sábado, 30 de abril de 2011

The Byrds - Younger Than Yesterday 1967

Younger Than Yesterday was somewhat overlooked at the time of its release during an intensely competitive era that found the Byrds on a commercial downslide. However, time has shown it to be the most durable of the Byrds' albums, with the exception of Mr. Tambourine Man. David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, and especially Chris Hillman come into their own as songwriters on an eclectic but focused set blending folk-rock, psychedelia, and early country-rock. The sardonic "So You Want to Be a Rock & Roll Star" was a terrific single; "My Back Pages," also a small hit, was the last of their classic Dylan covers; "Thoughts and Words," the flower-power anthem "Renaissance Fair," "Have You Seen Her Face," and the bluegrass-tinged "Time Between" are all among their best songs. The jazzy "Everybody's Been Burned" may be Crosby's best composition, although his "Mind Gardens" is one of his most excessive. [The CD reissue has six bonus tracks, including the fine Crosby-penned single "Lady Friend," and notably different alternate versions of "Mind Gardens" and "My Back Pages."] AMG.

listen here
Bunky & Jake - LAMF 1969

Andrea "Bunky" Skinner and Allan "Jake" Jacobs met in 1962 at the school of Visual Arts in New York and became part of the Greenwich Village folk scene of the era. In 1965 Jake joined the folk-rock band the Magicians, with Garry Bonner, Alan Gordon, and John Townley. When that band broke up in 1967, he resumed his association with Bunky, signed with Mercury Records, and released the duo's 1968 debut album, Bunky & Jake, followed a year later by the cult classic LAMF. In 2004, the duo returned to recording with a children's album, Oo-Wee Little Children, released on their own B&J Music. AMG.

listen here
Cat Mother & the All Night News Boys - The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away 1969

This is a non-descript band who went Top 25 in July of 1969 with the song "Good Old Rock & Roll," which was co-produced by Jimi Hendrix, as was this album, The Street Giveth...and the Street Taketh Away. The amusing thing about the hit single is that, despite having snippets of "Sweet Little Sixteen," "Long Tall Sally," "Chantilly Lace," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Party Doll" within its three minutes and five seconds, it is the original melody and music written by the five bandmembers which works better than the covers inside. Things do start to slide immediately, though, and the next song, "Favors," is an oddity and sounds nothing like "Good Old Rock & Roll." The keyboards become more dominant and the band begins to resemble a latter-day H.P. Lovecraft-meets-Procol Harum here. "Charlie's Waltz" takes things into even stranger directions; maybe Jimi Hendrix felt that his opening for the Monkees mandated he craft a song that sounded like "Last Train to Clarksville." Steven Roby's book Black Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi Hendrix notes that the band opened for the Jimi Hendrix Experience in November of 1968 and that Hendrix offered production suggestions but did not play on the album. That's the pity here. Half the songs are written by the bandmembers, while the other five were composed by various combinations of the men in the group. There's absolutely no focus to the album, with a song like "How I Spent My Summer" having little relation to "Marie," the tune that follows it. Imagine the experimentation of another group from the era, Ten Wheel Drive, without the intrigue of the songs of Aram Schefrin and Michael Zager. Wonder how Hendrix amused himself while the band was recording "Probably Won't," almost five minutes of strange backing vocals over a weak melody. Side two fares a bit better. "Can You Dance to It?" is like a slowed-down answer to their hit by keyboardist Robert Smith, giving another reference to "Long Tall Sally." Squint your ears and stretch and you might hear the future style of Steely Dan in these grooves, which are competent but not very exciting. The best track next to the hit is the nine-and-a-half-minute jam "Track in 'A' (Nebraska Nights)," written by the group. Percussion and a throbbing rhythm show that the band had chops but truly squandered their golden opportunity. Roby does mention that John McDermott's book, Jimi Hendrix: Sessions, states that there are two reels of Hendrix jamming with an unknown guitarist. That would make this album a bit more interesting, for sure, as it really needed a song and vocal from Hendrix to pull it out of the bargain bins. Roby also notes that the band, represented by Hendrix's manager, Michael Jeffry (who managed Genya Ravan of Ten Wheel Drive at one point as well), opened for Hendrix at one of his final gigs in Sweden, September 1970. It was their affiliation with the guitar great that puts them in the history books and makes this LP a bit of an artifact. AMG.

listen here
The Archies - Sugar Sugar 1969

Most '60s bubblegum groups were faceless studio concoctions, made up of hired professionals and given nominal group identities after the fact. The Archies made no pretense of being a real band in the first place -- their music, including the smash hit "Sugar, Sugar," was "performed" by the animated TV cartoon characters spun off from Archie comics. In reality, of course, they were a studio concoction made up of hired professionals (most notably lead singer Ron Dante), but in this case, they weren't technically faceless.

The Archies were created by promoter Don Kirshner, who was coming off of a major success as the creator of the Monkees. In late 1967, Kirshner was hired as music supervisor for CBS' new Saturday morning cartoon The Archie Show, which was to feature a new original song every week. He immediately brought on producer Jeff Barry, who with Ellie Greenwich had formed one of the pre-eminent songwriting teams of the girl-group era (Greenwich also sang on several Archies records). Kirshner's original choice for lead singer was Kenny Karen, but Barry brought in Ron Dante, an experienced session singer who'd fronted the Detergents' novelty parody "Leader of the Laundromat"; Dante had met Barry at a Neil Diamond session, and had previously cut promos for Kirshner. Dante won the job, and Barry hired Jeannie Thomas as the group's female vocalist. When the TV show debuted, it was a hit, and the first Archies single, "Bang Shang-a-Lang," nearly made the Top 20 in late 1968.

