Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Six Covers Vol. 2 - Veronica Falls

Six Covers Vol. 2
Veronica Falls
Bella Union  Bellav383p

I was unhappy when I saw that Veronica Falls had broken up a few years ago after only two albums.  They were my favorite group and their music appealed to me like few bands ever have.  Most of the bands that I have loved either went on too long for me to mind when they broke up (like R. E. M.) or broke up before I loved them (like the Beatles.)  The only comparable experience I ever had was with Sleater-Kinney and they eventually got back together.  I had hoped that might happen with Veronica Falls too, but last year their drummer Patrick Doyle died at the age of 32 ending those hopes.  I adored his crisp, muscular drumming and his vocal contribution to the band's trademark multipart harmonies was an essential part of their sound.  I've already blogged about "Veronica Falls" and "Waiting For Something To Happen" so I offer up my thoughts about this mini-album as a tribute to Doyle.  It was the second of the two homemade tour souvenir records the band recorded of cover songs, although by the time they came to play here in Los Angeles in 2013 it had already sold out and I had to find a copy on the internet.  The record opens with "Is Anybody There?" based on a version by Home Blitz (who I had never heard of) of a song originally recorded by the punk band Cock Sparrer (who I had heard of but never listened to.)   I checked out both of those versions and Veronica Falls' cover beats both.  Driven by Doyle's pounding beat and a polyphonic vocal the band makes the song their own.  It would fit comfortably on either of their albums.  "Love Minus Zero/No Limit" is of course the Bob Dylan classic from "Bringing It All Back Home."  I was dubious at first but the song responds well to the Veronica Falls style particularly the jangly guitars and vocal harmonies. "Teenagers" was originally by the punk band The Rats who I had never heard of when I bought this.  I like the original, but Veronica Falls' cover shreds it.  The song is ideally suited for them and the teenage angst expressed in the lyrics is very much like their own music.  I'm a big fan of "Bury Me Happy" by the Australian band The Moles from their wonderful album "Untune the Sky," but as much as I love it, I prefer the Veronica Falls version mostly because of Roxanne Clifford's vocal.  Otherwise they are similar although Veronica Falls' performance is more forceful particularly with Doyle's drumming propelling the song.  It is my favorite cut on the record.  "Timeless Melody" was originally by the La's on their classic self-titled album.  It is another song I'm a big fan of.  Both versions are terrific but I give the edge to Veronica Falls mostly because of Clifford's voice.  "What Deaner Was Talking About" was released by Ween on "Chocolate and Cheese."  I'm not a big Ween fan although I like that album and their version of the song.  Veronica Falls' version is very similar only with better singing.  It is the song that sounds the least like a typical Veronica Falls song, but I still enjoy it.  This a minor record but I still love it.  Veronica Falls recorded so little music that I treasure any opportunity to hear them even if they are playing other people's songs.  It is also a record that provides ample opportunity to appreciate Patrick Doyle's talents both as a drummer and a singer and to mourn his premature passing.  Recommended to fans of The Bangles.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Let's Go To San Francisco - The Flower Pot Men

