Friday, 22 February 2019

Amy Rigby - Til The Wheels Fall Off (2003)


  

Released April 2003

Amy Rigby sings wry, witty, guitar-driven country rock. She far is less earnest than Mary Chapin Carpenter and more cynically world-weary than Lucinda Williams, but she has that strong woman but angst-ridden thing that so many contemporary female country rock singers have. Some of her songs are amusingly observational which renders her more unique in this respect than many of her peers.

TRACK LISTING

1. Why Do I
2. Til The Wheels Fall Off
3. Shopping Around
4. Don't Ever Change
5. Are We Ever Going To Have Sex Again?
6. The Deal
7. O'Hare
8. How People Are
9. Even The Weak Survive
10. Last Request
11. Here We Go Again
12. Breakup Boots
13. Believe In You
14. All The Way To Heaven

"Why Do I", after a low-key intro, burst out into a powerful, bassy, rocky number, with, for me, echoes of country singer Tish Hinojosa in the vocal delivery. It has a nice jangly guitar backing too. "Til The Wheels Fall Off" is a livewire Elvis Costello & the Attractions-influenced, organ-driven rocker. It has some excellent guitar and brass on it as well. "Shopping Around" has a plaintive vocal over an acoustic and thumping drum backing. These first three tracks have been all upbeat and punchy, however, the album gets slightly more quieter in tone from now on. This starts with the gentle, acoustic "Don't Ever Change". It is a rather moving and sincere song sung by Rigby to her daughter. Underpinning the song is a delicious little bass line. Quite appropriate for a lovely song.

"Are We Ever Going To Have Sex Again?" is the album's best known track, no doubt due to its up front subject matter and its honestly expressed and amusing lines. It will surely strike a chord with many people. "We used to be triple x rated - look at us now, so domesticated...". Great line. It has some bluesy guitar backing it up. "The Deal" is a jaunty, quirky sort of Paul McCartney-esque number, with a few vague Beach Boys early seventies airs about it too. It features some oddball synthesiser at the end. "O'Hare" is a bleak but melodic rock ballad-style track with a convincing, annoyed-sounding vocal from Amy and a killer mid-song guitar solo. It is a song that begs repeated listens. Each time you hear it, it sounds better, as indeed does the album.

"How People Are" is a quiet, acoustic song with echoes of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush in places.  Half way through it benefits from a brush drum, jazzy interjection. It is a serious, reflective track. "Even The Weak Survive" is another Elvis Costello-influenced track, this time in its slow, stately beat. The vocal is excellent and the song has, once again, a growing appeal to it. "Last Request" is a short, sharp, powerful, crashing rock number, full of riffs and shredding guitar lines. It finishes a bit too soon, only two minutes in. "Here We Go Again" has spoken vocals on the verses and an addictive, shuffling rhythm. It is another example of the different types of song contained on here.

"Breakup Boots" is more of a traditional-ish sort of country song about putting on her breakup boots, unsurprisingly. "Believe in You", apparently, is a tribute to George Harrison. It is a worthy one, too, full of psychedelic sounds and Eastern bits. Of course, it is Beatles-esque. The final track is the quiet, evocative "All The Way To Heaven". This has been an album that explores quite a few different styles over its songs - there is punky rock material, Costello, Beatles, McCartney, Beach Boys and Harrison influences, traditional country, full on rock, soulful stuff too. As I said earlier, it is an album that requires several listens. With each one I found I liked it more.

B-

John Mayall - Nobody Told Me (2019)



Released February 2019

This is a wonderful album from legendary UK bluesman John Mayall doing a Van Morrison and featuring guest artists on all the tracks such as Joe Bonamassa, Todd Rundgren and Steve Van Zandt. The album rocks, big time, from beginning to end. The musicianship, and the sound quality, is superb throughout and the incredible thing is that John Mayall is now an astonishing 85 years old. Fair play to him. I love this album. If your only experience of blues rock is The Rolling Stones' "Blue And Lonesome", maybe consider checking this out.

TRACK LISTING

1. What Have I Done Wrong
2. The Moon Is Full
3. Evil And Here To Stay
4. That's What Love Will Make You Do
5. Distant Lonesome Train
6. Delta Hurricane
7. The Hurt Inside
8. It's So Tough
9. Like It Like You Do
10. Nobody Told Me

“What Have I Done Wrong” features blues guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa, and, unsurprisingly is chock full of searing blues guitar licks and some punchy horns. Mayall’s voice is still so strong and effortlessly able to cope with a muscular number like this. "The Moon Is Full" has a quirky, staccato slightly funky backing and more scintillating guitar breaks. "Evil And Here To Stay" is a familiar, slow burning blues, reminiscent of some of Albert King's work.

“That’s What Love Will Make You Do” is a delicious serving of Booker T. -style organ-backed blues/funk groove. It is powerful as whatever and comes pounding out of your speakers (with superb sound quality too). “Distant Lonesome Train” is just mouth-wateringly blues/rocky. If you like this sort of kick posterior thumping guitar and drum-driven blues rock material you will absolutely love this. "Delta Hurricane" begins with a huge guitar, drum and horns sound, and, as you would imagine from the title, has a Delta blues rock sound, with a lot of Chicago blues sound in it too. "The Hurt Inside" has Albert King from his Stax period all over it, with its soulful melody and sumptuous horn backing.

“It’s So Tough” features The E. St Band’s Steve Van Zandt and is once more a tough rocker, with some contemporary lyrics about the state of things. "Like It Like You Do" is a lively, catchy, rock 'n' roll-influenced number. "Nobody Told Me" is the album's only real, late night smoky blues ballad and it is a good one to close this mightily impressive offering.

If you like solid, traditional blues rock you will love this. If you think that, sixty years on, it is simply more of the same, then you are unlikely to change your opinion. It is what it is, and that is top quality blues rock.

B+

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Albert King - I Wanna Get Funky (1974)


  

Released in 1974

Despite the title, this is far more of a Stax soul meets the blues album than a funk one, despite several undoubted funky moments. It seems very much to me like a Stax album, which of course it what it is. Lots of horns all over it. It continues King's successful relationship with Stax Records and includes some really solid soul material and, of course, King's trademark blues guitar too.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Wanna Get Funky
2. Playing On Me
3. Walking The Back Streets And Crying
4. 'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone
5. Flat Tire
6. I Can't Hear Nothing But the Blues
7. Travelin' Man
8. Crosscut Saw
9. That's What The Blues Is All About

"I Wanna Get Funky" is, unsurprisingly, a medium pace funk-influenced cooker of a track. "Playing On Me" is a muscular number, with some excellent soulful vocals from King and an addictive horn and organ staccato backing.

"Walking The Back Streets And Crying" is a classic piece of slow burning blues balladry. King contributes some killer guitar half way through. "'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone" starts with a Barry White-style spoken vocal, over a seductive bass and electric guitar rhythm. The beat increases a bit as the narrative progresses, and a funky riff is added. After about four minutes, he ups the vocal and starts singing and the funky bass matches him, as do the horns. Despite that the song keeps to its almost walking pace groove. This track has a subtle funk about it and is quite infectious.

"Flat Tire" has a typical Stax horn-driven intro and some funky wah-wah backing behind another semi-spoken vocal. "I Can't Hear Nothing But the Blues" is a delicious slice of Stax blues. It has one of those great bits where the tempo slows down to just a bass line, a bit of organ and a quiet drum beat and King starts to semi-sing "hey Mr. Bartender....". "Travelin' Man" is a lively, organ-driven piece of soulful, bluesy funk. Next up is a re-make of King's 1965 classic, "Crosscut Saw", extended here to a funky seven minutes. The rhythm is insistent and exhilarating and never lets up. It is full of searing blues guitar and those punchy horns. When push comes to shove, I think I prefer the sheer blues power of the original, but this one is great also, with some wonderful guitar and drum interplay in the track's final few minutes. "That's What The Blues Is All About" is an invigorating slice of lively funky soul to finish the album with. It has a killer keyboard riff underpinning the verses.

All Albert King's Stax albums are recommended, to be honest. You can't go wrong with any of them.

