Friday, 29 November 2019

The Eliminators

Loving Explosion (1974)

Loving Explosion/Get Satisfied/Love Your Woman/Give It Up/Try, Try, Try/Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can)/Taking Love, And Making Love/Get Satisfied (Part 2)/Loose Hips/Rump Bump    

This was the only album release for this little-known funk group, in 1974. It is now almost like a Northern Soul rarity, but in album form. The sound is typical early/mid seventies soul/funk with influences from The MetersThe Chi-Lites (at times), Tower Of PowerThe Isley Brothers and James Brown. It is brassy, bassy and full of big, fatback funky drums plus the occasional blaxploitation-style flute. The sound of the band is wonderful, overflowing with funk but the release is obviously a “needle drop”, sourced from the original vinyl as it is over-populated with scratching sounds and hisses. Perversely, though, it sort of adds to its raw, edgy, street funk feel. The funk is so earthy that it can still be enjoyed. Once the funk kicks in it drowns it out. The bass is warm and deep and the stereo excellent, it is actually quite revelatory. I can’t believe I have been ignorant of this album all my life, as it is wonderful.
The opener, Loving Explosion, I was familiar with as it has appeared on the They Call It Crossover “Backbeats” compilation. It is sublime piece of laid back funky soul with a soaring, confident vocal from the singer, one Levon Meyers.


Get Satisfied is a melodic, brassy slow burner that reminds me of Joe Tex in places. Some big Hold On I’m Coming-style brass riffs back the grinding Love Your Woman, along with some irresistible wah-wah guitar licks.

Give It Up is another punchy piece of brassy funk. Try, Try, Try is a sumptuous funky soul ballad. 

A real highlight of the album, though, is the down ’n’ dirty cookin’ inner city funk of Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can). There is some great bass/bass/drum interplay around three minutes in. It is rousing and funky enough to ignore the irritating vinyl crackling sounds.

We are back to sweet soul balladry on Taking Love, And Making Love with Levon Meyers’ gruff but soulful vocals giving this late night smoocher a raw edge. 

Get Satisfied (Part 2) comes here on the album, not after its vocal sibling earlier in the album, and it features that afore-mentioned  blaxploitation flute plus some absolutely stone cold funky guitar. 

Just check out the magnificent James Brown-esque Loose Hips with its wonderful saxophone. Funk of the highest temperature, almost boiling over. The drum bit near the end is outrageously hot. Rump Bump is slower in tempo but just as funky. Listen to that big, rumbling bass and funky organ.

Quite how this group didn’t make it beyond this one album is a total mystery. They are so obscure that the above picture is the only one I could find of them. Thanks to Mark Barry of for the inspiration, as is so often the case.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Peter Gabriel

Ex-Genesis proggy posturing singer Peter Gabriel launched his solo career in 1977, and, albeit slowly, began to appeal to more than just his academic prog-head following (the boys at school that I loathed). Thanks to some seriously catchy, off-the-wall singles, he caught my ear. His albums were an acquired taste, however, but they were definitely innovative and worthy of repeated listens until you got into them. Always looking to push boundaries and use different styles of music, Gabriel proved himself far more than merely a pretentious prog pedaller. He was also one of the first artists to dabble more than just a little in the sounds and rhythms of "world music".

Peter Gabriel 1 ("Car") (1977)

Moribund The Burgomeister/Solsbury Hill/Modern Love/Excuse Me/Humdrum/Slowburn/Waiting For The Big One/Down The Dolce Vita/Here Comes The Flood    

This was Peter Gabriel’s first post-Genesis solo album and began his reinvention from pretentious, indulgent proggy to innovative, experimental and eventually far more commercial world music/post punk-influenced enthusiast. The album saw him delving into all sorts of styles in an effort to show just how “non-niche” he was. He does seem to be trying to be all things to all people, though, a bit, but it resulted in a most diverse offering. I find it still a bit of an acquired taste and certainly, in 1977, although I had a bit of time for Solsbury Hill, I had no time, really, for stuff like this. There was an overblown pretention to it at odds with the punk/minimalist/new wave ethic of the age. To be honest, despite my far more rounded approach these days, I still feel somewhat the same about this album. Many I am sure, will disagree.
Moribund The Burgomeister has some interesting moments in its mysterious, Eno-influenced verses but its big, synthy chorus has, like the song’s title, too many prog rock aspects for me. Gabriel was trying to break away from that Genesis thing, but old habits were dying hard. (A couple more listens, however, and it grows on me). 

The grandiose acoustic/orchestral strains of Solsbury Hill gave Gabriel a hit single, deservedly, and, while it again retains a bit of progginess about it, it also has some really infectious parts, both instrumentally and vocally. This brought Gabriel’s unique brand of intelligent but hooky pop to the public’s attention. It is so redolent of 1977 too, when things like War Of The Worlds and Yes’s Wondrous Stories were just as popular as any punk or new wave songs.

Modern Love has lots of catchy, chunky guitar riffs, a Who-like structure and vocal, although it is a tiny bit blighted by too many synth runs. It is a good vibrant track, however. Gabriel was almost trying to be a bit punky on this one and I quite like it. 

Excuse Me, though, is a pretty dreadful piece of Queen/Paul McCartney-style oompah-driven whimsy. It has a few hints of Leo Sayer’s early material too. Personally, it just not my thing. 

Humdrum is a beguiling, unusual song that needs a few listens to appreciate its many changes and moods. Slowburn also feels like a Who number, with another Daltrey-esque vocal.