Let's Go To San Francisco
The Flower Pot Men
TELDEC  6.26179 AP 

This is a German compilation of various tracks attributed to the Flower Pot Men, which was a studio group concocted to record tracks by John Carter who had a significant career behind the scenes in the 1960s British pop music industry as a performer, producer and writer.  Side one features the four original Flower Pot Men singles on Deram Records running in chronological order.  Carter and his frequent partner Ken Lewis wrote "Let's Go To San Francisco" which was released in 1967.  It was the band's only hit single and the song that attracted me to the group in the first place.  I collect songs about my former hometown and this is a particularly good one although like so many songs about the summer of love it is loaded with hippie nonsense.  Flowers do not grow high there (unless they mean a different kind of high) nor is there an abundance of sunshine.  The lyrics may be silly, but the music is wonderful.  It is more sunshine pop than psychedelic with soaring vocals and effervescent harmonies bolstered by an elaborate poppy arrangement.  It sounds like Brian Wilson producing the Tokens.  The song continues on the b-side of the single with a slightly moodier arrangement.  Carter and Lewis along with Russell Alquist wrote the 1967 single "A Walk in the Sky" which is an obvious attempt to exploit the success of "Let's Go To San Francisco."  It features a similar sunshine pop arrangement with mildly psychedelic lyrics.  The song is not as engaging as its predecessor but it is fun and it has a surprisingly somber break in the middle that I find interesting but which probably sabotaged whatever chance it might have had to be a hit.  Carter wrote the b-side "Am I Losing You" which is a more conventional love song that has an evocative arrangement that makes it sound like a lost outtake from "Pet Sounds."  Carter, Lewis and Alquist wrote the band's 1968 single "You Can Never Be Wrong" which flopped but I think it is lovely.  It has a chamber pop sound and another elaborate pop symphony style arrangement which sounds like the Zombies jamming with the Left Banke.  It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  The b-side was "Man Without a Woman" by Carter and Alquist which is a much more sedate track.  It is a bit sappy but it sounds pretty.  Deram dumped Carter for the band's final single in 1969.  "In a Moment of Madness" was written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway and it sounds little like the band's previous work.  It is straight ahead commercial pop that borders on bubble gum.  It is pleasant enough if you like that sort of thing.  The b-side was written by Bill Swofford, who as Oliver had a hit with his cover of "Good Morning Starshine."  It was originally a single by the Cryan' Shames and this version is similar to theirs although less inspired.  It sounds like the Association on a bad day.  Side two is a hodge-podge of Carter tracks.  "Journey's End" was written by Carter and his wife Gill Shakespeare (which is Carter's real last name) and first appeared as the b-side on a 1974 reissue of "Let's Go To San Francisco."  The song was credited to the Flower Pot Men but I have no idea if they were really performing it.  It doesn't sound much like the original band, it has more of a rocked up sound.  It reminds me of the Moody Blues.  "Mythological Sunday" was the b-side of a 1968 Deram single that the Flower Pot Men recorded under the name Friends because Deram had soured on the commercial appeal of the Flower Pot Men.  It was written by Carter and Alquist.  I think it is the most psychedelic track that they ever did although it also has a chamber pop flavor to it.  It is one of my favorite cuts on the album.  "Blow Away" was an unreleased Carter/Lewis track that is credited to the Flower Pot Men although it sounds very unlike any of their officially released recordings.  It sounds more like the Byrds on "The Notorious Byrd Brothers."  It is a great slice of zonked out folk-rock that is easily the hardest rocking and most compelling track on the album.  I can understand why Deram passed on it, but it is better than any of the official recordings except "Mythological Sunday."  "Piccolo Man" was the a-side of the Friends single.  It was written by Carter, Lewis and Alquist and it is pure bubble gum.  It is easily my least favorite track.  Carter and Lewis wrote "Let's Go Back to San Francisco" which was a sequel to their hit and sounds very similar to it, basically the song sounds so much like the original that it seems pointless.  It was released as a single in 1981 under the name Beautiful People.  Its b-side was "Silicon City" which was written by Carter and Shakespeare.  It sounds nothing like the Flower Pot Men and a lot like the early 1970s Beach Boys.  I'm very happy with this comp aside from the lack of discographical info.  John Carter had an interesting career and deserves to be better known.  The first three Flower Pot Men singles are delightful and the odds and sods on side two are very appealing and eclectic.  I can't claim that any of this is essential, but it makes me happy whenever I put it on and I'm very glad to have it.  This particular record isn't easy to find, but Carter's work has been collected on a bunch of modern CD comps which are worth seeking out if you have a taste for sunshine pop.  Recommended to Zombies fans who dig Brian Wilson. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

