Tuesday, 30 July 2019

T'Pau



Bridge Of Spies (1987)


Heart And Soul/I Will Be With You/China In Your Hand/Friends Like These/Sex Talk/Bridge Of Spies/Monkey House/Valentine/Thank You For Goodbye/You Give Up/China In Your Hand (reprise)    
                    
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.

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'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.

Monday, 29 July 2019

Lady Antebellum



Need You Now (2010)


Need You Now/Our Kind Of Love/American Honey/Hello World/Perfect Day/Love This Pain/When You Got A Good Thing/Stars Tonight/If I Knew Then/Lookin' For A Woman/Ready To Love Again/I Run To You                                              

This is a pleasant enough serving of "contemporary country" rock from a threesome who actually were from Nashville - Charles KellyHillary 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.

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 TimeReady 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.

Sleeper




Smart (1996)


Inbetweener/Swallow/Delicious/Hunch/Amuse/Bedhead/Lady Love Your Countryside/Vegas/Poor Flying Man/Alice In Vain/Twisted/Pyrotechnician  

This was Sleeper's debut album. For many, it is considered not as good as the other two they released. For me, though, there is something raw and ebullient about Louise Wener and her mates' first offering. Her lyrics are up front, often amusingly bawdy, witty, tongue-in-cheek and sort of sexy in a grubby, punky way. Lots of great observational stuff. I agree, however, that the songs on the next two albums are more fulfilled pieces of songwriting, more catchy and cohesive. Some of those on here don't quite make it. Maybe that was part of the "indie" thing, though, that sort of home-produced punk ethic.
                                   
Inbetweener is a jangly, riffy, poppy opener with one of those hooks Sleeper would be so good at delivering over the next couple of years. Louise Wener's "mockney" is irritating, as it would also be prove to be over the same period of time. Just pronounce those "t's" Louise. Her phrasing sounds clumsy, more difficult to drop the "t's" than to actually say them. Swallow has an edgy, post punk-ish scratchy guitar opening with Louise singing about a creature in her wardrobe seeing her naked. Delicious is a frantic, energetic punky number with Louise suggesting "we should go to bed until we make each other sore...". Ok if you insist....

  

Hunch is a slow, solemn number that doesn't quite come off, at least until it bursts into action half way through. Amuse is another low-key song that, unfortunately shows up the weaknesses in Wener's slightly deadpan voice. Bedhead is a new-wavey fast paced song with hints of early Joe Jackson about it. Lady Love Your Countryside is an odd song, lyrically, about various sexual activities. Again it is a very late seventies/early eighties-influenced number. Vegas is more in a mid-nineties "Brit Pop" jangly style. It ends with some crashing Oasis-ish riffs.

Poor Flying Man slows the tempo down a bit until its cacophonous ending. Alice In Vain is an interesting, beguiling song, with a bit of cod-reggae in the middle and another of those punky vibes. Twisted is an excellent, big, chunky, bassy one. OK, it's a bit raw, sonically, but that sort of adds to its indie appeal. Pyrotechnician is also mightily full-on in its attack. It utilises some Big Audio Dynamite-style sampling too. Good stuff. This album would have gone down well in 1978-1979. It is quite retrospective all the way through. I really quite like this album.




The It Girl (1996)


Lie Detector/Sale Of The Century/What Do I Do Now?/Good Luck Mr Gorsky/Feeling Peaky/Shrinkwrapped/Dress Like Your Mother/Statuesque/Glue Ears/Nice Guy Eddie/Stop Your Crying/Factor 41/Click...Off...Gone                           

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 characters 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 irritating 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.

 

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.



Pleased To Meet You (1997)


Please Please Please/She's A Good Girl/Rollercoaster/Miss You/Romeo Me/Breathe/You Got Me/Superclean/Firecracker/Because Of You/Nothing Is Changing/Motorway Man/Traffic Accident   

For some reason, in around a year between 1997 and 1998, Sleeper rapidly fell out of favour with both the public and the music media. This would prove to be the last of their three albums and they split in 1998. Their demise would seem to have been a classic "build them up, knock them down" media thing, and, despite producing a good album here, one which showed a definite progression and a willingness to diversify slightly, they incomprehensibly became a band worthy of contempt. I could never quite understand that, and still don't. Maybe it was singer/songwriter Louise Wener's forthright personality, but that should never be held against anyone. Maybe it was the move towards producing more reflective, atmospheric, moody numbers instead of jangly Brit Pop. For whatever reasons, this was Sleeper's swansong and it was badly received. Indie darlings to nobodies in two years. That sort of fickleness has always annoyed me.
                                    
