Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Willy De Ville - Live At The Metropol, Berlin (2002)

  

Recorded live in Berlin

I have several Willy De Ville live recordings and they are all truly excellent. To the end De Ville had real charisma and a voice that makes your heart skip a beat. This is a good set list made up mainly of his solo recordings and not so many older Mink De Ville numbers (there are six). Four of the tracks are from the almost impossible to get hold of album, "Horse Of A Different Colour". The sound quality is impressive too. The band is a basic one - two guitars, bass, drums and backing vocals, no saxophone or piano, which does subtract a little from the traditional De Ville sound, but they seem to get by effectively enough, delivering a full, powerful sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. Loup Garou
2. One Night Of Sin
3. Broken Heart
4. Runnin' Through The Jungle
5. Bamboo Road
6. Lay Me Down Easy
7. Carmelita
8. Steady Drivin' Man
9. Across The Borderline
10. 18 Hammers
11. Cadillac Walk
12. Can't Do Without It
13. Bad Boy
14. Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot?
15. Heart And Soul
16. Goin' Over The Hill
17. Just Your Friends
18. Spanish Stroll
19. All By Myself
20. Hey Joe

Highlights are a rare appearance for old Mink De Ville favourites "Can't Do Without It" and "Just Your Friends" and a beautiful cover of Warren Zevon's "Carmelita". "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot?" is a surprising cover of a Woody Guthrie song. Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" is done in catchy Mexican mariachi style.

There is some not so regularly-performed material on here that makes this a live album well worth owning if you are a De Ville aficionado. His voice may be a little older and gruffer but it has lost none of its atmospheric quality, its yesterday, today, tomorrow soul.

B

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Willy De Ville - Live In Montreux (1994)

  

Recorded live in Montreux, Switzerland, 1994

This is a sensationally good live recording, featuring an "on fire" Willy De Ville and his top notch band. They play a healthy mix of Mink De Ville favourites and solo Willy De Ville numbers. The sound quality is simply superb - big, booming and bassy. I have several Mink/Willy De Ville live albums and they are all wonderful. I was lucky enough to catch him live four times between 1979 and 1983 in his Mink De Ville era. Although this recording is from twelve years or so later it still brings back great memories.

Just check out the sumptuous version of "Mixed-Up, Shook-Up Girl", or the rich, deep bass on "Slow Drain" or the bluesy grind of "Cadillac Walk" - De Ville heaven. That voice just sends shivers down my spine. His mariachi-influenced take on Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" is both inventive and adventurous. He also covers Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" impressively, always did so, for many years. I say on every De Ville review I do how much I miss him. I can't help it. There is seriously not a duff delivery or duff track in this mighty performance. Highly recommended. Love it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Slow Drain
2. Steady Drivin' Man
3. Cadillac Walk
4. Mixed Up Shook Up Girl
5. All In The Name Of Love
6. Angel Eyes
7. Heaven Stood Still
8. Even While I Sleep
9. Demasiado Corazon
10. Spanish Stroll
11. Hey Joe
12. New Orleans
13. Stand By Me
14. Dust My Broom

B+

Taj Mahal - The Best Of Taj Mahal


  

Born Henry Fredericks, Taj Mahal's blues rock career had its peak in the late sixties/early seventies. His blues is played very much in a solid rock style - big and powerful, with classic rock drum backing, harmonica and Mahal's knife through butter blues guitar. This is an excellent compilation of some of his best recordings from that period. The sound quality is very impressive throughout. There is a wonderful, refreshing purity to the blues on here. If you love proper blues rock, you will love this. Taj Mahal liked to rock 'n' roll too, plus he enjoyed a bit of country stuff. There is all sorts included on this fine album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Statesboro Blues
2. Leaving Trunk
3. Corinna Corinna
4. Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue
5. She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride
6. Take A Giant Step
7. Six Days On The Road
8. Farther On Down The Road
9. Fishin' Blues
10. Ain't Gwine To Whistle Dixie (Any Mo')
11. You're Going To Need Somebody On Your Bond
12. Cakewalk Into Town
13. Oh Susanna
14. Frankie And Albert
15. Chevrolet
16. Johnny Too Bad
17. Sweet Mama Janisse

"Statesboro Blues" is an absolutely barnstorming slab of rousing blues rock, jammed full of searing guitar and a great vocal. "Leaving Trunk" is a huge, muscular piece of chugging rock. So powerful. What a bass line on it too. The recognisable "Corinna Corinna" has been covered by many artists, notably Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Albert King. King also covered the shuffling, funky "She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride". The "katy" was the Kansas to Texas railroad.

"Going Up To The Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue" is another track that is just so strong, such pure blues rock. Beautiful. "Take A Giant Step" has Mahal going soulful in his vocal and a bit country in the backing. It is quite upbeat and different to the stomping blues rock of what we have heard so far, showing Mahal's versatility. This also applies to the country-ish rock 'n' roll of the incredibly catchy "Six Days On The Road". This one really rocks.

"Farther On Down The Road" is deliciously soulful, with a Stax-esque, Memphis soul feeling about its groove. Mahal had an excellent soul voice. "Fishin' Blues" is the album's first conventional, rural-sounding vocal and acoustic guitar blues. "Ain't Gwine To Whistle Dixie (No Mo')" is a live recording of an instrumental featuring flute and a soulful brass backing. A saxophone solo also crops up to add to the difference in sound to this one. The rocking blues returns with the lively "You're Going To Need Somebody On Your Bond". "Cakewalk Into Town" is a jaunty, fun blues backed by what sounds like a tuba. "Oh Susanna" is given a funky, vaguely reggae-ish makeover.

"Frankie And Albert" is a folky blues also covered by Bob Dylan on "Good As I Been To You". "Chevrolet" is a funky number, while "Johnny Too Bad" is a cover of The Slickers' reggae early seventies reggae hit. It begins with a gentle acoustic guitar before an authentic thumping reggae groove kicks in and we get maybe the first example of blues reggae. I love this. "Sweet Mama Janisse" is a fine traditional blues to finish off this highly recommended, fantastic-sounding compilation. A most enjoyable, invigorating listen.

B

Willy De Ville - Crow Jane Alley (2004)


  

Released September 2004

This was Willy De Ville's first studio album for a while, and it is a comparatively unsung one. It is a reasonable album, although I have to say I prefer "Backstreets Of Desire" and "Loup Garou" from the previous decade. It is not a huge matter but the sound quality is slightly better on those two and the same applies to the songs, just a bit. There is something about those two albums, for me, that this one doesn't quite have. The cover is a strange one, showing De Ville in native Mexican/Central American(?) get-up.

TRACK LISTING

1. Chieva
2. Right There, Right Then
3. Downside Of Town
4. My Forever Came Today
5. Crow Jane Alley
6. Muddy Waters Rose Out Of The Mississippi Mud
7. Come A Little Bit Closer
8. Slave To Love
9. (Don't Have A) Change Of Heart
10. Trouble Comin' Every Day In A World Gone Wrong

"Chieva" kicks off with some New Orleans brass and Spanish guitar before a shuffling, jazzy beat comes in. De Ville's voice is older now and, although still bearing that trademark nasal tone, is a bit croakier and gruffer. The lyrics deal with De Ville's heroin addiction which would ultimately, I'm sure, play a part in his premature passing. "Right There, Right Then" has a Byrds/Searchers-inspired guitar riff and a typical De Ville yearning vocal. This is the sort of track you just expect from Willy. Here could do this sort of thing in his sleep. I can never get too much of these type of songs. "Downside Of Town" is backed by castanets, accordion and Spanish guitar and has a heartfelt vocal. More classic De Ville fare.

"My Forever Came Today" is a slow burning, accordion-backed track in the same style of the two before it. "Crow Jane Alley", however, is a shuffling, bluesy slow, New Orleans-influenced number, full of atmosphere. "Muddy Waters Rose Out Of The Mississippi Mud" is one of those deep, swampy blues that De Ville does so well. "Come A Little Bit Closer" is a cover of a sixties hit for a group called Jay & The Americans (I was not familiar with them or the song). However, it sounds just like it could be a De Ville original, with its Latin syncopation, "La Bamba" hints and mariachi backing. It is a great choice for a cover. Another inspired choice for a cover is up next - Bryan Ferry's "Slave To Love". Ferry's deliver and songs are so unique to him so you would imagine this may not work, but it does, suiting De Ville's voice perfectly.

