domingo, 9 de dezembro de 2018

The Rolling Stones - Between the Buttons 1967

The Rolling Stones' 1967 recordings are a matter of some controversy; many critics felt that they were compromising their raw, rootsy power with trendy emulations of the BeatlesKinksDylan, and psychedelic music. Approach this album with an open mind, though, and you'll find it to be one of their strongest, most eclectic LPs, with many fine songs that remain unknown to all but Stones devotees. The lyrics are getting better (if more savage), and the arrangements more creative, on brooding near-classics like "All Sold Out," "My Obsession," and "Yesterday's Papers." "She Smiled Sweetly" shows their hidden romantic side at its best, while "Connection" is one of the record's few slabs of conventionally driving rock. The best tracks on the American edition were the two songs that gave the group a double-sided number one in early 1967: the lustful "Let's Spend the Night Together" and the beautiful, melancholy "Ruby Tuesday," which is as melodic as anything Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would ever write. AMG.

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Bruce Springsteen - The Wild,The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle 1973

Bruce Springsteen expanded the folk-rock approach of his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., to strains of jazz, among other styles, on its ambitious follow-up, released only eight months later. His chief musical lieutenant was keyboard player David Sancious, who lived on the E Street that gave the album and Springsteen's backup group its name. With his help, Springsteen created a street-life mosaic of suburban society that owed much in its outlook to Van Morrison's romanticization of Belfast in Astral Weeks. Though Springsteen expressed endless affection and much nostalgia, his message was clear: this was a goodbye-to-all-that from a man who was moving on. The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle represented an astonishing advance even from the remarkable promise of Greetings; the unbanded three-song second side in particular was a flawless piece of music. Musically and lyrically, Springsteen had brought an unruly muse under control and used it to make a mature statement that synthesized popular musical styles into complicated, well-executed arrangements and absorbing suites; it evoked a world precisely even as that world seemed to disappear. Following the personnel changes in the E Street Band in 1974, there is a conventional wisdom that this album is marred by production lapses and performance problems, specifically the drumming of Vini Lopez. None of that is true. Lopez's busy Keith Moon style is appropriate to the arrangements in a way his replacement, Max Weinberg, never could have been. The production is fine. And the album's songs contain the best realization of Springsteen's poetic vision, which soon enough would be tarnished by disillusionment. He would later make different albums, but he never made a better one. The truth is, The Wild, The Innocent & the E Street Shuffle is one of the greatest albums in the history of rock & roll. AMG.

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David Bromberg - David Bromberg 1971

Years after he left Columbia University, where he majored in music, David Bromberg graduated from sideman status on his Columbia Records debut. Bromberg has paid his dues, playing guitar on Jerry Jeff Walker's chart single "Mr. Bojangles," among dozens of other recording sessions and gigs as a backup musician. Notably, he played on Bob Dylan's Self Portrait and New Morning albums, and, though uncredited, Dylan has reportedly returned the favor, contributing harmonica on this LP's searing final track, "Sammy's Song." Just before that comes the jocular highwayman romp "The Holdup," co-written by Bromberg and George Harrison, with a lead guitar part that sounds characteristic of the co-author. Those may be Bromberg's heaviest friends, but he also employs a batch of folk and country compatriots throughout the album, among them David AmramNorman Blake, and Vassar Clements. Typical of a debut album, this one finds the artist determined to demonstrate the range of his talent, and that range extends from pop/rock to bluegrass, with lots of blues and folk-blues thrown in. Brombergsings in a matter-of-fact style, often with a comic edge, although he also brings out pathos in such tracks as "Dehlia" and "Sammy's Song." The album seems to be a combination of live and studio recordings, the better to bring out the spirit of the music, and the musicians spark each other with lively performances. Bromberg may still be more of a player than a frontman, and more of a tradtionalist than a songwriter, but this disc presents a new wrinkle in some very familiar styles, suggesting that it's possible for an accomplished sideman to move downstage and take over the spotlight. AMG.

