Monday, 18 November 2019

The Electric Light Orchestra - Out Of The Blue (1977)

Concerto for a rainy day....

  

Released on 3rd October 1977

Running time 70.16

After successfully giving his Electric Light Orchestra a poppy, more chart-friendly makeover on the previous year’s extremely successful A New World Record, Jeff Lynne went the whole hog with this (possibly) bloated but undoubtedly impressive meisterwerk. Seemingly oblivious to contemporary musical trends like punk and only paying a few brief nods to disco, Lynne continued his musical fixation with The Beatles’ 67-70 output and put out this incredibly successful double album that became as much the sound of 1977 as any punk or disco sounds. Lynne’s highly orchestrated rock was popular with all sorts of fans - rock, pop, disco, why even the punks didn’t seem to mind it. It duly sold over 10 million copies. ELO were now huge, being described as “the biggest band in the world”, briefly.

Personally, despite having bought some of their music since 1972, I was never convinced by the hype and found a double album of ELO a bit difficult to stomach. I still do, to be honest. Around ten tracks would have been fine, as it was on the previous album. Then again, I have always liked my ELO in small doses. It seemed the public wanted more, however, as they lapped this up. You can’t really argue with the album’s potency, though, and it stands as Lynne’s finest achievement with the group, none of the songs are duffers. Dare I say it was his White Album? No, it was more like his Abbey Road.

The whole thing is full of grandiosity seemingly at odds with the contemporary punk desire to strip things back. There was still an appetite for prog rock-style indulgence and camp pomposity, unbelievably. Queen were also hugely popular at the time for similar reasons. Mike Oldfield too. That should not be overlooked when assessing the success of material like this. For every clenched fist pogoing punk there were three or four Yes, Queen, Mike Oldfield or Emerson, Lake And Palmer fans.

TRACK LISTING

1. Turn To Stone
2. It’s Over
3. Sweet Talkin’ Woman
4. Across The Border
5. Night In The City
6. Starlight
7. Jungle
8. Believe Me Now
9. Steppin’ Out
10. Standin’ In The Rain
11. Big Wheels
12. Summer And Lightning
13. Mr. Blue Sky
14. Sweet Is The Night
15. The Whale
16. Birmingham Blues
17. Wild West Hero                                          


Anyway, on to the music. Turn To Stone was a huge hit and it is admittedly catchy, but it has always irritated me slightly, something about those high-pitched backing vocals and its somewhat synthetic disco-rock beat. Having said, it is always very nostalgic to hear it. It’s Over is a sumptuously orchestrated, appealing number that harks a year back to the commercial sound of A New World Record. Sweet Talkin’ Woman does so even more with a classic ELO rock hit. It was always my favourite from this period. It is incredibly hook-laden and simply a great single. Lynne borrows heavily from The Beach BoysHeroes And Villains on the lively and infectious Across The Border, which is a strange amalgam of the afore-mentioned song and some Mexican horn backing, merged together with lush, big production ELO pop.

Night In The City is a slice of very typical ELO fare that could come from the 1974-75 era. It has hints of Evil Woman and Strange Magic about it, plus some Beatles orchestration, of course. Starlight is an attractive, slow-paced number full of harmonies and hooks, once again. Jungle is a strange mix of tribal drum rhythms and big, chunky riffs that actually is quite refreshing in its slightly chunkier, different sound to the string-driven sound of earlier tracks. It is the most unusual of the songs on the album. An instrumental break leads into the plaintive, but dramatic strains of Steppin’ Out. I have to admit this is good stuff, when taken out of cultural context. These are all just great songs. If the album had ended here it would still have been a very good one, wouldn’t it?



The old “side three” was supposedly a “concept” suite called “Concerto For A Rainy Day” as Jeff can’t resist but go all proggy for a while. Standin’ In The Rain is a vibrant piano-driven number that only develops into a vocal song half way through. Despite its Rick Wakeman-style keyboard pretensions, it still has an attraction. Big Wheels is a sumptuously mournful McCartney-esque big production number. Summer And Lightning has a melodic, sixties-influenced grandeur to it that is almost unique. There really was nothing else around at the time that sounded like this. Some string hints of You Only Live Twice merge with the riff from The McCoysHang On Sloopy in a wonderful cornucopia. Great stuff. Unfortunately it segues into one of my least favourite ELO songs ever, Mr. Blue Sky. Now, I know so many love it, so we will leave it at that. You can’t deny its great production and innovativeness, though. It is completely obvious why it was such a massive hit.



There are still four more tracks to come, and one feels like it’s six o’clock on Christmas Day afternoon by now - pretty much stuffed. It is a shame, because Sweet Is The Night is a really good track, with a sort of Telephone Line appeal. Lynne sings in his vaguely Dylanesque voice on this fine number, which, for me, is much the superior of Mr. Blue Sky. The Whale is an interesting instrumental with a warm, deep bass line on it, along with some whale noises. Yes, it is a bit indulgent and proggy, but I like it. It is a bit of a hidden gem in the album, a track which has a depth of sound to it that was maybe lacking in some of the album’s more trebly, string-dominated moments.

Slightly incongruous yet very enjoyable is the chunky rock of Birmingham Blues. Lynne achieves a fine mix on the production here of bass and strings. This is something that is a characteristic of the whole album. The album ends with the haunting strains of Wild West Hero, which was a strange choice for a single. For me, it has always been a bit of a confused number, with an odd, folky chorus. Funny thing, three of the album’s four singles, snd the most popular songs are my least favourite ones from the album. Overall, there is some really good stuff on here.

