Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Christmas Playlist




These are some of the favourite Christmas songs that always get played while we consume our Christmas feast, year in year out. Even though each year we say we will give them a miss, we never do. Funnily enough, though, once they are played, they never get played again, once Christmas Day is over, that's it.

The playlist is pretty unashamedly seventies-oriented, plus several from persona favourites like Steeleye Span and Mary Chapin Carpenter that may not make it on to most people's list.

Yes, there is some cheese on there, but Christmas is a time for consuming cheese.

Step Into Christmas - Elton John
Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) - Darlene Love
Once In Royal David's City - Mary Chapin Carpenter
The First Nowell - Steeleye Span
Happy Christmas (War Is Over) - John Lennon & The Plastic Ono Band
In Dulci Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
Thank God It's Christmas - Queen

  

Fairytale Of New York - The Pogues
Lonely This Christmas - Mud
Mary's Boy Child - Boney M
A Winter's Tale - David Essex
Good King Wenceslas - Steeleye Span
Gabriel's Message - Sting
When A Child Is Born - Johnny Mathis
Blue Christmas - Elvis Presley
See Amid The Winter's Snow - Annie Lennox
Ring Out Solstice Bells - Jethro Tull
All Alone On Christmas - Darlene Love
Soul Cake - Sting
Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin' Stevens

   

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Steeleye Span
Wombling Merry Christmas - The Wombles
Another Rock 'n' Roll Christmas - Gary Glitter
Merry Christmas (I Don't Wanna Fight Tonight) - The Ramones
Christmas Time (Don't Let The Bells End) - The Darkness
Mistletoe & Wine - Cliff Richard
On A Quiet Christmas Morn - Mary Chapin Carpenter
Wonderful Christmastime - Paul McCartney
Driving Home For Christmas - Chris Rea
Gaudete - Steeleye Span
Angels From The Realms Of Glory - Annie Lennox
I Believe In Father Christmas - Greg Lake
December Will Be Magic Again - Kate Bush
A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris De Burgh
In The Bleak Midwinter - Steeleye Span

  

Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town - Bruce Springsteen
Rockin' Around The Christmas Tree - Brenda Lee
Last Christmas - Wham!
2000 Miles - The Pretenders
Little Town - Cliff Richard
Come Darkness, Come Light - Mary Chapin Carpenter
Adeste Fideles - Bob Dylan
Mary's Boy Child - Harry Belafonte
Do They Know It's Christmas? - Band Aid
Little Drummer Boy/Peace On Earth - Bing Crosby/David Bowie
White Christmas - Bing Crosby
I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday - Wizzard
Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade

Aretha Franklin - Selected other albums (1967-1972)

Aretha Franklin's discography is so immense that I don't have the wherewithal to review every single one of them individually. I have reviewed I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, Lady Soul, The Mono Singles Collection and Respect: The Best Of Aretha Franklin. Some of the others I will cover here in bite-sized chunks, maybe adding to the list as time goes by.

The albums covered here so far are - Aretha Arrives; Aretha Now; Soul '69; This Girl's In Love With You; Spirit In The Dark and Young, Gifted & Black.

***
Aretha Arrives (1967)


1. Satisfaction
2. You Are My Sunshine
3. Never Let Me Go
4. 96 Tears
5. Prove It
6. Night Life
7. That's Life
8. I Wonder
9. Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around)
10. Going Down Slow
11. Baby I Love You                                                         
This came after the highly successful I Never Loved A Man The Way I Loved You and was not quite as popular as that album, and was seen in some quarters as an underwhelming follow up to a big smash album. That is somewhat unfair as there is certainly some fine material on here. The sound isn't quite as top notch, though, just a little less clarity. You have to turn the volume up a bit.

Aretha had suffered a bad car accident and damaged her arm during the recording and this hampered the fact that she was on piano for quite a bit of this one. Indeed, she played some parts using just the one hand. Highlights are the brassy, Atlantic soul-style cover of The Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, the gospelly You Are My Sunshine and a funky, organ-driven cover of ? And The Mysterians freakbeat-ish 96 Tears (this was also covered by The Stranglers in the 1990s).You can't beat the late night bluesy soul of Night Life either. The gospel attack on That's Life makes it infinitely preferable to Frank Sinatra's version, for me, anyway. Check out the bassy, classic soul of I Wonder and its bluesy guitar too. Really impressive.

Ain't Nobody (Gonna Turn Me Around) is kick-ass, punchy, brassy soul of the kind you had come to expect to expect from Aretha. This is certainly not a second-best song. No sir. The same applies to the blues of Going Down Slow and the copper-bottomed soul of Baby I Love You. Prove It and Never Let Me Go are hardly sub-standard either, let's be honest. Yes, perhaps other albums do overshadow this possibly hastily-released one but that should not blind one to its good points. quite why the sound is definitely slightly more muffled than the albums either side of it is unclear, however.

The next album, Lady Soul, would prove to be more instant and consequently gained more critical acclaim as indeed would the one after that, which was:-

Aretha Now (1968)


1. Think
2. I Say A Little Prayer
3. See Saw
4. The Night Time Is The Right Time
5. You Send Me
6. You're A Sweet, Sweet Man
7. I Take What I Want
8. Hello Sunshine
9. A Change
10. I Can't See Myself Leaving You                       
The typically sixties-titled Aretha Now kicked off with three big ones in the irrepressible Think, the iconic I Say A Little Prayer and the infectious See Saw. The quality continues on The Night Time Is The Right Time. The sound is excellent on this album too - well-defined and crisp, particularly on the cymbal work. Listen to that glorious bass on Sam Cooke's You Send Me and the shuffling, funky rhythm on You're A Sweet, Sweet Man, which appropriates a bit of Sweets For My Sweet.

