Monday, August 10, 2020

The End of the Game - Peter Green

The End of the Game
Peter Green
Reprise 6346

I was very sorry to see that Peter Green had died.  He was one of my favorite guitarists in rock.  My admiration was entirely based on his work with the band he founded, Fleetwood Mac.  I have a few of his solo albums (mostly on CD) which are fine but uninspired for the most part.  This is my favorite of his solo records.  It was his first solo album and sounds little like his recordings with Fleetwood Mac.  I was extremely disappointed when I first bought it but I've since come to admire it.  I was expecting more of blues/hard rock sound like his previous work, but the album consists of a series of jazzy instrumental jams with a dash of funk.  It reminds me of late period Jimi Hendrix and I would not be surprised if that was an influence on Green's approach to the record.  The record gets off to a strong start with "Bottoms Up" which is my favorite track.  Supported by a heavy bass riff from Alex Dmochowski, Greens cuts loose with smoking hot guitar runs.  The jam lacks direction but it is full of energy and I find it extremely stimulating.  The track goes on for slightly over nine minutes but I still think it fades out too soon.  "Timeless Time" is far more subdued.  Green's solo is lovely although it sounds tentative.  Side one concludes with "Descending Scale" which sounds like jazz fusion.  The song opens with Dmochowski laying down staccato bass riffs while Zoot Money delivers bursts of kinetic piano riffs as Green unleashes a noisy almost discordant guitar frenzy, before the song slows down for an extended interlude of interwoven bass and guitar noodling reminiscent of the Grateful Dead that is moderately engaging to me if I am in the right mood.  The song picks up steam near the end as the piano rejoins the action before the jam is clumsily cut off to end the side.  Side two opens with "Burnt Foot" which starts promisingly with a compelling riff from Dmochowski which unfortunately evolves into a drum solo from Godfrey MacLean that I find as tedious as most drum solos.  The song comes back to life with the rest of the band rejoining for some heavy riffing that produces some of the most satisfying music on the album for rock fans.  "Hidden Depth" is a meandering return to jazz fusion with lyrical guitar runs from Green that display his characteristic grace and fluidity.  Side two concludes with the title track which offers up more jazz fusion.  It opens with the most frenetic and chaotic musical passages on the record with noisy, yet majestic guitar work from Green before settling into a languorous quiet jam that drifts aimlessly before being abruptly cut off to the conclude the album.  If I wanted to demonstrate to someone the brilliance of Peter Green, this would certainly not be the album to start with (I would pick the live recordings of Fleetwood Mac at the Boston Tea Party from 1970.)  However when I heard that Green had died, this was the album I reached for.  I am generally not a big fan of recorded rock jam sessions (aside from Jimi Hendrix), I think they are more appropriate for concerts.  However this one appeals to me for a variety of reasons.  Mostly I am drawn to it because Green's playing is so vibrant and dynamic, it is often a very exciting record despite the unstructured format.  Also as much as I love the early Fleetwood Mac, it is interesting to hear Green in a different context playing with more jazz oriented musicians.  Also I find the record has an immediacy and intimacy that I don't find on his more commercial records.  Finally I think it represents the final flowering of Green's genius.  He recorded it on the verge of his descent into debilitating mental illness.  I have only heard a few of his post-illness albums but none of them even approach the inspired playing on this record.  It has a poignancy and wistfulness to it because it makes me wonder what he might have achieved if he had not been damaged by drugs and mental illness.  It was this poignancy that drew me to this record when I learned that he had died.  Like his contemporary Jimi Hendrix, Green's recorded output of essential recordings was rather small but they burn all the more brightly because of the intensity of the relatively brief period that their creators flourished.  Recommended to fans of Jeff Beck's "Blow By Blow."