Shortly thereafter, Barry hired songwriter/backing vocalist Andy Kim, and replaced Thomas with Toni Wine. Barry and Kim co-wrote "Sugar, Sugar," which became a breakout smash in 1969; it topped the charts for four weeks, sold over three million copies in the U.S. alone, and wound up as Billboard's number one song of the year. Meanwhile, the TV show was expanded to a full hour, and Dante enjoyed a simultaneous Top Ten hit during "Sugar, Sugar"'s run, thanks to his lead vocal on the Cufflinks' "Tracy." The follow-up, "Jingle Jangle," reached the Top Ten, but from there the Archies' chart success tailed off quickly. Their last Top 40 hit came in the spring of 1970 with "Who's Your Baby?"; the same year, Donna Marie replaced Toni Wine. However, by the end of 1970, Barry left the Archies to pursue other projects, and stories detailing the group's breakup named their primary personnel for the first time. Their final Barry-produced single was released in early 1971, although "A Summer Prayer for Peace" became a hit in South Africa later that summer. Ron Dante embarked on a short-lived solo career before moving into record production, and found substantial success as Barry Manilow's producer throughout the '70s; he also returned to singing on commercial jingles. Andy Kim went on to score a substantial solo hit in 1974 with "Rock Me Gently." AMG.

listen here
The Mandrake Memorial - Puzzle 1969

While Mandrake Memorial's second LP (Medium) had moved them in a more self-consciously progressive hard rock direction, their third and final album went somewhat off the deep end in that regard. There was little left of the song-driven psychedelia of their first and best album, and what had replaced it came close to drowning in an inchoate blend of late psychedelia and early progressive rock. There's much apparent ambition on this record but little coherence, alternating semi-improvised-sounding noodly instrumental passages with not-so-great songs and positively weird swells of operatic doomsday voices and cinematic electronic rock. It sounds like a concept album without a concept, complete with brief interludes and preludes. Parts of the ten-minute "Bucket of Air" make it clear that they probably did their share of listening to Pink Floyd's A Saucerful of Secrets, but the Floyd seemed positively economic next to this squawky aimlessness. Occasional gasps of their original song-oriented brand of wistful psychedelia can be heard, but it's overwhelmed by the messy crossfire of half-formed fusions of hard rock, classical, and other miscellany. The 1996 reissue on Collectables adds both sides of the non-LP single "Something in the Air"/"Musical Man," the A-side of which was a cover of the Thunderclap Newman hit. AMG.

listen here
Savoy Brown - Raw Sienna 1969

Part of the late-'60s blues-rock movement, Britain's Savoy Brown never achieved as much success in their homeland as they did in America, where they promoted their albums with nonstop touring. The band was formed and led by guitarist Kim Simmonds, whose dominating personality has led to myriad personnel changes; the original lineup included singer Bryce Portius, keyboardist Bob Hall, guitarist Martin Stone, bassist Ray Chappell, and drummer Leo Manning. This lineup appeared on the band's 1967 debut, Shake Down, a collection of blues covers. Seeking a different approach, Simmonds dissolved the group and brought in guitarist Dave Peverett, bassist Rivers Jobe, drummer Roger Earl, and singer Chris Youlden, who gave them a distinctive frontman with his vocal abilities, bowler hat, and monocle. With perhaps its strongest lineup, Savoy Brown quickly made a name for itself, now recording originals like "Train to Nowhere" as well. However, Youlden left the band in 1970 following Raw Sienna, and shortly thereafter, Peverett, Earl, and new bassist Tony Stevens departed to form Foghat, continuing the pattern of consistent membership turnover. Simmonds collected yet another lineup and began a hectic tour of America, showcasing the group's now-refined bluesy boogie rock style, which dominated the rest of their albums. The group briefly broke up in 1973, but re-formed the following year. Throughout the '80s and '90s Simmonds remained undeterred by a revolving-door membership and continued to tour and record. Their first album for the Blind Pig label, Strange Dreams, was released in 2003. Steel followed in 2007 from Panache Records.

This high-water mark by the band finds them softening their rougher edges and stretching out into jazz territory, yet still retaining a blues foundation. There's not a bad cut here, with enough variety (bottleneck slide, acoustic guitar, horns, and strings) to warrant frequent late-night listenings. "A Hard Way to Go," "Needle and Spoon," and "Stay While the Night Is Young" are especially strong, as are two instrumental numbers. Unfortunately, leader Kim Simmonds lost his greatest asset when vocalist Chris Youlden quit for an ill-fated solo career after this recording. Youlden had one of the most distinctive voices in British blues, and Savoy would never fully recover from his exit. AMG.

listen here
Spirits And Worm - Spirits And Worm 1969

An original vinyl copy of SPIRITS AND WORM (A&M SP 4229) is among the rarest collectors item lps around. This item was released briefly in 1969, primarily in the New York City area and only a few copies got out before it disappeared. The legend goes that the album was pulled from distribution because the cover art (a couple of goats resting on a tombstone) was rumored to be satanic.

