Monday, 30 September 2019

Thin Lizzy - Chinatown (1980)

There's a killer on the loose....

  

Released on 10 October 1980

Running time 41.02

Thin Lizzy continued into the eighties to put out albums oblivious to current musical trends. Despite punk, new wave, ska, new romantic, whatever, their brand of solid, guitar-driven, melodious but powerful Celtic-flavoured rock still held an appeal for many. The album introduced Snowy White on guitar to replace Gary Moore and on keyboards was seventeen year-old Darren Wharton joined on keyboards.

Personally, although many disagree, I find this just as strong an album as its much-vaunted predecessor, Black Rose. You knew what you were going to get from Lizzy and this collection of songs still delivered.

TRACK LISTING

1. We Will Be Strong
2. Chinatown
3. Sweetheart
4. Sugar Blues
5. Killer On The Loose
6. Having A Good Time
7. Genocide
8. Didn't I
9. Hey You                                                      

We Will Be Strong is a chugging but attractive mid-pace rocker that grows on you. It has a full, warm sound and a reassuring vocal from Phil Lynott. Snowy White contributes some impressive guitar. Chinatown has always been a favourite of mine - solidly heavy and menacing in an urban way. The bass is deep and resonant and the drum/guitar interplay excellent, as always. Changing guitarists did not seem to affect the quality of the music. Some critics have said that the standard had dropped but I have to say I don't agree - Lynott, Scott Gorham and Brian Downey are still there and White could clearly play. I think this was still a good album.

Sweetheart packs a big punch as it launches into its typical Lizzy sound. Material like this is the equal of the stuff on Black Rose, for me, anyway. Sugar Blues is a rhythmic, infectious and catchy riffy number. It is deliciously strong and bassy and features some great rolling drums from Downey. There is a nice bass solo from Lynott too. Some have said that his and Gorham's increased drug use affected the album, but I don't hear it here.


Killer On The Loose was the album's hit single and is a suitably rocking piece of rock with pop sensibilities. Its pace is fast - it doesn't let up from beginning to end and has a punky energy about it which probably helped it do well at the time. Seeing that Lizzy had influenced The Boomtown Rats so much for years, Having A Good Time returned the favour and has a lot of 1978-79 era Rats about it. It is another upbeat, appealing rock song as well. Some have condemned the second half of the album as being "filler". This energetic, enjoyable rocker hardly sounds like filler to me.

Lynott revisits one of his favourite subjects on Genocide - the decline of the old US West - as he bemoans the "killing of the buffalo..". Once more, its solid rock credentials can't be questioned. Didn't I slows the pace down slightly on an archetypal Lizzy rock ballad with tuneful guitars, powerful drums and a warmly sensual Lynott vocal. The deep bass line on this is sublime as well. Hey You starts off like The Police's Walking On The Moon before pretty soon reverting to a familiar Lizzy rock sound. The Police bit returns later on, however, before the rock chorus blasts back.

This was certainly not a bad album in my eyes (or ears). The sound quality is good and the songs are all more than listenable.

B-

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Laura Lee



Supreme Soul Diva: Backbeats Collection

Laura Lee - Supreme Soul Diva: Backbeats Collection

Wedlock is a padlock....

  

This is another excellent compilation from soul's Backbeat Records. Laura Lee was from Chicago and signed for the legendary Chess label in the late sixties and then for Holland-Dozier-Holland's Hot Wax/Invictus label and subsequently released some of her best material in the early seventies. Her voice was strong and gospelly, as you would expect and the backing music to much of her material was muscular and funky in a Stax meets Blaxploitation sort of way. Although Northern, Lee's soul is very Southern in style. Lyrically, like Shirley Brown, Betty Wright and Millie Jackson, her songs are very much in the "my man gone done wrong again" mode.

Like her ex-lover, Al Green, Lee later became ordained as a minister.

TRACK LISTING

1. Woman's Love Rights
2. Wedlock Is A Padlock
3. Love And Liberty
4. It's Not What You Fall For, It's What You Stand For
5. Since I Fell For You (Parts 1 & 2)
6. Two Lonely Pillows
7. Her Picture Matches Mine
8. I Can't Make It Alone
9. Don't Leave Me Starving For Your Love
10. We've Come Too Far To Walk Away
11. I Need It Just As Bad As You
12. Crumbs Off The Table
13. Rip Off
14. If I'm Good Enough To Love (I'm Good Enough To Marry)
15. Guess Who I Saw Today
16. If You Can't Beat Me Rockin' (You Can Have My Chair)
17. You've Got To Save Me
18. I'll Catch You When You Fall
19. At Last (My Love Has Come Along)
20. Mirror Of Your Soul                                                

Woman's Love Rights is a big, chunky "stand up and fight for your love rights" call-to-arms for Laura's sisters to say no more cooking and sewing until their love rights are acknowledged. Right on, sister. It is full of funky soul and Laura's vocal is superb. Wedlock Is A Padlock continues in the same theme of female empowerment in the face of feckless men. Laura sounds a lot like Martha Reeves on this vibrant piece of sublime seventies soul. "Wedlock is a padlock when you're married to a no-good man..." she sings. You tell it like it is. Love And Liberty is a similarly rousing protest number calling for female emancipation. The vocal performance is sensational, and the rhythm is punchily appealing, as are the horn breaks. The backing vocals soar. This is a wonderful track. These three are the most lively, "in your face" pieces of militant female soul on the album. They get it off to a barnstorming start.

It's Not What You Fall For, It's What You Stand For is a supremely hot, slow-paced funky number with a bit of a hint of label-mates Chairmen Of The Board in its refrain. The gospelly vocal/percussion interplay in the seven minute song's last two minutes is seriously good. Another lengthy track is Since I Fell For You (Parts 1 & 2) which emerges from its spoken intro to a piece of late night sweet soul. Heartbreak is expressed on the yearning Two Lonely Pillows. More suspicion, sadness and mistrust is found in Her Picture Matches Mine, which is another stately, immaculately delivered passionate and soulful song. After the two long numbers earlier, the ambience of the collection has turned to one of dignified, mid-pace Stax-ish soul. I Can't Make It Alone fits the same bill.


A bit of a Philadelphia-style string orchestration backs the sumptuous slow rhythm of Don't Leave Me Starving For Your Love. A slowed-down Millie Jackson vibe dominates We've Come Too Far To Walk Away. As on all the tracks, the bass line is deep rumbling and resonant and the drums are constantly full-on fatback. The pace ups a bit on the driving, pulsating beat of the brassily funky I Need It Just As Bad As You where says her needs will lead to her being unfaithful as well, if she has to due to the infidelity of her current lover. "I had to do what I had to do..." she confesses. Beneath all this there is a serious point being made about sexual equality.