1968 - France Gall

France Gall
Polydor 530 916-2

I did not want to let 2018 slip away without acknowledging the passing of my favorite French singer, France Gall, back in January of this year.  This is my favorite of her albums aside from compilations.  It is a 2018 reissue of a record originally released by Philips as 844.706 BY.  I bought it originally on CD many years ago and was delighted to finally get it on vinyl this year.  It was a transitional record for the 20 year old Gall as she moved away from the girlish sound of her Ye-Ye period in search of a more mature sound.  The record begins with her 1967 single, "Toi que je veux" in which she declares her desire for her lover.  Despite her ardor she worries about the end of their relationship but nonetheless savors her passion.  Her declaration that "Je me suis ouverte aujourd'hui à la vie" sums up the flavor of the song and the album as well.  The music of the song is exuberant with a chamber pop flavor that suits Gall's voice very well.  Her vocal on the song really sends me.  "Chanson Indienne" expresses the unhappiness of an expatriate from India who misses her country.  The song was written by Gall's father Robert and David Whitaker who directed the orchestra and arranged most of the record.  The song features a sitar and Indian style percussion which gives it an exotic sound.  Gall's voice cuts through the elaborate arrangement expressing the emotions in the song very convincingly.  My French is not good enough to figure out "Gare a toi... Gargantua" which appears to be inspired by the play on words in the title.  Gargantua is presumably the Rabelais' character and the song makes numerous references to his ravenous appetite which apparently extends beyond food to women as well.  I believe the song is full of double entendres that warn Gargantua to not extend his consumption habits to other women.  It seems like a very sexy song unless I'm completely misunderstanding it which is certainly possible.  In contrast to the racy subject matter, musically the song recalls the childish style of the songs Gall was singing as a teenager which creates some interesting tension.  In "Avant la bagarre" to celebrate her 20th birthday the singer's boyfriend takes her to a restaurant that she used to go to and they run into her former flame and the two men get into a fight.  The song is a straight ahead rocker driven by a pulsing bass line and electric organ riffs.  It is one of my favorite tracks on the album.  "Chanson pour que tu m'aimes un peu" is a pathetic plea for the singer to be loved a little by someone who does not even pay attention to her.  The song was written by her father and her brother Patrice and I find it weird that her father would create such a degrading song for her to sing.  Musically the song is very appealing, guided by a hypnotic acoustic guitar riff and a sensitive vocal from Gall that makes it easier to swallow the unpleasant lyrics.  Side one concludes with Serge Gainsbourg's magnificent "Néfertiti" which is one of my all time favorites in Gall's catalog.  It was released as a single in 1967.  It is a sensual ode to the Egyptian queen which with typical Gainsbourgian perversion even rhapsodizes about the odor of her mummified body.  The music is very alluring with a Middle Eastern flavor and a seductive vocal from Gall that melts me.  Side two begins with "La fille d'un garçon" which is about a summer romance on vacation that fades in the winter.  The music is appropriately idyllic driven by a throbbing bass line and tasteful strings.  Gall's vocal is absolutely radiant reflecting the warmth of a glowing heart.  In "Bébé requin" Gall describes herself as a baby shark seeking to devour her lover's heart.  It was a single in 1967.  It is a catchy little tune driven by a staccato bass riff and punchy bursts of brass with a music hall flavor as well.  "Teenie Weenie Boppie" is another Gainsbourg opus which vividly describes a fatally bad LSD trip that includes a hallucination of Mick Jagger drowning in the Thames.  In contrast to the lurid lyrics, the music evokes the bubble gum sound of Gall's records of the mid-1960s.  The song is loaded with hooks and the sweetness of Gall's vocal would suggest a trip to the candy store rather than a drug trip.  "Les yeux bleus" is a love song by Robert Gall and Claude-Henri Vic.  The song has a jazzy sound and Gall handles the demanding vocal with ease and grace.  "Made in France" compares France and England focusing mostly on cultural differences.  It is a charming song that again recalls Gall's Ye-Ye period.  Gall trades verses with the background singers and sings the chorus herself.  Gall's vocal plays up the humor in the lyrics and combined with the engaging tune, it makes this song irresistible.  It is another one of my favorite tracks.  "La petite" is a duet with Maurice Biraud in which an older man is attracted to the daughter of his friend.  Biraud expresses the opinion of the man and Gall sings from the perspective of the daughter.  The old man is romantic and protective, the daughter is unsentimental and eager to learn the ways of love.  I find the song to be creepy particularly since Robert Gall helped write it and the girlish quality France Gall brings to her vocal makes it even more disturbing.  The song's only saving grace is that the music is very enjoyable but it still gives the album an unsavory finish.  It is the only blemish on an otherwise wonderful album.  Even though she did not write any of the songs, I think this record was a personal record for Gall.  Its recurring themes of growing emotionally, learning to love and awakening sensuality probably had some resonance for her.  She certainly sings the songs with sincerity and purpose.  This record is an expression of her opening up to life and embracing adulthood.  I've always found her voice enchanting, but hearing her sing more sophisticated songs with the earnestness and passion of youth really gets to me.  I've been crazy about this album ever since I first heard it.  I like all of Gall's albums, but this one seems especially unique to me, I love the way it merges the music of her youth with the music of her adulthood.  I think it is really special, as was she.  I'm going to miss her very much.  Recommended to fans of Lulu.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sound of Christmas - The Ramsey Lewis Trio

