Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Staple Singers - Faith And Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976

For what it's worth....

 

This is an exceptionally good box set covering this iconic gospel/soul vocal group's recording career from 1953-1976. The sound quality is wonderful throughout, even on the older gospel recordings have been remastered to sound as good as they possibly can. Later tracks such as Respect Yourself just come thumping out of your speakers with a huge bassy wallop. The collection clocks in at a whopping eighty-one tracks. Yes, some songs are omitted, but overall it is an extremely comprehensive representation of a remarkable career.

The Staple Singers were so integral to the whole civil rights/soul music link, releasing their inspirational or melodic protest material against a background of social turbulence that, thankfully, led to eventual cultural and social emancipation for African-Americans.


The music is superb throughout, beginning with the family group's uplifting gospel material, such as It Rained Children, If I Could Hear My Mother Pray, Help Me Jesus, the vibrant Hammer And Nails and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. The songs are essentially ones that express a steadfast faith against a background of oppression and prejudice, beautifully and proudly sung. They are sentiments that were continued as the group "crossed-over" to the secular sounds of Stax soul, while still retaining their gospel roots and their vocal harmonies. This produced a whole heap of seriously impressive songs, starting with a great cover of Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth and continuing on the iconic tracks such as Respect Yourself, I'll Take You There, If You're Ready (Come Go With Me), the civil rights anthems of Long Walk To D.C. and The Freedom Highway and some excellent Dylan covers in Blowin' In The Wind, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall and Masters Of War. Touch A Hand (Make A Friend) and the addictive  Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom) are also wonderful numbers, as is the group's joining with The Band for The Weight at their final Last Waltz concert.



There is also a real bluesiness to some of the songs, such as the captivating Dying Man's Plea and the evocative John Brown and you can hear how gospel material influenced rock 'n' roll on the vivacious harmonies of What Are They Doing (In Heaven Today). The whole box is a veritable cornucopia of influence and innovation. Just check out the sublime bass, percussion and vocals on Let That Liar Alone. Marvellous stuff. You can listen to any of this set, anytime, and I guarantee that it will lift your spirits.

When the most important groups of the twentieth century are being listed, The Staple Singers are rarely mentioned. They should be. Their egalitarian, non-violent message, and the sheer joy their voices brought was matchless and indeed still is. A totally magnificent group. Just check out the Christmas gospel of There Was A Star or the beautiful harmonies of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. There's your proof.

Below is a great clip of The Staple Singers performing If You're Ready (Come Go With Me) in 1973.


B+

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Japan



Japan: The Collection

Japan - The Collection

  

I was never a particular fan of Japan, a (supposedly*) New Romantic group fronted by blonde, floppy wedge-haired David Sylvian (named after the "crashing out with Sylvian" lyric from David Bowie's Drive In Saturday), but I have this one collection of their work. Sylvian's music was very influenced by Eastern culture and sounds, as well as the afore-mentioned Bowie, The New York Dolls and Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry. It was very atmospheric and haunting but also attracted accusations of pretention. Musically, though, the group always had an inventive, well-delivered sound and Sylvian had a certain amount of mysterious charisma. They were not commercial enough to storm the charts as other New Romantics did, but their output was thoughtful and adventurous. *To be fair to the group, who disassociated themselves totally with the New Romantic movement, they had been putting out albums since 1978 (five in total) and split up in late 1982, when many New Romantic groups were only just starting.

TRACK LISTING

1. Quiet Life
2. Visions Of China
3. Ghosts
4. I Second That Emotion
5. Life In Tokyo
6. European Son
7. All Tomorrow's Parties
8. Adolescent Sex
9. Don't Rain On My Parade
10. In Vogue
11. The Unconventional
12. Communist China
13. Suburban Berlin
14. Halloween                                                       
Quiet Life is a sonorous, thumping sort of New Romantic meets David Bowie number. It has echoes of Bowie's Boys Keep Swinging in its "Boys" refrain and the beat/guitar chops/keyboard swirls are straight out of the Duran Duran/Ultravox songbook. Both of those groups must surely have listened to this in 1979 when it was released. Its influence on both of them is clear to hear. The stuttering, staccato beat of Visions Of China is very addictive in that early eighties sort of way and the shrill saxophone is very much influenced by Andy Mackay's early Roxy Music work. Sylvian's mannered vocal is very Bryan Ferry too. The drum sound is very tribal in that Adam And The Ants way.