Please Please Please is a mysterious, slow-pace, breathily delivered number with U2 hints in the verses and their backing. She's A Good Girl is typical Sleeper fare, full of wry lyrics and a hooky chorus.

Rollercoaster is another which highlights Wener's acutely observational songwriting and musically, it follows the familiar pattern of smoky, atmospheric verses and big, crashing guitar-driven choruses. It has some impressive bass runs and buzzy guitar in there too. The production, however, as it is on the album as a whole, is a bit muffled.

  

Miss You is a pleasant enough, but unremarkable slow number, with some nice instrumentation. Romeo Me was a single and got a lot of radio play. It has that indie catchiness so popular at the time. However, it is a song that has always irritated me. The chorus while catchy, comes across as clumsy, particularly when Wener sings "Romeo and Ju-leeee-et". It just doesn't fit and bugs me every time. hear it. The spooky Breathe is backed by some Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles sounds and also has considerable U2 Zooropa/Pop influence. It is not a bad track at all.

You Got Me should have satisfied the Brit Pop fans, as it is one of the songs that most fits the style of the group's first two albums. Even this one finishes with some intense fuzzy guitar, though.

Superclean starts with a delicious piece of bass/drum interplay worthy of Siouxsie & The Banshees. It is a seductive post-punky number with sharp guitar interjections and one of Wener's better vocals. The band should not have been criticised for this more brooding, heavier sound. Again, it is one of the album's best tracks.

Firecracker starts of with a Bowie Lodger-era searing guitar riff and a has a muscular, punchy chorus. Because Of You is another track full of slow burning gravitas. It is very much a track that grows on you. It chorus is subtly addictive as its insistent drum sound.

Nothing Is Changing is even more laid-back, Wener's plaintive voice only backed by an acoustic guitar and ghostly keyboard string sounds. Motorway Man starts like Kraftwerk, until the U2 drums kick in. This is another dark but impressive track. It should have been given more of a chance. The same applies to the chunky Traffic Accident. Funnily enough, it ends abruptly, as did Sleeper's career now. This was a shame, but this certainly was not a bad album.




Sunday, 28 July 2019

Lucinda Williams



Car Wheels On A Gravel Road (1998)


Right In Time/Car Wheels On A Gravel Road/2 Kool 2 Be 4-Gotten/Drunken Angel/Concrete And Barbed Wire/Lake Charles/Can't Let Go/I Lost It/Metal Firecracker/Greenville/Still I Long For Your Kiss/Joy/Jackson   

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.   
                                     
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 LafayetteBaton 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.



Friday, 26 July 2019

Linval Thompson



Ride On Dreadlocks (1975-1977)


Jah Jah Is The Conqueror/Long Long Dreadlocks/Ride On Dreadlocks/Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks/Joyful Locks/12 Tribes Of Israel/Everybody Needs Money/Don't Try To Rob I/Cool Down Your Temper/A Big, Big Girl/Jah Jah Is I Guiding Star/Can't Stop Natty Dread Again

This is an excellent Blood and Fire compilation of Linval Thompson's influential, ahead-of-the-game roots material from 1975-1977. Much of this material achieved cult popularity a few years later as part of the punk/roots reggae crossover, when it became part of the soundtrack for several Notting Hill Carnivals.

Most of the material was produced by the legendary Bunny Lee, and a lot of them either have extended dub sections or are very dubby anyway. The bass is huge, as you would expect, but melodic too and there is that razor sharp cymbal sound known as Lee's trademark "flying cymbal" sound. You instantly know it if you hear it. The lyrics are unsurprisingly Rasta-oriented, about devoutness and the glory of having dreadlocks.

Thompson is up there with Johnny ClarkeThe AbyssiniansThe GladiatorsThe Mighty DiamondsCultureThe CongosThe HeptonesJacob MillerMax Romeo and Junior Murvin as one of the great roots reggae vocalists. His material was a few years in advance of some of the others, so his influence was considerable. He went on to be more of a producer than a singer, as indeed many of the roots artists did.