So there you are, I have to admit that it was a great achievement and deserving of its success and longevity. The cover,  despite its corniness, was iconic also, oddly. Finally, this has by far the best quality sound of any ELO album, being the bassiest by far.

B-

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Jimi Hendrix - Band Of Gypsys (1970)

Machine gun....

  

Recorded live on 31/12/69 and 1/1/70

Running time 45.16

After The Jimi Hendrix Experience disbanded in July 1969, Jimi Hendrix got together with bassist Billy Cox and funky, larger than life drummer Buddy Miles to initially fulfil contract obligations for a further album but also to showcase some new material and a new, more concentrated, serious playing style. They recorded the material live on 31st December 1969 and January 1st 1970. Hendrix played in a far less flamboyant fashion in that he stood pretty still for the performances, concentrating in his work as opposed to playing on instinct. He also used the guitar fuzz box together with other pedals and the like for the first time and the results are pretty impressive, putting down markers for so many subsequent guitarists to follow.

Although the tracks can be a bit rambling at times, they are full of innovation from all three players involved, it is pure, live music of the sort that characterised the late sixties and through the seventies but is now seemingly something to look back on nostalgically and think “was live music really that good?”.  It has gone down as one of the greatest live albums of all time.

TRACK LISTING

1. Who Knows
2. Machine Gun

3. Changes
4. Power To Love
5. Message To Love
6. We Gotta Live Together                                          


Who Knows has some seriously good guitar, clear sound snd a wonderful, deep, rumbling bass. I have read some criticisms of the sound quality, but it sounds great to me - warm, deep, raw and “live” - exactly as it should be. Hendrix’s intense guitar power is mind-blowing, he is in total control here. Yes, lengthy tracks like this have that improvised “jam” feel about them, but they are all the better for it, as far as I’m concerned. Buddy Miles indulges in some madcap “scat” singing at one point, which is momentarily irritating, but don’t let that distract from the quality of the musicianship. He also contributes some funky drumming that gives Hendrix’s music a different dimension to that of previous drummer, the more jazzy Mitch Mitchell. Billy Cox is an excellent bass player too, whereas Noel Redding had been a converted lead guitarist.

Machine Gun is a twelve minute number that is possibly a bit to long but it is incredibly atmospheric, particularly when Hendrix replicates the sounds of war such as bombs, guns and grenades using his guitar. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, remember, and serves as a scathing, potent protest song. Miles matches Hendrix at points with some rat-a-tat, gunfire drums. Brian May of Queen was surely influenced by this when he did his guitar stuff on Brighton Rock and Now I’m Here a few tears later. Listening to the track again it actually flew by (comparatively) so maybe it wasn’t too long.



Changes would seem to be a version of Buddy Miles’s upbeat, funkily captivating Them Changes. It is shorter than the previous two tracks and more instantly appealing. Hendrix’s guitar is outstanding, it goes without saying. Listen to the three of them interact at 2:50. Wonderful stuff. Power To Love manages to merge rock with a loose but muscular funkiness that obviously comes from Miles. Once again the chemistry between the three musicians is breathtaking. Up there with Cream and Blind Faith from the same period. The same applies to the rhythmic Message To Love. These last two tracks have shown an appealing catchiness to Hendrix’s approach as rock and soulful funk are brought together into a most attractive melting pot. The sound is great on these tracks too, by the way, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Jimi don’t need no audiophiles, man, you dig?

Buddy Miles’s We Gotta Live Together has a riffy, easy vibe that has the audience clapping along - to Hendrix, wow. There is real sense if everyone enjoying themselves here, such a shame it would all come to an end tragically soon after this. This is a truly great album and has suffered unfairly over the years but it would seem that these days its greatness is generally acknowledged.

B+

Buddy Miles



The Best Of Buddy Miles

Buddy Miles - The Best Of Buddy Miles

Them changes....

  

Buddy Miles was a legendary funk/rock drummer best known for his Band Of Gypsys collaboration with Jimi Hendrix and further work with Carlos Santana, among many others. He sang as well as played drums and was recognisable by his huge seventies Afro, at times.

This excellent compilation gets better as it progresses, starting with some rough and ready late sixties numbers before moving into the full on funk of the seventies.

TRACK LISTING

1. Train
2. Miss Lady
3. 69 Freedom Special
4. Texas
5. Them Changes
6. Dreams
7. Memphis Train
8. Runaway Child (Little Miss Nothin')
9. We've Got To Live Together
10. Joe Tex
11. Don't Keep Me Wondering
12. Midnight Rider
13. Wholesale Love
14. Down By The River                                         

Train is a punchy, brassy piece of funk/rock, full of killer horns, funky guitar and thumping drums. Check out that big rumbling bass. It has psychedelic echoes no doubt carried over from Miles’ work with Jimi Hendrix. Miss Lady is another pounder, with that brass to the fore once more and a bluesy beat. It has a late sixties groove to it, particularly on the swirling rock guitar. 69 Freedom Special dates, as you would expect from 1969 and features some superb drums from Miles and similarly impressive guitar from I am not sure who. Listen to that wonderful bass bit near the end too. These first three tracks suffer ever so slightly from a worse sound than the rest of the album, but it is not too much of a problem.