I Take What I Want is a lively and catchy number with Aretha and the backing singers giving it the big one. Once again, that rumbling bass is a thing of beauty. Jerry Jemmott is the bassman. The gospel soul vibe is continued on the uplifting Hello Sunshine. A Change has a delicious bass and drum toe-tapping backing. Aretha goes all Otis Redding at one point on the vocals - the  "if you don't this girl is gonna make you pay.." bit. I Can't See Myself Leaving You was a hit single and deservedly so for its great vocal and sumptuous bass. It is a quality track to end the album on.

You can pick any one of the songs from this album to be honest, they are all good. Horn-driven soul of the highest quality.

This is one of my favourite albums of these 1967-1969 releases, with for the fine quality of its sound and the irresistible nature of the songs. It is simply a great listen.

Next up for Aretha was an album of eclectic cover versions in:-

Soul '69 (1969)


1. Ramblin'
2. Today I Sing The Blues
3. River's Invitation
4. Pitiful
5. Crazy He Calls Me
6. Bring It On Home To Me
7. The Tracks Of My Tears
8. If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody
9. Gentle On My Mind
10. So Long
11. I'll Never Be Free
12. Elusive Butterfly                                                   
Despite its slightly misleading, uninventive title, this was an album that saw Aretha concentrate on her bluesier, jazzy side, employing some respected jazz musicians such as Kenny Burrell on the backing. The album was one of her most overlooked late sixties offerings, containing no big hits and being a bit leftfield. It is an understated, enjoyable album, however, and one that showed Aretha's versatility and also her impeccable taste.

Ramblin' is a blues meets big-band cooker of a track with jazzy elements and a big, stand-up bass sound as well as some soaring brass. Aretha's vocal is a great, attacking blues/soul one. Today I Sing The Blues is a proper slice of red-hot slow burning blues. River's Invitation has an appealing groove to it, with some nice drums, bass and horns. Aretha's vocal is gospelly and uplifting. Listen to that great bass, piano and drum bit around 1.30. Pitiful is a blues of the kind Southside Johnny no doubt loved.

The late night, smoky vibe of Crazy He Calls Me is one of the most "jazz" cuts on the album, with Kenny Burrell's guitar instantly noticeable. Actually, possibly even more jazz is the jaunty interpretation of Sam Cooke's Bring It On Home To Me. Smokey Robinson's The Tracks Of My Tears is a difficult one to cover but Aretha's laid-back, vaguely Bossa Nova (in places) cover is quite intoxicating, particularly the gentle guitar and the bongos. I really like this, and I don't usually like covers of this originally wonderful song.

If You Gotta Make A Fool Of Somebody is one that, despite its jazzy brass breaks, harks back to Aretha's more usual soul side. Gentle On My Mind is a cover of a song from country artist John Hartford. Aretha gives it a rhythmic, soulful, lively ambience with an attractive drum/bass solo part. So Long is a fine serving of jazzy blues, as is the laid-back groove of I'll Never Be Free. Elusive Butterfly is a quirky piece of jazzy gospel to end this slightly different Aretha Franklin offering. As a soul man, it is always the soul albums I return to as default ones, but this one is certainly worth a listen.

Soul returned on the next one, although it is still pretty heavy on the cover versions:-

This Girl's In Love With You (1970)

1. Son Of A Preacher Man
2. Share Your Love With Me
3. Dark End Of The Street
4. Let It Be
5. Eleanor Rigby
6. This Girl's In Love With You
7. It Ain't Fair
8. The Weight
9. Call Me
10. Sit Down And Cry

Son Of A Preacher Man is a muscular, gospelly cover of the song made famous by Dusty Springfield. As usual with Aretha's covers, she gives them a different ambience to their originals, making them almost into different songs. This one contains a slowed-down "bridge" in the middle. Share Your Love With Me is a corker of a brass 'n' bass soul ballad. Dark End Of The Street is heading into Aretha classic territory as she lifts us higher on an absolute soul classic, no question. Material like this is up there with some of the finest soul music you will ever hear. Let Aretha take you to Heaven. It is simply peerless.

Aretha's cover of Paul McCartney's Let It Be was actually the first time the song had been released, as The Beatles one had not come out yet. It is a gospelly interpretation, unsurprisingly, of course Aretha turns it in to her own song. The next Beatles cover, Eleanor Rigby, was one of those quirky, radically-altered covers of hers, she sings in the first person - "I'm Eleanor Rigby, I pick up the rice...." and the song has a soul/rock uptempo backing. Bacharach/David's easy-listening classic This Girl's In Love With You is given a suitably soulful makeover without losing all of its gentle, string-backed appeal. It has a lovely, deep bass on it too.

It Ain't Fair is a sleepy, laid-back soulful blues, enhanced by some smoky, jazzy saxophone from King Curtis and some impressive blues guitar from guess who - yes none other than top-notch bluesman Duane Allman (sadly not too long before his passing). With regard to The Band's The Weight, not many cover it very well (Diana Ross & The Supremes had made a mess of it). Aretha, unsurprisingly, makes a good fist of it but I will always feel that the stonking original can't be beaten.