A listen to the music, a collection of love songs with a Jefferson Airplane and Santana type sound, quickly disspells such associations. “Fanny Firecracker” and “You and I Together,” featuring the Grace Slick-like vocals of Adrianne Maurici, came out as a single (A&M 1104). Other group members were Carlos Hernandez (primary songwriter), Artie Hicks Jr., Alfred Scotti, and Tommy Parris. Don’t know any more about them. Would like to know where they are today and what they’re doing. Collectors of obscure vintage psychedlia shouldn’t miss out on this. (J. B. Brent). Thanks redtelephone66.com.

listen here
Diana Ross & The Supremes - Cream Of The Crop 1969

The final Diana Ross & the Supremes' album before Ross' departure, a duet LP with the Temptations (the second for the two groups) came out the same month. This ragtag bunch of vault dwellers and passed over tunes written by the company's third and fourth tier writers and producers has a misleading title: there are few creams and it's a bad crop. The sole star is their scintillating remake of Johnny & Jackey's forgotten "Someday We'll Be Together" -- their last hurrah, and a few other honorable mentions, namely "The Young Folks" and "You Gave Me Love." Despite the shortcomings, it wrangled its way to number 33 on Billboard's Pop Chart. AMG.

listen here

sábado, 23 de abril de 2011

Martin Circus - En Direct Du Rock'N Roll Circus 1969

One of the first -- if not the first -- French-language rock bands, Martin Circus formed in the late '60s and released a handful of respected albums. Underrated and unknown. If you don't know it don't miss the opportunity to listen. Highly recommended. Thanks to Bertrand the MFP.

listen here
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. Lateef spent 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 McBee, Roy 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 Gale and 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
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."

listen here
Strawberry Alarm Clock - Good Morning Starshine 1969

This is the fourth and final long-player of new material from Strawberry Alarm Clock (SAC). As with their previous discs, Good Morning Starshine is a mixed affair. Prior to recording the album, the band underwent a somewhat drastic personnel change -- replacing longtime members George Bunnell (bass/vocals) and Randy Seol (drums/vocals) with Jimmy Pitman (guitar/vocals) and Gene Gunnels (drums), respectively. Also of note is the fact that all of Bunnell's songwriting credits for material on this album actually belong to Gunnels. The music has shifted away from the mix of punky psychedelia such as "Love Me Again" and "The World Is on Fire," inheriting a much more aggressive, bluesy approach à la Grand Funk Railroad or even (gasp) MC5. Although there are sonic vestiges and remnants of the band's former self -- such as the disc's pseudo-hippie title track -- by all accounts this was the antithesis of what the band had been up until this point. The dichotomy in the material on Good Morning Starshine is indicative that SAC had pretty much run their course. With managerial and other behind-the-scenes issues continuing to plague them, there are no signs of cohesion within the grooves. The disc is certainly full of strong material, despite the decidedly aimless direction. "Small Package" is reminiscent of the band's sound, circa Wake Up...It's Tomorrow. Likewise, the song is a minor chord masterpiece in the same vein as their previous hit, "Tomorrow." The "California Girls" vocal tag is a nod to the Beach Boys, with whom SAC shared many a late-'60s performance stage. Additionally, either of the two versions of the mid-tempo rocker "Miss Attraction" would have been a welcome addition to their earlier releases. The free-form jamming and lead guitar lines are definitely reminiscent of early Spirit and the highly underrated Bay Area band Kak. The heavier and blues-influenced "Me and the Township," "Off Ramp Road Tramp," and "Hog Child" recall Blue Cheer and even later-era Moby Grape as much as they do the electric British blues of, say, Fleetwood Mac. AMG.

listen here
Moncho - El gitano del bolero 1969

Born in Barcelona in 1940, Moncho is known as the king of bolero, in Spain, Latin America and Cuba where is much apreciated. Give it a listen!

listen here
The Beatles - Rubber Soul 1965

While the Beatles still largely stuck to love songs on Rubber Soul, the lyrics represented a quantum leap in terms of thoughtfulness, maturity, and complex ambiguities. Musically, too, it was a substantial leap forward, with intricate folk-rock arrangements that reflected the increasing influence of Dylan and the Byrds. The group and George Martin were also beginning to expand the conventional instrumental parameters of the rock group, using a sitar on "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," Greek-like guitar lines on "Michelle" and "Girl," fuzz bass on "Think for Yourself," and a piano made to sound like a harpsichord on the instrumental break of "In My Life." While John and Paul were beginning to carve separate songwriting identities at this point, the album is full of great tunes, from "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)" and "Michelle" to "Girl," "I'm Looking Through You," "You Won't See Me," "Drive My Car," and "Nowhere Man" (the last of which was the first Beatle song to move beyond romantic themes entirely). George Harrison was also developing into a fine songwriter with his two contributions, "Think for Yourself" and the Byrds-ish "If I Needed Someone." AMG.

listen here
The Doors - The Soft Parade 1969

The weakest studio album recorded with Jim Morrison in the group, partially because their experiments with brass and strings on about half the tracks weren't entirely successful. More to the point, though, this was their weakest set of material, low lights including filler like "Do It" and "Runnin' Blue," a strange bluegrass-soul blend that was a small hit. On the other hand, about half the record is quite good, especially the huge hit "Touch Me" (their most successful integration of orchestration), the vicious hard rock riffs of "Wild Child," the overlooked "Shaman's Blues," and the lengthy title track, a multi-part suite that was one of the band's best attempts to mix rock with poetry. "Tell All the People" and "Wishful Sinful," both penned by Robbie Krieger, were uncharacteristically wistful tunes that became small hits but were not all that good, and not sung very convincingly by Morrison. AMG.

listen here
Chicken Shack - 100 Ton Chicken 1969

This British blues-rock group is remembered mostly for their keyboard player, Christine Perfect, who would join Fleetwood Mac after marrying John McVie and changing her last name. Although they were one of the more pedestrian acts of the British blues boom, Chicken Shack was quite popular for a time in the late '60s, placing two albums in the British Top 20. The frontperson of Chicken was not Perfect/McVie, but guitarist Stan Webb, who would excite British audiences by entering the crowds at performances, courtesy of his 100-meter-long guitar lead. They were signed to Mike Vernon's Blue Horizon label, a British blues pillar that had its biggest success with early Fleetwood Mac.