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Donovan - Hurdy Gurdy Man 1968

Having Mickie Most as producer could be a double-edged sword. On The Hurdy Gurdy Man, his over-ambitious nature and scattershot production sense occasionally sabotaged Donovan's songs rather than emphasizing their strengths. (The credits shamelessly list "Produced by Mickie Most" and "A Mickie Most Production," right next to each other.) As with the last few LPs, the program began with the hit title track (one of Donovan's best singles), a dim, dark song balancing psychedelia with the heavier, earthier rock championed during 1968 by Dylan and the Beatles. Though the next two tracks -- an eerie, trance-like "Peregrine" and the endearing acoustic number "The Entertaining of a Shy Girl" -- are excellent performances, any sense of mood is soon shattered by a hopelessly overblown music-hall showtune, "As I Recall It." This terrible problem of pacing and song placement continually afflicts The Hurdy Gurdy Man, rendering ineffective many solid songs. As for the writing, Donovan certainly wasn't expanding his songbase; as usual, the album overflowed with playful songs on girls ("West Indian Lady," "Jennifer Juniper") and pastoral themes ("The River Song," "A Sunny Day," "The Sun Is a Very Magic Fellow"). Most of these featured more inventive, sympathetic accompaniment, combined with Donovan's usual spot-on delivery. Despite the great songs and (usually) solid performances, though, The Hurdy Gurdy Man is a very difficult listen. AMG.

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Johnny Winter - The Progressive Blues Experiment 1969

Although his early Columbia albums brought him worldwide stardom, it was this modest little album (first released on Imperial before the Columbia sides) that first brought Johnny Winter to the attention of guitarheads in America. It's also Winter at the beginning of a long career, playing the blues as if his life depends on it, without applying a glimmer of rock commercialism. The standard classic repertoire here includes "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "I Got Love if You Want It," "Forty-Four," "It's My Own Fault," and "Help Me," with Winter mixing it up with his original Texas trio of Red Turner on drums and Tommy Shannon(later of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble) on bass. A true classic, this is one dirty, dangerous, and visionary album. The set was issued in a sonically screaming 24-bit remastered edition on CD by Capitol in 2005. It contains no bonus tracks, but it leaves the original crummy CD issue in the dust. AMG.

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David Bromberg - How Lat'll Ya Play'Til 1976

David Bromberg has been such an effective sideman for so long, it could be possible to not notice what a wonderful entertainer the man is when he is at center stage. How Late'll Ya Play 'Til?, Vol. 1 catches Bromberg and a crack band having a fine time on mostly humorous tunes. Of course, Bromberg does play guitar throughout the album, but the real attraction here is his bluesy vocal turns and his razor-sharp comedic timing. Though "Will Not Be Your Fool" is his signature piece and is very well performed here, the highlight is the incredible "Bullfrog Blues." The exact nature of this hilariously rambling talking blues couldn't be conveyed in anything less than the 16 minutes that Bromberg takes to perform it, and if it could be communicated it shouldn't, because there are delightful surprises here. Like all great live albums, How Late'll Ya Play 'Til? will make you extremely sad that you weren't in the audience the night it was recorded, and determined not to repeat the error should the chance present itself. AMG.

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The Balfa Brothers - The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music 1965

The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music, Vols. 1-2 combines both of the group's original Play Traditional Cajun Music albums onto one disc. The first volume was released on Swallow Records in 1965 and helped kick-start the Cajun revival of the '60s. It's an excellent album, featuring wonderful harmonies from RodneyWill, and Dewey, as well as stellar instrumental work. The second volume, recorded and released in 1974, isn't quite as strong as its predecessor, but it is still very good and is filled with terrific music. Both albums represent the Balfa Brothers at their peak. They may have a number of very good albums in their catalog, but The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music, Vols. 1-2 effectively explains what they are all about. AMG.