Call Me is not the Al Green song, but it is a similarly soulful number as is the gospel strains of Sit Down And Cry. Aretha's voice is once again towering, lifting the song and the souls of all its listeners higher, seemingly effortlessly.

Also released in 1970 was:-

Spirit In The Dark (1970)


1. Don't Play That Song 
2. The Thrill Is Gone (From Yesterday's Kiss)
3. Pullin'
4. You And Me
5. Honest I Do
6. Spirit In The Dark
7. When The Battle Is Over
8. One Way Ticket
9. Try Matty's
10. That's All I Want From You
11. Oh No Not My Baby
12. That's Why I Sing The Blues                                       
This was quite a robust, bluesy offering with less cover versions. There is a fair amount of muscular drum sounds and rollicking blues piano to be heard. It is more "rock" and "blues", whereas the previous one had been a bit more "gospel" and "soul". They difference is in the drum and piano sound.

Don't Play That Song is a lively, Motown-ish number to start with, with an almost early/mid-sixties vibe about it. Aretha really rocks out on it. The second track of an Aretha album has often been a deep, blues potboiler and we certainly get that here with the bluesy depth of The Thrill Is Gone (From Yesterday's Kiss). It features some killer blues piano from Aretha and great bass from Tommy McClure. Pullin' is an addictive groove of a number with lots of call-and-reponse gospelly backing vocals in the Think style.

You And Me is a solid, typically early seventies string-backed soul ballad. You can't get away from Aretha's extraordinary voice, however. It dominates every track. Honest I Do is a strong blues chugger and Spirit In The Dark is very soulful but in possession of a firm rock beat. It breaks out into a rousing gospel finish, however. When The Battle Is Over is a gritty, grinding piece of bluesy soul. Duane Allman appears on guitar, as he had done on the previous album. One Way Ticket, while being a nice, jazzy soul number with some fine guitar, has, for some reason, backing vocals that come over too loud, giving the track a bit of a disjointed feel.

Try Matty's is a lively, brassy song in praise of a venue called Matty's where all the action seems to take place in the morning. That's All I Want From You is a sumptuous, organ and brass-powered soul number. Check out those horn parts. Goffin & King's Oh No Not My Baby has been covered by many, including Rod Stewart, who had a top twenty hit with it in 1973. Aretha's jazzy soul version is pretty definitive, however. The upbeat strains of That's Why I Sing The Blues is magnificent - proper horn-driven soulful blues. It is my favourite track on the album.

A two year hiatus followed as the seventies progressed and soul music changed in a fair few ways:-

Young, Gifted & Black (1972)

1. Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby)
2. Day Dreaming
3. Rock Steady
4. Young, Gifted & Black
5. All The King’s Horses
6. A Brand New Me
7. April Fools
8. I’ve Been Loving You Too Long
9. First Snow In Kokomo
10. The Long And Winding Road
11. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)
12. Border Song (Holy Moses)                                   

This album, from 1972, saw a considerable change in Aretha’s music. Gone are the horns, organ and piano of the sixties. It is all syncopated rhythms, subtle, melodic bass and strings these days. Sweet late night soul and funk were de rigeur. It was either relevant social comment or dim the lights seduction in this era, with a bit of dance rhythm thrown in. This album sort of led the way. Artists like Diana Ross would do several like this, without Aretha’s voice, of course.

Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby) is a lush, polished piece of sweet soul in tune with the sound of 1972. The quality of the sound and the production has now got slicker and warmer. The song just has a feeling of soul perfection about it. The strings and the bass mix near the end in a big, dramatic end. Day Dreaming continues the laid-back soul vibe with a late-night, almost easy-listening number. Aretha can cope, of course, her voice still brings light to every song and it does here.

Funk was also the sound of 1972 as well and Rock Steady was probably Aretha’s first funker, overflowing with rubberband bass lines and fatback drums. It cooks from beginning to end. Young, Gifted & Black finds Aretha totally reworking Bob & Marcia’s inspirational reggae classic, turning it into a slow burning piece of gospel funk. Once you’ve got used to it, it is very effective. All The King’s Horses is a delicious serving of slow soul. As I said, this is all very 1972. Soul music had changed.

A Brand New Me is a very Diana Ross-esque, jaunty soulful number. It gets loosely jazzy near the end, with some jolly piano and brass. Again, very Ross-like. April Fools brings back the funk, this time with a light wah-wah backing. Otis Redding’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long is more in the traditional soul style we had come to expect. The First Snow In Kokomo is a piano, bass and voice slow ballad. This is now very mature stuff.the last three are covers - The BeatlesLong And Winding Road is given a funky organ and bass makeover, The DelfonicsDidn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) is a soulful, funky reinvention with a seriously great vocal, while Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s Border Song (Holy Moses) is as gospelly as it was always intended to be. Elton always loved Aretha so he would have loved her singing it.

You can tell that this album was a more substantial, varied product, because I have written more about it.

More albums will be added over time, hopefully.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Joe Cocker





With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)

Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends (1969)

What would you do if I sang out of toon....

  

Released in April 1969

Running time 40.27

This was an impressive debut album from Sheffield's gravel voiced Joe Cocker. It has been remastered to a high level and is a revelatory listen. Cocker is probably best remembered as an interpreter of other people's songs and that is certainly a trend that is begun here. Musicians that appear that went on to become relatively well-known are Jimmy Page, Henry McCullough, Albert Lee, Tony Visconti, Chris Stainton, Steve Winwood and Carol Kaye. The musicianship and production together with the variety and subtlety of sound makes this an exceptionally good album and one that was actually quite considerably ahead of its time. Check out that cover too! He had a look of a late sixties/early seventies footballer about him, I'm thinking Reading's Robin Friday.