The vocal on Ghosts is so Ferry it could almost hear. The song was one of the group's most successful, but it is totally uncommercial, with a sombre, mournful "Heroes" type sound and some strange sound effects. A surprise hit for the group was a cover of Smokey Robinson's I Second That Emotion. The version is full of metallic-sounding saxophone and contemporary keyboard noises. It doesn't match the original but as a period piece from the early eighties, it works fine. Another popular track of theirs was the pounding eighties strains of Life In Tokyo, which makes it on to several New Romantic playlists. It has some excellent synthesiser breaks and a solid bass line. Sylvian again sounds like Bryan Ferry, let's take that for granted now, shall we?


The lively European Son fits the musical zeitgeist perfectly - grand synthesisers and robbery, vibrating bass runs. Sylvian's vocal is more punky in a whiny sort of way on this one. A wonderful song for Japan to cover was The Velvet Underground & Nico's beguiling All Tomorrow's Parties. They do it justice - full of early Roxy Music saxophones and Bowie-esque instrumentation and a mysterious vocal. Once more, the bass line is delicious. Adolescent Sex is a typical piece of early eighties New Romantic disco fare. It has an infectious riff and that punky vocal again.

A strange cover is Don't Rain On My Parade from the Barbra Streisand's 1964 musical, Funny Girl. It is given a full-on punky attack, both musically and vocally, taking all possible camp intonations from it. In Vogue returns to the deep, captivating moods of some of the earlier material. It is a most sexual, entrancing track. It has a great keyboard backing on it and is one of the album's best cuts. The Unconventional has an impressive funky guitar riff, a muscular beat and Sylvian delivering a Parliament/Funkadelic-style vocal. The group could funk out if they wanted to and proceed danceable stuff like this.

Communist China has a great riff to it too and another punky vocal in a sort of New York Dolls style. Suburban Berlin also has a bit of a punk noir ambience to it, with some great guitar interjections throughout. The bass solo half way through is simply sumptuous. Halloween has an archetypal early eighties feel to it. Whether the group considered themselves New Romantic or not, tracks like this certainly sound like it. In many ways, the genre was started by Japan, many others were basically imitators.

Below is a clip of Japan performing Quiet Life.


B-

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Janis Ian - Aftertones (1976)

Boy, I really tied one on....

  

Released in 1976

Running time 33.11

After 1974's slightly patchy, not quite there Stars and 1975's superb Between The Lines, Janis Ian followed up with an album that was somewhere in the middle between the two. As with all the albums, it is immaculately played, with an infectious bass and an often rhythmic, understated backing. Ian's lyrics are brutally honest, self-searching, sometimes a bit saucy and acutely observational, particularly with regard to the minutiae of relationships. Imagine a relationship with Janis - yes there would have been some fun, but boy, all that analysis!

TRACK LISTING

1. Aftertones
2. I Would Like To Dance
3. Love Is Blind
4. Roses
5. Belle Of The Blues
6. Goodbye To Morning
7. Boy, I Really Tied One On
8. This Must Be Wrong
9. Don't Cry, Old Man
10. Hymn                                                                                                     Aftertones is a gentle, acoustic number, with Janis singing in a plaintive, breathy style rather similar to some of the folk singers of the time. As I mentioned earlier, the bass line is sumptuous, as are the strings. After a bit of a reflective beginning to the album, it soon kicks into a lively ambience with the fun, jazzy strains of I Would Like To Dance. It features some intoxicating rhythms and a fetching flute solo. It is one of Janis’s most lively numbers. She is not all about angst, she can pound the stage boards when she feels like it, becoming a real song and dance girl.

Love Is Blind is a slow, mournful but dignified ballad with a big backing. Roses is a delightful, subtle number sung winsomely over a truly seductive bass. Belle Of The Blues has Janis showing that she could sing the blues too, over a delicious slow piano-driven blues backing. It is one of the best tracks on the album, similar to Bonnie Raitt’s material from the same period. Nice fuzzy guitar at the end too.


Goodbye To Morning once again has a vocal like Sandy Denny or Jacqui McShee in some ways in a quiet but also rousing, committed song. Boy, I Really Tied One On is an honest but cynical and slightly amusing song about an unfortunate one-night stand encounter. Janis did this sort of song really well. It finishes with a snatch of funky guitar.