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Homosapien - Pete Shelley

Pete Shelley
Arista  AL 6602

Here is my belated tribute to Pete Shelley who passed away in late 2018.  His band the Buzzcocks were easily my favorite of the first wave of British punk bands after the Clash largely because they were just as much power-pop as they were punk and looked more like new wavers than punks not unlike the Jam (another big favorite of mine back then.)  I bought this album after hearing the title track on the radio.  I was surprised when I first played it because it sounded so unlike the Buzzcocks aside from Shelley's distinctive vocals.  It is basically dance-friendly synth-pop with a slight edge.  It lacks the intensity and energy of the classic Buzzcocks songs but after a few spins it grew on me and I like it even better now since I have developed an appetite for synth-pop that I totally lacked in my youth.  The record opens with "Homosapien" which is an extremely catchy ode to homosexual seduction.  It was provocative back in 1981 but seems tame to me today although the line "homo superior in my interior" is fabulous.  Shelley always had a gift for hooks and whenever I play this album this song is stuck in my head for days.  In "Yesterday's Not Here" Shelley looks back at the past with disdain and unhappiness.  The music throbs with a sensuous groove that I find enticing.  "Love in Vain" was not on the U.K. version of the album, it was the B-side on the "Homosapien" single.  In the song Shelley worries that his love is unrequited.  It has a soulful sound to it.  "Just One of Those Affairs" as you might guess is about sex - lots of it.  It sounds very poppy with a very pronounced beat and an enthusiastic vocal from Shelley that reminds me of Graham Parker.  Side one concludes with "Qu'est-ce que c'est que ça," which despite the title is mostly in English, in which Shelley wonders vaguely about life and relationships.  It is a highly propulsive track with a wall of synthesizer sound that gets me bopping.  It is one of my favorite cuts.  Side two opens with "I Don't Know What It Is" which is a banal song about how one experiences love.  The lyrics may be bland, but the music is exciting driven by an insistent staccato riff with waves of sound layered over it and a charged vocal from Shelley.  It reminds me of Berlin trilogy Bowie.  It is another one of my favorite tracks.  "Witness the Change" is another B-side that was not on the U.K. edition of the record.  It features a compelling melody driven by funky percussion and a powerful vocal from Shelley.   In the song Shelley expresses optimism about the potential of love despite bad experiences in the past.  "Guess I Must Have Been In Love With Myself" is a charming love song in which a self-centered guy changes when he finds love.  Unlike his punk peers Shelley was not bashful about being a romantic.  In keeping with the lyrics the music is highly melodic with a soaring chorus.  It is easily the prettiest song on the record.  In "I Generate a Feeling" Shelley uses his feelings of love to escape and find bliss.  The music is jerky with a taste of funk to it and Shelley's vocal has a drone like quality.  The album concludes with "In Love With Somebody Else" which was a single that was not on the British pressing of the album.  The song examines the duality between the ideals and realities of love.  It has a poppy ebullient melody that gives the album a joyful finish.  Unlike many records from this period, this album has aged extremely well.  It would probably make for a delightful party soundtrack with its relentlessly upbeat sound and insistent beat but I find it strong enough for concentrated listening as well.  It stands out with it intelligence and sweeping musical density.  Shelley was a very talented guy whose music has given me much pleasure through the years.  I am going to miss him.  Recommended to romantic Talking Heads fans.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Tigermilk - Belle and Sebastian

