quarta-feira, 10 de outubro de 2018

Robert Palmer - Some People Can Do What They Like 1976

Robert Palmer's third album is a blue-eyed soul disc that sits comfortably alongside Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley and Pressure Drop. This time, Palmer drops the orchestrations that tarted up portions of Pressure Drop in favor of a stripped-down yet stylish sound that shows off his ability to create a romantic, soulful mood. Highlights include "One Last Look," a lush breakup ballad that features a catchy, harmony-drenched chorus, and "Keep in Touch," a romantic tune that highlights Palmer's vocal style at its seductive height over a jazzy yet mellow melody built on a complex background vocal arrangement. Another standout track is "Man Smart, Woman Smarter," a tongue-in-cheek look at the battle between the sexes that deftly blends pop melodicism with reggae rhythms. The downside of Some People Can Do What They Like is that it often favors mood over hooks and this leads to music that is listenable yet falls short of being truly compelling: funky mood pieces like "What Can You Bring Me" and "Hard Head" successfully evoke a sultry mood but never take that mood in an interesting melodic direction. Another problem track is "Off the Bone," an effects-drenched instrumental snippet that serves no purpose other than to fill up two minutes of the album's running time. Despite these occasional lapses, Some People Can Do What They Like remains a solid and likable outing with enough memorable moments to please anyone who enjoys blue-eyed soul at its most silky and elegant. AMG.

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Quintessence - In Blissful Company 1969

While it's easy to dismiss Quintessence's first album, In Blissful Company, as hippie-dippy nonsense, that would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Granted, there are several moments when the mix of jazz-rock and Indian influence go well over the top, as on "Ganaga Mai," and no one is going to mistake these guys for, say, Shakti. But they were still far ahead of their time, if you consider this from more of a world music perspective. And there's pleasure to be had from "Notting Hill" (in both versions -- the CD appends the very different single version, plus the non-album B-side, "Move Into the Light"). There's no doubt they believed in what they were doing, and lead guitarist Alan Mostert does add some stirring lines into the mix under Raja Ram's vocals and flute. It's certainly pleasant, progressive in its own way, and while there's a certain sloppiness and muddiness to much of the playing (in best hippie fashion), that actually adds to its appeal in a perverse way. They did develop over the course of four more albums, but never became a major attraction, and in some regards this remains a high point. AMG.

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The Paul Butterfield Blues Band - In My Own Dream 1968

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band's In My Own Dream -- their fourth official release -- marked the point where the band really began to lose its audience, and all for reasons having nothing to do with the quality of their music. They'd gotten past the loss of Michael Bloomfield in early 1967 (which had lost them some of their audience of guitar idolaters) with the engagingly titled (and guitar-focused) Resurrection of Pigboy CrabshawIn My Own Dream has its great guitar moments, especially on "Just to Be with You," but throughout the album, Elvin Bishop's electric guitar shares the spotlight with the horn section of Gene DinwiddleDavid Sanborn, and Keith Johnson, who had signed on with the prior album and who were more out in front than ever. More to the point, this album represented a new version of the band being born, with shared lead vocals, and the leader himself only taking three of the seven songs, with bassist Bugsy Maugh singing lead on two songs, Bishop on one, and drummer Phillip Wilsontaking one. What's more, there was a widely shared spotlight for the players, and more of a jazz influence on this record than had ever been heard before from the group. This was a band that could jam quietly for five minutes on "Drunk Again," building ever so slowly to a bluesy crescendo where Bishop's guitar and Mark Naftalin's organ surged; and follow it with the title track, a totally surprising acoustic guitar-driven piece featuring SanbornDinwiddle, and Johnson. The playing is impressive, especially for a record aimed at a collegiate audience, but the record had the bad fortune of appearing at a point when jazz was culturally suspect among the young, an elitist and not easily accessible brand of music that seemed almost as remote as classical. "Get Yourself Together" was almost too good a piece of Chicago-style blues, a faux Chess Records-style track that might even have been too "black" for the remnants of Butterfield's old audience. It also anticipated the group's final change of direction, when it blossomed into a multi-genre blues/jazz/R&B/soul outfit, equally devoted to all four genres and myriad permutations of each. AMG.