The guitar is just as impressive on the marvellous slow burning, bassy blues of Texas. This is where the quality really starts to kick in, big time and you really sit up and take notice. Them Changes is a lively, infectious number that surely influenced Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer. Just as good is the vibrant brass soul/rock of Dreams. Listen to that drum/organ interplay around 2:30, it is almost as if they have let a prog-rock keyboardist into the studio. The guitar is outstanding too. Solid stuff. There is something easy seventies Traffic-esque about this. Memphis Train is a copper-bottomed piece of soulful blues the rocks from beginning to end. Runaway Child (Little Miss Nothin’) has Miles going all Otis Redding on an upbeat, punchy number. We've Got to Live Together is eleven minutes of supremely funky magnificence. Can you dig it, y'all. Miles had also done this number in shorter form as part of the Band Of Gypsys project.



Joe Tex (presumably named after the singer) is a cookin’ funky instrumental. Don’t Keep Me Wondering is a fine slice of brassy soul while Miles’ solid, funky take on The Allman BrothersMidnight Rider is outstanding. This is funk rock of the highest quality. The catchy Wholesale Love adds a bit of poppiness to the funk, this should have been a hit if you ask me. Miles’ cover of Neil Young’s Down By The River is also convincing, enhanced by some searing guitar breaks.

Overall, this is a great compilation and a much underrated one. If you like brass-dominated seventies fun with rock edges to it, you will enjoy this.

B-

Friday, 15 November 2019

David Bowie - Space Oddity: The Tony Visconti Remix (2019)

An occasional dream....

  

Like the latest Bob Ludwig remaster on The Rolling StonesLet It Bleed, this new Tony Visconti “remix’ of David Bowie’s 1969 album leaves one listening over and over, desperately trying to find some obvious differences from the previous release of the same album. The thing is, the new remasters/remixes are trying to put a new coat of paint on something that is already more than shiny enough. The previous Let It Bleed was more than acceptable and the 2009 and 2015 remasters of Space Oddity are too (in fact, I am sure the 2015 one is indeed the 2009 one - it all gets so confusing with remasters coming out every few years).

I am a big fan of Visconti, however, and I really loved his work on Low, “Heroes" and Lodger, and also on several T. Rex albums. Here his enhancements are not quite so clear. They are there, though. Like on Let It Bleed, it is the case that the bass is a bit more warm, fuller and “rubbery”, the riffs a little bit chunkier and the acoustic guitars sharper. There is just something of an overall more punch and “oomph”. Maybe. Actually, yes there is but it is not incredibly discernible, but to the familiar ear it will be apparent, I am sure. It is to me, with each listen.

TRACK LISTING


1. Space Oddity
2. Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed
3. Letter To Hermione
4. Cygnet Committee
5. Janine
6. An Occasional Dream
7. The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud
8. Conversation Piece
9. God Knows I'm Good
10. Memory Of A Free Festival                                       

Space Oddity has a few vocal echoes on the initial “lift off” bit and a few percussion sounds floating around here and there (far above the world). Some spacey sound effects appear as well. The track also does not “fade in” as the original did and develops a big bass thump on the “chorus” parts. Some more echoes come in on the “can you hear me Major Tom” bit too. Oddly, though, the new remix neither fades in nor fades out, yet both this and the 2015 remaster last 5:20.

I feel that Visconti has possibly tried to make the album sound more of a closer relative to the comparatively heavy The Man Who Sold The World, which he produced, than it was before, particularly on the two lengthier, heavier, proggier tracks of Unwashed And Somewhat Slightly Dazed and the monumental Cygnet Committee. Listen to the power of the guitar/drums on the former and the lovely bass on the latter. Both songs now sound wonderfully massive. Cygnet Committee is just such a superb track anyway. The hiss behind the introductory bass has gone on the new remix as well.

The “Don’t Sit Down” interlude is not on the new remix, by the way. The bass on Letter To Hermione is rumblingly beautiful and the new mix is not quite so sonorously echoey.

The acoustic guitars on the winsome Janine and the underrated An Occasional Dream are crystal clear and Janine has a gorgeous bass now. Check out that orchestration on The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud too.



The beguiling, appealing Conversation Piece has now been added to the album, between The Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud and God Knows I’m Good, making the album an even better one. Its 2019 remix, once again, has more bass warmth to it. Memory Of A Free Festival had an “alternative mix” that appeared on the 40th Anniversary release in 2009. This remixed version is not that one and does not differ as radically from the original.

This album is no longer a quirky “early” album, it is finally being recognised for the solid piece of varied, burgeoning creativity that it was. This contemporary tinkering with it has been positive as far as I am concerned. I have known this album since 1972 and, nearly fifty years later I find I am still discovering new charms hidden within it. This remix allows me to do that even more. I’m happy with that.

B+

The Electric Light Orchestra - From Out Of Nowhere (2019)

Down came the rain....

 

Released on 1st of November 2019

Running time 32.39

Poor old Jeff Lynne. Despite his new album (surely it should be credited to him as opposed to the now virtually non-existent ELO?) being received as the second coming on Radio Two, quite a lot of the public would appear to have given it a negative reception. Lynne has suffered in the same way as Van Morrison, Sting, Rod Stewart, Mark Knopfler, Elton John and the like in that he has faced the usual calls for him to retire and people saying that they have been fans for forty years but his new album is rubbish and they want a refund. As far as I am concerned, if he wants to keep putting out albums then fair play to him. He played nearly all the instruments himself, by the way, Stevie Wonder-style.

