Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Abyssinians - Arise (1978)

  

Released in 1978

Coming right in the middle of the roots reggae boom and the credibility offered to it by its popularity with punk rockers, this second album from the Abyssinians is an excellent offering, one of my favourite roots reggae albums. Like The Mighty Diamonds, Israel Vibration and, to a certain extent, The Gladiators, The Abyssinians managed to combine a rootsy beat, a Rasta devotional message with really melodic, appealing vocals. The tracks are nearly all upbeat and uplifting, like a breath of fresh Caribbean air. Despite the liberal sprinkling of Rasta consciousness, this is certainly no gruff, preachy, doom-laden album of warning. It is an optimistic album and highly enjoyable. The group pushed aside a few boundaries - more power to them for it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Oh Lord
2. This Land Is For Everyone
3. The Mightiest Of All
4. Meditation
5. Wicked Man
6. Jah Loves
7. Dem A Come
8. South African Enlistment
9. Hey You
10. Let My Days Be Long

"Oh Lord" is a delicious opener, with an infectious bass line and lovely vocal. It has a great "Catch A Fire"-style guitar solo too and some impressive organ. This track skanks beautifully. "This Land Is For Everyone" is also a catchy, melodic delight, full of great vocals and a fetching rhythm. This is not a track that would please the hard-core roots aficionados, but for me it shows a willingness on the part of the group to produce a different style of roots. "The Mightiest Of All" is an insistent, deeply attractive groover. "Meditation" is a gloriously enjoyable number. Lovely bass and guitar interplay. It almost gets into a sort of soulful/jazzy guitar-driven groove at times. A most impressive and slightly different roots reggae track.

"Wicked Man" is the first overtly "fire and brimstone" number but still manages to retain that irresistible, tuneful sound. "Jah Loves" is upbeat, lively, harmonious and in possession of some sublime, crystal clear cymbal sounds, as well as a winning bass line. It has a feel of Third World about it. That whole airy, breezy jazzy ambience. There is something a bit dance/disco underpinning it. Just a great song, I have to say. That same vibe continues on the sensual, rhythmic "Dem A Come".

"South African Enlistment" has a lilting, vaguely South African-sounding guitar sound, a thumping bass and drum sound and some excellent vocals once more. "Hey You" is vocally perfect and has a really impressive guitar skank to it too. "Let My Days Be Long" has an almost sixties-sounding bluesy soulfulness to it and some punchy horns and strong female backing vocals. Make no mistake, this is an excellent roots reggae album and one of the genre's most enjoyable offerings. The dub cuts on the extended version are good too, not just all bass and drums, but still using vocals in places and other instruments, such as the flute on "This Land Is For Everyone". "Wicked Men" has some killer bass too. Highly recommended. Well remastered too.

B+

Tappa Zukie - The Best Of The Front Line Years

  

Around 1975, Tappa Zukie (born David Sinclair) did what a lot of young Jamaican singers did, and diversified from rocksteady style reggae into "conscious" rootsy, dubby "toasting" grooves. A semi-spoken vocal delivered vocals over a big, bass-heavy rumbling dubby beat. Zukie's voice was more melodic, and lighter than other gruffer toasters like Big Youth, Prince Far I and U-Roy. The cuts here, recorded on the Virgin Front Line label were certainly very dub heavy but the vocals give them a slightly less fervent feel. There is a strong Rasta message prevalent on a lot of the material, which was pretty unsurprising, as that was what the roots genre within reggae was all about.

TRACK LISTING

1. Pick Up The Rockers
2. M.P.L.A. Dub
3. Don't Get Crazy
4. Stop The Gun Shooting
5. Marcus
6. Chalice To Chalice
7. Oh Lord!
8. Satta
9. Green By Murder
10. Freedom Street
11. First Street Rock
12. The City Of Mount Zion
13. Ghetto Rock
14. Praise Jah In Gladness
15. Peace In The City
16. Dangerous Woman

This compilation mainly covers material from the 1976-1979 glorious period for roots/dub reggae.

"M.P.L.A. Dub" is Zukie's most famous track. It is supposdly about Angolan freedom fighters but you don't get much hint of that in the lyrics. "Don't Get Crazy" is a sparse bassy piece of dub, while "Stop The Gun Shooting" continues in the same vein, with an infectious bass riddim and a strong anti-violence message. So, while Rasta devotions were high on Zukie's agenda, he had strong social concerns too. "Marcus" reworks the Burning Spear "Marcus Garvey" in a dub/toasting style.

As the tracks progress into the 1978 period, we get a slightly crisper sound, such as on "Oh Lord!" with the cymbals to the fore and that typically dubby brass backing. The dub had progressed a little from the bass and drum of "Don't Get Crazy". I like the bit where Tappa starts talking about cricket half way through "Oh Lord!". The West Indies were the best cricket team in the world at the time. "Satta" has an addictive bass line but the vocals get a bit tiresome as "satta" is repeated many times.

"Green By Murder" features that "murder!" line that The Clash used on "Somebody Got Murdered". It features some appealing saxophone underpinning the riddim. Another sign of musical broadening of horizons. "Freedom Street" has some delicious horns and a lively catchiness to it. While the basic toasting vocal style remained the same, it is clear that Zukie was attempting to include different types of backing on occasions. The music becomes slightly more inventive. "The City Of Mount Zion" has an excellent bass line.

Overall, this is an interesting example of the rootsy DJ toasting style that was prevalent in 1976-79 reggae. Personally, I can listen to about half an hour before I start to tire just a little. I prefer my Tappa Zukie tracks appearing every now and again, as part of a compilation of various artists or a playlist.

C+

Dread Meets Punk Rockers Uptown


  

This is an excellent compilation, curated by Don Letts, that presents some of most atmospheric roots/dub reggae numbers from the period 1975-1977 that were very much a part of the punk/roots reggae crossover that broke big in 1978. Punk band like the Clash, The Slits, The Ruts, Stiff Little Fingers, The Police and many more were influenced by the deep, bassy sounds of dub and roots reggae. The music is dripping with nostalgia for anyone, like myself, who was around, attending gigs during that incredibly exciting period. The p.a. systems before punk gigs regularly played this material non-stop. Before your favourite punk band took to the stage, there would often have been half an hour or more of solid roots/dub reggae blasting out of the venues speakers. Then, of course, there was Notting Hill carnival - cans of cold Red Stripe, plates of curry goat with rice and peas and enormous sound systems pumping out Big Youth, U-Roy, King Tubby and Culture.

It is a shame that the compilation couldn't be interspersed with some punky white reggae classics like The Clash's "Armagideon Time" or The Ruts' "Jah Wars", but, then again, you can make a seriously good playlist yourself by doing just that, as I have. Otherwise, just play the sumptuous, ranking fare on offer here.

TRACK LISTING

1. Bag A Wire Dub - King Tubby
2. Marcus Garvey - Big Youth
3. Fade Away - Junior Byles
4. M.P.L.A. Dub - Tappa Zukie
5. Black Harmony Killer - Jah Stitch
6. Fisherman - The Congos
7. Wear You To The Ball - U-Roy
8. Rush I Some Dub - Tappa Zukie
9. Pure Ranking - Horace Andy
10. I Need A Roof - The Mighty Diamonds
11. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown - King Tubby & Augustus Pablo
12. Train To Zion - U Brown
13. Two Sevens Clash - Culture
14. Deuteronomy - Sylford Walker
15. Police And Thieves - Junior Murvin
16. The Tackro - Lee "Scratch" Perry & The Upsetters

The stand out and well known classics on here are Junior Murvin's iconic "Police and Thieves" (also covered by The Clash), Culture's crucial groove "Two Sevens Clash", King Tubby and Augustus Pablo's ground-breaking dub "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown" and The Congos' melodic "Fisherman". There are also several examples of "toasting", the semi-spoken vocal accompaniment to a dubby beat in U-Roy's take on John Holt's "Wear You To The Ball", Jah Stitch's beautifully bassy "Black Harmony Killer" and U Brown's "Train To Zion". Dub is here with, amongst others, King Tubby's "Bag A Wire Dub" and Tappa Zukie's thumping "M.P.L.A. Dub". The same artist's "Rush I Some Dub" is a piledriving bassy dub too. Nice to hear the more melodious roots of The Mighty Diamonds' "I Need A Roof".

