Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Bread - Baby I'm A Want You (1972)

You sheltered me from harm....

  

Released January 1972

For many, this was Bread's best album, containing two of their biggest hits and successfully merging sensitive ballads with some deceptively hard rocking cuts. It shows that they were more than just slushy pop balladeers, despite the perfection of their tracks that fit that particular bill. This is an eminently listenable example of early seventies Californian rock.

TRACK LISTING

1. Mother Freedom
2. Baby I'm A Want You
3. Down On My Knees
4. Everything I Own
5. Nobody Like You
6. Diary
7. Dream Lady
8. Daughter
9. Games Of Magic
10. This Isn't What The Governmeant
11. Just Like Yesterday
12. I Don't Love You                                        

Mother Freedom is a powerful rocker with some killer buzzsaw guitar. Baby I'm A Want You is known to many, it's great. Lovely vocal, lovely atmosphere, lovely bass line. Just a perfect easy rock song. So wonderfully early seventies. A Byrds-esque jangly guitar riff introduces Down On My Knees. The track rocks from beginning to end in a seventies-era Fleetwood Mac style. Everything I Own is, of course, beautiful. As a reggae fan, I always associate this song with the Ken Boothe 1974 cover that hit number one in the UK, but this is the original. It is moving, sensitive and timeless. When that chorus kicks in - oh yes.

Nobody Like You is an Elton John-esque piano-driven rock/blues rousing rocker. Yes, Bread could do bar-room rock too and sing about "having a fight" without sounding strange. Diary is thoughtful and moving. Dream Lady has some of Bread's regular prog-rock influences as a swirling organ, heavy guitar and drums interplay dramatically. Daughter is another deceptively heavy rock ballad, with power chords and pounding piano, together with a convincingly strong, harmonious set of vocals.


Games Of Magic is a gentle, acoustic, sleepy and sensitive number. Now, up next Bread get all political, for the first time, on This Isn't What The Governmeant, a rousing country style questioning of the rule-makers of the time. Just Like Yesterday is a lovely, stately and inspiring song. The gruff, mid-pace rock of I Don't Love You is a surprisingly acidic end to the album. There is more Elton John about this, for me.

If you like West Coast early seventies rock mixed with some classic rock ballads played with seriously good musicianship then you can't go far wrong with this. A classic of its genre.

B+

Bread - Manna (1971)

Let your love go....

  

Released March 1971

It is popularly thought that Bread were a slow, acoustic-based band that delivered slushy romantic songs. Sure, they did a few of those, but it is often forgotten that they could actually rock quite hard. Their brand of country-ish rock packed a harder punch than their notable contemporaries CSN, CSNY, The Byrds and America. There was a fair amount of solid riffing, and muscular drums around on many of their tracks. In my opinion, Bread have always been a bit unfairly maligned and pigeonholed. This is largely an upbeat album of quite strident country-influenced, typically early seventies rock. It is quality easy listening rock.

TRACK LISTING

1. Let Your Love Go
2. Take Comfort
3. Too Much Love
4. If
5. Be Kind To Me
6. He's A Good Lad
7. She Was My Lady
8. Live In Your Love
9. What A Change
10. I Say Again
11. Come Again
12. Truckin'                                                

Let Your Love Go is an upfront, rocking number to begin with, while Take Comfort starts with some solid guitar riffing and thumping drums. It moves into a dreamy, hippy-ish slow part in the middle, before returning to the buzzy guitar. Like much of their material at the time, there are vague proggy aspects to it. Too Much Love is a laid-back country-ish rocker with a delicious bass line and a distinct Beatles influence in places.


If is the archetypal Bread track that many know them for - a gentle melody, a sensitive lyric and David Gates' melodic, almost angelic voice soaring high above it. Rhythmic rock is back for the next one, however, with the appealing, bluesy groove of Be Kind To Me. He's A Good Lad is a very CSNY-esque plaintive number. She Was My Lady rocks gently, tunefully and captivatingly. It features some excellent guitar soloing. Unfortunately it ends too soon. Live In Your Love is a McCartney-esque rock ballad that just reminds me of Wings.

What A Change has those airy, sweet uplifting CSNY harmonies once more. I Say Again is another one in that style too. The Ringo Starr-influenced drums and their interplay with the bass is lovely. Come Again continues the sensitive, thoughtful balladry. It has some beautiful piano and strings in its backing, underpinned by some subtle electric guitar. Just at the tempo had slowed down a bit we end the album with the roadhouse rollicking of Truckin', as Bread go all Doobie Brothers/early Eagles.

This is a beautifully even-tempered warm wind of an album that cannot help but relax you while lifting your spirits at the same time.

B

Jacob Miller - Who Say Jah No Dread (1975)

Hungry town skank....

   

Made up of recordings from 1974-1975

This is a wonderful compilation of dubby, roots reggae from the years 1974-1975 from the young Jacob Miller and dub instrumentalist Augustus Pablo. Miller's later, poppier roots material and subsequent "crossover" covers of big hits from other genres often tends to find some people overlooking the fact that here, at the beginning of his career, he put out some seriously heavy, deep  roots/dub stuff. The original Who Say Jah No Dread was a twelve track album, but this collection is expanded to twenty-two tracks and includes dub versions of all the tracks. They all cook, big time, full of rumbling, deep bass, sonorous echoey horns and Pablo's trademark melodica sound.

