Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Smash MGS 27039
I'm a fan of 60s girl groups and this is one of my favorite records in that genre. It is the second album by the Angels and has their most famous song, "My Boyfriend's Back." Like that hit single, most of the songs were written by the album's producers: Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer who would later achieve garage band immortality as the Strangeloves. Many of the songs are blatantly imitative of the title song like "Has Anybody Seen My Boyfriend," "Why Don't the Boy Leave Me Alone" and the sequel "The Guy With The Black Eye." They are decent enough, but not particularly compelling although the latter does reprise the indignant persona that helps make the title song so memorable. My favorite songs are the romantic ballads "Someday My Prince Will Come" (from the Disney film "Snow White") and "Till" where the yearning in the vocals is almost palpable. I believe that "Till" features the group's original lead vocalist, Linda Jansen, but the rest of the album features Peggy Santiglia as the lead singer. Santiglia is far from the best girl group lead singer, but she does have an emotional quality to her voice that I find very effective. The catch in her voice when she sings "World Without Love" really sends me. "Thank You and Good Night" is a dreamy slice of teenage romance with another fine emotional vocal from Santiglia. Among the uptempo numbers I like "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man," "A Night Has A Thousand Eyes" and especially the rocking "Love Me Now." The only real loser on the record is a cover of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" that is so close to the original that it is useless. Like most early 60s pop albums, this is too inconsistent and derivative to be essential, but it is definitely fun and very worthwhile if you are into girl groups. Recommended for fans of the Shangri-Las who wish that Mary Weiss hadn't been such a bad girl.
Monday, May 30, 2011
It's a Beautiful Day
Columbia CS 9768
The debut album by It's A Beautiful Day and one of my favorite album covers of all time courtesy of Globe Propaganda. I used to love this record but I rarely listen to it any more. As I've gotten older my tolerance for hippie bullshit has diminished. This was the first band I ever saw live. My first rock concert was the Tribal Stomp in Berkeley in 1978. It was a day long throwback to the 1960s rock festivals, thrown by Chet Helms of the Family Dog featuring many Bay Area bands. I was in high school at the time and it was a dream come true for me, undoubtedly the closest I'll ever come to experiencing the 1960s rock experience. Hippies came from all over to Berkeley's Greek Theater to stage one final happening. Marijuana filled the air as joints were passed through the crowd. People tripped on LSD (or whatever it was they were taking) and danced around naked. Me and my two suburban buddies just grinned like idiots trying to fit in as everyone around us reveled in hippie freakdom. It's A Beautiful Day opened the show after some poetry readings by the likes of Michael McClure and Allen Ginsberg and a short little acoustic set by Dan Hicks. They called themselves It Was A Beautiful Day since they had broken up 4 years earlier. To this day I believe they were the loudest band I've ever heard, which is odd since they seem pretty sedate on records. When the guitar cut loose on "Wasted Union Blues" I thought my ears would explode and my head would melt. The air seemed to vibrate with the music. It was actually a very impressive performance, one of my favorites of the day. Not too much of that excitement translated to any of their albums of which this is the best. "White Bird" is the song that they are remembered for and deservedly so. It is a catchy song that builds nicely with appealing lyrics about freedom. David LaFlamme's voice isn't typical of a rock singer, his rich and melodic tone sounds more like a crooner and seems a bit phony. His soaring violin was the focus of the band's instrumental approach which gave them a unique sound among the San Francisco bands of the era. The band's over-the-top romanticism and the flower power lyrics of many of the songs make them sound more dated and corny than most of their contemporaries. This is particularly noticeable on the overwrought "Hot Summer Day" which has more than its share of hippie hogwash. "Wasted Union Blues" is an uncharacteristic hard rock song with some blistering guitar from Hal Wagenet, it is one of their best songs and features David LaFlamme's most effective vocal performance. The moody ballad "Girl With No Eyes" is more typical of the band's strengths and is another one of the best songs on the record. The interplay between the violin and Linda LaFlamme's keyboards is very pretty. Pattie Santos' harmony vocal gives some much needed resonance to LaFlamme's mannered singing. "Bombay Calling" is my favorite song on the record and not just because it features no singing. It has a great hook and a nice driving beat. It segues into the oddly titled "Bulgaria" which is kind of dreary and is full of hippie cliches. It starts like a slow dirge but gradually builds into a more powerful tune with some compelling violin playing leading into the lengthy album closer, "Time Is." Despite the dopey metaphysical lyrics, it is a forceful, rocking song with some nice instrumental passages from various band members. I think it is the song on the album that is most typical of the San Francisco sound. It goes on too long and I could do without the crummy drum solo, but it does end the album with a bang. This record is most effective as a display of hippie idealism, but I think it still works as music even if you hate the hippie philosophy. I'm a little embarrassed that I like it as much as I do, but I would recommend it to anyone who is not afraid to wave their freak flag high.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Apple AR 34001
This is the rare case where I prefer a CD to a vinyl album as far as this music is concerned. When I want to hear this, I listen to CD bootlegs of "Get Back," Glyn Johns' original mix and sequencing of this album and if not that, then I listen to my CD of "Let It Be...Naked". Actually if I really wanted, I could find those on vinyl, I've seen some really handsome vinyl bootlegs of Johns' version but they were crazy expensive and I'm always dubious about the pressing quality of vinyl bootlegs. There is a vinyl version of "Let It Be...Naked" but it is also kind of pricey, especially since I'm not all that crazy about this music to start with. When I hear the early versions of this album, I realize it had the potential to be something special, the Beatles unplugged and unpolished in all their glory and charm. I've read Lennon's comments about being fed up with George Martin and all his producer's tricks, yet he rejects this record and brings in Phil Spector of all people, a guy who does producer's tricks in his sleep? Even before he became a murderer, I loathed Spector. I think he may be the single most overrated figure in the history of rock and roll. I consider the Wall of Sound to be idiotic - the Ronettes and Darlene Love would have sounded better if they had recorded for Motown or Atlantic. Spector delivered the worst Leonard Cohen album ever and sucked all the life out of George Harrison's "All Things Must Pass." His "fixing" of "Let It Be" is a joke, I'm completely on Paul McCartney's side in this regard. "Let It Be" was never going to be a masterpiece, but even you or I could have taken those tapes and come up with a better album than this. I hate the Spectorized version of "Across the Universe," the speeded up version for that charity record sounds much better to me. His padded and overdubbed version of "I Me Mine" is irritating too. Perversely he trims "Dig It" to practically nothing. I don't think it is a great song, but the longer versions are fun, something this record needs more of particularly after Spector turns "Let It Be" and "The Long and Winding Road" into hymns. Hearing stripped down versions of those songs is so refreshing. I