This Must Be Wrong is another smoky, bluesy  number with some excellent piano and a strong vocal. It is a far puncher song than many would expect from Janis Ian. “You were the high priest, I was the sacrifice…” she sings, forcefully. Don’t Cry, Old Man is a strange, sombre song sung by Ian using that shhh-sounding s-sound that is also used by Mary Chapin Carpenter - “thirshhty”, for example. It is an orchestrated, simultaneously understated yet dramatic song.

Hymn is a gospelly, evocative ending to the album that finishes as quietly as it has begun. In between, though, it was quite fun and also bluesy, reflecting the many sides to Janis Ian’s character as shown in her songs. Janis Ian albums were rather like Bread albums from the same period, not all quiet ballads, but a fair mix of different paced material. There is always something good to be found in any Janis Ian album. They are quite underrated little gems.

B-

Monday, 28 October 2019

Janis Ian - Stars (1974)

Sweet sympathy....

  

Released in 1974

Running time 35.31

This was the predecessor to Janis Ian’s breakthrough seventh album Between The Lines and, while a fine album, was not quite the complete perfection of that album. It is a little instrumentally starker and plainer in places, more fitting in to the plaintive singer-songwriter pigeonhole, certainly the opening song is, although a lot of the rest of the album features a fair few livelier, upbeat styles. Lyrically, it is full of Ian’s trademark intelligent but self-conscious analysis, delivered very much from her female perspective.

TRACK LISTING

1. Stars
2. The Man You Are In Me
3. Sweet Sympathy
4. Page Nine
5. Thankyous
6. Dance With Me
7. Without You
8. Jesse
9. You've Got Me On A String
10. Applause                                                               
Stars is a gentle acoustic number full of thoughtful lyrics that lasts a full seven minutes plus. Ian fully accepted she had been hugely influenced by Don McLean’s Vincent in the song’s construction. It is very much the album's stand out track. The rest of the songs are comparatively much shorter. They are also fuller in their instrumentation as I mentioned earlier.

The Man You Are In Me sees the full band backing come in, with a rhythmic drum sound and a totally delicious, rubbery bass line. It is one of the album’s rockier numbers with a solid, punchy instrumentation. I really like this one. Sweet Sympathy is actually just as lively, with a feel of Elton John’s more upbeat early seventies material to it in its brassy punch. Once again, it has an infectious, appealing melody. The chorus could have come off Tumbleweed Connection or Honky Cat.


Page Nine also has a strong country rock vibe which was very typical of the early/mid seventies. It is a song that slowly grows on you. The piano part is very Carole King.

Thankyous is a melodic and sensitive number with another powerful backing. Dance With Me is  another Elton John-influenced song that concerns the singer’s brother’s body coming back from Vietnam. Whether this was Ian’s true experience I am not sure, or whether she was writing in character. Either way, it is an unsurprisingly sad song.

Without You is a short, plaintive but melodic and appealing number. The same description could be given to Jesse. The song was a hit for Roberta Flack in 1973. You’ve Got Me On A String is a bit cacophonous in places and doesn’t quite do it for me, while Applause sees Ian going all Broadway and Vaudeville in a sort of Leo Sayer style, something she occasionally liked a bit of. It is a fun, lively track to end on.

Overall, however, I find the album is far less cohesive than Between The Lines and some of the tracks don’t quite get there, for me, as if they were half-formed demos. Never mind, it all would come together the following year.

C+

The Undisputed Truth - Higher Than High (1975)

Boogie bump boogie....

  

Released in 1975

The spacey funky groove of the same year’s Cosmic Funk is continued on this release from later in 1975. There is a bit more of a return to the group’s essential soulful, driving funk/soul feel in places, though. There are definite snatches of the classic albums from 1971-1973. The tracks are shorter, with less extended workouts than on some previous albums. It is a different album from those early Temptations-influenced psychedelic soul albums but it is a good one, a really good example of funky soul.

TRACK LISTING

1. Higher Than High
2. Poontang
3. Life Ain't So Easy
4. Boogie Bump Boogie
5. Help Yourself
6. I'm In The Red Zone
7. Overload
8. I Saw When You Met Her
9. Ma                                                             
Higher Than High is a pulsating, lively piece of horn and electric keyboard funk to kick off the album with. Check out that funky brass part near the end and the Sly Stone-ish vocal. Poontang has an infectious, rhythmic slow beat and a very Parliament/Funkadelic psychedelic funk vibe to it.