Chicken Shack was actually not far behind Mac in popularity in the late '60s, purveying a more traditional brand of Chicago blues, heavily influenced by Freddie King. Although Webb took most of the songwriting and vocal duties, Christine Perfect also chipped in with occasional compositions and lead singing. In fact, she sang lead on their only British Top 20 single, "I'd Rather Go Blind" (1969). But around that time, she quit the music business to marry John McVie and become a housewife, although, as the world knows, that didn't last too long. Chicken Shack never recovered from Christine's loss, commercially or musically. Stan Webb kept Chicken Shack going, with a revolving door of other musicians, all the way into the 1980s, though he briefly disbanded the group to join Savoy Brown for a while in the mid-'70s. AMG.

listen here
Steamhammer - Speech 1972

Musically, Steamhammer was the cream of the crop of all rock bands from their thriving primordial era. In the realm of power rock trios, they were comparable to Cream. Yet this band is far superior in every way, but they failed to get the rave reviews and critical attention that the flashier Cream garnered. Diverging from the typical power rock style on Speech, their fourth and final album, the band found themselves in a dilemma without their vocalist, who had left after the previous release, Mountains. This led to a radical development for the band. Instead of hiring a new singer, the rest of the group picked up the slack, and reduced the role of the vocals significantly, opting for a progressive jam style that was hugely innovative for its time. Guitarist Martin Pugh offers a crashing, furious style that mixes Jimmy Page with early Robert Fripp. When Pugh seeks passages of beauty and tranquility, he finds them with ease, but when he aims for intensity, watch out! He literally attacks the listener, pounding them with his mammoth, perfectly executed riffs. Meanwhile, bassist Louis Cennamo is so talented and innovative that he single-handedly brought the bow into rock music with his bowed bass intro to the album. Several years before Page would pick up the bow for "Kashmir," Cennamo uses the bowed bass as means to an end, not for simple effect. Just as a normal bassist alone, masters within the genre owe their lifeblood to him. For he is able to play along with just about the toughest, most technical drumming around, that of drummer Mick Bradley, who is easily the most accomplished musician of the trio. To state that he is rock's greatest drummer is simply not enough. His energetic approach to the drum kit helped him become one of the first and only drummers in rock history, along with King Crimson's Michael Giles, to use polyrhythmic drumming, a style commonly used by jazz drummers. His dynamic performance on the primarily instrumental "For Against," which blows away John Bonham's "Moby Dick" and Ginger Baker's "Toad" in a heartbeat. On this album, there was a rumor that the band received some secret vocal and lyrical help from Yardbirds vocalist Keith Relf. Whether or not this is true remains a mystery, but what is fact, sadly, is that not long after this album Mick Bradley succumbed to Leukemia and passed away. This marked the end of Steamhammer, but the other two members forged on, forming a band called Armageddon. Speech is one of rock's finest and most creative hours, and one tends to wonder where Steamhammer could have gone from this point on had it not been for obscurity and sudden tragedy. AMG.

listen here
The Beatles - Revolver 1966

All the rules fell by the wayside with Revolver, as the Beatles began exploring new sonic territory, lyrical subjects, and styles of composition. It wasn't just Lennon and McCartney, either -- Harrison staked out his own dark territory with the tightly wound, cynical rocker "Taxman"; the jaunty yet dissonant "I Want to Tell You"; and "Love You To," George's first and best foray into Indian music. Such explorations were bold, yet they were eclipsed by Lennon's trippy kaleidoscopes of sound. His most straightforward number was "Doctor Robert," an ode to his dealer, and things just got stranger from there as he buried "And Your Bird Can Sing" in a maze of multi-tracked guitars, gave Ringo a charmingly hallucinogenic slice of childhood whimsy in "Yellow Submarine," and then capped it off with a triptych of bad trips: the spiraling "She Said She Said"; the crawling, druggy "I'm Only Sleeping"; and "Tomorrow Never Knows," a pure nightmare where John sang portions of the Tibetan Book of the Dead into a suspended microphone over Ringo's thundering, menacing drumbeats and layers of overdubbed, phased guitars and tape loops. McCartney's experiments were formal, as he tried on every pop style from chamber pop to soul, and when placed alongside Lennon's and Harrison's outright experimentations, McCartney's songcraft becomes all the more impressive. The biggest miracle of Revolver may be that the Beatles covered so much new stylistic ground and executed it perfectly on one record, or it may be that all of it holds together perfectly. Either way, its daring sonic adventures and consistently stunning songcraft set the standard for what pop/rock could achieve. Even after Sgt. Pepper, Revolver stands as the ultimate modern pop album and it's still as emulated as it was upon its original release. AMG.