 

Jah Jah Is The Conqueror is a wonderful slice of mid-pace roots skanking, extended here to include the big, bassy dub version. Check out that infectious bass/cymbal work near the end of the dub passage. Long Long Dreadlocks is a dubby and brassy song in praise of having the locks - "if you don't have a long long dreadlocks I sorry for you....". The dub passage has those cymbals again plus that brass sound that comes and goes, often cutting off half way through a bit, leaving just the "riddim". This dub was the sort of stuff that many bands would imitate in the late seventies/early eighties, including The Clash on Armagideon Time and UB40 on Dream A Lie (extended).

Ride On Dreadlocks is an upbeat cut and one of Thompson's better known ones, full of great guitar and a lively beat. Thompson's voice is yearningly good on here too. Check out that oh-so-deep bass line too. Dub reggae heaven. I love this. Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks leaves the Rastaman in no doubt as to his course of action - don't visit that barber man. 12 Tribes Of Israel was one of the three tracks produced by Thompson, and, notably, it features a more catchy "one-drop" drum sound. The dub passage of this track is excellent. Check out that rumbling bass line.

Everybody Needs Money is a dub-drenched slow groove, full of reverb and echo. Don't Try To Rob I is a lively and enjoyable number, one of the album's most catchy. Cool Down Your Temper is a return to massive, dubby vibrations, crystal clear flying cymbals and devout lyrics. A Big Big Girl passes by without registering particularly. The last two tracks, Jah Jah Is I Guiding Star and Can't Stop Natty Dread Again are the other two Thompson-produced tracks. The former is deep and rhythmic, the latter lighter and more breezy, with an excellent dub passage.

Overall, this is a rich dubby compilation full of late seventies atmosphere. Time for some Red Stripe and curry goat. (The pic below is not Thompson, it just suits the music).




Dusty Springfield



Dusty In Memphis (1969)       


Just A Little Lovin'/So Much Love/Son Of A Preacher Man/I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore/Don't Forget About Me/Breakfast In Bed/Just One Smile/Windmills Of Your Mind/In The Land Of Make Believe/No Easy Way Down/I Can't Make It Alone                   

Looking to get her career back on track, Dusty Springfield decided to turn to soul music. She signed to Atlantic Records and the album was produced by Jerry WexlerTom Dowd and Arif Mardin. Wexler said the Springfield was quite difficult to work with and rejected all of the songs except Just A Little Lovin' and Son Of A Preacher Man. He found her surprisingly unconfident. You wouldn't really tell on what sounds an excellent album.

It is one of those albums that has achieved classic status in later years. At the time it was a commercial flop, something that is often overlooked. Another misconception is that the album is wall-to-wall soul. It certainly isn't. In fact it is far more of a soulful easy-listening offering, for me, featuring songs from Goffin/KingBacharach/David/ Barry/Weil and Randy Newman as opposed to Isaac Hayes or Floyd/Cropper. That said, it is still a wonderful album. Springfield's voice is stunning throughout, as indeed is the backing from the Atlantic Records musicians. The sound quality is crystal clear too.

By the summer of the same year, 1969, Elvis Presley had also recorded the similarly impressive From Elvis In Memphis.

                     
Just A Little Lovin' begins with the message that the activity of the tile is better than a cup of coffee in the morning. It sounds like a Burt Bacharach number, particularly with its strings, but in fact is a Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song. My personal favourite on the album is the very Memphis soul/Stax-esque So Much Love. The backing is sumptuous - uplifting, dramatic and with lovely bass and percussion too. Not to forget Dusty's smoky, sensual voice lifting it higher, sounding very like P.P. Arnold.

Son Of A Preacher Man needs no introduction. It is, rightly, a classic - packed full of soul and characterisation. It is musically perfect too - those horns, the bass, the percussion, the "wooh-ohh" backing vocals. I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore is a laid-back Randy Newman song about domestic disharmony. Don't Forget About Me is a marvellous bass and brass piece of soul. It has some swamp blues-sounding guitar too. It is one of the album's most authentic-sounding soul numbers.

Breakfast In Bed, later covered by UB40/Chrissie Hynde, is delivered as a slow-paced country ballad with added punchy brass sections. Just One Smile is another Randy Newman song and is again sung as a ballad, with a big, dramatic chorus.

Windmills Of Your Mind is given an appealing, Samba-style backing. It breaks out at the end into an upbeat, orchestrated fast number. Bacharach/David's In The Land Of Make Believe is a syncopated, slow and rhythmic Carpenters-style easy listening ballad with Dusty giving us a more high-pitched vocal than usual.

