Thursday, 22 April 2021

New releases

Here are some reviews of new releases from some of my favourite artists (click on the image to read the reviews) :-

Bob Dylan
Bruce Springsteen
Elvis Costello
Paul McCartney
Paul Weller
Toots/Maytals

Souls of the departed

 








In memory of those who have recently left us (click on the image to read reviews of their work) :-

Jim Steinman
U-Roy
Mary Wilson
Toots Hibbert
Tony Allen
Bunny Wailer

Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Jim Steinman



Bad For Good (1981)


Bad For Good/Lost Boys And Golden Girls/Love And Death And An American Guitar/Stark Raving Love/Out Of The Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)/Surf's Up/Dance In My Pants/Left In The Dark/The Storm/Rock 'n' Roll Dreams Come Through   
  
As many people know by now, the material on this 1981 album was intended by composer Jim Steinman to be Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell 2. As it was, Loaf had throat problems, so Steinman sang the songs and put the album out himself.

Using many of the musicians from Bat Out Of Hell, including the E Street Band’s pianist Roy Bittan and drummer Max Weinberg, this was an excellent production. Many have complained about Steinman’s obviously weaker voice and, while this cannot be ignored, in my opinion, all six of the songs that have subsequently been recorded by Meat Loaf - Bad For GoodLost Boys And Golden GirlsSurf’s UpOut Of The Frying Pan And Into The FireLeft In The Dark and Rock n Roll Dreams Come Through - were not as good, certainly instrumentally, and, incredibly, even vocally. Steinman's versions are, to a song, much better. "Surf's up - and so am I...". What a line.




All those songs are performed here by Steinman and his band with a verve and attack that Meat Loaf could not recapture on later recordings. Despite never having been remastered, the sound on these songs is clear and vibrant, all guitars, drums and Roy Bittan’s wonderful piano. Steinman’s lyrics of fantasy, love, jealousy and pure lust are perfect for the glorious backing. Just listen to Left In The Dark, a masterpiece of paranoid sexual jealousy and rock theatre.

 

The maniacal narrative rendition of Love And Death And An American Guitar is pure Jim Morrison, directly influenced by 1967's Horse Latitudes, from The DoorsStrange Days album.

Steinman, who sadly passed away in 2021, was an absolute genius. This album is second only to Bat Out Of Hell. It is that good. Check out Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire.




Where it all started for Steinman is reviewed here, along with Ellen Foley's solo work :-
Meat Loaf
Ellen Foley

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Muddy Waters

 














Can't Get No Grindin' (1973)



Can't Get No Grindin' (What's The Matter With The Meal/Mother's Bad Luck Child/Funky Butt/ Sad Letter/Someday I'm Gonna Ketch You/Love Weapon/Garbage Man/After Hours/Whiskey Ain't No Good/Muddy Waters' Shuffle


This was a blues-rock fusion album of high quality from an artist who, in 1973, was already a grizzled veteran. It is full of searing guitar, blues harmonica and rollicking piano - as you would expect - and lots of bluesy stereotypical lyrics - visiting a gypsy fortune teller in Mother's Bad Luck Child; being informed of his lover's death in Sad Letter; having an enthusiastic lover that wear him out in Love Weapon and some seemingly dodgy ones about "whuppin'" his woman in Some Day I'm Gonna Ketch You.


Funky Butt has Muddy getting the funk and, unsurprisingly wins no prizes for lyrical originality either, but who cares? It's the overall bluesy vibe that counts and the album has it in shovel loads.


Garbage Man is an amusing tale of Muddy's woman going off with the garbage man while he still has a bin full of garbage he needs help in emptying. Hmmm. You might need to do that yourself for the time being Muddy, or maybe look up the girl from Love Weapon to help you.


I like it when these old bluesers go rocky and funky, as many of them did in their later years - Albert King, Howlin' Wolf and BB King also released some fine stuff in the same vein. 


