Friday, 23 August 2019

Neil Young - Zuma (1975)

He came dancing across the water....

  

Released on 10 November 1975

Running time 36.34

Neil Young reunited again with Crazy Horse on this album and it revisits the hard rocking edge he had employed at intervals throughout the seventies. The music is played with a loose, buzzy guitar-driven energy by Crazy Horse (who didn't seem to be able to play in any other way, anyway) and is considered one of Young's best seventies rock offerings. It is another in what was now becoming a long line of highly credible and listenable albums from this enigmatic artist.

TRACK LISTING

1. Don't Cry No Tears
2. Danger Bird
3. Pardon My Heart
4. Lookin' For A Love
5. Barstool Blues
6. Stupid Girl
7. Drive Back
8. Cortez The Killer
9. Through My Sails                                      

"Don't Cry No Tears" is a solid, mid-pace rocker to start the album off, with a nice deep bass sound to it and some by now trademark Crazy Horse riffing. A low-key bass and slow guitar riff introduces the sombre "Danger Bird". It ends with a couple of minutes of outstanding guitar work. As will be said on any review of their work in this period - Crazy Horse could really play. "Pardon My Heart" was a gentle, tuneful acoustic number that wouldn't have been out of place on 1972's "Harvest" album. "Lookin' For A Love" is a poppy piece of country-ish rock. Cynical old Neil Young could periodically come up with fetching, romantic, wistful songs like this. Its vocal harmonies are very redolent of CSNY.


"Barstool Blues" is a typical Young/Crazy Horse slice of solid riffy rock with Young's "marmite" high-pitched reedy voice straining a bit to cope with the song, but the backings are always so good that I always tolerate Young's voice (of which I have always had my problems with). The lyrics are aways great and the attitude too. That is why I always return to his music with enthusiasm. "Stupid Girl" is not The Rolling Stones song, but another chugging Young deep rocker. Once more the guitar is top notch. "Drive Back" continues along the same riff-paved road. Nothing new here, just trustworthy, reliable rock. Neil Young was like Tom Petty in that respect - album after album that you knew would not let you down.

"Cortez The Killer" sees Young going all historical as he sings of the Spanish conqueror of the Aztecs  over some sublime, extended guitar backing on one of his most lengthy, improvisational numbers since the "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" album. It is a minor classic. The laid-back and folky "Through My Sails" was apparently a remant from the CSNY sessions back in the early seventies. It provides a peaceful, reflective end to an otherwise upbeat, rock-oriented album.

B

Neil Young - Live Rust (1978)

It's better to burn out than it is to rust....

 

Recorded live on tour with Crazy Horse in 1978

Running time 73.47

This was the properly live companion to "Rust Never Sleeps", which was "sort of live". The music is taken from Young's tour with Crazy Horse in 1978 and features Young backed with bass, guitar and drums and occasional keyboards. It is a back to basics performance, begun with acoustic/harmonica material before we get the solid, riffy, crashing, no-nonsense rock that Young and Crazy Horse would be known for over subsequent years. It has attracted criticism for including four of the tracks from "Rust Never Sleeps" but that is a bit churlish, really. You can never get enough of those songs anyway and there are still twelve others. This is still a very good live album, one that would set the standard for many more from Young and Crazy Horse over the years.

TRACK LISTING

1. Sugar Mountain
2. I Am A Child
3. Comes A Time
4. After The Gold Rush
5. My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)
6. When You Dance I Can Really Love
7. The Loner
8. The Needle And The Damage Done
9. Lotta Love
10. Sedan Delivery
11. Powderfinger
12. Cortez The Killer
13. Cinnamon Girl
14. Like A Hurricane
15. Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)
16. Tonight's The Night                                                

Kicking off things is "Sugar Mountain", a sort of singalong acoustic number that finds the crowd getting into it and clapping along. The acoustic vibe continues on the plaintive "I Am A Child" and the harmonica-enhanced, enjoyable "Comes A Time", from Young's latest studio album. Then it is time for an earlier classic, the wonderful "After The Gold Rush". The studio version's flugelhorn is replaced by a Springsteen-esque harmonica. "My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)" sees an electric guitar used, but it is gently utilised on the laid-back version of the grungy "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)". Once again the harmonica is excellent, very Dylanesque here. The electric guitar is fully introduced now on the riffy strains of "When You Dance I Can Really Love". This is a full-on, copper-bottomed Young/Crazy Horse rocker, packed with outstanding guitar, throbbing bass and pounding drums. The riff-driven attack continues on "The Loner" from Young's debut album. Proper rock once more. Again the guitar power is truly pulsating.


For some reason, between this track and the next one, the acoustic, anti-drug "The Needle And The Damage Done" contains a thunderclap and stage announcements about taking precautions during the thunderstorm that were take from Woodstock, in 1969, when Young played there with CSNY. A most odd inclusion. "Lotta Love" is a peaceful, chilled-out piece of breezy soft rock that sits a bit incongruously with some of the more caustic material.