Life Ain’t So Easy has a slow, under-cooked, quite intro that takes nearly two minutes to kick in, but when it does it is a super piece of gritty soul with a sad message to it. The shared vocals are wonderful, full of hard-hitting urban soul pedigree. Even in this latter period of the group’s career, they could still seriously cut it. This is a great track.

The funk is back on the copper-bottomed spacey funk groove of Boogie Bump Boogie, with its typically mid-seventies funk vocals, sci-fi keyboard sound effects and searing guitar. The funk is so hot on this track it hurts. Help Yourself is a rhythmic funker full of great fatback drum sounds and sharp guitar interjections. Those drums really cook on this one, as does the big, throbbing, rubber-band bass.



I’m In The Red Zone has some seriously buzzy funky guitar breaks and a big, strong, soulful Temptations meet Edwin Starr vocal. Overload also sounds like Edwin Starr and has the group bemoaning various things about contemporary life over a frantic funky beat. I Saw When You Met Her rumbles with a deep, soulful feel and the vocals are superb, as is the backing. Proper funky soul.

The album's longest track is its only Temptations connection, a cover of Ma from their 1973 Masterpiece album. The Truth deal with superbly, with some great vocal harmonies, interaction and killer drums that pound right out of your speakers. There is more great guitar all over it too.

This is a little-mentioned but really impressive album with excellent sound quality as well.

B

Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars (Film Version) (2019)

I'm a wayfarer, baby....

  

This is a somewhat superfluous release. Bruce Springsteen and an orchestra run through his Western Stars album from a few months earlier live in a studio in front of what sounds like a very small audience, judging from the polite clapping in between the songs. There is no fuss made and no between song chat at all. It just starts, the songs are played, then it ends.

The songs are played pretty straight and authentic to their originals, therefore making it an unessential recording. For me, though, there is a nice bass punch to the live performances, more so than on the original studio versions. Springsteen's vocal performance is faultless and emotive from beginning to end. The orchestration is more subtle and the bass more pronounced in places, so it suits me. There are a few slight differences - a few more backing vocals here and there and more pronounced, such as on The Wayfarer, a little less strings, a bit more bass, a few little fetching new instrumental bits, but nothing incredibly discernible. For that reason it is an interesting listen but certainly not one of which I think "I have to own that..". I enjoyed it, however.

TRACK LISTING

1. Hitch Hikin'
2. The Wayfarer
3. Tucson Train
4. Western Stars
5. Sleepy Joe's Café
6. Drive Fast
7. Chasin' Wild Horses
8. Sundown
9. Somewhere North Of Nashville
10. Stones
11. There Goes My Miracle
12. Hello Sunshine
13. Moonlight Motel
14. Rhinestone Cowboy   

A bonus is Springsteen's version of Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy. Springsteen tackles it enthusiastically and the orchestration is dramatic and sweeping, as you would expect, but vocally, Glen Campbell did a much better job.

B
      

Janis Ian



Stars (1974)
Between The Lines (1975)

Janis Ian - Between The Lines (1975)

The valentines I never knew....

  

Released in March 1975

Running time 43.21

This really is a truly delightful album, despite its often heartbreaking, lovelorn, self-analytical subject matter. Janis Ian was one of the many female singer-songwriters that appeared in the mid-seventies and her brutally honest, earnest lyrics earned her a big following in the student rooms and bedsits of the time. It is a very female album but I love it, so I must be in touch with my feminine side. There you go, I can play The Sex Pistols and I can play this.

The album is often thought to be Ian’s debut album, (for a long time by me) in fact it was her seventh.

TRACK LISTING

1. When The Party's Over
2. At Seventeen
3. From Me To You
4. Bright Lights And Promises
5. In The Winter
6. Watercolors
7. Between The Lines
8. The Come On
9. Light A Light
10. Tea And Sympathy
11. Lover's Lullabye                                 
When The Party’s Over is a most fetching, acoustic and sumptuous bass-backed song that breaks out into a gently rhythmic, airy chorus with hints of Bread and America. Janis’s voice is pleasing in a sixties/seventies folky sort of way.

At Seventeen is a classic, of course, beloved of reflective, sensitive, misty-eyed confused teenage girls. It is lyrically superb and full of plaintive, lonely atmosphere. Its understated, gentle backing suits the song perfectly. Once again, the subtle, melodic bass line is gorgeous, as is the soft, samba-esque trumpet solo. A young Mary Chapin Carpenter no doubt loved this song.