disliked "The Long and Winding Road" until I heard the Glyn Johns version which I found quite touching. Admittedly McCartney deserves some of the blame for the fussiness of "Let It Be" since the single version was approved by him and it already shows the heaviness that mars the track for me, the raw version prepared by Johns is once again the one I like best although I do think the overdubbed Harrison guitar solo on the official album version of this track is one of his best Beatles solos. The songs from the rooftop concert mostly emerge unscathed from Spector's meddling. They are "I've Got a Feeling," "I Dig A Pony" and "One After 909." I like them all and think they best reflect the original spirit of the album. "Two of Us" sounds pretty raw and is all the better for it. When I was young and naive, I thought the song was an expression of comradeship between John and Paul, but I later found out it was inspired by Paul and Linda's long journeys up to his farm in Scotland. Nonetheless I like the warmth in the shared vocals between John and Paul, you'd never guess that the end was near. "For You Blue" is fun and charming, both rarities in the dour George Harrison canon and I love Lennon's slide guitar playing. "Go Johnny go" indeed. The album ends with the enduring "Get Back" which is my favorite song on the record, Lennon's closing comments about passing the audition acquire almost unbearable poignancy since this is the last song on the last real Beatles album. Spector does deserve credit for including those little snippets of chatter throughout the album although the idea originated with Johns. You can't change history, but this is such an unfortunate way for the group to end, this solemn, gloomy record is so unlike the joyous music the Beatles made during their career. Anyone who has seen the movie "Let It Be" or read the accounts of its production knows what a miserable experience it was for all concerned, but miraculously Glyn Johns managed to make a fun and compelling record out of it. If only the Beatles had realized it, they could have ended on a much more positive note. Instead they delivered it to this heavy-handed coffin maker and made a record I find so depressing it almost makes me relieved that they broke up. Recommended to Ray Conniff fans.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The Living Sisters
This Silver Lake supergroup brings together eclectic singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell, sophisticated pop chanteuse Inara George of the Bird and the Bee, and the unstoppable force of nature that is Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond. When I saw them a few weeks ago at Disney Hall they had added a fourth member Alex Lilly, but when this record was recorded they were just a trio. I bought this album at that concert. I already had the CD but I was so enraptured by the concert experience that I succumbed to the vinyl allure. I'm glad I did, because this is a record I really treasure. Considering what great singers these women are individually, you can imagine how heavenly they sound singing together. There is a remarkable consistency of style and tone on this album considering how many different genres of music the group embraces. My favorite song is Mandell's "How Are You Doing?" which is pure pop pleasure with the singers taking turns singing leads and offering up some gorgeous harmonies. Mandell also provides the country-flavored "Ferris Wheel" which is a style she has explored in her solo work. George's sole songwriting contribution is "Blue" which is a tasty slice of doo-wop as the Sisters channel the Fleetwoods and the Flamingos. Stark takes the podium to deliver the folky "Cradle" which argues against letting your baby cry. I couldn't agree more, our pediatrician told us to let our baby cry and it made me miserable for the short period we tried it. Listen to this woman's advice. This is followed by a cover of Bessie Smith's "Good Ole Wagon" which I think is the only dubious cut on the album. The Sisters take a glossy sophisticated approach on this song that I think was better served with the grit and raunchiness that Bessie Smith brought to it. Side Two kicks off with another pop song from Mandell, "Hold Back" followed by another folk song from Stark, "This Mountain Has Skies" which has some of the prettiest singing on the record. Mandell's fourth and final song is the fun and funny "Double Knots." It makes me smile every time I hear it. A cover of Nancy Wilson's 60s hit "(You Don't Know) How Glad I Am" comes next. Wilson's original was basically easy-listening pop with a tinge of rhythm and blues, but the Sisters' version is more of a doo-wop/country hybrid and I like it a lot better. All three women sing lead on the closing number, "Don't Let The Sun Go Down," a dreamy ballad by Becky Stark. The singing on this number is just dazzling, a great way to finish the album. This is an astonishingly beautiful record, I don't think I've heard such brilliant ensemble singing since Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris got together for the "Trio" records. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the possibilities of ensemble vocals in pop music.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Reprise RS 6340
My teenage record buying was largely guided by two books, "Rock Encyclopedia" by Lillian Roxon and especially "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock" by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden which was written from an English perspective. Through Logan and Woffinden I became interested in Fairport Convention, Man, Roxy Music, Lindisfarne, Pentangle and numerous other British bands that weren't played on the radio here, including this group, Family. Family never really made it in the United States, but I've long admired them, at least once I got used to Roger Chapman's unusual voice, his heavy vibrato reminds me of the bleating of a lamb. This may be their best album. Their debut was more psychedelic, but I think the songwriting here is a little better and I definitely enjoy the eclecticism of the music. It is so eclectic it is even difficult to describe, a mixture of folk, prog rock, blues and world music, like a blend of Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Traffic and the Doors. "The Weaver's Answer" is a powerful song about an old man looking back at his life as he is about to die. I think it is the best song on the record. Like most of the songs on the album it is written by the team of Chapman and John Whitney. Their "Hung Up Down" sounds like a light poppy song but it is paired with heavy, socially critical lyrics and a growling gut-bucket vocal by Roger Chapman that is sure to try the patience of people who find his singing annoying. This semi-dialectical approach to music is one of the things I like best about this record. It is so full of changes in texture and form, so much variety, it is really stimulating to listen to. You can hear this particularly in "From Past Archives" which is an amazing song. It starts out with mournful bluesy harmonica moving into chamber pop seguing into a jazzy interlude that is followed by a swelling prog-rock passage before returning to chamber pop and it never sounds contrived or forced. "Dim" is country rock and sounds pretty convincing for a bunch of guys from Leicester. There is also a bit of country flavor in the charming song of childhood, "Processions" which is another one of the songs I like best on the record. The piano and violin on this song are strikingly beautiful. Whitney's Middle Eastern sounding instrumental, "Summer '67" and bassist/violinist Ric Grech's sitar-driven "Face In The Cloud" have an exotic world music quality to them. The latter song is the most psychedelic of the songs on the album, rivaled only by the excellent "Observations From A Hill." "Emotions" is an odd mixture of heavy rock mixed with prog rock like a forced marriage of Steppenwolf with the Moody Blues, prog rock wins in the end but I still kind of like it, it is definitely different. Grech's "Second Generation Woman" is the hardest rocking song on the album but I think its lyrics are pretty dumb although his lyrics for the political song "How-Hi-The-Li" are even worse, reminiscent of the Alvin Lee school of whiny diatribes which is a shame because musically it is quite an engaging song. I don't care much for his lyrics but I really like Grech's violin playing, it enhances so many of the songs and remains I think one of the most successful uses of the instrument in rock. It is too bad that Grech left Family after this album for Blind Faith. It may have made him semi-famous, but it was hardly as suitable a vehicle for his talents. The departure of Grech and saxophonist Jim King after this record created a void in the group's sound, that I don't think was ever adequately filled. The richness of the group's sound and the wide variety of instrumentation in their music is almost without parallel in this era. They really sound great. Family would go on to make some good records, but they would never sound as good as this one. This is such a rewarding record, I find myself noticing new things every time I play it. Recommended for people who wish the Incredible String Band could rock.