No Easy Way Down is a fetching big soulful ballad. I Can't Make It Alone is another P.P. Arnold-influenced big number. I love this track too.

The whole album is a little gem, really. Shame it only gave Dusty such huge credibility largely posthumously.




Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Johnny Nash



I Can See Clearly Now (1972)


Stir It Up/That's The Way We Get By/Guava Jelly/It Was So Nice While It Lasted/Oooh Baby You've Been Good To Me/You Poured Sugar On Me/I Can See Clearly Now/Comma Comma/We're All Alike/How Good It Is/The Fish And The Alley Of Destruction/Cream Puff/There Are More Questions Than Answers     

Johnny Nash, from Houston, Texas, did as much as anyone to bring reggae to the masses in the early 70s. Along with hits like Dave And Ansel CollinsDouble BarrelBob And Marcia's Young, Gifted And Black and Nicky Thomas'Love Of The Common People from 1971, by 1972, it was the voice of Johnny Nash and his singalong, commercial reggae played by Jamaican musicians that were all over the airwaves. Two of these tracks - Stir It Up and Guava Jelly were written by Bob Marley and, for many, including my thirteen year-old self who bought all Nash's singles, this was the first time they had come across the name of Bob Marley. As far as I was concerned, in 1972, reggae was Johnny Nash.

Funnily enough, this album is split between Nash's authentic brand of reggae and seventies, brassy soul. For that reason it sort of sits on two stools and Nash always remained that sort of "crossover" artist.

  

    
This album is the best one to use to dip into what made Nash so appealing. It begins with his cover of Marley's seductive Stir It Up, sung by Nash as "steer it up". I loved the vibe of it when I first heard it - Nash's voice is flawless and the reggae beat intoxicating. I loved the bass line, those "one drop" reggae drums and the infectious flute parts. Nash could also do soul too, and as I said, not all this album is reggae - That's The Way We Get By is a lively, brassy, almost Northern Soul number surprisingly written by keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick (who worked with Free and The Who and appeared on Bob Marley's Catch A Fire album the following year). Marley's Guava Jelly caught my attention back then, not only for its deliciously laid-back summer reggae groove, but for the line "come rub upon my belly like guava jelly..." which I found mightily amusing at the time. What was guava jelly? It sounded like something exotic and Caribbean which suited the whole vibe.


It Was So Nice While It Lasted is another sumptuous soul offering, with Nash's voice crystal clear. Oooh BabyYou've Been Good To Me is an upbeat piece of funky soul with more excellent brass backing. You Poured Sugar On Me is a sort of easy listening meets soft, poppy reggae. It is a Sam Cooke-style ballad with a typically early-seventies gentle reggae beat. Nash co-wrote it with Bob Marley. Up next is perhaps Nash's most famous song, his self-penned uplifting classic I Can See Clearly Now. Its beat is vaguely reggae mixed with brassy soul. It has been covered by many, and rightly so, it's great.

Comma Comma is a Marley number, written in a shuffling Rastafarian drum style. It doesn't refer to a punctuation mark, but "come-a back here to me". Despite its poppiness, it is probably the deepest reggae groove on the album. We're All Alike is another Bundrick number and is a slow, gospelly ballad. How Good It Is is a pleasant mid-pace reggae song from Nash's pen. The bizarrely-titled The Fish And The Alley Of Destruction is another piece of inspiration gospel soul.

Cream Puff is an endearing pop reggae song fitting in very much with that early seventies reggae feel.

There Are More Questions Than Answers was a great hit single, an impressive, singalong slice of early seventies reggae. I always loved the steel guitar solo and drum "taradiddle" in the middle of the song. Overall, this is an excellent summer's day listen. Harmless, enjoyable accessible reggae and soul.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Yazoo



Upstairs At Eric's (1982)


Don't Go/Too Pieces/Bad Connection/I Before E Except After C/Midnight/In My Room/Only You/Goodbye 70s/Tuesday/Winter Kills/Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I)   

Yazoo appeared from nowhere in the midst of the new romantic explosion. They were a sort of amalgam of new romantic keyboard pop and experimental post punk. They consisted of keyboardist Vince Clarke (who was also involved with Depeche Mode) and vocalist Alison Moyet (known then as "Alf"). Clarke deals with all the instrumentation - keyboards and drum programming. It is more than just a cold synth-dominated piece of work though, Moyet's voice carries considerable emotion, being big and soulful as opposed to typically new romantic in that detached haughty or cold and soulless style favoured by so many. It sort of exposes the pre-conception that all keyboard-driven music has to be Kraftwerk-esque in its cool detachment. This, to me, is a warm, sensitive and evocative album. There is a distinct lack of post-punk misery about it too. Just a bit near the end. It was 1982 after all.         