From Me To You has a bluesy folkiness to it, with echoes of Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention or Jacqui McShee of Pentangle. Janis starts to rock a bit in places, her voices getting slightly more abrasive, (comparatively). It is another beautifully haunting number. Nice drums on it too. Bright Lights And Promises is a late-night piece of jazzy blues, beautifully sung and perfectly played. Janis could sing the blues as well as angsty acoustic ballads. In The Winter has Ian revisiting her At Seventeen loneliness again, even more so this time, the protagonist has grown up and is living alone, even more miserable. Proper bedsit music.

The stark, quiet and thoughtful Watercolors is very much a song that you imagine will have influenced Mary Chapin Carpenter. You can hear it in both the lyrics and the song’s construction. Even the vocals sound very similar to each other. Between The Lines ploughs a similar furrow, with a nice bassy backing to the main parts of the song. The chorus gets a bit Cabaret in its stompiness. It also gets all Jewish Klezmer at the end as the pace frantically increases.

The Come On is a brave song with a Janis desperate for physical fun virtually offering herself to a man, no strings. A ground-breaking song for the mid-seventies. Janis comes on all Millie Jackson at a few points in the song, although her vulnerability is still plain to hear. “All my friends have their lovers, they’ve got their men on a string, there must be something terribly wrong with me…” sings Janis, feeling very sorry for herself.

Light A Light is a fetching, beautiful song with an infectious but quiet rhythm. Tea And Sympathy is a very mature song for one still so young. It is a moving, very sad song lamenting a lost love. Lover’s Lullabye is an emotive, bleak piano, bass and vocal number to leave the listener in no happier a state than at the beginning of the album. It breaks out into a big chorus half way through, surprisingly, before settling back into the quiet reflectiveness that dominates the album.

It is a very pleasing, beautifully sung and played album that has to go down as a classic of its type. Highly recommended.

Below is a clip of Janis Ian performing At Seventeen on The Old Grey Whistle Test.


B

Friday, 25 October 2019

Ringo Starr - What's My Name (2019)

Grow old with me....

  

Released on 25th October 2019

Running time 34.00

Ringo Starr albums are reassuring things - always about half an hour in length, always full of immaculately-played, catchy, pleasing, inoffensive rock songs. The world is sort of a better place with Ringo still in it, putting out an album every few years. Who would have thought it? This is his twentieth studio album.

TRACK LISTING

1. Gotta Get Up To Get Down
2. It's Not Love That You Want
3. Grow Old With Me
4. Magic
5. Money
6. Better Days
7. Life Is Good
8. Thank God For Music
9. Send Love Spread Peace
10. What's My Name                                

Gotta Get Up To Get Down is a vaguely funky, pounding but catchy slow rock with contemporary references to Facebook. It also has a few “rap” passages that don’t sound too incongruous. After a few listens, I really like it. There is some good wah-wah guitar bits in it as well. It’s Not Love That You Want is a lively little tuneful rocker with a typical, endearingly deadpan Starr vocal and some nice guitar and keyboard riffs. Septuagenarian (soon to be octogenarian) Ringo urges his listeners to Grow Old With Me on his cover of John Lennon's song from the Milk And Honey posthumous album from 1984. Yes this is a big slice of cheese (it always was, let's be honest) but when I listen to it I can’t help but just think "good old Ringo”.

Ringo likes a bit of nostalgia and he delivers a bit of it on the endearingly mournful Magic. The jaunty beat cannot hide Starr’s natural laconic air. It features a nice guitar solo and some infectious drums at the end. The old Barrett Strong number Money is delivered by Starr singing through some sort of voice distorter. It is what it is, a classic song covered enthusiastically.

Better Days is an upbeat, brassy pice of typical Starr fare - good, solid rock but no work of genius. The same applies to Life Is Good. Thank God For Music is a sort of Beach Boys meets Ian Hunter nostalgic saxophone-driven rocker. Send Love Spread Peace is quite Springsteenesque in places, again, it is very singalong. The organ intro is very Dylanesque too. What’s My Name is a fun piece of harmonica-driven rock with a Status Quo riff.

You know what you’re getting with Ringo albums - every one he has done has been enjoyable, none of them really stick on the mind, but that doesn’t really matter, does it? I actually prefer the last few he has done in this century to his 1970s output. “What’s my name? - Ringo!!…” is the final line sung on this album. Simple, but somehow touching in a strange way. I can’t really explain why. Probably because he has always been my favourite Beatle.