The sound is pretty good, but some of the tracks still have that crackling sound that they always had. That just seems to add to the atmosphere. You would almost think Letts put them on there deliberately, as they are not on other issues of "Two Sevens Clash", for example. Put this on, turn the bass up to full and imagine its 1978 again.

B+

King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown - King Tubby & Augustus Pablo (1976)


  

Released in 1976

This was probably the first dub album that was critically accepted in its own right and preceded the punk/dub/roots reggae crossover that really took off in 1978. The dark, deep, bassy, often scratchy and mysterious "riddims" dominated the sound systems at Notting Hill Carnival, pounding out from under the Westway flyovers once darkness fell. The sounds were also played a lot, pre-gig, over the p.a. at countless punk gigs, which is where I first came across it. Listening to this takes me right back there.

"Dub" is in its purest form was instrumental reggae backings to songs, stripped down to a thumping bass, drums, staccato cymbals (check out "Young Generation Dub" for an example) and intermittent horn breaks. Here, the acknowledged "dub master" King Tubby mixed these intoxicating, deep sounds with the assistance of Augustus Pablo, who played the unique, strange-sounding melodica as well as piano, organ and clavinet. Vocals, when they occur are often repetitive and deliberately echoey, fading in and out. Guitar sounds are typically chunky "skanking" breaks, but, once again, they come and go. The organ swirls in and out too. It is all one big, infectious cornucopia that instantly summons up the spirit of inner-city London in the 1976-1980 period. The style of music influenced so many - Don Letts, Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, The Ruts, The Slits, The Police as well as countless reggae artists subsequently.

Other musicians on here are Wailers drummer Carlton Barrett, bassists Robbie Shakespeare and Wailer Aston Barrett and Earl "Chinna" Smith on guitar. Reggae royalty indeed.

TRACK LISTING

1. Keep On Dubbing
2. Stop Them Jah
3. Young Generation Dub
4. Each One Dub
5. 555 Dub Street
6. Braces Tower Dub
7. King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown
8. Corner Crew Dub
9. Say So
10. Skanking Dub
11. Frozen Dub
12. Satta Dub

It is pretty pointless analysing each cut one by one, as I do on most albums, as they just wash over you in one well-spent, atmospheric half hour of bassy therapy. I will say, though, that Carlton Barrett's drumming is just superb - rhythmic and powerful simultaneously. The best reggae drummer of all time? Up there with Sly Dunbar.

If you want to choose just one track, just go for the title track, "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown", which introduced Augustus Pablo's evocative melodica. Check out Carlton's cymbal work on it too. Sublime. That guitar skanking on "Corner Crew Dub" is exhilarating as well. The bass and skanking on "Say So". There you go, I am picking out some of the cuts after all. A whole new genre was being created. I know dub versions of hit singles had existed for several years before, often created by just taking the vocal out of the recording, but this was taking the whole thing to a new level. It became an art form. Yes, there is heavier dub around than this, produced as the genre developed, and the sound isn't great (but isn't that part of the nostalgic appeal?) but this is certainly a ground-breaking album. Check out any of Lee "Scratch" Perry's Ark Studio work as well as an example of the art of dub at its finest - "Arkology" or "Sipple Out Deh".

B+

Israel Vibration - The Same Song (1978)


  

Released in 1978

This was one of the most refreshing, exciting debuts from a reggae band in the roots era of the mid-late seventies. It had a lively, airy, upbeat feel to it. Yes, it had a Rasta message, but it was delivered with a highly melodious, carefree vitality to it. They were a vocal trio and the vocals had a quavering, light quality about them, a bit Jacob Miller-ish. There is also something of The Wailing Souls about them, but lighter. The music had to avoid being too deep and thumping in order to allow the vocals to flourish. Notably, all three of them had suffered from polio in childhood and had disabilities. Their slightly sad-sounding vocals are not linked to this, but you can't help but feel a poignancy, somehow. Their backing musicians on here included Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Ansel Collins and Augustus Pablo. The music is top quality as is the sound reproduction. Nice and bassy, but not speaker-shaking.

The album is totally a Rastafarian "conscious" one, with warnings and messages abounding. Don't let that put you off, though, it is all delivered in a most winning fashion. It is one of the most accessible but genuinely authentic Rasta roots albums. It may lack the preachy fire of Burning Spear, Big Youth or Black Uhuru, but it is no less convincing.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Same Song
2. Weep And Mourn
3. Walk The Streets Of Glory
4. Ball Of Fire
5. I'll Go Through
6. Why Worry
7. Lift Up Your Conscience
8. Prophet Has Arise
9. Jah Time Has Come
10. Licks And Kicks

"The Same Song" is a beautifully lilting skank, with some fetching saxophone. "Weep And Mourn" has another infectious, toe-tapping rhythm with a bit of a Burning Spear style vocal dishing put the Rasta warnings of "great tribulation". It has a sumptuous guitar skank throughout as well. "Walk The Streets Of Glory" has an insistent, bass beat and a wobbly but appealing vocal. "Ball Of Fire" is just lovely, full of feeling in its vocals and driving along on a most attractive rhythm. Great stuff.

"I'll Go Through" is another laid-back, peaceful skank that just draws you in and envelops you. "Why Worry" is a more muscular, solid chugger. "Lift Up Your Conscience" is in the same vein but slightly less heavy. Back to a heavier, more typically late seventies roots groove is "Prophet Has Arise". The last few tracks have indeed been slightly deeper in their sound, but this is lifted by the subtle skank of "Jah Time Has Come". It reminds me a lot of The Mighty Diamonds.

A deep bass and saxophone backs the hard-hitting "Licks And Kicks", which is the album's only political song, detailing an act of police brutality. Even then, the act is explained as a "fulfilment of holy prophecy". This is a devout trio.

B-

"The Harder They Come" - Original Soundtrack


  

Released February 1973

Reggae had really not been considered a credible music genre before 1973, despite the many late sixties/early seventies chart hits (particularly in the UK). The release of Bob Marley & The Wailers' "Catch A Fire" changed that and in the same year came this iconic soundtrack release. The movie of the same name was a low budget, often incomprehensible (a lot of the speech was in Jamaican patois) but highly atmospheric one and the music used that appears on this album was truly outstanding.

The tracks that had already been hit singles are the ones that always catch the eye for most people - Desmond Dekker's catchy and poppy "You Can Get It If You Really Want", his "007 (Shanty Town)" and Jimmy Cliff's "The Harder They Come". However, it is some of the lesser-known tracks that contain some of the album's most authentic reggae. There is the patois-drenched early roots of Scotty's "Draw Your Brakes", the melodious but admonishing "Johnny Too Bad" from The Slickers and two wonderful cuts from the ebullient Toots & The Maytals - the marvellously lively "Sweet And Dandy" (a tale of a Jamaican wedding) and "Pressure Drop", one of my favourite reggae tracks of all time. There is also the original "Rivers Of Babylon" by The Melodians, which is far more roots than the Boney M version everyone knows. Strangely two of the album's most evocative numbers do not contain any reggae rhythms. Jimmy Cliff's "Sitting In Limbo" is a soulful, gentle number, while the truly iconic "Many Rivers To Cross" is a plaintive, organ-backed ballad.

