terça-feira, 29 de abril de 2014

George Benson - Bad Benson 1974

Preceding Breezin', his crossover smash for Warner in 1976, Bad Benson shows the guitarist still hanging on to hisWes Montgomery roots in places while stretching his soul-jazz persona into even funkier arenas. CTI had a formula for making funky, accessible jazz and fusion records that in 1974 still held true. Arranged by Don SebeskyBad Bensonis a collection of delicious, varied, and sometimes confusing choices. Benson's own playing is precise and smooth as always, and guitarist Phil Upchurch keeps a large color palette for him to draw from, as in the funkified version of "Take Five." Other notables are the stellar "My Latin Brother," which begins as a Debussy-ian impressionistic string study before becoming a heavily arpeggiated variation on the samba. Kenny Barron's pianism here is the driving force behind a rhythm section that also includes drummer Steve Gadd and bassist Ron Carter. They give Benson a harmonic floor for one of the most inspiring solos of his career. These intensely meaty cuts -- along with Upchurch's stellar swinging in the pocket groover "Full Compass" -- are juxtaposed against ballads such as "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams" and "The Changing World," a pair of ballads that ape Montgomery's later snore-fest session for A&M. Thankfully, Legacy's remastered CD version includes three bonus tracks from the session: a hip and syncopated read of "Take the 'A' Train" (with truly surreal and shimmering colors courtesy of Sebesky's string section) and the amazingly driving, greasy funk of "Serbian Blue," as well as a simply beautiful -- and brief -- solo from Benson called "From Now On." Not a great album, but a very, very good one. AMG.

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Jefferson Airplane - Crown Of Creation 1968

The group's fourth album, appearing ten months following After Bathing at Baxter's, isn't the same kind of leap forward that Baxter's represented from Surrealistic Pillow. Indeed, in many ways, Crown of Creation is a more conservative album stylistically, opening with "Lather," a Grace Slick original that was one of the group's very last forays (and certainly their last prominent one) into a folk idiom. Much of what follows is a lot more based in electric rock, as well as steeped in elements of science fiction (specifically author John Wyndham's book The Chrysalids) in several places, but Crown of Creation was still deliberately more accessible musically than its predecessor, even as the playing became more bold and daring within more traditional song structures. Jack Casady by this time had developed one of the most prominent and distinctive bass sounds in American rock, as identifiable (if not quite as bracing) as John Entwistle's was with the Who, as demonstrated on "In Time," "Star Track," "Share a Little Joke," "If You Feel," (where he's practically a second lead instrument), and the title song, and Jorma Kaukonen's slashing, angular guitar attack was continually surprising as his snaking lead guitar parts wended their way through "Star Track" and "Share a Little Joke." The album also reflected the shifting landscape of West Coast music with its inclusion of "Triad," a David Crosby song that Crosby's own group, the Byrds, had refused to release -- its presence (the only extant version of the song for a number of years) was a forerunner of the sound that would later be heard on Crosby's own debut solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name (on which SlickPaul Kantner, and Casady would appear). The overall album captured the group's rapidly evolving, very heavy live sound within the confines of some fairly traditional song structures, and left ample room for Slick and Marty Balin to express themselves vocally, with Balin turning in one of his most heartfelt and moving performances on "If You Feel." "Ice Cream Phoenix" pulses with energy and "Greasy Heart" became a concert standard for the group -- the studio original of the latter is notable for Slick's most powerful vocal performance since "Somebody to Love." And the album's big finish, "The House at Pooneil Corners," seemed to fire on all cylinders, their amps cranked up to ten (maybe 11 for Casady), and BalinSlick, and Kantner stretching out on the disjointed yet oddly compelling tune and lyrics. It didn't work 100 percent, but it made for a shattering finish to the album. Crown of Creation has been reissued on CD several times, including a Mobile Fidelity audiophile edition at the start of the '90s, but in 2003, RCA released a remastered edition with four bonus tracks from the same sessions including the mono single mix of "Share a Little Joke," the previously unreleased 8 minute "The Saga of Sydney Spacepig," Spencer Dryden's co-authored "Ribump Ba Bap Dum Dum," which is a spaced-out assembly of noises, effects, and pop-culture catch-phrases, and the more accessible "Would You Like a Snack?," an atonal piece of musical scatology featuring Grace Slick and co-authored by Slick and Frank Zappa. AMG.

