Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Earth Wind & Fire - Spirit (1976)

It was Saturday night, the moon was bright....

 

Released September 1976

Running time 36.29

After That's The Way Of The World finally gave Earth, Wind & Fire platinum-selling success, with their sixth album. This, their seventh studio offering, built on that success with an even better album, which in many ways, was a defining moment in their career. After so many albums searching for a defining sound, they had reached it at last. They merged funk, soul, kick-ass brass and harmonious vocals superbly and now had found the knack of writing songs with killer hooks.

TRACK LISTING

1. Getaway
2. On Your Face
3. Imagination
4. Spirit
5. Saturday Nite
6. Earth, Wind & Fire
7. Departure
8. Biyo
9. Burnin' Bush                                         

Getaway is an infectious funker, full of Parliament/George Clinton-style vocals as well as now typical EW&F high-pitched backing vocals and punchy brass. On Your Face was a delicious slice of sweet, funky, brassy soul, with Philip Bailey's vocal outstanding. This is proper groovy soul. Perfection of the genre.

Imagination is a piece of laid-back, romantic late-night bedtime soul with a nice little funky guitar riff underpinning it. The vocal harmonies and brass bursts are once again peerless.


Spirit continues in the sumptuous, heavenly soul vibe with a stately ballad. Saturday Nite was a hit and displays what was quickly becoming an identifiable Earth, Wind & Fire sound - gentle funk, solid bass, great vocals and horns to die for. The hook on the chorus is irresistible. Earth, Wind & Fire, one of the only songs by a group to name themselves, is also an intoxicating slow groove. Check out that funky but subtle guitar in the background.

Biyo sees a return to upbeat horn-powered funk on an appealing instrumental. The group always put one or two instrumentals on their albums. Departure, before that, was a brief, twenty-seven second interlude. Burnin' Bush is a very enjoyable slow burner with yet another convincing vocal and superb, impeccable backing.

One cannot analyse albums like this too much more, to be honest, it is simply pleasurable brassy soul and that's that. I have used so many superlatives in the review, but I couldn't help it, the album deserves them. Earth, Wind & Fire had now become a very impressive group, almost a genre in themselves with their particular brand of soul. Their albums were very short, though, and over before you knew it, but sometimes that isn't a bad thing, it makes an album more concentrated and less sprawling than the post-2000's seventy minute offerings.

B

George Harrison - Gone Troppo (1982)

That's the way it goes....

  

Released on 5 November 1982

Running time 39.07

They were funny things, George Harrison albums. After the mammoth offering that was 1970's All Things Must Pass, he seemed to put out an album every three to five years, and it always seemed to me as if he did it because he thought "I was in a band once, I'm a musician, this is what I do...". In the meantime, he explored his other hobbies away from music - movies producing, car racing. mysticism. As more and more years went by since Harrison had been in the Beatles, the less I, personally, viewed him as a musician putting out regular work. Many times I found myself almost forgetting about him, even Ringo was more in my consciousness. So, when this album came out, in 1982, it was a virtual irrelevance. Punk had been and gone, post punk, new wave, two tone, new romanticism were all around. Harrison suddenly remembered he was a musician and collected some old friends - Ray Cooper, Dave Mattacks, Billy Preston, Herbie Flowers, Gary Brooker and Syreeta among others and produced a laid-back summery poppy album full of the synthesised backing that so blighted the eighties. It was a sort of contemporary Beach Boys, lazing in the sun sort of thing that attracted a lot of critical opprobrium.

So, lets listen to it and see if it was as bad as they all said -

TRACK LISTING

1. Wake Up My Love
2. That's The Way It Goes
3. I Really Love You
4. Greece
5. Gone Troppo
6. Mystical One
7. Unknown Delight
8. Baby Don't Run Away
9. Dream Away
10. Circles                                                  

Wake Up My Love is a lively slice of synth-driven pop, with a vague appeal. Harrison's voice sounds remarkably like Traveling Wilburys mate Jeff Lynne on this. It is by far the album's most upbeat and accessible track. That's The Way It Goes features some typical Harrison My Sweet Lord high-pitched guitar and a mid seventies Beach Boys vibe about it. Actually it is not a bad track at all, in a light, airy sort of way. I Really Love You is a catchy fifties "doo-wop" pastiche that would have been fine in 1962, as opposed to 1982. Greece is a pretty throwaway, light poppy number. Material like this and the slightly feeble Gone Troppo were really quite unimpressive.