Many of the more credible criticism has concerned the sound quality and production of the album and also the fact that it is only thirty-two minutes in length (ten songs). I will attempt to counter those gripes by saying that, for me (never an absolute huge ELO fan, although I first bought their music in 1972), their sound has always been tinny and treble-heavy. Despite the best efforts of Bev Bevan’s powerhouse drumming in the past, the drum sound has often been somewhat muffled, particularly as time has gone by. Lynne’s voice has, again for me, always been reedy and slightly too weak for much of the material. All these characteristics date right back to the Roy Wood era of their 1971 debut album. Nothing much has changed there, then. Regarding the length of the album, personally I find it refreshing to get seventies-style thirty minute albums again (Simply Red have just released one too). A thirty minute album is more concise, less rambling and far easier to get into. Seventy minute albums are often too long, in my opinion. Nobody minded Sgt Pepper, Let It Bleed or Ziggy Stardust being short, did they? Similarly, many criticised The White Album for being too long. Furthermore, many who don’t like it have moaned about its short length. Well, if it’s rubbish, why would you want over an hour of it?

Anyway, there you are - what do I think of this particular album? Well, it is pleasant enough and a part time Jeff Lynne person such as myself has enjoyed listening to it a few times. It is certainly not the work of genius as virtually every Radio Two presenter has claimed it to be, though.

TRACK LISTING

1. From Out Of Nowhere
2. Help Yourself
3. All My Love
4. Down Came the Rain
5. Losing You
6. One More Time
7. Sci-Fi Woman
8. Goin' Out On Me
9. Time of Our Life
10. Songbird                                                        

From Out Of Nowhere, although it suffers from the afore-mentioned muffled sound has a nostalgic appeal in in its riff and refrain, which puts me in mind slightly of ELO’s All Over The World and also of Ian Hunter’s Bowie tribute, Dandy. It is an appealing track. The old Beatles influence rears its head on the melodic but also quite dense Help Yourself. Yes, it is sonically murky, but, as with so many Lynne songs, there is an innate hookiness to it. There is a mournful ambience to it that draws me in. The track morphs quickly into the more catchy, infectious All My Love. I really like this one, it has an understated attraction.

Down Came The Rain is instantly recognisable as a Lynne song. Again, if you put the sound thing out of your mind a bit, this is a good song and you could certainly say the same thing about many ELO numbers over the years. The maudlin Losing You sounds as if it dates from ELO’s 1975 output (as most of the album does, to be honest). It has lots of McCartney hints in it. Lynne has always liked an upbeat rocker and he comes up with one in the effervescent One More Time, which also features some (synthesised) typical ELO strings. The drum sound is unnecessarily mushy, however, but that seems to be a contemporary malaise as well as one affecting Lynne’s production solely. It is a sound of the times.



Sci-Fi Woman (not a great title, Jeff) also has an instant hook to it. Much as I have always had a problem with Lynne’s voice, it is at its best here and suits the song perfectly. There is some nice guitar in it too. Some fifties rock ‘n’ roll ballad vibe is all over Goin’ Out On Me, which is also very George Martin/Beatles influenced, with its strings and Oh Darling feel. The album’s low spot is Time Of Our Life, a lyrically embarrassing number about ELO’s recent Wembley Stadium gig. It is infuriatingly catchy but oh dear, those lyrics. “60,000 mobile phones were shining out that night....”. You get the picture? Unfortunately I can’t help singing along to it, though.

Songbird is a nice, slow number to end on, with a deep, warm bass sound (for once). Look, this is nowhere near as bad an album as some have said. I quite like it in many ways but I do so in fully accepting its inadequacies.

C+

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Gil Scott-Heron



The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1970-1972)

Gil Scott-Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (1970-1972)

Get out of the ghetto blues....

  

This is a compilation of material covering 1970-1972 from jazz/blues poet Gil Scott-Heron. It contains examples of Scott-Heron's spoken poetry but also some excellent fusions of jazz, blues and r'n'b. The poetry doesn't dominate the album at all, (there are only four short poems) it acts as tough, reality-check interludes between some really impressive, soulful cuts from an artist who had a good singing voice and a great ear for a funky melody. He was an artist overflowing with talent and creativity. Scott-Heron has quite a lot of the feel of Bill Withers about him, both musically and lyrically.

The material perfectly tapped in to the increased black consciousness of the What's Going On and Wattstax era and in many ways influenced the rap and hip/hop acts of the eighties and beyond. It was amazing just how much great music and strong messages came out of the 1968-1973 period for soul music - so vibrant, so hard-hitting, so creative, so influential.

TRACK LISTING


1. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
2. Sex Education Ghetto Style
3. Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues
4. No Knock
5. Lady Day And John Coltrane
6. Pieces of A Man
7. Home Is Where The Hatred Is
8. Brother
9. Save the Children
10. Whitey On The Moon
11. Did You Hear What They Said
12. When You Are Who You Are
13. I Think I'll Call It Morning
14. A Sign Of The Ages
15. Or Down You Fall
16. The Needle's Eye
17. The Prisoner                                                               

BONUS TRACKS 

18. The Bottle
19. I Got To Get Back And See My People
20. Grandma's Hands


The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is one of Scott-Heron's most famous songs, and indeed the phrase has become a quotable one on issues of social disquiet, cynicism and distrust of the media. It is basically an angry socio-political poem narrated by Scott-Heron, frenetically, over a delicious bass, fatback drums and funky flute backing. It is packed full of killer lines, coming at you rapid-fire, one after the other, ending with "the revolution will be live...". Great stuff. Sex Education Ghetto Style is an amusing short Richard Pryor-esque spoken poem before Scott-Heron shows his blues/jazz credentials on the sombre, jazzy and bassy Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues. No Knock is another short, angry rap before we get the melodic jazzy beauty of Scott-Heron's tribute to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane in Lady Day And John Coltrane. Check out that absolutely sumptuous bass line that underpins and Scott-Heron's seductive, tuneful voice too. This is a superb song and is one of the collection's few apolitical numbers. It is simply an essentially uplifting number.