Friday, May 20, 2011
The Beau Brummels
Autumn LP 103
Being from the San Francisco Bay Area, I had a big interest in the San Francisco Sound even though it was long gone by the time I became a record collector. There were still traces of it if you looked for it, lots of hippies, some of the landmark ballrooms were still extant, original posters and records were easy to find and even some of the bands were still around, although most sounded nothing like they had back in the 1960s. It was around this time that the Beau Brummels reunited and started gigging again in the Bay Area. I saw the ads for their shows and I liked their name. I found out they were a 1960s band and I asked my stepmother (who had been a teenager during the Summer of Love in San Francisco) about them. I assumed they had been peers of the Jefferson Airplane and Big Brother and the Holding Company, but the funny look she gave me when I mentioned this told me otherwise. Eventually I learned about the chasm between the uncool commercial bands and the hippie bands in San Francisco. At the time I took the side of the hippies, but in retrospect it is clear to me that most of those hippie bands were no better than the Brummels who in fact made some of the best music to come out of San Francisco in the 1960s even if they weren't allowed to be part of that "Sound." This was the Brummels' debut album. Unlike many of the mid-1960s San Francisco bands who derived their sound from folk-rock or rhythm and blues, the Brummels found their sound in the pop side of the British Invasion. Aside from maybe the Knickerbockers, I can't think of another major American group that sounded so English. They weren't just crude imitators though, they had real talent. Sal Valentino was a somewhat limited singer, but what he did, he did extremely well. His voice is very distinctive and evocative. Ron Elliott was a fine songwriter, he wrote 10 of the 12 songs on the album including the two hit singles "Laugh, Laugh" and "Just A Little." His biggest weakness is the lyrics, which tend to be trite and sentimental. He would get better in the future, especially during the Warner Bros. Records era of the group. The two singles are excellent as you probably know, but most of the album tracks are good as well. "Still In Love With You Baby" was the B-side of "Laugh, Laugh" but I think it is strong enough to have been an A-side. "Stick Like Glue" and "That's If You Want Me To" are also really memorable songs loaded with hooks that could have been singles. These songs show how well the group absorbed the style of the British Beat groups. You could play this record next to the Searchers or the Hollies or even the early Beatles and not notice much of a difference. The sappy "I Would Be Happy" is perhaps the most blatantly imitative of the English groups, if I heard it on the radio I would assume it was Peter and Gordon or someone of that ilk. The notable exception to the English influence is "I Want More Loving" which evokes the sound of 1950s rock and roll to great effect. The two covers, Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and the old warhorse "Ain't That Loving You Baby" are among the weaker numbers on the record. This record is too uneven and derivative to be a classic, but it is quite enjoyable and promising. In 1965 there weren't many American bands more talented than the Beau Brummels and they would only get better in the future. Recommended for fans of the first wave of the British Invasion.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Starline SRS 5071
As a teenager, I never understood Pink Floyd's widespread popularity among my peers. My sister had "Dark Side of the Moon" and I couldn't believe it was so successful, it just sounded like mildly dull prog-rock to me. My teenage ears found their music to be morose, humorless and tedious. When I started reading rock encyclopedias and histories, I realized there was another Pink Floyd that existed before the pretentious arena band did, a psychedelic band led by a guy named Syd Barrett. I was intrigued and that led me to this comp. My copy is the English version with a charming cover drawing by Nick Mason. The American cover art features some guy with four eyes. Barrett is only featured on a little more than half of this record, but that was enough for me to realize how brilliant he was. I eventually acquired most of Pink Floyd's albums, but this and "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn" are the only two that I play much. The Barrett-era Floyd tracks are my favorites on this record but even the David Gilmour-era stuff all of which dates from the late 1960s is mostly good. The record begins appropriately enough with the band's debut single "Arnold Layne." It is a terrific song, naughty, funny and catchy with crisp drumming, driving bass lines, ringing guitars and swirling organ, it is a classic slice of English psychedelia. From their debut album comes "Interstellar Overdrive," a lengthy instrumental, but unlike the epic prog-rock snoozefests they'd later unleash on the world, this one actually goes somewhere. It is trippy and sounds great with headphones. "See Emily Play" is another classic single and my favorite of all their songs. It shimmers and soars with the grace and beauty of the best psychedelic music. It is followed by two 1967 songs by Richard Wright, "Remember a Day" and "Paintbox" which are sung by Wright. They both have a dreamy psychedelic flavor and boast terrific drumming from Mason. Side two features the post-Barrett Floyd. "Julia Dream" was written by Roger Waters, the first of many somnolent ballads he would deliver with the band through the years. I like the freaky sound effects and the keyboards, they have a nice hallucinogenic effect. "Careful With That Axe, Eugene" is a portent of Pink Floyd's progressive rock future, a long keyboard dominated instrumental that slowly builds to a mild climax. It is not as dull as the ones that would come later, but no great favorite of mine either. I prefer the version they re-recorded for the film "Zabriskie Point" which is heavier and more intense. The record jumps to 1969 with "Cirrus Minor," another sleepy Waters ballad dominated by a droning organ that makes me think of church. Things perk up with Waters' "The Nile Song" which is the hardest rocking song they ever recorded. Pink Floyd could really rock when they wanted to, they probably just thought it was beneath them. The previously unreleased "Biding My Time" rocks out quite a bit as well, but it is otherwise undistinguished. The use of horns on the song brings to mind "Atom Heart Mother" although fortunately it is not anywhere near as bad as that. It is self-indulgent but it is more fun than most of side two. As far as fun goes though, it can't hold a candle to the closing number, a return to 1967 with Syd Barrett's "Bike" which is funny, charming and trippy and really after Barrett left, how many Pink Floyd tracks can you say that about? Recommended for people who think "Lovely Rita" is a better song than "Let It Be."