Mystical One is a laid-back slightly Lennon-esque easy listening slow rock song. Again, it is very much like the stuff The Beach Boys released in the mid-late seventies. Both they and Harrison had seen better days. Unknown Delight also has a Lennon feel to it, a nice bass line and a mournful-sounding vocal from Harrison. Baby Don't Run Away is a bit Beatles-ish but also a bit unmemorable. Oh I guess it's nice enough, I suppose. It just doesn't stick in the mind. Dream Away is another very singalong pop number with a few hidden Harrison-esque bits scattered around here and there. Circles is a typically Harrison plaintive, Beatles-style ballad. His voice, while never great, always carried a bit of a sad quality to it. Harrison would not release another album after this for another five years, popular mythology suggests it is this album that put him off, seeing him lose his muse. We'll never know now.

It is all pleasant enough, with Harrison playful and relaxed as opposed to serious and mystical, but completely culturally inessential when it was released. This album passed me by in 1982, but I can't imagine it appealing to anyone much back then. Listening to it now, it is not as pointless as it would have seemed then, though. It now stands as a bit of a curio. Thoroughly out of time, but strangely interesting, just in places. Overall, though, it has to go down as "one for completists", but, whenever I come across one of those I feel compelled to give it a chance. To be fair, there are a fair few Paul McCartney albums that were certainly no better than this and, on listening to it again, it is growing on me, in an unthreatening, harmless way.

C-

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

T'Pau



Bridge Of Spies (1987)
Rage (1988)

T'Pau - Bridge Of Spies (1987)

It was a theme she had on a scheme he had....

  

Released on 14 September 1987

Running time 44.19

1987 was a pretty barren time for music, so much so that I have really good memories of playing this album over and over, thinking how great it was. A crumb of bread felt good to a hungry man. Not that it is a bad album, actually, but it has always suffered from dreadful, mushy, badly-produced sound (odd, because it was produced by Roy Thomas Baker of seventies Queen fame). I read somewhere that Baker did this deliberately to make it sound better on lo-fi radio sets or car radios. While it may indeed sound better on radios, it certainly sounds bloody awful on a decent hi-fi system.

It is also very much a product of its era. While T'Pau have rock instincts, they also, unfortunately, bowed down to the great god synthesiser - the album is full of it. That will always make it sound very eighties. As I said, though, as 1987 albums went, it was a good one.

TRACK LISTING


1. Heart And Soul
2. I Will Be With You
3. China In Your Hand
4. Friends Like These
5. Sex Talk
6. Bridge Of Spies
7. Monkey House
8. Valentine
9. Thank You For Goodbye
10. You Give Up
11. China In Your Hand (reprise)                        

Heart And Soul has a muffled, undercooked backing and singer Carol Decker's vocal is semi-spoken at the outset, whispering under the music, until it breaks out on a ramped-up, stirring chorus. I Will Be With You is a very typical late eighties big synth-dominated rock ballad. Up next is the big one, the huge number one hit and hen night singalong number, China In Your Hand. It was not surprisingly a hit, it builds up irresistibly to its huge, anthemic chorus. I can't help but like it. Friends Like These is an upbeat number with another killer hooky chorus, but a terrible, tinny sound.


Sex Talk is great - a slice of vaguely funky, synthy rock with Carol Decker on sassy, sexy form telling us how long it is "since I got so wet...". Bridge Of Spies, despite more poor sound is an uplifting, magnificent song, with an excellent vocal from Decker, soaring high above everything. Superb song. Monkey House starts with some proper electric guitar riffage and a big thumping beat. As on so many of the album's songs, it is supremely catchy and easy to sing along to.

Valentine slows down the pace, but not the sonic murk, unfortunately. It is a good power ballad, though. It someone could remaster these recordings, up the guitar, make the drum sound less mushy and get rid of those synths. Thank You For Goodbye has a very eighties-style saxophone intro and another of those big, addictive choruses. You Give Up seems to use the riff from Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days before launching into a vibrant rocker. A brief reprise of China In Your Hand ends what is for me a very nostalgic album. If only that sound could be dealt with.

C+

Mick Jagger - Wandering Spirit (1993)

Wired all night....

  

Released on 9 February 1993

Running time 54.05

Before The Rolling Stones' Voodoo Lounge, Mick Jagger released this, which many say is the best of his solo albums. They may have a case. It entertains a variety of styles but it was released in the days when, because a CD allowed at least seventy minutes of music, it would be packed with tracks. Value for money, I guess, but sometimes I much prefer a seventies-style forty minute offering. While good, it does go on maybe three tracks too long. Credit must be given to Jagger for writing nearly all the material on here as well. It has a verve and ebullience that maybe some of The Stones' lateeighties material lacked.