Belle and Sebastian
Matador OLE-361-8

This is the 1999 re-issue of the Belle and Sebastian debut album originally released on Electric Honey Records as a college student music project.  I recently read Stuart David's memoir of the formative years of Belle and Sebastian entitled "In the All-Night Café" which I loved.  He was the first person Stuart Murdoch recruited for the band and he provides an intimate account of the events leading up to this record (Murdoch's account of this in the album's liner notes is fiction.)  The book concludes with the record release party in which David describes fellow students taking their free copies of the album and using them as frisbees in the street which pains me greatly to envision.  It probably ought to pain them as well since original pressings of this album generally sell for hundreds of dollars.  Belle and Sebastian have long been one of my go-to bands when I am feeling down so during these painful times I have been listening to them often.  This is my second favorite of the band's albums (after "If You're Feeling Sinister.")  I think it is one of the great debut albums of all-time which is even more impressive considering the chaotic circumstances in which it was recorded - a true testament to Murdoch's artistic will and integrity.  The album opens with "The State I Am In" which is one of the quintessential early Belle and Sebastian songs.  With its clever and humorous vignettes describing youthful ennui and narcissism delivered by Murdoch in a low-key sensitive voice over a jangle pop/chamber pop music track that gradually builds in strength, it was the blueprint for their next three albums.  It floored me the first time I heard it and I still find it endlessly compelling.  "Expectations" continues in a similar vein, only more cutting and anguished.  It focuses on the suffering of an alienated female adolescent, when Murdoch writes in the third person he often chooses a feminine viewpoint.  Isobel Campbell on cello and Mick Cooke on trumpet expand the group's sound, giving it the chamber pop flavor that is a Belle and Sebastian trademark.  It reminds me of Love's "Forever Changes" which I consider high praise.  The jaunty "She's Losing It" likewise features a female protagonist and includes some lesbian references that are common with the early Murdoch.  Early Belle and Sebastian were often criticized as being "twee" but Murdoch can be pretty tough at times as demonstrated by "You're Just a Baby" which borders on being misogynistic.  It is the hardest rocking song on the record with a strong riff driven sound bolstered by Chris Geddes wailing on organ.  The side concludes with the uncharacteristic "Electronic Renaissance."  It has a disco beat and is driven by a synthesizer and organ with Murdoch's voice being electronically processed.  I always assumed Stuart David had something to do with the song since he pursued a similar sound with his solo project Looper, but in his book he says it was all Murdoch's idea.  Apparently synth-pop was a possible direction the band could have followed and which I am very glad they did not (although it has popped up on some of their recent albums.)   Side two gets off to a dynamic start with the propulsive "I Could Be Dreaming" which is driven by synthesizer and heavily reverberated electric guitar chords.  Murdoch shows his tough side again with numerous references to repressed violent impulses in his youthful protagonist.  The song concludes with a kinetic rocked up instrumental passage over which Campbell recites a passage from "Rip Van Winkle" by Washington Irving for reasons that escape me.  I wouldn't argue if you called that pretentious but I still like it.  The record shifts direction with the melancholy "We Rule the School" which features some lovely cello passages from Campbell supporting yet another portrait of feminine adolescent angst.  The introspective "My Wandering Days Are Over" is another classic Murdoch song with strong support from Campbell on cello and harmony vocal as well as Cooke on trumpet that foreshadows the sound of the next three albums by the group.  If I was a whole lot younger "I Don't Love Anyone" would have been my personal anthem as an adolescent/college student.  I wish there had been a band like Belle and Sebastian back when I was that age, I would have loved Murdoch like a brother.  Even though I was a lot older than the protagonist of the song, it still resonated greatly with me when I first heard it.  It remains one of my favorite Murdoch songs and I adore the jangle pop that drives it.  The record concludes with the chamber pop sound of "Mary Jo" which is yet another portrait of an alienated young woman.  The song name checks the imaginary novel "The State I Am In" mentioned in the opening track which has a nice bookending effect.  It is a lovely song enhanced by Campbell's breathy background vocals that gives the record a moving finish.  I consider this a flawless album aside from the disruption in its flow caused by "Electronic Renaissance" which is nonetheless a good song.  Murdoch's vision is clear and compelling and the band's sound is surprisingly robust for what was an ad hoc production by a band that was barely even a band.  The group coalesced during the recording of the record but listening to it you would think they had been together for years.  Belle and Sebastian is my favorite band after the Beatles and this record is a big part of my love for them.  I have been playing it regularly for 20 years and it still thrills me.  I'm not sure I have ever heard a songwriter who reaches me as well as Stuart Murdoch and the band's sound pushes all my buttons.  They have helped me a lot these past few weeks.  Recommended to Zombies fans who dig the Smiths.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Golden Eggs - The Yardbirds