Crumbs Off The Table reminds me a bit of Chairmen Of The Board's Finders Keepers in its funky, infectious clavinet and wah-wah backing. The music throughout this one is intoxicating. Now, the beat really ups it again on the delicious groove of Rip Off. There are more Chairmen Of The Board echoes on here and Laura's vocal is excellent, as, of course, is the bass. This is a wonderful track. It is not quite fast enough to be a Northern Soul song, but it has that feel about it. It just lifts your soul. Another sumptuous bass line kicks off the infectious If I'm Good Enough To Love (I'm Good Enough To Marry). Listening to this just makes you wonder why Laura Lee didn't make it really big as her voice is sensational - effortlessly soulful and powerful.

An obvious Millie Jackson/Shirley Brown is to be heard on the spoken narrative of Guess Who I Saw Today. It follows the familiar theme of the song's protagonist seeing her husband with another woman. Time for some funk after that, I think. We get it on the cookin' If You Can't Beat Me Rockin' (You Can Have My Chair), which positively drips with down 'n' dirty soul. The wah-wah and bass near the end is the business. Some copper-bottomed gospel comes next in the vibrant strains of You've Got To Save Me. I'll Catch You When You Fall is another gospelly, but slower number with Laura saying she will take her lover back despite his infidelity - make up your mind! At Last (My Love Has Come Along) is a soaring vehicle for Laura's vocal while Mirror Of Your Soul is a saxophone-driven number reminiscent (musically) of David Bowie's Young Americans album.

You can't go too far wrong with this collection and the sound quality is really good too. Nice, warm seventies bassy stereo. One thing I would say about this compilation is that from tracks 6-10 it gets bogged down a bit by continuous slow numbers, not that they aren't good, but some variety can be gained by playing the music on "shuffle".

B

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Tommie Young



Shreveport Soulstress: Backbeats Compilation

Tommie Young - Shreveport Soulstress: Backbeats Compilation


Do we have a future?....

  

Tommie Young was a soul singer from Texas who recorded most of her music in Shreveport, Louisiana in the early seventies. Her voice was strong, soulful but gospel-influenced, like Betty Wright, Shirley Brown, Freda Payne and Candi Staton. She has been relatively forgotten, which is a shame cause she laid down some seriously quality seventies soul.

The horn backing is dominant throughout the material as are the churchy backing vocals. I think you can get the picture - powerful vocals, emotive songs, big brass backing - all the usual ingredients from the era.

This is an excellent compilation from the impressive, reliable Backbeats label. The sound quality is superb.

TRACK LISTING

1. That's How Strong My Love Is 
2. Everybody's Got A Little Devil In Their Soul
3. You Came Just In Time
4. Hit And Run Lover
5. Midsummer Dream
6. Do You Still Feel The Same Way?
7. You Brought It All On Yourself
8. That's All A Part Of Loving Him
9. She Don't Have To See You (To See Through You)
10. Do We Have A Future?
11. You Can Only Do Wrong So Long
12. Take Time To Know Him
13. Get Out Of My Life
14. I'm Not Going To Cry Anymore
15. One Sided Love Affair
16. You Can't Have Your Cake (And Eat It Too)                   

That's How Strong My Love Is is very different-sounding to the version that is more commonly heard - by Otis Redding and The Rolling Stones for example. Young's version is slowed down to walking pace and it becomes a late night soul ballad, although some horns are still there on the backing, they are not as "hooky" as on the more popular version. It is, however, a bit of a cult hit among soul music fans, apparently.

Everybody's Got A Little Devil In Their Soul is a marvellously catchy, upbeat piece of gospelly soul with lots of call-and-response vocals and fast, funky guitars. It is a rousing track.

You Came Just In Time is a very typically early seventies soul number - mid-pace, attractive melody, sumptuous horns and an uplifting vocal. It is a bit reminiscent of some of The Supremes' seventies output. Hit And Run Lover is a Betty Wright-esque punchy number. Midsummer Dream sees the pace slow down for a classic-sounding soul ballad. Do You Still Feel The Same Way? is a stately, heartfelt piece of horn-powered gospel soul. It was a hit on the US soul chart.

A gem is the delicious slow burning groove of You Brought It On Yourself. Its lyrics are familiar ones of male fecklessness and infidelity. That is all forgotten about in That's All A Part Of Loving Him as Tommie forgives her man anything on an attractive funky, grinding and bassy number. It has a bit of a Northern Soul feel to it, although the beat is probably just a bit slower. It also features some nice flute enhancements. It is the type of track that Paul Weller might have covered during his Studio 150 phase. Ok he didn't but he just may have...I'm sure he would have liked the track.

She Don't Have To See You (To See Through You) has Tommie warning other women off her no-good man. Man, he is a no-good low-down whatever. Do We Have A Future? is a deep, lively and pulsating number with a funky vibe to it. You Can Only Do Wrong So Long is another Betty Wright style song and it is a most infectious one too, with an addictive rhythm and a killer vocal. This is absolute quality soul and really deserved more critical credit than it ever got.

Take Take To Know Him is a Percy Sledge cover and it has that irresistible organ-driven slow Atlantic groove that Sledge gave us on When A Man Loves A Woman. Check out that beautiful bass line and backing vocals on the "I didn't listen to mama.." part. Sublime soul. "Girls can you dig this..." sings Tommie. Ummm hmmm. Sure we can, sister.


Get Out Of My Life has the first sings of a bit of a disco beat creeping in with its punchy horns and "chicka-chicka" guitar riff backing. Tommie copes with the demands of disco/soul admirably. I'm Not Going To Cry Anymore is a Detroit Spinners-style orchestrated fast-ish soul number. One Sided Love Affair is a big production but slow paced ballad. The strings are being used a lot more on these last few tracks.

The familiar Memphis, Stax-ish sound returns on the cookin' soul of You Can't Have Your Cake (And Eat It Too). This is a fine end to a very impressive and uplifting collection of seventies soul. The fact so much of this material slipped under the radar is a pity.

PS the Deezer album below is not this one, but the tracks are pretty much the same.

B

Friday, 27 September 2019

The Who - My Generation (1965)

People try to put us down....

  

Released on 3 December 1965

Running time 36.13

By the time of this, The Who's debut album, both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones had released a fair amount of material and bands like The Yardbirds, The Kinks and The Animals from the British blues explosion were doing the same, so The Who were just a tiny bit late on the scene. However, that didn't matter when one hears this stunning first offering. It was definitely the hardest rocking initial album from any of the bands at the time - full of Keith Moon's precocious and ebullient drums, Pete Townshend's pre-Hendrix feedback-drenched cutting guitar sound, John Entwistle's huge, deep bass sound and Roger Daltrey's strong, bluesy vocal.