TRACK LISTING

1. Feelin’ Alright
2. Bye Bye Blackbird

3. Change In Louise
4. Marjorine
5. Just Like A Woman
6. Do I Still Figure In Your Life?
7. Sandpaper Cadillac
8. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
9. With A Little Help From My Friends
10. I Shall Be Released

BONUS TRACKS

11. The New Age Of Lily
12. Something's Coming On  
                             
Traffic’s Feelin’ Alright is a superb cover, full of rhythm snd soulful funk as well as a solid blues rock vibe. It has fantastic quality sound and is a great start to the album. Cocker had the enviable ability to turn any song in to his own bluesy, rocking classic and he takes the easy listening 1926 standard Bye Bye Blackbird and reinvents it as a piece of copper-bottomed blues rock. It stands up in its own right almost as if it had always been a blues song. Change In Louise is a wonderful, organ-driven serving of soulful rock, with the backing singers matching Cocker’s gritty vocals all the way. This really is excellent stuff.

Marjorine is a bit of an oddity, with a jaunty Beatles-esque feeling to it. It was 1969 I suppose. It has a vague hippy, psychedelic ambience to it as well. It is nowhere near as good as the three tracks that preceded it. It also, unfortunately, has a title that sounds as if it is a song sung to Margarine, that sixties butter substitute. Cocker then gives Bob Dylan’s Just Like A Woman a slowed-down soul makeover, backed by a churchy organ and a deep, rumbling bass. This was surprisingly quality fare for 1969.

Do I Still Figure In Your Life? has a feel of classic Atlantic soul and again has a gospelly sound to it. Cocker sounds like an authentic soul singer. Sandpaper Cadillac has a fine deep bass sound and a bluesy looseness to it. Material like this is up there with the best of its era. You can hear the influence this would have on Paul Weller’s solo output when you listen to Cocker’s delivery and the guitar/drum sound too.



The cover of The AnimalsDon’t Let Me Be Understood is as close to definitive as it is possible to be. The same applies, of course, to the now iconic interpretation of The BeatlesWith A Little Help From My Friends which turns Ringo Starr’s homely, unthreatening vocal on its head with a masterpiece of whisky-soaked soulful rock. Back in 1968, as a nine year-old, I had not actually heard The Beatles’ version, it not having been a single, so Cocker’s seismic version was my first introduction to the song. It totally blew me away, I absolutely loved it. To this day, when Joe starts singing it still sends shivers down my spine. I close my eyes and it’s October 1968 and I’m singing “do you neeeed anybodyyyyyy” in the playground, complete with Cocker screams. My friend and I would sing the line, then the "da-da-da" instrumental bridge, then scream our heads off.

The final cover is Dylan’s I Shall Be Released, along with The Tom Robinson Band’s 1977 version, it is up there with the best. Lovely subtle bass and electric violin backing to it. It is sort of Van Morrison-esque.

The bonus tracks are the psychedelic, late sixties-ish groove of The New Age Of Lily and the upbeat Small Faces-style soul of Something’s Coming On.

This is a fantastic-sounding album and a really good debut from a much-missed, very talented vocalist.

Below is a clip of Joe Cocker performing With A Little Help From My Friends on Top Of The Pops in 1968. Also included is a stunning clip from 1988 of Cocker performing for The Prince's Trust with assorted alumni - Marti Pellow, Brian May, Elton John, The Bee Gees, Peter Gabriel amongst others.


B+

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Gladys Knight & The Pips - The Best Of Gladys Knight & The Pips

He even sold his old car....

  

Released in 1977

This was the first post-Motown Gladys Knight compilation, containing material from her immediately post-1973 output on Buddha Records. It was the first compilations of hers that I bought. I soon followed it up with a collection of her earlier Motown singles, but this one had very much the sound of 1977 on it. Gladys had considerable chart success at this time and seemed to be a constant fixture in the singles charts.

It is a typical seventies "best of" album in that it contains only eleven tracks, but it was very successful and all the tracks are top class examples of polished, well-produced, catchy soul. It is a very nostalgic album for me and was the first one I played after receiving my first pair of big hi-fi round ear headphones for Christmas 1976, along with Motown Gold and Queen's A Day At The Races, it became my soundtrack for late December/early January 1977. Just looking at the cover takes me right back.

TRACK LISTING

1. Make Yours A Happy Home
2. The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
3. I Feel A Song In My Heart
4. Part-Time Love
5. The Going Ups And The Going Downs
6. Midnight Train To Georgia
7. On And On
8. Where Peaceful Waters Flow
9. I've Got To Use My Imagination
10. I Can See Clearly Now
11. Try To Remember/The Way We Were                   

It kicks off with the sumptuous, laid-back brassy disco soul groove of Make Yours A Happy Home. Gladys's voice soars on this one, rising above the smooth, quality easy listening brass backing. The Pips are on top harmony form behind the "we can do it" refrain. The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me is simply a beautiful example of a sophisticated soul ballad. It was a huge hit and has a great chorus and a lovely deep, melodic bass line too. It is a classic example of quality seventies soul. The same can be said for the slightly funkier but still soulful I Feel A Song In My Heart which features another killer chorus.