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sábado, 22 de setembro de 2018

Lovin' Spoonful - Revelation, Revolution '69 (1969)

The band is billed here as "the Lovin' Spoonful Featuring Joe Butler." Just when everybody had written them off after Sebastian's departure, this flawed gem came out of left field. Butler's smooth voice had graced a few tracks on all of the past LPs, in addition to having a few of his own tunes included. He comes into his own here, but unfortunately, his three originals are the weakest songs on the LP, especially the ultra-hip sound collage "War Games." However, the great pop team of Bonner and Gordon came up with three strong tunes, including the hit "Me About You" (previously done by The Turtles) and the fine "(Till I) Run with You" (the title of the LP as written on the label), with John Stewart supplying the best track, the gorgeous "Never Going Back." AMG.

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Roger Nichols & The Small Circle Of Friends - Roger Nichols & The Small Circle Of Friends 1967

A true sleeper in the context of California pop. As a songwriter, Roger Nichols wrote with such luminaries as Paul Williams and Tony Asher (fresh from his collaboration with Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds, who co-wrote several of the selections here). The album is a lot of things at once. Soft pop, a smattering of rock, and a heavy dose of easy listening. The group itself has a great vocal blend. Nicholsis joined by Murray MacLeod and his sister, Melinda. The three voices combined create a wonderful, soft sheen, equally effective on the ballads (Bacharach's "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart") and uptempo numbers ("Don't Take Your Time"). There is an extremely gorgeous version of the Goffen & King song "Snow Queen," which is a graceful waltz, underpinned by the groups' superb vocals. The credits on the album are a virtual who's who of California pop at the time. Among those who helped out on the project on one way or another are Lenny WaronkerVan Dyke ParksBruce Botnick, and Randy Newman. Superbly produced by Tommy LaPuma, the album unfortunately didn't do very well at the time of its release, which is an incredible injustice. The music, though, holds up extremely well today, and is an authentic slice of California pop. Delicious. AMG.

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Yusef Lateef - Yusef Lateef's Detroit: Latitude 42º 30' Longitude 83º 1969

After issuing the spiritually compelling and contemplatively swinging Complete Yusef Lateef in 1967, Dr. Yusef Lateef's sophomore effort for Atlantic shifted gears entirely. Lateef chose his old stomping grounds of Detroit for an evocative musical study of the landscape, people, and spirit and terrain. Lateefspent the late-'50s in the city recording for Savoy, and this recording captures the memory of a great city before it was torn apart by racial strife and economic inequality in 1967. There is no way to make a record that suggests Detroit without rhythm, and Lateef employs plenty of it here in his choice of musicians: conga players Ray Barretto and Norman Pride; Tootie Heath on percussion; Cecil McBeeRoy Brooks, and Bernard Purdie; electric bassist Chuck Rainey; electric guitarist Eric Gale; pianist Hugh Lawson; and a string quartet that included Kermit Moore. In other words, the same band from the Complete Yusef Lateef with some funky additions. The string section, as heard on the opener "Bishop School," "Belle Isle," "Eastern Market," and "Raymond Winchester" is far from the pastoral or classically seeking group of recordings past, but another rhythmic and melodic construct that delves deep into the beat and the almighty riff that this recording is so full of. For all of the soul-jazz pouring forth from the Blue Note and Prestige labels at the time, this album stood apart for its Eastern-tinged melodies on "Eastern Market"; the "Black Bottom," gutbucket, moaning bluesiness on "Russell and Elliot," with Galeand Lateef on tenor trading fours in a slowhanded, low-end groove; and the solid, Motown-glazed, rocking Latin soul of "Belle Isle." The album ends curiously with the nugget "That Lucky Old Sun," played with a back porch feeling, as if the urban-ness of the set, with all of its polyrhytmic intensity and raw soul, had to be tempered at the end of the day with a good-old fashioned sit in the yard as the city's energy swirled around beyond the borders of the fenced lot. Lateef blows a beautiful tenor here, uing a motif from Sonny Rollins' version of the tune and slides it all the way over to Benny Carter in its sheer lyricism. It's the perfect way to close one of Lateef's most misunderstood recordings. AMG. listen here