Like Keith Richards albums, however, take the best tracks from both and mix them together and you would actually have better albums, possibly, than the Stones put out around the same time.

TRACK LISTING


1. Wired All Night
2. Sweet Thing
3. Out Of Focus
4. Don't Tear Me Up
5. Put Me In The Trash
6. Use Me
7. Evening Gown
8. Mother Of A Man
9. Think
10. Wandering Spirit
11. Hang On To Me Tonight
12. I've Been Lonely For So Long
13. Angel In My Heart
14. Handsome Molly                                        

Wired All Night is a Stonesy (yes some of the tracks are), upbeat and solid rocking opener. Jagger's voice is sounding committed and strong. This could easily have been on Voodoo Lounge. Sweet Thing was criticised by some for Jagger's high-pitched voice and its cod-disco rhythm, but I have to say I quite like it. It is a funky number in the Fingerprint File/Dance, Pt. 1 style. It is full of sleazy atmosphere. Out Of Focus has an odd, gospelly-piano intro before it launches into a mightily catchy number. It has a searing guitar solo in it too. It is a catchy, enjoyable track. Don't Tear Me Up is a typical mid-pace Jagger-written Stones song, both in its sound and his vocal. Put Me In The Trash is in the same vein, but faster and riffier, almost as if Keith was there. The "oo-eee" backing vocals sound like one of the tracks on one of Keith's solo albums (I can't remember which one).


Mick's cover of Bill Withers' Use Me is as funky as the original. His voice suits it. Mick has always liked a cod-country tearjerker where he can use his awful country accent. He does just this on Evening Gown. I still like it, though, bizarrely. The muscular Stonesy rock returns, however, on Mother Of A Man. Think is an excellent, staccato, slightly contemporary-sounding rocker. It was a 1957 hit for an artist called Lowman Pauling. No? Me neither. Time for some blues, maybe, now? Indeed, we get some, albeit very upbeat, on the Americana-influenced and lively Wandering Spirit. It bursts out into a rocky, rousing beat half way through.

Hang On To Me Tonight is another appealing, very typically Jagger-sounding number, with a fetching vocal and lovely deep bass line. Not forgetting a killer harmonica solo. The quirky I've Been Lonely For So Long reminds me, for some reason, of a Ringo Starr solo song. Something about the self-deprecating lyrics maybe. A bit like The Stones' Bridges To Babylon would do in a few years' time, the album ends with two slower, different tracks. Firstly Angel In My Heart is a solemn ballad, backed by sweeping strings and that harpsichord sound The Stones used to use in the sixties. Handsome Molly sees Jagger going traditional Irish folk, an unusual move.

As I said earlier, the album is probably a few tracks too long, but let that not detract from the fact that is a very enjoyable album.

B-

Monday, 29 July 2019

Lady Antebellum



Need You Now (2010)

Lady Antebellum - Need You Now (2010)

Boys in black pearl buttons....

  

Released on 26 January 2010

Running time 44.10

This is a pleasant enough serving of "contemporary country" rock from a threesome who actually were from Nashville - Charles Kelly, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood. Their albums follow the usual trend of a fair few lively rock/country pop love songs, a couple of heartbreaker ballads and some good-time bar-room stompers to show that they know how to have a good time. It is all a bit polished, without anything edgy or challenging, but taking that into account, it is still a reasonable album, with some good moments on it. Every now and again throughout the album, they surprise you and you realise that they are a bit more than the average country rock band. I have seen them live at the Hammersmith Apollo a while back and they were great - energetic, rocking and very "up for it". They had a really enthusiastic audience too.

Despite the attractiveness of the two singers, they do give off a rather asexual vibe, however, as if they both met at their university Christian Union. Hillary Scott is married to the band's drummer, I believe, so getting all down 'n' dirty with Charles may not go down to well behind the kit.

This was their second album, or, as the Americans say, their "sophomore" offering.

TRACK LISTING

1. Need You Now
2. Our Kind Of Love
3. American Honey
4. Hello World
5. Perfect Day
6. Love This Pain
7. When You Got A Good Thing
8. Stars Tonight
9. If I Knew Then
10. Lookin' For A Woman
11. Ready To Love Again
12 I Run To You                                              

Need You Now has a big, chunky beat with a deep, rumbling bass line and a singalong chorus. The vocals are shared, as they usually are, between Hillary Scott and Charles Kelly. Our Kind Of Love is a solid, melodic but ebullient piece of country rock. Once again, they show what a knack they had for finding a hook. American Honey, sung largely by Hillary, is an appealing slow rock number full of atmosphere. She sings it, slightly annoyingly, as "AmeriCAAN honey", but it's a good song, so I'll forgive her. It's her home accent after all.