It is only a short album, and, to be honest, there are many fuller, more complete compilations around, ("Trojan Presents: Classic Reggae" or "Monkey Business: The Definitive Skinhead Reggae Collection" to name but two), but the material included on here provides a great bite-sized sample of the irresistible glory of early seventies reggae.

TRACK LISTING

1. You Can Get It If You Really Want - Desmond Dekker
2. Draw Your Brakes - Scotty
3. Rivers Of Babylon - The Melodians
4. Many Rivers To Cross - Jimmy Cliff
5. Sweet And Dandy - Toots & The Maytals
6. The Harder They Come - Jimmy Cliff
7. Johnny Too Bad - The Slickers
8. 007 (Shanty Town) - Desmond Dekker
9. Pressure Drop - Toots & The Maytals
10. Sitting In Limbo - Jimmy Cliff
11. You Can Get It If You Really Want (Instrumental) - Jimmy Cliff
12. The Harder They Come (short version) - Jimmy Cliff

B+

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Jimmy Cliff - Reggae Greats


  

Jimmy Cliff was one of the great late sixties/early seventies reggae artists, along with Desmond Dekker. They were the voices that were on several of the huge hits that had that "reggae with strings" production that commercialised reggae and brought it to the charts. The importance of reggae's pop breakthrough here cannot be over-estimated. It paved the way for Bob Marley to make reggae credible. To dismiss this material as mere pop chart fare would be wrong. It is feel-good music of the highest order. It brought Jamaican music into the UK mainstream and is hugely culturally important because of it.

The highlights are the iconic "The Harder They Come", used to great effect in the movie of the same name; the singalong "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah"; Cliff's cover of Desmond Dekker's "You Can Get It If You Really Want"; the unusually serious "Vietnam"; and two songs that actually don't contain any real reggae rhythms - the melodious, soulful "Sitting In Limbo" and the moving, evocative ballad "Many Rivers To Cross". All quality stuff.

TRACK LISTING

1. Vietnam
2. Sitting In Limbo
3. Struggling Man
4. Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
5. Bongo Man
6. The Harder They Come
7. Sufferin' In The Land
8. Many Rivers To Cross
9. Hard Road To Travel
10. You Can Get It If You Really Want
11. Sooner Or Later

B-

Peter Tosh - Bush Doctor (1978)

  

Released in 1978

This was Peter Tosh's first release on The Rolling Stones label and, while it was a bit of an obvious attempt to cash in on the reggae/rock crossover that punk had inspired and also to bring Tosh's music to a mainstream radio audience, like his old mate Bob Marley (who was off conquering the world), it was also an album that stuck to its essential roots feel. It is still quite a rootsy album, in places, but the overall feel is one of carefree, lively, toe-tapping, skanking enjoyment. It is by far Tosh's most accessible album.

TRACK LISTING

1. (You Gotta Walk) Don't look Back
2. Pick Myself Up
3. I'm The Toughest
4. Soon Come
5. Moses The Prophet
6. Bush Doctor
7. Stand Firm
8. Dem Ha Fe Get A Beatin'
9. Creation

The opener was a cover of The Temptations' "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" and featured a somewhat self-conscious vocal duet between Tosh and Mick Jagger, but, despite that, it is still a radio-friendly catchy number, and indeed was a minor hit. It succeeded in bringing Tosh's name further into the limelight for a while, and the album was quite a good seller, probably Tosh's most successful. Both the uplifting "Pick Myself Up" and "I'm The Toughest" are lively, quite poppy offerings, with a commercial skanking beat, saxophone on the latter and singalong refrains. These are very much attempts to plough the same furrow as Bob Marley in their obviously accessible melodies. Reggae for the masses. Not that they aren't both immensely appealing songs.

"Soon Come" is another upbeat number, full of punchy horns and a catchy chorus. It is probably time for a bit of Rasta consciousness and it arrives in "Moses The Prophet" with its Biblical warnings, but it is still delivered over an infectious, energetic beat, as indeed is "Bush Doctor", which has Tosh telling us the cigarettes are bad for us, so we should legalise marijuana. Both these songs are once again pretty irresistible. "Stand Firm" is the most rootsy cut so far, heavier and bassier. It is enhanced as is all the album by some great guitar. The guitar on here, and on the previous track, is played by none other than Keith Richards, always The Stones' biggest reggae fan. The guitar is not the usual Richards riff, though, it is a wah-wah skank.

"Dem Ha Fe Get A Beatin'" is an old Wailers song and it contains an evocative vocal from Tosh. Again, it is a really exhilarating number. The one song that breaks the album's mould is the unusual "Creation", a six minute mix of Handel's Messiah, gospelly female backing vocals, the Bible's creation story, thunderbolt sound effects, wave sounds and a spoken vocal which has Tosh proclaiming his spiritual devotion. There is no reggae in the track at all, just a gentle acoustic guitar. It is a very odd, incongruous track but, that aside, this album is a true pleasure from beginning to end. Keith Richards said that Tosh was a bit difficult to work with in his rather inconsistent, unreliable way, but Keith (a bit that way himself) just muddled along, (man), and the results are a delightful album that just has a real unbridled joie de vivre about it.

B+

Peter Tosh - Legalize It (1976)

  

Released in 1976

This was Peter Tosh's debut album after leaving Bob Marley & The Wailers. Most of it was recorded in 1975 and released the following year. It is not as "full on" in its issue-driven messages as subsequent albums, containing a few more "fun" numbers. However, Tosh's obsession with marijuana and his feelings of persecution by the police over his liberal use of it are strongly represented on the album. He was arrested several times, so he definitely had an axe to grind. The follow-up album, "Equal Rights" is far more militant, however. There is also a Rasta devotional number, reflecting the powerful "roots" movement that was prominent in many reggae recordings in this period. This is a roots album, a Rasta "conscious" album, a ganja album, but it also is a very catchy, melodic one too, for Tosh had a real ear for a killer tune. It is certainly not all deep, dense, dubby stuff as Tosh knew how to harness those delicious horns and skanking riddims. There are several "relationship" numbers on here as well.

TRACK LISTING

1. Legalize It
2. Burial
3. Wat'cha Gonna Do?
4. No Sympathy
5. Why Must I Cry
6. Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised)
7. Ketchy Shuby
8. Till Your Well Runs Dry
9. Brand New Second Hand

The title track is a slow burning groove in praise of marijuana calling, obviously, for its legalisation. As well as that, asthma, tuberculosis and glaucoma are some of the ailments Tosh claims the herb is good for. "Burial" is a big, bassy Wailers-esque number featuring some excellent guitar and organ backing. The lighter side of Peter Tosh first arrives in the tuneful, infectious fluff of "Wat'cha Gonna Do". For all his pontificating, he definitely had a more carefree side, both lyrically and musically. The Wailers missed him when he left.

"No Sympathy" again echoes some of the material on The Wailers' "Catch A Fire" and "Burnin'" albums. It is a heavy rhythm, but a lilting one at the same time. "Why Must I Cry" is a gentle, romantic skank. The mysterious "Igziabeher (Let Jah Be Praised)" is the first true Rasta proclamation.  It is packed full of dubby resonance and lyrics warning of earthquakes, lightning, fire and brimstone. "Ketchy Shuby" is a singalong piece of enjoyable nonsense with a nice easy skank to it. Nice bass line on it too.

"Till Your Well Runs Dry" is a typical Peter Tosh song that mixes fast and slow rhythms on another one with a romantic feel to it. It features some great electric guitar near the end. "Brand New Second Hand" once again summons up the 1973 Wailers spirit. Overall, this is an enjoyable, surprisingly light-hearted album in places. All Tosh's albums are pretty accessible, it has to be said. As I pointed out earlier, he could write a good tune.