Don't Go was a huge hit single and also a dance success. It begins with an absolute killer, catchy synth riff and Moyet's raspy soulful voice has strength and attack. It is a classic of its type. Clarke contributes an excellent, quirky keyboard solo bit in the middle. It has been released in many formats over the years - 12", dance, extended mixes and the like. Too Pieces is another solid but infectious and moving song. The voice is again superb as indeed are the keyboards. This is not just futuristic keyboard doodling and bleeping, it is used as the dominant instrument and carries all the songs. It has vague echoes of Marianne Faithfull's The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan. For me anyway.

  

Bad Connection has a quirky, poppy lively beat. Once more, it is a relief to hear an expressive, dynamic voice on this sort of material. Moyet brings a soul and a rock sensibility to the music. I Before E Except After C is, unfortunately, a pretty pointless, unlistenable tape loop mix of multiple spoke voices muttering on over each about "feeling the difference". After a couple of minutes, though, a bit of sombre synthesiser comes in, giving it a bit of industrial atmosphere. It is out of kilter with the rest of the album, however, and would have been better being replaced by excellent the non-album single, Situation, for me. It goes on far too long and is a waste of time, let's be honest.

Thankfully, sanity is restored on the gospelly soul-influenced Midnight which is a beautifully powerful piece of electronic soul, if indeed there could be such a thing. If there was, Yazoo had produced it here. The synth riffs and Moyet's voice are both outstanding. In My Room is not The Beach Boys' song but another pice of Vince Clarke experimentation. It works better than the previous one, despite the layered spoken vocals appearing again. Alison Moyet sings on this one and gives it an oddball appeal.

Only You was massive. A huge number one. Rightly so, it is blessed with great hooks, a bucketful of soul, killer synth riffs and Moyet's voice riding high above it all. One of the great hits of the era. No question. Goodbye 70s was a dense, deep synthy ushering in of this new era. It is so evocative of the time. Personally, I am not a huge electronic fan, preferring my guitars, but I can dig this, man. Tuesday is addictively sonorous. Very dark and European-sounding, so there was a bit of Kraftwerk in there after all, hidden away. That feeling continues on the doom-laden Winter Kills, which is like something Siouxsie And The Banshees would be doing a few years later. The upbeat energy is back, though, with the funky Bring Your Love Down (Didn't I), compete with soul-esque bracketed title.

This was definitely one of the better albums from the early eighties period, which was one for music that certainly wasn't one of my favourites. This does the business though, with its clear differences and creative vitality.



Wednesday, 17 July 2019

The Proclaimers



Sunshine On Leith (1988)


I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)/Cap In Hand/Then I Met You/My Old Friend The Blues/Sean/Sunshine On Leith/Come On Nature/I'm On My Way/What Do You Do/It's Saturday Night/Teardrops/Oh Jean                   

This was the second album from Edinburgh from geeky-looking Scottish twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid. They became famous for their distinct vocals, sung in a strong Scottish accent. At the time, it was not particularly successful, but became more so as I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) became a surprise hit a few years later. The album has gained a considerable amount of retrospective kudos and is now considered a bit of a classic.
                                 
I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) needs no introduction to anyone. It has become an iconic song, full of tub-thumping Caledonian rousing fervour with Craig Reid's rasping, deep Scottish brogue leading the singalong anthem enthusiastically. The infectious refrain overlooks what great backing it has too. Cap In Hand is an appealing slice of country-ish Celtic folk. Then I Met You is a great song, full of great vocal harmonies from Craig and Charlie and a solid rock backing with a quirky bit of funky wah-wah guitar in places.

 

My Old Friend The Blues is a country ballad and is a cover of a Steve Earle song. It is full of country twangy guitar and the brothers turn it into a Scottish lament as opposed to a Nashville tear-jerker. Sean is another incredibly appealing, addictive bit of Celtic folky fun. Sunshine On Leith is a slow, reflective but moving ballad that has been adopted by Hibernian FC. For a football anthem, however, it is surprisingly low-key. Come On Nature is an accordion-backed jaunty, folky upbeat number.

