure.

B-

Wet Wet Wet - Holding Back The River (1989)


  

Released October 1989

This was Wet Wet Wet's third album and it was mainly populated with smooth, catchy, grandiose pop/soul ballads. It is immaculately played, with excellent quality sound and is probably a better album than it is historically given credit for, as it is rarely spoken of these days.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sweet Surrender
2. Can't Stand The Night (Stay With Me Heartache)
3. Blue For You
4. Broke Away
5. You've Had It
6. I Wish
7. Keys To Your Heart
8. Maggie May
9. Hold Back The River
10. How The Hell Did That Get There                        

"Sweet Surrender" is a gorgeous, laid-back slice of Wet Wet Wet slick soul, with Marti Pellow's voice ideally suited to the track's lush smoothness. It is on tracks like this that he was at his best, as opposed to the more on more bluesy, upbeat material. The same applies to the hit single "Can't Stand The Night", which was released as "Stay With Me Heartache" as the single. It is a reggae-tinged poppy and catchy number. For some reason, "cheeseburger!" is shouted in the middle of the song, just as it was in The Clash's "Magnificent Seven" from 1981. "Blue For You" is a big, sleek ballad that begins like a James Bond theme tune. Once again, it is high quality stuff, particularly on the vocal delivery. It eventually merges seamlessly into the beautiful, dignified "Broke Away", which was also a single, although a surprisingly low-key one. Marti Pellow's charismatic voice is superb on the early material on this album. It is some of the later ones that don't suit him quite so much.

"You've Had It" gave the album some typically eighties synthesised mid-pace disco-ish soul, albeit including a pretty impressive guitar solo midway through. "I Wish" is a sumptuous, big production ballad, full of sweeping synthesisers, brass, organ and guitar and another great vocal. The ambience continues on the saxophone-augmented "Keys To Your Heart". Quality stuff.


Unfortunately, the same can't really be said for a rambling messy cover of Rod Stewart's classic "Maggie May". It is so much Stewart's song anyway, that it is almost an impossible song to cover, but here Wet Wet Wet never seem to get control of the song as it comes and goes, floating around for six minutes, unsatisfactorily. The album drops in quality somewhat after this as well. The title track is a enjoyable, brass-driven bluesy workout, but, as I hinted at earlier, I feel Pellow's voice didn't do as much justice to material like this as they did to the big typical WWW ballads. Another Clash reference comes in when "Jimmy Jazz" is announced before a brief jazzy interlude. The final number, "How The Hell Did That Get There" is an Atlantic meets Dexy's Midnight Runners brass stomp which again finds Pellow's mellifluous voice to be somewhat wanting against such a thumping beat.

Overall, however, this is an eminently listenable album to dig out every now and again.

B-

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Wet Wet Wet - The Memphis Sessions (1988)


  

Released November 1988

Recorded in Memphis

This was a virtually unnoticed album from soon to be chart superstars Wet Wet Wet. It was released after their fist album, before they had become really famous. It is only seven tracks in length and results from sessions in Memphis with legendary producer Willie Mitchell (best known for his work with Al Green and Ann Peebles). Quite how this relatively unknown Scottish band managed to get such a gig is unclear. They definitely struck lucky, although the album slipped completely under the radar. The tracks are mainly Memphis-style re-workings of ones from the debut album, "Popped In Souled Out". They are good, too, and personally I prefer many of them to the originals, but then I am a huge Stax fan.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Don't Believe
2. Sweet Little Mystery
3. East Of The River
4. This Time
5. Temptation
6. I Remember
7. For You Are
8. Heaven Help Us All                                        

"I Don't Believe", as with all the material is done in a warmer, more laid-back and soulful fashion, less sharp and poppy. The sound is a bit more understated, but is more bassy and rich at the same time. The track is also given a vaguely reggae beat (maybe due to its lyrical references to Linton Kwesi Johnson's "Sonny's Lettah").

"Sweet Little Mystery" is slowed down somewhat and Marti Pellow's gorgeous vocal is even more enticingly appealing. Booker T-style organ backs the version and while it doesn't have the sheer pop joy of the original, it does have a lush, soul feeling about it.

"East Of The River" has some delicious Memphis horns blasting all over it, like a Southside Johny track. The backing is so powerful that it almost drowns out Pellow, not quite, though, it would take quite a lot to do that.

"This Time" is a slow ballad with a Prince-esque vocal in places. It has a late-night cocktail bar ambience to it. "Temptation" has always been my favourite Wet Wet Wet song. Here is it slightly speeded up and given some tax horns and melodic Memphis guitar sound. While it is a good version, it loses a little of the grandiose pop majesty of the original. "I Remember" has some captivating percussion sounds and seductive horns. "For You Are" is another late night slow burner, while the cover of Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Help Us All" is uplifting and credible.

This was an impressive, underrated album that is worth checking out. It is certainly not essential, but worth half an hour of your time.

B-

Friday, 25 January 2019

Ringo Starr - Goodnight Vienna (1974)


  

Released November 1974

This was Ringo Starr's follow-up to the successful "Ringo", from the previous year. For many, it is rated as highly. Personally, I think it is the equal of its predecessor. As usual, Ringo ropes in his mates to help out - Lennon, Elton John, Steve Cropper, Robbie Robertson, Dr. John, Nicky Hopkins, Billy Preston amongst others all make appearances. It was an appealing album, but it was probably the last decent album Starr put out for quite a while. Incidentally, I won myself a copy of this album, aged fifteen, for winning a competition in the "Disc" music paper. (I had to make as many words as I could out of the phrase "Ringo Starr's new album is Goodnight Vienna").

TRACK LISTING

1. Goodnight Vienna
2. Occapella
3. Oo-Wee
4. Husbands And Wives
5. Snookeroo
6. All By Myself
7. Call Me
8. No No Song
9. Only You (And You Alone)
10. Easy For Me
11. Goodnight Vienna (Reprise)                              

The title track is a rollicking, piano-driven slice of rocky fun. It is very Lennon-esque in places (Lennon wrote the song), and Harrison-esque too, with its "wall of sound" saxophone sound. "Occapella" has a great bass line and even goes into a dubby bit in the middle of its staccato beat. "Oo-Wee" is a jaunty, horn-powwered typically Ringo singalong rock number. Roger Miller's wry, observational "Husbands and Wives" is ideal for covering given Starr's love for country music.


"Snookeroo" was written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin and Elton plays piano and is one of the album's best tracks. Elton John was huge in 1974 so this was a coup for Ringo to have this on the album and it no doubt brought in a fair few sales. Both "All By Myself" and "Call Me" are very "Ringo" hangdog songs in their mournful, deadpan vocal delivery. "No No Song" is a tongue-in-cheek, amusing song about drug taking and Starr claiming he doesn't do that suff any more, man.

The lead-off single, surprisingly, was the slow fifties cover, "Only You (And You Alone)". Harry Nilsson's sombre "Easy For Me" was full of grandiose string orchestration and an easy listening 1930s feel. A brief reprise of the title track lifts things up a bit, but actually the album finishes off on a bit of a downbeat note. The best material was earlier in the album and you know, thinking about it again, I think people are right, "Ringo" was the better album!

The bonus tracks are the excellent single "Back Off Boogaloo", which adds to the appeal of this latest  release; "Blindman" - a mysterious, brooding number, and "Six O'Clock", which is a very McCartney-ish song.

C+