Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hear! Hear! - The Searchers

Hear! Hear!
The Searchers
Mercury MG 20914

The second best group to emerge from Liverpool in the 1960s recorded a live album at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany just like the Beatles.  It was recorded and released in England in 1963 and released in the U.S. the following year.  The Beatles' "Live! At the Star-Club in Hamburg, Germany; 1962" was a rip-off released long after the Beatles had broken up although an interesting artifact for Beatlemaniacs.  The Searchers' album is actually a pretty good record.  It sounds a lot better than the Fabs' record mostly because it was recorded when the Star Club was closed with more professional equipment.  The audience noise that appears between tracks was added later.  So I guess you could argue it is not really a live album in the conventional sense.  The songs are mostly rock and roll oldies.  There are a pair of Buddy Holly songs, "Listen to Me" and "Learning the Game" (weirdly listed as "Led in the Game" in the liner notes.  The Searchers also tackled Fats Domino's "Rosalie," Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell," Chris Kenner's "Sick and Tired," The Drifters' "Sweets For My Sweets," Ray Charles' "What'd I Say" and The Coasters' "Ain't That Just Like Me"  The liner notes incorrectly credit the song to Claude Demetrius and Fleecie Moore presumably someone mixed it up with their song "Ain't That Just Like a Woman."  The song was actually written by Billy Guy and Earl Carroll (of "Speedo" fame.)  For the most part the group did not stray too far from the original versions in their covers, but they are poppier.  The group's crisp sound and polished vocals make many of the songs sound smoother and more removed from their rhythm and blues origin.  There are a few instances where the Searchers changed the songs more radically.  For the band's cover of James Brown's "(Do the) Mashed Potatoes" (released by Brown under the pseudonym Nat Kendrick and the Swans), they gave the song a Merseybeat transformation speeding up the tempo, riffing with jangly guitars and singing a repeated refrain of "yeah" that makes the song barely recognizable.  The Olympics' "Hully Gully" received a similar makeover being taken at a breakneck pace with ringing guitars and a soaring vocal from Tony Jackson.  They also transformed Boudleaux Bryant's "Hey Joe" (which was a hit for Carl Smith as well as Frankie Laine) with a full on rocked up attack with great results.  The one new song on the record is "I Sure Know a Lot About Love."  The song has no writing credit but it has the classic Searchers' sound with a reverb laden joint vocal and a twangy guitar riff.  It reminds me of their hit cover of "Love Potion No. 9."  It is my favorite track on the album and I would prefer more tracks like it rather than all the oldies although I presume that was what the band played in their Hamburg shows just as the Beatles did.  I don't approve of the lack of originality on the album, but I still enjoy it consistently.  The Searchers performed with a lot of enthusiasm and energy and I've always dug their distinctive sound.  Their choice of covers is excellent as well.  The dubbed applause is very annoying though, I wish they had recorded an actual show instead.  Recommended to people who prefer "Love Potion No. 9" over "Needles and Pins."

Monday, April 14, 2014

What the World Needs Now Is Love - Jackie DeShannon

What The World Needs Now Is Love
Jackie DeShannon
Imperial LP 12404

This is not a real studio album, but rather a compilation that focuses on DeShannon's work with Burt Bacharach.  Five of the twelve songs on it were composed by Bacharach and Hal David and four of those were produced and arranged by Bacharach as well.  The title track is the best of the five and was a top ten single for DeShannon in 1965.  After "Put a Little Love in Your Heart" it is probably her most popular recording.  "A Lifetime of Loneliness" was also a 1965 single.  Both songs appear on her 1965 album "This is Jackie De Shannon."  "Windows and Doors" was a 1966 single and "So Long Johnny" was its b-side.  Both tracks appeared on her terrific 1966 album "Are You Ready For This?" which also provided the fifth Bacharach-David song on the album, "To Wait For Love."  All five songs are wonderful, among DeShannon's best work in the 1960s.  Dionne Warwick was Bacharach's muse and they had a long and fruitful collaborative relationship, but I've never been into their sound.  Warwick was an extremely polished and technically proficient singer, an ideal vehicle I suppose for Bacharach's elaborate arrangements but the results leave me cold.  Their songs are too perfect, too remote for me to relate to.  I think DeShannon worked a lot better with Bacharach.  She was certainly no slouch as a singer, but her voice has some grit to it, she's happy to let her accent show and her characteristic warmth and charisma shake loose the shackles of Bacharach's orchestra.  In her hands the songs come alive and are vibrant and immediate in their impact.  The remaining non-Bacharach songs are delightful as well.  "Are You Ready For This?" was the source for Tony Hatch's "Call Me" which was a hit for Chris Montez and "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me" which was one of Dusty Springfield's biggest hits.  DeShannon's performance of "Call Me" is my favorite version of the song and although she can't match the drama and sheer power of Springfield's version of "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", her earthy performance offers a more intimate take on the song which I like.  Tommy Edwards' big hit "It's All In The Game," "Changin' My Mind," and "Everything Under the Sun" were lifted off of DeShannon's 1967 album "For You" and "Where Does The Sun Go?" came from "New Image" also from 1967.  Edwards' single is too sappy for my taste, I prefer DeShannon's light and playful performance.  "Changin' My Mind" and "Everything Under the Sun" are sparkling pop songs exuberantly sung by DeShannon.  "Where Does The Sun Go?" is the only original DeShannon composition on the album, but it is a great one, one of her very best.  I love George Tipton's arrangement and DeShannon's vocal melts me every time I hear it.  "Little Yellow Roses" dates all the way back to 1963 when it was released as a single and appeared on her debut album "Jackie De Shannon."  With its folky flavor and spare arrangement, it does not fit in with the sophisticated pop of the rest of the album, but it is still a lovely song.  If you collect DeShannon's Imperial albums you certainly don't need this album.  It is basically a greedy record company rip-off, but since I knew it was a rip-off when I bought it, I don't feel ripped off.  I'm happy I have it and play it often.  I like the cover pictures and I like the selection of music, it has many of my favorite DeShannon songs and it is a nice mix of romantic music.  Recommended to people who only need one Jackie DeShannon album.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ready To Die - Iggy and the Stooges