Back to rock next with the punky, energetic romp of "Sedan Delivery", followed by the superb, powerful but melodic "Powderfinger". The solidly dignified "Cortez The Killer" continues the high quality. It has an appropriately killer guitar solo. Young returns to his second album for the short, sharp, hard-hitting rock of "Cinnamon Girl". You simply can't argue with the power of the chunky guitar attack on tracks like this. You can never hear "Like A Hurricane" too many times either. This begins with lots of feedback before launching into the familiar intro. "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" is as chunkily industrial as you would expect. The album ends with the slow but powerful "Tonight's The Night". As with so many tracks it is full to the brim of great guitar. This album has been an air guitarist's dream. Uncompromising, full volume stuff.

B+

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Neil Young - Rust Never Sleeps (1978)

This is the story of Johnny Rotten....

  

Recorded live in 1978

Running time 38.16

This is a collection of live recordings by Neil Young that were later enhanced by studio overdubs. The first three tracks are largely acoustic and recorded in early 1978 at The Boarding House in San Francisco. The rest were recorded on the Young/Crazy Horse tour in late 1978. Two exceptions were not recorded live - "Sail Away" from the "Comes A Time" sessions and "Pocahontas" which dates from 1976.

TRACK LISTING

1. My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)
2. Thrasher
3. Ride My Llama
4. Pocahontas
5. Sail Away
6. Powderfinger
7. Welfare Mothers
8. Sedan Delivery
9. Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)                

"My My, Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue)" is the acoustic version of "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)". It has a haunting, mesmeric appeal, enhanced by some excellent harmonica. "Thrasher" is a Springsteen-esque (later era) piece of folky country. It has shades of early Dylan with hints of "Love Minus Zero/No Limits"'s rhyme scheme. "Ride My Llama" is a deep but acoustic number, with some really sonorous, heavy rhythmic bits thumping behind its plaintive country-ish melody. Again, but in a different way, there is something Dylanesque about this. Another similarity with Dylan is that the first five tracks are acoustic (the old "side one"), while the second side is electric, like Dylan's "Bringing It All Back Home".

"Pocahontas" is another one that you could imagine post 2010 Springsteen doing. It is acoustic as well, but strongly acoustic if you know what I mean.  In the lyrics, Young imagines that he was a trapper who got to sleep with Pocahontas. He then imagines "Marlon Brando, Pocahontas and me...".   Hmmm, ok Neil. The afore-mentioned "Sail Away" is a fetching, laid-back folky number with a comforting country air to it.


Right, now it's time for Neil to strap on that electric guitar, get Crazy Horse to join him and give us some of that buzzy electric rock as only he and "The Horse" can. "Powderfinger" is a Young classic as well. Driven on by a superb riff, enhanced by a big, scratchy guitar solo and some great lyrics, it is up there as one of his best songs. Another corker is the similarly rifftastic and wryly amusing "Welfare Mothers". "Welfare mothers make better lovers..." he tells us. You can find them "down at every Laundromat in town...". Really? I never did on any of my weekly visits to the Launderette back in the day. "Sedan Delivery" is almost punky in its initial guitar attack and grungy drum thump. In between its frantic thrashing there are some slow, almost sixties psychedelic moments. For a member of rock's old school by 1978, this was incredibly punky stuff. Finally, we get the iconic "Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)" with more top class mega-chunky riffs and the mention of Johnny Rotten, "gone but not forgotten", in 1978. Old Neil had his finger on the pulse. He always was "old Neil" as Lynyrd Skynyrd described him, wasn't he? Even when he wasn't that old.

This was certainly an interesting album, but it never really comes across as a "live" album. That sort of feeling is better found on "Live Rust", released soon after this.

B

Neil Young - After The Goldrush (1970)

Look at Mother Nature on the run in the nineteen seventies....

  

Released on 19 September 1970

Running time 33.41

Fifteen months went by between "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" and this, Neil Young's third album. In the meantime he had been involved with CSNY's "Deja Vu" album, contributing two songs ("Helpless" and "Country Girl") as well as the non-album single, "Ohio". This album is not quite as "rock" as its predecessor, with no extended guitar "jamming" passages to any of the songs, and Young re-visits his more folky roots once more. There is quite a bit of a country rock vibe to it as well.

A newcomer to Young's backing band, Crazy Horse, was seventeen year-old Nils Lofgren (of latter day E St. Band fame) who contributed on piano as well as guitar.

TRACK LISTING

1. Tell Me Why
2. After The Goldrush
3. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
4. Southern Man
5. Till The Morning Comes
6. Oh, Lonesome Me
7. Don't Let It Bring You Down
8. Birds
9. When You Dance You Can Really Love
10. I Believe In You
11. Cripple Creek Ferry                                                         

The album begins in gentle, acoustic fashion on "Tell Me Why", which is folky Americana in the CSNY style, as if Young was still recording with them. It is full of breezy harmonious vocals, reminiscent of folk rock band America.

"After The Gold Rush" is one of Young's best-known songs - a haunting song that nobody really knows the meaning to, but there's something very Woodstock, very late sixties/early seventies hippy about it. The flugelhorn perfectly merges with Young's bleak but melodic piano. I can never hear this too many times. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" is a very late sixties, breezy, harmonious love song. It showed that the often cynical, caustic Young had a tenderness deep within him. Despite its airy feel, it also has a deep bass line. "Southern Man" has achieved notoriety in that it was the song that provoked Lynyrd Skynyrd to write "Sweet Home Alabama" as a response to Young's daring to call into question the often racist ways of many in the south of the USA. Young was dead right if you ask me, particularly in 1969. Lynyrd Skynyrd should have taken a look out of their own window, much as I love their music. Anyway, it is a great song, with a solid, pertinent message and some excellent guitar. It is the album's most obviously rock song.