C+

Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Colorado (2019)

I saw young folks fighting to save Mother Nature....

 

Released on the 25th October 2019

Running time 50.21

Whenever artists like Neil Young, Van Morrison, Santana or indeed anyone over fifty releases a new piece of work they are met with the usual comparisons with work they produced thirty, forty, fifty years ago and they face numerous calls for them to give it up and retire. Why should they? Neil Young is certainly an artist who has something to say, and this is one of his most overtly political albums, so more power to him. That power is reiterated by the beautiful crash of Crazy Horse's backing. They haven't lost anything over the years, that's for sure.

TRACK LISTING

1. Think Of Me
2. She Showed Me Love
3. Olden Days
4. Help Me Lose My Mind
5. Green Is Blue
6. Shut It Down
7. Milky Way
8. Eternity
9. Rainbow Of Colours
10. I Do                                                                   

"When you see those geese in the sky think of me..." sings Young on this appealing, harmonica-driven, beautifully bassy mid-pace rocker, Think Of Me, that opens the album. Quite why songs like this are considered by some to be sub-standard is beyond me. I find it quite disarming, thoughtful and evocative. Yes, Young is older and his voice is older, but, let's be honest his voice delivery was always a bleat as opposed to a growl, wasn't it?

She Showed Me Love is a diatribe against "old white guys trying to kill Mother Nature...", Young realises that he is an "old white guy" too and rails belligerently against many of his own generation as he sees "young folks fighting to save Mother Nature...". This is one of the first Extinction Rebellion anthems. Fair play to old Neil, telling it like it is at 73 and spitting out the invective over a typical Crazy Horse grungy, scratchy guitar backing. May his song always be heard. The song lasts thirteen minutes, however, as the Horse get into a groove like it is the Weld era again. Initially, I thought, God, this is going on a bit, but after a few listens it gets into your bloodstream and you get hooked. Well I did anyway. The sheer power of Nils Lofgren and Young cranking up their industrial-sounding guitars is stunning, the same goes for Ralph Molina's sledgehammer drumming and Billy Talbot's deep, throbbing bass. There aren't too many more visceral basic rock outfits around. They crackle like a faulty plug socket. Incidentally, the guitar riff has slight strains of Argent's Hold Your Head Up in it.

A trademark Crazy Horse buzzy riff introduces the catchy Olden Days. Young's voice falters a bit on this but does it matter? Actually, no. There is an attractiveness in his vulnerable delivery and the backing is solidly reassuring too. Help Me Lose My Mind is a big, chunky piece of walking pace grungy thump. Young's ranting vocal sounds at one point like David Byrne when he sings "I gotta get a new television...". For me, this is as strong as anything Young and Crazy Horse did back in the day, there is no discernible diminishing of power here.

Green Is Blue is a plaintive vocal and piano reflection on contemporary political corruption, divisiveness and ecological decay. People need to be singing stuff like this, now more than ever, and thankfully Young is doing just that.

Shut It Down has an absolute killer of a riff that would cause the national grid serious problems if it was played simultaneously up and down the country. "Shut the whole system down..." rails Young as Crazy Horse power away, like an out of control piece of factory machinery. Milky Way is a slow, infectious number with a fetching staccato drum rhythm and a gently emotive vocal. There is some great guitar half way through as well.

Eternity is a a pleasantly laid-back, sad-sounding number that sort of washes over you as many of Young's quite numbers do. Rainbow Of Colours is a magnificently buzzy, guitar-driven condemnation of current American governmental policy. It is refreshing to hear true protest songs like this making an appearance again. Good God, we need them. There is something of Dylan's With God On Our Side about the melody. I Do is a gently-delivered, moving song that questions whether much of the natural world we know will actually always be there. Maybe it truly won't.

All this album is thought-provoking and there are many times these days when I feel isolated and feel that nobody else really gives a damn about many issues (I know, of course, that this isn't true) but when I listen to this I know that Neil Young does.

B+

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Simply Red - Men And Women (1987)

In the middle of the night....

  

Released on 9th March 1987

Running time 41.07

This was Simply Red’s follow up to their successful debut album, Picture Book, and, although it was a good album, it did not quite contain the real stand out quality of its predecessor. That said, it is still a pretty good example of mid/late eighties soulful pop and considerably superior to much of the synthesiser-drenched vacuous pop being released during the same period. It is an album that grows on you, though, and, because it only contains one hit is enjoyable to listen to due to the comparative unfamiliarity of the material.