I do like some of the bassy, jazzy parts of Waiting For The Big One, but the track once again suffers from a directionless feel derived from a desire to be over-creative. Its good parts, and there certainly are some, are over-run by indulgence. It has a great guitar solo near the end, mind. Surprisingly, next up is a Trampled Under Foot-style slice of thumping, clavinet-driven but heavily-orchestrated disco funk on Down The Dolce Vita. It is, apart from Solsbury Hill, the album’s best track, but the impressive funk is drowned out at times by an overbearing prog string orchestration. The track changes in tempo too many times, just stick to the funk, Peter. 

Here Comes The Flood, again, despite some good points, is a bit of a cacophonous mess, in my opinion. Look, all this stuff just sounds too King Crimson/Pink Floyd for my liking. It just doesn’t float my boat.


I also have a problem with the sound of the latest remaster and indeed the album in general. It is way too clashing and bombastic for my taste, too orchestral and not enough bass. (Apparently it has always been bad, even hard core Gabriel fans admit that). This is something Gabriel would address on later recordings as he became more influenced by the bassier rhythms of soul, funk and world music. This album carries too many proggy cobwebs with it, as far as I am concerned. I went to a boys’ Grammar School in the seventies and many of the boys there lapped this sort of thing up. It is a Grammar School album, listened to by those who would meet up (and still do) to sit together in a dark room listening intently to every note of Dark Side Of The Moon. Each to their own. I will admit, though, that after a few listens it is more appealing each time so maybe that is its strength, if I am looking to end on a positive.

Peter Gabriel 2 ("Scratch") (1978)

On The Air/D.I.Y./Mother Of Violence/A Wonderful Day In A One-Day World/White Shadow/Indigo/Animal Magic/Exposure/Flotsam And Jetsam/Persepective/Home Sweet Home   

Thankfully, on this, Peter Gabriel's second solo album, the prog rock vestiges that hung around on his debut offering from the previous year had been blown away by a cold, distant post punk-ish late seventies wind. This is a beguiling, but commercially inaccessible album that demands several listens. It is Gabriel's Fear Of Music, his "Heroes"or his Unknown Pleasures. All those albums came from the same sparse, industrial period for music. It is no surprise that a contributor to "Heroes"Robert Fripp, is heavily involved on here too. The E St. Band's pianist Roy Bittan, who had worked on David Bowie's Station To Station was another link to the monochrome music of the period. Strangely, that album and this were both completely different to the work Bittan did with Bruce Springsteen.


Personally, I much prefer its dark moods to the proggy indulgence of the previous album and I feel it is a bit of an overlooked gem of its time. It is a deceptively good album. None of its tracks will make any "best ofs", though, which is a shame. The picture on the rear cover perfectly fits the album, I have to say, however. It is also sonically by far the superior to its predecessor.

On The Air, after a ten-second "fade in", is a rocking punk meets The Who opener, with Gabriel adopting a higher-pitched vocal than usual, almost Johnny Rotten-esque in its sneering tone. The drums are very Keith Moon in style. It is hard as Gabriel has rocked in his solo career thus far. There are also some heavy metal-fashion keyboard swirls in there too. A right old mix.

D.I.Y. again features an operatic, grandiose Roger Daltrey delivery and the song is another upbeat, solid one. Its bass line is a nice, warm one. It almost sounds punky at the end, with the 'DIY' refrain sounding like The Sex Pistols' EMI.

Mother Of Violence is a plaintive, piano-backed slow number with Roy Bittan on fine, expressive form, in a different style from that he regularly used with The E. St Band

A Wonderful Day In A One-Day World flirts with a cod-reggae slow skanking style that sort of brings to mind Joe Jackson, not directly, but just something about it. It also has echoes of some of Elton John's material from the period. 

White Shadow is an atmospheric, beguiling slow burner that is familiar-sounding but at the same time virtually impossible to categorise. Robert Fripp adds some typically fuzzy guitar on this one.

Indigo is a bleak, mournful number, while Animal Magic is a chunky and riffy very late seventies rocker that sort of stands as a leitmotif for the whole album. 

The mysterious tones of Exposure are very Talking Heads/post punk in their broodiness. It is an excellent, most beautifully miserable track. Perfect for late 1978. It could almost be Public Image Ltd or Joy Division

Flotsam And Jetsam is very John Lennon from the mid-seventies in its jerky feel. It is a short, but quirkily appealing number.

Perspective is a New York Dolls, piano-powered rocker enhanced by some lively, wailing saxophone and some solid punky riffs. It is great, one of the album's best and liveliest tracks. 

Home Sweet Home is a moribund closer worthy of Lou Reed's Berlin in its subject matter. It is a dispiriting end to a solemn, often bleak album that has been accused of being cold many times. Maybe that is not a bad thing. Cold was de rigeur by 1979.

Peter Gabriel 3 ("Melt") (1980)

Intruder/No Self Control/Start/I Don’t Remember/Family Snapshot/And Through The Wire/Games Without Frontiers/Not One Of Us/Lead A Normal Life/Biko   

After the proggy indulgence of his first solo album and the slightly funky, cold but powerful follow up, this, Peter Gabriel’s third solo album, was the one that saw him really achieve widespread acclaim and credibility as an artist. Many who bought this album did so never having bought his stuff before. For many critics, it is his finest album - a fascinating mixture of pop and paranoia. As with all his albums, they need several listens to be fully appreciated. I remember my student girlfriend at the time had this album and she only ever played side two. Fair enough, but the old side one hid a few less instant secrets.
Intruder is a very bleak, Joy Division-esque post punky opener, full of those sombre, industrial drumbeats and mysterious, sonorous vocals. Its synthesiser breaks also very much sum up the often staccato, paranoid vibes of late seventies/early eighties music. The xylophone solo sounds almost Japanese, something that again fitted the zeitgeist. At times Gabriel sounds like Steve Harley in his vocal - “the intruder coming…” bit near the end. There are clear hints of Bowie too.