Golden Eggs
The Yardbirds
Trademark of Quality  TMQ-61001

I often see this vintage bootleg selling for ridiculously high prices which, even as a Yardbirds collector myself, I think is absurd.  All of the tracks on here were originally commercially released and all of them have been easily obtainable on CD for many years.  I believe they are all available again on vinyl as well thanks to Repertoire Records' recent series of Yardbirds compilations (highly recommended by the way.)  Admittedly back in the mid-1970s a lot of this stuff was pretty hard to find although you could get most of it if you tried hard enough.  I bought this in the early 1980s even though I already had most of it.  I bought it because I wanted to hear the two Keith Relf solo tracks.  I also liked the cover art and I got it at a bargain price.  I certainly don't need it any longer.  I keep it as a dumb collector thing even though it has a major flaw, namely all the stereo tracks were improperly recorded.  Only one of the two channels was dubbed on to the record and that channel comes out of both speakers when you play the album.  Thus either the vocals or some of the instruments are barely audible.  Fortunately only 8 of the 17 cuts are in stereo but it is still often annoying.  This reportedly is not true of all versions of this album, mine is apparently a bootleg of the bootleg.  The Eric Clapton era of the group is represented by two oddly chosen cuts from "For Your Love."  "Putty (In Your Hands)" is a minor song and "Sweet Music" is one of the worst songs they ever did.  "Putty" is in mono and sounds fine, but "Sweet Music" is the stereo version and Relf's vocal is buried deep in the mix so it sounds ridiculous.  The record jumps into the Jeff Beck era with "Steeled Blues" from 1965 which was originally the B-side on the "Heart Full Of Soul" single which is fairly easy to find.  It is an instrumental credited to Beck but it is basically a generic blues given a lethargic treatment by the band although Beck and Relf (on harmonica) have their moments.  It jumps forward to the two songs from "Yardbirds" that Epic Records dropped for their version of the album "Over Under Sideways Down."  Both are in stereo so Beck's dazzling guitar work is generally too far down in the mix on "The Nazz Are Blue" and on "Rack My Mind" Relf's vocal is practically inaudible.  The Jeff Beck/Jimmy Page era of the band is represented by "Stroll On" from the "Blow-Up" soundtrack."  It is my all-time favorite Yardbirds track.  It is in mono so it sounds fine although I prefer the stereo version that I have on my copy of the soundtrack album.  The Jimmy Page era of the band makes up the bulk of the album which makes sense since it was the Yardbirds music that was hardest to find back in the 1970s.  There are four tracks from "Little Games" which are among my least favorite tracks on the album.  All are in stereo and suffer from the missing channel.  The jug band style "Stealing, Stealing" and the largely instrumental psychedelic song "Glimpses" both sound okay even with the missing channel.  On the poppy "Little Soldier Boy" Jim McCarty's vocal impersonation of a trumpet that runs throughout the song is buried deep in the mix which makes the song sound naked like a demo.  On the commercial sounding "No Excess Baggage" the lead guitar can barely be heard.  The album also features "Puzzles" which was the B-side of the "Little Games" single as well as the band's final singles "Ha Ha Said the Clown," "Ten Little Indians" and "Goodnight Sweet Josephine" along with the latter's B-side, "Think About It" written by Jimmy Page.  Relf wrote "Puzzles" which has a pop-psych sound and a sizzling Page solo and I think it is a lot better than many of the tracks that made it onto "Little Games."  "Ha Ha Said the Clown" was released in 1967 and features Relf with a bunch of studio musicians.  It sounds fine although it is not characteristic of the band's sound and I prefer the Manfred Mann recording of the song which this version closely copies.  "Ten Little Indians" was written by Harry Nilsson and also was released in 1967.  The album notes say that this is a stereo track but the song was originally issued in mono so I have no idea how they got a stereo copy.  To me it sounds identical to the mono version I have on a different album so perhaps the note is wrong.  I like the way the song builds in strength and its slightly trippy arrangement, but it is far from essential.  "Goodnight Sweet Josephine" is bolstered by expansive use of phasing and is engaging but inane.  Its flip side is much superior, in fact "Think About It" is among the very best tracks the Yardbirds ever did, boasting a heavy riff and some smoking guitar work from Page that clearly anticipates his future work with Led Zeppelin.  Even though I generally disdain singles I paid five bucks to buy this 45 at Rather Ripped Records in Berkeley in 1980 and I still consider it one of my best scores.  The album also contains a 1966 single by Keith Relf.  The A-side is the moody "Mr. Zero" by Bob Lind which sounds nothing like the Yardbirds, but I still really like it.  Its B-side is a Relf composition entitled "Knowing" which is a chamber pop track that sounds a bit like the Zombies.  Despite all of this record's many flaws, the Relf single makes it worthwhile (although you can easily find it elsewhere on better albums.)  I can't recommended my version of this album because of its recording defect but even a properly recorded version is a dubious purchase.  The selections from "For Your Love" and "Little Games" are poorly chosen and frankly the inclusion of only legitimately released music as opposed to unreleased tracks or concert recordings makes this bootleg even more ethically questionable than a normal bootleg.  "Stroll On," "Think About It," "The Nazz are Blue" and "Rack My Mind" are essential tracks that every Yardbirds fan should own, but you should look for them elsewhere.  Not recommended to anyone but fanatics.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Royal We - The Royal We