*** the "legacy edition" features the "original Jamaican mix" of the album (similar to "Catch A Fire"). These mixes are slightly heavier, rootsier and are full of atmosphere.

B-

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Curtis Mayfield



Curtis (1970)
Roots (1971)
Superfly (1972)
Back To The World (1973)
Sweet Exorcist (1974)
Got To Find A Way (1974)
There's No Place Like America Today (1975)
Give, Get, Take And Have (1976)
Never Say You Can't Survive (1977)
Do It All Night (1978)

Curtis Mayfield - Never Say You Can't Survive (1977)


  

Released in 1977

This was the last proper soul album Curtis Mayfield would release for a while, before taking the disco dollar for a while, and it is a really good one. While the hard-hitting social comment of the early seventies had unfortunately been left behind, his venture into melodic, lush, sweet soul was an appealing one. The sound quality on the album is excellent too.

TRACK LISTING

1. Show Me Love
2. I Just Want To Be With You
3. When We're Alone
4. Never Say You Can't Survive
5. I'm Gonna Win Your Love
6. All Night Long
7. When You Used To Be Mine
8. Sparkle

"Show Me Love" is a delicious serving of Al Green-esque, horn-driven sweet soul, with Mayfield's trademark falsetto to the fore. It benefits from a sumptuous saxophone solo at the end. Nice track. "I Just Want To Be With You" is a beautiful and rhythmic slow soul groove. "When We're Alone" is even more appetising, perfect easy listening soul. As I said, it is a bit of a shame that Curtis was no longer putting the world to rights, but taken for what it is, this luscious soul fare is top quality.

"Never Say You Can't Survive" is a slow-paced but punchy horn-powered up beat soul ballad. We get our first taste of funk with the intro to "Im Gonna Win Your Love". The song continues as a merging of sweet soul and gentle brassy funk, with some harmonious backing vocals. "All Night Long" is more a straight-ahead soul ballad, with those sublime horns once more. They are even more powerful in "When You Used To Be Mine". "Sparkle" is a late-night, laid-back slowie to end the album on.

While all the tracks are most pleasant, forty minutes of them is more than enough. You eventually long for a bit of Mayfield's earlier power or funk. I prefer the albums from the early seventies, but as an example of peaceful, unthreatening, quality smoochy soul, this does just fine.

C+

Curtis Mayfield - Roots (1971)


  

Released October 1971

After an excellent debut album in 1970's "Curtis", Curtis Mayfield followed it up with an album that many consider is his "What's Goin' On" - a visionary mixture of sweet soul, funky rhythm and social message. It was one of a fine batch of similar, conscious soul albums of the period. It is not all political sensibility, however, as Mayfield always liked a pure love song too. The album is up there with the afore-mentioned Marvin Gaye album and the contemporary output from The Temptations, The Undisputed Truth and Bill Withers in the ranks of the great early seventies "aware" soul albums.

Mayfield looks marvellously incongruous on the cover, posing in a typically seventies suit by what appears to be a mock-up of an African hut. Maybe it is a real one. The back cover shows him on modern stone steps outside a modern house, so the message he is trying to convey is clear and a pertinent one, however.

TRACK LISTING

1. Get Down
2. Keep On Keeping On
3. Underground
4. We Got To Have Peace
5. Beautiful Brother Of Mine
6. Now You're Gone
7. Love To Keep You In My Mind

"Get Down" is a full on piece of funky groove to open the album with, Mayfield's typical congas providing an infectious backing, together with a rumbling bass, panting female vocals and funky guitar over Mayfield's slightly deeper voice that he uses for the funkier numbers. It has echoes of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" about it in its backing, although it is funkier and faster. "Keep On Keeping On" carries an inspirational message from an artist who never went too long on his albums without giving out solid wisdom for life. It is a beautiful song, both lyrically and musically. It is a fine piece of early seventies credible soul. Check out the superbly funky ending part too. Wonderful wah-wah guitar sounds that almost sound like native Australian music.

"Underground" is a marvellous slice of urban funk, similar to "Don't Worry If There's a Hell Below...", packed full of portent and preacher-like sermonising about what will happen if we get it wrong. All this backed by some searing, rock-influenced electric guitar, those congas once more and a pounding, fatback drum funky beat. "We Got To Have Peace" is just glorious - upbeat, soulful but poppy, energetic and inspirational. One of Curtis's best ever tracks, for me. "Beautiful Brother Of Mine" brings back the funk big time on a cookin', insistent number with some great bass, drums and backing vocals. Solid, pumping stuff. Lush strings merge with serious funk to help achieve Mayfield's  intention of taking soul music to a different level. Once again, the electric guitar on the track is sublime.

"Now You're Gone" is the first of two more laid-back love-inspired numbers. It is full of sweeping strings over a constant bass line and punchy horns. Killer electric guitar enhances the song again too. "Love To Keep You In My Mind" is a lush, romantic slice of sweet soul to end the album with. Backed by luscious strings, intoxicating congas and melodic bass, it is certainly not a socially-conscious number, it is a full-on love song. Mayfield's falsetto vocal is at its soulful, soaring best.

Despite many moments of brilliance, the album doesn't quite have the cohesion of "What's Goin' On", which plays better as one complete concept. It is probably Mayfield's finest creation though and is well up there, no doubt about that. This was seriously good soul music.

B+

Bill Withers - Still Bill (1972)


  

Released May 1972

This was Bill Withers' second album, and it was another beguiling mix of deep soul, acoustic folk, electric funk and observant, some times cutting lyrics. It is, like its predecessor, a unique album in the development of soul music. Withers really wasn't like anyone else at the time and his work justifies several listens.

TRACK LISTING

1. Lonely Town, Lonely Street
2. Let Me In Your Life
3. Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)
4. Use Me
5. Lean On Me
6. Kissing My Love
7. I Don't Know
8. Another Day To Run
9. I Don't Want You On My Mind
10. Take It All In And Check It All Out

The album begins with two somewhat laid-back cuts - first the insistent but generally gentle groove of "Lonely Town, Lonely Street". Don't let the melody mislead you, though, this is quite an ascerbic song, lyrically; secondly, the tender, acoustic tones of "Let Me In Your Life". There are vague hints of Van Morrison on this song, for me, in its quiet, meaningful soul vibe and string orchestration. It is a lovely song, but an odd choice for second track in. Cuts like this often come half way through.

Up next is a trio of absolute Withers classics - first up is the lyrically paranoid funk of the mysterious "Who Is He (And What Is He To You?)", which is just such a wonderful, evocative song. I have always wondered about the derivation of the word "dadgummit", however! Then we get the peerless, intoxicating, organ-driven funk of "Use Me" followed by the uplifting, gospel soul of "Lean On Me". The former has been covered by Mick Jagger and Grace Jones, the latter taken to number one in the UK in 1976 by Mud. Both of them are superb songs. I remember first hearing "Lean On Me" in 1972 as a fourteen year-old and being blown away by it. Every time I hear it now it takes by right back. It was also memorably and movingly performed in the movie of the same name from 1989.

"Kissing My Love" begins with some irresistible drum and guitar funk and proceeds into an upbeat groove with a great soul vocal from Withers. It almost has a jazzy feel at times too. "I Don't Know" slows down the pace with a gloriously atmospheric slow burner that features some excellent George Benson-style jazz guitar. "Another Day To Run" returns to funk with another supremely infectious number. The percussion and bass interplay on this is sublime. It is often forgotten how funky Withers could be. Here is the audible, cookin' proof. It is also lyrically tough, in that Withers is singing to a friend caught up in drug abuse.