"Till The Morning Comes" operates as a short lively interlude backed by bass, drums and flugelhorn that, unfortunately ends just as it is getting started. "Oh Lonesome Me" is a slow, wistful, harmonica-backed ballad, a sort of country blues, that finds Young's already high-pitched voice going a bit vibrato at times, while "Don't Let It Bring You Down" ups it a bit, being a bassy, muscular slow-paced rock number. That big, rumbling bass on it is just delicious. I love that deep sound. "Birds" is a plaintive piano and vocal number that was covered by Paul Weller on his "Studio 150" album of covers in 2004. Although the track is gentle and low-key, there are parts of the "it's over" bit that are almost anthemic. Then the album gets more punchy again with "When You Dance You Can Really Love" which is a medium-paced rock song with some impressive guitar riffs. The riff reminds me a bit of Argent's "Hold Your Head Up". The track gets quite heavy near the end. Its vocal is very CSNY.

"I Believe In You" is another CSNY-influenced, sombre-sounding, reflective song with some nice clear percussion. Its positive message is slightly nullified by its deadpan delivery. "Cripple Creek Ferry" ends the album with a brief bit of country fun. Although this is comparatively short album (nothing wrong with that) it is good one, an appealing mix of rock and country, folky material. It was very typical of Young's early seventies output.

B

Neil Young - Neil Young Greatest Hits

There is a town in North Ontario....

  

Trying to compile a "best of" covering Neil Young's vast career is a mighty difficult task. Furthermore, "Greatest Hits" is a bit of a misnomer of a tile, as Young never was, or is, a chart act. Anyway, as a compilation, this is a pretty good one, chosen by Young himself. anther issue with Young's work is that of remastering - some albums have been remastered, some have not. This album contains remastered material and boy, does it sound good. The original albums from which the tracks are taken still sound ok, but this sounds so much better, I have to say. I have the 2009 remasters of the first four albums, but these sound much better, to me, anyway. What is odd is that they are probably the same remasters, but they definitely sound different to my ears.

TRACK LISTING

1. Down By The River
2. Cowgirl In The Sand
3. Cinnamon Girl
4. Helpless (as part of CSNY)
5. After The Gold Rush
6. Only Love Can Break Your Heart
7. Southern Man
8. Ohio (as part of CSNY)
9. The Needle And The Damage Done (live)
10. Old Man
11. Heart Of Gold
12. Like A Hurricane
13. Comes A Time
14. Hey Hey My My (Into The Black) (live)
15. Rockin' In The Free World
16. Harvest Moon                                                        

The first three cuts are classics from Young's second album, "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere", including the two extended tracks that bookended the album. Just check out "Down By The River" as an example of how good the remastering is - it is rich, deep, warm and bassy. A real pleasure to listen to,as is the great guitar work throughout the song. That exact quality is even more apparent on the superb, rambling (but never boring), "Cowgirl In The Sand". Young and Crazy Horse could really ramp it up. For 1969, this was ground-breaking, impressive, improvisational stuff. Man, that guitar sound. "Cinnamon Girl" is one of that album's two shorter, rocky numbers. It is an infectious merging of late sixties slightly psych-ish vibes with the solid rock sound that would be used in the seventies.

"Helpless" came from Young's Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album, "Deja Vu". It is a suitably atmospheric slice of folk rock. Slow, dignified, melodic and evocative. Young sings plaintively of his "town in North Ontario". The town was said to be Omemee, Young's hometown, which now has a museum dedicated to him. "After The Gold Rush" is one of Young's best-known songs - a haunting song that nobody really knows the meaning to, but there's something very Woodstock, very late sixties/early seventies hippy about it. The flugelhorn perfectly merges with Young's bleak but melodic piano. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" is a very late sixties, breezy, harmonious love song. It showed that the often cynical, caustic Young had a tenderness deep within him. "Southern Man" has achieved notoriety in that it was the song that provoked Lynyrd Skynyrd to write "Sweet Home Alabama" as a response to Young's daring to call into question the often racist ways of many in the south of the USA. Young was dead right if you ask me, particularly in 1969. Lynyrd Skynyrd should have taken a look out of their own window, much as I love their music. Anyway, it is a great song, with a solid, pertinent message and some excellent guitar. "Ohio" continues in the "protest song" vein, detailing the Kent State University killings of four protesting students by the Ohio National Guard. Again, this song leaves you in no doubt as its meaning. Fair play to Young once more for highlighting this shocking incident in song.


"The Needle And The Damage Done" is a quiet, acoustic but hard-hitting anti-drug song. The recording here is a live one. "Old Man" is an appealing acoustic and bass-driven folky number, enhanced by some gentle drums and piano. It is very typical of the early seventies folk rock period. "Heart Of Gold" is another well-known song, a mixture of acoustic and more solid rock, taken at a mid-pace with another enigmatic and memorable lyric. "Like A Hurricane" sees Young return to guitar-driven, more conventional rock. It is full of searing lead guitar and is overall a barnstormer of a track. Roxy Music and solo Bryan Ferry have covered the song successfully over the years.