No Self Control used a world music-inspired marimba/thumb piano type backing. There was a very West African/Brazilian Bahia feel to the instrumentation that was enhanced by some fuzzy post punk guitar and crashing contemporary drums. Gabriel’s beguiling, intriguing lyrics helped to create a highly unusual, intoxicating and interesting track. Kate Bush appears on wailing backing vocals by the way. Simple Minds did a lot of stuff like this in the same period. It is very much of the 1980 avant-garde. There are also bits of this that bring to mind Sting.

Start is a brief slice of ambient bass. Keyboards and saxophone instrumental. It leads into the once more Simple Minds-ish, upbeat thump of I Don’t Remember, a track with a fine, muscular drum beat, chunky guitar riffs and a catchy chorus refrain. Check out that great rubbery bass line too. It is one of Gabriel’s best songs of the time. There is more than a hint of Talking Heads’ David Byrne in Gabriel’s vocal. Robert Fripp supplies some typically excellent guitar, too. 

Family Snapshot has some more echoes of Sting in its initial vocals. It begins plaintively but bursts out half way through into a huge, riff and saxophone-driven beaty rocker.


And Through the Wire is a slow burning, vaguely David Bowie on Lodger type of rocker. It features Paul Weller on guitar. The young Weller was recording in the same studio with The Jam at the time and was asked to contribute. Surprisingly (at the time) he agreed. Quite what he made of this quirky song is not known, but it is nothing like The Jam. It has a lot of changes of ambience, but at times it rocks pretty hard with some rousing chorus parts. It is a song that grows on you.

The completely infectious Games Without Frontiers was probably the reason for lots of people buying this album. It was a huge hit single and always seemed to be a the radio at the time. It seemed to partner the new romantic thing at the time. For me, it is just so reminiscent of the whole scene in 1980. The Japan-style rhythm, the odd, perplexing but singalong lyrics, the meaningful chorus, the  programmed percussion.

Put it alongside Ultravox’s Vienna and Duran Duran’s Girls On Film and you have a pretty good 1980-81 sonic snapshot. The new romantic sound is continued on the pounding Not One Of Us, which was very typical early eighties rock. There is something of The Who about it too, as was often the case with Gabriel. It is a good track. Great drum work near the end from Jerry Marotta. Apparently Gabriel had asked for a drum sound without cymbals throughout the album, thus you get the pounding, resonant sound you hear on this track, Intruder, And Through The Wire and I Don’t Remember.

Lead A Normal Life is a plaintive, Bowie-esque number with more far-Eastern style backing and fuzzy guitar merged with some “Heroes”-style synthesiser. It reminds me a bit of Bowie’s Moss Garden.

The album ends with its magnificent tour de force - Gabriel’s first overtly political song, his moving, evocative tribute to murdered (in police custody) South African freedom fighter Steve Biko. However inventive and interesting the rest of the album had been, this simply blew it away. Up in my girlfriend’s student room, I played this one track endlessly back in 1980. “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire…once the flame begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher..”. A true anti-Apartheid anthem. “The eyes of the world are watching now….”. Thankfully they really were.

The unique Biko sits on its own, away from the rest of the album, which was a fine, quirkily ground-breaking one overall. Don’t do as I did in 1980 and only listen to Biko, give the whole lot a listen.

Peter Gabriel 4 (Security) (1982)

The Rhythm Of The Heat/San Jacinto/I Have The Touch/The Family And The Fishing Net/Shock The Monkey/Lay Your Hands On Me/Wallflower/Kiss Of Life

This album, from 1982, was the one on which Peter Gabriel utilised more "world music" sounds and influences than he had thus far. It makes for an interesting, innovative and imaginative album that always challenges the listener. In many ways, it was way ahead of its time. Its eight tracks are all lengthy and varied, offering many experiences, often within the same song. In many ways this is a bit of a genius of an album - serious and exacting.

The Rhythm Of The Heat is a beguiling, slowly rhythmic number involving African drum sounds and lyrics derived from the philosophy of the same culture. 

San Jacinto is a mysterious, haunting and hugely atmospheric number that lyrically explores Native America philosophy. 

I Have The Touch ups the tempo with a drum-powered number enhanced by some buzzy guitar interjections and a staccato vocal. The "shake my hands" vocal chant is very Talking Heads. Speaking of which, The Family And The Fishing Net has a bassy, sombre introduction that reminds me of The Overload from Remain In Light. Overall, the track is an eerie, evocative one, full of creativity and atmosphere. Now, a lot of the time I listen to soul, blues rock or reggae, genres whose style is more straightforward, so it is a nice change to experience some inventive quirkiness. The bass/vocal interplay around the four minute mark is captivating.


Shock The Monkey is an upbeat, catchy number that revisits the energy of I Have The Touch. Check out those stabbing guitar/keyboard breaks and the intoxicating South American rhythms. The final three tracks are all quirky and relatively obscure i.e. not catchy in a vaguely commercial way like a couple of the previous ones (Shock The Monkey and I Have The Touch). 

Lay Your Hands On Me is a perplexing semi-spoken and once again very Talking Heads-ish ambient number. It ends with some seriously pounding drums. 