Hello World is very Springsteen-esque in both Kelly's vocal, the piano and the lyrics. There are hints of Jackson Browne floating around in there too. It is one of my favourites on the album. The way the verses build up in the song and eventually rise to the chorus is uplifting. The line about "little white crosses in a little white church" is very Van Morrison-ish.

Perfect Day is a lively, country rocker about grabbing a few beers, jumpin' in the truck and havin' a whole heap of fun with your buddies at the County Fair. Love This Pain is a solid, riffy rocker with another killer hook. When You Got A Good Thing is sort of mid-pace country rock ballad by numbers, which makes it not quite as impressive as some of the other material.

All of the band's albums have to contain a crowd-pleaser, and here it is Stars Tonight, with its "..boys in black pearl buttons lookin' just like Springsteen..." line (whatever black pearl buttons are). It is a good-time, rousing number, a bit like Soozie Tyrell's Out On Bleecker Street. It is also packed full of rock riffs and fist-pumping "hey, hey" bits. The tempo cools down a bit after that breathless romp, for the piano and vocal ballad If I Knew Then. It is very typical modern country fare. Not for long, though, the riffy rock is back on the upbeat fun of Lookin' For A Good Time. Ready For A Good Time is next, a Hillary Scott-led mid-tempo ballad. The album ends with one of its best tracks - the outstanding, bass-driven I Run To You. This is Lady Antebellum at their best - harmonious, catchy, powerful and melodic.

B- 

Sleeper



Smart (1995)
The It Girl (1996)
Pleased To Meet You (1997)

Sleeper - The It Girl (1996)

Grease ourselves up on the way down....

  

Released on 18 June 1996

Running time 45.49

Sleeper were a strange band. Releasing material at the heart of the "Brit Pop" thing, after initially being the sort of band that would appear on the list of a character from This Life's favourite bands, they pretty soon became the band everyone loved to hate, for no accountable reason. Music fashions, eh? Maybe it was the fact that lead singer Louise Wener was a bit gobby, but so what. She later became an author and wrote some excellent books. I have read two of them - Goodnight Steve McQueen and her enjoyable autobiography It's Different For Girls. Both are lively and amusing.

The other members of the band, all male, were anonymous in both appearance and persona and the phrase "sleeperbloke" was coined by someone in the media to describe such types. It stuck, for a while at least.

The band's sound was very Blondie-influenced with Smiths-style guitar backing although the music is unremastered and suffers a little from a muffled sound that you need to turn up.

TRACK LISTING

1. Lie Detector
2. Sale Of The Century
3. What Do I Do Now?
4. Good Luck Mr Gorsky
5. Feeling Peaky
6. Shrinkwrapped
7. Dress Like Your Mother
8. Statuesque
9. Glue Ears
10. Nice Guy Eddie
11. Stop Your Crying
12. Factor 41
13. Click...Off...Gone                           

Lie Detector is a riffy and punky opener, full of witty, observational lyrics. Wener's "mockney" accent is annoying though as she drops her "t"'s unconvincingly. Sale Of The Century has a riff like the one in Iggy Pop's The Passenger and an absolutely killer chorus. Its synthesiser opening reminds me of Blondie's Fade Away And Radiate. This material is all very mid-nineties. By this time, I was thirty-seven years old and saw this stuff as the music of students and young people much younger than me, so I was never properly into it. In later years, however, I have picked up the band's three albums for next to nothing and quite enjoyed them. What Do I Do Now? contained more of Wener's acute social observation, which always was razor sharp. However, her deadpan singing left quite a bit to be desired.


Good Luck Mr. Gorsky has a good sound to it, actually, with some good percussion and guitar backing. quite what the song is about is unclear. It has a bit of post punk mystery about it. Feeling Peaky is in possession of a punky riff and a bit of a Stray Cats rockabilly bass line.

Shrinkwrapped has an infectious slow drum sound and a bit of a Siouxsie & The Banshees mid-eighties guitar sound. Dress Like Your Mother is another typically nineties piece of Brit Pop rock, although Statuesque is the album's most obviously Blondie-influenced number, with it's new wave beat and I'm Always Touched By Your Presence Dear vibe.