B-

Ananda Shankar - Ananda Shankar (1970)


  

Released in 1970

From the mid-late sixties, popularised by The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and George Harrison in particular ("Paint It, Black" and "Within You Without You" being the classic examples, of course), it was fashionable to utilise traditional Indian/Eastern instruments such as the sitar, the tabla and the harmonium and/or employ Indian musicians to play them on albums. This album was one of the first extensions of the Eastern music/psychedelic rock fusion, making a whole album of it - merging traditional Eastern sounds with rock ones. It is quite a heady mix and the album was a success. Here we had Shankar's sitar combining with moog synthesiser and Eastern-influenced, often frantic percussion. It started a trend in what became known as "raga-rock".

TRACK LISTING

1. Jumpin' Jack Flash
2. Snow Flower
3. Light My Fire
4. Mamata (Affection)
5. Metamorphosis
6. Sagar (The Ocean)
7. Dance Indra
8. Raghupati

The opener is a now-iconic cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", featuring madcap sitar playing and an infectious moog backing. Personally, I can't get enough of it. It's great. "Snow Flower"  is a dreamy, hippy-ish number that would now be referred to a "chill-out" fare. It is deliciously "ambient". The album's other rock cover, of The Doors' "Light My Fire" is also wonderful too, and is far more than just a novelty. The sitar takes the place of the guitar and the whole thing is pretty credible, far more arty than it is cheesy. "Mamata (Affection)" is a quietly reflective, meditative and extremely melodic number, while the upbeat "Metamorphosis" features some infectious drum sounds. It is probably the most psychedelic-sounding track on the album.

The album's old "side two" is traditional stuff. The thirteen-minute "Sagar (The Ocean)" is certainly that, but it is also very hippy-psychedelic, man. Despite that, it is the closet track on the album to the classical Indian style. The final two cuts, "Dance Indra" and "Raghupati" are traditional Indian folk/dance tunes and are lively and upbeat.

"Side one" can be viewed as more of the "fusion" side, while "side two" was the more traditional one. Some have argued that it is the traditional stuff that should have populated the whole album. Personally, I think that misses the point. I love "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Light My Fire" done in this way.

B

Michael Chapman - Fully Qualified Survivor (1970)


  

Released in 1970

I recently heard Michael Chapman's 2017 album of bluesy Americana, "50". This was the first of his many albums I had ever listened to. Indeed, until that point, I had, shamefully, never heard of him. Inspired by that album, I decided to check out his earlier work and have found that this is a most interesting album - a sort of Roy Harper meets early David Bowie. It is folky but with definite rock leanings, particularly on the tracks that feature the relatively undiscovered guitar talents of Mick Ronson, before he took up with David Bowie full time (he had played on the 1969 "Space Oddity" album).

TRACK LISTING

1. Aviator
2. Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime
3. Stranger In The Room
4. Postcards Of Scarborough
5. Fishbeard Sunset
6. Soulful Lady
7. Rabbit Hills
8. March Rain
9. Kodak Ghosts
10. Andru's Easy Rider
11. Trinkets & Rings

The first track, "Aviator" begins with a very Bowie-esque strummed acoustic guitar and some seriously delicious bass lines (played by Steeleye Span's Rick Kemp). It is eight minutes long and has a real air of mystery about it. There are similarities to the sort of lengthy folk/rock material that Al Stewart was putting out at the same time, both musically and lyrically. Chapman's voice has definite echoes of Bowie from the same period, but it has a sort of whiny grittiness that made it somewhat unique. There are hints of Dylan from "John Wesley Harding" as well, in places. The violin floats around in Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks" fashion, giving the track a haunting quality. Paul Buckmaster's strings are recognisable, particularly from the "Elton John" album from the same year. This is very much the sort of earnest, melodic and lyrically profound, meaningful music that was so de rigeur in 1970.

Another thing typical of the time was the guitar-picking instrumental, which we get here with the brief, pleasant tones of "Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime". There is actually nothing electric about it, by the way, it is all acoustic. "Stranger In The Room" introduces electric guitar and some Beatles-esque drums, a Bowie vocal and another throbbing bass line. It is an impressive track, and somewhat surprising that this album, or Chapman's career, never really took off. This is up there with "The Width Of A Circle". Ronson provides some searing guitar lines throughout. Much as I love "Circle", however, this is just as good. It really is a bit of a revelation, actually.

"Postcards Of Scarborough" has a lengthy acoustic intro before some solid drums kick in and Chapman's voice and delivery arrives in a downbeat Leonard Cohen way. "Fishbeard Sunset" is forty seconds of pretty pointless guitar picking before we are launched straight into the muscular thump of the rock-ish "Soulful Lady". It features more excellent guitar and impressive drums. Despite the folky, wordy dreaminess of some of the album, Chapman also likes a bit of solid rock power. There is an appealing blues rock feel to this. "Rabbit Hills" reminds me of some of Mott The Hoople's early Ian Hunter slow rock ballads. The bleak, evocative "March Rain" finds Chapman sounding slightly different vocally - gruffer but a tiny bit slurred, as if he's just got up. He actually changes his vocal style several times, slightly, throughout the album. "Kodak Ghosts" is a mysterious Cohen-esque number with some sumptuous, subtle electric guitar from Ronson, a change from his trademark full-on riffery. "Andru's Easy Rider" is a slide guitar-driven blues instrumental that is another slight change in style, showing that there really is all sorts of stuff on this album. Another change arrives with the funky bass and bongo intro to the intoxicating "Trinkets & Rings". Chapman's voice has a mournful, haunting Jim Morrison feel to it, albeit with a throatiness. This is a quality, adventurous number. Quite why this album wasn't huge, I don't know.

It is said that Mick Ronson got the Bowie gig on the back of his work on this album. Maybe that is somewhat apocryphal as Bowie knew his work anyway from "Unwashed And Somewhat Slighty Dazed". Either way he was off to slam out glam rock riffs. Great as they were, perhaps his better work was to be found here. This certainly was a really good album and I highly recommend it.

B+

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Signs (2019)


  

Released February 2019

I am familiar with several of Susan Tedeschi's album, but this is the first I have heard of the four she has done with her hubby, the aptly-named (for such truckstop blues fare) Derek Trucks, who has played guitar for a later incarnation of The Allman Brothers Band. There will be other reviewers who are familiar with their earlier albums and are able to compare this one with those. I am, at present, only able to comment on this one, so my comments are from a slightly uninformed viewpoint. To me, it is an impressive, invigorating mix of blues, soul, rock with a few funky bits thrown in.

TRACK LISTING

1. Signs, High Times
2. I'm Gonna Be There
3. When Will I Begin
4. Walk Through This Life
5. Strengthen What Remains
6. Still Your Mind
7. Hard Case
8. Shame
9. All The World
10. They Don't Shine
11. The Ending

"Signs, High Times" is a horn-driven punchy blues rocker with Susan taking vocals in typical gritty style and three other singers taking vocal parts. Susan's voice is by far the best. "I'm Gonna Be There" is a country-ish slow burner with a soulful, gospelly vocal from Susan and some killer guitar at the end. "When Will I Begin" continues in the same soulful mode, while "Walk Though This Life" has an absolutely sumptuous, irresistible bass line underpinning it. The horns are once more upbeat and muscular, as, of course is Susan's voice. There is a superb bass/drum/guitar funky-ish break on this track.

"Strengthen What Remains" is a fetching, quiet, non-blues rock number - a nice piece of country rock balladry. "Still Your Mind" has, for me, some hints of sixties baroque psychedelic rock beneath the surface. There is an intoxicating feel to its staccato rhythm. "Hard Case" has a funky undertone to it and also features some enticing wah-wah guitar parts. "Shame" finds Susan delivering a solid soul vocal, sounding almost like Stax legend Mavis Staples at times. It is a perfect mix of powerful rock and gospelly soul, something this band appear to do quite well.

"All The World" sounds like an Otis Redding ballad. The vocal is again delivered perfectly. "They Don't Shine" comes blasting out of your speakers with a real Stax punch. Great stuff. You can't go far wrong with this. It kicks your rear end. "The Ending" is a sparse, acoustic number with Susan on top vocal form in a tribute to the band's mentor, Bruce Hampton, who passed away in 2018. I didn't know this initially. It makes it sound all the more poignant. Good album.