The album concludes in full New Orleans funeral mode for "(Don't Have A) Change Of Heart" and the bluesy slow stomp of "Trouble Comin' Every Day In A World Gone Wrong". Willy rails against modern life over a retrospective classic swamp blues rock beat. Don't get me wrong, there are hidden gems on this album. I still prefer the others I mentioned, but this is worth a listen too.

B-

Monday, 18 March 2019

Willy De Ville - Loup Garou (1995)


  


Released November 1995

Willy De Ville's albums with his band Mink De Ville were very much New York City albums. For his solo albums, De Ville went down South - to New Orleans and to the Cajun areas of Louisiana. While 1992's "Backstreets Of Desire" explored the music of that area somewhat, this album does it even more. It is by far his most Louisiana album thus far. It is a good one too.

TRACK LISTING

1. No Such Pain As Love
2. Runnin' Through The Jungle - Shootin' The Blues
3. When You're Away From Me
4. Angels Don't Lie
5. Still - I Love You Still
6. White Trash Girl
7. You'll Never Know
8. The Ballad Of The Hoodlum Priest
9. Heart Of A Fool
10. Asi Te Amo
11. Loup Garou
12. Time Has Come Today
13. My One Desire (Vampyr's Lullaby)

"No Such Pain As Love" is a lovely opener, with a delicious bass line and a sort of Cajun rock meets The Eagles melody to it, with a bit of Byrds guitar. Willy's voice is right on the money as usual. The Cajun rhythm is continued on the upbeat, swampy rock of "Runnin' Through The Jungle - Shootin' The Blues". It has a great guitar solo in it too. "When You're Away From Me" is a gorgeous, slow pace soulful groove with one of Willy's timeless nasal, but yearningly romantic vocals. "Angels Don't Lie" has Willy at his most romantic. The song has a winningly soulful vocal, delivered over a gentle acoustic backing with haunting Celtic airs and Uilleann pipes.

"Still - I Love You Still" is beautifully catchy in a typical De Ville Latin style, full of castanets, Mexican guitars and some killer lead guitar riffs too. Of course, his beguiling voice is superb on this too, as it always is. I can never get enough of it. The track ends with some Mexican mariachi horns. Now, Willy could always cook up a veritable gumbo of swamp blues and he does so here on the bluesy, rocking "White Trash Girl". Willy is joined by fifties singer Brenda Lee on "You'll Never Know", she sounds like Ronnie Spector and the duet is most fetching.

"The Ballad Of The Hoodlum Priest" is a very typical piece of De Ville urban rock, with street character lyrics, a pounding beat and catchy chorus. Great stuff. "Heart Of A Fool" is also in that riffy De Ville style that I love so much. I fell in love with this guy's music in 1978 and that still burns in me today. I miss him a lot.

"Asi Te Amo" is a delightful Spanish version of "Still - I Love You Still". The album's spooky Cajun/Creole voodoo highlight is the atmospheric "Loup Garou". "Time Has Come Today" is a solid slice of De Ville bluesy rock in the "Cadillac Walk" mould. The final track, "My One Desire (Vampyr's Lullaby)" is a unique number, sombrely brooding and totally different to anything else on the album.

Overall, this a most enjoyable album and well worth checking out. If you like Mink/Willy De Ville's work then I guess you have it already.

B

Deacon Blue - Believers (2016)


  

Released September 2016

As with the previous two "later era" Deacon Blue albums, questions can be asked over the tinny, overloud, often crashing sound that the production gives them. This is not quite as bad as the others, slightly, but it has to be said that the production on the first five studio albums the released was miles better than on these recent ones. I love the songs on all these albums, but they don't get listened to as much as they should due to the off-putting production. I just feel a different sound would have made these albums so much better. On this album, turning it lower means you miss out on quite a bit in its soundscape, but turning it up louder means it sounds like a tinny mess. It is just not right, in my opinion, but therein lies my quandary, because the songs are bloomin' great. I will always have a great affection for Deacon Blue, so any misgivings will always be pushed aside.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Believers
2. This Is A Love Song
3. I Will And I Won't
4. Meteors
5. Gone
6. What I Left Out
7. A Boy
8. Birds
9. You Can't Know Everything
10. Delivery Man
11. Come Awake
12. B Boy

"The Believers" begins with some typical Deacon Blue piano and the sweeping keyboard "strings" that have become very recognisable on their latter-day tracks before Ricky Ross's equally familiar voice arrives. Lorraine MacIntosh is on here, loud and clear too. This is Deacon Blue as we know and love them - big production, dramatic, anthemic and uplifting. "This Is A Love Song" is very much in the same vein, with a delicious piano and vocal build up to another rousing, melodic chorus. "I Will And I Won't" is a sublime vocal duet between the two of them, backed by a plaintive piano. Ross certainly has always known how to write a killer love song.

"Meteors" has a very Bruce Springsteen-influenced guitar intro. Lyrically and melodically it is very like some of his material too. Another atmospheric intro and vocal build-up brings us into "Gone", the chorus is just so catchy too. Ricky Ross is a very gifted songwriter with a real ear for both a lyric and a melody. "What I Left Out" is one of those haunting, reflective, sparsely backed Ross songs. There are real hints of Elvis Costello in this one, for me.

"A Boy" has a shuffling, infectious and unusual rhythm to it. The chorus, however, is typical Deacon Blue. "Birds" once again has excellent vocals from both singers and that pounding, insistent drumbeat that leads into the refrain. Once again, also though, the production lets it down. Despite that it is still a lovely, beguiling song. "You Can't Know Everything" has a beautiful intro, full of musicality which continues throughout most of the song, save some of the crashing chorus parts which are over tinny and not nearly bassy enough for my liking. The ABBA-esque keyboard and percussion finale is irresistible, however. "Delivery Man" does what I have been waiting for, and turns the bass up. It brings back memories of the best of the "Fellow Hoodlums" album.

"Come Awake" is a sombre, evocative number with that feeling of a cold winter's night in Edinburgh, Dundee or Glasgow to it. "B Boy" ends the album instrumentally with both orchestration and a gritty rhythm. An odd end to a generally very appealing offering. Put the sound problems to the back of your mind, as I did, eventually, there is plenty to enjoy here.

B-

Chicken Shack - The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions


  

Chicken Shack were one of the more unsung names of the mid/late-sixties British blues rock boom. They were formed by guitarist/vocalist Stan Webb and also featured future Fleetwood Mac member Christine Perfect (McVie).

This lengthy compilation (over three hours of playing time) covers their entire output on the Blue Horizon label from 1967-1969. It has been remastered to a spectacularly high standard and although Chicken Shack will probably always be thought of as a second division blues rock band behind the many obvious better-known and more successful ones, there is some impressive material on here. Christine Perfect's smoky, sultry voice is excellent on many of the songs, such as "It's Ok With Me Baby". Webb's guitar playing is certainly impressive, and although some find his voice less than perfect, to coin a relevant phrase, for me it is fine. The band never made it big commercially, Christine Perfect released some good stuff between 1969 and 1971 (also collected on another solid Blue Horizon compilation) and then the rest for her became one heck of a history. Incidentally "I'd Rather Go Blind" from her debut solo album is included here as opposed to on her solo compilation.

There are fifty-six songs on here. For individual albums, I usually cover the songs track by track but there are just too many here, and many in the same style too. You can put any of these tracks on for half an hour and enjoy them, or put it on random play. Wha you will get is solid, guitar-driven slow blues rock like "The Letter" and guitar and horn-powered faster material such as the pounding "Lonesome Whistle Blues". Chicken Shack's use of horns is something slightly unique to them (Zoot Money's band used saxophones) and Christine Perfect played a good blues piano. Check out "When The Train Comes Back" as a good example of Chicken Shack's slow blues sound, or "See See Baby" for a more upbeat, brassy one. "First Time I Met The Blues" is excellent as well, with a wonderful deep bass sound and some killer guitar, although Webb's voice at times leaves a little to be desired. Just listen to that throbbing bass on "What You Did Last Night" and the sumptuous horns on "Night Life" too.