ZZ Top - Rio Grande Mud 1972

With their second album, Rio Grande MudZZ Top uses the sound they sketched out on their debut as a blueprint, yet they tweak it in slight but important ways. The first difference is the heavier, more powerful sound, turning the boogie guitars into a locomotive force. There are slight production flares that date this as a 1972 record, but for the most part, this is a straight-ahead, dirty blues-rock difference. Essentially like the first album, then. That's where the second difference comes in -- they have a much better set of songs this time around, highlighted by the swaggering shuffle "Just Got Paid," the pile-driving boogie "Bar-B-Q," the slide guitar workout "Apologies to Pearly," and two Dusty Hill-sung numbers, "Francine" and "Chevrolet." There are still a couple of tracks that don't quite gel and their fuzz-blues still can sound a little one-dimensional at times, but Rio Grande Mud is the first flowering of ZZ Top as a great, down-n-dirty blooze rock band. AMG.

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Don Rendell - Roarin' (1961)

Billed to "the New Don Rendell Quintet," this 1961 album was an important document of early-'60s British jazz, proving that U.K. jazz musicians could play well in the hard bop style that had been pioneered in the United States. It's not incredibly distinctive or innovative when measured against the best American music in the style, particularly since the group chose to make three of the seven tracks covers of famous compositions by three major U.S. jazzmen (Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," and Miles Davis' "So What"). However, the group does perform with respectable energy and swing, as well as effectively integrating decent original material. For rock fans, the record's most notable for Graham Bond's presence on alto sax; a couple of years or so after this session, Bondwould form his own group, the other players including future Cream rhythm section members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. He's not the dominant force on this LP, however, or even the only sax player, as leader Rendell handles the tenor sax. In addition, there's little specific similarity with Bond's later work, on which he'd usually sing and play organ on British blues-rock with a jazz influence, though you can hear some of the manic intensity for which Bond was known in his alto playing on "Manumission." After a long stretch of unavailability, the album was issued on CD in 2004, with the addition of historical liner notes. AMG.

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terça-feira, 11 de setembro de 2018

John Hiatt - Slug Line 1979

Conventional wisdom at the time was that MCA Records had signed John Hiatt (who had languished without a record contract for four years) with the idea that he would be their Elvis Costello -- a singer/songwriter in the fashionable punk/new wave style. Certainly, Hiatt has stripped down and roughed up from his Epic records here, fronting a straight-ahead guitar rock band (that was capable, of course, of playing the obligatory reggae number), eschewing the stylistic diversity he reveled in before, and throwing out snappy, aphoristic lyrics in a highly processed voice. None of this quite turns him into Elvis Costello, although the mean streak he reveals would serve him well later. AMG.

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Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson - Bridges 1977

Gil Scott-HeronBrian Jackson, and the Midnight Band take a slightly different approach with their 1977 effort, Bridges. With less of the gaping and world-infused sound prevalent on previous albums, the songs are more concise and Scott-Heron comes into his own as a singer depending less on his spoken word vocal style. The excellent songwriting exposes Scott-Heron at the height of his powers as a literary artist. The social, political, cultural, and historical themes are presented in a tight funk meets jazz meets blues meets rock sound that is buoyed by Jackson's characteristic keyboard playing and the Midnight Band's colorful arrangements. Scott-Heron's ability to make the personal universal is evident from the opening track, "Hello Sunday! Hello Road!," all the way through to the gorgeous "95 South (All of the Places We've Been)." The most popular cut on the album, "We Almost Lost Detroit," which shares its title with the John G. Fuller book published in 1975, recounts the story of the nuclear meltdown at the Fermi Atomic Power Plant near Monroe, MI, in 1966. This song was also contributed to the No Nukes concert and album in 1980. Along with the two records that would follow in the late 70s, Bridges stands as one of Scott-Heron's most enjoyable and durable albums. AMG.