Wallflower is a gloriously enigmatic number with mystifying lyrics about doctors. Kiss Of Life is an energetic track full of great drums and percussion and synthesiser breaks that even a non-synth man like myself can appreciate.

This was a really impressive, unusual piece of work that deserves several listens.

So (1986)

Red Rain/Sledgehammer/Don't Give Up/That Voice Again/Mercy Street/Big Time/We Told What We're Told (Milgram's 37)/This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)/In Your Eyes

In 1986, four years after his last album, Peter Gabriel released this, his most successful and commercially-appealing offering. His videos were all over MTV and mainstream consumers now bought his singles and this album. For many long-term fans, this was where he "sold out" but that is a bit unfair on Gabriel, because, as far as I am concerned, this still bore a lot of the quirky, adventurous sounds of his previous work, it just had a couple of huge hits on there too. For me, it had nowhere near the "world music" influences that many critics have claimed it had, they were all on the previous album. Here, I feel, the influences came from Talking Heads, Berlin-era David Bowie, Sting and contemporary dance music.

Red Rain is a rhythmic, chunky, vaguely funky and very Sting-like number that carries a lot of power and appeal to it. Many of Gabriel's songs sounded as if they were ecologically-based, although his lyrics were often cryptic. That is the case here. Red rain - it must mean something about nuclear weapons, or power disasters and Gabriel was a sensitive, concerned guy, you get the idea. Either way, it is a good track even if its meaning is not immediately obvious. A bit like with The Clash - it must mean something worthy, right?

Sledgehammer was his big hit single, a funked-up, catchy singalong number complete with bizarre video featuring dancing headless chickens amongst other things. In the age of MTV this was exactly what people wanted. Personally, I didn't give a tinker's cuss about videos. It was always the music for me. Musically, it was a great track too, full of Motown and soul influences, so it duly became a big hit. It also reminds me of Phil Collins and there were some world music guitar breaks in there and some Talking Heads-style backing vocals, so it was a veritable cornucopia. 

Next up was another track that made it big - the moving, Sting-like duet with Kate Bush, Don't Give Up, whose chorus is exceptionally moving in its plaintive way. It was curiously "hands in the air", crowd-pleasingly anthemic for Gabriel, though but it has a great bass line at the end too. Everyone knew Peter Gabriel after these two songs came out. He was briefly mainstream, with his old Genesis mate Phil Collins.


The easy vibe of That Voice Again is once again hugely reminiscent of Sting. Mercy Street has a sumptuous deep, warm bass underpinning another slow, atmospheric song that sounds just like Sting. sorry for referencing him so much, the similarities are so strong for me. 

The dance-ish upbeat groove of Big Time was also a hit single, and provided another bright, lively interlude and attracted accusations of commercialism.

A solemn ambience returned on the mysterious We Told What We're Told (Milgram's 37), which was based around some experiments about blind obedience to authority conducted by American University professor Stanley Milgram in 1961. It is made up of synthesiser sounds and a few vocals repeating the title and is all quite like David Bowie Low instrumentals, in some ways. 

This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds) is very influenced by Talking Heads' David Byrne, musically, lyrically and in the vocal delivery. There are also a few quiet hints of Bowie in the vocals too. 

In Your Eyes is a gently rhythmic but sad, distant slow burner featuring some West African backing vocals that also has a few eighties traits in its slightly programmed-style backing.

This was still an album that challenged its listeners in true Gabriel style, hit singles or not.

Monday, 25 November 2019

Chuck Leavell

Back To The Woods (2012)

No Special Rider/Evening Train/Wish Me Well/Low Down Dirty Dog/Losing Hand/Naptown Blues/Back To The Woods/I Got To Go Blues/Boots And Shoe/Mean Mistreater/Southern Casey Jones/If You Haven't Any Hay/Memphis Town/The Blues Is All Wrong/Vicksburg Blues   

Chuck Leavell has played piano/keyboards with The Rolling Stones for many years now, and also with The Allman BrothersEric ClaptonGeorge Harrison and The Black Crowes so he has a bit of a pedigree. Here, he pays tribute to the "pioneers of blues piano", covering a variety of classic blues songs, accompanied by stand-up bass and drums, plus several other guest musicians, such as Keith Richards and John Mayer. It is a good collection, played with consummate skill and in possession of a fine, warm sound quality.
No Special Rider kicks the album in a fast-pace piano and percussion-driven fashion. Leavell's piano playing is very intricate and he does appear to have style where several notes will be preferable to one of two. He sees to enjoy exercising his fingers, let off the leash from the confines of The Stones. 

Evening Train slows things down on a typical, deep slow, bassy blues. Leavell's voice is sleepy and bluesy enough to cope with the demands of the material but I wouldn't say he has an outstanding voice. It is pleasant enough though, if not a tad high on occasions. 

Wish Me Well is a big riff blues rocker with a big thumping beat and that irresistible rumbling blues bass. John Mayer is on guitar on this one. Low Down Dirty Dog is a rhythmic shuffler of a track with some great New Orleans-style piano.

Losing Hand, a Ray Charles song, takes the pace down to that of a slow walk once more on another archetypal blues. I have to say that I am starting to wonder how much better these immaculately played songs would sound with a stronger blues voice on them as opposed to Leavell's somewhat ordinary tones. Maybe I'm being a bit unfair, because the material is perfectly listenable. 

Naptown Blues is a most appealing groove, however, with an addictive drum sound. 