If you like this, check out these too :-


Albert King
Buddy Guy
BB King

Monday, 19 April 2021

Honey Cone














Take Me With You
Soulful Tapestry
Sweet Replies

Honey Cone were a (very unfortunately) second division late sixties-early seventies three girl group who sounded like Martha & The Vandellas and Freda Payne meeting The Supremes (seventies version) and singing Chairmen Of The Board songs (indeed, many of their songs were co-written by that group’s General Johnson). So many of the numbers sound like COTB with female vocalists. As a big COTB fan myself, of course, this suits me fine. It is all very much to my taste, soul-wise. There were slight Jackson 5 vibes in there too.


The vocalists were Edna Wright (sister of Darlene Love), Carolyn Willis and Shelly Clark. Regarding their albums, many of the tracks were duplicated across their first three albums (the covers are all shown above). It was an odd practice that often happened in the soul genre during the period. 


Their material probably doesn’t cry out for deep track-by-track analysis, although I like pretty much every track I have heard of theirs. It is largely joyfully upbeat, brassy, bassy kick-ass soul featuring peerless vocals and yes, it sounds like Chairmen Of The Board. 


The quality of soul groups was so high in the early seventies that excellent, spunky groups like this went under many people’s radars. That was a  real shame because their output drips with heartfelt, gutsy soul in a way that, say, The Three Degrees most certainly did not. Maybe therein lay the problem - their songs were more on the down ‘n’ dirty side as opposed to the poppy one. They also had a vibrant gospel feel to their music too that may not have pushed chart buttons. It was quality soul for the discerning. That said, listen to the sheer pop glory of Stick Up and wonder why it wasn't a massive hit.





Other highlight tracks are the minor hit single The Want Ads, Sunday Morning People, Are You Man Enough? - Are You Strong Enough?, You Made Me Come To You, the irresistibly vibrant Latin-influenced fun of One Monkey (Don’t Stop No Show), the Jackson 5-esque Don't Count Your Chickens (Before They Hatch) and the punchy Deaf, Blind, Paralysed. These tracks, and indeed all of them, are enhanced by really strong vocals, powerful drums and a regularly occurring rocking, fuzzy guitar.   


All I can say, really, is that I love this group’s pure, 24-carat soulful output and am glad that I have finally found them, although it took me until the early 2000s to do so. 


If you like Honey Cone's output, you will surely like these artists (click on the image to read the reviews) :-


Martha/Vandellas
Freda Payne
Chairmen/Board

Elf















Elf (1972)



Hoochie Koochie Lady/First Avenue/Never More/I’m Coming Back For You/Sit Down Honey (Everything Will Be Alright)/Dixie Lee Junction/Love Like A Woman/Gambler, Gambler


Produced by Roger Glover and Ian Paice of Deep Purple, Elf were a short-lived heavy and bluesy US rock band. This was their debut, from 1972, and a mighty fine, underrated little beauty it is too. The cover was awful, however, like that one from contemporaries Gentle Giant.


Hoochie Koochie Lady, although lyrically a bit stereotypical, is an absolutely corking piece of riff and barroom piano-powered early seventies rock with a capital ‘R’. I love it. It positively oozes energetic rock power. Slightly less upbeat but no less bluesy and robust is the chunky rock of First Avenue. Once more, this is really doing it for me.


Never More sounds like Black Sabbath did when they did rock ballads. I can’t quite describe quite what I mean but you will know it when you hear it. The guitar work on this, by the way, is seriously good, as are the drums, although the vocals are a little Spinal Tap-style typically heavy rock.


There is something just so goddamn pure in the sheer, clear riffy power of I’m Coming Back For You. The same applies to the Status Quo-esque boogie of Sit Down Honey (Everything Will Be Alright).


The stately, piano-led ballad Dixie Lee Junction has a feel of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird about it. Once more, the guitar and drums are just top notch. These guys could play.


The now hackneyed-sounding titled Love Me Like A Woman rocks solidly along and Gambler, Gambler merges some stonking guitar with some initially weird keyboard breaks as it backs a Paul Rodgers-esque bluesy rock vocal. It has a mini drum solo too. More solid rock to close a short but 100% proof rocking album. Nice one.