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Jack Kerouac/Steve Allen
Rhino RI 70939-A
This is another record from Rhino's "Jack Kerouac Collection" box set. It was Kerouac's first record album, released on Hanover Records although it had originally been recorded for Dot Records and had been rejected for release when the company president decided it was indecent. I'm not sure what he found so objectionable, by modern standards it is pretty tame, I hear a lot worse stuff on the radio all the time. The pairing of the King of the Beats with a television comedian seems a bit odd, but then again Kerouac was never as hip as many of his followers like to think and Steverino may have been a bit of a square, but he was certainly no dummy. The origin of this record was Kerouac's appearance at the Village Vanguard in New York where Allen was drafted out of the audience to play piano in support of Kerouac's readings. Allen's piano playing is more trad than bop and it is deliberately unobtrusive, it sounds like cocktail lounge jazz backing up a casual conversation. I think it is mostly effective, but it also reminds me of the soundtrack to "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood" - I kept waiting for Kerouac to ask me to be his neighbor. For me, Allen's piano noodlings do not add much to the impact of the readings, but they are pleasant and provide some atmosphere. Kerouac's reading style is mostly laid back and conversational, it often feels like listening to some guy in a bar, particularly on "I Had A Slouch Hat Too One Time" which is one of my favorite cuts on the record. My favorite of all Kerouac's poems kicks off the record, the celebrated "October In The Railroad Earth." Kerouac reads it with winning enthusiasm, it demonstrates the potential in the jazz/poetry concept. I also like the extraordinary "Bowery Blues," "Charlie Parker" and "McDougal Street Blues." This album was allegedly recorded in one take with Kerouac randomly grabbing poems from a suitcase and sipping from a bottle of Thunderbird throughout and I find that very believable. There is definitely a sloppiness and rough edge to the performance, Kerouac even makes mistakes, but I think that adds to the record's warmth and charm. Not all the poems are memorable, "Deadbelly," "I'd Rather Be Thin than Famous" and "Goofing At The Table" are humorous but slight and I could really do without the ode to his mother. In terms of Kerouac's literary oeuvre this is definitely minor, but well worth checking out. From a musical standpoint "Blues and Haikus" is far superior and arguably from a literary standpoint as well, but this is more fun. Recommended for literate barflies.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Epic BN 26402
This is the debut album by Fleetwood Mac. It is generally known as just "Fleetwood Mac" but I've opted for the title that is on the spine of the album sleeve to distinguish it from the 1975 "Fleetwood Mac" that was a very different group's commercial breakthrough. It is basically the same cover as the English original except that someone at Epic Records decided to add a pink border to the cover picture for reasons that escape me. The track listing is the same. As you probably already know, Fleetwood Mac started life as a blues band, part of the British blues boom of the late 1960s. With the addition of Danny Kirwan, this line-up of the group would evolve into a remarkably powerful and creative rock band, their "Live In Boston" box set is one of my most cherished CDs, I wouldn't trade it for everything Cream ever recorded. At this stage though they were basically a straight blues band, talented but derivative. I'm not a big blues fan, rhythm and blues is much more my thing. On the rare occasion when I feel like hearing the blues I'm going to be reaching for Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf or B. B. King, not John Mayall, Dave Kelly, the Groundhogs or any other English group imitating them. Nonetheless I do play this record sometimes for a couple of reasons. One is that Peter Green was a truly gifted guitar player. His beautiful, fluid solos send me every time I hear them. The second reason is that I find Jeremy Spencer to be very entertaining. His shtick at this time was basically to imitate Elmore James, but he does it so well that I play his records more than James himself. His passionate singing and exuberant slide guitar playing really bring these songs to life. The manic cover of James' "Shake Your Moneymaker" on this album is easily my favorite cut. It is impossible for me to hear it without bopping around, it is pure kinetic energy - rock and roll at its finest. Spencer also tackles James' "Got To Move" and his own compositions, "My Heart Beat Like A Hammer," "My Baby's Good To Me" and "Cold Black Night" are obviously derived from James' songs, particularly "Dust My Broom" and "The Sun is Shining." I like all of them, especially "My Heart Beat Like A Hammer" which really rocks. The one exception from Spencer's Elmore James fixation is his solo performance of Robert Johnson's "Hellhound On My Trail" which features some rather moving singing and piano playing from Spencer although it is even more derivative than his other cuts. Peter Green's compositions are not much more original than Spencer's but at least they are more eclectic. My favorite is the slinky "Looking for Somebody" which boasts some really nice harmonica work as does the raunchy "Long Grey Mare." "I Loved Another Woman" is another slow smoldering blues that features some of Green's best guitar work on the record. I admire the guitar solo on "Merry Go Round" as well. Green's solo acoustic performance on "The World Keep On Turning" much like Spencer's "Hellhound On My Trail" just serves to reveal how imitative this record is - minus the distracting power of the full band all I hear are English guys copying their idols. This is also the case with "No Place To Go" which can't hold a candle to the urgency and desperation of Howlin' Wolf's ferocious original despite Green's passionate vocal. Regardless of the lack of originality in this music, I still appreciate this record, it was obviously made with a lot of love and enthusiasm and more than a little talent. Recommended for John Mayall fans who wish he had a better sense of humor.