Yes, there were definite Beatles influences in the vocal harmonies and chorus hooks, but what made The Who unique were Keith Moon's irrepressible drum rolls and, of course, Pete Townshend's knife through butter guitar. Also, nine of the twelve tracks were Townshend songs, whereas many of the other bands at the time released debut albums full of covers, The Beatles and The Stones included.

TRACK LISTING

1. Out In The Street
2. I Don't Mind
3. The Good's Gone
4. La-La-La-La Lies
5. Much Too Much
6. My Generation
7. The Kids Are Alright
8. Please Please Please
9. It's Not True
10. I'm A Man   
11. A Legal Matter
12. The Ox                                                                         

Out In The Street has a staccato, Bo Diddley-style fast bluesy shuffling rhythm. It introduced, briefly, Pete Townshend's feedback guitar break. I Don't Mind is a slow, rock 'n' roll influenced ballad but with that bluesy style that The Who made their own on this album. It was originally done by James Brown, hence the r 'n' b feel to it. The Good's Gone is a mysterious-sounding Townshend original, featuring a deep, sonorous vocal from Roger Daltrey. There is a bit of that freakbeat vibe about it. Once more that guitar sound is used again, particularly at the end. The Jam would use similar riffs twelve or thirteen years later on tracks like In The Crowd and Time For Truth.

La-La-La la Lies is a poppy piece of r 'n' b but with a dark, cynical lyric that would have suited the character of Jimmy in Quadrophenia. Girls always let you down, don't they? The lyric is quite Lennon-esque too. Much Too Much is a catchy upbeat number that finds Keith Moon's powerhouse drumming beginning to make itself known. Once again, the young Roger Daltrey's voice is surprisingly much deeper here than it became in later years. He is trying to be more "soul" than "rock".


Then there is the huge, iconic hit My Generation - a frantic, energetic call to arms for the young to tell everyone to stick it. It was punk eleven years early. I can't listen to this since 1979 without thinking of the "party" scene in the film Quadrophenia. Mods jumping up and down, lads singing the song together like punks. My generation indeed. Oh, and there is John Entwistle's killer bass line.

The Who go all Beatles in the harmonies of The Kids Are Alright but it is far harder and punchy than The Beatles with great drums, guitar and bass giving it a more edgy, raw feel. Keith Moon's drumming was sensational and the whole band's vibrant interplay on the instrumental breaks is outstanding.

The band's other James Brown cover was the the soul/blues of Please Please Please, with Roger Daltrey doing his best Brown impersonation. The track has a great bit of blues guitar from Townshend and fits right in with the British blues boom of 1964-1966. It's Not True is a lively number with some amusing lyrics. Some of the guitar/drum breaks are sensational, easily up there with The Beatles and The Stones.

Bo Diddley's solid, muscular blues of I'm A Man is done next and done credibly with an impressive gruff blues vocal from Daltrey. Townshend's runs on the guitar give the track something else. This was strong stuff for the time. Moon's drumming is leading the way too. A Legal Matter gives probably the first sign to the sort of material that The Who would produce over the subsequent three years or so. Townshend's lyrics were wry for one so young. The Ox was a really impressive, pulsating instrumental to end with, featuring more superb drumming.

Onwards and upwards for The Who after this excellent arrival on the scene. They were going to be something special.

B-

Below is a clip of TheWho performing My Generation on Ready Steady Go in 1965.


The Rolling Stones - Exile On Main St Extras

Plundered my soul....

  

Similar to the Some Girls sessions extra tracks released on 2010's Deluxe Edition, these tracks were recovered from the Exile On Main St vaults and their foundations re-vamped and enhanced by new vocals and some new instrumentation, together with an upgrade in sound quality. It is sort of like a new album, but one that has its roots in those heady days back in 1972. Only two of the out-takes are un-doctored, so to speak - Good Time Women (an early Tumbling Dice) and Soul Survivor.

Many have criticised this decision to effectively re-record this material around its original foundations but not me. Yes, the material they found could have been released as half-finished, scratchy demos, but this gives us an idea as to how good the eventual songs may have sounded, while in effect releasing a new Stones album at the same time. The material, like that for Some Girls, is most impressive.

TRACK LISTING

1. Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren)
2. Plundered My Soul
3. I'm Not Signifying
4. Following The River
5. Dancing In The Light
6. So Divine (Aladdin Story)
7. Loving Cup (alternative take)
8. Soul Survivor (alternative take)
9. Good Time Women
10. Title 5

Pass The Wine (Sophia Loren) is a deliciously bassy, shuffling groove with a lasciviously drawled Jagger vocal. It is clearly enhanced by some latter-day instrumentation, particularly the brass sections, but that it not a problem for me, it is a great track. Quite what the link to Sophia Loren was is unclear. The sound quality on this is by far the most "modern" and it certainly sounds like a new 2010 song as opposed to an old 1972 session leftover.

Plundered My Soul is a mid-pace slow rocker with a fair few hints of the original album about, especially in its slightly muffled, dense muddiness. Mick Taylor added a new guitar part in 2010. The piano-driven blues of I'm Not Signifying is one that kept its original Jagger vocal. You can tell, it has that Exile-era lazy feel to its sound. Jagger added a killer harmonica solo in 2010.

Following The River is a typical piece of slow but powerful Jagger balladry led by piano and subtle backing vocals. It wouldn't have sounded out of place on A Bigger Bang. Dancing In The Light, as with quite a lot of the material, is a bit more 1973-74 sounding than 1972. It is a rhythmic number with a few vaguely funky hints in its backbeat. It has a great guitar solo on it.

The enticing, seductive and mysterious So Divine has slight echoes of Paint It, Black in its guitar riff. It has a very strong Exile feel to it as well as those sixties vibes and Keith Richards recorded a new guitar part it for it. It is one of my favourites from the collection.

Loving Cup is an out-take that originally dated from 1969, three years before Exile. It has a lot of that Memo From Turner late sixties/early seventies sound, particularly on the guitar backing and indeed on Jagger's vocal. There is a sort of seediness it that possibly out-does the original. I love the guitar at the end. Apparently it is two out-takes moulded together, but you can't really tell, well I can't anyway.

Soul Survivor is different in that it features Richards on lead vocal, giving it a sleepier ambience. Good Time Women, while an early version of Tumbling Dice, has musical similarities but pretty much functions as a different song with nearly all different lyrics. Yes, you think of Tumbling Dice when you hear it, but you can still listen to it in its own right. The spacey, psychedelic instrumental, Title 5 actually dates from early 1967 and listening to it, that becomes clear.