While I like the roots pop of Miller & Inner Circle's Reggae Greats collection, released on the Island label, I cannot deny that his best work, his most "crucial", is to be found here. It is roots reggae of the highest quality and there is an argument for it certainly going into a top twenty reggae albums of all time list. Checkout False Rasta, Keep On Knocking and, of course, the catchy Baby I Love You So and its iconic dub version King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown. Many claim the latter to be the best dub cut ever produced. Listening to those big bass lines and mysterious Pablo sounds you can see why. For me, 132 Version is even better. Hungry Town Skank is just so evocative and atmospheric too. Oh, that crystal clear rhythm. You can't beat the roots skank of Who Say Jah No Dread either.

Miller always had a mellifluous, lilting voice and it is on some of the cuts on here that he first starts to use the hiccuping vibrato that he would use for the rest of his career. A most essential album if you want to build a credible roots reggae collection. It has excellent, booming, deep sound quality too. Get those speakers shaking.

TRACK LISTING

1. Keep On Knocking - Jacob Miller
2. Knocking Version - Rockers All Stars
3. Black Gunn - Augustus Pablo
4. Brown Jim - Augustus Pablo
5. False Rasta - Jacob Miller
6. Commercial Rasta - Jah Butty
7. Hungry Town Skank - Rockers All Stars
8. 555 Crown Street - Augustus Pablo
9. 1 Rutland Close - Pablo All Stars
10. Baby I Love You So - Jacob Miller
11. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown - Augustus Pablo
12. 132 Version - Pablo All Stars
13. Who Say Jah No Dread - Jacob Miller
14. Jah Dread - Rockers All Stars
15. Stop Them Jah - Pablo All Stars
16. Each One Teach One - Jacob Miller
17. Each One Teach One Version - Pablo All Stars
18. Girl Name Pat
19. Girl Name Pat Version - Augustus Pablo
20. Some of Them Say Them A Rasta - Jacob Miller
21. Some Dub Plate - Augustus Pablo
22. Lightning Flash - Augustus Pablo                                   

B+

Jacob Miller & Inner Circle - Reggae Greats

Tired fe lick weed ina bush....

  

Jacob Miller was an artist who arrived at the beginning of the roots reggae scene around 1975-76. His material is, although rootsy, also quite poppy. He was one of only a few roots reggae artists to release as much light, poppy material as deeper "conscious" Rasta devotional stuff. Miller's singing voice had a lightness of tone and a strange vibrato styling that he would use regularly, but all the time. Most of his material skanks in a pleasant, breezy and highly melodic fashion. Miller was a really popular singer in Jamaica in the late seventies and before his untimely death at only twenty seven in a car accident he had become part of the reggae "crossover" scene, performing reggae-fied cover versions of  popular rock and easy listening songs. There are many who would argue that his best material was his early roots work with Augustus Pablo and the songs included on here, which highlight his rootsiness with his ear for a lilting melody perfectly.

The sound quality on this Island compilation is excellent too. Nice and bassy and a clear stereo separation.

TRACK LISTING

1. Shaky Girl
2. Tenement Yard
3. Suzy Wong
4. Sinners
5. Healing Of The Nation
6. 80,000 Careless Ethiopians
7. I've Got The Handle
8. Tired Fe Lick Weed Ina Bush
9. Roman Soldiers Of Babylon
10. Standing Firm
11. All Night Till Daylight
12. Forward Jah Jah Children                          

The poppy side of Miller can be found on the catchy Shaky Girl, the singalong Suzy Wong and the cool saxophone of Sinners, which defies its devout lyrics with a thoroughly captivating, commercial rhythm.

The irresistible All Night Till Daylight has you clapping along too. I've Got The Handle is a brassy, sweet groove with a lovely vocal and bass line.

Tenement Yard, while a Rasta number also uses the stuttering, quirky voice on another lively number. A more rootsy sound can be found on Healing Of The Nation extols the virtue of the sacred weed, again over a deep, but heavily skanking and appealing beat.

80,000 Careless Ethiopians cooks even more, with a thumping roots backing. Tired Fe Lick Weed Ina Bush is a glorious piece of poppy roots, complete with shaking, tremulous vocal.

Roman Soldiers Of Babylon is a lively, horn-driven upbeat slice of roots. There are echoes of Bob Marley & The Wailers but also hints of Aswad and Burning Spear, for me. Standing Firm is another in the same mould - pounding, conscious roots but with a definite ear for a melody. Forward Jah Jah Children is a superb roots track. Check out that infectious percussion sound.

This excellent compilation gives the listener an uplifting forty minutes or so of poppy roots reggae, Mix tracks from here with some of the heavier, dubbier material from the same period and you have a  good representation of the reggae scene from 1976-79. I really like this collection. Great stuff.

B-

Candy McKenzie - Lee "Scratch" Perry Presents Candy McKenzie (1977)

Breakfast in bed....