Glue Ears has a mournful, sombre feel to it, with some industrial post punk riffs. Nice Guy Eddie is full of those typically punk/new wave double drum beats and some impressive guitar. Stop Your Crying, ironically, given its its titular familiarity to Stop Your Sobbing has more than a bit of The Pretenders about it. Factor 41 is a melodic but quirky new wave-ish number, but that mockney voice is annoying me again. It ends abruptly with Wener hollering out "get your knickers down...". The fact she is singing it to a man makes it unique and amusing.

Click...Off...Gone is a short, airy, synth-driven end to an album that is ok for a quick burst every now and again, but I have be honest that despite its forty-five minutes, I start to flag after about twenty-five.

C+

KT Tunstall - Drastic Fantastic (2007)

Beauty of uncertainty....

  

Released on 18 September 2007

Running time 45.09

This was KT Tunstall's second album and, rather than going down the earnest, breathy Dido route of mid-2000s female singer-songwriters, she harnessed the rockier elements of her 2005 debut, Eye To The Telescope and went full-on pop/rock, certainly for the first two-thirds of the album. The cover gives a clue to that as KT poses like a seventies heavy metal axe man, silver glam-rock style guitar glistening.

TRACK LISTING


1. Little Favours
2. If Only
3. White Bird
4. Funnyman
5. Hold On
6. Hopeless
7. I Don't Want You Now
8. Saving My Face
9. Beauty Of Uncertainty
10. Someday Soon
11. Paper Aeroplane                                  

Little Favours kick off with a big, deep drumbeat, backed up with crystal clear acoustic guitars and then jangly, solid electric riffs. The beat is lively and KT's vocals are strong and confident. It is probably the rockiest number on the album. If Only has a quirky, staccato beat and one of those swirling, airy, slightly slurry vocals. The chorus has KT going higher with her voice and is poppy and catchy. White Bird slows the tempo down considerably on a slightly jazzy and bluesy sleepy number. Very Americana. A bit of a hint of Lucinda Williams in places. The acoustic guitar, bass and brushy drum interlay is excellent. Funnyman opens with some buzzy, U2-ish guitar before the track delivers a shuffling backbeat. It kicks in to a muscular rock sound eventually, with a bit of Celtic-sounding mandolin enhancing it. The sound of songs like this is very 2000s but also slightly retrospective too.


Hold On continues in the same upbeat, vibrant, chunky style. Hopeless has a delicious deep bass line and a bit of the infectious style of the big hit Suddenly I See about it. KT's voice is impressive as indeed is the accessible sound and feel of the song. I Don't Want You Now is also poppy and appealing. Ideal Radio Two fare. Saving My Face is very Deacon Blue-ish in its "wooh-ooh" backing vocals, and in the track's general sound, merging acoustic and electric guitars.

Beauty Of Uncertainty is a slow-pace acoustic and bass bluesy song, full of laid-back atmosphere and another great vocal. It is another in a long line of Americana-influenced numbers. By the end of the track it has developed a big, U2-esque sound, however. The relaxing, gentle strains of Someday Soon has a Bruce Springsteen-like strummed acoustic guitar and backing drums meeting a Mary Chapin Carpenter ambience and lyric as KT shows off her vocal versatility. Paper Aeroplane continues the laid-back last third of the album with a slow, haunting number. What began as a tub-thumping poppy album has ended as an airy, reflective one. Overall, though, this has largely been a vibrant offering and a generally ebullient one. KT Tunstall really is a very underrated artist.

B-

Status Quo - Live (1976)

Roll over lay down....

  

Recorded live at the Glasgow Apollo in 1976

Running time 92.14

As the seventies progressed, most rock bands/artists released a live double album - Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Thin Lizzy amongst others. Why, even the relatively unknown Peter Frampton scored a huge commercial success with Frampton Comes Alive. Status Quo had been big for several years by the release of this live album, with many chart hits and impressively-selling albums. This was Quo at their best, before they became "national treasures", for ever more providing singalongs for nostalgists. They main thing the album shows is just what a fine, credible rock band Quo were at this time. The concert is loud, abrasive and exciting from beginning to end. It is not simple a "greatest hits", it covers tracks from the early seventies when they were still unsure whether switching from hippy psychedelia to riffy, blues rock was a good idea or not, through their mid-seventies albums and also giving us some of their big hits.


The gig opens with Junior's Wailing from 1975's On The Level before progressing to Backwater and Just Take Me 1974's Quo. The rocking, punky Is There A Better Way comes from their latest album at the time, Blue For You. In My Chair is a rare single-only release dating from 1970. It was of their first ventures into a busier, heavier sound. Little Lady and Most Of The Time are from On The Level.