Pieces Of A Man is a slow, mournful blues, backed by a late night jazz bass and piano. Home Is Where The Hatred Is was popularised by Esther Phillips as a "Blaxploitation" song. Scott-Heron delivers his own song in suitably funky fashion, with some gorgeous cymbal-driven percussion. It is more convincing, however, as a song sung from a woman's point of view. It is a soul of utter hopelessness, though, despite its appealing sound. Brother is a scathing condemnation of militant black hypocrisy. As with most of the album, an angry narration is followed by a slice of soul and it happens again here for the beautiful tones of Save The Children. The message is stark, though, in a What's Going On way, full of poignancy, particularly when Scott-Heron tells of his children's ambitions for the future.

Whitey On The Moon is a cynical observation of life in 1969, when the moon landings took place a long way above the housing projects of Harlem. "I think I'll send these doctor's bills, Airmail special, to "Whitey on the moon"...". In just over a minute or so, Scott-Heron nails the zeitgeist of 1969 for many.



The poems take a break now and we get a run of solid soul/blues numbers. Did You Hear What They Said is a sombre tale sung over a slow, late night jazzy blues backing about the death of a young man in Vietnam. The tempo increases on the lively soul of When You Are Who You Are. It is a song that encourages self-awareness as opposed to pretension. I Think I'll Call It Morning is a lovely bit of bluesy soul with a positive message, a perfect morning number as the title suggests. It is very Bill Withers-esque. As indeed is the slow soul of A Sign Of The Ages. Just listen to that wonderful, rumbling, rubbery bass too. Or Down You Fall is appealingly funky, with more that typically early seventies flute swirling all over the place.

The Needle's Eye is also a fine mix of soul and funk backed by another seductive bass line. There is a great piano solo in it as well. The Prisoner pulls no punches over its bleak eight minutes. Its moving message is far more captivating than its dour melody, however. and it is the album's least appealing track, musically. Once again, though, the stand-up bass is superb.

I have added three bonus tracks n to the album from my own collection, as they are suitably relevant to the rest of the material.

The much-covered The Bottle is another flute-driven, thumping funker that has appeared on many Blaxploitation compilations. I Got To Get Back And See My People is catchily jazzy but full of soul too. Scott-Heron's cover of Bill Withers' evocative Grandma's Hands is done pretty authentically, with an increased funkiness from Withers' version, including some excellent saxophone.

This is an excellent, thought-provoking collection from one of soul music's most influential, but surprisingly little-mentioned seventies artists.

B

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Dennis Wilson



Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

Farewell my friend....

 

Released on 22nd August 1977

Running time 37.15

After his unfortunate late sixties dalliances with Charles Manson, Dennis Wilson spent the early seventies in a cocaine-addled haze before emerging looking aged, as if he had spent several years in a cave.

This was an album a long time in the making, with songs dating back to 1970 and finally appearing in 1977, Wilson wanted his solo project to take some aspects of the way his main group had progressed over the 1967-1975 period but also to use much of his own innovation that would take the sound a long way away from that of The Beach Boys. Fair enough, but the results are patchy, Wilson himself disowned the album as having no substance and I do not hear in it any work of genius. Sure, there are good bits in it appearing at regular intervals, but there are many production/sound problems and a lot of the material sounds exactly what it was - the product of coked-up weeks and months of seventies indulgence. In that respect though, there are always odd benefits, such as on Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Going On - drug-addled pieces of seventies indulgence such as these invariably contained good points and this is no different. In many ways it is as much a symbol of seventies rock as Exile On Main Street, Physical Graffiti and Rumours. It just never really caught on. Nobody much listened to it at the time, despite good reviews. It did get a lot of retrospective critical kudos, however, some of it justified, some of it not.

What I will say, though, is that the album really grows on you, a bit like Dennis's brother Carl's Carl & The Passions album from 1972, but even more so. The more I listen to it, the more it gets into my bloodstream.

The album should be added to any list of seventies Beach Boys' albums, to be honest. It has a valid place alongside them. The afore-mentioned Carl Wilson appears throughout the album too. Dennis himself plays all sorts of keyboards as well as drums, displaying a hidden talent.

TRACK LISTING


1. River Song
2. What's Wrong
3. Moonshine
4. Friday Night
5. Dreamer
6. Thoughts Of You
7. Time
8. You And I
9. Pacific Ocean Blues
10. Farewell My Friend
11. Rainbows
12. End Of The Show                                         

The increasingly attractive River Song starts with a piano coda straight from Elton John's Your Song before it settles down, through the backing vocals, into a sort of Elton John meets The Band number. The final part of the song is a soulfully delivered passage bemoaning the state of the city, presumably Los Angeles, as this is a very SoCal album - Dennis is showing his environmental concerns, much as other Beach Boys did on 1973's Holland. Although it is an innovative song, it is somewhat buried under a mountain of backing vocals that tend to drown out Wilson's own vocal. The album suffers from a wishy-washy, muddy indistinct sound similar to that of Leonard Cohen's Death Of A Ladies Man and this is certainly continued on the otherwise jaunty What's Wrong. This is a lively, fun song, however, and is definitely the album's most "Beach Boys" offering.