Back To The Woods features some excellent blues guitar throughout and, oddly, no drums. Even better is that which features on I Got To Go Blues, which also is enhanced by some frantic country/Cajun fiddling. 

Otis Spann's Boots And Shoes is one of the albums finest cuts, with Keith Richards supplying some delicious guitar licks.

Mean Mistreater features a female vocalist, who I believe is Candi Staton and some great saxophone too. Apparently Staton lives relatively near Leavell, so one of the musicians suggested contacting her and she just turned up and nailed it the next day. 

Southern Casey Jones is a rollicking piece of fun, featuring one of Leavell's better vocals. If You Haven't Any Hay is a nice bit of country-ish blues enlivened by some choice piano work. Leavell's voice doesn't quite meet the needs of Memphis Town, but it is a fun track once more.

Candi Staton returns on the rousing blues/soul of The Blues Is All Wrong. The album finishes with the funereal-sounding Vicksburg Blues. This has been a pleasant, rousing hour of solid blues rock, which is never something I don't enjoy.

P. P. Arnold

The New Adventures Of P.P. Arnold (2019)

Baby Blue/Though It Hurts Me Badly/The Magic Hour/Different Drum/I Believe/Hold On To Your Dreams/I’m A Dreamer/When I Was Part Of Your Picture/Shoot The Dove/I Finally Found My Way Back Home/You Got Me/Daltry Street/Still Trying/Last Thoughts Of Woody Guthrie/I’ll Always Remember You (Debbie’s Song)  

This is a most interesting release from 2019 as, for the first time in an amazing fifty-one years, the voice of sixties hits like Angel Of The MorningThe First Cut Is The Deepest and To Love SomebodyP.P. Arnold (Patricia “Pat” Cole) finds herself taken out of cold storage by Ocean Colour Scene’s guitarist Steve Cradock. He produced the album and wrote songs for it, concentrating on a lush, orchestrated pop sound but also dabbling in a bit of house music rhythm as well. There are also two unused (by him) Paul Weller compositions on the album too.

You wouldn’t particularly have seen a link between Arnold and Ocean Colour Scene, but Cradock is a self-proclaimed fan of her work from long ago. The result is a beguiling, sometimes perplexing but always intriguing album that I would say needs a few listens to properly get into your bloodstream. Maybe that is the sign of a good album - one that is a grower and has an eclectic variety to it. One thing that is constant, however, is Arnold’s wonderfully expressive voice, her tone and phrasing were always spine-tingling, and they certainly still are. There are some truly emotive moments when she just hits that intangible perfect spot. Her voice just doesn't seem to have changed at all.       

The album begins with the Burt Bacharach meets Ronnie Spector laid-back but also uplifting very sixties number in Baby Blue. The brass and the bossa nova-ish rhythms are sumptuous. It is a lovely track and it has echoes of Ronnie Spector on her recent English Heart album. 

Though It Hurts Me Badly is a deep, soulful slow-burning piece of late night fare, full of understated atmosphere. It is not an instant track, but upon third or fourth listens it begins to takes effect. 

The Magic Hour is a very sixties-sounding piece of slowed-down bubblegum-ish, summery pop with a great hook on the chorus part. Cradock finds space for a bit of wah-wah guitar too, amongst the orchestration. The brass and strings bring to mind Bruce Springsteen’s recent Western Stars album a lot.

My personal favourite is Arnold’s take on Mike Nesmith’s Different Drum. It is here that we hear those wonderful sixties, classic tones of Arnold’s voice as she takes us higher and higher - you can still do it P.P., that’s for sure. Check out that magnificent brass once more. A fine song. 

I Believe has a warm, infectious bass line and another intoxicating orchestrated backing. Arnold hits a perfect soulful groove on her vocals here. There is a reassuring, slow-cooking appeal to much of this material.

Now comes the dalliance with house music on the thumping, dance-ish vibe of Hold On To Your Dreams, despite the beat, though, it is no mindless arms in the air clubby boogie, containing some blaxploitation-style lyrics. It reminds me of the stuff Rowetta used to do with The Happy Mondays. The sixties feel is back on Arnold’s cover of Sandy Denny’s I’m A Dreamer, featuring lots of sweeping strings and yet another great, dramatic vocal.

The two Weller songs are really surprising, you would never have picked them out as his. When I Was Part Of Your Pictures sounds like something The Rolling Sones might have written for Marianne Faithfull in the mid sixties. There is a Walker Brothers feel to it too and the mid-song orchestration reminds me of both Clifford T. Ward’s Wherewithal and Ronnie Lane’s The PoacherShoot The Dove is an incredibly soulful, powerful but brooding ballad. I love it. Apparently it dated from the Heavy Soul era but I was not aware of it, unusually.

I Finally Found My Way Back Home is a slow, gospelly, dignified slice of soul which has Arnold’s vocals coming out of different speakers, as if singing to each other. Another fine brass accompaniment enhances the song. 

You Got Me is a perfect piece of sixties-style emotional pop and Daltry Street is a lovely song written by someone called Jake Fletcher, who I admit I know nothing of. It is a wonderful song that you simply don’t want to end. Cradock’s Still Trying has early sixties slow rock’n’roll influences in its score before it bursts out into a huge mid-sixties dramatic chorus.

Now we get a genuine, quirky oddity - Arnold narrates Bob Dylan’s poem Last Thoughts Of Woody Guthrie for nearly ten minutes, sounding like Gil Scott-Heron initially, rapping over a bongo backing. Half way through the brass, full drums, guitar and keyboards arrive and it breaks out into something rather special. It is highly unusual and completely at odds with the rest of the album. Arnold copes with the vocal demands admirably. 