I need to reiterate again that the sound on this collection is absolutely superb. I would recommend this is you are into classic British sixties blues rock and also if you want to trace Christine McVie's early career.

TRACK LISTING

1. It's Ok With Me Baby
2. When My Left Eye Jumps
3. The Letter
4. Lonesome Whistle Blues
5. When The Train Comes Back
6. San-Ho-Zay
7. King Of The World
8. See See Baby
9. First Time I Met The Blues
10. Webbed Feet
11. You Ain't No Good
12. What You Did Last Night
13. Hey Baby
14. Baby's Got Me Crying
15. The Right Way Is My Way
16. Get Like You Used To Be
17. Pony And Trap
18. Tell Me
19. A Woman Is The Blues
20. When The Train Comes Back (single version)
21. Worried About My Woman
22. Six Nights In Seven
23. I Wanna See My Baby
24. Remington Ride
25. Fishing In Your River
26. Mean Old World
27. Sweet Sixteen
28. I'd Rather Go Blind
29. Night Life
30. The Road Of Love
31. Look Ma, I'm Cryin'
32. Evelyn
33. Reconsider Baby
34. Weekend Love
35. Midnight Hour
36. Tears In The Wind
37. Horse And Cart
38. The Way It Is
39. Still Worried About My Woman
40. Anji
41. Smartest Girl In Town
42. Hideaway
43. The Things You Put Me Through
44. Diary Of Your Life
45. Pocket
46. Never Ever
47. Sad Clown
48. Maudie
49. Telling Your Fortune
50. Tired Eyes
51. Some Other Time
52. Going Round
53. Andalucian Blues
54. You Knew You Did You Did
55. She Didn't Use Her Loaf
56. Maudie (single version)

B

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Duster Bennett - The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions


  

The British blues rock boom of the mid-late 1960s certainly produced some names - Eric Clapton & The Yardbirds, Eric Burdon & The Animals, Van Morrison & Them, The Rolling Stones, Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac, The early era Kinks, Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Zoot Money, John Mayall's Blues Breakers. One that is not always mentioned, but for some of the cognoscenti is maybe the best of them all was Anthony "Duster" Bennett, who unfortunately died in a car accident in 1976, aged only 26.

He began as a blues rock "one man band", playing guitar, a bass drum via a pedal foot and a blues harmonica strapped round his neck. The sound he produced was full and pounding and passes as a full band if you didn't know. He was joined on some recordings by bluesmen friends Peter Green and Top Topham. Green joins him on the excellent "Trying To Paint It In The Sky". This is blues rock of the highest quality. The sound quality on these recordings, especially considering their age, and the fact that some were recorded in Bennett's own home studio, is pretty good.

He differed from a lot of the artists recording blues material in that most of his songs were his own compositions as opposed to covers of blues standards. Early singles like "Things Are Changing" and "Worried Mind" show a wry, tongue in cheek humour. His covers are good too, and are not always the obvious ones others were doing (like "Hoochie Coochie Man" or "I'm A Man"). Elmore James' "It's A Man Down There" and Juke Boy Bonner's "Life Is A Dirty Deal" are particularly impressive. As indeed are Ray Charles and Jimmy Holiday's " I Choose To Sing The Blues" (also covered in the seventies by Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes; Willie Dixon's "Just Like I Treat You" and Jimmy McCracklin's "Shame Shame Shame". The latter has a huge, deep blues thump to it. Bennett is joined on keyboards by "Ham Richmond" who is none other than Bennett himself, I believe.

Duster could also slam out a storming, energetic instrumental like "Country Jam". The languid "Times Like These" has Bennett backed by his girlfriend Stella Sutton on vocals. The harmonica-drenched "My Lucky Day" is a delight. The rocking r'n'b of "Got A Tongue in Your Head!" is the sort of thing that not only influenced other bluesers at the time, but subsequent artists like Dr. Feelgood and The Strypes to name but two. Just check out the blues harp on "Jumping At Shadows". Something pure about the blues sound on this. It is perfection - the percussion, the guitar, the vocal as well as that afore-mentioned harp. There is also a frantic punkiness to tracks like "40 Minutes From Town" as well as echoes of Bob Dylan's early blues material. "My Love Is Your Love" is a solid blues with what sounds like a full drum kit on it. "Shady Little Baby", if it is played just by Bennett, sounds remarkably full. It is remarkable that he could produce such a rich sound.

"Raining In My Heart" (not the Buddy Holly song) has a retrospective rock 'n' roll sound to it. There are also several live cuts that have a raw, spontaneous feel to them and a more than acceptable sound. The band playing with Bennett on these live tracks are most of the early Fleetwood Mac line up. The last batch of studio recordings are fuller in sound, with possibly more guest musicians and a more separated stereo sound. They are the more accomplished and polished tracks although it has to be said that the earlier ones have that unrefined edginess about them.

There are forty-four tracks on this excellent value compilation. I can't detail each one, but hopefully I have managed to give enough of an idea of the blues quality to be found here. Bennett was a true talent and left this world far too early.

TRACK LISTNG

1. Hard To Resist
2. It's A Man Down There
3. Things Are Changing
4. Worried Mind
5. Life is A Dirty Deal
6. Country Jam
7. Trying To Paint It In The Sky
8. Times Like These
9. My Lucky Day
10. Got A Tongue In Your Head!
11. Jumping At Shadows
12. 40 Minutes From Town
13. Shame Shame Shame
14. My Love Is Your Love
15. Shady Little Baby
16. Raining In My Heart
17. Jumping For Joy
18. God Save The Queen/Introductions
19. Just Like A Fish
20. What A Dream
21. Just Like I Treat You
22. Talk To Me
23. I'm The One
24. I Wonder If You Know (How It Is)
25. My Babe/She's My Baby
26. Honest I Do
27. Bright Lights Big City
28. Fresh Country Jam
29. I'm Gonna Wind Up Ending Up
30. Rock Of Ages Cleft For Me
31. Slim's Tune
32. I Choose To Sing The Blues
33. Sugar Beet
34. I Love My Baby
35. Vitamin Pills
36. Every Day
37. Act Nice And Gentle
38. Woman Without Love
39. That Mean Old Look
40. Sweet Old Sugar
41. On Reconsideration
42. Hill St. Rag
43. If You Could Hang Your Washing
44. I Want You To Love Me

B

Lou Reed - Lou Reed (1972)


  

Released April 1972

This is a strange album, released after the demise of The Velvet Underground, before they gained "cult" kudos and before Lou Reed gained his own David Bowie-inspired respect. Apart from "Berlin", "Going Down" and "Wild Child", all the material had been recorded before by The Velvet Underground while Reed was still with them. Most of The Velvet Underground versions have now come to light on "deluxe editions" of their albums. The versions on this album are, on the whole, far more "rock" in their sound, with more punch to them and a general feel of being more complete.

A lot of critics, over the years, have given this album a serious pasting. I do not have the same problems with it, in fact I like it.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Can't Stand It
2. Going Down
3. Walk And Talk It
4. Lisa Says
5. Berlin
6. I Love You
7. Wild Child
8. Love Makes You Feel
9. Ride Into The Sun
10. Ocean

"I Can't Stand It" is a rocky, riffy, latter-day unsurprisingly Velvet Underground-influenced number to kick off the album in fine glammy style (of course, as I mentioned earlier, it was also recorded before this album's release by The Velvet Underground, when Reed was still with them). Yes, the production is slightly grainy and tinny, but personally I don't find it too detrimental. It is still a good track. I have to say, though, that the "2014 remaster" that is on the remastered "The Velvet Underground" album is the better version. The new track, "Going Down" has Reed going quiet and reflective, as he always could, over a fetching backing of piano (Rick Wakeman, would you believe), guitar (Steve Howe, would you even more believe) and female backing vocals. Again, I really quite like this one. A catchy riffiness and solid rock beat makes "Walk And Talk It" another more than acceptable track. The original Velvet Underground "demo" is much more laid-back and melodic, having none of the latter version's almost punky rock attack. There is a case for both versions. I like them equally.