Moonshine is a slow, reflective number that is again blighted by that inferior sound. These songs in many ways seem to have sprung from The Beach Boys late sixties and early seventies material, but featuring a bit more mystique and experimentation. The album actually took seven years to record and compile, would you believe, so those influences are not surprising.

Some decidedly different material is up next - Friday Night is a deceptively powerful and slow, chugging rock/blues number with some nice bass, impressive guitar and a gruff, grainy vocal from Wilson. Dreamer is also a great track - packed full of seventies blues rock feel, solid bass, punchy brass and muscular drums. The sound is good on this one. I guess the fact that the songs were all recorded at different times leads to the variance in sound quality between some of them. The album takes a sombre, mournful turn now, though, with the bleak tones of Thoughts Of You, which features a Lennon-esque dour vocal over some stark piano and depressing-sounding strings. Furthermore, Wilson sounds out of it and thoroughly miserable throughout the song. The atmosphere is not improved on Time, a song which sounds like brother Brian's most heart-rending, self-pitying material taken to the nth degree. It is lyrically and vocally maudlin, but is redeemed by a haunting trumpet solo which suddenly leads the song into a brass-driven, chunky denouĂ©ment.


You And I is a gently rhythmic, languidly appealing number with a definite early seventies Beach Boys vibe to it. It is actually a most infectious, disarming song. As was also the case with with many late sixties/early seventies Beach Boys material, however, there is a vague unfinished feeling to it. Pacific Ocean Blues is a delicious slice of funky country-ish slow burning rock, with strong echoes of Little Feat in there. It is one of the album's stronger, more cohesive tracks. Farewell My Friend is a strangely intoxicating but doleful ballad that features some odd bleepy sound effects that add to its appeal.

Rainbows has a sort of stompy, folky feel about it that again has more appeal after a few listens. End Of The Show ends the original album on a plaintive, vaguely Beatles-esque note. It is another grower. Overall, this was a decidedly downbeat album and one that was difficult to absorb immediately. As I said, though, it does grow on you, with every listen, and it has developed a considerable cult status over the years, often making it on to those lists of great albums. I certainly wouldn't go that far - it is confused, possibly indulgent and directionless but it is in possession of a sad, haunting ambience that gives it a bit of a special quality. I have to admit it has an understated, emotive beauty.

Incidentally, the bonus track Only With You is sadly beautiful as is the chilled-out instrumental Holy Man.

C+

Random Playlist 12 November 2019

Every now and then I enjoy playing my music collection on random, to see what comes up. This is today's selection -


1. Rock Awhile - Goree Carter
2. I Will Get Along Without You - The Melodians
3. You Make Me So Hot - Barbara Lynn
4. Needles & Pins - The Searchers
5. Live With Me - The Rolling Stones
6. For A Few Dollars More - The Upsettters
7. Tom The Peeper - Act 1                                                        
8. Fire - Etta James
9. Water - The Who
10. Stone Fox Chase - Area Code 615
11. Just Don't Want To Be Lonely - Ronnie Dyson                  
12. 25th Floor - The Patti Smith Group
13. Come on Let's Go - The Paley Brothers & The Ramones
14. Just Lust - The Buzzcocks
15. Shadow Dancing - Andy Gibb
16. My Babe - Mitty Collier
17. Rightful Ruler - U-Roy
18. BadBootz - Simply Red
19. My Smile Is Just A Frown - Truly Smith
20. So Jah Seh - Bob Marley & The Wailers
21. Too Late For Goodbye - Julian Lennon
22. Time Has Come Today - The Chambers Brothers
23. I Don't Want To Fuss - Sugar Pie DeSanto
24. Brother Music - Clinton Fearon & Boogie Brown Band        
25. Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay - The Staple Singers
26. Don't Knock Love - Barbara Carr
27. The Passenger - Iggy Pop
28. Put A Little Love In Your Heart - Third World
29. Suzie Q - Dale Hawkins
30. There's A Red-Neck In A Soul Band - Latimore
31. Jumpin' Jack Flash - Ananda Shankar
32. Glimmer - Liam Gallagher
33. Trouble On Double Time - Free
34. Return Of The Ugly - Count Sticky
35. Break In the Road - Betty Harris
36. Life's What You Make It - Talk Talk
37. The Rocking Chair - The Beautiful South                              
38. Lay Lady Lay - Bob Dylan
39. Stars - Janis Ian
40. Englishman In New York - Sting
41. Don't Mess With The Messer - Koko Taylor
42. Sweet Soul Music - The Overtones
43. Who Do You Love - Bo Diddley
44. I'm A Man - Chicago
45. How D'You Ride - Slade
46. Think Of Me - Neil Young & Crazy Horse
47. Back Stabbers - The O' Jays
48, Highway Star - Deep Purple
49. I'll Be Around - The Spinners
50. The Sweetest Taboo - Sade                                                        

Monday, 11 November 2019

Liam Gallagher - Why Me? Why Not (2019)

It's coming round like a shockwave....