Sound of Christmas
The Ramsey Lewis Trio
Cadet LP 687X

I put this one on to trim the tree this year.  It is more jazzy than Christmasy but it put me in a good mood.  The album was originally issued on Argo, Cadet reissued it in the mid 1960s.  When I was a child someone gave me a 45 of the Ramsey Lewis Trio's performance of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" backed with "Winter Wonderland."  It was the first jazz record I can remember ever hearing.  I did not particularly like it although I did keep it and I still have it.  Many years later I started to like jazz and when I came across this album I remembered that old 45 and bought this.  It does not swing as much as I would like, but it is tasteful and has a pleasant vibe to it.  I particularly like side one which features Lewis along with bassist El Dee Young and drummer Red Holt.  On side two the trio is augmented by strings which I find frequently obtrusive.  The album opens with a moody interpretation of Charles Brown's "Merry Christmas Baby" which features some very propulsive piano work from Lewis that brings out the bluesy feeling within the song.  It is my favorite track although it is pretty gloomy for the opening cut on a Christmas record.  The record perks up with a swinging take on "Winter Wonderland" that gets me bopping.  "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" starts off slow and somber, before picking up a little steam but it remains a surprisingly downbeat interpretation of the song.  Lewis' own "Christmas Blues" follows.  It is straight ahead rhythm and blues given a Christmas feeling by the incessant jingling of bells through the song.  Side one concludes with a lively version of "Here Comes Santa Claus" that is another one of my favorite tracks.  Side two begins "The Sound of Christmas" by Lewis and Riley Hampton who arranged and conducted the strings for side two.  The song alternates between some dynamic work from the Trio and silky smooth orchestral passages.  Unfortunately the orchestra wins, but the song has its moments.  It is followed by a sappy version of Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" that is largely dominated by the orchestra although Lewis does break free briefly with an engaging solo.  Mostly though it sounds like cocktail lounge jazz.  Lewis fares better with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" where his energetic playing dominates the song and is supported by an impressively dramatic arrangement.  "Sleigh Ride" features more exuberant playing from Lewis that is enhanced with support from the orchestra.  It is one of the best interpretations of the song that I've ever heard.  The album concludes with Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" which Lewis attacks as if it were a bluesy torch song.  The orchestra keeps him from going too far off the rails and it gives the record a nice emotional finish.  This record has limitations as Christmas music.  Children will probably hate it and it is not festive enough to satisfy many people's notions of what Christmas music should be.  It works great for me though.  By mid-December I'm usually sick of Christmas music, Lewis' interpretative approach appeals to me more than the standard carols.  Also this is a very romantic sounding record, I recommend it for cuddling with your special someone on a cold wintry evening sipping an adult beverage and looking at the lights twinkling on the tree.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Help! In Concert - The Beatles