I'm On My Way is another energetic, bubbly song packed full of youthful, studenty optimism and hope.

What Do You Do slows down the tempo on a gentle, acoustic country ballad, featuring a very Nashville-esque steel guitar backing. There is often a bit of cynicism in many of the brothers' songs and the effervescent beat of It's Saturday Night is full of reflective sadness about playing lottery scratchcards amongst other things. Teardrops is a bit of a grating mess, though, I have to say. Sorry lads. Unfortunately, Oh Jean becomes more cacophonous as it progresses as well. After a very promising bulk, the last two tracks let the album down a tiny bit. It is unique, however, and you simply can't help but enjoy I'm Gonna Be or Then I Met You. They are both irresistible. Oh, and the bonus cover of Roger Miller's King Of The Road is similarly lovable.



Curtis Harding



Soul Power (2014)


Next Time/Castaway/Keep On Shining/Freedom/Surf/I Don't Wanna Go Home/Beautiful People/The Drive/Heaven's On The Other Side/Drive My Car/I Need A Friend/Cruel World  

This was Curtis Harding's debut album, which found him pigeonholed as a "retro soul" artist, like Leon BridgesThe London Souls and Vintage Trouble. I guess that couldn't be helped, as there are huge sixties and seventies southern soul influences, from Booker T. & The MGs to Al Green and Otis Redding, with touches of Sam Cooke in places. Dig deeper into the album, though, and there is far more to it than that. There are also rock influences too, The Rolling Stones come to mind every now and again on various instrumental breaks during the album. It is actually quite a varied album, stylistically. Sixties psychedeliafunkriffy rockjazz. There are bits of all of them on here. It makes for a most interesting listen. In fact, I would say it is far more of a rock album than a soul one, ironically.                                                                                   

Next Time has an absolutely delicious bass line, and a sort of Chris Rea soulful backbeat. A crisp acoustic guitar drives it along and Harding's vocal is clear and dominant. The subtle, understated brass and organ are excellent too. It is a sumptuous piece of laid-back modern soul. Great track.

Castaway has an Al Green-style backing plus some superb guitar. Harding's vocal is gruffer on this one, however, more sombre. Keep On Shining is very Detroit Spinners-influenced for me, in both its upbeat brassy backing and the vocal. Freedom is almost late night jazz funky at times, with some lovely guitar.

Surf is where we see the rock influences for the first clear time, with a Stonesy, powerful rocker, full of great Keith Richards-esque riffs. Lovely rumbling bass line too. It is tracks like this that make this not simply a "retro soul" album. It morphs straight into the sixties-ish jaunty I Don't Wanna Go Home, a track that has a sort of new wave meets The Kinks and the Pretty Things vibe to it. This is another one that certainly doesn't fit the southern soul preconception.

Beautiful People also has a bluesy but strangely psychedelic seventies feel to it as well. Once again, this is an album full of a myriad of styles. The pysch, futuristic thing is even more prominent on The Drive, with its dense funk and strange keyboard interjections.

Heaven's On The Other Side has a classic funk guitar riff and some big, brassy breaks. Harding's voice returns here to a more classic jazz/funk style. That riff reminds a lot of Chic. Completely so, in fact. Drive My Car changes the sound again with an excellent, grinding bluesy rocker. I Need A Friend  has Harding delivering a higher-pitched, Prince-style vocal, over a contemporary r'n'b backbeat.

Cruel World reminds me of Iggy Pop's The Passenger a lot. Another example of the album's diversity. As I said earlier, this is a very eclectic offering. It is an extremely impressive first outing. Harding produced the album, wrote (or co-wrote) the songs and played guitar, so it is very much his creation.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

KT Tunstall




Eye To The Telescope (2004)


Other Side Of The World/Another Place To Fall/Under The Weather/Black Horse And The Cherry Tree/Miniature Disasters/Silent Sea/Universe & U/False Alarm/Suddenly I See/Stoppin' The Love/Heal Over/Through The Dark 

I have only just "discovered" KT Tunstall, many years too late, so I am reviewing her work retrospectively. Before knowing her music I had pre-conceived her to be a typical 2000s singer-songwriter - earnest and acoustic and, if I am honest, a bit drippy. The truth turned out to be anything but that. Of her albums, however, this debut is the one that fits that particular bill more than the others, but only in places. It is certainly not an airy student bedsit album. As I read somewhere else, it  has many places where it is rocky in a Sheryl Crow style as opposed to a sleepy Dido ambience. For me, there are hints of Oasis around here and there, and latter-day Elvis Costello too, plus huge dollops of Americana.
                                    