"Lisa Says" is an enjoyable amalgam of two tunes - the first half of the track slower and rock piano/guitar-driven, the latter half lively, carefree and upbeat before it reverts back to the majesty of the first passage. It is the first half of it that forms the basis of the Velvet Underground "2014 remaster" original. "Berlin" is the first version of the song that appeared on the 1973 album of the same name. It is a long more appealing version, with a laid-back jazzy beginning and some solid slow rock parts in the middle. Personally, I would have preferred this version on the later album.

"I Love You" is a short but catchy philosophical number with more muscular, mid-pace rock bits and a strong vocal from Reed. The Velvet Underground "session" recording of it is almost completely different, without the rock parts. It has a much looser vocal over a slightly jarring keyboard backing. The original "demo" is even more grainy and sparse, although plaintively moving and featuring some atmospheric guitar. This new version is a vast improvement. The rocking, typically Lou Reed "Wild Child" was, apparently a Velvet Underground "demo" from 1970 but there is no recording available of it. It is the most "glam rock" - driven by riffs, drums and bass - instantly infectious track on the album. Reed's vocal and lyrics are quite Dylanesque in places.

"Love Makes You Feel" is an airy, vaguely hippy track in both its sound and lyrics. It ends with some rolling drum work and a very Velvet Underground guitar break. The original Velvet Underground "demo" is once again slower and less powerful. The guitar bit at the end is still there, but with less of the thumping drums. "Ride Into The Sun" is a muscular number with some seriously good guitar soloing from Steve Howe. The old proggy could rock after all. It has a bit of a Doors vibe to it, for me. The Velvet Underground's "session" version is far more hippy-ish, led by some churchy organ and a quiet, plaintive vocal from Reed. It sounds very Beatles-esque, (something the later version on this album does not), featuring Lennon-esque vocals and a "Sun King" bass line. "Ocean" is another Doors-esque, psychedelic-influenced number that, even in its new, Lou Reed incarnation sounds very Velvet Underground. It is a throwback to those druggy days. Despite some good parts, it is a bit of a mess, I have to admit. The Velvet Underground "session" version is more trippy and actually is the better one, in my opinion. In fact, their "demo" version is even better than that one too.

Overall, for me, this album is nowhere near as bad as many would have you believe. What were good Velvet Underground unreleased tracks are given an impressive rock makeover and are certainly listenable and energetic.

B-

Lou Reed - Lou Reed Live (1975)

  

Released March 1975

Recorded live In New York City December 1973

This album featured the remaining six tracks from Lou Reed's storming late 1973 New York City concert that were not included on 1974's "Rock 'n' Roll Animal" (and the subsequent expanded CD release). By digitally arranging the tracks along with the others you can create the entire original set list. Anyway, included on here is:-

TRACK LISTING

1. Vicious
2. Satellite Of Love
3. Walk On The Wild Side
4. I'm Waiting For The Man
5. Oh, Jim
6. Sad Song

"Vicious" showcases the double lead guitar attack of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner and has that same up-front power that "Sweet Jane" has on "Rock 'n' Roll Animal". It has more "oomph" to it than the slightly tinny version that appeared on 1972's "Transformer". The guitars are far more solid and chunky. For me, it is an improvement. "Satellite Of Love" is also turned into a glammy, guitar anthem, as it has no piano on it. That is a shame but this version still gives it a real robust ebullience. Reed's vocal is a little slurred in places but stirring in others.

Despite its delicious, melodic bassy simplicity, I should imagine that the iconic "Walk On The Wild Side" is quite difficult to reproduce, atmospherically. Reed and his band make a reasonable fist of it here. The bass is good, as are the backing vocals and Reed's vocals suitably understated. It is not given the in your face rock makeover that the other tracks on both albums are awarded. In this case, it is obviously a good thing. The sublime beauty of the original is not lost. It is pity to lose the saxophone solo at the end, however.

The Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting For The Man" has a lively, funky backing crammed full of vitality and still retaining a lot of that sleazy Velvet Underground vibe. "Oh, Jim" retains the pathos of the original, but has added rock strength here when compared to the original version on the "Berlin" album. It features some captivating, extended guitar/drum interplay in the middle. It eventually segues into the heartbreaking "Sad Song", whose chilling lyrics are somewhat washed over by the excellence of the guitar and organ backing. On "Berlin" it is a disturbing, distressing song, here, perhaps wrongly, it it just a great rock number, loaded with killer guitar. The five songs from "Berlin" that appear in the full setlist are, because of their rock makeover, nowhere near as mortifying as on the original studio album.

For those interested:-

ORIGINAL CONCERT SETLIST

1. Sweet Jane
2. How Do You Think It Feels
3. Caroline Says 1
4. I'm Waiting For The Man
5. Lady Day
6. Heroin
7. Vicious
8. Satellite Of Love
9. Walk On The Wild Side
10. Oh, Jim
11. Sad Song
12. White Light/White Heat
13. Rock 'n' Roll

Listening to the whole concert gives one the right experience of the blend of tempo and feel to the songs as you expect from a well-constructed set list. "Heroin", for example, is not a "second song in" track. Its correct place is where it is, at six, followed by the upbeat relief of "Vicious".

The sound on this has not been remastered to the level of "Rock 'n' Roll Animal" so you need to turn it up a bit more, which is a minor irritant if listening to a playlist arranged from the original setlist. It is still reasonable sound, though. Apparently, Hunter and Wagner's guitar have been reversed from right to left channels in the stereo reproduction from "Rock 'n' Roll Animal". This would spoil the listening experience for many people. Personally it doesn't bother me. By the way, what was with Lou's "Henry V" hairdo on the rear cover?

B

Lou Reed - Rock 'N' Roll Animal (1974)


  

Released February 1974

Recorded live in New York City

After the disturbing, acquired taste and overall shock of 1973's "Berlin" album, Lou Reed won some of the perplexed fans back with this barnstorming, full-on guitar-powered rock live album. Featuring a blistering dual lead guitar attack from Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner (who went on to play with Alice Cooper), it is full of swaggering rock grandeur and elevates four Velvet Underground tracks and three Lou Reed solo numbers (from "Berlin") into veritable, majestic anthems. The quirky, drugged-up, trance-like enigmatic vibe of the Velvet Underground originals is replaced by a clean, muscular, almost glam rock performance and Reed's slightly vulnerable Velvets voice is given a street-suss makeover such as he started to develop on 1972's "Transformer". It is one of rock's truly great live albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sweet Jane
2. Heroin
3. How Do You Think It Feels*
4. Caroline Says 1*
5. White Light/White Heat
6. Lady Day
7. Rock 'n' Roll

* not on the original vinyl album release

The greatness of this album begins from the very start. You can imagine the atmosphere in New York as the two guitarist come on stage and launch into some searing, exhilarating guitar interplay that lasts for a tantalizing, teasing four minutes of crystal clear sound before the man himself arrives, like a rock 'n' roll caesar greeting his adoring populace. After two minutes you think it is going to break into the "Sweet Jane" riff, but it teases you again until finally it arrives "da-da-da-dah-Dah..." and the crowd breaks into applause and you know he is on stage - "standin' on the corner, suitcase in my hand..." drawls Reed. There you have it - one of the best live introductions of all time, if not the best. Simply wonderful stuff. The remastered sound quality is fantastic too. Just turn this mother up loud.

The Velvet's paranoid drug anthem "Heroin" is turned into a grandiose masterpiece, full of crashing cymbals, shredding guitar and intoxicating, dare I say addictive, atmosphere on the quiet parts, with Reed's voice completely captivating. The organ break in the middle is positively Deep Purple-esque. There are some excellent funky, rhythmic parts near the end too, plus some stonking guitar. This rendition really does justice to what is difficult song to play, surely.

The original album only contained five tracks and did not include the next two tracks (also, the remaining six tracks from the complete concert were released on 1975's "Lou Reed Live"). "How Do You Think It Feels" and "Caroline Says 1" were actually played before "Heroin" in the original set list. The former track it brought to a new life by some stunning guitar and impressively solid drums. The latter is far more upbeat and rocky even than its version on "Berlin". It is given a sort of "Ziggy Stardust" glam makeover, which, although depriving it of some of its intrinsic sadness, gives it a new riffy verve and vigour.