"Comes A Time" is a country violin-powered folky number. "Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)" is from Young's live album, "Rust Never Sleeps" (recorded live then overdubbed in the studio). It was Young's response to the punk genre and what he perceived as his growing irrelevance. It contains some buzzy, grungy guitar that went down well with punks at the time. Young's "difficult" and "irascible" persona also endeared him to many. It was popular in 1979 and remains so. It was notable for its lyrical reference to Johnny Rotten, already "gone but not forgotten". The solid guitar riffage continues on the iconic "Rockin' In The Free World", with its easy to sing along with chorus. Young was, by now, seen as a sort of grand old man still protesting away. He was about to become "the Godfather of Grunge". Those titles are very annoying. "Harvest Moon", from 1992, is a less abrasive and gently appealing, laid-back song.

Personally, I feel there are periods in Young's career and some songs that have been overlooked - "Cortez The Killer", "Welfare Mothers", "Mansion On The Hill" and "Powderfinger", for example. That is nit-picking, though, as this, particularly with its excellent sound quality, is a great listen.

B+

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)

A dreamer of pictures
I run in the night....

  

Released on 14 May 1969

Running time 40.29

This was Neil Young's second album, and the first to feature his excellent backing band, Crazy Horse. Their presence ensures that it was an essentially rock album in flavour, despite a couple of folk/rock tracks that served as echoes of his debut album from only four months earlier. Young was casting himself as a proper rock artist on this album. He succeeded in this aim too, it is an excellent album. I is still one of my favourites of his. There is something essentially pure about it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Cinnamon Girl
2. Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
3. Round And Round (It Won't Be Long)
4. Down By The River
5. The Losing End (When You're On)
6. Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)
7. Cowgirl In The Sand                                            

"Cinnamon Girl" is a short, riffy rocker that gets the album off to a fine start. It is clear from the outset that Young's voice is deeper on this album than on his debut offering. I much prefer it when his voice is like this. Crazy Horse are on top form on here too - great bass and drums. "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" is a mid-pace rocker with hints of the Byrds and The Band in there. The guitar is big, jangly and caustic. Once more, Young's voice is stronger than it sometimes had been. Both these tracks were played live by Young many times over the years.

"Round And Round (It Won't Be Long)" is more typical Neil Young - a mournful, slow pace acoustic-driven number with a plaintive, reflective vocal. It is a throwback to Young's first album in its gentle folk/rock feel. "Down By The River" was the first of the album's two extended tracks in which Young  wound his oblique, almost hippy-like lyrics around his loose, improvised playing with Crazy Horse. This was re-inventing Young as a credible rock artist. The rumbling, deep bass and the tremendous guitar interplay is extremely impressive, particularly for 1969. It is good solid, powerful but dignified rock. His vocals always sounded uniquely mysterious and ominous, though, and the backing vocals are so very 1969 "country rock". Some of the guitar also briefly reminds me of Creedence Clearwater Revival in places. Many years later, Paul Weller, in his "Wild Wood" era, would be very influenced by stuff like this.


"The Losing End (When You're On)" is a melodic, mid-pace country rock chugger with a nice, swinging bass line. "Running Dry (Requiem For The Rockets)" is a sombre folk number with echoes of Pentangle, as well as Bob Dylan. It is enhanced by some superb electric violin. Incidentally, "The Rockets" was the original name of Crazy Horse. It is an atmospheric track that really gets into your system after a while. "Cowgirl In The Sand" is the other lengthy number. Like the first two tracks, this and "River" became Young live staples. It is packed full of swirling, muscular electric guitar backing an archetypally late sixties vocal. Once again, Paul Weller will have learned to love this after probably initially hating it. That guitar is a blueprint for much of his work in the mid-nineties, and Ocean Colour Scene, for that matter. There is some simply superb, instinctive guitar work on this track.

This was certainly a most convincing album - four great rock tracks and three folky ones. Young's relationship with Crazy Horse, of course, would go on to produce so much great music over many more years.

B+

The Undisputed Truth - Cosmic Truth (1975)

What kind of funny cigarette is that I'm smokin'....

  

Released in 1975

Running time 39.05

This album saw The Undisputed Truth changing their emphasis once again, having gone from psychedelic soul to easy listening soul, they now came powering back with a largely contemporary, George Clinton-style spacey funk format. It is a sort of Funkadelic meets Earth, Wind & Fire sound. This sort of funk was very de rigeur in 1975. It must have been a bit of a shock to the system to those who had enjoyed the group's earlier albums, but group like The Isley Brothers had moved in a similar direction. Just check out that rear cover image, though!

TRACK LISTING

1. Earthquake Shake
2. Down By The River
3. UFOs
4. Lil' Red Riding Hood
5. Squeeze Me, Tease Me
6. Spaced Out
7. Got To Get My Hands On Some Lovin'
8. 1990
9. (I Know) I'm Losing You                                      

"Earthquake Shake" is a wonderful, vibrant piece of the afore-mentioned spacey funk, full of searing guitar, pulsating rhythm and an almost nineties-style thumping dance beat. It is presented here in full, extended form. "Down By The River" is a slow-burning, chilled-out, churchy organ-driven number. It is, of course, a cover of Neil Young's late sixties song. Here it is given a buzzy guitar sound very reminiscent of Ernie Isley's style. That guitar subsequently appears all over the album. "UFOs", was predictably spacey, utilising some keyboard sound effects to that effect. It has an intoxicating, deep bass line and the lyrics exploit the contemporary obsession with space, aliens, ufos and the like, warning us about those freaky lights in the sky.