The Royal We
The Royal We
Geographic GEOG31LP

I got all excited when I learned that Roxanne Clifford and Patrick Doyle had been in this Scottish group prior to forming Veronica Falls.  Unfortunately this band does not sound much like Veronica Falls, they play slightly retro dance pop reminiscent of Neverever which makes sense since that band's leader Jihae Meek was the lead singer of the Royal We (then using her maiden name Jihae Simmons.)  When I first played this record I was really disappointed, but with repeated spins I started to appreciate it.  I do like Neverever, just not nearly as much as Veronica Falls which was my favorite current band before they broke up.  The album gets off to a quiet start with "Back and Forth Forever" which is an acoustic love song driven by Clifford on ukelele.  The record shifts into gear with the jumping "All The Rage" which the band released as a single.  It is a wonderfully poppy dance song that showcases Simmons' charisma with forceful background vocals from Doyle and Clifford that are as close as this album ever gets to the Veronica Falls sound.  "That Ain't My Sweet Love" continues in a similar rocking vein although without the catchy pop hooks.  Side one concludes with "Three Is a Crowd" which pumps up the sound of 1960s girl group pop to provide a framework for Simmons to vent her spleen.  Joan Sweeney's violin adds some flavor to the band's sound.  "I Hate Rock N Roll" also sounds like an update on 1960s pop and once again Sweeney's violin saves the song from blandness.  "Willy" allows Clifford more space as a romantic counterpoint to Simmons sardonic vocal which I find very welcome.  "French Legality" is a propulsive track driven by a compelling guitar riff that gets me bopping.  Simmons vocal is very strong and builds in strength until she is screaming at the end.  This is my favorite track after "All The Rage."  "Wicked Games" is a cover of the Chris Isaak song taken at a much faster tempo than the original.  Simmons rejects the sensitivity and yearning of Isaak's original vocal in favor of a more bitter and cynical approach.  I don't really approve, but the song is very compelling and gives the album a stirring finish.  This record shows a lot of promise although it was probably for the best that the band broke up.  Veronica Falls might have benefited from a more charismatic lead singer like Simmons, but I think Clifford's more diffident style suited that band's introspective approach.  Simmons is too exuberant and distracting, she needed a different band that would showcase her unbridled personality.  This is still a very enjoyable record and I think the tension between the Simmons and the Clifford/Doyle styles is one of the more stimulating elements of the album.  Recommended to fans of Blondie.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Season for Miracles - Smokey Robinson and The Miracles

The Season for Miracles
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Motown 5253ML

This is a reissue of the second Christmas album released by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles which was originally issued on Tamla as TS307.  I put it on to trim the tree this year and found it very pleasing.  It features an engaging mix of original songs and traditional carols.  The traditional carols are given Motown style arrangements with strong rhythm sections over which the Miracles deliver typically dynamic vocal arrangements with stimulating harmonies.  I particularly like the driving performance of "Go Tell It On The Mountain."  They also offer up lovely performances of combined melodies of "Deck the Halls" with "Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella" and "Away in a Manger" with "Coventry Carol."  "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is given a jazzy arrangement by Wade Marcus that features terrific ensemble singing by the group.  It is one of my favorite tracks.  In contrast the sappy arrangement of Mel Torme and Robert Wells' classic "The Christmas Song" leaves me indifferent despite the gorgeous vocals.  "Jingle Bells" is basically indestructible and easily survives its Motownization.  Among the original songs the most striking one is "A Child is Waiting" by Joe Hinton and Patti Jerome.  It is not a Christmas song, but rather a song endorsing adoption, but with its generosity of spirit and heart-warming message it fits in well with the rest of the album and gives the record an uplifting finish.  The originals also include two songs by Stevie Wonder and Syreeta Wright.  "I Can Tell When Christmas is Near" is the better of the two.  It is driven by a catchy piano riff and features a lively performance by the group.  "It's Christmas Time" is also piano driven but is more sedate emphasizing Robinson's sensitive vocal.  It recounts the events around the birth of Jesus.  Robinson wrote "I Believe in Christmas Eve" which is also a religious song but has enough of a pop flavor that I still find it very appealing.  Ron and Deborah Miller's "The Day That Love Began" previously appeared on Stevie Wonder's 1967 Christmas album.  I find the song corny and don't really care for either version but I give the edge to Wonder for a more convincing vocal.  "Peace on Earth (Goodwill Toward Men)" by Jimmy and Ann Roach is the most undistinguished of the original songs but it is still pleasant to listen to.  The absence of any real standout songs keeps this album from being an essential Christmas record and I would prefer more secular Christmas songs, but this is still a very worthwhile record that should appeal to most fans of the group.  Recommended to religious Motown buffs.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Really Really Happy - The Muffs