The Velvet's effervescent "White Light/White Heat" has the breakneck, punky vibe that David Bowie used when playing it live in 1972-73. There is a bit of a funky feel to Reed's delivery of it here, though, at times. The slow and stately "Lady Day" is bestowed with a crunching backing which while again removing some of the original's pathos turns it into a much more powerful number. This album, and the original concert, end with The Velvet's wonderful "Rock 'n' Roll", which here is ten minutes plus of rhythmic, guitar-powered heaven. It features a quirky funky guitar break in the middle played out between the two guitarists mot effectively. Then the bass and drums join in. Brilliant.

If you are wondering, the original concert set list is below. A playlist can be made using this album and "Lou Reed Live":-

ORIGINAL CONCERT SETLIST

1. Sweet Jane
2. How Do You Think It Feels
3. Caroline Says 1
4. I'm Waiting For The Man
5. Lady Day
6. Heroin
7. Vicious
8. Satellite Of Love
9. Walk On The Wild Side
10. Oh, Jim
11. Sad Song
12. White Light/White Heat
13. Rock 'n' Roll

Whatever way you listen to these tracks, they are simply superb live recordings. Seventies rock music at its absolute finest.

B+

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Albert King - Lovejoy (1971)


  

Released July 1971

Of Albert King's five top-class albums on the legendary Stax label, this is the one that briefly dispensed with the ubiquitous Stax horn backing. It was straight up blues rock, with King's guitar to the fore over a solid rock and Chicago blues beat. As on all these albums, the sound quality is very good - nice stereo and a warm bass sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. Honky Tonk Woman
2. Bay Area Blues
3. Corinna Corinna
4. She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride
5. For The Love Of A Woman
6. Lovejoy, Ill.
7. Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven
8. Going Back To Iuka
9. Like A Road Leading Home

The opener is a convincing blues cover of The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman". King's razor sharp guitar kicks off the slow, shuffling blues rock of "Bay Area Blues". The much-covered "Corinna Corinna" is done wonderfully, full of that trademark Chicago blues sound.

Taj Mahal's "My Baby Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride" (referring to the "K.T." - The Missouri/Kansas/Texas railroad) is another tune covered impressively, with some unsurprising awesome guitar breaks. "For The Love Of A Woman" has a catchy, almost funky beat to it. King whoops and hollers as he brings his guitar to the party, interacting with the shuffling rhythm perfectly.  "Lovejoy, Ill." about a small Illinois town is not about King's hometown (he was from Mississippi), but he moved there in adult life. It is one of those soul songs where various instrumentalists are introduced to add to the groove, like "Memphis Soul Stew".

"Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven" is a typical, slow-pace blues number. King could this sort of thing in his sleep, effortlessly. It just washes over you warmly and beautifully. "Going Back To Iuka" begins with some superb guitar, coming alternatively out of each speaker as an incredibly infectious rolling drum rhythm kicks in. The final track, "Like A Road Leading Home" is a lovely, laid-back soul ballad that is completely different to the rest of the album's material and highlights what a fine soul voice King had as well. It has an uplifting, grandiose, gospelly finale to it.

There is probably slightly more variety on this album than on its predecessor, "Years Gone By". Basically, if blues rock does it for you, then any of King's Stax albums will provide instant pleasure.

B

Albert King - Years Gone By (1969)


  

Released February 1969

After his debut album for the Stax label in the excellent "Born Under A Bad Sign", Albert King cranked up the guitar-driven, horn-backed Stax-y blues on this similarly impressive outing from 1969.

TRACK LISTING

1. Wrapped Up In Love Again
2. You Don't Love Me
3. Cockroach
4. Killing Floor
5. Lonely Man
6. If The Washing Don't Get You Then The Rinsing Will
7. Drowning On Dry Land
8. Drowning On Dry Land (Instrumental)
9. Heart Fixing Business
10. You Threw Your Love On Me Too Strong
11. The Sky Is Crying

The album kicks off with the solid, punchy, brass-backed Stax blues glory of "Wrapped Up In Love Again". It features, of course, a killer guitar break from King, mid-track. A jazzy brass intro leads off "You Don't Love Me", which is a solid, catchy instrumental. The sound quality on this, and indeed on all the album, is excellent - nice bass sound and impressive stereo. "Cockroach" is an entertaining blues rock number about (obviously) a cockroach. "Killing Floor" is a slow-paced, riffy, chugging blues. "Lonely Man" is a contrastingly upbeat, lively rock'n'roll-influenced blues. It is a cover of a Howlin' Wolf song.

"If The Washing Don't Get You The Rinsing Will" is a wry, bluesy piece of mid-pace rock that expands on a man's bad lot with those darned no-good women. "Drowning On Dry Land" is a walking pace, traditional blues. It is followed by an instrumental version of the song. "Heart Fixing Business" is another trademark slow blues rocker, as is "You Threw Your Love On Me Too Strong". It is a re-recording of one of King's earlier songs, dating from 1961.

"The Sky Is Crying" ends the album in the same style. The guitar is once again exhilarating. Look, there is not too much surprising on this album, but if blues rock augmented by superb guitar is your thing then you can't go far wrong with this, or indeed any of the five albums Albert King did for the Stax label.

B-

Friday, 15 March 2019

Gary Clark Jnr. - This Land (2019)


  

Released February 2019

This is a sprawling album from Texan Gary Clark Jnr. One that explores many musial options and styles and expresses his contemporary frustration at live in Trump’s America, especially as an African-American. On previous albums, maybe the awesome guitsr soloing was just as important as the lyrics, but on here the message is first and foremost. This is his “What’s Goin’ On” for 2019. Clark is trying to be more than simply a bluesman. I struggle to understand the more negative criticism of the album. It think it is musically adventurous, creative and lyrically bold. It deserves many listens. The claim that none of the songs stick in one’s head is a difficult one for me to process. I find it the exact opposite. Each to their own, of course.

TRACK LISTING

1. This Land
2. What About Us
3. I Got My Eyes On You (Locked And Loaded)
4. I Walk Alone
5. Feelin' Like A Million
6. Gotta Get Into Something
7. Got To Get Up
8. Feed The Babies
9. Pearl Cadillac
10. When I'm Gone
11. The Guitar Man
12. Low Down Rolling Stone
13. The Governor
14. Don't Wait 'Til Tomorrow
15. Dirty Dishes Blues
16. Highway 71 (bonus track)
17. Did Dat (bonus track)

“This Land” is an intriguing mix of contemporary hip/hop sounds and urban funk with Clark’s trademark blues guitar, which underpins the song and makes a big appearance near the end. Some superb guitar enhances the track. It would see some listeners are not happy with the hip/hop fusion, but I find it most effective. This is a gloriously angry song, Clark leaves us in no doubt about that with the lyrics. The same applies to the thumping, rock backing of “What About Us” and its buzzy guitar. It reminds me a lot of the material Steven Van Zandt released on his “Revolution” album in 1988.

“I Got My Eyes On You” explores a more laid-back Prince-esque r’n’b feel at the beginning, before it launches into a muscular chorus. “Walk Alone” has Clark on falsetto vocals over a gritty, industrial and riffy guitar backing. It is big and chunky, despite the high-pitched, plaintive vocals. It has an absolutely shredding guitar solo at the conclusion. “Feelin’ Like A Million” has Gary dipping impressively into reggae/rock fusion. I love this. Excellent stuff. His voice has vague hints of Joe Strummer about it in places, as indeed does the song’s construction and melody.

“Gotta Get Into Something” is full-on, upbeat riffy rock’n’roll, sort of Chuck Berry meets Status Quo to play some punk. “Got To Get Up” has some seventies urban brass sounds over some hip/hop-style backing. It sounds like a blaxploitation track for 2019. Its vocals are distant and muffled, adding to the effect. Gary brings his Prince vocals back on the soulful Marvin Gaye-influenced “Feed The Babies”. There is a sumptuous brass solo in the middle. A wonderful slice of Gaye meets Curtis Mayfield funk. The same vocal style is used even more on “Pearl Cadillac”. It has more deep echoes of Prince.