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Roberta Flack - Quiet fire 1971

Quiet Fire proves to be an apt title, as Flack's MOR-informed jazz and gospel vocals simmer just below the surface on the eight sides here. Forgoing the full-throttled delivery of, say, Aretha FranklinFlack translates the pathos of gospel expression into measured intensity and sighing, elongated phrases. There's even a bit of Carole King's ashen tone inFlack's voice, as manifested on songs like "Let Them Talk," Van McCoy's "Sweet Bitter Love," and a meditative reworking of King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." The album's other high-profile cover, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters," features the ideal setting for Flack's airy pipes with a tasteful backdrop of strings and a chorus featuring soul songstress Cissy Houston (Whitney's mom). Switching from this hushed sanctity, Flack digs into some groove-heavy southern soul on "Go Up Moses," "Sunday and Sister Jones," and an amazing version of the Bee Gees hit "To Love Somebody" (this perennial number has been done by everyone from Rita Marley to Hank Williams, Jr.). Flack finally completes the modern triumvirate of southern music, adding the country tones of Jimmy Webb's "See You Then" to theQuiet Fire's stock of gospel and soul. And thanks to top players like guitarist Hugh McCracken, organist Richard Tee, bassist Chuck Rainey, and drummer Bernard Purdie, the varied mix all comes off sounding seamless. One of Flack's best. AMG. 

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Harold McNair - Harold McNair 1966

b. 5 November 1931, Kingston, Jamaica, West Indies, d. 7 March 1971, London, England. After playing calypso music as Little G in the relative obscurity of his homeland and then the Bahamas, saxophonist McNair went to America and then Europe in the late 50. He began playing with jazz musicians such as Kenny Clarke and Quincy Jones and also led his own small group, switching regularly between saxophone and the newly learned flute. It was on the latter instrument that McNair would become better known, with his unique phrasing earning him a series of non-jazz sessions with artists including Donovan, John Martyn, and CCS. For a while he commuted between Europe and the USA, eventually making London his base in the mid-60s. From then until his untimely death from lung cancer in 1971, McNair worked with British and American mainstream and modern musicians, and was also active in the studios. In later decades, his music was frequently ‘raided’ by samplers. AMG.

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Trade Martin - Let Me Touch You 1972

Trade Martin's career has covered so many eras of music -- as a producer, arranger, songwriter, and even occasionally as a recording artist -- that he's almost impossible to pin down as a musical figure. In the late '50s, in a partnership with Johnny Power, he began recording acts such as Johnny & the Jokers and released their work on the Harvard Records label before the two formed Rome Records in 1960. Rome only lasted until 1962, weighted down by its lack of reliable distribution, which prevented the company from succeeding despite signing such talent as the Earls (who went on to score their hits for Old Town Records), Del & the Escorts, and the Glens. Martin usually played all of the instrumental accompaniments for these groups, overdubbing the instruments one at a time. In 1963, following the demise of the Rome label, Martin left the partnership and recorded under his own name on Roulette and other labels through the end of the '60s, and even got an entire LP, Let Me Touch You, out on Buddah Records in 1972. His main activity and success, however, were rooted in his work as a producer, arranger, and songwriter, functions that he has performed over the years in idioms ranging from '60s girl group pop/rock, folk, and electric blues to '70s funk and '80s dance-pop. He has also worked with artists such as Eric Andersen, Ellie Greenwich, Lesley Gore, the Tokens, Ian and Sylvia, Rick Nelson, B.B. King, B.T. Express, Pam Russo, and Solomon Burke. What's more, his songs have been recorded by the likes of Dusty Springfield ("Take Me for a Little While"), Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, B.B. King ("Peace to the World"), and Dave Edmunds ("Don't You Double Cross Me"). He has also written and produced a handful of film soundtracks, principally during the '70s. AMG.