  

Released in 1977

This is a slightly different reggae album from Lee "Scratch" Perry's Black Ark Studio. 1976-1977 had given us Max Romeo's War Ina Babylon, Junior Murvin's Police And Thieves and The Heptones' Party Time - all classic roots reggae albums. Here we had Perry "presenting" previously unknown London singer Candy McKenzie. It is nowhere near as "conscious" or "roots" as those afore-mentioned works and is quite a unique (for the time) reggae album, mixing disco, soul, lovers rock and pop reggae together with Perry's trademark, slightly murky sound production. It had apparently been "lost" in the vaults for years. It had been rejected by Island Records at the time.

Re-released here by the Trojan label, the sound is not as impressive as on those other albums, sounding a tiny bit muffled, less crystal clear and actually I am pretty sure it is a mono recording. It just doesn't have that percussion clarity of many of Perry's other productions strangely. I suspect that the only source Trojan had of the album was the original vinyl. This may well be a "needle drop", albeit a pretty good one.

TRACK LISTING

1. Disco Fit
2. Someone To Love Me
3. Breakfast In Bed
4. Walking In The Sun
5. Jah Knows
6. Ice Cream
7. Sky At Night
8. Keep Him Strong
9. Tell Me A Lie
10. When The Big Day                          

Disco Fit is a first - an example of disco reggae. The beat is an insistent soulful groove and McKenzie's powerful voice soars all over it in the manner of a soul diva as opposed to a reggae singer.

Someone To Love Me has a more regular upbeat, lilting reggae skank and a "lovers rock" feel to both the beat and McKenzie's airy, light voice. Breakfast In Bed is the reggae original of the appealing, mid-pace Eddie Hinton song made famous by Dusty Springfield and UB40/Chrissie Hynde.

Walking In The Sun has a strong, bassy skank and another loaded vocal packed full of soul. Jah Knows is the album's one seemingly Rasta conscious track and has a suitably deep, chunky "riddim". McKenzie's female vocal gives it a bit of an air of Althea and Donna's material from the same era, although her voice is far more versatile and less deadpan. The song is unusual, though, in that it isn't a typical Rasta devotional song at all, despite the title. It is sung from a woman's point of view and is questioning of a male-dominated society.

Ice Cream is a seductive but thumping soul-style number with a sumptuous big bass line. It goes without saying that the voice is superb. Sky At Night is a dreamy groove with a fetching "one-drop" backing rhythm. One of the best beats on the album. Keep Him Strong is a Sade-style number six years before Diamond Life. Once again, reggae meets sweet soul on a beguiling number.

Tell Me A Lie is another prototype lovers rock song. When The Big Day has a deeper, denser beat, but is a bit muffled in its reproduction. The vocal once more owes more to soul stylings than traditional reggae ones, particularly in the "shoo-wop, shoowop" bit.

This is definitely an unusual addition to my reggae collection, showing that late seventies reggae was not all about righteous Rasta and deep dub. Also, that female reggae singers were not just light, pop singers. Sadly this would prove to be Candy McKenzie's only album. I am unable to find out too much about her but I believe she passed away tragically early.

C+

Monday, 29 April 2019

Bad Manners - Ska 'N' B (1980)

I love you yes I do....

  

Released April 1980

After Madness introduced the good-time fun of the "nutty sound" to the ska revival/"two tone" boom of 1979-1981, Bad Manners took it to extreme levels with their upbeat, infectious but lightweight ska-inspired sound. They were a nine-piece with saxophones, trumpet and harmonica integral parts of their sound. The singer was the charismatic, baldheaded and overweight "Buster Bloodvessel" (Doug Trendle) who strutted and gyrated around the stage often looking like some sort of grotesque big baby. I saw them live a couple of times in the early eighties and they put on a great show. Sure, they were not really "credible" like The Specials, The Beat and Madness, far from it, but they were great fun and released some eminently singalong hits.

TRACK LISTING

1. Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu
2. Here Comes The Major
3. Fatty Fatty
4. King Ska/Fa
5. Monster Mash
6. Caledonia
7. Magnificent 7
8. Wooly Bully
9. Lip Up Fatty
10. Special Brew
11. Inner London Violence
12. Scruffy, The Huffy Chuffy Tugboat
13. Holidays
14. Night Bus To Dalston


The highlights from this, their debut album were the "nutty"-inspired Ne-Ne-Na-Na-Na-Na-Nu-Nu, their cover of Clancy Eccles' ska hit Fatty Fatty, a rousing cover of the theme from The Magnificent Seven, a jazzy, swing number in Caledonia, the totally addictive ska romp of Lip Up Fatty and the bizarrely appealing Special Brew. What is often forgotten is that, in amongst all the fun, Bad Manners also produced a couple of credible numbers in the lively but atmospheric Inner London Violence and the instrumental Night Bus To Dalston.

C+

Judge Dread - The Best Of Judge Dread (Trojan)

I'm in heaven when I hear Big Seven....