The funk continues on the wah-wah and fatback drums of the bluesy "I Don't Want You On My Mind". "Take It All In And Check It Out" is also seductively addictive. More sublime wah-wah licks abound. A quality end to a quality album.

At the same time there was Marvin Gaye, there was Al Green, there was Curtis Mayfield, there was The Temptations, there was The Undisputed Truth, there was Stevie Wonder. There was also Bill Withers, something that should never be overlooked when assessing great early seventies soul.

B+

Monday, 15 April 2019

Bobby Taylor - The Motown Anthology

  

Bobby Taylor was one of those Motown artists who had a whole load of single releases between 1968 and 1972 (initially as Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers) but never really made it, which was a shame because there are several hidden gems tucked away in this forty-six track anthology.

The Vancouvers were a Canadian group, somewhat unusual in itself. By the end of 1968 the group had ceased to be, a couple of members having been sacked and Taylor went alone. He actually auditioned, but failed, to be David Ruffin's replacement in The Temptations. Funnily enough, it is Ruffin's voice that Taylor reminds me the most of, along with hints of Chairmen Of The Board's General Johnson and maybe a bit of Jimmy Ruffin in there too. He had a really expressive, soulful, soaring voice, with superb falsetto parts on occasions. One of those voices that just makes you feel good listening to it. He was definitely one of the great forgotten Motown voices. Bobby Taylor unfortunately passed away in 2017, aged 83.

Highlights for me are:-

"One Too Many Heartaches" (also done by The Isley Brothers); the solid, uplifting gospelly soul of "Further Up The Road"; some similarly punchy soul in "Out In The Country" and "Serve Yourself A Cup Of Happiness"; the Ruffin-esque "A Little Too Much"; the powerhouse, soaring vocal of "I Am Your Man"; another Temptations vibe on "You Gave Me Something (And Everything's Alright)"; The Vancouvers' upbeat, energetic take on "I Heard It Through The Grapevine"; the Motown rarity/Northern Soul ballad "Don't Be Afraid"; and a funky cover of Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands".

Look, you can pretty much take any of the tracks on here and enjoy them. Play it at random and you will be pleased by whatever turns up if you are fan of classic Motown. Taylor's version of Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness" gives the great man a run for his money too. You can't say better than that.

B

Thin Lizzy - Johnny The Fox (1976)


  

Released October 1976

Released only seven months after "Jailbreak" had really pushed Thin Lizzy up high in the rock credibility lists, this followed the same pattern - an album of very loosely related songs (not really related at all, if one is honest), and the now impressive dual guitar attack from Scott Gorham and Brian Robertson that make it rock real hard. Phil Lynott's charismatic vocal and leadership of the band is now well established. Although it is said to be the inferior album to "Jailbreak", for me, I prefer this one. One reason for that is the sound, which is much better in its remastering* and also I feel there are some really good songs on here. As I alluded to earlier, though, it is not really a "concept" album at all, just as "Jailbreak" wasn't. Characters come and go in the songs, but in a Springsteen-esque street-style way, song by song, as opposed to having any continuity. Yes, the character of "Johnny" comes into a couple of songs, but the appearance don't really seem connected to me, past the obvious nomenclature.

The album's recording is said to have been fraught with inter-band disagreements - those old "musical differences" again. Guitarist Brian Robertson was sacked by Lynott, reinstated, then sacked again. Listening to it, however, you cannot tell. It sounds great from beginning to end.

* The remasterings listed on the 2010 "remastered" edition only cover the bonus material, not the original album, which remains as the 1996 remaster. This has been a problem for many, but not for me as I am perfectly satisfied with the 1996 remaster, which sounds excellent to my ears.

TRACK LISTING

1. Johnny
2. Rocky
3. Borderline
4. Don't Believe A Word
5. Fool's Gold
6. Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed
7. Old Flame
8. Massacre
9. Sweet Marie
10. Boogie Woogie Dance

"Johnny" is a bassy typical piece of Thin Lizzy slightly menacing rock, featuring some impressive rolling drum work and guitar soloing. There are great hooks throughout the song. "Rocky" is also packed full of archetypal Lizzy riffery too and it rocks just as had. "Borderline" is one of those Lizzy rock ballads, with its souful and seductive feel. There is a bit of a laid-back slightly country rock sound to the song, although there is still a great rock guitar solo in the middle. "Don't Believe A Word" was the album's hit single. It is a riffy, chugging track with a convincing hook.

"Fool's Gold" is a magnificent, grinding, atmospheric rock song with wonderful guitar and yet another intoxicating vocal from Lynott. "Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed" is a classic slice of Lizzy funk/rock. The drums are superb, as is the bass and infectious "chinka-chinka" guitar sound. Great stuff. "Old Flame" is one of those Phil Lynott laid-back romantic rock numbers, in the "Sarah" style. He did this sort of thing so well.

"Massacre" is an insistent, grinding mid-pace rocker. "Sweet Marie" continues in the same vein. "Boogie Woogie Dance" was apparently not considered good enough for the original album but eventually ended up on it, as it should, for it is a fine, guitar-driven rocker. It has to be said, though, that the first six or seven tracks are the album's best ones, and, funnily enough, those are the ones that contain the best sound. Still a good album though.

B-

Joe Bonamassa - Black Rock (2010)

  

Released March 2010

Joe Bonamassa's blues rock is very much influenced by sixties British blues rock, far more so than the music of the Mississippi Delta. He adds to it a post-2000 sonic bombast and his albums are a bit of an aural assault, although they are certainly powerful and blow the cobwebs away. They are full of massive, searing riffs and thumping drums, together with his gritty voice. All good stuff, but the listener doesn't get too much relief. It is thick, heavy, crunching modern blues rock.

TRACK LISTING

1. Steal Your Heart Away
2. I Know a Place
3. When The Fire Hits The Sea
4. Quarryman's Lament
5. Spanish Boots
6. Bird On A Wire
7. Three Times A Fool
8. Night Life
9. Wandering Earth
10. Look Over Yonders Wall
11. Athens To Athens
12. Blue And Evil
13. Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind

"Steal Your Heart Away" is an old Bobby Parker blues from 1961 that Bonamassa turns into a chunky, throaty and industrial rock number. A cover of John Hiatt's "I Know A Place" has some mighty riffs, and thundering piledriver drums. It has a great solo half way through too. "When The Fire Hits The Sea" has a classic, upbeat blues riff and a lively energy to it. Despite its catchiness, it is still beefy stuff. The soloing is again top class. "Quarryman's Lament" gives us a change to the ambience, with its Celtic-style folk fiddle and laid-back folky feel. When Bonamassa varies his approach a little, such as on songs like this, things become a lot more intriguing. Both of those are self-penned songs.

"Spanish Boots" shows his liking for late sixties British blues rock in a strong cover of Jeff Beck's song from 1969's "Beck-Ola". It is given the full storming Bonamassa treatment, which works really well. "Bird On A Wire" is a cover of a Leonard Cohen song and it is done in a mournful, evocative style, building up impressively from a quiet beginning and featuring some lovely violin. It is one of the album's best cuts. Full of soul. Back to some searing Chicago blues for the powerful "Three Times A Fool", an Otis Rush cover. This one really rocks, with a throbbing bass line as well as some typical Chicago-style guitar from guest B.B. King.

"Night Life" is a wonderful slice of Stax-ish horn-powered soul/blues/rock. It is actually a Willie Nelson cover, but here, it drips with sweet blues rock honey. Love it. "Wandering Earth", a Bonamassa original, is a solid, slow-burning slab of gritty blues rock. "Look Over Yonders Wall" is a thumping, energetic Chicago-style number. The guitar is again sumptuous.