Help! In Concert
The Beatles
Coda Publishing CPLVNY193

My 400th post is naturally a Beatles post.  This is a Czech bootleg of some classic Beatles concerts that were filmed for television broadcast.  There are two concerts from Blackpool, one from July 19th, 1964 and the other from August 1, 1965.  There is also a show from Palais des Sports, Paris from June 20, 1965.  The title is rather misleading, of the 20 tracks only four of them come from the album "Help!" (all from the second Blackpool show.)  Most of the tracks are drawn from "Beatles For Sale" and "A Hard Day's Night."  It is nicely packaged for a bootleg with a sturdy sleeve illustrated with images of the 1965 Blackpool show.  The record is pressed on light blue marbled vinyl that looks lovely and sounds mediocre.  The Blackpool recordings are excellent with only minimal screaming to distract from the performance.  The 1964 show begins with one of the best live performances of "A Hard Day's Night" I've ever heard.  "Things We Said Today" also sounds really good, especially the quality of Paul McCartney's robust vocal.  John Lennon matches McCartney with a rocking performance of "You Can't Do That."  Despite the listing on the cover, the next track is "I Feel Fine" which is taken from the 1965 show.  It usually sounds crappy live, but the boys nail it this time around.  The record jumps back to 1964 for a scorching performance of "Long Tall Sally" that I think is just as good as the studio version and George Harrison's guitar work is first rate throughout.  "If I Fell" is also from the 1964 concert.  The vocal work from John and Paul is extremely good.  The record returns to the 1965 Blackpool show for the remainder of side one.  "I'm Down" sounds a little murky, but the performance is very dynamic with more fine guitar work from Harrison and Lennon going nuts on the organ.  "Ticket to Ride" sounds cleaner and it features another outstanding performance from the band.  Harrison introduces McCartney's solo performance of "Yesterday" which was the first time the song had been performed live.  McCartney accompanies himself on acoustic guitar supported by the strings in the theater orchestra.  It sounds great, I think I prefer it to the studio version.  The Beatles return and John facetiously calls McCartney "Ringo" as he thanks him for his performance.  This is followed by the first live performance of "Help!" which they knock out of the park even though Lennon flubs the vocal at one point.  It sounds fantastic, when it is over I want to join the girls in screaming.  Side two begins with one final song from the 1965 Blackpool show, "Act Naturally" which is out of order having originally been performed after "I'm Down."  Ringo gives himself a humorous introduction before launching into his vocal.  Again the recording lacks sharpness.  Four of the 1965 Blackpool tracks were on the "Anthology 2" album where they sound great.  The two that were omitted were "I'm Down" and "Act Naturally."  I suspect that the bootleggers lifted the four tracks from "Anthology 2" and then used another source for the other two.  The Palais des Sports show occupies the rest of side two.  It is not nearly as clean as the Blackpool concert recordings but still sounds okay for a vintage live recording.  It begins with a typically raucous work out on "Twist and Shout."  It is followed by a punchy performance of "She's a Woman."  McCartney's vocal is very exciting.  A lively version of "I'm a Loser" is next.  It sounds a little sloppy but I like it.  The Beatles run through "Can't Buy Me Love" which sounds pretty murky.  I think I hear the crowd singing along during the chorus which I find charming.  "Baby's In Black" is also rather muddy but the vocal is very strong, especially McCartney's harmony vocal.  McCartney tries out some French in his introduction of Ringo for "I Wanna Be Your Man."  Ringo is poorly recorded but he gives a very enthusiastic performance.  Harrison gets his turn at the mike for "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" where he sounds more comfortable and passionate than he does on the studio versionThe Beatles kick out the jams with "Rock and Roll Music" which is very exciting despite the muddy sound.  Lennon's throat shredding vocal is thrilling.  In the original concert this was followed by performances of "I Feel Fine" and "Ticket to Ride" but the record jumps ahead to the encore, which is "Long Tall Sally."  The recording is a bit cacophonous but the performance is explosive.  It ends the show and the record with a bang.  I'm always a bit hesitant to endorse a bootleg but the Blackpool shows are essential.  "The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl" has my favorite Beatles' live recordings but only because the thunderous roar of the crowd is so exciting.  The Blackpool shows feature superior performances and make for more comfortable listening.  The song selection is terrific as well.  The Palais des Sports show is basically just gravy.  The band plays well but the songs aren't as good and the sound quality is not as sharp as either the Blackpool or Hollywood Bowl recordings.  I'm still happy to have it though.  The Blackpool shows have been bootlegged multiple times, there are probably better versions than this one.  The mastering is decent but the vinyl has some sporadic surface noise.  I'm also not happy that the running order of the Blackpool shows is messed up.  Nonetheless Beatlemaniacs ought to have this in some form.  Recommended to people who think the Hollywood Bowl shows are too noisy. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off - Jefferson Airplane

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off
Jefferson Airplane
RCA  LSP-3584