  

Possibly the most strange of all reggae artists in the UK commercial boom of the early seventies was Judge Dread, a white man from Snodland, Kent called Alex Hughes. He specialised in singing double entendre, risqué lyrics over and authentic reggae beat in a cod-Jamaican accent (which was actually reasonably convincing). He followed in the tradition of lewd songs such as Max Romeo's Wet Dream. He had several hit singles in the UK during the early seventies, making him the biggest-selling reggae artist in the UK apart from Bob Marley, incredibly. What was also notable that his naughty nursery rhyme reggae hits were all banned by the BBC and many other radio stations.

Hughes had been an employee of Trojan Records in London as a debt collector. Somehow he managed to convince them to let him do some recordings. The backing on all his songs was played by bona fide Jamaican musicians, a lot of them recorded in Jamaica.


For me, as a schoolboy, Dread's often puerile songs were tailor-made and, also, they provided some of my earliest reggae memories. Along with Desmond Dekker, The Pioneers, Greyhound, Nicky Thomas, Bob & Marcia, Dave & Ansil Collins and Jimmy Cliff I was listening enthusiastically to Judge Dread. Listening to this is one big nostalgia trip for me. I used to play these songs to my mother, hoping to shock her. She thought they were hilarious, which is another fond memory for me.

The songs don't require too much analysis. The hits were Big Six, Big Seven and Big Eight. Big Nine didn't chart, but Big Ten did. A favourite of mine was always Dread's cover of Lord Kitchener's bawdy ska number, Dr. Kitch, a medical song about a girl who didn't want to receive her injection. Hmmm. He also covers Elton John's Jamaica Jerk Off, adding some new, naughtier lyrics.

His cover of Mike Sarne's sixties hit Come Outside is as you would expect it to be and a similar tale of failed seduction is told on the childish but amusing for an overgrown schoolboy such as myself Will I What?. Doris Day's Move Over Darling is also given the Dread treatment, along with Serge Gainsbourg/Jane Birkin's Je T'Aime...(Moi Non Plus). Bring Back The Skins is a strangely nostalgic song about the glory days of the skinhead sub-culture that latched on to reggae.

The music is largely in the "early reggae" style of the early seventies with some ska influences. You have to say that the influence Judge Dread had on eighties two tone ska band Bad Manners is obvious. There is also a music hall rudeness to Dread's delivery that Ian Dury would use on his own Razzle In My Pocket and You're More Than Fair in 1978.

Judge Dread unfortunately passed away at only 52. Here's to you, you dirty old whatever.

TRACK LISTING

1. Big Seven
2. Je T'Aime...(Moi Non Plus)
3. Big Eight
4. Grandad's Flannelette Nightshirt
5. Y Viva Suspenders
6. Big Ten
7. Oh She's A Big Girl Now
8. The Winkle Man
9. What Kung Fu Dat
10. Dread Rock
11. End Of The World
12. Confessions Of A Bouncer
13. Come Outside
14. Dance Of The Snods
15. Mind The Doors
16. My Ding-A-Ling
17. Dread's Law
18. Lover's Rock
19. Fatty Dread
20. Bring Back The Skins
21. Bix Six
22. Up With The Cock!
23. Jamaica Jerk-Off
24. Molly
25. Big Nine
26. Look A Pussy
27. Big One
28. The Blues Cross Code
29. Dr. Kitch
30. Move Over Darling
31. Big Punk
32. Rudeness Train
33. Take Off Your Clothes
34. The Six Wives Of Dread
35. This Little Piece Of Dinkle
36. Big Everything
37. Dread's Almanack
38. Worker's Lament
39. The Belle Of Snodland Town
40. Will I What?

C+

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Best Of Everything 1976-2016

I won't back down....

  

Yes, this is another Tom Petty compilation. As others have pertinently said - "do we need one?". Possibly not. Possibly yes. The previous one, American Treasure was an excellent collection of outtakes, alternative versions and live cuts interspersed with some superb remasters of early tracks. This set is more of the "well known" tracks type of release, but it still has a few rarities, a really good Stevie Nicks collaboration track and some impressive tracks from Mudcrutch (the name The Heartbreakers first called themselves from 1970-1975). The important thing, for me, is the outstanding remastered sound, which has still, incredibly frustratingly, not been applied to the first two Heartbreakers albums and Southern Accents and Tom Petty solo albums like Full Moon Fever and Wildflowers. Although you don't get more than one or two tracks from each album, it is great to hear those that are included in superb big, full, bassy sound - at last.

The Anthology set also has a good sound quality too, as does American Treasure. So, do we need another collection? For me, yes - to add to those two and get as much Petty remastered material as possible. It really gives a new life to the songs.

Personal highlights are - You Wreck Me, Mudcrutch's Scare Easy, the previously unreleased For Real, the Springsteen-esque I Need To Know, the pounding rock of Runnin' Down A Dream, Even The Losers, You Got Lucky, Learning To Fly, the riffy, Stonesy Jammin' Me and the Stevie Nicks song Stop Draggin' My Heart Around. Of course, there are many more, including the more famous ones. There is not really a duff track on here, let's be honest.