"Athens To Athens" is another Bonamassa has written in a folky, "Led Zeppelin III" fashion. "Blue And Evil" is a big, dramatic, Zeppelin-esque muscular rocker. "Baby You Gotta Change Your Mind" is a surprisingly jaunty, lively acoustic piece of fluff to end on. It is at odds, sonically, with most of the album, however, despite some superb guitar-picking soloing. So, there you go, if you like your blues rock big, brash, loud and powerful, this is for you. Personally, although I do like the album, I am more of a sixties/early seventies blues rock man.

B-

Sunday, 14 April 2019

The Rock 'N' Roll Scene


  

This is another in the excellent Decca/Dream series of comparatively unknown rarities from the sixties. As always the sound quality is truly outstanding, just really well remastered, especially considering that the material is from the sixties.

The songs on here are all from the early sixties and take in the British rock 'n' roll boom, featuring artists such as Wee Willie Harris, Joe Brown, Tommy Steele, Billy Fury, Screaming Lord Sutch, Freddie Starr and crossover skiffle artists such as Lonnie Donegan. The messiahs of the milk bar. Obviously the compilation is restricted to artists who recorded under the Decca umbrella, so there is nothing from The Shadows, Cliff Richard, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer or Freddie & The Dreamers. That doesn't really matter, though, as this is a genuinely feel-good, lively, uplifting album. A lot of the tracks are fast-paced rockabilly-style rock 'n' roll - fairground fare, with that rumbling stand-up bass, and the beat doesn't let up for a minute. The skiffle tracks are all similarly energetic, as you would expect, with some blues influence in there too. As well as giving you an energised listen, it is excellent as an accompaniment for a bit of indoor exercising.

I won't go through the songs, track by track, other than to list what in on here and say that the album is a fine, nostalgic pleasure from beginning to end.

TRACK LISTING

1. My Baby's Crazy 'Bout Elvis - Billy Boyle
2. Comes The Day - Joe Brown
3. Trying To Get To You - Joey Castell
4. Downbound Train - Ken Collyer's Skiffle Group
5. School Day - Bob Cort Skiffle Group
6. Too Hot To Handle - Michael Cox
7. Pretty Little Pearly - Terry Dene
8. Lah Dee Dah - Jackie Dennis
9. Rock Island Line - Lonnie Donegan
10. Yea Yea - Vince Eager & The Vagabonds
11. Collette - Billy Fury
12. Rockin' At The Two I's
13. Plain Jane - Eddie Hickey
14. Little Cutie - Sally Kelly
15. Foxy Little Mama - Little Tony & His Brothers
16. Whole Lotta Woman - Most Brothers
17. My Baby's Gone Away - Alexander Combo
18. Race With The Devil - Russ Sainty With The New Notes
19. Turn Me Loose - Mort Shuman
20. It's Shaking Time - Freddie Starr
21. Elevator Rock - Tommy Steele & The Steelmen
22. Transistor Sister - Robb Storme
23. I'm A Hog For You - Screaming Lord Sutch
24. Don't Leave Me - Bobby Tempest
25. Rock Around The Mailbag - Terry White & The Terriers

B+

Robert Plant - Carry Fire (2017)


  

Released October 2017

This is very much an album from an artist in Robert Plant who is now very comfortable in what he puts out, bowing to no trends and just doing what he wants to do. It is an engaging mix of folky rock, Americana with bits of blues influence, world music, Eastern music and is very much an intelligent, cerebral album. It is largely laid-back, but not without considerable power and "oomph". There are still muscular, visceral moments on here. On the cover, Plant looks craggy, charismatic and wise. That feeling is all over this excellent album.

TRACK LISTING

1. The May Queen
2. New World...
3. Season's Song
4. Dance With You Tonight
5. Carving Up The World Again
6. A Way With Words
7. Carry Fire
8. Bones Of Saints
9. Keep It Hid
10. Bluebirds Over The Mountain
11. Heaven Sent

The opener, "The May Queen" gives reference, of course, to "Stairway To Heaven". It is a strong piece of "Led Zeppelin III"-influenced acoustic rock, with some solid fiddle backing. "New World..." is extremely U2-esque as indeed is the beguiling "Season's Song". These are both really appealing and attractive songs. "Dance With You Tonight" is an atmospheric, slow burning, seductive but powerfully insistent number. The vocal is scratchily soulful. I often feel there are vague similarities between Robert Plant and Bryan Ferry's middle-aged voices. This is definitely one of those tracks where it is quite noticeable. There is a great piece of buzzy guitar near the end as the song gets a bit anthemic. The lively, rhythmic "Carving Up The World Again" again has echoes of U2 for me. It has some great thumping Larry Mullen-style drums and killer guitar.

"A Way With Words", for me, is such a Ferry-esque number, with that stately, grandiose stark and slow backing and gracefully ageing vocal. Lovely violin underpins the song at the end. "Carry Fire" is a folky, acoustic, mystical song that blends in some sixties-ish Eastern sounds. "Bones Of Saints" is  a relatively upbeat rocker that has hints of some of Bruce Springsteen's post-2000 work. Similarly, the bassy beat of "Keep It Hid" reminds me of Springsteen's "57 Channels And Nothing On". It is an evocative, intoxicating number. It reiterates that the material on this album really is of high quality.

"Bluebirds Over The Mountain" by little-known late fifties rock 'n' roller Ersel Hickey, was previously covered by The Beach Boys on their 1968 "20/20" album. Here, Plant gives it a punchy Paul Weller-style chunky folk rock makeover. "Heaven Sent" is a mystical, entrancing slow number that ends the album in enigmatic fashion. Overall, a highly credible, thoughtfully-created album.

B-

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Blondie - Blondie (1976)


  

Released December 1976

Recorded at Plaza Studios, New York City

An odd little album, this, from a band who, at the time, nobody quite knew what they were. They weren’t punk, they weren’t rock. They had a few 50s style rock n roll stylings. They weren’t “new wave” yet, because it hadn’t been conceived of, similarly “power pop”.

Dominated by keyboard player Jimmy Destri’s fairground sound Farfisa organ and drummer Clem Burke, funnily enough, blonde bombshell vocalist Debbie Harry was not the most notable thing about the band’s sound. What was clear, was that, embryonically, they had something. Harry, for sure had a sort of Lower East Side tough girl with a romantic side image and a 60s girl group sensibility.

TRACK LISTING

1. X Offender
2. Little Girl Lies
3. In The Flesh
4. Look Good In Blue
5. In The Sun
6. A Shark In Jets Clothing
7. Man Overboard
8. Rip Her To Shreds
9. Rifle Range
10. Kung Fu Girls
11. The Attack Of The Giant Ants

The fifties diner fashion sound was there on the catchy and appealing “Little Girl Lies”, the rock 'n' roll ballad of “In The Flesh”, the "West Side Story"-influenced “A Shark In Jets Clothing” and the new wave sound in waiting came on the joyous blast of “X Offender”, “In The Sun” and the uber-bitchy “Rip Her To Shreds”.

“Kung Fu Girls” is probably the album’s punkiest number, "Man Overboard" and "Rifle Range" are very much what would come to be known as "new wave", while the quirky “Attack Of The Giant Ants” showed the band’s liking for 50s horror “B” movies, but, unfortunately, little else. Not the best track they ever did.

There is some ok stuff on here, but, to be honest, it is all over before it has started. Not much for your money. Fans of supposedly "real" New York punks like Richard Hell and The Ramones despised Blondie, which was somewhat unfair. Never mind, give it eighteen months and new wave would be here and they would briefly rule the world.