listen here
Joe Cocker - With A Little Help From My Friends 1969

Joe Cocker's debut album holds up extraordinarily well across four decades, the singer's performance bolstered by some very sharp playing, not only by his established sideman/collaborator Chris Stainton, but also some top-notch session musicians, among them drummer Clem Cattini, Steve Winwood on organ, and guitarists Jimmy Page and Albert Lee, all sitting in. It's Cocker's voice, a soulful rasp of an instrument backed up by Madeline Bell, Sunny Weetman and Rossetta Hightower that carries this album and makes "Change in Louise," "Feeling Alright," "Just Like a Woman," "I Shall Be Released," and even "Bye Bye Blackbird" into profound listening experiences. But the surprises in the arrangements, tempo, and approaches taken help make this an exceptional album. Tracks like "Just Like a Woman," with its soaring gospel organ above a lean textured acoustic and light electric accompaniment, and the guitar-dominated rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -- the formal debut of the Grease Band on record -- all help make this an exceptional listening experience. The 1999 A&M reissue not only includes new notes and audiophile-quality sound, but also a pair of bonus tracks, the previously unanthologized B-sides "The New Age of Lily" and "Something Coming On," deserved better than the obscurity in which they previously dwelt. AMG.

listen here

terça-feira, 19 de abril de 2011

Rod Stewart - Never A Dull Moment 1972

Essentially a harder-rocking reprise of Every Picture Tells a Story, Never a Dull Moment never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor, but it's a wonderful, multi-faceted record in its own right. Opening with the touching, autobiographical rocker "True Blue," which finds Rod Stewart trying to come to grips with his newfound stardom but concluding that he'd "rather be back home," the record is the last of Stewart's series of epic fusions of hard rock and folk. It's possible to hear Stewart go for superstardom with the hard-rocking kick and fat electric guitars of the album, but the songs still cut to the core. "You Wear It Well" is a "Maggie May" rewrite on the surface, but it develops into a touching song about being emotionally inarticulate. Similarly, "Lost Paraguayos" is funny, driving folk-rock, and it's hard not to be swept away when the Stonesy hard rocker "Italian Girls" soars into a mandolin-driven coda. The covers -- whether a soulful reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel," an empathetic version of Dylan's "Mama, You Been on My Mind," or a stunning interpretation of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind" -- are equally effective, making Never a Dull Moment a masterful record. He never got quite this good ever again. AMG.

listen here
Stanley Clarke - Children of Forever 1972

Stanley Clarke's debut solo effort was issued when he was already a seasoned jazz veteran, and a member of Chick Corea's Return to Forever, which at the time of this recording also included Joe Farrell on soprano sax and flute, and the Brazilian team of vocalist Flora Purim and drummer/percussionist Airto Moreira. Produced by Corea, who plays Rhodes, clavinet, and acoustic piano on Children of Forever, the band included flutist Art Webb, then-new RtF drummer Lenny White, guitarist Pat Martino, and a vocal pairing in the inimitable Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater on three of the five cuts -- Bey appears on four. Clarke plays both electric and acoustic bass on the set; and while it would be easy to simply look at this recording as an early fusion date, that would be a tragic mistake. If anything, Children of Forever is a true cousin to Norman Connors' classic Dance of Magic and Dark of Light albums, which were also released in 1973; Clarke played bass on both. This is basically funky, spiritual jazz in the best sense. Yes, jazz. That wonderfully mercurial, indefinable force that brings into itself the whole of music, from popular to classical and folk forms, and makes something new out of them. The long title track with its killer vocal interplay between Bridgewater and Bey is seductive from the jump. Add Clarke's big fat bassline, which is mellow and meaty at the beginning, but after the long piano and guitar breaks in the middle becomes dirty, fuzzy, and spacy by the end as the cut leans into souled-out funk.

The "message" tunes that make up this music balance the dawning of the future as the logical place of Black consciousness -- where a new day was indeed emerging from the struggles of the '50s and '60s. Add to this the cosmic looking cover, and its weighed electric and acoustic underpinnings, and you have the makings of a timeless classic. Indeed, no matter how one feels about Clarke's later work, which aimed for the harder and funkier realms of disco and urban soul as well as keeping his jazz chops intact, this disc in every sense is forward-looking and memorable. Bridgewater's lead vocal interaction with Webb's flute on "Unexpected Days," with Bey helping on the bridge and refrain, is awe-inspiring. The ensemble is focused on "song." Corea's has rarely sounded so naturally funky as he does here and his production is free of the hard, sometimes brittle sound he would employ with the Al DiMeola-Lenny White version of RtF. The centerpiece of the disc is a vehicle for Clarke, called "Bass Folk Song." At nearly eight minutes, Clarke plays both upright and electric bass, sometimes employing a wah wah pedal on the former. It shows his virtuosity; he could literally make either instrument sing. Corea is fantastic in his supporting role, playing fills and vamps behind the bassist and Martino -- who also has never sounded so nasty as he does here on electric guitar and 12-string acoustic -- they're full of innovative rhythms and eclectic harmonics. And White is simply a powerhouse, breaking beats and taking Clarke for a real ride in almost unconscious rhythmic interplay.