Linda Ronstadt's second solo album, it was extremely influential on me. For some reason, my father had it in his record collection. His taste in female singers ran more towards Vikki Carr or Barbara Streisand and he did not buy any other Ronstadt albums, so my guess is that he liked "Long Long Time," the single off this album. This record has a strong country feel to it so I initially reacted with disdain to it because I hated country music at the time. As I got older, I became intrigued with the album cover, that is to say I found the photo of Ronstadt extremely attractive, and I started playing the record and I got hooked. I finally saw the appeal in country music. This isn't my father's copy, I picked this up after I left home when I found myself missing it and wanting to hear it again. I make no claims for this being a masterpiece, but it is a very entertaining record. I've been listening to it for over 35 years now and I still really enjoy it. "Long Long Time" is my favorite song on here, I consider it the best song Ronstadt ever did. It is impeccably sung, with enormous feeling and sincerity and has a very lovely arrangement by Norbert Putnam. I've always found it very moving and it still provokes a lot of memories and emotions in me when I spin it. There are several other fine songs on here as well. Ronstadt practically made a career out of resuscitating old rock and roll songs and inaugurates the practice here with the Shirelles' "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" which she sings very effectively. She does a credible cover of Hank Williams' version of "Lovesick Blues" and I really enjoy her full-throated performance on Mel Tillis' "Mental Revenge." She beat Donny and Marie to Don and Dewey's "I'm Leaving It All Up to You" and trounces their performance with her robust delivery. She also covers Dillard and Clark's "He Dark The Sun." Their version was the best song on the excellent "The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard and Clark" but I think Ronstadt's version is at least as good. I also really like her lovely duet with Gary White (the composer of "Long Long Time") on "Louise." I know some people are rather dismissive of this album, but about the only bad thing I can say about it, is that it helped unleash the Eagles upon the world since they were her backing band on this album prior to their rise to stardom. That's a pretty heinous crime, but Ronstadt's voice is so enchanting that I forgive her for it. Fortunately this doesn't sound anything like the Eagles, it is easy to forget they are even on it. Recommended to Ronstadt fans who have worn out their copies of "Heart Like A Wheel" - yes that's a terrific record, but I'd say this one is just as good.
Friday, May 13, 2011
This was Patsy Cline's third studio album originally released on Decca Records. I picked this up in the 1980s. I recently saw the Living Sisters tribute to Patsy Cline at Disney Hall in Los Angeles and was reminded of how great Cline was and how much her music meant to me. It was a terrific concert - I never would have imagined I would ever see John Doe or Shirley Manson covering Patsy Cline (beautifully done too.) I came to Patsy Cline pretty late. As a child I hated country music. My father had a Hank Williams record that he liked to blast on his stereo and whenever he did, I would leave the room or if possible the house. I thought it was horrible, though fortunately I've since realized I was wrong. I still have dismal memories of road trips on Interstate 80 crossing Nevada as a child with only country music stations on the radio and my sisters and I writhing in agony and praying for a top 40 station to come in at some point. Eventually in my late teens I came to like country music mostly because of country rock records by the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers and especially Linda Ronstadt's "Silk Purse." Nonetheless I remained lukewarm about it until 1985 when I saw the Patsy Cline biopic "Sweet Dreams." I saw it in a nice theater with really good sound and hearing her incredible voice just blew me away. What a sublime gift she had. I dedicated myself to collecting everything of hers I could find on vinyl and the tapes I made from those records were the soundtrack for my road trips for many years. Aside from her "Greatest Hits" record, this is my favorite of Cline's albums. It is split between country songs and pop standards, but since she brings a country feel to the pop songs and a pop sensibility to the country songs the songs flow together very smoothly. I love the entire record but I guess my favorite cut would be "Lonely Street." My father had Andy Williams' album of the same name, so I know the song quite well, but Cline really makes the song her own with just a stupendous vocal performance. It gives me the chills. She sings with so much feeling and sincerity, the heartache she brings to the music is almost palpable in songs like "She's Got You," "Strange," "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still In Love With You)" and "You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling In Love)". You'd have to have a heart of stone not to melt when she sings "You Belong To Me" or "That's My Desire." Even a corny old chestnut like "You Made Me Love You (I Didn't Want To Do It)" sounds fresh and powerful when she sings it. Every time I hear this record I fall in love with her all over again. Recommended for anyone who has ever had a broken heart, meet your patron saint.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Gear Fab GFC 417
This record has a big rep (and an even bigger price if you can find an original copy) in psych record collecting circles, but it seems to me that is just because it is rare. This is no lost classic, it is more of an interesting artifact. It was originally released on Chapparal Records in 1968 and reissued by Gear Fab in 2001 in a very handsome gatefold package with informative liner notes. It is the sole recording by Haymarket Square and was originally created as a soundtrack for a light show/happening/art performance called the Baron and Bailey Light Circus at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art in June 1968. This is basically about an album side worth of material stretched out over two album sides through mediocre soloing and lots of repetition. That sort of thing might work at the light show/happening but it doesn't work for me spinning the record at home. Just because the music is trippy doesn't mean you should have to be tripping to enjoy it. "Amapola" is a really nice song, but it clocks in at nearly 11 minutes even though it is essentially a four minute song. There are a couple of verses and some lengthy choruses and then it fades out only to resume with about 2 or 3 minutes of soloing and stuff and then they repeat the song in its entirety, same exact words, for another 4 minutes. It is a good song, but it is not that good a song. Their cover of "The Train Kept-A-Rollin" is also unnecessarily elongated. It basically copies the Yardbirds' version, the guitarist, Marc Swenson, even imitates Jeff Beck's solos. They stretch out the song by playing the verses over and over. It begins with a few passes through the verses without any singing at all, when I first heard it I thought it was going to be an instrumental. I