This collection of material is certainly not throwaway stuff, it is an interesting and enjoyable addition to the original, classic album, and stands up in its own right, separate from it.

B

The Flying Burrito Brothers



The Gilded Palace Of Sin (1969)
Burrito Deluxe (1970)

The Flying Burrito Brothers - The Gilded Palace Of Sin (1969)

I'm your toy....

  

Released in February 1969

Running time 37.64

The "country rock" genre was ushered into fashion, amongst others, by Bob Dylan's John Wesley Harding and The Byrds' Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in 1968 and continued in May 1969 by Crosby, Stills and Nash. In February 1968, and comparatively unnoticed, was this album by ex-Sweetheart Of The Rodeo era Byrds member Gram Parsons' new group, The Flying Burrito Brothers. It is my favourite of that bunch of albums and has a subtle, warm-sounding ambience about it that I find most appealing. I have always had a bit of a weakness for The Rolling Stones' country-influence material (like Far Away Eyes) and Elvis Costello's Almost Blue. There is plenty of obvious influence on this album regarding both of those, including one actual song (Hot Burrito #1/I'm Your Toy) that Costello covered on that album.

It didn't sell well at the time, yet retrospectively it has gained considerable critical kudos and, as I said above, it has had a fair old influence. Bob Dylan, incidentally, said "boy I love them - their first record really knocked me out..." So there you go.

TRACK LISTING


1. Christine's Tune
2. Sin City
3. Do Right Woman
4. Dark End Of The Street
5. My Uncle
6. Wheels
7. Juanita
8. Hot Burrito #1
9. Hot Burrito #2
10. Do You Know How It Feels
11. Hippie Boy                                             

Christine's Tune has an early Beatles feel about it, you know, the sort of tune Ringo would have loved doing. It it carried out of its sixties feel, however, by some excellent fuzzy, buzzy rock guitar from Chris Hillman. Chris Ethridge's bass is superb on this and throughout the album - nice and full and "rubbery".

Sin City is a twangy, mournful but melodic piece of country. Elvis Costello no doubt loved this and it also really reminds me of The Stones' Far Away Eyes in its vocal refrain. I am sure Parsons' vocal was the country tone that Jagger tried to imitate.

Oddly, up next is a cover of Aretha Franklin's Atlantic soul classic Do Right Woman given a slow country makeover and with no gender-changes made to the lyrics. Listened to as a country song it is appealing, but compared to the original it doesn't quite stack up. Check out that lovely, sumptuous bass line, though. Another cover is of James Carr's Dark End Of The Street. This one is the better of the two covers, with Parsons delivering a sensitive vocal over a stately piano, bass guitar and drums backing.


My Uncle is a finger-picking, lively number that hides a more sombre message about getting a letter from the military draft board ("Uncle Sam"). Parsons says he's off to Vancouver. I don't blame him.

Wheels is a fetching, slow country ballad enhanced by more of that buzzy guitar. "Juanita" is another one that really reminds me of The Stones. I could really imagine Mick Jagger singing this. It could have come off Beggars' Banquet.

Hot Burrito #1/I'm Your Toy was covered very nicely by Elvis Costello on Almost Blue as I'm Your Toy, but this original is sublime, with an emotional vocal, great guitar and more of that peerless bass. It is the best track on the album, for me. Also impressive are the rockier tones of Hot Burrito #2 which has slight hints of Argent's Hold Your Head Up in its riff (maybe Rod Argent had been listening to this). It is the album's most "rock" number and again features that very early seventies buzzy guitar, like The Carpenters used on Goodbye To Love.

Do You Know How It Feels returns to the steel guitar and melodic piano of more traditional country. Hippie Boy is narrated by Chris Hillman, the words spoken over a slow country melody and describes counter-culture drug-dealing experiences going wrong (as far as I can make out). Apparently it is about the 1968 Chicago riots but I struggle to get that from the lyrics, but if they said it was, then it was.

Overall, I much prefer this to Sweetheart Of the Rodeo, for example, and to Dylan's Nashville Skyline too. It is one of the best examples of late sixties/early seventies country rock.

B

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Diana Ross & The Supremes & The Temptations



Diana Ross & The Supremes Join The Temptations (1968)
Together (1969)

Steely Dan - Katy Lied (1975)

Bad sneakers and a piña colada my friend....

  

Released March 1975

Running time 35.25

Pretzel Logic, this album's predecessor, had been a jazz rock-ish creation featuring several shorter tracks. This one, for me, was a fuller, more cohesive and solid offering, although it was the first not to feature the obvious talents of guitarist Jeff "Skunk" Baxter. The sound, though, was the usual impeccably delivered, inventive and easy rock music, which backed the also by now familiar oblique, beguiling, enigmatic lyrics. There is always something a bit cool and detached about a Steely Dan album - they always sound very intelligent and musically perfect, but that often leaves them open to the accusation of lacking soul or real feeling. I guess you could say that about this album, but when I listen to it I always get that feeling that is it something rather special. A Steely Dan album is sort of like a priceless antique. One listen and you recognise its quality.

Sonically, however, despite Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's legendary perfectionism, there were apparently mix-ups with the original recordings, tapes, mixings and so on, the technicalities of which I don't really understand, other than there is a sharp, trebly tinniness to parts of the overall sound. Subsequent remasterings have been unable to rectify it. It is the clearest, "shiniest" Dan album, audio-wise, but it suffers just a little because of it. It is difficult to put you finger (or ear) on it, but you know when you listen to it. If you are playing a Steely Dan "random" playlist, you will instantly recognise the songs from this album by their sound.

TRACK LISTING

1. Black Friday
2. Bad Sneakers
3. Rose Darling
4. Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More
5. Doctor Wu
6. Everyone's Gone To The Movies
7. Your Gold Teeth II
8. Chain Lightning
9. Any World (That I'm Welcome To)
10. Throw Back The Little Ones                                   
                                          
Black Friday kicks things off with a solid, chugger of a track. It retains that typical Steely Dan vocal style but it is as strong and grindingly rock-ish a song as the group had put out for a while, featuring some excellent guitar swirling all around it.

Bad Sneakers is an attractive, melodious slow-pace number with another of those addictive Steely Dan choruses. Becker and Fagen had a real knack for finding a hook. The group's jazz-rock hybrid nature is really obvious on this one. Lovely bass on there too. Rose Darling ups the tempo again with a radio friendly, breezy harmonious song. Once more it features some impressive guitar, played for the first time on a Steely Dan album by Becker. The vocal is ever so slightly Dylanesque in small places. Just a cadence here and there.