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sábado, 8 de dezembro de 2018

Love - Forever Changes 1967

Love's Forever Changes made only a minor dent on the charts when it was first released in 1967, but years later it became recognized as one of the finest and most haunting albums to come out of the Summer of Love, which doubtless has as much to do with the disc's themes and tone as the music, beautiful as it is. Sharp electric guitars dominated most of Love's first two albums, and they make occasional appearances here on tunes like "A House Is Not a Motel" and "Live and Let Live," but most of Forever Changes is built around interwoven acoustic guitar textures and subtle orchestrations, with strings and horns both reinforcing and punctuating the melodies. The punky edge of Love's early work gave way to a more gentle, contemplative, and organic sound on Forever Changes, but while Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean wrote some of their most enduring songs for the album, the lovely melodies and inspired arrangements can't disguise an air of malaise that permeates the sessions. A certain amount of this reflects the angst of a group undergoing some severe internal strife, but Forever Changes is also an album that heralds the last days of a golden age and anticipates the growing ugliness that would dominate the counterculture in 1968 and 1969; images of violence and war haunt "A House Is Not a Motel," the street scenes of "Maybe the People Would Be the Times or Between Clark and Hillsdale" reflects a jaded mindset that flower power could not ease, the twin specters of race and international strife rise to the surface of "The Red Telephone," romance becomes cynicism in "Bummer in the Summer," the promise of the psychedelic experience decays into hard drug abuse in "Live and Let Live," and even gentle numbers like "Andmoreagain" and "Old Man" sound elegiac, as if the ghosts of Chicago and Altamont were visible over the horizon as Love looked back to brief moments of warmth. Forever Changes is inarguably Love's masterpiece and an album of enduring beauty, but it's also one of the few major works of its era that saw the dark clouds looming on the cultural horizon, and the result was music that was as prescient as it was compelling. AMG.

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Jody Grind - One Step On 1969

Jody Grind's debut album was early progressive rock with a somewhat jazzier orientation than most such bands, though the playing was a good sight more impressive than the singing and songwriting. There's a fairly grim tone to the original material, all (save a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black") written by Tim Hinkley and Ivan Zagni, who wrench extended heavy blues and jazzy solos out of their organ and guitar, respectively. The showcase is an 18-minute, four-part suite, "One Step On," that -- like many long rock tracks of the time -- goes on for way too long, incorporating horn fanfares, lurching tempos, and operatic vocals (and, yes, a drum solo). Shown to best advantage on "Little Message" and the most appealing song on the album, "Night Today," Hinkley's skilled Hammond organ work stands up well to the keyboards of well-known early prog rockers like Keith EmersonVincent Crane (of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown), and Brian Auger. But he didn't have material or singers on the same level as any of those more celebrated musicians did, nor did he establish as strikingly identifiable an instrumental style. AMG.

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Fotheringay - Fotheringay 1970

When Sandy Denny departed Fairport Convention, insisting that she wanted to concentrate upon her own songwriting rather than pursue the band's exploration of traditional English music, she never meant she also intended abandoning the folk idiom itself. Although all but two of the songs on this, her first post-Fairport project, are indeed original compositions, it is readily apparent that, like former bandmate Richard Thompson, her greatest talents lay distinctly within the same traditions as the poets and balladeers of earlier centuries, while the fact that fully one-half of Fotheringay itself would eventually join Fairport illustrates the care that went into the band's formation. Even the group's name resonates -- "Fotheringay" was also one of Denny's best-loved Fairport songs. Listening to the album, too, one can see and hear the mothership all over the show, from the tight dynamics of "The Sea" to the simple beauty of "Winter Winds" and on to the showpiece "Banks of the Nile," a Napoleonic Wars-era ballad set firmly in the storytelling mold of "A Sailor's Life," "Tam Linn," and the post-Denny Fairport's own "Bonnie Bunch of Roses." The presence of producer Joe Boyd and guest vocalist Linda Peters complete the sense of a family affair.