The wonderful, heads-down, copper-bottomed blues rock of Rain is from Blue For You while the extended jam of Forty-Five Hundred Times is from 1973's Hello, as is the single Roll Over Lay Down. Big Fat Mama, Don't Waste My Time and the mammoth Roadhouse Blues date from 1972's Piledriver.  Finally, you get the huge rocking, riffy hit Caroline and a cover of Chuck Berry's Bye Bye Johnny.

With regard to the two extended performances - Forty-Five Hundred Times and Roadhouse Blues, sixteen minutes and fourteen minutes respectively, they said that they simply played the song, then carried on improvising, unrehearsed until one of them nodded to stop. Innovative rock at its best. Jimi Hendrix would have been impressed.

The sound quality is good and the band's performance is raw and enthusiastic. The interplay between the two lead guitars, bass and drums is sensational. Just check out when Most Of The Time kicks into action. The whole album serves as a reminder that when Status Quo were like this, they were very good indeed. Funnily enough, in retrospect, Francis Rossi subsequently said he hated the band's performance. Rick Parfitt, on the other and, said much of it still "gave him goosebumps".

TRACK LISTING

1. Junior's Wailing
2. Backwater/Just Take Me
3. Is There A Better Way
4. In My Chair
5. Little Lady/Most Of The Time
6. Rain
7. Forty-Five Hundred Times
8. Roll Over Lay Down
9. Big Fat Mama
10. Don't Waste My Time
11. Roadhouse Blues
12. Caroline
13. Bye Bye Johnny                              





B+



Sunday, 28 July 2019

Lucinda Williams



Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998)

Lucinda Williams - Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998)

Concrete and barbed wire....

  

Released on 30 June 1998

Running time 51.40

Louisianan Lucinda Williams is a bit of an acquired taste for me, (one I am acquiring rapidly), but for many others she is a bit of a cult-like artist, highly-respected amongst the cognoscenti. Coming from the nineties country boom of Americana-style singer-songwriters, especially "chicks who play guitar", she is gruffer, vocally, and more edgy than my own favourite of the genre, Mary Chapin Carpenter, who Williams knows well. This 1998 offering is widely considered to be her best album. It has a contemporary roots country rock style merged with more traditional country and blues. The Cajun sounds of Louisiana are never too far away, either. It contains a lot of hidden depths too. She is Mary Chapin Carpenter but with less self-analytical angst and more bar-room balls. Never mind being a country album, this is far more of a blues rock album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Right In Time
2. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road
3. 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten
4. Drunken Angel 
5. Concrete And Barbed Wire
6. Lake Charles
7. Can't Let Go
8. I Lost It
9. Metal Firecracker
10. Greenville
11. Still I Long For Your Kiss
12. Joy
13. Jackson                                           

Right In Time is a typical piece of nineties "new country" rock, with jangly riffs such as those Mary Chapin Carpenter used a lot, but with Williams' more (appropriately) gravelly voice. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road is a great track, with a slow, solid, slightly bluesy backbeat and a lazy, laconic but appealing vocal from Williams. The oddly adolescent-titled 2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten has a shuffling, latter-day Elvis Costello-like beat and similar lyrics and vocal delivery. I really like this one. Love that drum beat and Williams' sexy, throaty growl. A subtle accordion features in the background.


Drunken Angel reminds me of Amy Rigby and someone else that I can't put my finger on. Williams addresses the drunken angel of the title sounding vaguely worse for wear herself. It features a killer harmonica solo too. Concrete And Barbed Wire is a rough-edged, folky and twangy blues song, packed full of atmosphere.

Lake Charles is about Williams' hometown - a moving, accordion-backed song with references to Lafayette, Baton Rouge and Lake Pontchartrain. It is one of the album's best cuts. Lovely bass on it too. Can't Let Go is a rhythmic bluesy rocker with vague hints of The Rolling Stones meeting Mark Knopfler about it. The guitar throughout is excellent.

I Lost It is driven on by some strong, buzzy guitar and a rough, muscular drum sound. Williams' voice is full of attack and character. The song is powerful, industrial and riffy. Superb Americana rock with some great Cajun accordion in the background. Metal Firecracker has a sumptuous, deep, thumping bass line (something I love), some jangly Byrds-style guitar and a yearning, slightly slurry vocal. This is a really good song, another of my favourites from the album. "We put on ZZ Top and played it real loud..." is a great line. Sure, it is simple, but it's in the delivery. You have to be listening to it, I guess.