Daddy Don't Live In That New York City No More is a bluesy, shuffling rocker with echoes of the Pretzel Logic material. I really like this track. It also highlights their liking for a great song title. Doctor Wu enters Steely Dan classic territory. The album's title is derived from the line "Katy lies, you can see it in her eyes...". Quite who Doctor Wu was is unclear. One never knew just what most of their songs were about, just hints here or there, but never the full meaning, if indeed there ever was one. The song has a killer saxophone solo in it too.

Everyone's Gone To The Movies suffers from a bit of a throwaway chorus, but it has a superb, big, rumbling bass line running all through it and an infectious rhythm.

Your Gold Teeth II has some excellent jazzy bits in it and a delicious feel to it throughout. There is some sumptuous piano, guitar and syncopated drums. The jazz parts remind me of Abdullah Ibrahim and Dave Brubeck.

Chain Lightning has a deep, insistent bluesy thump of a rhythm and some excellent guitar from guest guitarist Rick Derringer. Another appetising bass underpins it.

Apparently, Any World (That I'm Welcome To) was a resurrected out-take of a track from their 1969-1971 early days. Listening to it, you can tell. It sounds far more like something off Can't Buy A Thrill and sounds slightly inferior to the material around it. Not by much, but it is noticeable.

Throw Back The Little Ones is a quirky, perplexing song both lyrically and musically, driven by a jazzy piano and enhanced by more great guitar and a brass-ish break in the middle.

Despite some slight reservations about the sound (and they really are nit-picking ones) this, for me, is a really good Steely Dan album and one that is often overlooked, a little bit unfairly.

B

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Wattstax - The Concert (1972)

Can you dig it, brothers and sisters....

 

Recorded live in Los Angeles on 20 of August 1972

Wattstax was a benefit concert performed on August 20, 1972, organised by Stax Records on the 7th Anniversary of the Watts riots in Los Angeles The concert took place in the Los Angeles Coliseum and tickets were $1 each, ensuring many African-Americans could attend. 112,000 duly attended. The crowd was most African-American and it was policed by African-American officers.

The music was soul, funk, blues, gospel, r 'n' b n jazz and a lot of it had a theme of conscious, aware positivity for black Americans. This compilation is the most comprehensive and includes most of the show. Some songs from previous compilations from the show do not appear, though, like Eddie Floyd's Lay Your Loving On Me, several Isaac Hayes tracks and some others. Either way, it plays like one continuous show.

There are actually three different compilations from the show, so by sourcing all three you can get all the songs covered.

The sound quality is pretty good for an outdoor 1972 live recording, as, of course, is the music. The concert took place at the height of the early seventies funk/soul era and we get a lot of it too - wah-wah guitars and horn breaks all over the place.

TRACK LISTING

CD ONE

1. Salvation Symphony
2. Introduction - The Reverend Jesse Jackson
3. Lift Every Voice And Sing - Kim Weston
4. Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom) - The Staple Singers*
5. Are You Sure*
6. I Like The Things About Me*
7. Respect Yourself*
8. I'll Take You There*
9. Precious Lord, Take My Hand - Deborah Manning
10. Better Get A Move On - Louise McCord
11. Them Hot Pants - Lee Sain
12. Wade In TheWater - Little Sonny
13. I Forgot To Be Your Lover - William Bell
14. Explain It To Her Mama - Temprees
15. I've Been Lonely For So Long - Frederick Knight
16. Pin The Tail On The Donkey - The Newcomers
17. Knock On Wood - Eddie Floyd                                  

CD TWO


1. Peace Be Still - The Emotions
2. Old Time Religion - The Golden 13
3. Lying On The Truth - Rance Allen Group*
4. Up Above My Head*
5. Son Of Shaft/Feel It - The Bar-Kays*
6. In the Hole*
7. I Can't Turn You Loose*
8. Introduction - David Porter*
9. Ain't That Lovin' You (For More Reasons Than One)*
10. Can't See You When I Want To*
11. Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)*
12. Niggas - Richard Pryor*
13. Arrest/Line Up*
14. So I Can Love You - The Emotions*
15. Show Me How*                                                     

CD THREE


1. Open The Door To Your Heart - Little Milton
2. Backfield In Motion - Mel & Tim
3. Steal Away - Johnnie Taylor
4. Killing Floor - Albert King
5. Pick Up The Pieces - Carla Thomas*
6. I Like What You're Doing To Me*
7. B-A-B-Y*
8. Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes)*
9. I Have A God Who Loves*
10. The Breakdown - Rufus Thomas*
11. Do The Funky Chicken*
12. Do The Funky Penguin*
13. I Don't Know What This World Is Coming To - The Soul Children*
14. Hearsay*
15. Theme From Shaft - Isaac Hayes                  

CD ONE 

The Staple Singers perform an excellent five song set, as you would expect, including I'll Take You There and Respect Yourself and Roebuck "Pops" Staples doing a rap where he praises the achievements of black people throughout history. Stevie Wonder expanded on this on his Songs In The Key Of Life album in 1976. Louise McCord's Better Get A Move On was a solid, muscular piece of wah-wah-driven soul/funk.

Lee Sain's Hot Pants is a copper-bottomed slice of seventies funk telling us all about how good hot pants looked - very early seventies. Little Sonny's blues harmonica/brass take on Ramsey Lewis's Wade In The Water is marvellous - lively, bluesy and deliciously funky. William Bell delivers a beautifully soulful I Forgot To Be A Lover. Reggae artist George Faith later covered this. The Temprees' Explain It To Her Mama is an uplifting, high-voice powered soul number. Frederick Knight provides more rousing soul and The Newcomers some Jackson 5-style lively bubblegum-ish fun. Gospel is delivered suitably inspirationally by Deborah Manning and Motown's Kim Weston.

The CD finishes with Atlantic soul legend Eddie Floyd giving us a stonking, horn-driven Knock On Wood.

CD TWO

The CD opens with The Emotions' nine minute gospel/soul of Peace Be Still. The vocal performances are outstanding and there is a palpable live atmosphere as you hear the crowd getting involved. For me, though, it goes on a few minutes too long, although that is a bit of a nit-pick. The Golden 13 lift everyone high up with some classic upbeat, hand-clapping gospel in Old Time Religion. The Rance Allen Group were a group I was unfamiliar with, and they provided a couple of infectious pieces of funky, soulful jazzy stuff.

The Bar-Kays deliver some superb early seventies funk with the lengthy workout Son Of Shaft/Feel It. Their set was one of those bits in a show like this when everything comes even more alive. In The Hole is almost psychedelic rock meets Stax - far out man. Their cover of Otis Redding's I Can't Turn You Loose is cookin' hot. Stax songwriter composer David Porter contributes some punchy, typically Stax-y soul - full of rumbling bass and strident brass. His Can't See You When I Want To is incredibly drawn out, though, Isaac Hayes style. Richard Pryor brings some of his ground-breaking observational comedy to the stage for a few minutes. It is very much of its time but in 1972, its power cannot be underestimated.