C

The Isley Brothers - It's Our Thing (1969)

  

Released April 1969

This was The Isley Brothers' first album after leaving Motown. In 1969, groups like The Temptations and solo artists like Isaac Hayes were showing that soul artists could put out credible albums, as opposed to ones made up simply of just singles and cover versions. The Isley Brothers got in on the burgeoning urban funky soul thing as pioneered by Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown. This was their first stab of going funky, brother. It was a success and, notably, it still retained some of that Isley Brothers flair and musical creativity too. It is only twenty-six minutes long, however, which is short, even for the time.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Know Who You Been Socking It To
2. Somebody Been Messin'
3. Save Me
4. I Must Be Losing My Touch
5. Feel Like The World
6. It's Your Thing
7. Give The Women What They Want
8. Love Is What You Make It
9. Don't Give It Away
10. He's Got Your Love

"I Know Who You Been Socking It To" introduced us to the new, funky Isleys, with a deep, chugging slice of urban, brass-powered funk. The same brass dominates the Sly Stone-esque "Somebody Been Messin'". "Save Me" slows the pace down on a soulful ballad. Those Stax-style Memphis horns still drive the track along, Otis Redding fashion. It has a great soul vocal. "I Must Be Losing My Touch" is a wonderful, stomping number with a pounding, bassy sound and infectious beat. "Feel Like The World" is a slower tempo soul ballad.

"It's Your Thing" is the best known track, one that appears one several funk compilations. The Temptations covered it on their "Puzzle People" album too. It has great hooks, both vocally and brass-wise. "Give The Women What They Want" is a big, rumbling piece of contemporary funk. Once again, it is thumping and brassy. The women need love, by the way.

"Love Is What You Make It" is a sweet soul number to cool down the ambience a little. "Don't Give It Away" has an intoxicating, funky rhythm and Ernie Isley starts to me himself known on guitar throughout. "He's Got Your Love" ends on a punchy note with an upbeat, grinding soul number. Again, there are snatches of rock guitar riffs which give a hint at the future. This album started "phase two" for the Isleys, where they threw off the Motown shackles and became a serious group in their own right. Not that they hadn't been, their music had been great, but you felt that here they were doing what they wanted to do.

The instrumental versions on the extended remaster are excellent. The sound quality on the remaster of the original album is ok, but not truly outstanding, as the original source tapes probably still contain flaws.

B-

Friday, 12 April 2019

The Isley Brothers - Go For Your Guns (1977)


  

Released April 1977

This is probably The Isley Brothers' funkiest album from the post-1973 reinvention. It is considered by many to be their best album from that period, even above "3 + 3" and "Harvest For The World". Despite its cover, which features on stage photos, it is not a live album.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Pride
2. Footsteps In The Dark
3. Tell Me When You Need It Again
4. Climbin' Up The Ladder
5. Voyage To Atlantis
6. Livin' In The Life
7. Go For Your Guns

"The Pride" is 100% copper-bottomed upbeat, funky groove. It has a huge rubber-band bass line, particularly in the bit near the end. "Footsteps In The Dark" slows down the pack on a bassy, but laid-back harmonious ballad. It has some delicious percussion. The sound quality on this album is better than on some of the other Isley Brothers ones from the same period, which can, in my opinion, be a little muffled in places.

"Tell Me When You Need It Again" has some Sly Stone "Family Affair"-style wah-wah funky guitar and keyboards, some buzzy Ernie Isley rock guitar and a strong, gruff vocal. It is a good, solid slow funk/soul grinder. "Climbin' Up The Ladder" is a vibrant, punchy piece of hard rocking funk. "Voyage To Atlantis" is a lovely, sweet soul number that echoes the beauty of 1973's "Summer Breeze". It has a bit of that Earth, Wind & Fire mysticism about it too.

"Livin' In The Life" is a superb slice of catchy funk/pop. You can't keep still to this one. It seamlessly merges into the instrumental, buzzy guitar-driven "Go For Your Guns". Large parts of this album are extended instrumental passages and this is part of its appeal. Yes, it lacks a "That Lady", "Summer Breeze" or "Harvest For The World" but it has far more of an ambience that sticks in your mind than, say, 1975's "The Heat Is On". This was The Isley Brothers giving their best funk.

B

Thursday, 11 April 2019

The Isley Brothers - Showdown (1978)

  

Released April 1978

Released when disco was the big thing, this Isley Brothers album mixes their brand of funky soul with rock influences with a definite disco rhythm on a lot of the tracks. The line up that started this phase of their career in 1973 with "3 + 3" was beginning to sound a bit samey by now, but this is still an acceptable album, but it was probably the last of the group's really good-selling offerings. Were those outfits for real on the cover, though, lads? Dear oh dear.

TRACK LISTING

1. Showdown
2. Groove With You
3. Ain't Givin' Up No Love
4. Rockin' With Fire
5. Take Me To The Next Phase
6. Coolin' Me Out
7. Fun And Games
8. Love Fever

"Showdown" is complete with Michael Jackson vocal yelps (so that's where he got them from) and a solid disco groove. Incidentally, the "rehearsal" cut of this track that comes with the latest remaster is superb, and superior to this one that was used on the eventual album, for me. Either version is a corker, however. Muscular, funky disco.

Often on a Isleys album, the first half would be groovers, the second smoochy ballads. Here, we get a sweet soul number second one up in the slick, soulful "Groove With You". Quality soul on offer here. The same applies to the slow-cookin' "Ain't Givin' Up No Love", which marries some Sly Stone-ish vocals and some solid Parliament-style funk with Ernie Isley's unique rock guitar.

"Rockin' With Fire" brings back the disco/rock beat with another Jacksons-influenced floor-stomper. It is full of disco riffs, pounding drums and funky clavinet. This is a copper-bottomed piece of disco with a rock edge to it. The groove continues with the uber-funk strut of "Take Me To The Next Phase", another Funkadelic/Parliament/Sly Stone-style number. It has some "live" crowd noises tagged on to it, but it is a studio recording. "Coolin' Me Out" lives up to its title with a laid-back, cool slice of melodic, harmonious soul.

Some exuberant wah-wah guitar introduces the catchy, vibrant slick urban disco of "Fun And Games". "Love Fever" is another lively, infectious groover, enhanced by some more killer guitar and an insistent, intoxicating beat.

All of these tracks are extended versions, listed as "Parts 1 & 2", consistent with most of their seventies albums. This is a good album for experiencing the best of the, often overlooked, quality disco fare that was being served up in 1978, that was not always appreciated either at the time or subsequently.

B-

Mick Jagger - Primitive Cool (1987)


  

Released September 1987

This is one of two not promising things - first it is an eighties album by an established rock performer and it falls victim to the synthesised curse of that era; secondly it is a Rolling Stones solo album produced during the time when the group were at their lowest ebb. However, like Keith Richards' "Talk Is Cheap" from the following year, it is not bad and probably superior to The Stones' output from that period. Take the best tracks from this and "Talk Is Cheap" and you would have a good Stones album. The very future of The Stones was in doubt at this time, so this was a genuine, concerted effort to launch Jagger's career as a solo artist. It is a reasonable effort, too.

Three of the songs were written with The Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, otherwise the album is written by Jagger.

TRACK LISTING

1. Throwaway
2. Let's Work
3. Radio Control
4. Say You Will
5. Primitive Cool
6. Kow Tow
7. Shoot Off Your Mouth
8. Peace For The Wicked
9. Party Doll
10. War Baby

"Throwaway" starts with a typical eighties programmed drum intro before it rocks into a riffy, appealing track with hints of Bruce Springsteen's material on "Born In The USA". It is perfectly ok, and would certainly have been more than acceptable on The Stones' "Dirty Work" or "Steel Wheels". "Let's Work" is one of those strange songs where millionaire Jagger urges everyone to get off their backsides and "work", rather like "Hang Fire". It suited the "Wall Street"-inspired "greed is good" mantra from the same year. While catchy (it sounds like the backing for an aerobics class), its sentiments are questionable. "Radio Control" has a huge chunky riff and a convincing vocal. I qyite like its power and bludgeoning attack.