If you liked this, you will, of course, like these artists (click on the image to read the reviews) :-


Black Sabbath
Deep Purple
Rush

Saturday, 10 April 2021

Clarence Carter














This Is Clarence Carter (1968)



Do What You Gotta Do/Looking For A Fox/Slippin' Around/I'm Qualified/I Can't See Myself/Wind It Up/Part Time Love/Thread The Needle/Slip Away/Funky Fever/She Ain't Gonna Do Right/Set Me Free


What a great underrated treat of an album this is. I previously only knew Clarence Carter from his backwoods-inspired hit, Patches (also covered by Chairmen Of The Board). As it was 1968, many soul singers were influenced by Otis Redding and Carter is no different, utilising many Redding-isms in his delivery. He has enough of his own character, however, to make the album special in its own right, including a huge, braying, deep laugh that reminds me of Frank Bruno. Carter has a fine line in humour too and many of the lyrics show that. 


The songs are a mix of she's left me heartbroken lovelorn songs such as Do What You Gotta Do (covered later, successfully, by The Four Tops), Set Me Free, the bluesy punch of Part Time Love and the simply glorious I Can't See Myself and dance craze-inspired thumpers like Thread The Needle, Wind It Up and Funky Fever, all sung over a peerless, Stax backing that carries with it a simply superb sound quality for 1968. 


Incidentally, Do What You Gotta Do is one of my favourite emotional soul songs of all time and Carter's version is Staxier than that of The Four Tops, but it still overflows with 24-carat soul


Looking For A Fox is brassily appealing and Slippin' Around is full of Redding-esque Stax-y funk grooves. I'm Qualified also cooks at maximum temperature.


Slip Away and She Ain't Gonna Do Right are both wonderfully evocative in that Otis Redding way too. 


It is a fine collection of failed romance and no-holds-barred fun that doesn't fail to grab one's attention in the album's thirty-one minutes. Great stuff indeed.





If you like this, check these out too :-
Otis Redding
William Bell
Eddie Floyd

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Current reviews/listening










These are the artists whose work I have been reviewing or adding to recently. The latest album reviewed is in brackets. Click on the artist's name to read the reviews:-


REGGAE


Steel Pulse (Tribute To The Martyrs)

Linton Kwesi Johnson (Bass Culture)

Buju Banton ('Til Shiloh)

Dr. Alimantado (Best Dressed Chicken In Town)

Dillinger (Marijuana In My Brain)

Ken Boothe (Everything I Own)

Toots & The Maytals (Knockout)

Bunny Wailer (Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers)


SOUL-FUNK


The Brothers Johnson (Look Out For #1)

Kool & The Gang (Wild And Peaceful)

Rose Royce (Car Wash)

Chairmen Of The Board (Skin I'm In)

Lionel Richie (Can't Slow Down)

Jermaine Jackson (Let's Get Serious)

Minnie Riperton (Perfect Angel)

The 5th Dimension (Stoned Soul Picnic)

The Detroit Emeralds (You Want It You Got It)

Grace Jones (Fame)

Ike & Tina Turner (River Deep - Mountain High)

Randy Crawford (Secret Combination)

Odyssey (I Got The Melody)

Archie Bell & The Drells (There's Gonna Be A Showdown)

Shalamar (Friends)

Etta James (Best Of)

The Commodores (Natural High)

The Pointer Sisters (Break Out)

Herbie Hancock (Head Hunters)

Stevie Wonder (A Journey Into The Secret Life Of Plants)

Clarence Carter (This Is Clarence Carter)

KC & the Sunshine Band (Part 3)

Honey Cone (Soulful Tapestry)

Muddy Waters (Can't Get No Grindin')


PUNK-NEW WAVE


Squeeze (Cool For Cats)

Altered Images (Happy Birthday)

Wire (Pink Flag)

The Cure (Three Imaginary Boys)