love this song and they do a decent job on it but seven minutes of it is too much. If I wanted a bloated self-indulgent version of this song, I'd put on Aerosmith. According to the liner notes the group was heavily influenced by Jefferson Airplane, but I don't hear it that much. Lead singer Gloria Lambert's song "Elevator" seems the most influenced by the San Francisco sound and I like it the best of all the songs on the album even though the tune is not nearly as memorable as "Amapola." Nice vocals, hypnotic drumming and some interesting instrumental passages, it has many of the features I like best about the San Francisco groups. If the whole album were as good as this, I would be happy but unfortunately there are some stinkers as well. "Funeral" is a 9 minute dirge that feels almost as long as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I tune out way before it is finally over. "Ahimsa" is easily the worst song on the record, an eight minute long instrumental dominated by John Kowalski's overlong, boring drum solo (is there any other kind?) bookended by some tedious guitar solos. It is exactly the kind of self-absorbed noodling that gave acid rock a bad name. You spin this record a few times and it will have you reaching for your Stooges records for some relief. If I paid $2,000 for an original pressing of this, I'd be pretty pissed, but I didn't pay anything (it was a gift) so I'm glad to have it. I'm a huge acid rock fan, but I don't play it much. I like Lambert's voice and I like the overall sound of the record, but ultimately it is just too derivative and too dull to generate much enthusiasm in me. Recommended for It's A Beautiful Day fans who hate violins.
Happy Is The Sunshine Company
The Sunshine Company
Imperial Records LP 12359
I have a bit of a sweet tooth for sunshine pop. It used to be a guilty pleasure, but of late this stuff has been gaining in popularity, even respect, with lots of reissues and comps devoted to the genre. There is a thin line between sunshine pop and bubble gum that has always made me a little uncomfortable, but I have no qualms about liking the Sunshine Company despite their embarrassing name. They did plenty of upbeat, commercial songs, but they also had a more serious side. From what I've read about them there was a conflict between the demands of the record label and the group's management and the direction that band actually wanted to follow, a familiar story in the 1960s. This was their debut album and I like it quite a bit. There is some saccharine stuff here, but there is also a lot of folk-rock styled seriousness as well. Their cover of the Beatles' "I Need You" is a chamber pop gem that I prefer to the original. It is brilliantly arranged by folk singer Mary McCaslin who also arranged their cover of the Beatles "Rain" with less success. That arrangement is similarly elaborate but it removes the psychedelic edge of the Beatles version and it ends up sounding like the Association. They also cover "Four In the Morning" which was written by Robin Remaily of the Holy Modal Rounders. Jesse Colin Young recorded a version on a 1964 solo album and then brought the song to the Youngbloods for their debut album the same year as this. I love the Youngbloods' version, but this is just as good with some killer fuzz guitar running all the way through it. Anyone who thinks this is just a lightweight group, should hear this dark and atmospheric song, it is terrific. They had a modest hit single with a folk-rock cover of "Back on the Street Again" which also appeared on the second album by the Stone Poneys around the same time. Both versions are really good but I give the edge to the Sunshines. The only number penned by a group member is "A Year of Jaine Time" by rhythm guitarist, Maury Manseau. It is a quiet, gloomy song that is mildly ambitious and beautifully sung. Of course there are a lot of lighter songs as well. Their version of "Up, Up and Away" was recorded before the hit version issued by the 5th Dimension and I prefer this version. Although the arrangements are similar, the Sunshine Company's version is a bit rawer. "Just Beyond Your Smile" is classic sunshine pop with its soaring chorus and upbeat lyrics. I wish I could say the same for "Love Is A Happy Thing" but instead I find it embarrassing. It is so corny and overdone that it sounds almost like a parody of sunshine pop/bubble gum. The band rebounds with the other single from the album, "Happy" which is really charming and full of everything I like about sunshine pop, harmonious vocalizing, upbeat romantic lyrics and a catchy memorable melody. I suppose some people would find this record pretty corny, but if you give it a chance I think most 60s rock buffs will find something to like on this record. Recommended for fans of the Mamas and the Papas or the Jan Errico era Mojo Men.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
I was given this record by a friend who was a big Mott The Hoople fan. She was paring down her collection and didn't want it anymore. I can see why, even though 3 of the members, Buffin, Overend Watts and Morgan Fisher, came from the Ian Hunter-era Mott line-up and a fourth, Ray Major, comes from the post-Hunter Mott, this doesn't sound much like Mott. Probably because the fifth guy, John Fiddler, wrote most of the songs and sings them. He came from a band called Medicine Head that I've never heard and judging from this I don't know that I really want to. On the picture on the inner sleeve the boys are all well-coiffed and made-up, looking like five lads on their way to a hairdressers convention, so I expected some glam-rock, but in fact this is mostly generic 70s hard rock. I have a bit of an appetite for that stuff but this is pretty marginal. Fiddler isn't much of a singer. He sounds like he's trying to be Lou Reed on "One More Chance To Run" and he imitates Ian Hunter on "International Heroes." Unfortunately he could be Ian Hunter himself and that wouldn't improve this album much. The two best songs come from outside the band, Garland Jeffrey's "Wild In the Street" and Kim Fowley's "International Heroes." "Fork Talking Man" rocks pretty nicely in a mundane sort of way but the lyrics are dreadful. "My Life's In Your Hands" has a nice power riff and reminds me a bit of Blue Oyster Cult. Fiddler's weak vocals and crummy lyrics drag down "Big Drift Away" which is a power ballad reminiscent of Bad Company. It could have been a decent song but it falls short and goes on way too long. "Booster" is my favorite of the group's originals, it even sounds like a Mott the Hoople song. I like the call and response vocals. Unfortunately the goodwill it generates in me is completely undone by the album's closing song, "Eat The Rich." As much as I approve of that sentiment, it is a really stupid song, even by hard rock standards. This is not an unpleasant record, it sounds sort of nice in the background, but it is instantly forgettable, I can hardly remember a song on it, minutes after it is over. I think the most interesting about it is that Terry Jones and Michael Palin of Monty Python are thanked in the sleeve notes. When the day comes when I have to pare down my record collection, there is a good chance that this record will be on the move again. Recommended for Mott the Hoople fans who dislike Ian Hunter.