"Lil' Red Riding Hood" is a rumbling, pounding slow funker of a track. It is again enhanced by some searing guitar and accompanying chunky riffs. "What kind of funny cigarette is that I'm smokin'..." goes the lyric leaving no doubt as to the vibe it is conveying, man. "Squeeze Me, Tease Me" has a deliciously fuzzy guitar backing and an infectious groove from the first minute to the last. Gone are the gospelly male/female vocal interplays of the previous alums, here they are replaced by predominantly male, gruff, uber-funky voices. "Spaced Out" is a heavy funk workout. It is full-on funk rock and not as spacey as you might expect.

"Got To Get My Hands On Some Lovin'" is in the same style as most of the album - solid, muscular funk with heavy rock guitar interspersed throughout. "1990" was also a Temptations song and it fins the group going overtly political about "trouble in The White House", pollution and urban poverty. The guitar solo on this awesome. Another mighty Temptations cover closes the album with the group's marvellous take on "(I Know) I'm Losing You". This is a throwback to The Truth's earlier psychedelic soul outings, but it includes their current guitar sound and some terrific vocal/bass/drum/piano interaction. There are even some jazzy piano passages on it too. Great stuff. This is an album that should have been given far more credit than it ever got. It is up there with the great funk/rock/soul albums of the seventies.

B

The Undisputed Truth - Down To Earth (1974)

Some of my friends smoke a little dope I gotta tell y'all

  

Released in 1974

Running time 33.42

This was a bit of a watershed album in the career of The Undisputed Truth. Original Undisputed Truth members Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left shortly before the recording of this album, and the group's producer, Temptations guru Norman Whitfield, took the opportunity to expand the group. Founding member and male lead singer Joe Harris was joined by Virginia "V" McDonald, Tyrone "Big Ty" Douglas, Tyrone "Lil Ty" Barkeley and Calvin "Dhaak" Stephenson, all of whom had been part of The Magictones, a local Detroit soul group.

The album first six tracks are new recordings by this line-up, but the last four were recorded by the original line-up and appeared, like "Love and Happiness" and "Law Of The Land", on the previous album, or as singles, as the final two tracks had. The album is full of quality seventies soul, however, but it was not as successful as the group's previous offerings. It is also pretty short, populated with three minute potential singles, on the whole.

TRACK LISTING

1. Help Yourself
2. Big John Is My Name
3. Brother Louie
4. I'm A Fool For You
5. Our Day Will Come
6. Just You'n Me
7. Love And Happiness
8. Law Of The Land
9. The Girl's Alright With Me
10. Save My Love For A Rainy Day                  

"Help Yourself" is a pounding, funky Norman Whitfield number, with a solid beat and punchy brass backing.  "Big John Is My Name" is another pulsating Whitfield song, with excellent male/female vocal interplay. It is very much done in a Temptations style, unsurprisingly. It also has hints of Sly & The Family Stone and The Staples Singers. It has lyrics about not wanting to smoke dope like his friends but just "play funky music" instead. "Brother Louie" is a cover of the Hot Chocolate song about inter-racial relationships. It is a powerful, soulful rendition, but it sort of lacks the instant appeal of the original. It does not feature the hard-hitting spoken parts that the Hot Chocolate version contained.

"I'm A Fool For You" is a classic slice of poppy seventies soul. "Our Day Will Come" is a piece of easy-listening sweet soul with a nice female lead vocal. "Just You'n Me" is also in the same vein, but more brass-driven and powerful, in a typically mid-seventies soul ballad way. It is notable on this album that there is a switch to this sort of material in place of the psychedelic, funky soul of the earlier albums. The group were running the risk, however, in doing this, of becoming just another soul band.


As mentioned earlier, the sumptuous Memphis-esque cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness" and "Law Of The Land" (made famous by The Temptations) had appeared on the previous year's album. This hinted a a lack of material, you have to say. They are both quality tracks, though. "The Girl's Alright With Me" is a poppy, very Motown single.

"Save My Love For A Rainy Day" was a successful single and is an excellent, very David Ruffin-esque wonderful slice of soul. You could almost say it was Ruffin with The Temptations on hearing it. Overall, this was a short but enjoyable album, but it marked a slight change in approach from The Undisputed Truth.

B-

Monday, 19 August 2019

The Undisputed Truth - Law Of The Land (1973)

Live by the good book if you're able....

  

Released in 1973

Running time 42.11

Norman Whitfield first tried out his psychedelic soul numbers on The Undisputed Truth before finding chart success with them via the Temptations. Quite a few of them appear on this album, and many of the other tracks are covers of other artists' songs given the distinctive Undisputed Truth male/female gospel-influenced vocal treatment, over a solid, infectious, often funky backing. This was The Undisputed Truth's third album, and the last recorded with their original line-up. Original members Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left after this one had been released. On this one, though, they join once more with fellow vocalist Joe Harris and are backed by several highly competent Motown musicians.