“When I’m Gone” has an almost Shadows-like early sixties-influenced guitar riff and a beautiful soulful vocal, staight out of the David Ruffin or Levi Stubbs archives. I love this song. “The Guitar Man” has some infectious funky guitar and a captivating rhythmic melody. “Low Down Rolling Stone” is a deep, solid slow burner of a rock track, full of crunching slow riffage and a convincing rock vocal. “The Governor” is a gruff, acoustic-driven bluesy number, while a contemporary r’n’b vibe is to be found on the chilled-out feel of “Don’t Wait ’Til Tomorrow”.

Just when you thought the blues wouldn’t be making a full-on appearance on this album, along comes the authentic Delta sound of “Dirty Dishes Blues”. The two bonus tracks include the wah-wah guitar of the instrumental “Highway 71” and the once more Prince-esque “Did Dat”. Overall, this is an impressive, inventive album well worth checking out.

B+

Joanne Shaw Taylor - Reckless Heart (2019)




Released March 2019

Joanne Shaw Taylor’s output is usually steeped in blues rock. This album, however, is far more pure rock in nature. It is crammed full of sledgehammer drums, rocking guitar riffs and Joanne showing just how her remarkable voice can really rock. It is a most enjoyable album from a very talented, underrated artist.

TRACK LISTING

1. In The Mood
2. All My Love
3. The Best Thing
4. Bad Love
5. Creepin'
6. I've Been Loving You Too Long
7. Reckless Heart
8. Break My Heart Anyway
9. New 89
10. Jake's Boogie
11. I'm Only Lonely

“In The Mood” is a superb, pounding bar-room guitar-driven rocker to open the album with that doesn’t let up from beginning to end, with Joanne’s voice in magnificent form. "All My Love" has an infectious, slightly funky bass line and it is a more rhythmic number than the previous all-out rocker. The guitar solo just slashes through the atmosphere, though. Despite that, however, there is a fair amount of soul on this one.

“The Best Thing” is just wonderful. Joanne’s voice is once more incredibly soulful on this one. So unique yet at the same time really reminds me me of someone but I can’t put my finger on who, which is frustrating. Either way, she is great in her own right on this. Actually, maybe it’s Grace Potter. “Bad Love” is powerful, riffy and with a sumptuous organ backing too. The pace is so strong and solid on tracks like this. Proper rock. "Creepin'" is a slow-paced. muscular bluesy rock number. "I've Been Loving You Too Long" is even more laid-back, in its pace, anyway. The sound is still full and strong, with an impressive guitar intro before Joanne's smoky voice arrives, seductively.

The title track is a throaty, husky slow burner. “Break My Heart Anyway” is a relatively quieter, slower pace, acoustic-backed ballad. "New 89" has some catchy guitar backing and another appealing, gritty vocal. "Jake's Boogie" is not, as you might imagine a bit of piano-driven bar-room rock, but a bluesy, acoustic guitar-powered somewhat understated song with a bit of a slurred vocal from Joanne, which is unusual. It does grow on you, though, and provides a change from the full-on rock of the rest of the album. Strangely enough, after such an upbeat, powerful album, the final track, "I'm Only Lonely" is also a slowie, being a sleepy rock ballad. It has some sumptuous guitar/bass interplay near the end. Apart from these two tracks the album does not vary much, being pretty relentless. Therein lies its strength - you know what to expect. None of the tracks particularly stick in the mind, but, listened to as a whole, the album has an energetic, no nonsense and soulful vibe to it. As I said earlier, for me, it is not as bluesy as her other albums, but it is not without its rocky appeal.

B-

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Walter Trout - Survivor Blues (2019)




Released January 2019

I was, shamefully, not too familiar with New Jersey blues rock guitarist Walter Trout's work until this album, I have to admit. He has been putting albums out since 1990 and playing in blues bands since the late sixties (with Joe Tex, Canned Heat and John Mayall amongst others) and I certainly need to check them out, soon, because if this album is anything to go by, it may well be worth it. This is an album of blues covers, something that is not too unusual, but Trout decided to cover songs not often covered - no "Hoochie Coochie Man", "Stormy Monday" or "Got My Mojo Working" then. The sound, however, is classic guitar-driven blues rock from a Joe Bonamassa-style guitarist with a strong blues voice too. Although the tracks maybe not so well-known, the overall sound most certainly is.

TRACK LISTING

1. Me, My Guitar And The Blues
2. Be Careful How You Vote
3. Woman Don't Lie
4. Sadie
5. Please Love Me
6. Nature's Disappearing
7. Red Sun
8. Something Inside Of Me
9. It Takes Time
10. Out Of Bad Luck
11. Goin' Down To The River
12. God's Word

"Me, My Guitar And The Blues" is seven minutes of top quality blues rock. Just check out the shredding, guitar opening to the rocking "Be Careful How You Vote". The candidate you vote for just might let you down, we are told. You don't say. Good advice. This album is already rocking, big time. I love this sort of classic blues rock so I am easily pleased by it. "Woman Don't Lie" has a funky groove of a backing to it and a superb soulful, bluesy guest vocal from SugarRay Rayford. "Sadie" has a delicious bass line and an infectious organ-driven melody. It is a most catchy number. It ends with some storming guitar too.

"Please Love Me", a B.B. King number, is a full-on dollop of upbeat blues rock. Great stuff. "Nature's Disappearing", a 1970 John Mayall ecologically-motivated song is an excellent, blues harmonica-powered and rhythmic track, the sound quality on which blows me away. "Red Sun" is a thumping rocker with an absolutely killer riff and a drum sound not dissimilar to that of The Rolling Stones' "You Got Me Rocking", but slower. It is a corker of a track. The riff reminds me of U2 and B.B. King's "When Love Comes To Town".

"Something Inside Of Me" is a classic slow-pace slice of muscular blues rock, with that Chicago blues feel to it. That vibe continues on the rollicking "It Takes Time". "Out Of Bad Luck" slows the pace down a bit, but only slightly. It is still very much blues as you would expect it. The guitar, as on all the tracks, is simply awesome. "Goin' Down To The River" is notable in that it features ex-Doors guitarist Robby Krieger. Krieger's guitar is superb, as indeed is the big, rumbling bass. "God's Word" continues in the same vein. Although there is not too much change between the tracks, there is a blues purity about this album that is hard to resist.

Along with John Mayall's barnstorming "Nobody Told Me", Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Signs" and Joanne Shaw Taylor's "Reckless Heart" it is a wonderful piece of 2019 blues rock. There is so much great blues rock around at the moment. We are blessed that the genre is still alive and kicking.

B

Rival Sons - Feral Roots (2019)


  

Released January 2019

I have to admit that, until recently, I didn't know much about Rival Sons, who are a Californian guitar-based, gritty rock band. I think I caught them once on the Jools Holland show but that was about it. This is their sixth album since 2009. So, I am reviewing it as a novice to their work. Forgive me if I show some ignorance. For me, they have that up-front, loud power that Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats conjure up, but while the latter have a brassy, soul sound, Rival Sons are full-on pounding rock. The bass and drum sounds are positively huge. They will make your speakers shake.

TRACK LISTING

1. Do Your Worst
2. Sugar On The Bone
3. Back In The Woods
4. Look Away
5. Feral Roots
6. Too Bad
7. Stood By Me
8. Imperial Joy
9. All Directions
10. End Of Forever
11. Shooting Stars

"Do Your Worst" is an absolutely barnstorming Led Zeppelin meets Queen's "We Will Rock You" opener, full of riffs, bass and absolutely thumping Bonham-esque drums. "Sugar On the Bone" has an odd, distorted guitar, buzzy opening, but soon moves into a soulful but crashing number. The sheer power continues on the huge bass thump and riffs of "Back In The Woods", with singer Jay Buchanan sounding Robert Plant-esque at times. This track rocks, big time. You could imagine it going down a storm live. Time for a bit of light relief after such a muscular opening. We get it with the very "Led Zeppelin III" acoustic strains of "Look Away". After a minute and a half, however, a pulsating guitar/drum beat kicks in with yet another impressive vocal. There is a bit of a hint of Queen's early heavier guitar on this, just in small instances.