Adam & The Ants (Kings Of The Wild Frontier)

XTC (Drums And Wires)

The Modern Lovers (The Modern Lovers)

999 (999)

Blondie (No Exit)

Elvis Costello (Hey Clockface)

The Skids (Scared To Dance)

Depeche Mode (Speak And Spell)

Green Day (Dookie)

The Adverts (Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts)

Patti Smith (Radio Ethiopia)

Joe Jackson (Body And Soul)

The Ramones (Mondo Bizarro)

Madness (Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da)


PROG ROCK


Jethro Tull (Aqualung)

King Crimson (In The Court Of The Crimson King)

Camel (The Snow Goose)

Yes (Close To The Edge)

Emerson, Lake & Palmer (Tarkus)

Atomic Rooster (Death Walks Behind You) 

Jean Michel Jarre (Oxygene)

Ambrosia (Ambrosia)

Kate Bush (50 Words For Snow) *ok I know it's not really prog rock, but where else do I put her?

Van Der Graaf Generator (H To He, Who Am The Only One)

Todd Rundgren's Utopia (Utopia)

East Of Eden (New Leaf)

Hawkwind (In Search Of Space)

Caravan (If I Could Do It Again, I'd Do It All Over You)

Colosseum (Valentyne Suite)

Genesis (Foxtrot)

Renaissance (Scheherazade And Other Stories)

Rick Wakeman (The Six Wives Of Henry VIII)

Steve Hillage (Motivation Radio)

Gentle Giant (Gentle Giant)

Rush (A Retrospective 1974-80)

Pink Floyd (Piper At The Gates Of Dawn)

Aphrodite's Child (End Of The World)

Mike Oldfield (Ommadawn)


ROCK/BLUES ROCK


Deep Purple (Who Do We Think we Are?)

Black Sabbath (Paranoid)

Badfinger (No Dice)

Blue Öyster Cult (Agents Of Fortune)

Bruce Springsteen (Letter To You)

Paul McCartney (McCartney III)

Sting (Mercury Rising)

ZZ Top (Rio Grande Mud)

The Byrds (Turn! Turn! Turn!)

Vanilla Fudge (Vanilla Fudge)

Sagittarius (Present Tense)

Queen (Made In Heaven)

Alice Cooper (Easy Action)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (Into The Great Wide Open)

Bruce Hornsby & The Range (A Night On the Town)

The Allman Brothers Band (Brothers And Sisters)

Tom Jones (Long Lost Suitcase)

George Harrison (Living In The Material World)

Wings (London Town)

Ringo Starr (Liverpool 8)

Elf (Elf)

Gregg Allman (Low Country Blues)

The Eagles (Long Road Out Of Eden)


COUNTRY ROCK


Firefall (Firefall)

Gerry Rafferty (City To City) * difficult to categorise


JAZZ


Wayne Shorter (Speak No Evil)

Charles Mingus (Mingus Ah Um)

Kenny Burrell (Midnight Blue)

John Coltrane (A Love Supreme)

Lee Morgan (The Sidewinder)

Dave Brubeck Quartet (Time Out)

Donald Byrd (Best Of/Blackbyrd)

Art Blakey (Moanin')

Abdullah Ibrahim (The Mountain)

Miles Davis (Bitches' Brew)


WORLD MUSIC


Brazilian Music (Seleção de compilações)

Rough Guides (World Music Network)

Fela Kuti (Sorrow Tears And Blood)


POP


The Four Seasons (Who Loves You)



Thursday, 1 April 2021

Herbie Hancock




Sextant (1973)



Rain Dance/Hidden Shadows/Hornets


Before going full on jazz-funk fusion with his critically-acclaimed next album, Herbie Hancock released this improvised art jazz-spacey, experimental Miles Davis-influenced album. Containing only three tracks it builds on the foundations laid by Miles Davis’s ground-breaking Bitches’ Brew, but, for me, is the better album as it is not as ad hoc and improvised as that one, and is driven by Hancock’s instinctive rhythm and willingness to employ a funky drum sound. I saw it described as “avant funk”. 