TRACK LISTING * by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers unless stated otherwise

1. Free Fallin' - Tom Petty
2. Mary Jane's Last Dance
3. You Wreck Me - Tom Petty
4. I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty
5. Saving Grace - Tom Petty
6. You Don't Know How It Feels - Tom Petty
7. Don't Do Me Like That
8. Listen To Her Heart
9. Breakdown
10. Walls (Ciircus)
11. The Waiting
12. Don't Come Around Here No More
13. Southern Accents
14. Angel Dream (No. 2)
15. Dreamville
16. I Should Have Known It
17. Refugee
18. American Girl
19. The Best Of Everything (Alternate Version)
20. Wildflowers - Tom Petty
21. Learning To Fly
22. Here Comes My Girl
23. The Last DJ
24. I Need To Know
25. Scare Easy - Mudcrutch
26. You Got Lucky
27. Runnin' Down A Dream - Tom Petty
28. American Dream Plan B - Tom Petty
29. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around - Stevie Nicks
30. Trailer - Mudcrutch
31. Into The Great Wide Open
32. Room At The Top
33. Square One - Tom Petty
34. Jammin' Me
35. Even The Losers
36. Hungry No More - Mudcrutch
37. I Forgive It All - Mudcrutch
38. For Real

B+

Saturday, 27 April 2019

UB40 - Bagariddim (1985)

Fight fe come in....

  

Released on 2 September 1985

This was one of UB40's heaviest and most authentic albums. However, it is in no way a typical UB40 album. They play contemporary (in 1985) dancehall/ragga "riddims" over some of their previous material, and invited several guest singers to "toast" (Jamaican reggae rap) the vocals. The results are certainly an acquired taste and would not appeal to those attracted by the group's many accessible covers of classic reggae songs and indeed their own, often commercially appealing material. It has never particularly appealed to me, because my own reggae tastes are from the earlier periods of ska, rock steady, early pop reggae, roots, rockers, dub and lovers rock. I can tolerate bits of dancehall and ragga but not too much, to be honest, therefore I can dip into this album for an occasional blast, but half an hour or more is a bit like too much stodgy food.

Now, that is not to say that there isn't a lot of atmosphere or indeed quality on here. The sound quality is big, bassy and resonant and, if you like the genre you will very much enjoy this. As I said earlier, it is very authentic stuff.

TRACK LISTING (stating guest vocalists and original source songs)

1. The King Step Mk. 1 (Feat. Pato Banton and If It Happens Again)
2. The Buzz Feeling (Feat. Gunslinger and Cherry Oh Baby)
3. Lyric Officer Mk. 2 (Feat. Dillinger and If It Happens Again)
4. Demonstrate (Feat. Admiral Jerry and As Always You Were Wrong Again)
5. Two In A One Mk.1 (Feat. Pablo & Gunslinger and The Pillow)
6. Hold Your Position Mk. 3 (Feat. Stones and If It Happens Again)
7. Hip Hop Lyrical Robot (Feat. Pato Banton and Your Eyes Were Open)
8. Style Mk. 4 (Feat. Pablo and If It Happens Again)
9. Fight Fe Come In Mk. 2 (Feat. James Bon & General CP and The Pillow)
10. V's Version (Feat. Sister V and Version Girl)
11. Don't Break My Heart
12. I Got You Babe (Feat. Chrissie Hynde)
13. Mi Spliff

I am not the best person to advise on dancehall/ragga grooves, but both The King Step Mk. 1 featuring Pato Banton's lilting voice and Gunslinger's The Buzz Feeling have a certain loose, dubby infectiousness about them. I can certainly take small doses of this. However, the toasting on Lyric Office Mk. 2  just isn't for me. Demonstrate has a quirky appeal, but to be honest I prefer the toasting of the seventies DJs such as Prince Far I, U-Roy, I-Roy and Big Youth. Admiral Jerry's lyrics make me smile on occasions, but I don't want to listen to the track too many times. The backing is good though.


Pablo and Gunslinger's vocals on Two In A One Mk. 1 are amusing and provide a bit of light entertainment. One of my favourites is Hold Your Position Mk. 3 which has Stones sounding quite a lot like Prince Far I, in that gruff, throaty way. Even better is Hip Hop Lyrical Robert which is the most musically appealing. I really like the lighter skank of V's Version as well. Sister V's female vocal is a pleasant change from all the previous male vocalists too.

Strangely, at the end of this mix of dancehall/ragga toasting are included two commercial, poppy singles in the evocative, more typical UB40 of Don't Break My Heart and the laconic, slightly underwhelming cover of Sonny & Cher's I Got You Babe, which was a duet between Ali Campbell and The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde. These were originally released as an EP, and the EP has been tagged on after the album's original ten tracks, hence the slightly incongruous feel.

Just to reiterate the point I made at the beginning, this is a dancehall/ragga album and not what the uninitiated would expect from a UB40 album.

C

John Holt - The Best Of John Holt (Trojan)

Help me make it through the night....

  

John Holt was best known for covering mainstream soul and easy-listening chart hits and reggae-fying them with a melodic, lilting reggae beat and often lush string backing. However, he also released some reasonable material that was his own, or were authentic reggae songs from other writers. He also wrote songs for his pre-solo career group, The Paragons. He was not a stranger to early, prototype rootsy material either. Happily, this excellent compilation from the legendary Trojan label takes these points into account and covers Holt's career pretty comprehensively. It is not simply an album of covers.