The Emotions return with some sumptuous, sweet soul in So Can I Love You and Show Me How. The singers introduce themselves by name and star sign in true seventies style.

CD THREE

Little Milton's take on the Northern Soul classic Open The Door To Your Heart is a delight, with some great improvisation at the end, while Mel & Tim's Backfield In Motion is also really brassily appealing. I get the feeling that Southside Johnny would have loved this at the time. I love the duo's spoken bit at the song's climax too. Great stuff.

The bigger names of Stax are up next - Johnnie Taylor with the funky soul of Steal Away, legendary bluesman Albert King who gives us a searing, guitar-driven blues track in Killing Floor and Carla Thomas, who performs five songs, sounding a lot like Ronnie Spector, including her big hit B-A-B-Y before it is Rufus Thomas time. Time to flap our wings and get all unnecessary. Yes it's The Funky Chicken. Up next is The Funky Penguin - not much different from the chicken, except I guess you shuffle as penguins can't flap their wings....

I Don't Know What The World Is Coming To from The Soul Children is a wonderful piece of uplifting, pulsating gospel/soul. So too is their Hearsay. Finally, Isaac Hayes takes to the stage. Unfortunately, you only get the one cut from him here - The Theme From Shaft. A pretty good choice, though.
*
I have supplemented this album by sourcing the missing tracks from elsewhere, but even without them, it is an excellent listen.

B

Friday, 20 September 2019

Bruce Springsteen - The River Extras

The price you pay....

THE RIVER SESSIONS - EXTRAS

  

Bruce Springsteen's late 1979/early to mid 1980 sessions for The River album produced mountains of unused tracks. The double album was originally intended to be a ten track single release. The first ten tracks below were those chosen. It would have been an ok album, but certainly not as good as the eventual double release and also would have suffered in comparison to its illustrious predecessor, Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

TRACK LISTING

The original selections for "The River" album:-

1. The Ties That Bind (1979)
2. Cindy (1979)
3. Hungry Heart (1980)
4. Stolen Car (1980)
5. Be True (1980)
6. The River (1979)
7. You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) (1979)
8. The Price You Pay (1979)
9. I Wanna Marry You (1979/1980)
10. Loose Ends (1979)

The "River" sessions previously unreleased tracks:-

11. Meet Me In The City (1979)
12. The Man Who Got Away (1979)
13. Little White Lies (1979)
14. The Time That Never Was (1979)
15. Night Fire (1979)
16. Whitetown (1980)
17. Chain Lightning (1979/1980)
18. Party Lights (1979)
19. Paradise By The "C" (1978)
20. Stray Bullet (1980)
21. Mr. Outside  (1980)

"River" sessions tracks that previously appeared on the "Tracks" box set:-

22. Roulette (1980)
23. Restless Nights (1980)
24. Where The Bands Are (1979)
25. Dollhouse (1979)
26. Living On The Edge Of The World (1979)
27. Take 'Em As They Come (1980)
28. Ricky Wants A Man Of Her Own (1979)
29. I Wanna Be With You (1979)
30. Mary Lou (1979)
31. Held Up Without A Gun (1980)
32. From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) (1979)

The Ties That Bind

Apart from a few vocal inflections this sounds pretty much like the version that eventually appeared on the album. To my ears, this version sounds a bit bassier, but maybe that is just me.

Cindy is a mid-pace romantic number with echoes of Buddy Holly and a Crickets-style guitar solo. It is not particularly special and doesn't really merit inclusion on the eventual album. Hungry Heart sounds very similar to the final version, if not exactly the same.

Stolen Car

This is here in its longer, and in my view superior version, full of delicious piano and big, heavy bass. Springsteen's vocal is great on this, gently backed by a fetching accordion from Danny Federici. The bit near the end when you just get his vocal, keyboards and piano for a while is wonderful. Garry Tallent's bass dominates and rightly so. This would have been one of the original album's centrepoints, one we all would have talked about, however, the version that appeared on the double album was only half as good as this one.


Be True is an infectious, lively rocker that eventually appeared as the 'b' side of Sherry Darling. This version seems slightly different to that one. It has a less strong vocal. The 'b' side version appears on the Tracks box set. It is a track that deserved to be on the double album, in place of material like Crush On You or I'm A Rocker, for me.

The River is not much different. Again, it seems to have a warmer bass line.

A track that is considerably different, though, is You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch) which is far more rockabilly in its rhythm and guitar sound. I prefer this one, it has a loose swing to it. The album's other classic number would have been The Price You Pay, which features here with a completely different second verse to its eventual incarnation. The Spectoresque  I Wanna Marry You is almost identical to the final version.

Loose Ends appeared later on Tracks with a few minor changes. This is another good track inexplicably omitted from the final product.

*

Then we get the tracks that didn't make either album. A lot of these tracks date from early to mid 1979 and have quite a different feel to them to a lot of the ones from 1980. They are edgier, tougher and more piano-driven.

Meet Me In The City is a lively, piano-driven rocker that has early hints of 2008's Radio Nowhere in places. It was resurrected as a show opener for Springsteen's The River tour in 2016. It has a killer Clarence Clemons saxophone solo. Again, it is a far superior song to some of those rockers that appeared on The RiverThe Man Who Got Away is a pounding, drum-powered number with similarities to "Roulette". It contains some Elvis Costello & The Attractions-style organ breaks.

The fast -paced rocker, Little White Lies sounds a lot like Graham Parker, who Springsteen was recording with at around the same time.


The Time That Never Was has a big, Spector style drum beat and a mournful Springsteen vocal over a throbbing bass line a sonorous backing vocals. It is a track with potential, but some of the vocal parts are a bit indistinct. A great saxophone solo lifts it high up, however.

Night Fire features Roy Bittan's piano prominently. It is another with that Roulette vibe to it. Very much the sound of Springsteen circa early/mid 1979.

Now we move on to 1980 with Whitetown and you can tell, for there is far more of a River-sound to it, with vague hints of I Wanna Marry You lurking in its otherwise dense-ish melody. This is one of the first songs to find Springsteen trying out his falsetto vocal that he would come to use more in later years.

Chain Lightning starts with a bass riff like Nebraska's State Trooper. The track's menacing, bluesy groove is something quite different to anything else from this period. There are a few bits that sound like 1984's Pink Cadillac. It is a big grinder of a track. Clemons's saxophone is far more beguiling than his usual bullhorn blare.