The production is very much of its time, however, being slightly too trebly and not quite bassy enough for my taste.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Right Thing
2. Infidelity
3. Suffer
4. I Won’t Feel Bad
5. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye
6. Let Me Have It All
7. Love Fire
8. Move On Out
9. Shine
10. Maybe Someday                                           

The Right Thing is an upbeat slice of funk/pop which was a big hit. Infidelity is a catchy and funky number with a high-pitched vocal from Mick Hucknall and some very eighties-style backing vocals, plus a killer saxophone solo. Very “wine bar” in its lush, laid-back, polished sound. Suffer is a bit like a Michael Jackson slow number in some ways. Again, Hucknall’s vocal is impressive, but it is not a song that hits you between the ears, so to speak. Nice bass and saxophone at the end though.

I Won’t Feel Bad has a typical eighties groove in its dance-style “chicka-chicka” guitar riff. The song is a lively, funky one, with punchy brass and another enthusiastic vocal. The old easy listening classic Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye is dealt with nicely by Hucknall. Yes, it could have been cheesy, but it is not.


Let Me Have It All is a deep, chunky piece of Style Council-ish white funk. Love Fire has a reggae tinge to it, and a bit of a feel of Keith Richards’ reggae influenced Rolling Stones numbers in there somewhere. Move On Out is sumptuous, slick eighties pop funk. Even though Simply Red were only on their second album, you get the impression that songs like Shine were now ones that they could trot out in their sleep. It was quality funky white soul by numbers.

The album ends on a more sombre, deeper note with the late night tones of Maybe Someday. It features a superb trumpet solo. As I said earlier, this was not a remarkable album in any way, but it is certainly not an unlistenable one. It has an understated appeal.

Below is a clip of Simply Red performing The Right Thing.


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Clifford T. Ward - Mantle Pieces (1973)

All modern conveniences....

 

Released in December 1973

Running time 43.17

I have mentioned on my review of Clifford T. Ward’s second album some of my memories of him from 1973. Another one I have is of seeing this, his late 1973 third album, as I flicked through album sleeves in record shops. I have got to know it in subsequent years and, like Home Thoughts From Abroad, it is a most appealing, understated, but lyrically clever offering. Ward’s style is one of subtly orchestrated and gentle melodies backing his observational lyrics. He was a man that cared about things, and this shines through the whole album. It is sensitive and studious. Ward was an ex-schoolteacher with unfeasibly long blond hair who shied away from publicity, but he produced a couple of really attractive albums of vaguely folky singer/songwriter stuff. It is such a pity he is no longer with us.

Although this album was released in December 1973 it very much has a vibe of 1970-1972, for me - that slightly hippy, airy, folky earnestness that didn’t really fit in late 1973/early 1974. It was already something of an incongruity. Listening to it now, however, its cultural relevance in 1973 is thankfully no longer a relevance.

TRACK LISTING

1. Scullery
2. Not Waving - Drowning!
3. Are You Really Interested?
4. A Sad Cliché
5. To An Air Hostess
6. All Modern Conveniences
7. Wayward
8. Screen Test
9. For Debbie And Her Friends
10. Tea Cosy                                                             

Scullery may be frowned upon these days as Ward eulogises the beauty of his lady as she cooks and washes in her rubber gloves. So what. It is a genuinely beautiful song. It was a minor hit for Ward and deservedly so. Not Waving - Drowning! has a rock-ish intro before it settles into a typical CTW laid-back, tender melody. It has a winning, catchy chorus with some lovely string orchestration. It is a really good song.

Are You Really Interested? is a quirkily rhythmic jangly guitar-driven number. These were really good songs, I am surprised that Ward never really made it. They still sound good today - a good song is a good song. A Sad Cliché is a moving tale about a young female offender. It ends with a delightful piece of saxophone. To An Air Hostess is a mildly amusing song about that iconic seventies figure - the air hostess. Its melody is endearingly folky. “I wanted to give her a copy of my record...” sings Ward, unassumingly then a big backing chorus comes in singing the same line, which is really enjoyable. There is something entrancingly disarming about these songs.


All Modern Conveniences is a very Al Stewart-influenced number about an ageing woman, it reminds me of my late mother. It is another clever, observational song. “She likes her television - Crossroads, Coronation Street and Robin Day’s bow-tie...”. Very seventies. My mother was in her late forties at the time, but was very much like the woman in the song. Ward describes a house as costing “ten thousand pounds” in the song. How times have changed.