B-

The Good, The Bad & The Queen




The Good, The Bad & The Queen (2007)
Merrie Land (2018)

The Good, The Bad & The Queen - The Good, The Bad & The Queen (2007)


  

Released January 2007

This was the first collaboration between ex-Blur Damon Albarn, ex-The Clash Paul Simonon, ex-The Verve Simon Tong and Fela Kuti's ex-drummer Tony Allen. It is a reflective, melancholic, sometimes miserable message for the new millennium. Its appeal however, is quite a seductive one. All very muddy art rock and "noir". It is a real grower, however, and worthy of several listens before you find it seeping into your consciousness. I listened to this for the first time after hearing 2018's "Merrie Land" and I prefer this one. Both have hidden depths, but this has more, I feel. There is something quite beguiling about it.

TRACK LISTING

1. History Song
2. 80s Life
3. Northern Whale
4. Kingdom Of Doom
5. Herculean
6. Behind The Sun
7. The Bunting Song
8. Nature Springs
9. A Soldier's Tale
10. Three Changes
11. Green Fields
12. The Good, The Bad & The Queen

"History Song" is a Joe Strummer meets Madness shuffler of a song, full of understated atmosphere. "80s Life" is a sad-sounding number with a melancholic vocal. There are fifties doo-wop influences on it and some fetching keyboards too. "Northern Whale" is a quirky, mournful and moody track, it sounds world-wearily cynical. All that nineties joie de vivre has completely evaporated. I a no surprised, I was never convinced by it. There are some nice keyboard breaks on it too, very "Heroes" era David Bowie or Brian Eno. "Kingdom Of Doom" is a Madness-influenced once again doom-ish creation. "Herculean" has a big pounding bassy industrial backing and a muffled, echo-ey, haunting vocal. There are lots of doom-laden soundscapes all over this one.

"Behind The Sun" uses a similar effect on the vocal, rendering it plaintive and coldly mysterious. The bass from Simonon and Allen's gentle cymbal work are both captivating. This one eats into you. A sumptuous bass helps to introduce the very Paul Weller-esque "The Bunting Song". On the collective's second album, 2018's "Merrie Land", Albarn's vocals are very influenced by Suggs of Madness and Joe Strummer. On here, there are far more echoes of Paul Weller's contemporary work such as 2000's "There's No Drinking After You're Dead" from the "Heliocentric" album.  Indeed, Weller's voice on 2012's "Sonik Kicks" is very influenced by this, in turn.

"Nature Springs" is a beautifully low-key, slightly ghostly number. Once more, the bass is sublime as is the chugging rhythm. There is a classic slice of Simonon dub half way through. "A Soldier's Tale" is bleak and eerie, and as with all the album, packed full of atmosphere. "Three Changes" has a deliciously resonant bass thump and another Weller-styled vocal. These songs really are ones that hear and immediately think you want to listen to again. There is nothing immediately catchy about them but they demand repeated listens. Funnily enough, there is something in Albarn's vocal delivery that brings to mind Liam Gallagher of all people. It is in the phrasing. The drawn-out bit at the end of each line.

"Green Fields" is arty and slightly sixties psychedelic-influenced in vague places, but essentially dour. Its keyboard sound is almost prog-rock as well. The title track is a lengthy, infectious bass-driven number with an intoxicating vocal. Good stuff. Its madcap keyboard "wall of sound" brings to mind parts of George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass" or even Wizzard's bizarrely experimental "Wizzard Brew". As it builds up into a cacophony, though, you can't help but think of Roxy Music's "Ladytron".

As I said earlier, this album demands repeated listens.

B

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Good, The Bad & The Queen - Merrie Land (2018)


  

Released November 2018

Now, I have to confess, that among my sizeable music collection, I own no Damon Albarn material. I know very little about him, so my review is from a very detached position. The album was recommended by a friend.

This is the second album from "The Good, The Bad & The Queen" collective. The first was in 2007, and I am not familiar with it, so please forgive my ignorance. Both albums feature Paul Simonon on bass, Simon Tong on guitar and Tony Allen on drums. Albarn has worked with ex-Clash bassist Simonon before, and also guitarist Simon Tong from The Verve. I was interested to find that the drummer Tony Allen, long term member of Nigerian "hi-life" legend Fela Kuti's band is on the album. Unfortunately, though, his powerhouse rhythms are not really ever used to their full extent. He is seventy-two years old, mind.

The work is Albarn's take on contemporary England (not a subject I want to dwell on here for too long) and quite a lot of the meanings are somewhat oblique and not immediately apparent. It is not a "there's no future in England's dreaming" fist pumper of an album. The vignettes that make up each song are far more subtle than that. You can pick up bits here and there, this line and that line, then it drifts off in another direction and you think "what's that all about?". I used to have the same problem with Joe Strummer's solo work. I didn't quite get what it meant, but it always sounded as if it meant something deep. Am I making sense? Probably not. Basically, Albarn's not happy with things in 2018. He makes a reasonable fist of expressing a whole spectrum of emotions with an earnest empathy and his heart seems to be in the right place.

TRACK LISTING

1. Introduction
2. Merrie Land
3. Gun To The Head
4. Nineteen Seventeen
5. The Great Fire
6. Lady Boston
7. Drifters And Trawlers
8. The Truce Of Twilight
9. Ribbons
10. The Last Man To Leave
11. The Poison Tree

"Merrie Land", the title track, sounds so much like Madness, vocally, it could almost be them. It has an affecting, understated beat, like some of the quieter tracks on The Clash's "Sandinista!", such as "If Music Could Talk" or "The Crooked Beat". Paul Simonon's influence is strong throughout this album, as is that of the afore-mentioned Joe Strummer's solo work. Some medieval, folky recorder sounds introduce another Suggs soundalike song, "Gun To The Head". The "we don't care" refrain is pure Madness. The dreamy latter part of the song borrows heavily from David Bowie's "Blackstar" album. "Nineteen Seventeen" begins in a slightly freeform jazz style, before the ghost of "Blackstar" Bowie appears again, all over it.

"The Great Fire" continues very much in the same haunting vein. The captivating rhythm is once again such a contemporary Bowie one. Albarn says something about being on Preston station at one point, although, to be honest, quite a lot of the song's meaning passes me by. The music actually takes over. Indeed, that is the case for much of the album, despite its melancholy message. There is an infectious looseness and quiet ambience to the music that counteracts the supposed bleakness.

"Lady Boston" sounds so like a Joe Strummer solo song to me. Everything about it screams Strummer. He would have loved it. It ends with an evocative bit of Welsh male voice choir. "Drifters And Trawlers" is a quirkily rhythmic groove with more Strummer overtones. "The Truce Of Twilight" has a Talking Heads-style intro (from the "Speaking In Tongues" era) and a captivating, shuffling beat. Great bass line from Simonon, too. The lyrical fade-out is very reminiscent of The Specials. "Ribbons" is the one track that really brings to mind the great Billy Bragg, both lyrically and vocally.

"The Last Man To Leave" is the most bleak and hard-hitting, lyrically, although, musically it is probably my least favourite, with a semi-spoken vocal and a 1930s Berlin "Alabama Song"-style beat. The final track, "The Poison Tree" is a poignant closer, complete with tinkling piano, sweeping strings and seagull sounds. It reminds me of something but I can't put my finger on what, infuriatingly. Maybe something off "More Specials". Or even something The Beach Boys did in their early seventies period.

It is a short album, which is something unusual these days (and actually quite refreshing) and it is a work that I feel has hidden depths. This is review is done on first listen. It as a work that justifies several listens. Musically I find it quite invigorating and uplifting, which is an odd reaction to have to an album that is essentially sad and sardonic, but the musicianship is excellent and the soundscape addictive.

B-

Michael Chapman - 50 (2017)

  

Released January 2017

I have to shamefully admit that, until I heard "Memphis In Winter" on a compilation from "Mojo" magazine, I had never heard of Michael Chapman. He has been putting out music for fifty years and this album is released on that landmark, hence the title. Chapman is a UK singer-songwriter/guitarist who worked with a pre-Bowie Mick Ronson on one of his early albums. He has a gruff folky voice and, reading about him, he has garnered a fair amount of respect over the years. How he slipped under my radar for all these years is a mystery.

So there we go, I am reviewing this album "cold", so to speak. Apparently, it is described by Chapman himself as his "American album". So, maybe it is slightly different to his many other works. Some of the songs are re-recordings of earlier songs, though.

Anyway, it is certainly a very "Americana" sounding piece of work. When I heard "Memphis In Winter" I presumed Chapman to be an American. I am familiar with some of the work of US guitarist Steve Gunn, and he plays guitar on this album, so the ambience therefore is no surprise. Chapman was 75 when he recorded this, and, while his voice sounds suitably aged it also has that experience to its tone and a fetching world-weariness.