Party Lights is a return to that jangly Searchers-style guitar-driven rock that featured on The Ties That Bind. Some of the lyrics from Point Blank and vague references to the lyrics of Sherry Darling turn up in here.

Paradise By The "C" is a jaunty rock'n'roll saxophone-powered instrumental that is known to those who bought the "Live 1975-1985" box set, as it was performed on there. From April 1980 is the quietly sad and brooding Stray Bullet, enhanced by some excellent evocative,  jazzy tenor saxophone. The bass/piano/guitar/saxophone bit near the end is superb. This is one of the first sombre songs that Springsteen had done. Iceman and Meeting Across The River being others. Subsequent years would find him doing many more. This was a really good track and should have appeared on an album.

Mr. Outside is the only track that has that raw "demo" acoustic feel to it. It is a lively Paul Simon-esque number that we will never get to hear in a full band version.

*

On to the songs that previously appeared on TracksRoulette contains some of Max Weinberg's finest rolling drum sounds. It is an intense song about the perils of nuclear power. Restless Nights is a similar song to Loose Ends in some ways, with a strong piano, drum and bass backing. It is pretty typical of Springsteen's 1980 rock output. Danny Federici' s organ solo is excellent. Where The Bands Are is a 1979 out-and-out fun rocker with a bit of a The Ties That Bind feel to it. Clarence Clemons contributes a typically rousing saxophone solo. Another frantic Searchers-riffy rocker is Dollhouse which is absolutely packed full of energy. Similarly ebullient is the very enjoyable Living On The Edge Of The World. Some lyrics appeared later on Nebraska's State Trooper and Open All Night. It is one of Springsteen's fastest tracks, the pace just doesn't let up.

Take 'Em As They Come is a regular pace rocker that has never particularly stuck in my mind. It is in the style as a lot of this material - dominated by its jangly guitar riff and Weinberg's gunshot drum rolls. Ricky Wants A Man Of Her Own is a slightly amusing fast rock 'n' roll number about a teenage girl growing up driven along by some rocking organ and piano. I Wanna Be With You has its origins back in 1977 but finally got properly recorded in 1979. It has a guitar/drum/piano stomping intro that was successfully used as a show opener on the 1999 E St. Band Reunion Tour. Once again, it is a solid song that more than deserved an album place.

Mary Lou is an early version of Be True which doesn't quite flow as cohesively as its eventual replacement. It is still not a bad song, though, and I have always liked it. Held Up Without A Gun is a short, punky rocker that appeared as the 'b' side to the Hungry Heart single. It last just over a minute and is Springsteen's shortest ever song. From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) is a rockabilly song that Dave Edmunds covered. It is a lively bassy number full of good rockin'.

As I have said before, how some of this material could be rejected is a never-ending mystery. There is some real quality stuff here.

B+

Carole King



Tapestry (1972)

Carole King - Tapestry (1972)

You've got a friend....

  

Released on 10 February 1972

Running time 44.31

Leading the burgeoning female singer/songwriter boom in the early seventies was Carole King (already a veteran of many sixties hits, written with her ex, Gerry Goffin), with this album, one that could be found in the record collections of many female students throughout the seventies. It is one of the best selling albums of all time. At the time, it was not an album my early teenage self was interested in but as many years have passed, so my tastes have matured.

A nice bit of trivia - King's cat on the cover was called Telemachus.

TRACK LISTING

1. I Feel The Earth Move
2. So Far Away
3. It's Too Late
4. Home Again
5. Beautiful
6. Way Over Yonder
7. You've Got A Friend
8. Where You Lead
9. Will You Love Tomorrow?
10. Smackwater Jack
11. Tapestry
12. (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman         

I Feel The Earth Move. Contrary to the album's well-known laid-back ambience is the opener, which is a bit of a powerful piano, bas and drums-driven bluesy rocker. It is full of excellent guitar, bar-room piano and rumbling bass. It is a rousing rock start to the album. So Far Away - reflective ballads are what the album is known for, however, and we get the first one in this attractive song. Like Bread's output from the same period, the album's rock sensibilities are greater than one may have presumed - the bass and drums on here are very slow rock in their sound and delivery. In a lot of ways this is far less of a wishy-washy bedsit album and far more of a slow, deep rock/soul one. It has surprised me over the years in that respect.

It's Too Late was album's first well-known classic is. Its deep, sumptuous backing is very, very similar to that used by Carly Simon on her No Secrets album from later in the same year. She had obviously been listening to this. It is a lovely bass/drum guitar/acoustic hook line and a similarly attractive tenor saxophone. King's vocal is beautifully melodic and ideally suited to a hot summer's afternoon.

Check out this excellent 1971 clip from the BBC archives. I always love these old clips, they make me very nostalgic.


Home Again is a slow, meaningful ballad, once more featuring that infectious bass, piano and drum backing. Billy Joel must also have listened to this a lot. It is so like some of his mid-seventies material, both lyrically and musically. There is also a bit of a slow country rock feeling to the song. Beautiful is a quirky number that sounds a bit like a song from a musical. The lyric is uplifting and King addresses her listener personally. The piano is again superb, she really could play.

Way Over Yonder is a slow gospel-influenced number with impressive backing vocals from Merry ("Gimme Shelter") Clayton. Another good piece of saxophone is to be found on here. You've Got A Friend was a big hit for James Taylor. Most people know it by now, especially the "winter, spring, summer or fall..." refrain. It is a song that can be instantly sung along with, whether you have this album or not. Long before I had this album, I knew this song.

Where You Lead is almost Stax-y in its lively, deep soulful beat. It is one of the album's best examples of its unexpectedly soulful rock. Carole certainly had far more soul than she was sometimes given credit for.

Will You Love Me Tomorrow Next up is King's take on her sixties composition for The Shirelles. She does it in a much slowed-down way, turning into a piano-driven lament as opposed to the fairground-style early sixties Motown-ish rock'n'roll of the Shirelles' hit version of it.

Smackwater Jack is a delicious piece of lively, bassy blues, showing King's versatility again. It shows that Carole could rock and once more goes against the cliché that this is a light, airy-fairy, acoustic laid-back album. In Tapestry we have a plaintive, thoughtful piano and vocal ballad that exemplifies the sort of material one may have thought the whole album was populated with. As it is, it is one of the album's few songs in this vein. (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman - then there is this all-time classic. Of course, the definitive version is surely Aretha Franklin's one, but Carole King wrote it and here she sings it beautifully and with not a little soul herself. Great stuff. It has been remembered as one of the great songs of all time.

*

The latest remaster of the album gives it a nice, warm, bassy sound for probably the first time ever.

B+

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Carly Simon



No Secrets (1972)

Carly Simon - No Secrets (1972)

You watched yourself gavotte...