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Reprise RS 6261
The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy 88765441751
This is the American debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience and a recent mono reissue of the British debut album that was originally released by Track Records. The American debut was the first Hendrix album I owned. I bought it at Tower Records in Berkeley about 1979. I was a late convert to Hendrix. I saw "Woodstock" while I was in high school and Hendrix's performance gave me a headache - too many close-ups and too much noise. I also saw "Monterey Pop" as a young teen and thought his performance was self-indulgent and gimmicky. Fortunately I've since realized the errors of my ways and Hendrix is now my favorite guitarist and one of my favorite performers. This is one of the great debut albums in rock history, particularly in its U. S. release version on Reprise - for once the U. S. record company made a better version than its U. K. counterpart. I prefer the psychedelic record cover that Reprise used and I approve of substituting the classic singles "Purple Haze," "Hey Joe" and "The Wind Cries Mary" for "Can You See Me," "Red House" and "Remember" although if it were up to me, "Third Stone From the Sun" or "May This Be Love" would be the songs coming off the album instead. "Red House" is a great performance, but it is pretty much a straight blues song and disrupts the flow of an otherwise psychedelic album. "Remember" is one of the worst songs that Hendrix ever wrote, I find it lackluster and dull. "Can You See Me" on the other hand is terrific, I wish Reprise had kept it on the album. As for the issue of mono versus stereo, I prefer the stereo versions for the most part. Maybe I'm just used to hearing the stereo versions having been listening to them for 35 years, but they sound more expressive to me particularly on the more expansive psychedelic numbers like "Are You Experienced" or "I Don't Live Today." The reissue sounds very crisp though, they did a great job mastering it. In either version I think the most remarkable thing about this record is that it represented something entirely new, nothing like this had ever been heard before. I'm a little envious of people who bought this in 1967 and heard it for the first time. How astonishing it must have sounded, I'll bet they were blown away. Admittedly when I listen to "Love or Confusion," I am reminded of the Yardbirds in the Jeff Beck era and prior to Hendrix's arrival, Jeff Beck was the most inventive and creative guitarist in rock. Certainly the Yardbirds explored the heavy psychedelic blues before Hendrix did, but they were just as likely to deliver silly pop ditties as well. Hendrix was a far superior songwriter and a more consistent artist. As inane as "Third Stone From the Sun" may be, it is still far more interesting than "Hot House of Omagarashid" or "Little Soldier Boy." Besides, nothing in the Yardbirds catalog (great as it is) can really compare to "I Don't Live Today" or "Purple Haze." This is the boldest and heaviest rock music ever, played with unprecedented skill and passion. This isn't just lumpen heaviness like Blue Cheer, this is heaviness with a purpose. Even now, 44 years later, it still sounds impressive, state of the art heavy rock. No metal guitarist will ever approach Hendrix at his zenith. Every riff he touched turned to gold, the man was one of the few bona fide geniuses in rock. Aside from "Remember," "Third Stone From the Sun" or "May This Be Love" every song on either version of the album is brilliant and even those three are enjoyable. This is a record with intelligent and poetic lyrics and dazzling playing throughout, what more do you want from a rock album? 1967 was such an amazing year, so many great albums were released that year but I have yet to hear a better one than this. Recommended to anyone who has never been experienced.