The last half of the set is equally wonderful with the ballad "Butterfly Dreams" that launches into something wholly other by its midpoint, and never loses sight of its melody, lush harmonics, and very real sense of abstract swing. Clarke propels the ensemble from the bass chair, and allows everyone the room to blend into that big wood sound he gets on his upright. Bey's vocal performance on the cut is one of his best on record. The set closes with Corea's "Sea Journey," the longest track here, coming in at over 16 minutes. There is quite a bit of improvisation here as one might expect, with Corea playing intense Latin contrapuntal melodies on his Rhodes and clavinet -- even moving into descarga at one point -- and Bridgewater and Bey stretching their vocals to drape the music; their pairing is utterly elegant, soulful, and lovely. Clarke and White are a force maejure as a rhythm section, they push and entwine with one another in a dance of double, triple, and half-time beats and pulses, bringing a sense of not only movement but travel to the proceedings without ever leaving the groove. The beautiful front line of Corea and Webb in the head and during the middle section is subtle and haunting; it literally drifts, anchored only by the rhythm section that keeps them from lifting off into more modal explorations. Martino is free to fill, solo, vamp, and project. Clarke's bowed bass fiddle solo, which interplays with Bey's vocal, is brave and deeply moving; there isn't a trace of gimmickry in it (or anywhere else on this set, for that matter). Like the aforementioned Connors' recordings, Children of Forever has aged exceedingly well, and sounds as warm, inviting, and full of possibility in the early 21st century as it did in the early '70s. It's full of heart, soul, passion, and truly inspired musicianship. AMG.

listen here
James Brown - There It Is 1972

Brown's Polydor debut, Hot Pants, was nothing more than an inferior remake of the title track baited with a batch of half-baked vamps. There It Is, his second Polydor studio album, was a marked improvement. Not that he put much into this one either. This 1972 effort collected five of his best early-'70s tracks and mixed in minimal filler. "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothing" and "There It Is (Parts 1 and 2)," with its bebop-style horns, were both innovative and hard driving to a fault. The hilarious "I'm a Greedy Man," with its hypnotic bass and help from Bobby Byrd, has Brown firing off such witticisms as "I'm a greedy man / yes I are" and "Taking care of my business / now run tell that." Brown wasn't all fun and games on this one. "King Heroin," an eerie, laid-back jazz offering, has him reciting chilling poetry about the ills of the drug. "Public Enemy #1 (Pt. 1)" attempts to re-create the same message. By "Public Enemy #2 (Pt. 2)" he is doing nothing but connecting the same dots and screaming himself hoarse to little effect. Although by this point Brown was best known for his dance tracks, he still had a way with a ballad. "Who am I," a song that had been kicking around his oeuvre for aeons, gets a strong arrangement and has Brown giving an impassioned performance. Like many of his '70s albums, There It Is was out of circulation for close to 20 years until it was reissued on CD in mid-'90s. It's well worth picking up. AMG.

listen here
Stevie Wonder - Music Of My Mind 1972

With a new contract from Motown in his hand, Stevie Wonder released Music of My Mind, his first truly unified record and, with the exception of a single part on two songs, the work of a one-man-band. Everything he had learned about musicianship, engineering, and production during his long apprenticeship in the Snakepit at Motown Studios came together here (from the liner notes: "The sounds themselves come from inside his mind. The man is his own instrument. The instrument is an orchestra.") Music of My Mind was also the first to bear the fruits of his increased focus on Moog and Arp synthesizers, though the songs never sound synthetic, due in great part to Stevie's reliance on a parade of real instruments -- organic drumwork, harmonica, organs and pianos -- as well as his mastery of traditional song structure and his immense musical personality. The intro of the vibrant, tender "I Love Every Little Thing About You" is a perfect example, humanized with a series of lightly breathed syllables for background rhythm. And when the synthesizers do appear, it's always in the perfect context: the standout "Superwoman" really benefits from its high-frequency harmonics, and "Seems So Long" wouldn't sound quite as affectionate without the warm electronics gurgling in the background. This still wasn't a perfect record, though; "Sweet Little Girl" was an awkward song, with Stevie assuming another of his embarrassing musical personalities to fawn over a girl. AMG.

listen here
Jacques Brel - Ne me quitte pas 1972

Singer/songwriter Jacques Brel created and performed a catalog of literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that brought him a large, devoted following in France. His audience eventually extended internationally, making him a major influence on English-speaking writers and performers including Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, while translations of his songs were recorded by a wide range of performers from the Kingston Trio to Frank Sinatra.

Born in Brussels, Belgium, on April 8, 1929, Brel was the son of Romain Brel, who worked in an import-export firm, but later became co-director of a company that manufactured cardboard cartons, and Elisabeth (Lambertine) Brel. He began playing the guitar at the age of 15. After quitting school, he took a job in his father's plant in August 1947. During this period, he became increasingly interested in music, beginning to perform while a member of a church youth group and starting to write his own songs. In 1952, he first performed on local radio, and in February 1953 he was signed by Philips Records, which released his debut single, "La Foire"/"Il Y A," in March. Its modest success led to professional bookings locally and, soon, a move to Paris, where he built up a following in the clubs. In July 1954, he made his first appearance at the prestigious Olympia Theater in Paris, followed by his first French tour, and at the end of the year Philips released his debut album, a nine-song, 10" LP called Jacques Brel et Ses Chansons. More touring followed, and he achieved a commercial breakthrough in 1956 when his song "Quand On N'A Pas Que l'Amour" (later adapted into English as "If We Only Have Love"), released on an EP, became a hit, reaching number three in the French charts. His subsequent LP releases were Jacques Brel 2 (1957), Jacques Brel 3 (1958), and Jacques Brel 4 (1959).