So many of my musical faves have died this year and I don't post enough to keep up unfortunately.  Marty Balin's passing last month hit me pretty hard though so I have to acknowledge it.  I've been a fan of the Airplane since I was 12 years old.  They were my favorite American band when I was a teenager even though they had already broken up.  "Surrealistic Pillow" and "After Bathing at Baxter's" were a big part of the soundtrack of my life back then and I still enjoy listening to them.  I initially was attracted to the music of Grace Slick and Paul Kantner with its transgressive and defiant attitude as well as its psychedelic character.  In contrast I found Balin's songs kind of corny.  As a result this album was for many years one of my least favorite Airplane albums, since it is dominated by Balin who wrote or co-wrote 8 of the 11 songs and sang lead on most of them as well.  As I grew older though, I became attracted to Balin's romanticism and soulful voice and this album became one of my favorites.  When I heard Marty had died, this was the album I reached for.  I think it represents the purest expression of his vision for the band.  Slick and Kantner asserted themselves on "Surrealistic Pillow" and dominated the band after that.  Balin is quoted in the liner notes saying "all the material we do is about love" which is certainly true of this record and has always been Balin's greatest strength as an artist.  The album opens with "Blues from an Airplane" by Balin and future Moby Grape member Skip Spence who was the Airplane's drummer on this album.  The song is not a blues, it is pure folk-rock propelled by Jack Casady's booming bass lines.  The song introduces the elaborate vocal harmonies that would become a signature aspect of the Airplane's sound throughout its existence.  The album's velocity increases with Balin and Kantner's "Let Me In" which is driven by Jorma Kaukonen's ringing guitar chords and more frenetic bass work from Casady.  Kaukonen has an exciting guitar solo as well.  It is a classic example of the zonked out folk-rock that characterized the early Airplane style and foreshadows the sound of "Surrealistic Pillow."  Kantner sings lead and does a great job conveying the erotic urgency of the lyrics.  Kantner and Balin also wrote "Bringing Me Down" and which is highlighted by Kaukonen's jangly guitar lines and solo.  I consider "It's No Secret" to be one of Balin's best ever songs.  His yearning vocal is superbly expressive and the dynamic interplay between Casady's rumbling bass runs and Kaukonen's slashing guitar chords is wonderful.  John Loudermilk's "Tobacco Road" has always seemed to me an odd song choice for the Airplane but they do it quite well thanks to a heartfelt vocal from Balin and more brilliant bass playing from Casady.  The song has been covered many times, but I've never heard a better version than this one.  Side two opens with Balin and Kantner's "Come Up the Years."  In his liner notes Ralph J. Gleason describes having the song stuck in his head after playing the album and I've always had the same experience.  I first heard the song on the 1977 Airplane comp "Flight Log" and I loved it so much that I played it over and over.  Even now it still sticks with me every time I play this album.  The song features another emotional vocal from Balin with lovely harmony support from Kantner and Signe Anderson.  The song is about a guy in love with a girl who is too young for him, but it is so sincere and lovely that it does not comes across as creepy.  Casady's bass lines give the song a strong hook and the folk-rock guitar work enhances the song's atmospheric feeling.  Casady also stands out on Balin and Kantner's "Run Around" which is sung by Kantner with vibrant harmony support from Balin and Anderson.  Dino Valenti's flower power anthem "Let's Get Together" is an ideal vehicle for the early Airplane sound.  Kantner, Anderson and Balin trade verses over jangly guitar runs from Kaukonen and Casady's relentlessly driving bass work.  The Youngbloods have the best known version of this song, but I think this version is just as good.  More jangly guitar introduces Balin and Spence's "Don't Slip Away" which features compelling ensemble vocals over a solid folk-rock beat.  Next up Signe Anderson belts out a cover of Memphis Minnie's "Chauffeur Blues."  Her powerful vocal reminds me of Judy Henske.  It is an uptempo rollicking song that gives Kaukonen an opportunity to rock out over the compelling blues foundation laid down by Casady.  The album concludes with Balin and Kaukonen's moody "And I Like It."  Balin's vocal is tremendous and the song is loaded with tension and feeling, giving the record an emotional finish.  As much as I love this album I have to admit that it feels a bit tentative, it is still deeply rooted in folk-rock unlike the Airplane albums that followed.  It is nonetheless magnificent folk-rock, some of the best I've ever heard, easily rivaling the best efforts by the Byrds, the Beau Brummels and Love.  There may be a familiarity in the style of the music, but I also hear something new bubbling underneath, the nascent San Francisco sound.  I don't think it is purely hindsight, I believe that sympathetic listeners in 1966 heard a calling, a recognition of a shared vision that would emerge in 1967.  It is obvious that this music means something to the band and their belief in it is communicated to the listener.  It is not commercial music intended solely to entertain and sell records, this record is sharing a communal message.  It comes across in the lyrics and in the passionate quality of the music which is driven by the redoubtable instrumental punch offered by Casady and Kaukonen.  It is also evident in the band's vocal strength, particularly Balin who was one of the most expressive rock singers of his era.  He sang with such commitment and feeling, he completely sends me.  I will always be grateful that he introduced himself to Paul Kantner in that folk club many years ago.  The result was some of the best rock music I've ever heard.  I'm really going to miss him.  Recommended to people who value sincerity in music.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