 

Released on 20th September 2019

Running time 39.30

Amazingly one-time gobby oik Liam Gallagher is now middle-aged and is duly putting out mature, middle-aged, wryly reflective albums. His musical style is now pretty much set in stone, and probably will be for many years, Van Morrison or Paul McCartney-style. You know what you are going to get from them and you now know what you're going to get from Liam - solid, muscular rock with the Oasis sound more prevalent than it is on brother Noel's output. From once being an abrasive, prickly and sometime offensive character, Gallagher now seems a somewhat wise, reliable, genuine bloke. When he was younger I though, as many did, that he was a bit of an idiot, now, however, I see to have developed a respect for him. He is now self-aware, honest and no-nonsense and his music matches that, although it does face accusations of formulaic sameiness and indeed, most of it can be musically traced back to Oasis. Not that there is too much wrong with that. If you like that sound then you will like this no matter what.

TRACK LISTING

1. Shockwave
2. One Of Us
3. Once
4. Now That I've Found You
5. Halo
6. Why Me? Why Not
7. Be Still
8. Alright Now
9. Meadow
10. The River
11. Gone                                                         

Shockwave begins with that trademark Oasis guitar, then come the thumping drums and lyrics that mention "sunshiiiine" before the singalong, anthem chorus kicks in. A few glam rock "heys" add to the retro feel of the track. I like this, it is patently enjoyable, but let's be honest, it could have dated from 1995. "You're a snake, you're a weasel..." rails Liam, showing that he hasn't lost all of that old ire. "You said we'd live forever" finds him going all Oasis-nostalgic, not for the first time, on the more mellow One Of Us. Funny how the angry young things have now turned into middle-aged men wistfully looking back on the old days. Even more sadly mournful is Once, a track that has more than a few Lennon echoes (what a surprise). The old Beatles and particularly solo Lennon influences are are all still here.

Now That I've Found You is a lively, catchy number that has got a lot of radio play as a single (not that singles are particularly relevant things the days. It has an infectious, hooky chorus, more McCartney than Lennon, this one, unusually. Halo is a bit like some of the material on Paul Weller's Wake Up The Nation album. Its clunking piano backing puts me in mind of Moonshine from that album. Again it is a catchy, upbeat number.


Why Me? Why Not is one of the most Oasis/Beatles/ELO type numbers, full of those sonorous strings and plaintive Lennonesque vocals about "kissing the sky" and "putting your love on the run". Nothing new to hear here, really. Be Still has a strong, riffy intro and a typically gritty Gallagher vocal. Once more it has a good chorus in the old Oasis style. Both Gallagher brothers had a real knack for finding a hook. They don't seem to have lost it, either. The song rocks and I really like it.

Alright Now features some very George Harrison-influenced guitar throughout on another obviously Beatles-styled number. Meadow is a more laid-back, bucolic song with Gallagher musing about leaving behind his past life. It is another Weller type of song (thematically) with a few Oasis Stand By Me chord changes thrown in there too. The River is pure grinding Oasis rock, all crashing guitars and sneering vocals. Gone ends the album in similar fashion, but slightly slower and with a slightly odd spoken vocal part.

Look, all the accusations that this is all pretty samey fare are probably true, there is nothing ground-breaking or innovative to be heard here at all. It is a very retrospective album, but sometimes there is something reassuring about knowing what you are going to get. Gallagher is now "good old reliable Liam". Who would have thought it? Indeed, he said recently - "I'm here to give people what they want, and if that's boring then so be it...".

B-

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Bob Dylan - Travelin' Thru: The Bootleg Series Vol 15

I am a lonesome hobo....

                                                                            

Session material from 1967-1969

Another year, another release in the consistently excellent Bootleg Series of Bob Dylan's alternate takes and session outtakes. This time it covers material from 1967-1969, which includes the John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline albums. Most of the tracks are included in some form or another, apart from Tonight I'l Be Staying Here With You from Nashville Skyline and The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest, Dear Landlord, Wicked Messenger, Down Along The Cove and I'll Be Your Baby Tonight from JWH.

The Dylan session cuts are lovely, full of gentle, bassy warmth as exemplified on Tell Me That It Isn't True and a beautiful take of Lay Lady Lay. The latter is performed without the rhythmic percussion, leaving just the bass and is totally disarming. Country Pie is excellent too, somehow better than the version that was eventually used. The same can be said of To Be Alone With You. From JWH, I Pity The Poor Immigrant and I Am A Lonesome Hobo are similarly appealing in their understated, warm delivery. All Along The Watchtower (Take 3) is great, with a big rumbling bass line and killer wailing harmonica. It is not to different to the eventual version, to be honest. I just love it anyway. Drifter's Escape (Take 1) is given a more upbeat, military-style drumbeat to the more regular, metronomic one that was eventually used. It is a slightly quicker rendition. I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine (Take 2) is slightly faster and probably not quite the equal of the final album version. John Wesley Harding (Take 1) is also a bit more pacy but the actual album take was so good that it takes some beating.

The JWH outtakes are probably not particularly interesting or different, however, in the way that the Blood On The Tracks ones from the previous Bootleg Series release were, but I have to say I enjoyed the Nashville Skyline session versions a lot.

Much of the second half of the box set is taken up with material from the sessions Dylan recorded with Johnny Cash. These are really good, unearthing some impressive and highly listenable songs like I Still Miss Someone and the bluesy country romp of Matchbox. Once more, the sound quality is superb and the bass smoulders in a most attractive, comforting manner. Big River is healthily vibrant with great vocals from both artists and infectious backing. Unfortunately, the pair's rehearsal of Girl From The North Country has an awful vocal from Dylan, particularly when compared to Cash's. It is almost as if Cash is teaching Dylan how to sing, the difference between the two is so clear. Thankfully things improve a bit on Take 1 of the song.