  

Released on 28 November 1972

Running time 35.58

The early seventies was a good time to be a female singer/songwriter - Carole King's Tapestry was everywhere, then there was Joni Mitchell and later on Janis Ian. There was also Carly Simon, who has been a bit forgotten about. This was her biggest selling album and is worth revisiting. Oh, and there was every teenage boy's dream of a cover that made this a popular album to look at in the record shop - Carly proudly and clearly braless. Lordy.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Right Thing To Do
2. The Carter Family
3. You're So Vain
4. His Friends Are More Than Found Of Robin
5. We Have No Secrets
6. Embrace Me, You Child
7. Waited So Long
8. It Was So Easy
9. Night Owl
10. When You Close Your Eyes    

The Right Thing To Do is one of Simon's best known songs, this was an easy-listening, laid-back AOR classic. Simon's voice is up there with that of Karen Carpenter in its beautiful tone. It was a huge hit, deservedly so, it is a truly lovely song. It has a similar instrumental backing to You're So Vain.

The Carter Family is a wry, observational Carole King/Janis Ian-style song that highlights Simon's ability to write a clever, character-driven song. It is actually a meaningful song about not missing people until they are gone - from Simon's childhood neighbours (The Carter family), to her Grandma and finally an ex-boyfriend. It has a nice bit of late sixties Beatles-style bass on it too.

You're So Vain. The other "big one" was this - a sensual, confessional song from a songwriter honestly confessing that "you had me several years ago, when I was still quite naive...". This was quite strong stuff in 1972. Who was it about? Everybody said Mick Jagger. Then they said Warren Beatty. Simon actually said it was about three men, although the only one she has ever named was Beatty. Jagger, by the way, sings some backing vocals on the track. It is a superb song, both musically and lyrically.

"Your hat strategically dipped below one eye, your scarf it was apricot...". Simon has sometimes copped a bit of stick for the verbosity and possible clumsiness of lyrics like these, unfairly. Yes, it is a mouthful, but they are also pretty clever too.

The clip comes from www.carlysimon.com and is available as a full concert on DVD.



His Friends Are More Than Fond Of Robin is a perplexing, plaintive song, sung in a quiet voice over a gentle piano. It is a nice song, but it sounds somewhat undercooked. In fact, both this and The Carter Family seem to have a markedly different production to the rest of the album. They sit a bit incongruously due to their more lo-fi, muffled sound. On We Have No Secrets the more full, solid rock sound of You're So Vain is back, however, on this one. It is an attractive, very typically early seventies number that features some excellent acoustic guitar and drum interplay.

Embrace Me, You Child has an impressive vocal and some enticing orchestration. The bass on here is once again very good, played by John Lennon's mate, Klaus Voorman. The drums throughout the album are played by ex-Sly & The Family Stone drummer Andy Newmark.


Waited So Long. "Daddy, I'm no virgin..." sings Simon on this, another confessional, slightly country-ish and upbeat bluesy song. It was a song that showed Simon to be singing as a mature, confident woman. Why is that important?  Well, in 1972, it was actually pretty rare for solo female artists, amazing as though it sounds. There is a Janis Joplin style of chutzpah on this, despite its relatively laid-back ambience.

It Was So Easy is a pleasing, almost folk-rock sounding number with Simon providing a most melodic and winning vocal.

Night Owl is a grinding, bluesy rocker that shows that Carly could give us a gin-soaked vocal when she felt like it. It features a good saxophone solo too.

When You Close Your Eyes. This short album finished with the peaceful, reflective Carole King vibe of this song. All very soothing and tranquil.

*

This was a most appealing album, I have to say, immaculately played and sung, with a bit of depth to the themes in the songs. It is worthy of the occasional check-out.

B-

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Billy Joel - River Of Dreams (1993)

These are the last words I have to say....

  

Released on 10 August 1993

Running time 49.10

In 1993 Billy Joel suddenly called a halt on his recording/songwriting career. He still occasionally tours, singing his material from 1972-1993, but since 1993 he has not released an album. He seemed to suddenly lose interest and also his muse. Fair enough, if he felt he hadn't got it in him, or hadn't got the desire then that was a fine, honest decision on his part.

This was an album that subsequently didn't get much of my attention, which is probably a bit of a shame, as it is not a bad album at all and a fair swansong.

TRACK LISTING


1. No Man's Land
2. The Great Wall Of China
3. Blonde Over Blue
4. A Minor Variation
5. Shades Of Grey
6. All About Soul
7. Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel)
8. The River Of Dreams
9. Two Thousand Years
10. Famous Last Words                                           

No Man's Land is a crashing rock number to open with, with a bit of an Elvis Costello & The Attractions keyboard/drum sound, particularly at the beginning. It is a lyrically cynical song about big business and high-level corruption.

The Great Wall Of China is a shuffling, powerful number, pretty typical of Joel's later material, full of power and purpose and appealing vocal delivery. Once again, the lyrics are realist and questioning. There is some great guitar soloing half way through from veteran Danny Kortchmar and Joel's voice is commanding and melodic throughout. It is a bit of a hidden Joel classic.

Blonde Over Blue has an attractive drum rhythm and another world-weary lyric. Joel's vocal is good, as are the synthesiser backing passages. Its appeal is not as instant as much of his earlier material, but a few listens and it gets there. A Minor Variation is a muscular, slow-paced but strong bluesy thumper of a number. It features a vibrant horn section. Joel could always deliver a bluesy vocal and he does just that here.Shades Of Grey is an ebullient, infectious song with Joel sounding committed and enthusiastic, as he sings two men's parts as they address each other.

All About Soul is one of the last Joel classics which features an absolutely killer, uplifting chorus that makes one remember just what a great artist Billy Joel was, what an ear for a tune he had and what a great voice too. I talk about him in the past tense because his career is now in the past, even though he is alive and well at 70 in 2019.

Lullabye (Goodnight My Angel) is a tender piano ballad to one of his three daughters. Sometimes songs like this can be quite mawkish (John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart are all guilty), but I have to say that this one is quite delightful.

The final Joel classic is to be found in the doo-wop glory of The River Of Dreams and its addictive harmonies behind Joel's falsetto vocal. He cuts loose on the piano too - like the true piano man he is. The clip below shows him, backed by a large gospel choir, delivering a great performance of the song at the Grammy awards. Two Thousand Years is a big, grandiose, anthemic ballad. There is something Elton John-ish about it.

The final track is a sad but musically uplifting one in Famous Last Words. "These are the last words I have to say..." sings Billy over an attractive rhythm and piano melody. This is a really good song and a fine one for Billy Joel to bow out on. Hey Billy - thanks, man.

Below is a clip of Joel performing River Of Dreams.


B