The final track is a heartbreaking tribute to Arnold’s daughter Debbie in I'll Always Remember You (Debbie's Song), who died in a car accident in the seventies. It was recorded, apparently, in Exeter Cathedral with a full choir and organ.  “You were always full of smiles and laughter, they’re lucky to have you in the hereafter...” is a moving line. It is a beautiful end to a fine album.

Incidentally, a saucy piece of trivia is that in her younger days, Arnold was, by her own fond admittance, the lover of both Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix. A perhaps needless digression on my part, I guess! Back to the album - it’s a good one.

Thelma Houston

Anyway You Like It (1976)

Any Way You Like It/Don't Leave Me This Way/Don't Know Why I Love You/Come To Me/Don't Make Me Pay (For Another Girl's Mistake)/Sharing Something Perfect Between Ourselves/If It's The Last Thing I Do/Differently   

I remember back in early 1977, the song Don't Leave Me This Way was out as a single by the original recorders of it, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes (with Teddy Pendergrass on deep lead vocals) but also by Thelma Houston, a little-known singer who had been knocking around, unsuccessfully, on Motown for a few years. It was Houston's livelier, more jumpily disco version that I preferred to the more soulful Harold Melvin one, funnily enough. Hers was a kicking version, full of vitality, what with Thelma's soaring vocal and that killer clavinet backing too.

This was the album that accompanied the single. Initially, it would seem to be a disco album, but gradually it becomes a pretty standard soul ballad one. It is perfectly pleasant album of quality seventies disco/soul, but as it progresses it is standard fare. Nothing remarkable, but certainly an ok listen every now and again.
Any Way You Like It is a big, brassy, extended slice of typical seventies disco soul with those horns punching away over a thumping, metronomic disco beat. Houston's vocals are an addition, almost incidental and not ones that dominate the song particularly. It is, to a great extent, an instrumental workout, with some spacey keyboard sounds half way through, interacting with a nice rubbery bass. It is good stuff, though, and artists like Diana Ross and Chaka Khan would also go down this route over the next five to ten years.

Don't Leave Me This Way stands tall for itself. It is a marvellous disco track, this time with Thelma's vocal taking centre stage. This is the extended version (I was familiar with the single edit so it takes a bit of getting used to when singing along). Check out that clavinet/cymbals interplay at three minutes in. Then take in Thelma's powerful vocals too. Disco perfection. For me it is one of the great seventies disco cuts.

Don't Know Why I Love You keeps the soul in a disco vein with a Philly-influenced number. It has a hooky chorus backed by more punchy brass and funky guitar. At three minutes there is a groovy rhythmic bit of bass, guitar and drums interaction which is just addictive. This is another cookin' track.

The disco vibe ends here, pretty much, unfortunately, and we go headfirst into standard soul ballad territory. Come To Me is a good one, though, with a nice warm vocal and melodic, deep bass line.  

Don't Make Me Pay (For Another Girl's Mistake) is a nice soul ballad in a bit of a Millie Jackson vein, complete with spoken part in the middle. 

Sharing Something Perfect Between Ourselves is a dramatic slowie in the style of much of Gladys Knight's material from the same period.

If It's The Last Thing I Do goes down that comfortable middle of the road, Diana Ross-style. No glitter-balls in sight here. You end up listening to this hoping that Thelma will put her dancing shoes on again for the last number, but no such luck as Differently is another ballad - lush and smoothly late night. I sort of understand that the old "side one" was intended to be the upbeat side, while the second was more laid-back and soulful but I have to say that I prefer the vibrancy of the first three tracks.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Saturday, 23 November 2019

Chaka Khan

Chaka (1978)

I’m Every Woman/Love Has Fallen On Me/Roll Me Through The Rushes/Sleep On It/Life Is Dance/We Got The Love/Some Love/A Woman In A Man’s World/The Message In The Middle Of The Bottom/I Was Made To Love Him          

Full of respect from many due to her sterling work with funkers RufusChaka Khan took the soul world by storm with this excellent debut solo album of chunky, muscular soul/funk led off by the now iconic, vibrant disco soul of I’m Every Woman. Other highlights are the brassy funk of Life Is A Dance and Sleep On It. The backing is superb throughout - check out some of those bass runs and it goes without saying that Chaka’s soaring voice dominates throughout. 

Her performance in the towering Andrew Lloyd Webber song Love Has Fallen On Me is stunning. There are also some well-known musicians on here - drummer Steve Ferrone, guitarist Phil Upchurch and brass exponents the Brecker Brothers, Michael and Randy. 
Roll Me Through The Rushes is warm, moving and beautifully soulful. It is the album's tenderest moment. We Got The Love is a perfect slice of late seventies late night disco-ish funky soul. Once more, just let that bass boom into your consciousness.

Listen to the intro on Some Love, together with that intoxicating funky wah-wah guitar and what sounds like a squawking saxophone (looking on the credits, it is a flugelhorn) - great stuff. It has to be said that on all the tracks, brass, drums, bass, keyboards and Chaka’s voice are in faultless sync.

A Woman In A Man’s World is catchy and poppy, very enjoyable but obviously carries a serious message with it too. This sister was keen to let us know she was doing it for herself. It may sound trite now, but in 1978 it was pertinent and culturally relevant.

The strangely-titled The Message In The Middle Of The Bottom is a nice, deep piece of atmospheric, rumbling, shuffling funk with Chaka’s voice deeper and more sensual. 