The country-ish Guess Things Happen That Way is a much better duet, full of melody and enthusiasm. The same can be said of the delightful western fun of Wanted Man. Cash's iconic Ring Of Fire is sung solo by Dylan and I really like it. It is given a bluesy makeover that I much prefer to its original country sound. Great harmonica in it too. The two of them do a good job on Cash's classic, I Walk The Line and that is also true of the lengthy Careless Love. Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup/Elvis Presley's That's All Right is a pile of fun and really enjoyable to listen to and this vibe continues on Mystery Train.


East Virginia Blues (with Earl Scruggs) was recorded in mono for some reason but it has a winsome country blues, guitar-pickin' appeal. The live material from the Johnny Cash Show is good too. Overall, this is shorter box than some of the other Bootleg Series offerings, largely due to the fact that a) there weren't that many outtakes from the John Wesley Harding sessions in particular and b) much of the session material from the period 1967-69 has subsequently been lost.

The Cash sessions were possibly recorded with a view to releasing a duet album but for whatever reason it never happened, only Girl From The North Country saw the light of day, which was a shame because there was some excellent stuff here.

B+

Sting - My Songs Live (2019)

Wrapped around your finger....

  

Released on 8th of November 2019

The new live recordings that are available here form a relatively short companion release to May 2019's My Songs album in which Sting re-recorded some of his most well-known songs. They are included as part of of a new, second, "deluxe edition". The original album is still part of it.

The slightly different interpretations he gave to the songs are continued here on their live incarnations. Only eleven new live songs are included, though, although the live CD lasts fifty-two minutes due to quite a few of them being around the five-minute mark in length. The other five live cuts that appear at the end (after Fragile) were included on the deluxe edition of the original album release.























As always with Sting's live work, the musicians employed are of the highest quality (as indeed is the sound). The tracks are taken from various concerts, something that becomes clear as you hear Sting address the audience in German and later Italian. However, it has a flow to it that makes it feel like a single show. It is an enjoyable listen but not particularly essential.

Highlights are the jazzy strains of Englishman In New York, the Police classics Message In A Bottle and So Lonely (enhanced by a great Stevie Wonder-ish harmonica solo) and interesting interpretations of the slightly less "box office" numbers in the atmospheric  King Of Pain, Seven Days and the Eastern-influenced Desert Rose. There are is some inventive and clever instrumentation on these cuts. Seven Days, however, I have long found to be a bit stop/start and lacking in cohesion. It is certainly so on here.

Russians, although its heart is in the right place, sounds even cornier than it did back in the eighties, but Fragile is as evocative as it ever was. Brand New Day has a beguiling appeal to it. I have always liked The Police's Wrapped Around Your Finger too. Its slightly dubby reggae tinges are done well. No matter how many times I hear Every Breath You Take I will always find it somewhat creepy, evoking visions of Sting lurking outside someone's house, watching them.

TRACK LISTING (live songs)

1. Message In A Bottle
2. Englishman In New York
3. Brand New Day
4. Wrapped Around Your Finger
5. Seven Days
6. King Of Pain
7. So Lonely
8. Desert Rose
9. Every Breath You Take
10. Russians
11. Fragile 

LIVE TRACKS ADDED FROM PREVIOUS DELUXE EDITION

1. Roxanne
2. Synchronicity II
3. Next To You
4. Spirts In The Material World
5. I Can't Stop Thinking About You

Basically, if you like Sting's music then you will enjoy this and consider it worth owning, if you don't like him or think he should have retired or whatever, then you will probably moan about it. It's as simple as that.

B-

The Rolling Stones - Bridges To Buenos Aires (1998)

And meanwhile I'm still thinking....

  

Recorded live on 5th of April 1998 in Buenos Aires, Argentina

After the recent release of Bridges To Bremen from September 1998, from the Bridges To Babylon tour, this would seem to be a pretty superfluous follow-up. It is taken from five months earlier and is performed in front of the usual raucous, ridiculously enthusiastic Latin American crowd in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The set lists do not differ much (both 22 songs) other than we get a comparative live rarity in Sister Morphine from Sticky Fingers, a cover of Chuck Berry's Little Queenie, and When The Whip Comes Down from Some Girls. The sound quality is excellent and the band seem loose, relaxed and enthusiastic.

I guess the real highlight is the fact that Bob Dylan joins them for Like A Rolling Stone (he had played a set beforehand). He is also present on Jumpin' Jack Flash and You Can't Always Get What You Want but unless you watch the DVD you couldn't tell. His performance on Like A Rolling Stone is suitably shambolic, but it has an obvious appeal. He sees to be enjoying himself when you see the performance, though, which is always nice to see.

So there you go, yet another Rolling Stones live album. I now have so many I've lost count. It is a good one though, but aren't they all?

TRACK LISTING

1. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
2. Let's Spend The Night Together
3. Flip The Switch
4. Gimme Shelter
5. Sister Morphine
6. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
7. Saint Of Me
8. Out Of Control
9. Miss You
10. Like A Rolling Stone
11. Thief In The Night                       12. Wanna Hold You
13. Little Queenie
14. When The Whip Comes Down
15. You Got Me Rocking
16. Sympathy For The Devil
17. Tumbling Dice
18. Honky Tonk Women
19. Start Me Up
20. Jumpin' Jack Flash
21. You Can't Always Get What You Want
22. Brown Sugar                                                             

B

Below is a brief clip of the official trailer for the DVD.