"Feral Roots" has more Zeppelin influence in its quiet contemplative verses and its strong refrain. It is a most charismatic, atmospheric number. There is some searing guitar soloing in the middle too. "Too Bad" is a big, slow-pace industrial rock number with slight echoes of Paul Rodgers and Free about it. Once more, the guitar is seriously good. "Stood By Me" has a very Rolling Stones eighties era-ish lead riff and a funky bass line. "Imperial Joy" is back to the all-out bombast. "All Directions", however, has a laid-back soulful feel about it with an impressive lead vocal and slightly ethereal backing vocals. It still finds time for a great riff near the end, however.

A subtle intro to "End Of Forever", rhythmic drum sound and U2-esque guitars gives way to another tub-thumping chorus. Some of the quieter passages betray a melodic ability that is not always given full reign. I feel some of the group's instrumental dexterity and the hidden soul in the vocals becomes a bit overpowered at times by the unrelenting attack. Funnily enough, the final cut, "Shooting Stars"  features some gospel-influenced vocals and has a anthemic air to it. The album's forty-seven minutes will give your senses a good clear-out, it has to be said. After it, I need a lie down. Good solid, rock fare.

B-

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

The Velvet Underground - Loaded (1970)


  

Released November 1970

This was the final album, to all intents and purposes, from The Velvet Underground (yes I know there was the Doug Yule-led album in 1973) and the last to feature Lou Reed, who was about to embark on a solo career. Despite that 1973 album, it surely really ends here for VU. Doug Yule is highly prominent on the album, however, John Cale had left and Maureen Tucker was away giving birth. Sterling Morrison was still there, though. It does have a bit of a feel of a Lou Reed solo album, you have to say.

It was far more commercial in its feel, leaving behind the avant-garde, experimental art-rock of their three earlier albums. It is not full of lyrics about drugs and sex anymore. They wanted, here, to produce a more radio-friendly, poppier album. Record label head Ahmet Ertegun had apparently asked for an album "loaded with hits". To a certain extent they achieved that, but they were still The Velvet Underground and Lou Reed was still the lyricist. It wasn't going to be a "I really love you, baby" type of album, was it?

TRACK LISTING

1. Who Loves the Sun
2. Sweet Jane
3. Rock And Roll
4. Cool It Down
5. New Age
6. Head Held High
7. Lonesome Cowboy Bill
8. I Found A Reason
9. Train Round The Bend
10. Oh! Sweet Nuthin'

The album begins with the gentle, rhythmic and almost country rock strains of "Who Loves The Sun", with its already throwback hippy-ish "ba-ba-ba" backing vocals. There are hints of The Beatles circa 1964 in this. It really is rather delightful. "Sweet Jane" has that iconic riff and catchy melody, together with its perplexing lyrics. David Bowie surely borrowed the "just watch me now" line, too. Similarly infectious is "Rock And Roll", with another insistent riff and some great guitar. Both songs are done with far more rock power on Lou Reed's 1974 "Rock And Roll Animal" live album, it has to be said. Also, Mott The Hoople's 1972 cover of  "Sweet Jane" isn't half bad, either. Still, this was 1970, and these two tracks were pretty ground-breaking at the time, being a pop type of rock, but also thoughtful and mysterious. They managed to merge riffiness with a lyrical poetic appeal. The Doors had done so earlier in slightly different ways but there was something quite unique about this material. There is no doubt that this album paved the way for artists/bands like David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, Roxy Music and even T. Rex to do their thing a few years later.

"Cool It Down" is a track that I am sure influenced The Rolling Stones' out put from 1971-74. Again, it is infectiously riffy. After three solid, rocking songs, it was time for some Lou Reed laid-back quirkiness. We get it in the beguiling, contemplative "New Age". It is full of cynically observational lyrics. It ends with some heavier, rock passages, despite the quiet beginning. "Head Held High" surely was a blueprint for the New York Dolls in its frantic, glammy rock sound. "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" was a wild, upbeat Velvet Underground meets country rock romp. These songs were really bringing out the "fun" side of Reed and a personality that was sensitive and wryly humorous as opposed to depressed and angst-ridden over sex and drugs issues and the demi-monde.

"I Found A Reason" is a sixties-ish Beatles-influenced number, with some Doors-esque guitar. "Train Round The Bend" has echoes of "White Light/White Heat" in its underpinning beat. There is still a grainy edginess to it that leaves you in no doubt that this is The Velvet Underground. "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" is an understated but gloriously soulful and atmospheric Reed song. It is a true classic on which to end the original album. Check out the guitar after Reed sings "let me hear ya...". There is something special about this track. Great stuff indeed.

This was, overall, a commercial-sounding record that the band had only just discovered they had in them, but they didn't sell out their musical personality and uniqueness in producing it, either. It still has lots of Lou Reed/Velvet Underground hallmarks. What was so great about The Velvet Underground was that they pretty much changed their style for every album the released. Quite an achievement.

B+

Joanne Shaw Taylor




White Sugar (2009)
Diamonds In The Dirt (2010)
Almost Always Never (2012)
Songs From The Road (2013)
The Dirty Truth (2014)
Wild (2016)
Reckless Heart (2019)

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

X-Ray Spex - Germ-Free Adolescents (1978)


  

Released November 1978

As with many punk bands, it took a long time for their debut album to get released, a record company finally having caught on and signed them up. By the time this was released in 1978, bands like The Jam were on their third album and The Clash on their second, and musical diversification was already well under way. Punk was already morphing into post-punk or new wave and here were X-Ray Spex releasing their debut - a manic, frantic, wailing punk album. To many, punk was already yesterday's thing, would you believe.

Anyway, on to the band. Led by the squealing, high-pitched vocal of Poly Styrene and characterised, unusually, by the presence of a madcap, howling saxophone (played by Rudi Thompson) that gave them, at times, a feel of early Roxy Music meeting fiery punk energy. For me, though, Siousxie & The Banshees and the underrated Penetration were the superior of the female-led punk groups. I always found X-Ray Spex a bit screechy, but it has to be said that they completely personified the punk ethic that said that anybody could do it. They kicked up an energetic, exuberantly noisy racket and managed to get over a bit of pertinent social comment at the same time. Fair play to them. Punk was great in that it allowed young people with a bit of creativity and chutzpah to express themselves via music.

Poly Styrene's particular bugbear was rampant commercialism and the ills of a consumer-based, synthetic society that valued looks and superficial image over the expression of one's real identity, however imperfect it may be. Many of the songs concerned this issue.

TRACK LISTING

1. Art-I-Ficial
2. Obsessed With You
3. Warrior in Woolworth's
4. Let's Submerge
5. I Can't Do Anything
6. Identity
7. Genetic Engineering
8. I Live Off You
9. I Am A Poseur
10. Germ-Free Adolescents
11. Plastic Bag
12. The Day The World Turned Day-Glo

"Art-I-Ficial" is an excellent, full-on punky opener, with shrieking, indignant vocals from Poly. This is one of the best best offerings. The saxophone comes blaring in adding something different to the trademark punk riffage. "Obsessed With You" continues the breakneck pace with another fantastic, energetic punker. There is a punk purity in this that is quite irresistible. "Warrior In Woolworth's" is a deceptively melodic, fetching song, with a catchy rhythm, more great saxophone and a funky bass line. By the way, the sound quality on the remastered "deluxe version" is superb, the best I have ever heard the band's music - full and bassy. It actually makes the album sound much better than I remember it.

"Let's Submerge" is a rollicking, rousing romp. You cannot call into question the effervescent, pure energy on this album. It is infectious. "I Can't Do Anything" also has a catchy, handclappy beat to it. "Identity" has Poly bellowing the title of the song as the opening before we are launched into a copper-bottomed punk classic. The saxophone blares, the sumptuous bass rumbles, Poly squawks and the angry intensity never ends. "Genetic Engineering" continues in the same vein, as indeed does the beautifully sax-drenched "I Live Off You". The sax on this almost sounds like The Beat in places.