Other Side Of The World starts as you might possibly expect - dreamy, wistful, acoustic vocal tones  and backing. This is how I thought the whole album would be. It breaks out half way through, though, into something more anthemic, electric, bassy and powerful. Another Place To Fall sees the full band kick in on a staccato, rhythmic groove that shows KT's voice off considerably. There is no doubt by now that Tunstall has a much stronger voice than many of her more wishy-washy contemporaries. It has character, versatility and charisma. This is a much harder-hitting, punchier track than the somewhat low-key opener. It has a great bass line too. The song has a distinctive, later era Elvis Costello-esque quality to its rhythm. Under The Weather returns to the reflective style of the first track with another sleepy, but beautifully sung, laid-back track. Black Horse And The Cherry Tree has an infectious Americana upbeat folky beat to it, something you could imagine Nathaniel Rateliff rocking up fifteen years down the line. It is another powerful vocal. Scottish Tunstall sounds as if she is straight out of the Mid-West on this.

 

Miniature Disasters has a quirky, appealing rhythm and another convincing, bluesy vocal. Silent Sea is a gentle, acoustic number that has hints of Paul McCartney about it, lyrically. Paul Weller, too, at times. Universe And U sees the full band return once more with a solid drums and keyboards sonorous, slow backing and KT's vocal is blues rock-ish in a US rock chick sort of way. There are hints of Oasis in this song's melody, delivery and structure, particularly the "miles away" bit of the lyrics. False Alarm continues in the same solid but slow paced Oasis-style rock ballad style with a vaguely jazzy, late night feel to it. All honest stuff.

Suddenly I See was the one Tunstall track I was slightly familiar with from its Radio Two standard popularity - "that was KT Tunstall, now it's time for "Popmaster"....and after that Jeremy Vine's with us". It is, however, a marvellously catchy number, packed full of verve and vitality with a singalong chorus. It was deservedly a hit. Apparently KT admits that over half her income has come from it. Stoppin' The Love  has a beat that reminds me of material from Elvis Costello's When I Was Cruel period. Once more, KT's voice is excellent - full, throaty and rasping but simultaneously soft and seductive. Heal Over keeps the trend of juxtaposition of a few lively numbers with a tender, thoughtful acoustic one going. It is sort of  Stevie Nicks meets Grace Potter, vocally. Yes, I know it was recorded a long time before Potter's work, but that is what it sounds like to me, listening in 2019.

Many is the album that ends with a song somewhat at odds with the tracks that had come before. This is also the case here as we get a stately, piano-driven Randy Newman-ish slow country blues/waltz of a ballad in Through The Dark. If anything, though, this excellent song helps to reiterate the fact that Tunstall is a most varied artist. This was a more than competent first album.




Drastic Fantastic (2007)


Little Favours/If Only/White Bird/Funnyman/Hold On/Hopeless/I Don't Want You Now/Saving My Face/Beauty Of Uncertainty/Someday Soon/Paper Aeroplane       

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.
                          
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.




Tiger Suit (2010)


Uummannaq Song/Glamour Puss/Push That Knot Away/Delivery/Fade Like A Shadow/Lost/Golden Frames/Come On, Get In/(Still A) Weirdo/Madame Trudeaux/The Entertainer   

I have to admit I had no knowledge of KT Tunstall's music until recently, so any review I do is a retrospective one. Forgive me for that if you are more familiar with her work. I had a preconception of her as being a bit of a bland, acoustic-strumming sincere singer-songwriter, popular with earnest students. That is not really the truth at all - her music is powerful, thoughtful and solid and possessing of hooks that grab you pretty quickly. Her voice is far more strong than I had presumed too, effortlessly soaring throatily above the most pounding of backings. There is nothing laid-back or reflective about this robust, lyrically-creative and musically vibrant album.
                                    