Really Really Happy
The Muffs
Sympathy for the Record Industry  SFTRI 749

I was listening to "She Rocks" on KXLU a few weeks ago when I heard them play a bunch of Muffs songs to open the show.  At first I was delighted, but then I realized this could not be good unless Kim Shattuck was there with them in the studio.  Alas that was not the case, she had died of ALS and they were playing a tribute to her.  I was shocked.  I had just seen her and the Muffs at a show a few years ago where Shattuck performed with her usual exuberance and vitality.  ALS seems a particularly cruel disease for someone who was such a dynamic and energetic person.  Even as she was dying she had the will and determination to complete the final Muffs album which I find touching and inspiring.  This was the Muffs' fifth album.  My favorite record of theirs is "Blond and Blonder" but I don't have it on vinyl.  I love this one almost as much though, so I think it is a worthy record for a tribute to her.  It is more subdued than the first four albums, more power pop than pop punk with a cheerful feel to it as reflected in its apt title.  Long time fans might miss the force of the earlier albums, Shattuck rarely even cuts loose with any of her trademark screams.  I find it charming myself and appreciate her attempt to change her style without sacrificing her integrity.  She delivers 17 delightful pop songs that make me feel really really happy just as advertised.  There are several songs in the familiar Shattuck style - noisy, fast-paced, riff driven songs like "Freak Out," the ebullient "Really Really Happy," "The Whole World," the frenetic "By My Side" and the scream-laden "Oh Poor You."  There is a more pronounced pop feeling and melodic sound to "A Little Luxury," "How I Pass the Time," "I'm Here I'm Not" and one of my favorite cuts, "My Lucky Day" with its exhilarating "wooo's" driving it home.  Numerous songs have a traditional, retro pop sound like "Something Inside," "Everybody Loves You," the doo-wop flavored "Fancy Girl," and the girl group sounding "Slow." I really like the bouncy "Don't Pick On Me" which sounds like a Monkees or Raiders cover.  "And I Go Pow" has a similar garage band sound to it.  "My Awful Dream" is the most unique song on the record and one of the more unusual songs in the Shattuck catalog.  It is an acoustic performance that showcases the expressiveness of Shattuck's voice as she croons the angst laden lyrics.  It even features a harmonica solo.  I love it.  The album closes with the introspective "The Story of Me" in which Shattuck examines the contradictions within her but seems to be happy with who she is which sums up this album rather nicely.  As much as I love the earlier Muffs albums, I have to admit that this one appeals to me more in many ways.  I was quite taken by the ferocious energy and youthful humor of the debut album and "Blond and Blonder" back in the 1990s, but now that I'm older I'm appreciative of the maturity and sensitivity of Shattuck's music on this album.  No one is ever going to mistake her for Joni Mitchell or Leonard Cohen, but there is a grace and purpose to her lyrics on this album that I find engaging.  Although pop appeal has always been apart of her style, I greatly enjoy the more pronounced melodicism on this album.  The growth displayed on this record makes her premature demise even sadder for me.  I would have loved to hear what directions her music would have taken as she grew older.  She was such a special artist, so bold and creative, I'm really going to miss her.  Recommended to fans of Cub.