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Golden Earring - On The Double 1969

Golden Earring's 1969 double LP (since reissued on a 66-minute single disc) is a competent rendering of a wide variety of period rock styles. It's far from being a counterpart to The White Album, though. It's just ordinary, late-'60s rock, certainly more accomplished than most bands working in non-English speaking countries at the time, but not of high distinction, either. There's riff-driven material hinting at the direction they'd pursue more extensively in the 1970s (especially on "Songs on a Devil's Servant"), Continental-flavored acoustic folk balladry, singer/songwriter-flavored folk-rock, good-time hard-rocking pop/rock ("Goodbye Mama"), classical-tinged pomp rock, rather nice soul-pop ("I Sing My Song"), and self-conscious music hall parody. They could have fit into the opening slots of big-name rock bills without many suspecting they were of non-Anglo origin, but nor were they going to be upstaging many headliners. It's merely adequate, without standout songs or an individual flavor. AMG.

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Ringo Starr - Beaucoup of Blues 1970

Ringo Starr had a demonstrated affinity for country music, as heard on such Beatles recordings as "Act Naturally," and he sounded as modestly comfortable on this Nashville-recorded session as in any other musical context. The cream of the city's session players backed up the former Beatle on a set of newly written songs, and the result was a typical country effort, pleasant as long as you didn't expect too much. Of course, this was the second straight genre exercise for Starr, following his pop standards album Sentimental Journey, and now he had tackled two styles that depend on vocal stylists for much of their appeal. On both, Ringo was Ringo. But with the Beatles fading into history, his suddenly front-burner solo career was starting to look like a series of dabblings rather than a coherent follow-up to the group's success. What could be next, an album of Motown songs? Wisely, he returned to Beatles-style pop/rock in subsequent releases. [Beaucoups of Blues was reissued on August 1, 1995, by Captiol with two bonus tracks, "Coochy Coochy," which had been released as the B-side of the single "Beaucoups of Blues," and the six-and-a-half-minute impromptu instrumental "Nashville Jam," which was previously unreleased.] AMG.

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quinta-feira, 10 de abril de 2014

Mark-Almond - Mark-Almond I 1971

British session musicians Jon Mark (vocals, guitar, drums) and John Almond (vocals, woodwinds, vibes, percussion) met while playing together inJohn Mayall's Bluesbreakers and left in 1970 to form Mark-Almond, sometimes referred to as the Mark-Almond Band. Prior to his career withMayallMark and Mick Jagger co-produced Marianne Faithfull's early albums, with Mark later writing material for her and touring with her. He also toured with folksinger Alun Davies, and the two formed an ill-fated band called Sweet ThursdayAlmond, meanwhile, had played in Zoot Money's Big Roll Bandthe Alan Price Set, and Johnny Almond's Music Machine. Both joined the Bluesbreakers in 1969 and appeared on the albums Turning Point and Empty Rooms; they left in 1970 and recruited bassist Rodger Sutton and keyboardist Tommy EyreMark-Almond built something of a following through touring, with their live shows often featuring lengthy instrumental jams. Their roster grew to seven members by 1973 before they disbanded that year. Mark, despite losing a finger in an accident, recorded the solo album Songs for a Friend in 1975. He andAlmond reunited that year and released To the Heart in 1976; they got a deal with A&M in 1978 and released Other People's Rooms, but neither LP was successful and the duo broke up for good. AMG.

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Grand Funk Railroad - On Time 1969

Grand Funk Railroad's 1969 debut is a wildly uneven affair. Although the exuberant energy and power-trio theatrics that would fuel their 1970s hits are in place, the group's songwriting and arranging abilities are very much in their infancy. The biggest problems in terms of songwriting are the often-amateurish lyrics: "Anybody's Answer" is a sincere but muddled attempt at a message song that expends a lot of energy without ever focusing on a particular target and "Heartbreaker" is a love lament that is content to trot out a series of well-worn heartbreak clichés. In terms of arrangements, the band often places an aimless jam where a tight instrumental break should be. The standout example of this problem is "TNUC," a loose-limbed tune that wears out its welcome with an overlong and unstructured drum solo. Despite these problems, there are some strong tunes in the mix: "Are You Ready" is an exuberant rocker built on one of Mel Schacher's trademark walking basslines and "Into the Sun" is a clever tune that starts as a mellow mid-tempo jam before blossoming into a stomping rocker with a funky guitar riff. Both of these sturdy tunes appropriately became mainstays of Grand Funk Railroad's live show for many years to come. "Time Machine" is another highlight, a bluesy shuffle built on Mark Farner's wailing vocals and a catchy, stuttered guitar riff. All in all, On Time is way too patchy of an album to please the casual listener but provides a few hints of and contains enough worthwhile moments to please the group's fans. AMG.