Columbia CS 9516
I bought this at Raspberry Records in Salt Lake City around 1975. At the time I was only buying Beatles or ex-Beatles records, but I became infatuated with the Byrds after seeing a vintage clip of them on TV doing "Turn! Turn! Turn!" and when I saw this album cover I had to have it. It was one of my favorite album covers for quite some time. It is a premature compilation, it only covers their first four albums and it is pretty skimpy too with only 11 tracks clocking in at a little over 30 minutes. Gene Clark gets short shrift, as does David Crosby (not that I'm complaining) and Bob Dylan is over-represented with 4 cuts, one of which wasn't even a single. The liner notes by Dave Swaney are quite good for their time although somehow he finds a way to mention band publicist Derek Taylor while ignoring Gene Clark and Chris Hillman. Most casual fans would probably prefer a more comprehensive overview of the band, but for folk-rock fans, this sums up that period of the Byrds' career pretty nicely. As befits a greatest hits package, there is not a bad song on here and until I bought the first four albums, I played it a lot. I rarely play it at all anymore, but it certainly had a big influence on me, I owe a lot of my interest in folk-rock to this record. My favorite cut is "Eight Miles High", its blend of folk-rock and psychedelia is irresistible to me. My other favorites are "Mr. Tambourine Man," "So You Want to Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star" and "I'll Feel A Whole Lot Better" which I find endlessly listenable. At the time I didn't like "5D" at all, I've come to like it somewhat but I'm sure the only reason it is on here is because it has a McGuinn copyright. I think this album would have been more valuable if it included some non-album cuts like "She Don't Care About Time" (a better song than most of the ones on this record in my opinion), "Lady Friend" or the original version of "Why". Basically if you are a Byrds fan, you own the first four albums, all of which are essential, so you don't need this record. Recommended for folk-rock dilettantes.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
A&M SP 4206
I bought this in Berkeley around 1980. It was the third album by Fairport Convention. I wish I had held out for an import copy of the Island Records version of this record with the charming cover image of Sandy Denny's parents in front of their home. Presumably some genius at A&M decided that an image of old people on a record cover would discourage youthful record buyers and substituted a picture of circus elephants instead - brilliant! By 1980 Fairport records were getting tough to find so I grabbed this when I had the chance. This is one of my favorite records, I've played it a lot in the last 30 years. I would have a tough time choosing between "Unhalfbricking" and the second Fairport album (entitled "Fairport Convention" in the American market) as to which one is better, I love them both and consider them both masterpieces. This was the last Fairport album to feature original members Iain Matthews (only on "Percy's Song") who quit for a solo career, although not without some pushing from elements in the band, and Martin Lamble who was killed when the band's van crashed shortly after the album was recorded. It also marks the debut of future member Dave Swarbrick as a guest performer on nearly half the album. Swarbrick would go on to have a big influence on the future direction of the band, a direction I'm not a big fan of, but I appreciate his contributions to this record and at least he doesn't sing. There are only eight songs and every one is a gem. The record begins with Richard Thompson's "Genesis Hall" which I think is among the best of his early songs. This is followed by one of three Dylan covers on the record, "Si Tu Dois Partir", a French language version of "If You Gotta Go, Go Now." It is a rollicking, jug band styled interpretation that produced the group's only hit single in the UK. Sandy Denny's "Autopsy" comes next. It is a rather cold song, particularly the first verse which is almost vicious. I like the jazzy feel of the backing though. Side one closes with "A Sailor's Life" which is the song that gets this album labeled a transitional album so often. It is the only traditional song on the album, the rest of which adheres to the style of the second Fairport album (which actually had two traditional songs on it.) It is an extraordinary performance, Sandy Denny sings with great passion and the guitar-fiddle interplay between Richard Thompson and Dave Swarbrick is as mesmerizing as anything you will ever hear on a rock album. Thompson's soloing is just magnificent, he established himself as a front rank guitarist with this song. As all folk-rock fans know, the contemporary treatment of traditional music was not new, but "A Sailor's Life" took it to a new level, the rock/folk synthesis is dazzling in its effectiveness. In my opinion nothing on "Liege and Lief" surpasses this epic song, in fact I would venture to say that no song in the folk-rock canon surpasses this song. When I first heard it, it floored me and to this day when I listen to it, I'm enthralled, by the time it is over I'm mentally spent. Just a great, great song. Side two kicks off with Thompson's "Cajun Woman" which is lots of fun, I love the slide guitar and the accordion, it demonstrates the eclecticism that made the early Fairport so awesome. Sandy Denny's signature song "Who Knows Where the Time Goes" is next, if it is not the best song she ever wrote, it is certainly the most famous. I sometimes find Denny's lyrics to be excessively remote or obscure, but that is not the case with this song, a genuine classic and truly beautiful. Dylan covers close out the record. "Percy's Song" boasts a tremendous heartfelt vocal from Denny that lifts what would otherwise be a rather mundane and tedious song. I may be in the minority in that opinion, but it is easy for me to see why Dylan never released the song himself (until "Biograph" anyway.) The gloom of that song is lifted by "Million Dollar Bash" which is another rollicking, humorous song. It is the only song where Denny is not the lead singer, various band members take turns with the verses as well as guest singer Marc Ellington. It is a great way to close the album. Thus ends the happiest chapter in the Fairport saga, tragedy, break-up and mediocrity lay ahead. This is a classic album, one that everyone should hear. Recommended for people who think folk music is boring and old-fashioned, prepare to be blown away.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Rhino RI 70939-B
This was Jack Kerouac's second album, originally on Hanover Records, it was re-issued by Rhino in 1990 in a handsome box set, "The Jack Kerouac Collection" along with his other two albums and an album of outtakes. This is my favorite of the three original albums. I bought the box in Hollywood around the time it came out. I couldn't really afford it, but I was a huge Kerouac fan at the time so I splurged. I used to be involved in indie filmmaking and had a script based on the Beat Generation so I figured this could be justified as research. As I've gotten older, Kerouac appeals to me less, he seems more narcissistic and immature to me now, but I still enjoy his style. This album features Kerouac reading his poetry backed by saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. In the first track "American Haikus" the poetry and jazz basically alternate, Kerouac recites his three line poems in silence and then Cohn and Sims alternately improvise a few bars and then Kerouac recites the next poem. I like the poems quite a bit but I'm not convinced that the jazz really enhances them all that much. The next track "Hard Hearted Old Farmer" tries to mix the music and poetry more closely. Kerouac basically sings the poem while Cohn plays piano in the background. Kerouac isn't much of a singer, but I'm kind of charmed by his awkwardness. I think as far as jazz/poetry synthesis goes this is perhaps the most successful track. It is followed by "The Last Hotel" which Kerouac recites over Cohn playing piano and Sims blowing sax. I think in this instance the music does enhance the poetry and it seems to inspire Kerouac to a more passionate reading. Side two features "Poems from the Unpublished 'Book of Blues'" for the entire side. I like this track the best, particularly since it is about San Francisco, my favorite city. Cohn and Sims duet in the background throughout the poem. Sometimes I find the music distracting and sometimes it seems to elevate the poetry. I think it would be interesting if there was a rhythm section that propelled the reading. It would deny Kerouac some of his freedom perhaps, but I think the propulsive effect might give more force to the reading. Regardless this track does feature Kerouac's most exciting reading, I find it very engaging. The music is also very stimulating on this cut, that is why it is distracting, I find myself listening to Sims and Cohn instead of the poem at times. I like this record quite a bit, it works both as music and poetry. If you have any interest in Beat poetry or even just the possibilities of spoken word recordings, it is worth checking out. Recommended for Dharma Bums with a taste for be-bop.