In 1960, Brel earned a U.S. release with American Début on Columbia Records, a compilation of Philips tracks. In France, he switched from Philips to the recently formed Barclay Records in March 1962, his first LP release for the label being the live album A l'Olympia 1962, followed by his first studio album in four years, Jacques Brel Accompagne Pas François Rauber et Son Orchestra. After performing mainly in French-speaking territories, he was becoming a star worldwide and touring internationally much of the year. In February 1963, he made his U.S. performing debut at Carnegie Hall in New York. American poet and singer Rod McKuen began writing English lyrics to Brel's songs, and the Kingston Trio recorded "Seasons in the Sun," McKuen's version of a song Brel had titled "Le Moribond," on their Time to Think LP in 1964. That year in France, Jacques Brel, Vol. 6 and another live album, Olympia 64, appeared.

In 1965, Reprise Records licensed tracks from Barclay for a U.S. release called Jacques Brel, and Brel returned to Carnegie Hall on December 4. In 1966, Damita Jo recorded "If You Go Away," McKuen's version of the Brel composition "Ne Me Quitte Pas," and it reached the charts. The wistful song, with its alternating happy and sad lyrics and lush melody, became a pop standard recorded by dozens of singers, including Tom Jones, Frank Sinatra, and Neil Diamond. Also in 1966, Judy Collins put an English-language version of Brel's "La Colombe" ("The Dove") on her In My Life album (Joan Baez covered the same song the following year on her album Joan), and Glenn Yarbrough sang "The Women" ("Les Biches") on his LP The Lonely Things. Philips Records, meanwhile, weighed in with an American Brel compilation, The Poetic World of Jacques Brel.

Brel announced his retirement from concert work in 1966, giving a final series of shows in Paris at the Olympia in the fall, but after that he had six months of performances internationally to fulfill. These included appearances in the U.S., where Reprise issued Encore, another compilation drawn from Barclay, and Vanguard Records had Le Formidable Jacques Brel. His last concert came on May 16, 1967. He was not, however, retiring from other kinds of performing: he continued to record, his next LP appropriately being titled Jacques Brel '67 (though it turned out to be his last new studio album for a decade); he starred in his first feature film, the non-musical drama Les Risques du Metièr, before the end of the year (with nine more movies to follow through 1973, some featuring his music); and he also turned to the legitimate stage, translating and taking the leading role in a French production of the American musical Man of la Mancha that opened in Brussels on October 4, 1968, and moved to Paris, where it ran from December until June 1969. (A cast album was released.)

Overseas, meanwhile, his name was given greater prominence by a New York stage production in which he did not appear, an off-Broadway revue of his songs that, keying off of speculation about his decision to stop touring, was called Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. It opened at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village on January 22, 1968. Songwriter Mort Shuman and playwright Eric Blau had translated Brel's lyrics more closely than McKuen, conveying in English the pathos and wit of his story-songs, and the effect was overwhelming -- the revue played nearly 2,000 performances, becoming one of the longest-running off-Broadway shows in history. Columbia Records released a double-LP box set of the complete show as an original cast album. The revue was revived on Broadway, in 1972 and 1981, and off-Broadway in 2006, and it was turned into a film in 1975, with Brel himself making a cameo appearance. The success of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris increased Brel's profile in English-speaking countries. In England, American expatriate Scott Walker's recording of "Jackie" (aka "La Chanson de Jacky") from the show hit the charts the month before the New York opening, reaching the Top 40. (Marc Almond's revival, drawn from his tribute album Jacques, made the British Top 20 in 1991.) "Jackie" was included on Walker's debut solo LP, Scott, which also featured Brel's "Mathilde," "Amsterdam," and "My Death" ("La Mort"), and Walker also put Brel songs on his subsequent albums Scott 2 (1968) and Scott 3 (1969). Other British Brel fans included David Bowie, who released a version of "Amsterdam" as a B-side single in 1973 while also performing "My Death" in concert, and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, which titled an album after Brel's song "Next" ("Au Suivant") in 1973. In the U.S., Judy Collins recorded "Marieke" for her Whales & Nightingales album in 1970; Frank Sinatra put "I'm Not Afraid" (a McKuen lyric for "Fils De") on the B-side of a single in 1971; Dionne Warwick scored a chart entry with "If We Only Have Love" in 1972; and at the end of 1973 Terry Jacks released a revival of "Seasons in the Sun" that hit number one in both the U.S. and the U.K., followed by a chart entry with his version of "If You Go Away."