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Graham Central Station - Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It 1975

On their third album, Graham Central Station created an album full of trademark infectious pop-soul grooves, but one that lacked the consistently strong work that defines a true classic. However, that doesn't mean that Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It is less than listenable: in fact, it contains some of the group's finest songs. The album's all-time funk classic is the opening track "The Jam," a "Dance to the Music"-styled funk workout that intersperses a dazzling group groove with individual solos for each player. "Water" is another strong funk tune, an insistently rhythmic song that blends thump-popping basslines with backwards tape loops to create an intriguing blend of funk and psychedelia. Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It also produced a number one R&B smash in "Your Love," which marries the group's talent for funky grooves to an old-fashioned love song with a melody that harkens back to doo wop. However, not everything on Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It is as strong as these highlights: "It Ain't Nothing but a Warner Bros. Party" is a lightweight jam with throwaway lyrics, and the group's rote version of the Ann Peebles classic "I Can't Stand the Rain" fails to add anything memorable to the song. All in all, Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It lacks the strong material to make it memorable, but its high points make it a worthwhile listen for funk enthusiasts. AMG.

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Clem Alford - Mirror Image 1974

As a member of Magic Carpet and Magic Carpet II, and on his solo recordings, British sitarist Alford has explored the fusion of Indian music with folk, jazz, and rock. Although he initially studied bagpipes, Alford began playing the sitar in the mid-'60s, inspired by Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar. He went to India in 1968 to study classical sitar with Pandit Sachindranath Saha, and in 1969 recorded an album with guitarist Jim Moyes and tabla player Keshav Sathefor Windmill. Unfortunately, this was issued under the name Sagram, although the actual name of the band was Sargam. Sargam was offered the chance to record for the Mushroom label in the early '70s, providing they add a singer. Guitarist, and singer/songwriter Alisha Sufit was recruited for this purpose, and the foursome, now billed asMagic Carpet, recorded a self-titled album that fused Indian and folk music on both vocal and instrumental selections. Released in an edition of only one thousand copies, it was reissued on CD in the 1990s. Alford also recorded as a solo artist. On his 1974 album Mirror Image, the 14-minute title track was a hybrid of Indian music and electric jazz-rock fusion. Alford recorded this cut with an electronic sitar, using a contact microphone and wah-wah pedal, backed by electric guitar, electric piano, bass, and drums. In contrast, side two of the record had two traditional ragas, played by Alford (on tanpura) and Magic Carpet member Keshav Sathe on tabla. The album was reissued on CD in the '90s, with the addition of some later material. In 1996, he reunited with Alisha Sufit to record Once Moor under the nameMagic Carpet II, although neither of the other original Magic Carpet musicians were involved in the album. AMG.

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Art Garfunkel - Breakaway 1975

The second time around, Art Garfunkel turned to pop producer Richard Perry, who liked to record in studios rather than cathedrals and who replaced the angelic style of the first album with a lush pop approach. The result wasGarfunkel's best-selling album. The title track and a cover of "I Only Have Eyes for You" reached the Top 40 (the latter topped the U.K. charts), though the most prominent song was the Simon & Garfunkel reunion single "My Little Town." But the album was full of wise pop choices, among them Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls," Stevie Wonder's "I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever)," and Hal David and Albert Hammond's "1199 Miles from L.A." Perry proved that, given the right material and production, the problem of the relative sameness of Garfunkel's vocal approach could be overcome. AMG.

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Mr. Flood's Party - Mr. Flood's Party 1969

As one of the last truly great psychedelic albums of the 1960s, the eponymous debut (and only) LP by Mr. Flood's Party remains an exquisite listening experience more than 40 years after its was unleashed upon a generally unresponsive record-buying public. Although its intermingling of various musical styles in an experimental fashion was no longer a novelty by this point in the decade, it achieves a grandeur that few other contemporary releases achieve due largely to the group's considerable vocal and instrumental talents. There were still a lot of great mind-expanding records coming out in 1969 even if psychedelia was approaching the end of its commercial rope, and Mr. Flood's Party definitely qualifies as one of them.