Rain Dance is spacey, weird and funky all at once and remains just the right side of indulgent as far as I am concerned. 


Hidden Shadows is pretty funky, despite the improvised Davis-esque saxophone groove. It is here that you really hear the funky sounds that would be given free rein on the next album begin to take shape. It is a really good track, the best if the three on offer.


The nearly twenty minute Hornets is the most experimental and tries the patience a little, despite its fine rumbling bass line and funky percussion. Its squeaking saxophones and general discordance are a bit grating at times but there is still an appealing weirdness to it. Edit it down by ten minutes, though, and it may be more cohesive. The bassy bit near the end is great, however.


The album was a commercial flop, which was the opposite to this one coming up.....


Headhunters (1973)



Chameleon/Watermelon Man/Sly/Vein Melter


This is often classified as a jazz album, which, of course, it is, due to its keyboard virtuosity by Hancock on Fender Rhodes piano, ARP synthesiser and clavinet but, these are also extremely funky instruments, and he duly plays them so. The drums, the brass and the bass are pure, copper-bottomed funk. For me, it is one of the funkiest instrumental albums in existence  and, along with James Brown’s funk material from the same period, has been supremely influential. 


Chameleon is a fifteen minute festival of funk - overflowing with funky guitars, big fatback James Brown-style drums, regular cookin’, punchy brass interjections and beautifully deep, rumbling bass lines. The bits where the music briefly halts, leaving only the drums and then the bass and the funky, spacey organ come back in are breathtakingly good. The sound quality is stunningly good too, warm, bassy and in perfect stereo.


Watermelon Man is a funky re-recording of a previous jazz classic, this time powered by James Brown funky drums and blowing into beer bottles to approximate the hindewhu whistle sound so common in Brazilian samba music, a sound that brings to mind tropical jungle bird sounds.  Once again, it is a thumping track that simply drips with instinctive funk.


Sly is a sensual tribute to Sly Stone that features some sumptuous bass and drums. The interplay around six minutes in is just funky as fuck, as they say (“they” can get away with saying anything, can’t they?). 


Vein Melter is probably the jazziest thing in the album, but it is still deliciously funky and also features some sweeping strings and chilled-out Miles Davis-influenced freeform saxophone.  Its weird sounds hark back to its predecessor. 


Overall, this is a fine album that never fails to satisfy.





Future Shock (1983)



Rockit/Future Shock/TFS/Earth Beat/Autodrive/Rough


This was Herbie Hancock's first electro-funk album and the first of his to delve into instrumental hip hip sounds. It was a big commercial success and is very representative of some of the sounds of the mid-eighties. 


Rockit is superb - full of infectious beats, chunky riffs and that iconic organ line. It is one of the great instrumental hits. It was the perfect merging of contemporary hip hop sounds, accessible dance grooves and rock riffs. It was, unsurprisingly, a massive hit. 


Unusually for a Hancock album, we get female-sounding vocals (actually from Dwight Jackson Jr.) on the funky grind of Future Shock. The vocals are sung in a style that reminds me of Curtis Mayfield's Superfly which is not surprising as it is a cover of Mayfield's Future Shock song from ten years earlier. 


TFS has an upbeat dance groove to it and is powered along by synthesisers, clavinet and wah-wah funky guitar. 


Earth Beat is both spacey and hip hop-y, featuring great synth parts and a huge, deep bass as well as some captivating percussion. Oh, and there are the ubiquitous (for 1983) scratching noises too. 


Autodrive utilises that synth-drum sound so popular in dance material of the time as well as some jazzy piano breaks.


Rough also features occasional vocals over its thumping, insistent beat and finishes this excellent, ground-breaking album that is just so evocative of its era. It just reminds me of being in music venues at the time, they were full of this sort of thing. 





If you like Herbie Hancock's funk stuff, you may well like these :-
Miles Davis
James Brown
Donald Byrd