I Was Made To Love Him is Chaka’s gender-appropriate, funked-up interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s sixties hit.

There are not huge paragraphs one can write about albums like this, as I might with a David Bowie album, for example, other than it is packed full of jazzy, funky soul of the highest quality. It serves as nice evening music, either as background or cranked up.

Naughty (1980)

Clouds/Get Ready, Get Set/Move Me No Mountain/Nothing's Gonna Take You Away/So Naughty/Too Much Love/All Night's All Right/What You Did/Papillon (Hot Butterfly)/Our Love's Danger 
This was Chaka Khan's second solo album and it continues with the same large group of quality musicians that had made her debut solo work so successful. It is another helping of sublime soul, some of it disco-oriented, some of it jazzy, some of it funky and some sweet. The one constant, of course, is Chaka's soaring voice. It doesn't pull up any trees but it is what it is - quality soul from a consummate artist.
Clouds is a steady, upbeat pop/funk opener with a disco-ish groove and solid backing and Chaka's voice doing the now expected vocal gymnastics. Less harshly brassy and more laid-back and bassy is the late night soul of Get Ready Get Set. From its title you might imagine it to be a fast number but it is a slow smoocher. Move Me No Mountain has a nice, warm soft funk backing and a sensual, jazzy vocal.


Nothing's Gonna Take You Away is mid-pace soul with a slight funky feel and a nice slap-bass bit near the end plus some saxophone which fades out too soon, merging into the jazz funk of So Naughty. Songs like this wrote the blueprint for 1980s laid-back, sensual funky soul. So many groups and artists followed suit for a good ten years. The song also features some impressive saxophone. 

Too Much Love is pretty standard upbeat jazz-funk fare while All Night's All Right features some killer funky bass lines. There is some excellent drum/bass interplay half way through. For me this is definitely the album's best track.

As with the first album, albums like this do not give a huge bunch of opportunities for writing about them, a bit like dub reggae albums. You know what you are going to get and for its forty minutes it does its job. There are not obvious differences between the tracks to inspire comments on each one. The album functions more as one complete whole of pleasant relaxing soul, nothing more, nothing less. It is not a soul album in the style of, say, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, or an earthy funker like The Eliminators' Loving Explosion, it is an exercise in soulful funk rhythms, both fast and slow, but mainly upbeat. It reminds me a bit of when Curtis Mayfield "went disco", what he put out then was certainly no Roots or There's No Place Like America Today. The album also lacks the vibrant female consciousness of I'm Every Woman and for me it is slightly the lesser album of the first two. The title of "Naughty" is something of a misnomer, too, as there is no Millie Jackson-style raunch to be found. As I said, though, take it for what is and have an enjoyable, but unchallenging forty minutes.

Wat'cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)

We Can Work It Out/What'cha Gonna Do For Me/I Know You, I Live You/Any Old Sunday/We Got Each Other/And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)/Night Moods/Heed The Warning/Father He Said/Fate/I Know You, I Live You (Reprise)      

This was the third of the impressive first three Arif Mardin produced solo albums of brassy and funky disco soul from Yvette Stevens (otherwise known as Chaka Khan). In my opinion, it is probably the best of the three. The album has a mainly slowish-pace, subtly funky, smooth and slick groove dominating most of it. It is dim the lights music and very redolent of its period. It is her last album of typical seventies jazzy funk before the electronic "r'n'b" sounds of the mid-eighties took over. In that respect, it is a very good example of its genre.
After a slow, soulful beginning, The BeatlesWe Can Work It Out breaks out into a big, brassy version that is similar to Stevie Wonder's cover of the same song, but with Chaka giving it the full funky range on her vocals. If anything it betters Wonder's version. The rubbery bass line is great too. 

What'cha Gonna Do For Me is credited to Chaka Khan and Rufus and is a perfect slice of jazzy soul/funk with a pounding beat to it as well.


I Know You, I Live You is a delicious slow-cooking gently funky number featuring some impressive bass from Anthony Jackson and drums from the experienced Steve Ferrone. It is a nice, easy piece of classy, polished disco. Chaka deals with this sort of material effortlessly, it is her trademark. It just has that feeling of something that comes on the car radio late at night in the early eighties. It just sums up that era for me. The lights on the dashboard, the street lights, the glistening wet road and Chaka's vocals.

Any Old Sunday continues the laid-back, slow tempo groove on another most enjoyable track. Some rhythmic, funky drums and guitar introduces the melodic, catchy disco funk vibe of We Got Each Other while And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia) is a jazzy prototype of The Jones GirlsNights Over Egypt. I am not quite sure which track came first, as both were released in 1981. Either way it taps into that whole Midnight At The Oasis thing and harks back to the 1940s and Dizzy Gillespie/Charlie Parker. The track features some nice jazzy keyboards and some seriously wailing Chaka vocals. It is the classiest track on the album and the most innovative as well.

An apt title for the album would have been Night Moods, and the track of that name is an alluring, archetypally after dark number. 

Heed The Warning ups the beat a little on an appealing smooth shuffler while Father He Said continues in the same vein, and Fate is an infectious serving of tuneful but also kick-ass funk. A brief funky, brass-driven reprise of I Know You, I Live You ends this quality album. It is very 1981 and makes me want to roll back the years to my early twenties.