TRACK LISTING

1. A Spanish Incident (Ramón And Durango)
2. Sometimes You Just Drive
3. The Mallard
4. Memphis In Winter
5. The Prospector
6. Falling From Grace
7. Money Trouble
8. That Time Of Night
9. Rosh Pina
10. Navigation

"A Spanish Incident (Ramón And Durango)" is a beguiling Dylan meets Tom Waits sort of growler, with some catchy piano parts and a Leonard Cohen-esque vocal from Chapman. It has some country style banjo/mandolin? and a rich powerful drum sound. "Sometimes You Just Drive" is a haunting, country blues-ish number with a classic Americana gruff vocal. It is marvellously evocative in a slow, sleepy way. "The Mallard" has huge echoes of Chris Rea in its bluesy/folky vocal delivery and indeed in the tune's slow burning melody and bucolic lyrics. It has a killer bass line and subtle guitar near the end.

The song that attracted me to Chapman, "Memphis In Winter" is a wonderfully gritty, mysterious bassy grinder. Chapman's voice is again Cohen-influenced. It is packed full of atmosphere and cynical, observational lyrics. Great stuff. The guitar near the end (presumably from Steve Gunn) is superb. "The Prospector" is a story song about a gold prospector, featuring some excellent, industrial guitar. "Falling From Grace" has an acoustic intro similar to some of Bruce Springsteen's acoustic work. Indeed, the whole song sounds a bit Springsteen-esque.

"Money Trouble" is a Band-influenced slice of country rock with some infectious guitar-picking backing. The main riff reminds me of something but I can't put my finger on what, which is infuriating. Something off "Led Zeppelin III" I think. "Friends" - that's the one. Funny how several songs over the years have hints of that riff in them, notably CSNY's "Carry On". "That Time Of Night" is movingly, sleepily beautiful. It has the feel of a Keith Richards solo number. There is a lovely gentle bass on it. "Rosh Pina" is the album's only instrumental - a laid-back acoustic and bass piece of aural relaxation. It is augmented perfectly by Steve Gunn's electric guitar half way through. "Navigation" is a dreamy,  walking pace acoustic guitar  and prog rock-sounding organ number to close this impressive album. Now I have to check out more of Chapman's work. I've only got fifty years to catch up on.

B

Monday, 18 February 2019

David Essex - On Tour (1975)

  

Released in 1975

TRACK LISTING

1. All The Fun Of The Fair
2. Hold Me Close
3. Circles
4. Good Ol' Rock 'n' Roll
5. On And On
6. Going For The Big One
7. America
8. Gonna Make You A Star
9. Stardust
10. Streetfight
11. Rock On
12. Rolling Stone
13. Won't Get Burned Again
14. Here It Comes Again
15. All The Fun Of The Fair (Reprise)

Despite the background of screaming girls' voices, this is actually a pretty credible concert from David Essex, who produced several vastly underrated albums in the mid-seventies. As well as the obvious well-received hit singles from the period, he gives some good renditions of some of his excellent album tracks, particularly the atmospheric, dramatic "All The Fun Of The Fair".

Essex's band is top notch throughout, although I have to say that a couple of the songs - "Good Ol' Rock 'n' Roll" and "America" suffer from being played a tad too fast, thus depriving them of some of the atmosphere that both the original studio versions undoubtedly possessed.

Other than that, though, it is an enjoyable live set and, although the crowd-pleasers are in there, it doesn't pander to them, bookending the show with album tracks and liberally sprinkling the set with them too. A bit like the Marc Bolan/T. Rex shows from 1973, it shows an artist who wants to be taken seriously in a live context, not simply a teen chart act.

B

David Essex - Gold And Ivory (1977)


  

Released in 1977

“Gold & Ivory” was David Essex’s last credible, “proper” album, really. Punk was igniting  all around him and the critical acclaim his albums deserved was never going to be achieved. He tried to diversify a bit on this album, however, exploring different musical sounds. Fair play to him. It didn’t work though. It is probably his rockiest album and has been almost completely overlooked, even in comparison to Essex's previous albums. It is actually worth more than that and listening to it all these years later is a pleasant surprise.

TRACK LISTING

1. New Horizon
2. Good Morning (Darling)
3. Yesterday In L.A.
4. Lend Me Your Comb
5. Whole Lotta Monkey
6. Back Street Crawler
7. That Circle Keeps On Changing
8. Cool Out Tonight
9. You
10. Virginia (And The Circus Sideshow)
11. Britannia
12. Gold and Ivory
13. Stay With Me Baby

“New Horizon” is an orchestrated, disco-influenced number with that typical 1977 disco beat and chicka-chicka guitar sound, plus those trademark disco horns. “Good Morning (Darling)” is a character—driven romantic heartbreaker of a song that sounds as if it had come from a stage musical, something many of Essex’s songs did. It is quite an enchanting number. “Yesterday In L.A.” is a muscular, rocky track with a bit of a funky backing and a strong vocal. It has a weird bit in the middle, with some funny voices and a jazzy break. For some reason it reminds me of Madness's "The Liberty Of Norton Folgate" from many years later. "Lend Me Your Comb" is another solid, appealing rocker with a Springsteen-esque saxophone solo.

"Whole Lotta Monkey", like "Ooh Love" on his previous album, was a song that revisited the rhythmic strains of his debut 1973 hit, "Rock On". While material like this sounded great in 1973-75, with punk and new wave all over the place, it just got overlooked, which was a bit of a shame as it isn't bad stuff. "Back Street Crawler" is a powerful, slow burner of a rock song, with a blues rock vocal and some excellent, atmospheric saxophone once again. It has some epic qualities, with echoes of both Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie in it. "That Circle Keeps On Changing" has a sort of Rolling Stones-ish rock funkiness to it. It is also backed by some US cop show-style brass breaks.

The album's one chart hit came in  the mid-seventies throwback, nostalgic sound of the catchy "Cool Out Tonight". "You" is a tender slow-pace ballad, with a plaintive vocal against a sparse but melodic guitar backing. In the middle it breaks out with some sumptuous saxophone. Some blues harmonica and riffy guitar introduces "Virginia (And The Circus Sideshow)" and Essex revisits one of his favourite topics -working on the fairgrounds and circuses. It really is a quirkily enjoyable track. "Britannia" again has that mysterious "Rock On" feel to it and a bit of a rock/reggae groove and lyrics questioning the murky past of the British Empire. The title track is an evocative ballad, packed once more with nostalgia. It has, for me, huge hints of Ian Hunter in it, particularly in Essex's vocal at the end. "Stay With Me Baby" is a competent cover of the Lorraine Ellison soul hit.

There are a lot of hidden treasures on this album. It is well worth checking out if you can get hold of it, which is difficult these days.

B-

Sunday, 17 February 2019

David Essex - Out On The Street (1976)


  

Released in 1976

David Essex, try as he might, never shook off the "teen idol" thing, despite three previous, very credible albums, before this one. The music business had a pretty snobbish attitude to Essex, and simply refused to take him seriously. The worst thing then, in 1976, that could have happened to Essex was the advent of punk, rendering him even more irrelevant. This was a real shame, because this is a really good album. It took up where the previous year's "All The Fun Of The Fair" left off, with often lengthy, musically adventurous tracks packed full of cinematic images.

TRACK LISTING

1. Out On The Street
2. Let The Fool Live
3. Thank You Very Much
4. Just Wanna Dance
5. Run With The Pack
6. Coming Home
7. Ooh Love
8. City Lights

If David Bowie had recorded "Out On The Street", it would have been hailed as a work of genius. I say that because it is very Bowie-esque, both in its theatricality, lyrics, and "Sweet Thing" saxophone intro. There is a lot of The Who in here too. The track is ten minutes long and sweeps from various moods and pace changes. It really is a bit of an underrated classic and certainly nothing like anything one would expect from David Essex. The saxophone on it is superb, as too is Essex's vocal. "Let The Fool Live" had a Supertramp-style keyboard intro and a dramatic Roger Daltrey-influenced vocal. David Essex had experience of stage musicals, and much of his material sounds as if it would suit a stage show.