God Help the Girl - Original Soundtrack

God Help the Girl
Original Soundtrack
Milan Records M2-36700

This is the soundtrack to Stuart Murdoch's debut film which began as an album with the same title.  The original album features much of the same music mostly sung by Catherine Ireton who portrayed the main character, Eve.  For the film soundtrack the actress Emily Browning replaces her on vocals.  Ireton is a more polished singer, but I find Browning more satisfying.  Ireton is too slick to convey the vulnerability and feelings of the character as well as Browning does.  The film depicts a troubled young woman, Eve, who aspires to achieve success in the music business.  With the help of a couple of friends she forms a band called God Help the Girl to fulfill her musical vision.  Bob Kildea and Chris Geddes are the only members of Belle and Sebastian who actually perform in the film band (which resembles a more photogenic version of the Belles) but the entire lineup of Belle and Sebastian perform on the soundtrack which results in it sounding like a Belle and Sebastian album performed by guest vocalists.  It is too bad that Browning already has a day job, she'd be a great addition to the group.  The record opens with "I Suppose That Was a Prayer" which is a melancholy instrumental with some of Browning's dialogue from the film.  The soundtrack record corresponds roughly to the chronology of the film but this dialogue is from near the end of the film where Eve describes her healing.  It is followed by her performance of "Act of the Apostle" which was originally recorded by Belle and Sebastian on "The Life Pursuit."  The song is full of typically Murdochian cleverness and adolescent angst and although it predates the film, it fits it perfectly and is used to introduce Eve during the title sequence.  The song has a music hall flavor to it that suits Browning very well.  The song is slightly altered from the original and truncated but I prefer this version of the song to the original because of the vocal.  "I Dumped You First" is a Murdoch song performed by Olly Alexander who plays Eve's friend James in the film.  It begins with some dialogue from the film as James' band breaks up on stage.  It is a quiet song performed on acoustic guitar that uses desperate boasting to cover up heartbreak.  Only a brief section of the song is used in the film but the complete version is played during the title crawl at the end of the film.  Browning sings the tender piano driven "Pretty When the Wind Blows" which she performs in the mental hospital in the film as she is trying to recover from her illness and start songwriting.  "I Know I Have To Eat" is another melancholy instrumental with dialogue of Eve talking about her problems with her doctor.  The record perks up with the delightful "God Help the Girl" which is Eve's description of her contradictory nature.  It is vivacious sunshine pop sung by Browning with a sparkling orchestral arrangement by former Belle, Mick Cooke.  In the film Browning only croons the second verse of the song accompanying herself with a keyboard app on her phone.  This version of the song isn't used at all in the film unfortunately.  Browning also sings "The Psychiatrist Is In" in which Eve impersonates a psychiatrist for the benefit of James.  It is an overtly romantic sounding song with bongos and a sensuous string arrangement.  Side two begins with "The God of Music" which features dialogue from James and Eve from the film.  This is a bit out of order since it appears in the film after the following song, "If You Could Speak" which is performed by Browning, Alexander and Hannah Murray who plays Eve's other friend, Cassie, in the film.  It is a jaunty tune that is featured in the charming scene where Eve and James teach Cassie how to write a song.  "The Catwalk of the Dukes" is a lovely instrumental reprise of "The Psychiatrist Is In" that is used in the scenes where Eve counts her pills and then asks for a job at Dukes Cafe.  It is followed by "Perfection as a Hipster" which is performed by Neil Hannon of the band The Divine Comedy with support from Browning.  He doesn't appear in the film, Eve's obnoxious boyfriend Anton puts the song on when he takes her to the clothing shop where he works.  On the original "God Help the Girl" album, Hannon portrayed Anton but the conception of the character seems to have changed by the time the film was made because the lyrics don't sound much like the film version of Anton.  "F**k this Sh*t" is a wistful instrumental that Belle and Sebastian composed and performed for the film "Storytelling" and which previously appeared on the Belle and Sebastian album of the same name.  It is out of order on the record, it follows the "Pretty Eve in the Tub" segment in the film and it appears again in the end credits.  It makes very effective background music for the scenes of Eve and James wandering around Glasgow.  "Pretty Eve in the Tub" is a chamber pop song sung by Alexander that accompanies footage of Eve bathing and glimpses of her life at home in the film.  James is apparently the subject of "A Loving Kind of Boy" which is sung by Belle and Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson and accompanies footage of James, Eve and Cassie posting flyers trying to recruit musicians for their band.  