The album differs from the previous two (especially the second one) in the comparative brevity of the tracks. There are no lengthy, big production workouts on this offering. Most of the tracks could conceivably have been released as pretty good soul singles.

TRACK LISTING

1. Law Of The Land
2. Papa Was A Rolling Stone
3. Girl You're Alright
4. Killing Me Softly With His Song
5. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
6. This Child Needs Its Father
7. Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don't Say No)
8. Feelin' Alright
9. Love And Happiness
10. With A Little Help From My Friends
11. If I Die
12. Walk On By
13. Gonna Keep On Tryin' 'Till I Win Your Love              

"Law Of The Land" doesn't quite match The Temptations' peerless, uplifting version, but this one is good too, with some impressive gospelly vocals and brass sections. It is funkier than The Temptations' one too, with some space-funk sound effects. Up next is another original version of a Temptations classic - the iconic "Papa Was A Rolling Stone". This one is definitely the inferior version, lacking that wonderful extended bass intro that so characterised The Temptations' version. Mind you, if this was the only version you had ever heard, its concise, deep, harmonious, soulful vibe would certainly impress. "Girl You're Alright" is a deep but sweetly soulful ballad that just sounds so typical of early seventies soul. Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" is covered pretty authentically, full of slow, sensual soul.


The Temptations' big hit, "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" suffers from a not-too convincing female vocal in this case. It is too high in pitch for me. Maybe I am just too used to The Temptations' version. Again, standing alone, it is still a good soul offering. "This Child Needs Its Father" had been recorded by Gladys Knight & The Pips and is a slow, sombre warning backed by some dark string/brass orchestration. "Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don't Say No)" is one of the album's best tracks - a cookin' piece of upbeat, brassy seventies, urban soul with some seriously good vocal interplay between the three vocalists.

Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" is slowed down and given an appealing gospel makeover. "Love And Happiness" was an Al Green song. It still has Green's distinctive, seductive Memphis sound.

So many sixties and seventies soul albums had a Beatles cover. Here we get "With A Little Help From My Friends", which has always lent itself to a soul interpretation. "If I Die" is a Marvin Gaye-style yearning, meaningful number, with a thumping bass and brass backing. Isaac Hayes/Dionne Warwick's "Walk On By" is covered in regulation soul fashion. "Gonna Keep On Tryin' 'Till I Win Your Love" is a Temptations cover with a vocal that sounds very like David Ruffin.

I will always enjoy anything by The Undisputed Truth, but they did have a problem with creating an identity for themselves, possibly because most of the material was either a cover version or a song that The Temptations did better with. It was a shame because their vocals and the backing used were uniformly excellent.

B-

Led Zeppelin - Coda (1982)

We're gonna groove....

 

Released on 19 November 1982

Running time 33.04 (original album)

"Coda" was a retrospective compilation of rarities released two years after Led Zeppelin's split in 1980 after drummer John Bonham's death. The best version of it is the latest one, which features several more bonus tracks than the original album did.

TRACK LISTING


1. We're Gonna Groove (from 1969/live in January 1970 with guitar overdubs)
2. Poor Tom ("Led Zeppelin III" outtake 1970)
3. I Can't Quit You Baby (live "rehearsal" January 1970)
4. Walter's Walk ("Houses Of The Holy" outtake 1972 with possible later overdubs)
5. Ozone Baby ("In Through The Out Door" outtake 1978)
6. Darlene ("In Through The Out Door" outtake 1978)
7. Bonzo's Montreux (from 1976)
8. Wearing And Tearing ("In Through The Out Door" outtake 1978)

BONUS TRACKS (not on original album)

9. Baby Come On Home ("Led Zeppelin" outtake 1968)
10. Travelling Riverside Blues (live in June 1969)
11. White Summer/Black Mountain Side (live in June 1969)
12. Hey Hey, What Can I Do ('b' side of "Immigrant Song" single, 1970)  
13. Sugar Mama (recorded in October 1968)     
14. St. Tristan's Sword ("Led Zeppelin III" outtake)  

There are also "alternative mixes" of "If It Keeps On Raining" ("When The Levee Breaks"); "Four Hands" ("Four Sticks"); "Desire" ("The Wanton Song") and "Everybody Makes It Through" ("In The Light"). 

"We're Gonna Groove" is an upbeat, vaguely funky piece of late sixties blues rock. It is full of great guitar, drums and vocals. It would have been a fine addition to either of their first two albums. There is confusion over the origin of the song. Many believe it is a stdio recorded outtake from 1969, others believe it is a live recording from January 1970. It sounds like a studio recording to me, although it apparently had some studio guitar overdubs added by Jimmy Page at some point when compiling this album. "Poor Tom" is a marvellous bit of lively blues rock, powered along by John Bonham's sledgehammer drumming. It has similarities to The Rolling Stones' "Prodigal Son" from "Beggars' Banquet", which was in turn based on Reverend Robert Wilkins' 1929 song, "That's No Way To Get Along". It sounds great, though, and would have sat well on side one of "Led Zeppelin III" from whose sessions it was taken.