Greenville is a mournful, Springsteen-esque slow number. Still I Long For Your Kiss is a growly, sensual slow country rock ballad. Joy is a big, bluesy, ballsy grinder driven along by some scratchy guitar and a potboiler of a vocal. Jackson is one of the album's more folky numbers to end with, full of bluesy slide guitar and a sombre, plaintive vocal. This has been a delight to listen to. Highly recommended. I can see why it is so highly rated.

B+

Status Quo - Dog Of Two Head (1971)

Something's going on in my head....

  

Released November 1971

Running time 36.09

Status Quo were laying down their riffy rock, heads-down guitar-driven boogie sound for real by now having dabbled with it considerably before. It is a little-mentioned album but actually a really good one. The late sixties psychedelic experiments had long gone now and the band started seriously showcasing their heavy rock credentials. Yes, they were maybe not as heavy as Deep Purple, not as bluesy as Led Zeppelin or as frenetic as Black Sabbath, but they were definitely up there with them. Quo had an ear for a catchy melody to go with the heaviness and the riffs. They never lost that, either.

TRACK LISTING

1. Umleitung
2. Nanana (Extraction I)
3. Something's Going On In My Head
4. Mean Girl
5. Nanana (Extraction II)
6. Gerdundula
7. Railroad
8. Someone's Learning
9. Nanana                                                          

Umleitung (German for "diversion", by the way) is a wonderful seven minutes of bluesy, riffy Quo rock to open with. That trademark sound that slowly began making itself known on the preceding album, Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon was truly on its way here. This is what listeners would come to instantly recognise as the Status Quo sound over the subsequent decades. Nanana (Extraction 1) is an odd little bit of folky messing around that barely registers before some wonderful, deep, bassy riffing comes along on Something's Going On In My Head, which is a great track. It has a lovely, warm, deep sound and Francis Rossi's slightly whiny voice giving it his all over some serious good guitar soloing. This is proper early seventies rock. Vastly underrated.

The quality continues on the hit single, the frantic but very catchy Mean Girl. Previous to this, as a twelve year-old when this came out, I had only memories of the psychedelic Pictures Of Matchstick Men regarding Status Quo. This single changed all that. I loved it back then and do now. Status Quo were a different band now - a serious, loud, riffy rock band. It wasn't actually a hit until re-released after the success of Paper Plane in 1972.


Nanana (Extraction II) is slightly longer than the previous Nanana, but not by much, which was a bit of a shame, as it might have been a nice enough, folky song. Never mind, a longer version would appear at the end. Gerdundula is, in its structure, a typically Quo riff-driven rocker. However, its riffs are acoustic ones, with Eastern/Celtic folky riffs driving it along, like early Steeleye Span on steroids. It was a re-recoding of a previous 'b' side. It is not long, however, before some serious heavy blues rock returns on the solid thump of Railroad. Someone's Learning is an interesting track. It is heavy and riffy but also contains some changes of pace and style that showed Quo to be the clever composers they are not always given the credit for being. The eventual Nanana was a couple of minutes of laid-back, slightly incongruous folkiness. All these Nanana's, to be honest, serve little purpose and it would have been better being replaced by another rock track, as all the others are in that vein. They sit rather uncomfortably with the rest of the excellent guitar boogie material. This is a very small nit pick, though. Overall, this was a very impressive, hard-hitting album of typical early Quo rock.

B-

Status Quo - Blue For You (1976)

Is there a better way....

  

Released March 1976

Running time 37.09

Since parts of 1970's Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon, Status Quo had been producing albums of riffy, relentless guitar-driven boogie for six years. This was probably the last in that great run of albums, they moved, after this, towards a more laid-back poppy sound and became "national treasures", known by everyone - "good old Quo". Here, they are still a credible, heavy but accessible rock band and, as punk took off around them, the album still found a fair amount of acceptance. After all, those riffs were nothing if not punky, weren't they? Quo rode out the punk storm, rarely being lumped in as "boring old farts", probably because of their deafening loud riffing and general "don't give a fuck" attitude. Thin Lizzy fell into the same category.

In 1976-77, while I listened to David Bowie's "Low" and "Heroes", The Clash's first album, The Ramones and Patti Smith I still also listened to this and enjoyed it. It was loud, rocking and uncompromising. What was not to like?