Chaka Khan (1982)

Tearin’ It Up/Slow Dancin’/Best In The West/Got To Be There/Be Bop Medley/Twisted/So Not To Worry/Pass It On (A Sure Thing) (Paso Lo Esta Seguro)           

This album started to be influenced by the synthesiser-drenched eighties and there are keyboards all over the place - taking away quite a lot of the natural funk of the Chaka album, for example, which remains as her most authentic, earthy offering, by far. She is descending into the realms of disco pop  by now, although some of of her natural jazzy funk instinct still shines through. Commercial soul music was changing, though, from the lush strings or brassy sounds of the seventies to the colder electro-funk of the urban-dominated eighties. As regards my own personal taste, this was not so good. Chaka Khan, however, managed to ride the waves and remain credible.

Tearin’ It Up is a six minute plus opener, with some lively funk/brass backing and a soaring saxophone solo. It has a slick disco/soul vibe to it. 

Slow Dancin’, featuring disco artist Rick James, is a good one, with a slow burning backbeat, some sensual funk and unsurprisingly impressive vocals. It is a shame that many if the funky sounds of the late seventies have been replaced by synthesisers, however. This song would have sounded far funkier in 1978. There is still a nice, chunky riffy edge to it in places, though.


Best In The West is an appealing little funker with some attractive guitar and piano together with a killer harmonica solo and some gunshot sound affects to go with the “West” of the title. 

Chaka’s cover of Michael Jackson’s Got To Be There has its good points, but it doesn’t quite work for me, particularly on the over-shrieked “world” and “home” bits. Some people love these examples of vocal gymnastics, but I find them unnecessarily indulgent. The song was going fine without them.

The Be Bop Medley has Chaka re-exploring her her love for jazz and, while I am not the biggest fan of “scat” vocalising, this medley has its appeal. Chaka moves effortlessly between the several snippets of songs covered and the backing’s merging of funk with jazz is truly excellent. 

Twisted has a deep, mysterious mood to it, with some almost Ultravox-style keyboards driving it along and those accursed eighties synth drums. It is one of the album’s most atmospheric tracks, all the same.

So Not To Worry is a nice piece of late evening funky soul while Pass It On (A Sure Thing) (Paso Lo Esta Seguro) goes overboard on the brackets in the title. Musically, though, it is a solid, infectiously upbeat serving of early eighties funk with a bit more of a feel of the late seventies material about it. In conclusion, this is a good album, but one very much of its time. I still feel the Chaka album has more of a gritty, funkier sound to it. A final point worth making is that none of Chaka Khan’s albums have ever been remastered, so they all suffer somewhat from an indistinct, slightly muffled sound that is nowhere near as bright or warm as it might be. This one actually sounds better on headphones than through the main speakers. An album like this sounds very much like an eighties CDs, which is, of course, what it is - unchanged since then. Listen to The Average White Band's remasters mid seventies output as an example of how much better old albums can now sound. Sonically, they put this and the other Chaka Khan albums to shame.

I Feel For You (1984)

This Is My Night/Stronger Than Before/My Love Is Alive/Eye To Eye/La Flamme/I Feel For You/Hold Her/Through The Fire/Caught In The Act/Chinatown                                  
As I said in the previous review, soul music was changing, and by 1984, nobody wanted the sumptuous strings of Philadelphia or Detroit’s tambourines. Even gritty Blaxploitation-style funk was no longer de rigeur. It was all urban electro-funk and hip-hop. Soul artists were faced when the choice of moving with the times or getting left behind. It was a real shame, but Chaka Khan managed it and this offering is very much in that 1984 vein. It is very different from the earthy funk of her seventies Rufus days or indeed from her 1978 Chaka album. A lot of the grittiness has been sacrificed at the altar of slick polished eighties professionalism, making it feel slightly detached.

The tone is set from the dramatic keyboard surges and pounding synth drums of the opener,
This Is My Night, which is just so very mid-eighties. One thing that does strike me at this point is that the sound quality is infinitely superior to that of any of the previous albums. In that way, the album claws back some of the warmth it may have lost due to its smoothness. 

Stronger Than Before is an archetypal eighties r’n’b ballad of the sort that inspired endless tracks for the next thirty years and more. Sonically impressive it may be but it doesn’t linger too long in the memory.


My Love Is Alive is a frantic piece of electro pop. I actually find it quirkily appealing, despite its clumsy “dance” repeated synthetic drum beats. This was Chaka attempting to keep her finger on the pulse and going contemporary. Her voice ensures she succeeds, of course. In many ways, though, I wish she had kept with old style funk. 

Eye To Eye is more of a return to the sort of thing we had come to expect and is a solid serving of slow, rhythmic soul. It is embellished by some good electric guitar, unusually for this album and some infectious “chicka chicka” funky backing guitar strums.

La Flamme has a muscular, staccato beat that makes it a lively, attractive number, as far as eighties electro-funkers go. Look, it is ok, but far too blighted by synthesisers to be anywhere near perfect for me. It features the seemingly ubiquitous contemporary trend of "scratching"

The huge hit on this album was I Feel For You, a cover of a Prince song from his second album from 1979. Beginning with some rap from Melle Mel it launches into an irresistible groove enhanced by Stevie Wonder’s instantly recognisable chromatic harmonica. It is also packed full of intoxicating, cleverly-programmed keyboard runs. It is the best track on the album, by far.

Hold Her is standard disco-ish soul from the period and Through The Fire is the same for sweet, lush soul romance. While both tracks are fine, they are nothing memorable. 

Caught In The Act has a bit of a jazzy, mysterious undercurrent to it hat makes it slightly different, a bit Parisian in style. 

Chinatown is a powerful and enjoyable electric funk stomp to end an album that was very much one of its time. Overall, it is a good album, viewed within its chronological context.