An aura of obscurity continues to surround the group due to a scarcity of information about them, a somewhat surprising situation considering that they were signed to major-label Atlantic subsidiary Cotillion and apparently hailed from Long Island in New York. The personnel consisted of Tom Castagnaro, Michael Corbett, Jay Hirsch, Rick Mirage, Marcel Thompsen, and Freddy Toscano, although I cannot locate much in the way of details about what instruments they played. A Myspace page (remember those?) respectively identifies Catagnaro and the Dutch-born Thompsen as a drummer and guitarist and describes some of the other members (the "two 'Principal's'" [sic]) as college professors! Corbett and Hirsch (the rocking academicians?) probably handled a significant amount of the vocals since they would later record an album with guitarist Hugh McCracken on which their singing has been favorably compared with Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young. According to one source, Toscano subsequently functioned as a singer, guitarist, and keyboardist in the little-known mid-1970s band Frogs, and it is quite possible that he served in the same capacity with Mr. Flood's Party. While these two aforementioned offshoots have their musical virtues, neither of them bear much of a resemblance to the band that recorded the subject of this review.

A late 60's psych band naming itself after a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson? They would either become the darling of college campuses.  This curio is a strange but pleasing mix of CS&N type harmony (most notable on the song "Deja Vu," which is not to be confused with the CSN&Y tune) and most any overwrought psych band of the era. Add a dash of Zappa; the band wasn't averse to drifting off into tongue-in-cheek chant ("Tangerine...tangerine...kiss my tangerine...") or mocking the "Evil Prince of Darkness" with saucy lyrics and a dash of doo-wop.
The best song is the shortest, probably the only one that might've had a shot at being a single. Not a hit single, but a single. It's "Simon J. Stone," which is the only song on the album that references Tilbury Town, where Edwin Arlington Robinson's characters lived in their anguish, chagrins and occasional glory. "Simon J. Stone, you're a good man, what is there left for a good man?" Or an obscure 60's psych band that put an old man on the cover of their album years before "Aqualung."

So what does Mr. Flood's Party sound like? As with quite a few albums recorded circa 1966-1969, it is a very eclectic affair and displays a great number of influences including guitar-intensive West Coast psych, orchestrated baroque rock, and harmony-vocal-heavy British Invasion groups to name but a few. The record boasts impressive production standards as well as effects supplied by what sounds like a Moog or Mellotron synthesizer and a Leslie amplifier, while the songs range from delightfully weird hard rock tunes to exquisitely crafted exercises in mind expansion. Even though some critics claim that an overabundance of musical variety prevented Mr. Flood's Party from establishing a concrete musical identity as a band, I beg to differ and believe that their lone effort should be recognized as a challenging and multilayered work that will reward the listener with repeated spins on his or her turntable. Not that I necessarily advocate such things, but indulging in some mind-altering drugs will probably make this record even easier to appreciate. A discernible feeling of sadness pervades much of the album, which should not come as a surprise since the group's name is derived from "Mr. Flood's Party," a piece by the notedly gloomy American poet Edwin Arlington Robinson. (I assume the cover artwork depicts the drunken old sod Mr. Flood himself.) That's not to suggest that Mr. Flood's Party the LP should be considered a tearjerker, although it's certainly an introspective listening experience since the songs explore much of the same thematic territory as Robinson's works. Some of the tracks have an engaging schizophrenic quality to them, in particular "Northern Travel" (an LSD metaphor?) and "Deja Vu," which sound as if they were constructed from several different songs and glued together with psychedelic paste. Wailing lead guitar, soaring strings, and heavenly vocals grace "Advice," while "Prince of Darkness" finds the band sounding somewhat like an East Coast equivalent to the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band to my ears. The delicate but not overly-precious "Simon J. Stone" features more gorgeous harmony singing in addition to lyrics that could pass for one of Robinson's own poems. The Moog showcase "Stanley's Tea" finds Mr. Flood's Party at their most Anglophonic, while "The Liquid Invasion," with its searing lead guitar work, is just as psychedelic as its title implies. The dreamy "Garden of the Queen" returns the band to British-inspired material and intentionally or not comes off as something resembling psych folk. "Mind Circus," the complex closing track, can best be described as a musical interpretation of someone's descent into madness, concluding with a haunting fadeout that will stay with you for days.

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