TRACK LISTING

1. Is There A Better Way
2. Mad About The Boy
3. Ring of Change
4. Blue For You
5. Rain
6. Rolling Home
7. That's A Fact
8. Ease Your Mind
9. Mystery Song                                    

Is There A Better Way is typical Quo fare - a brief, slow-ish intro that bursts out in to the usual heads-down Quo riffage. As was also quite regular was a "bridge" in the middle where the pace slows down before it launches full-tilt back into the original riff. Mad About The Boy is Quo blues rock, which is slightly different (admittedly not by much) to Quo regular rock. There are small differences - the blues rockers contain no bridges or instrumental quiet doodling bits. Ring Of Change is classic poppy Quo rock (another sub-genre!). It is very much is the frantic Down Down/Caroline style. I cannot help but like it. The pace and attack doesn't let up from beginning to end.

On every album, Quo slowed down a bit and they do here on the gentle, melodic slow rock of Blue For You. There is something a bit McCartney-esque with tinges of Lennon too about it. The cymbal work is great and emphasises that Quo could do subtle if they wanted to. There is a great rock guitar solo in the middle as well.

Rick Parfitt's Rain is wonderful Quo blues rock - solid, heavy, loud but catchy too. The great thing about Quo is that many who would not necessarily like blues rock seemed fine with Quo. Disco girls would be happy to sing along with Quo on the radio. Rolling Home is a fast-paced, punky workout, sort of glam meets punk with some Celtic-sounding Thin Lizzy guitar in places too. That's A Fact is a slower, but still muscular number. Ease Your Mind, while still riffy, gives a hint at the poppier sort of material the next decade would bring.

Mystery Song is an excellent closer, with a suitably mysterious, laid-back intro that eventually leads into a classic, headbanging riff. The track is full of all sorts of other changes in pace and instrumental ingenuity. It demonstrates Quo's cleverness as composers and musicians while still retaining some of their trademark sound. The non-album single The Wild Side Of Life is excellent as well. For the last in a classic run of Status Quo albums, this was a really good one. Stick it on and rock for forty minutes.

B

Saturday, 27 July 2019

The Electric Light Orchestra - Face The Music (1975)


You're walking meadows in my mind....

  

Released September 1975

Running time 36.22

Although The Electric Light Orchestra's trademark orchestrated sound is still present on this album, it is not nearly as dominant as on their previous album Eldorado, or indeed on their first three proggy offerings. Composer Jeff Lynne was definitely finding his pop ears and this album laid down the foundations that the following year's New World Record would really develop. ELO's status as a chart band and one looking for mass appeal truly began here. It was their first album to go platinum.

TRACK LISTING


1. Fire On High
2. Waterfall
3. Evil Woman
4. Nightrider
5. Poker
6. Strange Magic
7. Down Home Town
8. One Summer Dream                                            

Fire On High begins with a minute and a half of synthesised and sampled sound effects, before some huge drums and guitar kick in, giving us a mock-classical, grandiose symphonic piece. By three minutes, it brings in some razor sharp acoustic guitars, almost Tubular Bells-style, accompanied with some big Queen-influenced drum crashes, Brian May guitar and wailing female choral backing vocals. As instrumentals go, it is entertaining enough, I guess. ELO always liked an instrumental or two, so it is no surprise that it opened the album. Time for some Lennon influence by now, surely? We get that with the typically ELO Lennon-esque ballad Waterfall, Jeff Lynne's reedy, slightly whiny  voice backed by those big ELO strings - cello, violin and double bass to the fore.


ELO were beginning a run of quality singles now and Evil Woman was one of those, - a slightly funky and catchy number backed by some clavinet runs. It contained a few echoes of 1973's Showdown. It also has some excellent string and keyboard passages. Nightrider has a beguiling beginning before it breaks free into some typical ELO string-backed rock, full of the sort of quasi-Beatles circa 1967 influence that Lynne had long specialised in. The chorus refrain is very catchy, again. Lynne's ability to write a pop song was developing at a pace.

Poker is a madcap, frenetic pace rocker full of chunky guitar riffs and proggy synth runs. Strange Magic was the album's other single, and, while not as big a hit as Evil Woman it had a mysterious, synthy hook that took it into the charts' lower reaches. Down Home Train is a strange one, ELO go vaguely country with some hoedown-style fiddle and Lynne contributing a nasally, upbeat vocal. For some reason the song has a brief flash of Dixie near the end. One Summer Dream is a peaceful, reflective ballad with a laid-back beginning that morphs into a mid-pace rock song with some powerful drums. It is a good song to end on.

Overall, it was a short, but consistently pleasing album. I like it a lot more than many of their other albums (I am quite harsh on ELO albums). On here they managed to combine their Beatles-ish and orchestral backing with a clear pop sensibility that would prove to be extremely successful over the next few years.

B-