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Eddie Floyd - California Girl 1970

Eddie Floyd got the '70s underway in fine form with this release. The title track and two other singles, including a good version of "My Girl," made their way into the charts, and Floyd got good mileage out of the album, even though there were danger signs ahead for the Stax label. AMG.

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David Bromberg - Reckless Abandon 1977

By billing this album to the David Bromberg Band, Bromberg signals that the listener can expect to hear more than just his adenoidal voice and variety of acoustic instruments. But then, that just means it's as eclectic as most David Bromberg albums. The lead-off track "I Want to Go Home" has a blues-rock feel; horns wail into a Dixieland swarm during the old folk tune "Stealin''; and then comes a medley of old-timey country tunes played on banjo, mandolin, and guitar. That's just the first three tracks, and before the album is over, one has been treated to melodic folk-rock ("Baby Breeze"), blues ("Nobody's Fault but Mine"), and jump blues with a touch of funk ("Beware Brother Beware"), not to mention a jazzy sequel to "Stagger Lee," "Mrs. Delion's Lament," in which Stagger Lee takes over hell, and a medley of Civil War songs. Not bad for a performer who tends to get categorized as a folk singer. AMG.

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The Chocolate Watchband - One Step Beyond 1969

The third and final of the original studio albums by the Chocolate WatchbandOne Step Beyond is a bit misleading and contradictory. On the one hand, it's as close as any performing group called the Chocolate Watchband ever got to making a finished album of their own, which is reflected in the fact that all but one song here was an original by the bandmembers; but on the other hand, this is a different Watchband lineup, assembled by Sean Tolby and Bill Flores, including guitarist Mark Loomis and drummer Gary Andrijasevich (both of whom had left in 1967 to join the Tingle Guild), and original, Foothill College-era Chocolate Watchband member Danny Phay (who'd also been in the Tingle Guild). Missing is David Aguilar, the band's one-time lead singer and most visible songwriter up to that time -- and the result is an album that has almost none of the influence of the Rolling Stones, and, instead, shows the greatest folk-rock influence in their history. The overall sound is brittle but melodic, reminiscent in some ways of the Quicksilver Messenger Servicethe CharlatansMoby Grape, and the Jefferson AirplaneDanny Phay isn't nearly as charismatic a singer as Aguilar, but he's not bad, either, and there are lots of interesting shared vocals. There's also quite a bit more guitar noodling here than on any previous Watchband recording -- that's not necessarily a bad thing, though it does dilute some of the impact of the punkier moments. "Devil's Motorcycle" is also of special interest to fans of Moby Grape, as it features the Grape's Jerry Miller subbing for Loomis on lead guitar. They shined on Ashford & Simpson's "I Don't Need No Doctor" as well as the Loomis/Andrijasevich original "Uncle Morris," and "Flowers" was a beautiful piece of folk-based psychedelia, while Sean Tolby's "Fireface" recaptured some of the original band's thicker rock textures. Original Foothill College-era member Ned Torney was also present on the sessions playing keyboards, but his work was left out of the final mix of the album, which meant the guitars got even greater exposure than intended. The overall album, which clocks in at well under 25 minutes, is an interesting and well-played coda to the band's history, but is also a long way from the sound of the group's earlier releases. AMG.