Part-Time Love is a short but typically seventies Gladys sort of number - slow build up, big belting chorus, you know the sort of thing. The Going Ups And The Going Downs is a beautifully harmonious, slow burning piece of sweet late night soul. Then we get the glory of Midnight Train To Georgia, with its iconic drum intro followed by that brass riff. Gladys's vocal is wonderful and, along with Help Me Make It Through The Night, is probably her most famous song. There is no praise high enough for it, it is simply magnificent. The vocals, the brass, the rumbling bass, everything. Just listen to Gladys's vocals on the fade out for proof.

Gladys's funky cover of Curtis Mayfield's On And On is impressive and shows a different side to her delivery - she can do gritty funk too. It is by far the funkiest cut on the album. Another fine Jim Weatherley song (there are four on the album) is the lovely Where Peaceful Waters Flow. It was always a favourite of mine.

A thumping, Native American type drum and brass introduces Goffin/King's I've Got To Use My Imagination. It is a rhythmic soul stomper. Johnny Nash's pop reggae hit I Can See Clearly Now is given a soul makeover with a reggae lilt to the backing and one of The Pips on lead vocals. The final track is another well-known one - The Way We Were/Try To Remember. Gladys covers the song made famous by Barbra Streisand most impressively, although it was never as much of a favourite of mine as some of the others. You have to love that spoken intro though. It has some live crowd noise on it, but I am not sure if it was a live recording. It may have been of those strange superimposed "live" things that were quite popular in the seventies.

Overall, it is a short collection, but one of top quality.

Below is a clip of Gladys & The Pips performing Midnight Train To Georgia.


B

Marvin Gaye - You're The Man (1972)

Try it, you'll like it....

  

Originally intended for 1972 release

This was Marvin Gaye's intended follow-up to the seismic, influential What's Going On, and was intended to be another socially-conscious "message" offering. It was never released and soon became a great "lost album", only surfacing in recent years. Berry Gordy was not happy with Gaye's increasing political militancy and Gaye cancelled the album, no doubt under heavy influence from Gordy, and returned a year later with the late night loverman smoochy fare of Let's Get It On. To be fair, it is only really the first three or four songs that really convey issues, as the album progresses, the dim the lights love of the subsequent album are the dominating style.

Personally, I really like it and, dare I say it, prefer it to its illustrious predecessor. It does not use the string backing in the same perhaps over-syrupy way and is funkier, bassier and more soulful. The themes are largely the same although they are more graphically hard-hitting in a way and maybe a little less pious too. It is a more varied album, musically, as well. It functions as an album of different songs, as opposed to What's Going On, which followed  a "one complete, connected suite" path. Had it been released it would be in many lists of classic albums by now. Incidentally, several of the tracks have also turned up over the years on compilations like The Master and Gold.

TRACK LISTING

1. You're The Man (Parts 1 & 2)
2. The World Is Rated X
3. Piece Of Clay
4. Where Are We Going?
5. I'm Gonna Give You Respect
6. Try It, You'll Like It
7. You Are The Special One
8. We Can Make It Baby
9. My Last Chance
10. Symphony
11. I'd Give My Life For You
12. Woman Of The World
13. Christmas In The City
14. You're The Man (Alternate Version)
15. I Want To Come Home For Christmas
16. I'm Going Home
17. Checking Out (Double Clutch)                                
You're The Man (Parts 1 & 2) is a funky rant against political corruption, financial disparity and a lot of the issues that had been dealt with on What's Going On. The backing is similar, although here it is bassier and deeper and less orchestrated. "Politics and hypocrites is turning us all into lunatics..." sings Gaye, leaving us in no doubt that he is brassed off. Religion is the answer, he says, the "man" of the song's title being God. Gaye and Curtis Mayfield were certainly telling it as it was in 1972. A smouldering funky backing is to be found on the deliciously slow burning The World Is Rated X. Listen to that great wah-wah guitar on You're The Man.

Piece Of Clay is a fine piece of piano-driven gospelly soul that features a great vocal while Where Are We Going? is a great bit of funky soul. Gaye's voice soars on all of this material and, once again, there is a deeper, more "street" soul/funk sound to this track in particular. Lovely brass bits on it too. I'm Gonna Give You Respect is a catchy, shuffling bit of funky, brassy soul. The sound on this is fantastic, again. Some more great funk can be found on the cookin' Try It, You'll Like It. It was such a shame that quality material like this remained hidden away for so long. It is the different nature of these songs that make it the better album to its predecessor, for me. It is superior to Let's Get It On too, for that matter. I know I will be in a minority of one with that opinion!


You Are That Special One is classic, upbeat and infectious Marvin Gaye soul. I love it. Check out that great bass line. Marvin whoops it up near the end, so it's not all doom and gloom. A loose, loving feel is heard on We Can Make It Baby, as Marvin provides a bridge between this period and the full-on luuurve of the next album. Absolutely top class soul. You just can't beat it.

A What's Going On-style lush backing is found on the sweet, late-night soul of My Last Chance. It is all saxophones and smooch, very much paving the way once more to the next album. A similar vibe continues on the polished, shuffling soul of Symphony. The chilled-out late night vibe is continued on the sumptuous I'd Give My Life For You. Woman Of The World is a bongo-driven addictive bossa nova-style number with some killer jazzy cymbal work. The actual intended album may well have finished here, as the next few tracks contain an alternative version and two Christmas songs. Christmas In The City, however, is a laid-back piece of electric funk instrumental and containing not one sleigh bell. I Want To Come Home For Christmas is actually a soulful, anti-war song. I'm Going Home is an excellent funky groove with a bit of a Temptations early seventies feel about it. The semi-instrumental Checking Out (Double Clutch) is another good bit of funk too.