"Thank You Very Much" is an alluring, soulful ballad with sweeping strings and a delicious, laid-back vocal augmented by more sumptuous saxophone. It is a slow Philly Soul-sounding number and has a timeless quality about it. Some more great saxophone introduces the piano-driven soul/rock of "Just Wanna Dance" which has a sort of Doobie Brothers meets mid-seventies Traffic sound about it.

The cinematic thing is back with the big production drama of "Run With The Pack". More changes of pace and frantic backing at times, inspired by five minutes plus singles like John Miles' "Music" from the same period. It even goes Springsteen-esque with the line about "going east on the underground". Again, it has a street opera quality in its presentation and delivery. The album's one hit single was up next in the catchy, more typical lovable David Essex fare of "Coming Home". By 1976, it sounded a bit incongruous, but it still did well enough, even though it had 1974 written all over it. "Ooh Love" is a syncopated shuffler that re-visits the mysterious sound of Essex's first hit, the beguiling "Rock On".

The album concludes with the mighty "City Lights", which is another lengthy rollercoaster ride of a track. It was released as a single, reaching number 24, the same position as the far more commercial "Coming Home". It has a superb vocal, intoxicating beat and atmosphere. Great stuff. Make no mistake this was a good album. Get hold of it if you can. It is pretty scarce these days.

B+

Hot Chocolate - Love Shot (1983)


  

Released October 1983

This was it for Hot Chocolate. After over ten years of wonderful music - soulful, meaningful and poptastic when the need was there - you could tell that they had reached the end of their road, which was a great shame. A few more stand alone singles followed on after this and a couple more "Top Of The Pops" appearances couldn't disguise the fact that the group were starting to look distinctly like yesterday's men. This album pretty much stands as an example of what I have just said. It is pleasant enough, but it just seems a sad shadow of a once great (and underrated) group that were now (to use one of their song titles) - going through the motions.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sexy Caribbean Girl
2. Let's Try Again
3. Secret Hideaway
4. Tears On The Telephone
5. Jeannie
6. I'm Sorry
7. Friend Of Mine
8. Touch The Night
9. Love Is A Good Thing
10. I Gave You My Heart (Didn't I)

"Sexy Caribbean Girl" is a poppy, commercial dance-ish number. Compared to previous material, it sounds somewhat undercooked, and Errol Brown's delivery is slightly unenthusiastic, or maybe that is just my imagination. "Let's Try Again" has a sad feel to its melody and vocal, although it struggles against the layers of synthesiser notes in its backing. It slow programmed beat is pretty uninspiring, to be honest. "Secret Hideaway" has an ABBA-esque tinge to its keyboard melody and a haunting tone to the vocal, but once more it sounds tired to me. I quite like the track, however, but there is just something very sad about the general ambience of the album. The songs seems to sum up the state the band were in. The latter track also ends in a strangely abrupt fashion, as if they simply got fed up of playing it.

I had been a Hot Chocolate fan since first hearing "Brother Louie" in 1973. I remember seeing them do the comparatively uninspiring "Tears On The Telephone" on "Top Of The Pops" at the time and feeling terribly underwhelmed. Although it was a minor hit single, it simply didn't cut the mustard in the way that their great hits from their halcyon days did. "Jeannie" is a low-key, melodic ballad that has a fetching feel to it, with a few echoes of the old days in Errol's vocal. There are hints of "It Started With A Kiss" (the group's last big hit) in it.

"I'm Sorry" is a sonorous, synthesiser-driven slow ballad that was very much of its time but it has a certain something. I quite like this one. "Friend Of Mine" has a delicious bass line similar to that used a few years later on Elton John's "Nikita". It is a sumptuous, soulful number that sort of washes ver you like a relaxing warm bath. Its subject matter - infidelity - shows that Hot Chocolate could still do a dark love song when the mood took them. "Touch The Night" is a slow burning soul groover with some contemporary smooth, keyboard-driven dance sounds to its backing. "Love Is A Good Thing"  is a standard, bassy soul late night offering. It doesn't offend in any way, but does it stay in the mind for long? Not really. The album, and, to all intents and purposes, Hot Chocolate's recording career, ends on a high point with the catchy, singalong "I Gave You My Heart (Didn't I)". You certainly did, Errol and the lads - thank you, sincerely.

It has given me no pleasure to write a slightly less than effusive review of this final album from a band that has given me so much pleasure for over forty-five years, but, unfortunately I have to write as I hear. It is definitely their worst offering. They had high standards, however.

C-

Santana - Spirits Dancing In The Flesh (1990)


  

Released June 1990

After the somewhat undercooked, typically eighties fare of 1987's "Freedom", this was quite a welcome change for Santana - an eclectic collection of guitar-heavy rock that would please many (although probably only the band's long-term core fanbase bought it). There is still quite a disco/rock theme to many of the songs, but it is an album far more driven by guitar than synthesisers, and that, for me, can only be a good thing. It is a vast improvement on the bland banality of its predecessor.

TRACK LISTING

1. Let There Be Light/Spirits Dancing In The Flesh
2. Gypsy Woman
3. It's A Jungle Out There
4. Soweto (Africa Libre)
5. Choose
6. Peace On Earth/Mother Earth/Third Stone From The Sun
7. Full Moon
8. Who's That Lady
9. Jin-Go-Lo-Ba
10. Goodness And Mercy

The first track, "Let There Be Light/Spirits Dancing In The Flesh" begins with a pretty superfluous few minutes of choral vocals that sounds really quite pretentious, before some genuine guitar-driven Santana dance rock groove kicks in. This is actually good stuff, packed full of killer guitar and pounding rhythms. "Gypsy Woman" sounds as if it should be a Carlos Santana composition, but it is actually a Curtis Mayfield number. It is sumptuously seductive. Alex Ligertwood is back on vocals, and songs like this suit his voice.

"It's A Jungle Out There" has some solid guitar riffage on it and some infectious disco rhythms. The vocal is a great, soulful one. "Soweto (Africa Libre)", rather like "Mandela" on the previous album, does not actually have a South African vibe to it. Here, it is a gentle, breezy, laid-back back typically Santana Latin groove. It has a delicious jazzy piano and cymbals break in the middle. Compared to the last album's half-baked material, this really is more like it. "Choose" is a heavy thumper of a track with a very early nineties slow dance-influenced rock feel to it. There are hints of Prince in it, I think.

"Peace On Earth/Mother Earth/Third Stone From The Sun" begins as very much  a Santana rock song in the style of their early eighties work, before it morphs into a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From The Sun", with some superb guitar from Carlos Santana. That quality is continued on the instrumental that follows, "Full Moon". "Who's That Lady" is a funky, heavy drum-powered cover of The Isley Brothers' "That Lady". Carlos's guitar is superb on this. "Jin-Go-Ba-La" uses the rhythm from "Jingo" from the band's 1969 debut album. It re-works the track to great, riffy, muscular effect. "Goodness And Mercy" appears to be a live cut to finish - a synthesiser-dominated instrumental. It is probably the least impressive track on what was otherwise a quite stirring offering.

B-

Santana - Freedom (1987)


  

Released February 1987

After several rock/pop albums in the eighties, this Santana album reverted, to a certain extent, to the Latin rhythms that made the band famous, while still being very much a product of is time, featuring synthesiser backing and sometimes a laid-back, soulful R'n'B sound as well as an upbeat eighties dance feel. For me, it has more of an eighties dance feel about it than a Latin rock album, for sure.

Several old band members returned, including vocalist Buddy Miles, replacing Alex Ligertwood. The album doesn't do it for me as much as many of the others, however, seeming at times to be a bit ordinary and very much of its time (a time that wasn't great for music). I prefer its three eighties predecessors, "Zebop!", "Shangó" and "Beyond Appearances". The synthesisers have taken over too much for me on this one. Any Carlos Santana guitar work is definitely second place to those accursed keyboards.

TRACK LISTING

1. Veracruz
2. She Can't Let Go
3. Once It's Gotcha
4. Love Is You
5. Songs Of Freedom
6. Deeper, Dig Deeper
7. Praise
8. Mandela
9. Before We Go
10. Victim Of Circumstance

"Veracruz" has a fetching rhythm to it, including some killer blues harmonica, despite the eighties-style synthesiser backing. "She Can't Let Go" is a mid-pace, seductive groove. A sweet soul eighties ballad. Its rhythm reminds of The Christians' "Forgotten Town" from the same period. "Once It's Gotcha" is an upbeat, dance-ish funky workout, again, very much of its time. "Love Is You" is a very easy listening, laid-back instrumental.