It is an upbeat sunshine pop song given a Spanish flavor by the horn section.  Side three starts with "What Do You Want This Band to Sound Like?" which is another snippet of film dialogue featuring Eve, James and Cassie discussing their band.  It precedes "A Loving Kind of Boy" in the film.  Browning sings "Come Monday Night" which is driven by a hypnotic bass riff from Kildea and a gorgeous string arrangement from Cooke.  It is a typically Murdochian song that contrasts the monotony of ordinary life with the romantic aspirations of the singer.  In the film it is performed by God Help the Girl at a rehearsal.  "Collective Idiocy" is another snippet of dialogue regarding band names.  "I'm Not Rich" is Murdoch's version of a hip hop song sung by the three friends confronting their delusions about themselves.  It does not appear in the film nor did it appear on the original record.  It is mildly amusing but superfluous.  Browning sings the exuberant "I'll Have to Dance with Cassie" which accompanies the big production number in the film.  It is insanely catchy and engaging in the best Belle and Sebastian manner.  I consider it the highlight of both the album and the film. "Stalinist Russia" is another dialogue snippet featuring James and Cassie discussing his failure at romance with Eve.  It occurs much later in the film.  "Baby's Just Waiting" is sung by Celia Garcia who was a participant in the original "God Help the Girl" album.  She plays a garbage collector who joins the band in the film.  It is pure Stuart Murdoch both in the way it blends 1960s pop with contemporary music and its familiar themes of the oppression of school, misfits and romantic disconnection.  The song is out of sequence on the soundtrack, in the film it appears before "I'll Have to Dance with Cassie" when James and Eve first enter the dance hall.  "Partick Whistle" is a pretty instrumental version of the song "Down and Dusky Blonde."  Side four commences with "Musician, Please Take Heed" which traces the events of Eve's breakdown concluding with her drug overdose.  The song is delicately sung by Browning at first, but then the driving guitar riff kicks in and the song takes off.  It is the most energetic and dramatic song in the film.  "I Just Want Your Jeans" is sung by Hannah Murray who is a much less skilled singer than Browning but her awkwardness suits her character well and enhances the goofiness of the song which is meant to be written by Cassie.  The song illustrates Cassie's growing self-confidence in the film.  "Invisible" is another moody instrumental.  It appears in the flashback of the trio clowning around that follows Eve's overdose which chronologically occurs before "I Just Want Your Jeans" in the film.  It is also reprised during James and Eve's walk to the train station at the end of the film.  "The World's Last Cassette" is more dialogue from the film courtesy of the two radio DJs that Eve is desperate to give her demo tape to.  Their radio banter appears periodically throughout the film and is mostly annoying to me.  I find Eve's obsession with them to be the most contrived element in the film.  "Down and Dusky Blonde" is mostly sung by Browning with help from Murray.  It functions as Eve's statement of liberation and fulfillment and is performed by God Help the Girl in their sole live gig in the film.  It displays Murdoch's typical knack for delivering an emotionally compelling song with irresistible pop allure.  "Dress Up In You" is a Belle and Sebastian song that first appeared on "The Life Pursuit."  It plays over Eve's bus ride which ends the film and then continues into the title crawl.  It seems like an ironic song to play at the end of the film since the film celebrates Eve going off to find success and the song represents the bitter perspective of a spurned former friend directed at someone who has gone on to be a big success.  Actually I find the whole film perplexing in that regard.  It is obviously a personal film for Murdoch, loaded with all his favorite themes and I suspect he relates to both James and Eve.  The story closely resembles the beginning of Belle and Sebastian, however the ending is the equivalent of Murdoch abandoning Glasgow after making "Tigermilk" and running off to London to become a pop star.  Regardless of my misgivings about the conclusion, I consider the film and this record to be immensely satisfying.  I've long been a huge fan of Stuart Murdoch and regard this to be among his most quintessential works.  Murdoch's lyrics are consistently evocative, resonant and intelligent making a simple story seem profound and emotionally powerful.  Musically it is wonderful, as engaging and appealing as any Belle and Sebastian record ever.  I like the little instrumental interludes as well and even the excerpts of the dialogue from the film.  The record particularly benefits from Mick Cooke's brilliant orchestral arrangements which has always been a Belle and Sebastian strength.  This album is essential for Belle and Sebastian fans and will probably appeal to most people on the poppier side of the indie rock spectrum.  Recommended to people whose favorite Belle and Sebastian album is "If You're Feeling Sinister."