Personally, those first twelve tracks make up Marvin Gaye's best ever collection of songs. Look, I know that sounds bizarre when put up against the huge influence and cultural value of What's Going On, but I just feel it would have been one hell of an album from him, a great mix of message and smooch. Furthermore, despite some criticisms of the sound I have read, I found the sound to be absolutely perfect - warm, well-defined and bassy. Great stuff.

B+

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Chaka Khan - What'cha Gonna Do For Me (1981)

Night moods....

  

Released in 1981

Running time 35.38

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.

TRACK LISTING

1. We Can Work It Out
2. What'cha Gonna Do For Me
3. I Know You, I Live You
4. Any Old Sunday
5. We Got Each Other
6. And The Melody Still Lingers On (Night In Tunisia)
7. Night Moods
8. Heed The Warning
9. Father He Said
10. Fate
11. I Know You, I Live You (Reprise)                    

After a slow, soulful beginning, The Beatles' We 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 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 Girls' Nights 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.

Below is a clip of Chaka performing What'cha Gonna Do For Me in 1981.


B-

Friday, 6 December 2019

The Who - WHO (2019)

Rockin' in rage....

  

Released 6th of December 2019

Running time 45.45

As with most artists who are still putting out records many, many years after their heady, creative younger days, there will no doubt be lots of calls for The Who to retire and people saying “it’s not as good as Who’s Next or Quadrophenia..”. I can guarantee that. Such things would be unfair on this solid, muscular, rocking album, however. I really like it. Yes, it is a long time since Quadrophenia and even longer since My Generation, but for me it is a genuine pleasure to listen to this, and that is all that matters, isn’t it? Whether one likes it or not, and I do. It has made my day today.

Pete Townshend, as he always did, takes on various contemporary issues, trying to understand them and still seeming to fall a bit short - today’s world seems to be befuddling him to his frustration, but it results in some powerful songs. Roger Daltrey expresses Townshend’s sentiments with a fine enthusiasm and respect. Didn’t he ever. Nice to hear these two great old men still doing it - Townshend’s lyrics still sometimes cynical and barbed, Daltrey’s vocals still so expressive and theatrical. The use of more musicians on the rhythm section has given the sound a more expansive, polished feel too.

TRACK LISTING

1. All This Music Must Fade
2. Ball And Chain
3. I Don’t Wanna Get Wise
4. Detour
5. Beads On One String
6. Hero Ground Zero
7. Street Song
8. I’ll Be Back
9. Break The News
10. Rockin’ In Rage
11. She Rocked My World                                                                       

All This Music Must Fade is a great, thumping return, with a massive power to it and Roger Daltrey’s slightly operatic, characterful voice seeming as if it is still 1973 again. “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna hate this song…” he sings. All the swagger, the self-belief, the chutzpah that made The Who so appealing in the sixties and the seventies is there. Great song. Ball And Chain is similarly hard hitting, full of impact and lyrics about Guantanamo Bay. Already there is a dramatic, typically Who vibrancy about this material.

I Don’t Wanna Get Wise is an archetypal Townshend song - anthemic, cynical and wise (despite its title to the contrary). He looks back wryly about the group's early success and also their wild days. The drummer (either Carla Azar or Zak Starkey, I'm not sure who it is on this one) goes all Keith Moon at one point, which is nice to hear. Another thing I am noticing so far is just how strong Daltrey’s voice still is - deep, expressive and soaring. It may not have the almost operatic range but it almost sounds better than it did in the nineties. I don’t know if him and Pete enjoyed recording this album, but it certainly sounds as if they did, there is an energy and enthusiasms that comes across loud and clear. They are still bringing out the best in each other, that is so beautifully undeniable. God bless ‘em.



Detour has a rhythmic but pounding drum sound to it and some nice low key vocal bits between the gritty chorus parts. Beads On One String has a world-weary sadness to it, despite its strength of delivery. There is a moving magnificence to it when Roger’s voice takes us higher on the refrain. As often with The Who, the keyboards are used so effectively too. I really like this song. The chunky feel to the material continues on the gritty Hero Ground Zero. Street Song is another big, upbeat anthem number, with a great bass line from Pino Palladino. Both these latter songs are quality offerings.

The pace and power finally subsides for a while on the touching, gentle tones of I’ll Be Back. It is one of The Who’s tenderest songs for a long time. Yes, Pete’s voice sounds old on it, but therein lies it appeal. It is a song sung by an old man. A beautiful, proud old man. Fair play to both of them. The harmonica solo is lovely too. Nice one. You would not actually recognise it as The Who at all, particularly, it has a uniqueness to it. Break The News is another more laid-back, reflective number again touching on the subject of ageing. It breaks out into a lively, contemporary but folky sounding chorus.

Time for some Quadrophenia-style Daltrey ranting backed by those archetypal Townshend chopping guitar stabs and they arrive in the aptly-titled Rockin’ In Rage. Townshend again acknowledges his ageing as he feels that he is too old to express his frustrations by marching and waving banners. “If I can’t speak the truth for fear of being abused…” he moans, before deciding that he must rage away anyway. You tell ‘em Pete.