"Say You Will" is a laid-back mid-pace rock number of the sort The Stones would do a lot in the nineties. It borrows the synthesiser riff from Springsteen's "Glory Days". The title track is very much an archetypal late eighties rock song with big synth breaks. It is enlivened by an evocative saxophone. "Kow Tow" is Jagger's "How Do You Sleep" moment as he sourly addresses Keith Richards as "a snake in the grass". It is obviously a song of emotional importance to Jagger, but it comes across, as these sort of songs tend to, as a bit bitter and indulgent. "Shoot Off Your Mouth" continues down the same road, but without as good a tune. Time to let it go, eh, Mick?

"Peace For The Wicked" is a nineties-era slightly funky Stonesy groove with Jagger's voice at his most pronounced and leery. It is one of the best of the album's tracks, a bit ahead of its time. "Party Doll" is a country-ish slow burner (covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter). It has Jagger giving us his best cod-country accent - "howonkaay-towwonk..." and the backing features some Irish-sounding pipes. It is another great track. "War Baby" is an evocative, excellent song. Those pipes appear again. Material like this is more sensitive than a lot of his Rolling Stones material. It is one of Jagger's best compositions.

I much prefer this to the over-synth-dominated "She's The Boss". This is a pretty good album, it has to be said.

B

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Tina Turner - Private Dancer (1984)

  

Released May 1984

This was a most unexpected "comeback" album, from then forty-five year-old Tina Turner, who had been off the scene for many years, despite always retaining a credible reputation. Members of the funk/pop group Heaven 17 were among several producers who helped create what was a contemporary sound for Turner, as opposed to the bluesy r'n'b she made her name with. The sound on here was a slick, polished very eighties sound, mixing current keyboard sounds with a rock sound but also a sort of clubby vibe that made it popular across the board. It was rock, it was pop, it was soul, it was dance. Many of the album's tracks were hits and all of a sudden, Tina Turner became a household name. This was one of the year's biggest-selling albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Might Have Been Queen
2. What's Love Got To Do With It
3. Show Some Respect
4. I Can't Stand The Rain
5. Private Dancer
6. Let's Stay Together
7. Better Be Good To Me
8. Steel Claw
9. Help!
10. 1984

The biggest hits from the album were the slightly reggae-influenced, rhythmic but powerful and undoubtedly very catchy "What's Love Got To Do With It"; a suitably soulful cover of Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand The Rain" (despite the superfluous synth interjections); a cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" which took the seventies Memphis soul classic and turned it into an eighties club anthem. I was still young enough to go to nightclubs back then (as they were then called), and this was played all the time; The Beatles' "Help!", which was slowed down and given a wonderfully dramatic gospelly soul makeover and an atmospheric rendition of David Bowie's "1984". The latter was possibly an unusual choice but it surprisingly works. To be honest, I prefer the originals of "I Can't Stand The Rain" and "Let's Stay Together", but feel that both "1984" and "Help!" both offer something markedly different from their originals.

Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler wrote the title track for his own group, but then felt that it would suit a female vocal better, so gave it to Turner. It is a marvellously evocative, atmospheric song, telling of the soulless existence of a private stripper and the faceless men she performs for. A sultry late-night saxophone and gently melodic bass line underpin an impressive vocal.

"I Might Have Been Queen" is the opener, but a strangely overlooked number, which is a shame as it is a pounding, rocking number. It is full of good backing guitar, a solid beat and with a strong vocal. While it displays some unfortunate mid-eighties flaws such as the synthesiser riffs, it is pretty good for an eighties track. "Show Some Respect" slightly re-works the old "Nutbush City Limits" intro before the synthesisers kick in. It is pretty standard eighties rock, pleasant enough, but nothing outstanding. "Better Be Good To Me" is more impressive, a soulful, mid-pace rocker and is followed by the frantic rock of "Steel Claw". Tina's vocal handles this powerful number superbly and the track is a little gem, to be honest.

So there you have it, Tina Turner was back and would put out two more respectable albums before the quality would drop just a bit. During the mid-eighties, she became a huge artist, bigger than she had ever been. It came as a surprise to everyone, including her, I should imagine.

B

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Do It Yourself (1979)


  

Released May 1979

After the unique punk meets music hall winning debut that was "New Boots And Panties", this follow up saw Dury and The Blockheads very much getting into a white disco/funk mode, eschewing practically all the punk stylings of the previous album. I guess if there ever was such a thing as pub rock disco, or new wave disco, this was it. Apparently Dury was a nightmare to work with during the sessions for this album, success having gone to his head, legend would have it. Maybe it was the case because there is something indiscernable about the album that leaves it lacking the charm, wit and vibrant joie de vivre that its predecessor had. It just doesn't really do it for me in the way that "Panties" did. That is not to say it a bad album, though, it certainly has a few moments. It is probably pertinent to say, however, that Dury didn't produce any other albums of real note after this (although his fans would no doubt disagree), commercially there certainly weren't.

TRACK LISTING

1. Inbetweenies
2. Quiet
3. Don't Ask Me
4. Sink My Boats
5. Waiting For Your Taxi
6. This Is What We Find
7. Uneasy Sunny Day Hotsy Totsy
8. Mischief
9. Dance Of The Screamers
10. Lullaby For Franci/es

"Inbetweenies" has that quasi-disco/jazz funk piano coda that seemed to populate a lot of Dury's output at this time, married to Dury's music-hall, wry delivery. It was the album version of the hit singles "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick" and "Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part 3" (both of which are included on the deluxe edition of the album. It is a good track though, with excellent saxophone and bass too. "Quiet" continues down the same new wave-y disco groove road as well. A sort of prototype rap with Dury semi-speaking his diamond geezer lyrics about his small child, exhorting him to be quiet. The instrumentation, as always from The Blockheads, is excellent, a shuffling sort of funk with some madcap saxophone swirling around.

"Don't Ask Me" is another piece of urban white funk. It is perfectly listenable, but somehow, for me, the novelty of the first album doesn't quite repeat itself on this one, despite the quality backing. That is a little bit unfair, but much of the album ploughs the same furrow. "Sink My Boats" has vague punky hints in places, but there is still a solid funky guitar riff underpinning it and some disco synthesisers. "Waiting For Your Taxi" is a brooding, sonorous somewhat dirge-like grinder. "This Is What We Find" is a very Madness-esque number, even down Dury's Suggs-style vocal on the chorus. There is a good dubby bit in the middle too. By the way, the rear cover is also very Madness-inspired.

"Uneasy Sunny Day Hotsy Totsy" is just a bit of a mess, really, despite a bit of quirkiness. "Mischief" tries to recreate that "Blockheads" frantic atmosphere, but doesn't quite get there. The vocal is barely audible for a start, at times. "Dance Of The Screamers" has a perfect Chic-style disco rhythm with an intoxicating bass line. Lots of bands started putting this sort of thing out at the time, trying to get in on the disco thing without alienating their punk fanbase. The Jam's "Precious" is an example, and The Clash's "Magnificent Seven". To be fair to Dury, he was doing this in 1979, not 1981. It is one of the best tracks on the album, I have to say. It does use quite a bit of the "Rhythm Stick" piano and bass though. "Lullaby For Franci/es" starts with a ridiculously loud and incongruous brass intro before easing into a new wave white reggae beat. It is actually not a bad one to end on, slightly different to most of the others.

"What A Waste" was a great single and is included in the deluxe edition. Although this album is reasonable, none of it matches the three hit singles. There is nothing that sticks in your mind in the way that they do. I rarely return to this album, maybe I should do more, in fact I will resolve to do so.  It probably deserves it.

C+