Brel himself, meanwhile, continued to appear in French films, making his screenwriting and directorial debut with Franz in 1972 and memorably taking his final starring role opposite stone-faced Lino Ventura in Edouard Molinaro's 1973 black comedy L'Emmerdeur (released in the U.S. with the title A Pain in the A-), which was remade in 1981 with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau as Buddy Buddy. In July 1974, having bought a yacht, Brel set off on what was intended to be a circumnavigation of the globe. But in October, while in the Canary Islands, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went to Brussels for an operation to remove part of his left lung. After recovering, he returned to his boat and continued on his journey. In November 1975, he reached the Marquesas Islands, where he decided to stay. He returned to France in July 1977 to record a new album, Brel, issued in November. The LP became a massive hit, reportedly selling 650,000 copies on its first day of release and eventually topping two million copies. Suffering a recurrence of cancer, Brel again returned to France in July 1978 for treatment, but he died three months later at the age of 49. In France, Brel's reputation as one of the major singers and songwriters of the 20th century is secure. In the English-speaking world, his influence is limited by the language barrier and by his musical taste in traditional pop and cabaret, rather than the predominant style of the second half of the century, rock. Nevertheless, his lyrics, delving into personal, dark, and adult subjects, are in keeping with the trend toward frankness and seriousness of popular songwriting from Bob Dylan on and even anticipate that trend. As such, Brel is something of a French older brother to the likes of Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and all the confessional singer/songwriters who followed them. At the same time, his work, as translated into often bowdlerized English (especially in the McKuen versions), has extended his influence as a songwriter across genres. In addition to those already mentioned, the list of performers who have recorded Brel's songs is an amazingly broad selection of rock, pop, jazz, and country artists, including Karen Akers, Shirley Bassey, Acker Bilk, Ray Bryant, Glen Campbell, Ray Conniff, John Denver, Dion, Celine Dion, the Fortunes, Robyn Hitchcock, Shirley Horn, Julio Iglesias, Jack Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Brenda Lee, Ute Lemper, Vera Lynn, Al Martino, Paul Mauriat, Helen Merrill, Ronnie Milsap, Nana Mouskouri, Olivia Newton-John, Freda Payne, Pearls Before Swine, Mitch Ryder, the Seekers, Dusty Springfield, Bobby Vinton, Andy Williams, and Nancy Wilson. AMG.

listen here

segunda-feira, 18 de abril de 2011

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Déjà Vu 1970

One of the most hotly awaited second albums in history -- right up there with those by the Beatles and the Band -- Déjà Vu lived up to its expectations and rose to number one on the charts. Those achievements are all the more astonishing given the fact that the group barely held together through the estimated 800 hours it took to record Déjà Vu and scarcely functioned as a group for most of that time. Déjà Vu worked as an album, a product of four potent musical talents who were all ascending to the top of their game coupled with some very skilled production, engineering, and editing. There were also some obvious virtues in evidence -- the addition of Neil Young to the Crosby, Stills & Nash lineup added to the level of virtuosity, with Young and Stephen Stills rising to new levels of complexity and volume on their guitars. Young's presence also ratcheted up the range of available voices one notch and added a uniquely idiosyncratic songwriter to the fold, though most of Young's contributions in this area were confined to the second side of the LP. Most of the music, apart from the quartet's version of Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock," was done as individual sessions by each of the members when they turned up (which was seldom together), contributing whatever was needed that could be agreed upon. "Carry On" worked as the album's opener when Stills "sacrificed" another copyright, "Questions," which comprised the second half of the track and made it more substantial. "Woodstock" and "Carry On" represented the group as a whole, while the rest of the record was a showcase for the individual members. David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" was a piece of high-energy hippie-era paranoia not too far removed in subject from the Byrds' "Drug Store Truck Drivin' Man," only angrier in mood and texture (especially amid the pumping organ and slashing guitars); the title track, also by Crosby, took 100 hours to work out and was a better-received successor to such experimental works as "Mind Gardens," out of his earlier career with the Byrds, showing his occasional abandonment of a rock beat, or any fixed rhythm at all, in favor of washing over the listener with tones and moods. "Teach Your Children," the major hit off the album, was a reflection of the hippie-era idealism that still filled Graham Nash's life, while "Our House" was his stylistic paean to the late-era Beatles and "4+20" was a gorgeous Stephen Stills blues excursion that was a precursor to the material he would explore on the solo album that followed. And then there were Neil Young's pieces, the exquisitely harmonized "Helpless" (which took many hours to get to the slow version finally used) and the roaring country-ish rockers that ended side two, which underwent a lot of tinkering by Young -- even his seeming throwaway finale, "Everybody I Love You," was a bone thrown to longtime fans as perhaps the greatest Buffalo Springfield song that they didn't record. All of this variety made Déjà Vu a rich musical banquet for the most serious and personal listeners, while mass audiences reveled in the glorious harmonies and the thundering electric guitars, which were presented in even more dramatic and expansive fashion on the tour that followed. AMG.

listen here
Bob Seger System - Mongrel 1970

Most artists that deliver a second record as shaky as Noah fold on their third album. Not Bob Seger. He reasserted control of the System, consigning Tom Neme to a fanboy's footnote, and returning the group to the piledriving rock that was his trademark. All of this was evident with his third album, the superb Mongrel. Never before, and never since, has Seger rocked as recklessly and viciously as he did here -- after a spell in the wilderness, he's found his voice. He's so assured, he elevates his Ramblin' Gamblin' Man characters Lucy Blue and Chicago Green to mythic status in the pulverizing "Lucifer," perhaps the greatest song on this lean, muscular record. That assurance carries over not just through the ferocious rockers that dominate the album -- "Evil Edna," "Highway Child," "Leanin on My Dream," and "Song to Rufus" all hit harder than latter-day MC5 -- but to quieter moments like "Big River," where he first hits upon the wistful, passionate ballad style later popularized with "Night Moves." The fact that the System connects on both illustrates that Seger is not just fronting an excellent band, but that he's developing into a first-class songwriter. Put it this way -- the only time the System sounds ill at ease is when they tackle "River Deep - Mountain High," and that's not because they're ill-suited to the epic -- it's because they find the lie in the song's artificial pretensions and deliver a performance that eclipses the song itself. That two-fisted punch of terrific performances and songs is unexpected, especially after an album as conflicted as Noah, but the truly remarkable thing is that Mongrel showcases a band so powerful and a songwriter so distinctive, that it still sounds white-hot decades after its release. AMG.

listen here