The album ends with the melodically appealing She Rocked My World, featuring some almost jazzy, Latin-style acoustic guitar and some vaguely samba-style rhythms. It is a nice, understated end to an album that breathed fire, vim and vigour throughout. If this was The Who’s last album then it is a fine one as far as I am concerned. I am 61, I have known The Who all my life, it is still strange to think it may be their last recording, however. Mortality, eh? It's a tough one.

B+

The Allman Brothers Band - Eat A Peach (1972)

Trouble no more....

  

Released on 12th of February 1972

Running time 69.24

After Duane Allman’s tragic passing, this album was released in tribute to him. He features on all the tracks except the first three. It was a double album featuring both studio and live tracks. The latest remaster is by Suha Gur and is a good one, bearing in mind some of the tracks were live ones. It retains its nice seventies sound, something I always like.

TRACK LISTING

1. Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More
2. Les Brers In A Minor
3. Melissa
4. Mountain Jam (live)
5. One Way Out (live)
6. Trouble No More (live)
7. Stand Back
8. Blue Sky
9. Little Martha                                                

Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More is a catchy, slide guitar, rumbling bass and crystal clear percussion-driven number. Unlike many Allman Brothers tracks, it is relatively concise - a perfect piece of early seventies Southern rock. I really like it. You can hear its influence in many subsequent groups’ output. Les Brers In A Minor takes a few minutes to kick in, being initially buried in a haze of fuzz and feedback. After 3.45 it breaks out into a most infectious jazzy groove with more killer percussion and some excellent, melodic guitar. Check out that organ too. There was often a loose, jazzy feel to The Allmans’ work and that is certainly the case here. We get a drum solo too, a very rhythmic one as well.

Melissa, another shorter number with nice, laid-back vocals has an acoustic intro that is just like The Rolling StonesWild Horses. It is a beautiful song, really relaxing and full of gentle ambience. The band should have included vocal tracks a lot more than they did. I find it also reminds me of some of Paul Weller's later more reflective material. Maybe that's just something I've picked up on, though.



Now we come to the behemoth of the live cut, Mountain Jam. Weighing in at a whopping thirty-three minutes, it is longer than many whole albums and on the original double album it had to be split to cover two sides. Whether one can get through it is questionable, but there is a lovely sound on it throughout, plus some seriously good guitar. It is all so delightfully effortless, however. Put it on while you’re reading or doing something else and it’s fine. A someone who also likes classic three minute pop or soul songs, it is strange to enjoy this too, but I do, just as I enjoy when Fela Kuti gets into a groove and just keeps going. The vibe is a similar one. The drum work at fourteen and a half minutes or so is intoxicating. I had to pop out of the room for a minute or two, come back and he was still going. The drummer was Butch Trucks, never mentioned in any “great rock drummers” list, but this is some serious stick work. Trucks was the uncle of Derek Trucks of The Tedeschi Trucks Band, he sadly took his own life in 2017.



One Way Out is also live but ups the tempo on a shorter number, featuring some blues harmonica such as used on I Wish You Would by The Yardbirds and later David Bowie. The track rocks from beginning to end and has some more great guitar on it. The track was originally an Elmore James song. Another live blues cover is the classic blues rock of Muddy WatersTrouble No More. This was The Allman Brothers at their blues rocking best.

Stand Back is a shorter, catchy rocker, while Blue Sky is a delicious serving of country rock. The album ends with the gentle, acoustic strains of Little Martha, another track that shows that this was not all extended jamming, there was a variety of styles on here within the basic blues rock framework. It is a great monster of an early seventies album. Proper blues rock.

Below is a clip of The Allman Brothers performing One Way Out in 1972.


B+

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Gram Parsons



Grievous Angel (1974)

Gram Parsons - Grievous Angel (1974)

The man on the radio won't leave me alone....

  

Released in January 1974

Running time 36.46

Sadly, Gram Parsons didn't live to see the release of this, his second solo album, passing away from a drug overdose in September 1973. The album is almost a shared one with Emmylou Harris, who features on vocals throughout. Initially the album was credited to both of them, but Parsons' widow changed that, removing Harris's picture and changing the credits. Harris was only credited on the rear cover. The album did not sell well, but it has received a barrel load of retrospective kudos over the years. I remember flicking through album sleeves in the seventies in record shops and regularly seeing it, never knowing much about it, though.

Parsons is an important artist in that he was respected by the rock cognoscenti and succeeded, mostly posthumously, in bringing country music to a rock audience.

Incidentally, I always thought Gram Parsons was his real name (or at least Graham), but he was born Ingram Cecil Connor III. An interesting bit of trivia.

TRACK LISTING

1. Return Of The Grievous Angel
2. Hearts On Fire
3. I Can't Dance
4. Brass Buttons
5. $1000 Wedding
6. Medley: Live From Northern Quebec
a) Cash On The Barrelhead
b) Hickory Wind
7. Love Hurts
8. Ooh Las Vegas
9. In My Hour Of Darkness                                      
Return Of The Grievous Angel is a melodic country groove, enhanced by some nice violin and a beautifully harmonious double vocal from Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Lyrically, it mentions "truckers",  "cowboy angels" and "desert towns", so it treads familiar ground. I'm sure Elvis Costello and Bruce Springsteen loved this song. On the next track, the gentle country ballad Hearts On Fire, Harris's voice enhances really appealingly once again.