A storming live version of "I Can't Quit You Baby" from "Led Zeppelin I" would appear to be from an actual concert at The Royal Albert Hall in 1970, although it was credited as being a pre-gig rehearsal. There is no crowd noise either way.

"Walter's Walk" is a solid, muscular rocker from the "Houses Of The Holy" sessions. it is arguably superior to some of the tracks that ended up on that somewhat patchy album. Once more, Bonham's drums are outstanding.

The old "side two" contained three outtakes from "In Through The Out Door". "Ozone Baby" is an infectious little rocker, all guitar, drums and bass and, notably, none of the synthesisers or piano that dominated the album that it failed to make the cut for. It is one of my favourites on here, with a catchy "ooh-ooh it's my love" chorus. "Darlene" fitted in with some of the rock 'n' roll-influenced material that did appear on the eventual album in 1979. John Paul Jones' boogie piano is integral and there is a bit of a Rolling Stones circa 1972 about it. There are also hints of Queen in places near the end, vaguely like "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" in its vibe and vocal.

"Bonzo's Montreux" was a sledgehammer drum solo from Bonham, dating from 1976, when he lived in Montreux, Switzerland, as a tax exile. It is the album's tribute to him.

"Wearing And Tearing" was, apparently, Zeppelin's answer to punk, in its breakneck, riffy style. It doesn't sound remotely punky to me, it just sounds like Zeppelin rocking in their own inimitable fashion. I loved punk, but I loved Zeppelin too. The two were different beasts, they didn't need to meet.


From the bonus tracks, "Baby Come On Home" is a slow, slightly rock 'n' roll ballad meets rock number, with a loose, soulful bluesiness to it. It features some Atlantic Records-style gospelly organ too. "Travelling Riverside Blues" is an impressive piece of slide guitar-driven blues rock, taken from a 1969 BBC live in the studio session. It includes the "Squeeze my lemon 'til the juice runs right down  my leg" lyric used also on "Led Zeppelin II's "The Lemon Song". It is also included on the live album "Led Zeppelin At The BBC". In my opinion, it is remastered better here on "Coda" - fuller and bassier. The version of the instrumental "White Summer/Black Mountain Side" was recorded in London in June 1969. This also appears on the "BBC" album. "Hey Hey, What Can I Do" is an appealing piece of folky rock, typical of Zeppelin's 1970 output. "Sugar Mama" is a cover of a Sonny Boy Williamson song dating from sessions in 1968. It is riffy and lively, with a high-pitched Robert plant vocal. Bonham's drums are engagingly rhythmic on this, despite their ubiquitous thumping power. "St. Tristan's Sword" was a "Led Zeppelin III" outtake. It is a rocking instrumental that would again have suited side one of that album. Also interesting is the "Bombay Mix" of "Four Sticks" called "Four Hands", which has an instrumental version of the track played by Indian musicians, Zeppelin going full-on George Harrison. They do the same to "Friends". This one includes a Plant vocal. "If It Keeps On Raining ("When The Levee Breaks") is bassily addictive too, although this one is a Zeppelin mix, involving no Indian musicians.

Overall, there is some very good stuff on here, not as much as many never-satisfied fans wanted, perhaps, but it is fine by me.

B+

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Led Zeppelin - In Through The Out Door (1979)

I'm looking for a woman but the girl don't come....

  

Released on 15 August 1979

Running time 42.30

This album was recorded by an emotionally drained Led Zeppelin, following Robert Plant's car accident and loss to illness of his young son. Drummer John Bonham was an alcoholic by then and Jimmy Page was in the throes of heroin addiction. John Paul Jones and plant were "clean", apparently, although Plant obviously carried a huge amount of personal trauma around with him at the time. Plant and Jones managed to lay down most of the seven tracks before Bonham and Page could eventually be found to come in and do their bits. Amazingly, though, it all sounds pretty cohesive. It would, as everyone knows, prove to be their last album.

TRACK LISTING

1. In The Evening
2. South Bound Suarez
3. Fool In The Rain
4. Hot Dog
5. Carouselambra
6. All My Love
7. I'm Gonna Crawl                                                

"In The Evening" starts in low-key fashion with some Eastern-sounding mysterious and moody ambience before John Bonham and Jimmy Page come crashing in. It is a lengthy Zeppelin classic, showing early on that they hadn't lost it. Lyrically, it has Plant bemoaning his luck. I should say so. "South Bound Suarez" (surely initially mis-spelled as Saurez") is a lively and pleasantly catchy rocker, with John Paul Jones on piano. It has one of those vaguely rhythmic, funky beats Zeppelin enjoyed doing. There are hints of Little Feat in there too.

"Fool In The Rain" has some syncopated Latin-ish rhythms and guitar. Bonham copes with the subtlety required, surprisingly. It is a most un-Zeppelin song. Again, Jones supplies some excellent piano. Plant's increasing interest in world music inspired this song's creation and inclusion. A the end it goes full on "arrrriba"-style Latin, which is very strange to hear Zeppelin doing. Plant had insisted that diversification was the way ahead. I like the track quite a lot. It has a refreshing vitality and light-hearted enthusiasm to it.


"Hot Dog" was a throwaway, three minute piece of fun, showing Plant's love for early Elvis-style rock 'n' roll. It is enjoyable and lively, but sounds very much like a piece of studio fun at the end of a session, once the serious stuff was over. It also features a folky guitar solo in the middle.