Most people are familiar with the catchy cover of Help Me Make It Through The Night (made famous by Gladys Knight & The Pips and its totally delicious brass backing. Stick By Me will be well known to UB40 fans, as they covered it on Labour Of Love II, that also applies to Wear You To The Ball. The latter was also covered by the roots DJ "toaster" U-Roy. Holt's original, with The Paragons, is the vocal only version, no toasting. The Paragons' The Tide Is High was, of course, taken to the top of the charts over a decade later by Blondie.


You Will Never Find Another Love Like Mine, a Lou Rawls soul cover, may have a romantic lyric, but it has a deep, rootsy skank to it. Sweetie Come Brush Me has a sumptuous, mid-pace, brassy but dubby irresistible rhythm. It has that dubby reverb sound to it and those high-pitched synth-drum sound effects that don't have an onomatopoeic word. You will know the sound when you hear it. It was used a lot on Janet Kay's Silly Games as well. Holt re-makes Jean Knight's Mr. Big Stuff as Sister Big Stuff in an effective rock steady style.

Joya Landis's I'll Be Lonely was a duet with Holt. Let's Build A Dream was a duet with Leroy Sibbles. Both of these are early recordings and the sound quality isn't so great on them. Most of The Paragons' recordings are also not as good, sound-wise as Holt's later solo stuff.

Holt was there at the beginning of certain reggae sub-genres and that is evidenced on some tracks here. We get an early example of Dancehall/DJ reggae in Tommy McCook's Ali Baba, which has been sampled and re-recorded endless times by roots and dub artists. That distinctive bass break on repeat and nonsense-style lyrics would come to categorise so much later dancehall material. Ghetto Queen also has an early roots feel to it. Yes, it is not the roots stuff that categorised the mid-late seventies, but there were hints in the sound of the grooves that were to come.

Of the several Trojan "best of" compilations, there are others I prefer more, quite a few, in fact. That is not to say there are not good tracks scattered around on here, but not enough of them to stop me from cherry-picking them.


TRACK LISTING * all by John Holt, unless stated otherwise.

1. Help Me Make It Through The Night
2. Stick By Me
3. I've Got To Get Away - The Paragons
4. Again
5. My Heart Is Gone
6. You Baby
7. You Will Never Find Another Love Like Mine
8. Left With A Broken Heart - The Paragons
9. Sweetie Come Brush Me
10. It May Sound Silly
11. I'll Take A Melody
12. Pledging My Love
13. Talking Love - The Paragons
14. Strange Things
15. Time Is The Master
16. The Further You Look (The Less You See)
17. Sometimes
18. Memories By The Score
19. Up Park Camp
20. Ghetto Queen
21. The Tide Is High - The Paragons
22. Ali Baba - Tommy McCook
23. On The Beach - The Paragons
24. I'll Be Lonely - Joya Landis & John Holt
25. Wear You To The Ball - The Paragons
26. Sister Big Stuff
27. Happy Go Lucky Girl - The Paragons
28. Stealing Stealing (Thief In The Night)
29. Silver Bird - The Paragons
30. Tonight
31. Only A Smile - The Paragons
32. Let's Build Our Dreams - Leroy Sibbles
33. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy - The Paragons
34. What You Gonna Do Now
35. The Same Song - The Paragons
36. Time And The River
37. My Best Girl - The Paragons
38. Riding High On A Windy Day - The Paragons
39. Have You Ever Been To Heaven
40. Land Of Sea And Sun - The Paragons

C

Friday, 26 April 2019

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Forces Of Victry (1979)

It noh funny....

  

Released in 1979

This was a crucial, contemporaneously relevant reggae release that featured "dread beat poet" Linton Kwesi Johnson reciting his lyrics concerning life in late seventies London as a West Indian over a superb roots reggae beat. The music, played by Dennis Bovell and Rico Rodriguez, amongst others is just excellent, providing a top notch quality backing for Johnson's hard-hitting, often moving urban tales. Johnson largely speaks his lyrics, occasionally slightly breaking into an appealing half-singing. He delivers his verses in Jamaican patois, but it is generally comprehensible. If not, you get the meaning pretty easily. Johnson's semi-spoken delivery is not really different to that of the DJ/"toasters" like Prince Far I, Big Youth, U-Roy, I-Roy or King Stitt, all of whom did not break into song.

TRACK LISTING

1. Want Fi Goh Rave
2. It Noh Funny
3. Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem)
4. Independant Intavenshan
5. Fite Dem Back
6. Reality Poem
7. Forces Of Victry
8. Time Come                                              

Want Fi Goh Rave is a lilting, semi-spoken recitation over a delicious bassy, rootsy beat enhanced with horns and skanking electric guitar. It has a great dubby bit at the end too. It Noh Funny has a pounding, bassy riddim, with some Rastafarian-style bongo drum backing. Linton almost starts singing at some points.  The saddest tale is Sonny's Lettah (Anti-Sus Poem) which takes the form of a letter from a young man from prison to his mother telling of his ill-treatment at the hands of the Metropolitan Police, who, at the time, were nowhere near as accountable as they are today.