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Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow 1975

Blow by Blow typifies Jeff Beck's wonderfully unpredictable career. Released in 1975, Beck's fifth effort as a leader and first instrumental album was a marked departure from its more rock-based predecessors. Only composer/keyboardist Max Middleton returned from Beck's previous lineups. To Beck's credit, Blow by Blow features a tremendous supporting cast. Middleton's tasteful use of the Fender Rhodes, clavinet, and analog synthesizers leaves a soulful imprint. Drummer Richard Bailey is in equal measure supportive and propulsive as he deftly combines elements of jazz and funk with contemporary mixed meters. Much of the album's success is also attributable to the excellent material, which includes Middleton's two originals and two collaborations with Beck, a clever arrangement of Lennon and McCartney's "She's a Woman," and two originals by Stevie Wonder. George Martin's ingenious production and string arrangements rival his greatest work. Beck's versatile soloing and diverse tones are clearly the album's focus, and he proves to be an adept rhythm player. Blow by Blow is balanced by open-ended jamming and crisp ensemble interaction as it sidesteps the bombast that sank much of the jazz-rock fusion of the period. One of the album's unique qualities is the sense of fun that permeates the performances. On the opening "You Know What I Mean," Beck's stinging, blues-based soloing is full of imaginative shapes and daring leaps. On "Air Blower," elaborate layers of rhythm, duel lead, and solo guitars find their place in the mix. Propelled by the galvanic rhythm section, Beck slashes his way into "Scatterbrain," where a dizzying keyboard and guitar line leads to more energetic soloing from Beck and Middleton. In Stevie Wonder's ballad "Cause We've Ended as Lovers," Beck variously coaxes and unleashes sighs and screams from his guitar in an aching dedication to Roy Buchanan. Middleton's aptly titled "Freeway Jam" best exemplifies the album's loose and fun-loving qualities, with Beck again riding high atop the rhythm section's wave. As with "Scatterbrain," Martin's impeccable string arrangements enhance the subtle harmonic shades of the closing "Diamond Dust." Blow by Blow signaled a new creative peak for Beck, and it proved to be a difficult act to follow. It is a testament to the power of effective collaboration and, given the circumstances, Beck clearly rose to the occasion. In addition to being a personal milestone, Blow by Blow ranks as one of the premiere recordings in the canon of instrumental rock music. AMG.

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Ry Cooder - Paradise and Lunch 1974

Ry Cooder understands that a great song is a great song, whether it was written before the Depression or last week. Still, at the same time he isn't afraid to explore new avenues and possibilities for the material. Like his three previous records, Paradise and Lunch is filled with treasures which become part of a world where eras and styles converge without ever sounding forced or contrived. One may think that an album that contains a traditional railroad song, tunes by assorted blues greats, and a Negro spiritual alongside selections by the likes of Bobby Womack, Burt Bacharach, and Little Milton may lack cohesiveness or merely come across as a history lesson, but to Cooder this music is all part of the same fabric and is as relevant and accessible as anything else that may be happening at the time. No matter when it was written or how it may have been done in the past, the tracks, led by Cooder's brilliant guitar, are taken to new territory where they can coexist. It's as if Washington Phillips' "Tattler" could have shared a place on the charts with Womack's "It's All Over Now" or Little Milton's "If Walls Could Talk." That he's successful on these, as well as the Salvation Army march of "Jesus on the Mainline" or the funky, gospel feel of Blind Willie McTell's "Married Man's a Fool," is not only a credit to Cooder's talent and ingenuity as an arranger and bandleader, but also to the songs themselves. The album closes with its most stripped-down track, an acoustic guitar and piano duet with jazz legend Earl "Fatha" Hines on the Blind Blake classic "Ditty Wah Ditty." Here both musicians are given plenty of room to showcase their instrumental prowess, and the results are nothing short of stunning. Eclectic, intelligent, and thoroughly entertaining, Paradise and Lunch remains Ry Cooder's masterpiece. AMG.

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