The opener, Uummannaq Song breaks out from a solid, slightly Eastern-influenced sharp acoustic strum into a thumping, powerful rock number, with dominant backing vocals and a dance-style beat. It has a big, deep bass line too and some funky-ish guitars. Glamour Puss merges acoustic and electric guitars and some more Eastern-sounding backing noises, an infectious whistling keyboard part and a strong, committed, captivating vocal from Tunstall, who is far more "up for it" in her vocal than one may have imagined. She certainly is not the wishy-washy winsome folky singer I had erroneously thought her to be. Push That Knot Away is an upbeat, Bonnie Raitt-style umber which, while it rocks, also has clear Kate Bush influences in its structure and delivery.

Difficulty has an excellent, buzzy guitar intro that swirls all around the song as Tunstall sounds very Texas-ish at times. Fade Like A Shadow is a marvellously muscular romp that demands your attention from the very beginning. Lost, for the first time, finds the pace cooling down with an airy ballad. Once again, KT's voice is superb, full of character and verve. There is a vague hint of Stevie Nicks at her most gravelly every now and again.


Golden Frames has a sumptuous deep, bluesy bass and drum intro and Tunstall's vocal is positively Deep South swamp blues. It is track absolutely packed full of atmosphere. What strikes me about this album is its level of diversity. It doesn't just wash over you, it is replete with changes in tempo and style. That is further exemplified by the good-time US-style thump of Come In, Get In that is worthy of Susan Tedeschi. It is an impressive piece of Americana from a Scottish singer. It also has an addictive rhythmic break in it too. (Still A) Weirdo sort of fits the dreamy, teenage-y angst thing but the fact that she sings "still a weirdo after all these years" makes it a slightly sad, reflective song. Its backing is perky and engaging. Madame Trudeaux is a return to the US-influenced material on a stompy shuffling rocker that sounds slightly Chrissie Hynde/Pretenders-esque, with its Message of Love drumbeat. I have to reiterate that tracks like this were a complete surprise to me, and a most pleasant one at that.

Apparently, Tunstall is in the mainstream, commercially, but, for me, this is anything but a mainstream album. It is innovative and adventurous from beginning to end. The Entertainer is a suitably beguiling, engaging closer to a most impressive collection of songs.

Wax (2018)


Little Red Thread/Human Being/The River/The Mountain/The Healer (Redux)/Dark Side Of Me/Poison In Your Cup/Backlash & Vinegar/In This Body/The Night That Bowie Died/Tiny Love     

I had once presumed KT Tunstall to be another in a long line of earnest singer-songwriters, complete with acoustic guitar and dreamy songs. I was wrong. This is a big, powerful, credible rock album. I guess the front cover gives it away a bit.

I have only recently got into KT's music and I have to admit I am really enjoying discovering it. It's great. Varied, musically diverse and highly enjoyable to listen to. She has an excellent voice - strong and rasping.
                                   
Little Red Thread has a rousing, riffy rock beat and an intoxicating rhythm to it. It also features some deceptively intricate instrumentation in places. Human Being begins like an eighties synth-driven number before breaking out into a guitar-powered muscular rocker. The River is another supercharged number with KT on superb vocal form over "proper" guitar, bass and drum backing. It has a sort of US rocking feel to it.

The Mountain has a mysterious, quirky keyboard and percussion rhythm and a sensual vocal from KT. It is a marvellously atmospheric track. I love this one. It is impossible to categorise, really, and often reminds of something else, but I don't know what it is. It may come to me eventually. The Healer (Redux) is another bona fide rock song, nothing wishy-washy about this. It sounds like Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. If you thought KT Tunstall was another mournful, acoustic-strumming singer-songwriter, you were wrong. This rocks, big time.

Dark Side Of Me slows the pace down a bit for a US-sounding bluesy rock ballad in the Susan Tedeschi style. Poison In Your Cup is a delicious laid-back slow number with a great sound to it and a lovely bluesy vocal, a bit like Bonnie Raitt. There is often a hint of Stevie Nicks here and there in KT's voice too. Backlash And Vinegar is a slow but powerful country rock-style number, again reminiscent of Susan Tedeschi. A catchy, infectious rhythm drives the quirky In This Body. It is another excellent rock number.

The Night That Bowie Died is a sad mid-pace number, with obvious references to the demise of David Bowie wrapped up in other more oblique lyrics that mean something to KT but whose meaning is not clear. Tiny Love is a beguiling, sombre-ish but beautiful closer to what is a really good album, one that is strong and dominant but also sensitive. It is definitely one I will return to. Genuinely enjoyable.