Independent Intavenshan despairs at the British politics of the time. Trombonist Rico Rodriguez delivers a great solo on here. Some infectious, rhythmic backing introduces the militant Fite Dem Back, which has Johnson uncompromisingly advocating fighting back against fascists by "smashing their brains in, 'cos they ain't got nothin' in 'em...". Menacing stuff, but life was pretty awful in inner city London in the late seventies as a West Indian or Asian immigrant. Until you have walked a mile in his shoes is an apt quote, I believe.

Reality Poem talks about the age science and technology we are in and bemoans that we still have no light, no clarity, no visions of how to live. The backing is once again excellent too. Forces Of Victry is a huge thumper of a "conscious" track, as relevant as any authentic Jamaican Max Romeo, Junior Murvin or Lee "Scratch" Perry track. Yes, Johnson was of Jamaican origin, of course, but this was not reggae from "the yard" in Trenchtown, it was London-inspired reggae. The track features more impressive trombone. Time Come is an intoxicating warning from Johnson, chock full of rhythm and atmosphere.

There is a definite argument for this album having a place in the upper reaches of reggae's "best ever" albums lists. Without question. Not only are the lyrics culturally vital, but the music is irresistible too. Highly recommended.

B+

The Doors - Morrison Hotel (1970)

You make me real....

  

Released February 1970

After their stunning, innovative and atmospheric debut album, The Doors released three increasingly experimental and quirky albums, all of which were impressive, but are slightly more of an acquired taste than this often regarded as a "back to basics" rock album. To an extent. There are still quite a lot of instantly recognisable Door-isms all over the album. The swirling organ sound, the haunting vocals, the Germanic, Brechtian influences. The bizarre, mystical lyrics. They are all still there.

TRACK LISTING

1. Roadhouse Blues
2. Waiting For The Sun
3. You Make Me Real
4. Peace Frog
5. Blue Sunday
6. Ship Of Fools
7. Land Ho!
8. The Spy
9. Queen Of The Highway
10. Indian Summer
11. Maggie M'Gill                                        

Roadhouse Blues is a superb, pounding slice of proper blues bar-room rock, full of killer guitar, harmonica, drums and a strong vocal from Jim Morrison. Great stuff. Don't be misled, though, into thinking this is a blues rock album, though, just as L.A. Woman didn't mean the album that bore the same name was one either. The track is substantially different from most of the subsequent material.

Waiting For The Sun takes the title from the band's 1968 album and evokes a bit of the spirit of those times with a mysterious, brooding number that, although it had some heavy rock sounds, particularly on the drums, harked back to those heady psychedelic days. The glammy You Make Me Real surely was listened to by those who became The New York Dolls. It was in-your-face upbeat glam rock before anything like it had been thought of.

Peace Frog has a sumptuous funky wah-wah guitar, organ and drum intro and a moody, soulfully funky vocal from Morrison. This was a sound the group had not really produced before, although there are still some trademark organ breaks. The mid-song guitar solo is superb and Morrison's spoken part half way through must have inspired a young Patti Smith. The song suddenly morphs into the sleepy, sonorous Teutonic Blue Sunday, with its Velvet Underground overtones. A strange contrast.

Ship Of Fools evokes Break On Through with its rhythmic intro.  Land Ho! is lyrically perplexing, but it has a lot of atmosphere and some sublime bass and cymbal backing. The Spy is a bluesily thumping and menacing slow-burning paranoid number. Queen Of The Highway is a blues, evocative groover that once again is packed full or portent, but musically doesn't quite seem to know where its going, chopping and changing slightly too much for my liking. The dreamy Indian Summer was actually recorded in 1966 for the debut album and has hints of The End in there. The blues rock that was given to us on the album's opener returns on its final track, the chugging, industrially riffy rock of Maggie M'Gill.

A good album, as all The Doors albums are - interesting and intriguing. The sound quality on the remaster taken from The Complete Studio Albums box set is excellent.

B-

Bread



Bread (1969)
On The Waters (1970)
Manna (1971)
Baby I'm A Want You (1972)
Guitar Man (1972)
Lost Without Your Love (1977)

The Best Of Bread

Bread - On The Waters (1970)

Blue satin pillow....

  

Released July 1970

Bread became instantly more well-known with this, their second album, due to the huge hit Make It With You, although this album is one that provides many different sounding tracks to that one. It is quite a rock album, in its hippy Californian warm but airy sound and vague psychedelic influences appearing here and there. It is very Crosby, Stills and Nash-influenced and laid foundations for groups like America to follow. I should imagine many who bought the album on the back of Make It With You may have been slightly disappointed in its hippy rock earnestness and, at times, quite heavy passages. Not me, though, I think it's great. A most underrated gem. It is, though, quite a dense,  serious album, despite its West Coast inherent sunny disposition. Personally, I prefer the group's debut album. It is Bread's equivalent of The Doors' Waiting For The Sun, quite experimental and uncommercial in places. Of course, this is not a full-on rock record, but it is certainly not an album of slushy, acoustic ballads. Far from it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Why Do You Keep Me Waiting
2. Make It With You
3. Blue Satin Pillow
4. Look What You've Done
5. I Am That I Am
6. Been Too Long On The Road
7. I Want You With Me
8. Coming Apart
9. Easy Love
10. In The Afterglow
11. Call On Me
12. The Other Side Of Life                                

Why Do You Keep Me Waiting is an upbeat, rocking number to begin with, with hints of Neil Diamond's early material in its vaguely Latin strummed riff. Its changes of pace and rock rhythms are redolent of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Make It With You is, of course, the song that really made it big for Bread and tended to make people pigeonhole them. You can't deny its laid-back, hot Californian summery sound is completely intoxicating. A classic of its type. Blue Satin Pillow has a big, heavy rock riff and a typically early seventies rock feel, with airs of Cat Stevens in its vocal, for me. Beatles harmonies are in there too.