Wayward is as rocking as Clifford ever gets, but it is still a tuneful, light number, enhanced by some rock guitar.  It is very Bread-influenced, and a bit Dylanesque in places too (New Morning era).   Screen Test is a politely cynical look at the “fame game”. The lines from Shakespeare's Merchant Of Venice ("the quality of mercy is not strained..") that is narrated at the end is very touching. For Debbie And Her Friends is just lovely, written by Ward for his wheelchair-bound daughter. The opening bits of children talking is so nostalgic. Tea Cosy is an attractive final track, with a nice subtle bass line and another light but meaningful vibe.

This was a really, really nice album. Clifford T - God bless you. Your gorgeous, thoughtful music lives on.

Below is a clip of Clifford performing Scullery on The Old Grey Whistle Test.


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Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Clifford T. Ward



Home Thoughts From Abroad (1973)
Mantle Pieces (1973)

Clifford T. Ward - Home Thoughts From Abroad (1973)

You were so nonpareil....

 

Released in July 1973

July 1973 - David Bowie, Mott the Hoople, Wings, Slade, T.Rex, Gary Glitter, Suzi Quatro, Wizzard and……Clifford T. Ward. Who would have though that a gentle, melodic song in Gaye, sung by a shy, publicity-shunning ex-schoolteacher from Worcestershire would be sitting alongside those titans of glam rock in the charts? Well, that was the case and my memories are of his song being as ubiquitous on the Radio One playlist as those of the platform-booted stompers. It brings back huge memories of that hot summer, fishing in the Grand Union Canal, aged fourteen, and Gaye coming on my tinny transistor.

This was Ward’s second album, and it is a fetching, pleasurable mix of influences from Bread, Al Stewart, Paul Simon, CSNY, Paul McCartney amongst others and not a little originality in Ward’s clever compositions too. The music is subtly orchestrated too, with strings, woodwind and occasional horns enhancing many of the tracks.

TRACK LISTING

1. Gaye
2. Wherewithal
3. The Dubious Circus Company
4. Nightingale
5. Where Would That Leave Me?
6. The Traveller
7. Home Thoughts From Abroad
8. Where It’s Going To End
9. Time The Magician
10. Give Me One More Chance
11. Cold Wind Blowing
12. The Open University
13. Crisis                                                                  

Gaye is lovely, as I have already said, with a haunting, ethereal melody and an innocent, almost naive-sounding delivery from Ward. Wherewithal is a song that has stuck in my mind since 1973. It is a truly beautiful song and possibly the only single to use the French word nonpareil (without compare) in its lyrics. For both these songs, I just close my eyes and I’m young again. Just beautiful. There is a lovely instrumentation on the album throughout, a nice subtle bass and quality strings.

Now, The Dubious Circus Company is familiar to anyone who was a member of the Friars rock club in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire in the mid-late seventies, as it was played often over the p.a., usually at the end of a gig, at least until the punk era rendered it somewhat incongruous. It is a lively, music hall-style fun number that is nothing like anything else on the album. Again, it takes me right back - singalong now - “would you like to see, would you like to see....”.


Nightingale is a gentle acoustic, bucolic song like Paul McCartney’s Blackbird. Where Would That Leave Me? is a very Al Stewart type song with a relaxing backing and another tender vocal. There really are some fine sings on this album. The Traveller is a bit of a mini-epic folky ballad taking in all sorts of religious issues. It is full of clever, thoughtful lyrics and is quite moving at times. The children’s choir bit may be a bit cheesy but it strangely adds to the song’s pathos.

Home Thoughts From Abroad is a Paul Simon-ish song with Ward referencing the poet Robert Browning. Once again, it is a deeply evocative song. Similarly entrancing are the beguiling Where’s It Going To End and the gorgeous, sensitive, melodious Time The Magician. Give Me One More Chance has a delicious bass line and a couple of really appealing saxophone soloes.

Cold Wind Blowing is a vaguely Beatles-esque slow number that reminds me of Paul McCartney in both its vocal and structure. Open University is an amusing ballad about a girl studying in her own time for an OU degree, much to Ward’s horror in the song. Crisis is a short but lively end to what was a delightful album.

Clifford T. Ward unfortunately left this world back in 2001. His music lives on.

Below is a clip of Ward performing Gaye.


B

Buddy Guy



Damn Right I've Got The Blues (1991)