All this stuff begged the question of was this Zeppelin's attempt to sound different, in the midst of punk and new wave. Well, the ten proggy minutes of "Carouselambra", with its Emerson, Lake & Palmer" prog rock keyboards from Jones sounded as if it had been recorded in 1973. Bonham's drum pound along reliably, though, giving it a bit of solid rock feel under its symphonic pretensions. This was no threat to any new wave. Plant's voice is, by his own admission, far too low down in the mix. He stated that it summed up everything that was wrong about the later period of Zeppelin's career. "you can't hear the words", he said. He was right too. That said, it is still a good track, actually, featuring several distinct passages. The bass/drum/guitar interplay at about six minutes is my favourite bit (no synthesisers!). The quirky synth bit after that is enjoyable, though, and the way different instruments keep arriving for little solo parts is very "Tubular Bells".

"All My Love" was one of the album's best tracks, an evocative love song composed by Plant and Jones with a laid-back "soft rock" feel, backed by some Genesis/ELO-style classically-influenced synthesisers. Page has since stated that he and Bonham had no time for the track's softer feel and yearning, romantic lyrics. They had wanted a harder rocking album overall. You could see where Plant and Jones were heading with this one, though, trying to catch the neo-classical ELO vibe that was popular around that time. Again, it is certainly nothing like any earlier Zeppelin material, but it is an appealing song. You could hear Plant's voice better on this one too. "I'm Gonna Crawl" also had synthesisers on it, but it also develops into the bluesiest thing on the album and features an excellent bit of mid-song guitar too, and another convincing vocal.

I have read reviews that opine that this was a dark, sombre album. I have to say that I disagree with that. Personally I actually find it their lightest, most "fun" album (strangely, despite everything that had gone on). It was also musically their most diverse thus far. It was not received well by the UK music media, however, with their punk/new wave-centred take on things. The "boring old farts/dinosaurs/time to retire" lines were duly trotted out. The Americans, though, lapped it up. What it was, at the time, was not very relevant to the zeitgeist. Listening to it now, it is fine, but in 1979, it seemed dated.

B

Friday, 16 August 2019

Beats International



Let Them Eat Bingo (1990)
Excursion On the Version (1991)

Beats International - Let Them Eat Bingo (1990)

This is jam hot....

  

Released in April 1990

Running time 54.29

Norman Cook released a couple of albums under the Beats International name between his time with The Housemartins and his Fatboy Slim DJ thing (which I know nothing about, by the way). What he did here was amass a veritable encyclopaedia of samples combined with dance rhythms to produce some appealing dance/pop. Of course, one can make accusations of plagiarism with all this sampling thing, and to a certain extent I agree with them, but on the other hand, dub reggae producers did it all the time, to great effect. I had no problem with that, so this album can be accepted in the same way. There is definitely a clever inventiveness to it.

TRACK LISTING

1. Burundi Blues
2. Dub Be Good To Me
3. Before I Grow Too Old
4. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
5. For Spacious Lies
6. Blame It On The Bassline
7. Won't Talk About It
8. Dance To The Drummer's Beat
9. Babies Makin' Babies (Stoop Rap)
10. The Whole World's Down On Me
11. Tribute To King Tubby                                                                    

"Burundi Blues" is dominated by world music drum beats (from Burundi, probably), together with a funky bass line and a soulful vocal. "Dub Be Good To Me", was a big hit and mixed Paul Simonon's bass line from "Guns Of Brixton" with SOS Band's "Just Be Good To Me". It is a marvellously atmospheric track, full of scratchy rhythms, a distant Lindy Layton vocal and some hip/hop bits too. It is very much a song that brings back 1990 for me. "Before I Grow Too Old" uses a Fats Domino song from the fifties, vamped up with some brass, some summery reggae-ish sounds and strange duck-like noises. It is all very frothy and appealing.

"The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" has a house style dance beat (I think, I am certainly no expert), with programmed monotonous "drum" beat and a few flute samples thrown in to give it a melodic appeal and some African rap parts. The jaunty, catchy "For Spacious Lies" actually has a serious lyrical message about international financial corruption, arms dealing and the like. It is actually a likeable poppy song. "Blame It On the Bassline" is another thumping dance number that samples the Jacksons' "Blame It On the Boogie".

"Won't Talk About It" features Billy Bragg on buzzy, distorted guitar riff duty over a soul/disco-ish groove with bits of rap and Shakatak-style piano in there too. "Dance to The Drummer's Beat" is a disco-esque funky workout, with some great percussion bits. Cook liked his African samples and there are plenty in here too. "Babies Makin' Babies" is a bassy hip/hop rap number while "The Whole World's Down On Me" features the recognisable vocal tones of reggae veteran Ken Boothe on a sort of dance-ish slowed-down reggae skank. "Tribute To King Tubby" you would expect it be a thumping, dubby bass-drenched number worthy of Notting Hill Carnival. Actually it is a breezy, rhythmic number sampling Lionel Richie's "All Night Long" ("jambo, jambo...") bit.

So there you go, all sorts of sounds making up a real sonic cornucopia. Summery, frothy and enjoyable.

B-