Look What You've Done had a riff that sounded like a prototype of the later Guitar Man at the beginning. When it breaks out into its "rock" passages, its is truly uplifting. It almost goes a bit proggy in its organ sound. I Am That I Am also continues that proggy, pace-changing sound. It reminds me slightly of Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy at times.

Been Too Long On The Road has that Marrakesh Express breezy, harmonious feel to it and features some killer electric guitar over a quirky, staccato beat. I Want You With Me has a haunting air to its beguiling, gentle vocal, over its gently melodic bass line. This is something approaching what The Beach Boys were trying to achieve during the same period, and sometimes coming up short. This album gets it right, in my opinion, anyway.

Coming Apart is a very CSN-style appealing, tuneful rocker. Like lots of the material it is very typical of its era. Easy Love begins with a Byrds-style jangly guitar and has a lovely vocal and drum sound. In The Afterglow is a very McCartney-esque song, with those Beatles drums again. Call On Me has Bread going a little blues rock-ish. It has hints of The Beatles' Come Together and is very Lennon-influenced. The album ends with the low-key, gentle The Other Side Of Life. This is an album that deserves more than a few listens. It has hidden depths.

B-

Bread - Bread (1969)

Any way you want me....

  

Released September 1969

This album was a real surprise to me, as, for many years, I had (misguidedly) viewed Bread as a somewhat wishy-washy student bedroom band, full of gentle melodies and earnest, lovelorn lyrics. This album, from the very late sixties, sort of contradicts that, showing first of all that they could certainly play (the musicianship and sound quality is uniformly excellent), and secondly that they had considerable rock sensibilities in there. The album was a veritable pioneer in Californian country/folk-ish soft rock. The Byrds were heading this way, and Crosby, Stills and Nash too, of course. In the wake of these artists would come the excellent America and the genre would spread out to include some aspects of the music of The Doobie Brothers and the early Eagles.

Bread also were quite Beatles-influenced, in their McCartney-ish lyrics and melodies at times and in the Ringo Starr-esque drumming. Their vocals are wonderfully harmonious, often falsetto from David Gates, and the acoustic guitars clear and sharp. The electric guitar is subtly riffy and the bass beautifully subtle.

There are no well-known Bread songs on here in the Baby I'm A Want You/I Want To Make It With You category, but there is some beautiful, laid-back material and some deceptively rocking fare too, admittedly very much in a breezy late sixties style.

TRACK LISTING

1. Dismal Day
2. London Bridge
3. Could I
4. Look At Me
5. The Last Time
6. Any Way You Want Me
7. Move Over
8. Don't Shut Me Out
9. You Can't Measure The Cost
10. Family Doctor
11. It Don't Matter To Me
12. Friends And Lovers                                

Dismal Day features a strange high-pitched vocal from David Gates, but is also an appealing, lively hippy-ish track. London Bridge is very Beatles-esque, with that instantly recognisable Ringo Starr-style drumming. Could I has a great piano and percussion intro and a very late sixties vocal feel to it. It sounds very representative of its era. The electric guitar on it is superb. Look At Me is a very hippy, dreamy acoustic number. This was very much the period of the "serious", contemplative song. This is a fine example of it.


The rocky The Last Time shows a distinct sixties inventiveness borrowed from psychedelia, slightly. Anyway You Want Me is pleasantly driven by its electric guitar riffs and upbeat drums. Its vocal is stronger, more direct, too. Lovely guitar/drum interplay in the middle as well. Move Over is one of the album's rockiest, powerful numbers, driven along by some great drums and fuzzy electric guitar. Great stuff. Most underrated and misjudged. Turn this up and you can feel the band's power. This is Bread, remember. The rock continues on the cowbell-driven rhythm of the catchy Don't Shut Me Out .

You Can't Measure the Cost is an airy, acoustic and harmonious America-style ballad that moves on to include a deliciously heavy bass line. Family Doctor has strong echoes of The Band all over it, and Crosby, Stills & Nash too. Check out those harmonies on It Don't Matter To Me. Beautiful. Add to those the freaky, buzzy electric guitar interjections and you have a great song. Friends And Lovers is a pleasantly enigmatic and infectiously catchy folky rock number. There is no way that this album should be dismissed as romantic, drippy pop (Bread were, it seems, very unfairly labelled in that respect). This is a highly credible, truly worthy late sixties album full of songs and musicianship of the highest quality. I really like this album.

B+