Where Fotheringay and Fairport drift apart is in the instrumentation -- one of Fairport's most-endearing talents, after all, was the sense of ramshackle adventure that the bandmembers brought to their recordings. Fotheringay was far more "musicianly," packing a perfectionism that comes close, in places, to stifling the sheer exuberance of the music. The overuse of Trevor Lucas' distinctly mannered vocals, too, reveals the album in a disappointing light -- great guitarist though he was, his voice offers nothing that you could not hear in any amateur folk club, any night of the week, rendering Dylan's "Too Much of Nothing," Gordon Lightfoot's "The Way I Feel," and his own "Ballad of Ned Kelly" little more than makeweights. Such failings are completely overshadowed, of course, by the triumphs that are Denny's finest contributions -- the best of which close the album on a peak unheard since "The Sea," back at the beginning of the cycle. "The Banks of the Nile" rates among the loveliest and most evocative performances of her entire career, while the hauntingly hypnotic "Two Weeks Last Summer" and a moody "Gypsy Davey" draw out an expressiveness that had similarly been in short supply elsewhere on the record. The end result is an album that, while every Denny fan should hear it, is best experienced sliced and diced across the various compilations that purport to tell the story of Fairport Convention. Bereft of the faults that never make those collections, Fotheringay deserves every kind word that has ever been sent in the band's direction. [In 2004, Fledg'ling records released a remastered edition that included live versions of "Two Weeks of Summer," "Nothing More," "Banks of the Nile" and "Memphis Tennessee," recorded at the 1970 Rotterdam Pop Festival.] AMG.

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War - Eric Burdon Declares War 1970

The debut effort by Eric Burdon and War was an erratic effort that hinted at more potential than it actually delivered. Three of the five tunes are meandering blues-jazz-psychedelic jams, two of which, "Tobacco Road" and "Blues for Memphis Slim," chug along for nearly 15 minutes. These showcase the then-unknown War's funky fusion, and Burdon's still-impressive vocals, but suffer from a lack of focus and substance. "Spill the Wine," on the other hand, is inarguably the greatest moment of the Burdon-fronted lineup. Not only was this goofy funk, shaggy-dog story one of the most truly inspired off-the-wall hit singles of all time, it was War's first smash -- and Eric Burdon's last. The odd closing track, a short piece of avant-garde sentimentality called "You're No Stranger," was deleted from re-releases of this album for years. AMG.

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Black Widow - III 1972

These guys have sometimes been described as a Black Sabbath-like band, and the name Black Widow itself invites a comparison. Yet if that had any validity at the start of their career, by this, their third album, they really sounded more like solid mid-level British prog rockers than satanic hard rockers. This is really closer to early King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer territory than Black Sabbath, given their lengthy, shifting compositions; stress on forceful organ and vocal harmonies; substantial jazz, classical, hard guitar rock, and folk influences; and the color supplied by Clive Jones' sax and flute. Not that Black Widow is that close to ELP and King Crimson, and the tunes on III aren't nearly as stick-in-the-brain as the songs penned by those two groups in their early days -- but they're respectable within that style. Perhaps some of their supposed satanic mindset is still evident in the opening three-part epic "The Battle," divided into The Onslaught, If a Man Should Die, and Survival sections. Otherwise that isn't evident, and occasionally the tunes are rather cheerful, as on "The Sun." The lack of annoying stentorian qualities in Kip Trevor's lead vocals removes this further from standard hard rock territory. There are even some traces of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to be heard in "Old Man," although it was a bad idea to end that tune with quotes from "Hey Jude." This was reissued as a 180-gram gatefold LP by Get Back in 2000. AMG.

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segunda-feira, 26 de novembro de 2018