Some solid country rock is served up on the enjoyable, rocking I Can't Dance. It has airs of early Jackson Browne about it. One of the album's best tracks is the beautiful, reflective country majesty of Brass Buttons. Check out that crystal clear cymbal backing and the steel guitar too. It is one of Parsons' best songs. There are hints of The Eagles' Desperado in there, for me. $1000 Wedding is a great one too, full of country narrative atmosphere, almost like a Dylan song.



An oddity is the supposedly "live' medley - Medley: Live From Northern Quebec a) Cash On The Barrelhead b) Hickory Wind - which features false crowd noises and a manufactured live atmosphere. Basically, Parsons and his band are just playing live in the studio. I'm not quite sure why this was done, but it sounds good anyway. (Big Brother & The Holding Company did the same thing on 1968's Cheap Thrills album). The first track is a rollicking country bar-room romp, the second is Hickory Wind, known to all Byrds fans as Parsons did it with them on his one album as a Byrd, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, back in 1968.

Love Hurts, a track subsequently covered by many artists is just gorgeous, with the vocals in perfect harmony and a lovely bass line on it too. Ooh Las Vegas is an infectious, rocking piece of country blues fun. It rocks from beginning to end and is backed by some intoxicating percussion. Emmylou is wonderful on here as well. The cymbal work and rocking guitar is a joy too. The album ends with the lovely In My Hour Of Darkness, a perfect sombre country classic. To think Parsons died a matter of weeks after recording this album is so sad. This was one of the great country albums, enjoyable from beginning to end.

B+

 

Sister Carol



Togetherness (2011)

Togetherness - Sister Carol And Friends (2011)

Jah will help us all....



Released in 2011

Sister Carol is a Jamaican DJ/vocalist who has been recording since 1981 but this collection of material recorded with many guns reggae/mainly ragga artists dates from 2011. The sound is predominantly ragga with Carol on the DJ chatting vocals associated with the sub-genre. There are influences of dancehall, lovers and even blues, however. It is very much contemporary reggae but is an enjoyable album, even to a reggae traditionalist like me.

TRACK LISTING

1. Dancing Shoes
2. Screwface Dem Vex
3. His Mercy Endureth
4. Hempumentary
5. Satisfaction Guaranteed
6. Rose In Jah Garden
7. Cold Shack
8. Slackness Bite The Dust
9. Sellout
10. 70 Sup’m Pieces Of Bob
11. Got To Be Strong
12. Inspire Me
13. Hype-Up
14. Let Jah Music Play
15. Millennium Bam-Bam
16. Zimbabwe Remake
17. Jah Will Help Us All                                             


Dancing Shoes is a catchy piece of dancehall meets lovers rock featuring Bunny Wailer and Carol giving it the full ragga-style vocals, beseeching old Bunny to “rub-a-dub”. “Not since the days of Solomon and Sheba” has such a thing happened, she proclaims. Ex I-Threes singer Judy Mowatt is the guest on the chunky, slow-paced but powerful Screwface Dem Vex, a song that has those false scratching noises dubbed on to it, to its detriment in some ways. It is still a good track, though. It has a good dubby part at the end. His Mercy Endureth is an appealing lilting acoustic guitar and Rasta drumming number featuring the evocative vocals of Buju Banton. It has a lot of feel of Banton’s classic Untold Stories about it. Hempumentary is a deep, bassy thumping ragga cut featuring Debbie Cole. It is similar to Peter Tosh’s Mystic Man in its praise of marijuana’s medicinal qualities.

Satisfaction Guaranteed with Johnny Osbourne is a loved-up slice of ragga with an r’n’b edge complete with sexy female noises. Whether it is Carol giving us those pleasurable moans is not clear. She is back to toasting/rapping form on the grinding, rhythmic Rose In Jah Garden with Shinehead and his unique nasally vocals. A change of sound is also to be found on the Bill Withers-ish Cold Shack featuring Thaddeus Hogarth. It is an industrial, rock-style number with some fine blues harmonica, a sumptuous slow rock beat and a soulful vocal from Carol. This is ragga with a bluesy edge.



Slackness Bite The Dust with Brigadier Jerry is an upbeat, catchy condemnation from Carol of male “slackness” lyrics. It is actually a fun number with the male and female vocals trading off against each other over a sublime bass line. Another fine track is the humorous Sellout with veteran Sugar Minott. 70 Sup’m Pieces Of Bob is a delightful, melodic tribute to Bob Marley, name checking many of his songs, one after the other. Nice one.

Got To Be Strong with Ras Droppa has an infectious, rumbling and roots bass line and just a really good vibe about it. Loose and easy. Some nice lead guitar in it too. Inspire Me with Basil “Asher Vision” Gayle is a delight, full of soulful emotion. It is an uplifting, acoustic number as opposed to a reggae/ragga one. It is one of the album’s unexpected treasures.

“Calm down youngster and respect the elder…” advises Carol on the staccato, ragga sounds of Hype-Up, with Nakeeba Amaniyea. It is a track that sees a return to contemporary rapping vocals. Let Jah Music Play with Daniel Ray, despite its rootsy title, is a very chilled-out number, with gentle rhythms and vocals. Some big bass rhythms are back on Millennium Bam-Bam with Sister Nancy. It is one of those “bong biddly biddly bong” vocal numbers. Scion Success joins Carol for Zimbabwe Remake which covers the 1979 Bob Marley track, effectively. The album ends with the gospel meets soft rock strains of Jah Will Help Us All, credited to Sister Carol herself.

This is an excellent album of contemporary reggae, covering quite a few different styles and always keeping our interest. The sound quality is impressive too.

B