"Songs of Freedom" is a lively, upbeat dance-ish groove. This eighties feel is continued on "Deeper, Dig Deeper", which is given crowd noises to make it sound like a live recording, although I am not sure it is. "Praise" is a pretty unremarkable typically 1987 piece of synth pop. Lots of artists put out Nelson Mandela tributes in this period. Santana's "Mandela" is, strangely, a South American-sounding, floaty instrumental. Its Latin rhythms certainly do not invoke any South African feelings. It is probably the album's most Latin number and has distinct jazzy undertones too.

"Before We Go" is pleasant enough, but it doesn't stick long in the mind. "Victim Of Circumstance" is probably the album's most riffy, rocking track. Overall, however, while this album is harmless, pleasant and unthreatening enough, there are many, many Santana albums I return to before this one. It is the curse of the mid-late eighties. I find I don't listen to many albums from any other artists from that period either, especially long-established artists. It is generally true that their worst work comes from this era.

C

Santana - Shaman (2002)


  

Released October 2002

Basically this is a remake of 1999's multi-million-selling "Supernatural". Producer Clive Davis repeats the same formula - plenty of contemporary R'n'B/hip hop/smooth soul influences and the seemingly ubiquitous Rob Thomas making several contributions once more. in fact, even more so than "Supernatural", it seems to be an album with scattered guest appearances by Carlos Santana. The album's songs seem to be created to meet the needs of the singer as opposed to fitting Carlos in. Like on "Supernatural", Santana's role seems to be to float around guitar lines under the songs' more dominant vocals. Why not, I guess, seeming as the previous album was such a success. What you have to realise is that for a huge amount of people, these two albums are what Santana is. They know little or nothing of those ground-breaking late sixties/early seventies albums, the transcendental meditative mid-seventies material or the eighties rock/pop. Santana, for them, is "Smooth" and "Maria Maria".

There is some excellent, almost perfect contemporary pop on here, but should it be considered a Santana album? I guess so, but only to an extent. All that debate apart, I really quite like it, indeed preferring it to "Supernatural", particularly in its slightly less booming, more balanced, nuanced sound quality. I like the Earth, Wind & Fire-influenced cover too. I would say, though, that the album seems to go on forever - sixteen tracks with only on slightly under four minutes, clocking in at a whopping seventy-six minutes. Personally, thirty-forty minutes' of dipping in to it is preferable.

TRACK LISTING

1. Adouma
2. Nothing At All
3. The Game Of Love
4. You Are My Kind
5. Amore (Sexo)
6. Foo Foo
7. Victory Is Won
8. America
9. Sideways
10. Why Don't You And I
11. Feels Like Fire
12. Let Me Love You Tonight
13. Aye Aye Aye
14. Hoy Es Adios
15. One Of These Days
16. Novus

"Adouma" is a thumping, rhythmic West African-influenced, invigorating opener. "Nothing At All" is a succulent, slow Latin groove with distinct bassy contemporary R'n'B influences in both its sound and the tone of the vocal. "The Game Of Love", featuring Michelle Branch on vocals is a sweet, soulful and irresistibly singalong number that, unsurprisingly, gained loads of radio play. It was the album's perfect hit single. Carlos Santana contributes a brief but great guitar solo. "You Are My Kind" is introduced by some excellent Carlos guitar and has a sumptuous, relaxing, hot summer's day soul feel to it. Very light and poppy. "Amore (Sexo)" has a tasty vocal from the distinctive Macy Gray and some intoxicating Latin brass and rhythm.

"Foo Foo" sees some copper-bottomed Santana Latin grooves arrive for the first full-on time. Lots of "arriba" type vocals and melodic, deliciously catchy horns. Some sublime bass lines too. "Victory Is Won" is certainly a good vehicle for some powerful Santana guitar. It is a heavy, rock instrumental with some of those trademark Santana guitar lines. "America" also has some serious, heavy, chunky riffs and some hip/hop-style vocal interjections between the verses. It is not as bad as I have read it described in some reviews. "Sideways" is a laid-back bluesy number and "Why Don't You And I" is a riffy, pop/rock workout.

"Feels Like Fire" is a pleasant soul/rock female vocal ballad featuring Dido on vocals. "Let Me Love You Tonight" is a delicious slow number. "Aye Aye Aye" has a welcome return to some more typical Latin rhythms after several easy on the ear ballads. It features some appetising Spanish guitar breaks, killer percussion and frantic Spanish repeated lyrics on the refrain. The Spanish vibe continues on the sublime "Hoy Es Adios" which is full of Mexican brass lines. "One Of These Days" is quite funky in places and again just has that laid-back groove to it, augmented by some excellent Santana guitar. "Novus" ends the album in dignified, stately fashion with opera singer Placido Domingo on vocals. The Latin percussion, however, seems a little incongruous.

As I said earlier, this is an album to dip in and out of, and enjoy, for me, as opposed to listening to it in one full sitting.

B-

Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Dramatics - Stax Classics

  

The Dramatics were a Detroit vocal group who had been around since 1964 before they briefly made it with a couple of hits in 1971. They were in the shadow of The Stylistics, The Chi-Lites, The Detroit Spinners and The Delfonics in their particular field of soul, however. The four members from these classic years all passed away early, in their forties or fifties, three of whom from heart attacks, which was quite tragic.

TRACK LISTING

1. In The Rain
2. Watcha See Is Watcha Get
3. Get Up And Get Down
4. Hey You! Get Off My Mountain
5. And I Panicked
6. Your Love Was Strange
7. The Devil Is Dope
8. Thank You For Your Love
9. Toast To The Fool
10. Fall In Love, Lady Love
11. I Fell For You
12. Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)

The hits are the first two tracks on this impressive , remastered Stax compilation - “In The Rain” has a slightly reggae feel to its slow backing, although its vocal is proper smooth seventies soul. I also has a hint of Third World about it, for me. “Watcha See Is Watcha Get” was a hit single in 1971 and has a typical early seventies laid-back soul sound.

The group discover their funk in the James Brown-esque groove of  “Get Up And Get Down”. The falsetto vocal is excellent as is the lip-smacking funky guitar lick that is present throughout the song. “Hey You! Get Off My Mountain” is a Stylistics meets The Delfonics smoocher that once again is very representative of its era, in particular the super-sweet, high vocal. “And I Panicked” continues in the same vein and has a wonderfully, melodic, deep and slow bassline.

“Your Love Was Strange” is a punchy, bassy piece of grinding soul. It really pounds. It is one of my favourites of theirs. “The Devil Is Dope” begins with some infernal noises and maniacal laughter before we get a brassy, soulful message song condemning the evils of drug abuse. “Thank You For Your Love” is a very Chi-Lites influenced slow, rhythmic soul ballad. “Toast To The Fool” is a sumptuous, immaculately sung slow number that sees the group’s male voices harmonising perfectly.

“Fall In Love, Lady Love” continues in the same sweet soul vein. There is nothing ground-breaking in tracks like this, but there is nothing unplesasant either. “I Fell For You” ploughs the same furrow and features some impressive vocal gymnastics - high and low taking their turns. The collection ends with a brassy, bassy Temptations/Undisputed Truth soulful funker in “Gimme Some (Good Soul Music)”. It is a fine upbeat note upon which to end an appealing group of songs from a classic period for soul music.

B-

John Scofield - Up All Night (2003)


  

Released May 2003

John Scofield is an American jazz/funk guitarist who has released loads of albums. I only know a few of them, so cannot claim to be a "proper" fan, but what I have, I like. He played with Miles Davis on three albums in the eighties, so that is a testimonial. This is very much one of his funky albums. The funk is so good at times it hurts. Scofield gets into a groove and serves up some delectable stuff. He is not afraid to experiment, either, using tape loops and electronic instrumentation in places.

TRACK LISTING

1. Philiopiety
2. Watch Out For Po-Po
3. Creeper
4. Watcha See Is Watcha Get
5. I'm Listening
6. Thikathali
7. Four On The Floor
8. Like The Moon
9. Freakin' Disco
10. Born In Troubled Times
11. Every Night Is Ladies Night

"Philiopiety" is a marvellous, invigorating funky workout, with West Africa vibes and some hip/hop-style breaks. "Watch Out For Po-Po" has a simply succulent drum, bass and guitar intro and a totally irresistible slow groove rhythm to it. It is funky beyond belief. There are some Talking Heads/Brian Eno-style electronic keyboard loops/noises augmenting the funk as well, giving it a vaguely electronic/futuristic feel. The percussion, at one point, goes a bit dubby too. "Creeper" is a laid-back shuffler featuring some tasty jazzy guitar breaks. "Watcha See Is Watcha Get" was a Stax hit in 1971 for The Dramatics. Here it is presented as a cool, fifties-style jazzy workout, with Scofield's guitar to the fore, together with some impressive brass.