Al Kooper - Easy Does It 1970

This is the third solo effort from rock & roll wunderkind Al Kooper. Originally issued as a two-LP set, Easy Does It (1970) is a diverse album that reveals the layer upon layer of musicality that has become synonymous with the artist. He draws deeply upon his skills as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and equally engaging arranger. The extended run-time of the double album format likewise allows Kooper to thoroughly exhibit his wide-ranging and virtually mythical adaptability as an artist whose sheer talent defies the boundaries of genre or style. The set kicks off with the youthfully optimistic rocker "Brand New Day." This is the first of two tracks Kooper used in his score for Hal Ashby's directorial cinematic debut, The Landlord, a highly affable counterculture classic starring Beau Bridges. The haunting "The Landlord Love Theme" is also included, and is poignantly dovetailed with one of the disc's profoundly affective epics. "Buckskin Boy" is an uptempo rocker that lyrically offers a brutally honest assessment of the Native American situation, which was quickly becoming a national plague upon the social conscience of the country in the early '70s. The song is replete with Kooper's dynamic chord changes and trademark phrasing. The "morning after" fallout from a particularly potent experience with LSD is credited as the inspiration behind "Sad, Sad Sunshine." The cut features some heavily Eastern-influenced lead sitar work reminiscent of the sounds of Donovan circa Hurdy Gurdy Man (1968) and the burgeoning Canterbury-based progressive folk movement of the late '60s and early '70s. There is a decidedly Yankee contrast on the country-rocker "I Bought You the Shoes (You're Walking Away In)" as well as the cover of John Loudermilk's "A Rose and a Baby Ruth." Other well-placed cover tunes include a classy, soulfully subdued reading of Ray Charles "I Got a Woman'" as well as the spacy and well-jammed-out version of "Baby Please Don't Go." Throughout the 12-plus minute side there are definite recollections of the extended instrumental interaction that defined Kooper's former band, the Blues Project, as well as some of the inspirational improvisation heard on the original Super Session (1968). This performance alone is more than worth the time and effort of seeking out Easy Does It. AMG.

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Looking Glass - Looking Glass 1972

The eight songs are evenly distributed between singer/guitarist Elliot Lurie and bassist/vocalist Piet Sweval, but Lurie wins the prize, as "Brandy" is one of those timeless and very special number one hits that come from out of the blue and make their mark. This one launched in the summer of 1972, and the New Jersey answer to the Beach Boys' '60s work could have led to an entire industry à la Brian Wilson's crew had they only had that concept in mind. The problem with the self-titled debut album is that it goes nowhere, much like the Arif Mardin-produced follow-up, Subway Serenade, in 1973, which had the "Brandy" clone song "Jimmy Loves Mary-Anne," itself a Top 40 hit, but in the lower regions of the Top 40, and a last gasp instead of new life. The credits list the brilliant Larry Fallon as horn and string arranger, but Fallon claims that he is the actual uncredited producer. Perhaps he felt his contributions lifted the band out of the realm of the mundane, and he would have a point. It's the additions of his horns, even on "Don't It Make You Feel Good," which give the proceedings a touch of something extra. Bob Lifton is credited as "audio consultant" and co-producer with the band, while the Toys' co-producer, Sandy Linzer, is thanked as a "guardian." The album is as complete as the 31 exact minutes it clocks in at -- able to be heard in the time one could watch a half-hour situation comedy on television. The back cover has the equipment in the studio shot Atlantic utilized when they had no Velvet Underground to photograph on the Loaded album, while the front has the four men, three with beard and moustache, looking pretty out of place. That's the frustration with this recording. Nothing comes close to the heights of "Brandy," James Giampa's congas on the hit not found anywhere else on the disc. What was needed was some strong outside material to capitalize on the success of the single and a band who needed to understand why they were successful. Lurie's deadpan vocal doesn't fit the Poco style of "Golden Rainbow," and outside of their attempt to rewrite the original hit, everything on this sounds like a "B" side. Get the hit single and you won't have to suffer through "From Stanton Station" or "One by One." Brian Wilson they were not. AMG.

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Barclay James Harvest - Everyone Is Everybody Else 1974

The group's first album for Polydor is several steps above their EMI work. Most of the psychedelic-era influences are softened here and broadened, and transmuted into something heavier and more serious, even as the Beatlesque harmonies remain intact. The guitars sound real heavy, almost larger than life here, while the swelling Mellotron and synthesizer sounds give the music the feel of an orchestra. By this time, the group had also mastered the Pink Floyd technique of playing pretty tunes really slowly, which made them sound incredibly profound (it's actually a technique that goes back, in different forms, to Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner). John Lees gives superb, virtuoso performances on lead guitar on "Paper Wings" and "For No One." Les Holroyd's gorgeous "Poor Boy Blues" sounded more like Crosby, Stills & Nash than CSN did in those days, and is almost worth the price of the CD. AMG.

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