"I Am A Poseur" is another hundred miles an hour but then we get the complete change of pace in the hit single, the evocative "Germ-Free Adolescents". "Plastic Bag" has poly telling us, cynically, that her "mind is like a plastic bag". The pace on this one is even faster at times, in between some slower, early Roxy Music-influenced passages. "The Day The World Turned Day-Glo" was also a single and is a madcap, bonkers slice of riffy livewire fun. Full of parping saxophone and hollering vocals. Punk perfection. Also fitting the latter description is the non-album single "Oh Bondage, Up Yours!".

Listening to this again has been a real pleasure. A breath of punky fresh air.

B-

Sham 69 - That's Life (1978)

   

Released November 1978

This was something unique - perhaps the only punk "concept album". It is a series of connected songs  based around the humdrum, working-class London life of an often disillusioned young man similar to the character of "Jimmy" in "Quadrophenia". He is also called Jimmy on here, I believe (or maybe it's Joe). Lead singer Jimmy Pursey was not so subtly portraying himself. The songs are interjected with short vignettes of dialogue from the main character's domestic life. His mother was played by future "East Enders" actress Wendy Richard, known at the time for playing Miss Brahms in "Are You Being Served?" - "you bloody get upstairs and have a wash...". It has an excellent cover made up of contemporary newspaper headlines in collage.

On to the band. Sham 69 were an often shambolic, to coin a phrase, punk act. Their debut album, earlier in 1978, "Tell Us The Truth" contained some excellent, rabble-rousing anthems, especially the storming single "Borstal Breakout", which is an essential inclusion in any "classic punk" playlist, for me. "The Kids Are United" was another wonderful tub-thumper of a single. I saw them live in 1979 and they were great. One of the most viscerally exciting punk gigs I ever saw. Unfortunately, they started to attract a neo-Nazi skinhead audience which eventually did for them. Bookings dropped and the always emotional Jimmy Pursey became frustrated by it all, claiming he "just wanted to do it for you kids out there...I'm just doing it for you...". Packing it in a few years later, he seemed a bit of a broken man. This, though, was his finest moment.

TRACK LISTING

1. Leave Me Alone
2. Who Gives A Damn
3. Everybody's Right, Everybody's Wrong
4. That's Life
5. Win Or Lose
6. Hurry Up Harry
7. Evil Way
8. Reggae Pick Up, Pt. 1
9. Sunday Morning Nightmare
10. Reggae Pick Up, Pt. 2
11. Angels With Dirty Faces
12. Is This Me Or Is This You

On to the tracks now. A bit of kitchen sink dialogue starts things off before "Leave Me Alone", with a moaning bickering family going at it over breakfast before the abrasive punk guitars, drums and Pursey's gruff voice arrive. The message is clear to the lad's parents - just leave 'im alone. "Who Gives a Damn" sees him off to work on the bus, miserable as ever, griping about the day to come over a slowed-down, more traditionally rock beat, as opposed to punk. "Everybody's Right, Eveybody's Wrong" sees him late for work and sacked, and in Quadrophenia-style telling them to stick it. The song has real echoes of The Who's 1973 concept album as well, it is very like "The Dirty Jobs".

The title track is a solid, riffy punk stomper. It has the main character bemoaning his lot, playing the victim. It is never his fault, of course. He then blows his last wage packet on a winning horse. This is related to us in the upbeat, oikish "Win Or Lose". What next? Time to celebrate in the pub, of course. Up comes the hit single and laddish singalong of "Hurry Up Harry". Some may find this a laughable, idiotic song. Personally I love it. As Pursey memorably sings, "I wish you'd listen to me, no I don't want a cup of tea....".

Time for our anti-hero to try his luck with the "birds" on "Evil Way". It's Friday night and the lads want to "get their end away". The song is genuinely amusing. Well, it is for me anyway. "Sunday Morning Nightmare" is another thumping punky number as indeed is the album's other hit single, "Angels With Dirty Faces". "Reggae Pick Up, Pt. 2" is a fetching little slice of boy/girl pub chat that always brings a smile to my face. The album ends with the anthemic, pounding "Is This Me Or Is This You".

Look, this is not an album I listen to very often, probably every five years or so. It is very much of its time, but it is always an enjoyable half hour that blows the cobwebs away and is quite endearing in its way.

C+

Penetration - Moving Targets (1978)


  

Released in October 1978

This is one of the last pure, first wave, punk albums, to be honest, released just as as many of the original punk bands were turning towards new wave and/or reggae crossover material. This is frenetic, harsh, tinny, riffy punk led by Pauline Murray's soaring, typically punk, rabble-rousing, wailing voice. It was also probably the last female-led punk album too. Siouxsie Sioux had already started to diversify into more sombre "post punk" by now. October 1978 was the month of The Jam's "All Mod Cons" and The Clash's "Give 'Em Enough Rope", so, this album was, amazingly, already somewhat old hat. True punk really was short-lived. Listening to it now you can sort of understand why. Its short, sharp, buzzy and angry anthems were fine for one album, but not for much more, however edgy and wonderfully appealing they were in isolation. The problem was for bands like this, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Undertones, The Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers that it took them a long time to finally get a record contract and get their debut album released. By the time they did, the luckier punks were already moving on, away from the typical punk sound. To be fair to Penetration, though, there are moments on the album when they attempt to experiment themselves and the album still sounds quite fresh and vibrant. It is, despite those moments, very much a punk album, it has to be said, and a very good one at that, much underrated.

TRACK LISTING

1. Future Daze
2. Life's A Gamble
3. Lover Of Outrage
4. Vision
5. Silent Community
6. Stone Heroes
7. Movement
8. Too Many Friends
9. Reunion
10. Nostalgia
11. Free Money

"Future Daze" is a rousing opener with raucous Siouxsie Sioux meets Patti Smith vocals from Pauline Murray. "Life's A Gamble" is a frantic, guitar-driven number but also relatively melodic with the vocals slightly less abrasive than on the previous track. It definitely grows on you. "Lover Of Outrage" has more hints of Patti Smith about it, and more Siouxsie in the "set them free" refrain. It, like many of the tracks, also featured some excellent guitar soloing. Lead guitarist Fred Purser could play, that was for sure. It also has some catchy, quirky parts to it. It is certainly more than just your average punker. "Vision" actually slows down the pace and finds the band going all mournful and post punk, for a while at least. Between the verses, some punkier guitar and drum parts come in, though. Murray's vocals are beguiling and the lyrics quasi-religious, again very much Siouxsie & The Banshees in mood.

"Silent Community" is an excellent, brooding, industrial-sounding number. "Stone Heroes" is an exhilarating Siouxsie-ish punky romp, with solid riffs and rolling drums. It is solid punk from beginning to end. "Movement" has an infectious opening riff to it and a strangely seductive vocal from Murray, with definite echoes of early Blondie in there. "Too Many Friends" has tinges of the white reggae that was de rigeur at the time, and some mysterious instrumental breaks. It is quite an inventive number, with some captivating guitar and bass breaks that are almost psychedelic or, dare I say it, proggy, at times.

"Reunion" is another track that breaks the mould a little. It is a slow-paced, ghostly number that, while it does break into some chunky guitar parts, is basically quite an entrancing song that even sounds a bit like mid-seventies group Fox on its verses. "Nostalgia" was a Buzzcocks song that was released on their "Love Bites" album only a month before. It sounds great in Pauline Murray's hands, her voice suiting it better than Pete Shelley's, in my opinion. They cover it really well, the guitar is excellent too. The final track on the original album was also a cover - Patti Smith's "Free Money" from her iconic 1975 album, "Horses". Murray and her band do it superbly. It could have been written for them. Superb. It also shows just what a punk trailblazer Patti Smith was.

This is an excellent album of its genre. There are not too many albums around that really exemplify the spirit and sound of punk. This is certainly one of them. The album, by the way, did not include the barnstorming, pure punk single, "Don't Dictate", which is included here as a bonus track. It is a song that should be included in all "classic punk playlists". Its 'b' side, "Money Talks" is a great breakneck punker too. "V.I.P" is a corker too. The final two bonus tracks, "Firing Squad" and "Never" are both exuberantly energetic. Put this album on for a nostalgic return to the heady days of 1978.

B