"I'm Listening" introduces the "ambient" thing to the sound, with some quiet bass and some feedback-ish guitar swimming around. It is a short mood-changer before the Fela Kuti-inspired strains of "Thikathali" come in. As soon as you hear that insistent, melodic guitar groove and those horns you think "Fela Kuti". There are also some lilting guitar breaks more reminiscent of those of Congo or Soweto, however. The rhythm is mouth-wateringly addictive.

"Four On The Floor" has a slow. grinding beat and heavy drum sound, while "Like The Moon" sees the mood drop down to very ambient once more for a quiet, reflective, late night piece of sleepiness. The upbeat funk returns, unsurprisingly, on "Freakin' Disco". The Kuti rhythms are with us again, as well as some killer percussion and exhilarating electronic keyboard noises. After about six of its eight minutes it goes ambient, however and loses itself a bit in electronic trickery for the sake of it. The bass is still great, though. "Born In Troubled Times" has a bit of a mysterious Blaxploitation, slow funk groove to it. The final track, "Every Night Is Ladies Night" you would expect to be an upbeat, disco-ish cut, and indeed it is, with a delicious bass line.

While this is undoubtedly a high quality, excellent-sounding, immaculately played instrumental album, I have to say that an hour of it leaves me wanting a change. I prefer to dip into tracks from it as part of a playlist, or maybe for half an hour. That is not a criticism, though, because it is still a top class offering.

B-


MFSB - Love Is The Message (1973)

  

Released in 1973

MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother) were the house band for the Philadelphia soul music label in the early/mid-seventies, comprising over thirty musicians, it back acts such as Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The Three Degrees, The O' Jays and Billy Paul, as well as also crossing labels to back The Stylistics and The Detroit Spinners. Their sound was an iconic one of its era, notably used to introduce the equally ground-breaking "Soul Train" TV show. This was largely an instrumental album, with incidental, occasional backing vocals provided by The Three Degrees. The album's apocalyptic cover let us know that behind the lush, smooth soul vibes lay a serious message. Black consciousness was everywhere, in the music of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations and The Undisputed Truth. Philadelphia got in on it with material by The O'Jays and Billy Paul and, although this is full of instrumental joy, we are left in no doubt that there is a world out there to question, even while listening to some copper-bottomed grooves.

TRACK LISTING

1. Zack's Fanfare
2. Love Is The Message
3. Cheaper To Keep Her
4. My One And Only Love
5. TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)
6. Zack's Fanfare (I Hear Music)
7. Touch Me In The Morning
8. Bitter Sweet

The opener, the short 24-second "Zack's Fanfare" is just that, a fanfare, before some typical Philadelphia strings, cymbals, bass and keyboards launch into the sumptuous "Love Is The Message", which, despite its lack of vocals had a great hook. It typifies the big, brassy, orchestrated sounds of the time. It could, in its jazzier, funkier places have been a theme tune to a US cop show. It had that feel to it. There are some infectious funky breaks in there too, particularly in the last third. It is god that the full six and a half minute workout is included on the album. "Cheaper To Keep Her" is an utterly captivating slice of piano, cymbals, keyboards and horns-driven jazzy groove of a number. Great stuff. It just gets in to its stride and keeps going, introducing instruments like the jazz-derived "vibes". The bass is sublime throughout as well.

"My One And Only" is a laid-back piece of smoochy, end-of-the-evening saxophone-powered soul. Some may find it a bit cheesy, compared to the jazz funk of the previous two tracks, but I quite like it.  It features a delicious bit of George Benson-esque guitar at one point. "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)" is known to all. As soon as its addictive rhythm kicks in, you just feel uplifted. The brass punch of it is still great to hear. It is very "disco", several years early. Rhythms like this would be everywhere in 1977-78, particularly the "doo-doo-doo" backing vocals.

"Zack's Fanfare (I Hear Music)", is 45 seconds this time and is lively and jazzy. "Touch Me in The Morning", of course, was taken in to the charts in its vocal incarnation by Diana Ross in the summer of the same year. Here it is an appetising saxophone melody with some wonderful percussion and funky jazz guitar parts too. I love it. Most alluring. "Bitter Sweet" is a great one upon which to end - an enigmatic, bassy piece of melodic beauty. Those Blaxploitation flute sounds are introduced for the first time and beneath the dignified disco veneer lies a beguiling mystery to it, with a succulent jazz funk change of pace half way through.

All quality material. After half an hour or so of instrumentals, though, one wants a bit of vocal, so its comparatively short running time (thirty five minutes) is an ideal breath of fresh air.

B-

Thursday, 14 February 2019

The Three Degrees




The Three Degrees (1973)
International (1975)

The Three Degrees - International (1975)


  

Released June 1975

This was the second of the Three Degrees' Philadelphia International albums from the mid-seventies and, unfortunately, by mid-1975, the Philly Soul was beginning to run out of steam a bit. This is still a classic soul album of its era, however, and there is still some good material on here. The latest BBR Records remastering (with bonus tracks) has truly excellent sound quality - full, warm and bassy and crystal clear percussion.

TRACK LISTING

1. Another Heartache
2. Take Good Care Of Yourself
3. Get Your Love Back
4. Lonelier Are Fools
5. Distant Lover
6. Together
7. Long Lost Lover
8. Here I Am
9. TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)
10. Loving Cup

BONUS TRACKS

11. Midnight Train
12. Nigai Namida
13. La Chanson Populaire
14. Somos Novios (It's Impossible)
15. When Will I See You Again (Japanese Version)
16. TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia) Tom Moulton Mix


"Another Heartache" is a delicious, slow-tempo ballad, with sweeping string backing and a lovely bass line, while "Take Good Care Of Yourself" was the catchy, singalong hit single from the album. It has that effortless, recognisable mid-seventies Philly soul sound. It is a bit of a "When Will I See You Again" remake, however. "Get Your Love Back" was a very minor UK hit. It is an underrated, lively, Northern Soul-ish number full of verve, attack and a superb lead vocal from Sheila Ferguson.

"Lonelier Are Fools" finds Sheila in full Diana Ross mode on a sumptuous ballad. "Distant Lover" is a cover of the Marvin Gaye song from 1973's "Let's Get It On". It is full of great orchestration and more good vocals. It does the song justice. "Together" is a bit of a standard-sounding smooth soul ballad, typical of its time, but none the less appealing when taken at face value. The problem was that, while a couple of albums like this are most pleasant, you can't just keep putting similar stuff out year after year. The two Three Degrees albums and three or four offerings from Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes are classics of their period and genre, it has to be said, though.

The very Motown-esque and infectious "Long Lost Lover" was also a minor UK hit too. It deserved better, actually. Both this and "Get Your Love Back" were excellent singles. "Here I Am" is a big, bassy, dramatic ballad with a huge vocal and some sumptuous brass backing. "TSOP" (The Sound Of Philadelphia)" was not really a Three Degrees number, it was the Philadelphia house band MFSB. The girls just provide the backing vocals, and because of that it finds its way on to the album. No matter, though, its great and was a big hit too. "Loving Cup" ends the album in Motown style once more, with another upbeat number. The album is what it is - enjoyable mid-seventies soul, perfectly executed.

** The bonus tracks feature a great soul track in "Midnight Train"; the girls singing in Japanese on "Nigai Namida" and a version of "When Will I See You Again"; an Italian ballad in "Somos Novos" and an awful Eurovision-style French number in "La Chanson Populaire".

B-

Don Henley - The End Of The Innocence (1989)


  

Released June 1989

This was ex-Eagle Don Henley's third solo album. I remember getting it back in 1989 and being relieved that, for an eighties album, it was decidedly synthesiser-free, and was a proper rock album in that guitar, drum, piano West Coast way that it had. It was a pleasant mix of hard rockers and moving, melodic, romantic rock ballads. I much prefer the love songs, and some of the rockers are a bit run of the mill. For some reason though, I find it a bit dated these days, which is possibly a little harsh as it still has its good points. Possibly the slightly muffled, unremastered sound and those accursed programmed drums. What was with that strange hairstyle on the front cover, though, Don?

TRACK LISTING

1. The End Of The Innocence
2. How Bad Do You Want It?
3. I Will Not Go Quietly
4. The Last Worthless Evening
5. New York Minute
6. Shangri-La
7. Little Tin God
8. Gimme What You Got
9. If Dirt Were Dollars
10. The Heart Of The Matter

The opening title track will always be a delight. Featuring the instantly recognisable piano sound of Bruce Hornsby, it is a perfect piece of summer's day, easy West Coast rock. The piano refrain is thoroughly irresistible, as too is the chorus and the lyrics are crammed full of wonderful bits of imagery - "they're beating ploughshares into swords for this tired old man that we elected king...". Quite what it referred to is unclear, but the whole song is perplexingly appealing. It has a timeless ambience to it that ensures one never tires of it. The moment you hear those piano notes it gets you. Simply beautiful and uplifting. Henley's vocal is superb too. Evocative and gravelly-soulful. Check out Wayne Shorter's haunting soprano saxophone too.

"How Bad Do You Want It?" is an Eagles-sounding chunky rocker(at their heaviest), with added saxophone. It is very much of its time, with its eighties drum sound. However, it sounds better than I remember it. Henley's voice is a sort of Rod Stewart meets Southside Johnny mix. "I Will Not Go Quietly" is another solid rocker and features Axl Rose from Guns 'N' Roses. It has a thump to it, but again is marred by its very late eighties production, which has left it with a certain indistinctness, despite its power. This is one of those tracks on the album that I find a little superfluous.

"The Last Worthless Evening" gets things back on track - it is a marvellous slice of emotive romantic rock, with another captivating hook. It is one of my favourites. The atmospheric, vibrant, Billy Joel-esque "New York Minute" is one of the album's definite highlights. It has a sense of drama to it and a great, deep bass line, but is another one that suffers from its production. I do feel that all these songs would sound much better with a more traditional rock backing - "proper drums" for a start. "Shangri-La" has a soulful funkiness to it. Henley also sounds a bit like Sting in places on this one. "Little Tin God" has some excellent riffage and a vague reggae lilt to its melody. It has an infectious chorus. It is the best of "the others" on the album.

"Gimme What You Got" has a grinding, industrial, slightly mysterious riff. It sounds like a John Mellencamp song. I tended to overlook it at the time, and, although nothing special, it is better than I remembered it. Some killer guitar in the middle. At over six minutes, however, it probably is a couple of minutes too long. "If Dirt Were Dollars" is the heaviest cut on the album. Again, it is solid, but nothing to stick in the mind for long.

"The Heart Of The Matter" is a classic epic heartbreaker to end on - another solid, lengthy lovelorn number with a great driving but dignified rock feel. As I said earlier, I find the album slightly dated now and don't dig it out too often. When I do, though, I always find it tremendously nostalgic. "Offer up your best defence - this is the end of the innocence...". 

C+


Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Love Generation - Classic Hits From The Flower Power Era

  

This is a wonderful, uplifting and spirit-raising compilation of hits from the late sixties/early seventies. The title of "flower power" hits is a little bit of a misnomer, as they are not all peace and love-inspired songs man, but they all cover that carefree period. Basically, they are pretty much excellent examples of rock, blues rock, country rock and sometimes folky music from a period of superb creativity and atmosphere. There are are some interesting songs across the collection's four CDs, and while they are not copper-bottomed rarities, as such, there are some long-forgotten numbers that I enjoy listening to again when I give this a whirl. Examples are "Incense And Peppermints" by Strawberry Alarm Clock,  "Green Tambourine" by Lemon Pipers (A song I remember my parents had as a single when I was around eight, it brings back nice memories), "My Friend The Sun" by Family and "Up, Up And Away" by the 5th Dimension.

The sound quality is generally very good, although it is dependent on the original recording. What is also important is that all the songs are the originals, something that is not always the case on sixties compilations.

Personal favourites are the blatantly Dylanesque "Catch The Wind" by Donovan; the anti-war anthem "Eve Of Destruction" by Barry McGuire; "Everlasting Love" by Love Affair, with Steve Ellis's marvellous lead vocal; "Silence Is Golden" by The Tremeloes; Pentangle's quirky folk of "Light Flight"; "The Band's "The Weight" and Peter Sarstedt's evocative "Where Do You Go To My Lovely". Also, one can't help but like the hippy-ish nonsense of "Good Morning Starshine" by Oliver, "Aquarius" by the 5th Dimension and Scott Mackenzie's iconic "San Francisco".

There is also some great rock to be found on here in the shape of "Devil's Answer" by Atomic Rooster, "On The Road Again" by Canned Heat, "American Woman" by Guess Who and "Paranoid" by Black Sabbath. Check out Melanie's wonderful cover of The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" too. I have always found Keith West's "Excerpt From A Teenage Opera" to be very odd, however.

There are too many great songs to praise them all. Here is the full track listing.

CD 1

1. California Dreamin' - The Mamas & The Papas
2. Somebody To Love - Jefferson Airplane
3. Good Morning Starshine - Oliver
4. Aquarius/Let The Sun Go In - 5th Dimension
5. Summer In The City - The Lovin' Spoonful
6. Let's Go To San Francisco - Flower Pot Men
7. Black Magic Woman - Santana
8. Incense And Peppermints - Strawberry Alarm Clock
9. Catch The Wind - Donovan
10. Carrie Anne - The Hollies
11. The Days Of Pearly Spencer - David McWilliams
12. I Can Hear Music - The Beach Boys
13. Where Do You Go To My Lovely - Peter Sarstedt
14. Kites - Simon Dupree & The Big Sound
15. Happy Together - The Turtles
16. Green Tambourine - Lemon Pipers
17. American Woman - Guess Who

CD 2

1. In The Year 2525 - Zager & Evans
2. Paranoid - Black Sabbath
3. Light Flight - Pentangle
4. Ob La Da, Ob La Da - Marmalade
5. Everlasting Love - Love Affair
6. Albatross - Fleetwood Mac
7. Sunny Afternoon - The Kinks
8. Venus - Shocking Blue
9. Can't Let Maggie Go - Honeybus
10. Games People Play - Joe South
11. Spinning Wheel - Blood, Sweat & Tears
12. My Friend The Sun - Family
13. Silver Machine - Hawkwind
14. Living In The Past - Jethro Tull
15. Devil's Answer - Atomic Rooster
16. Hi Ho Silver Lining - Jeff Beck

CD 3

1. San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair) - Scott Mackenzie
2. Eight Miles High - The Byrds
3. Daydream - Lovin' Spoonful
4. Need Your Love So Bad - Fleetwood Mac
5. White Rabbit - Jefferson Airplane
6. Brand New Key - Melanie
7. Winchester Cathedral - New Vaudeville Band
8. Dear Delilah - Grapefruit
9. Dedicated Follower Of Fashion - The Kinks
10. Excerpt From A Teenage Opera - Keith West
11. Silence Is Golden - The Tremeloes
12. Up, Up And Away - 5th Dimension
13. Little Girl - Syndicate Of Sound
14. And The Sun Will Shine - Feliciano
15. You've Made Me So Very Happy - Blood, Sweat & Tears
16. Oh Happy Day - Edwin Hawkins
17. Joy To The World - Three Dog Night

CD 4 

1. Woodstock - Matthews Southern Comfort
2. Darling Be Home Soon - The Lovin' Spoonful
3. The Weight - The Band
4. Mr. Tambourine Man - The Byrds
5. It Ain't Me Babe - The Turtles
6. Everybody's Talkin' - Harry Nilsson
7. Get Together - Youngbloods
8. Ruby Tuesday - Melanie
9. Mama Told Me Not To Come - Three Dog Night
10. Eve Of Destruction - Barry McGuire
11. Universal Soldier - Donovan
12. All I Ever Need Is You - Sonny & Cher
13. Dream A Little Dream Of Me - Mama Cass
14. Light My Fire - Jose Feliciano
15. The Letter - Box Tops
16. Magic Carpet Ride - Steppenwolf
17. On The Road Again - Canned Heat

All simply great stuff. Get hold of this compilation if you can.

A-