Ready To Die
Iggy and the Stooges
Fat Possum Records  FP 1296-1

Depending on your perspective this is either the fifth Stooges studio album or the second Iggy and the Stooges studio album.  In past posts I've expressed my reluctance to keep doing obituary posts but I just can't ignore Scott Asheton's recent passing and besides I had this album in my stack of records to blog about, I just moved it up a little.  Usually these reunion albums suck.  Too often they are just cynical efforts to cash in on a band's fame delivered with little passion, inspiration or relevance.  This album is better than that fortunately although it can't match the first three classic records.  There is nothing on here that comes close to "Search and Destroy," "Down on the Street," "TV Eye," "I Wanna Be Your Dog," or "1969."  On the plus side it actually sounds a bit like "Raw Power" and there are no bad cuts on the album.  The entire record is written by Iggy Pop and James Williamson, except for the last cut "The Departed" where Scott Asheton gets a co-credit.  "Burn" gets the album off to a rocking start with its roaring guitars and hard driving rhythm.  Lyrics like "the Goddess of beauty is beckoning to me" seem a bit pretentious for the Stooges but the theme of destruction and the rise of the young fit in with the classic ethos of the band.  "Sex & Money" is one of my favorite cuts on the album.  It is a hard-riffing rocker about the pursuit of the title subject bolstered by raucous sax work from Steve Mackay (who was a guest musician on "Fun House.")  "Job" and "Gun" continue in a similar vein with Pop venting impressively about his dissatisfaction with his job and the world in general while the band raises a ruckus behind him.  He may be in his 60s but Pop can still voice youthful rage convincingly.  "Unfriendly World" shifts gears dramatically.  It is a slow, countryish tune sung in a gravelly, understated manner by Pop reminiscent of Leonard Cohen or Lou Reed.  The lyrics are still disaffected, but more introspective and sentimental than the rest of the album.  Side two kicks off with "Ready to Die" in which the band resumes power riffing.  This is another one of my favorite tracks on the album.  James Williamson lays down a killer guitar solo and Pop delivers the nihilistic lyrics with gusto.  "DD's" is a moronic song about sex (the title refers to bra cup size) although the lyrics are surprisingly pretentious with Pop even name dropping Aristotle, Freud and Jung at various points.  It is a generic rocker enlivened by Mackay's honking sax fills.  "Dirty Deal" is a terrific rocker in which Pop rants about getting ripped off by the music business.  It has the best lyrics on the record, probably the most personal song on the album.  Williamson has more smoking guitar work, the guy can still bring it big time.  "Beat That Guy" is a lethargic song that sounds like filler although I like Williamson's solo.  The album ends with "The Departed" which returns to the muted sound of "Unfriendly World" and shares its introspection and sentimentality.  It is kind of a downer finish for a highly charged album, but I do appreciate the song's intelligence and sensitivity which seems like a weird thing to say about a Stooges song.  I like this album a lot better than I expected to, it compares favorably to much of Pop's solo work and it does not disgrace or tarnish the Stooges' legacy.  One of the biggest differences between this album and the classic Stooges records is that Pop has become a better singer which is particularly noticeable in the slower tracks.  That may not necessarily be a good thing when it comes to the Stooges.  The raw whininess and rage in young Iggy had its own appeal, one that I kind of prefer to the worldly, jaded crooner that Pop has become.  Despite that I'm glad this record exists.  It is Scott Asheton's final work and is a worthy epitaph for his impressive career.  His forceful drumming drives the music relentlessly just like it always has whenever he has been behind the kit for a band.  This record is a testament to rock's great loss with Asheton's passing.  Recommended to people who prefer "New Values" over "The Idiot." 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Summertime Dream - Gordon Lightfoot

Summertime Dream
Gordon Lightfoot
Reprise Records MS 2246

Last summer we took a Canadian road trip and visited all five of the Great Lakes.  As we were motoring along Lake Ontario, I had my Ipod plugged into the car stereo and the Dandy Warhols' cover of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" (off "The Black Album") began playing.  It was the wrong lake of course, the ship sank in Superior, but it reminded me that Lightfoot's classic song had inspired my infatuation with this part of the continent back in my teens, an infatuation that has never diminished.  Out here in the west, our lakes are pretty modest, even the Great Salt Lake seems tame to me.  The idea of a lake big and ferocious enough to swallow up a great freighter fascinated me when I was younger and even now the majesty and size of Superior impresses me.  Back when this song came out I didn't care much for Lightfoot.  I only knew him from his hit singles "If You Could Read My Mind," "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway."  I thought of him as a dull singer/songwriter, the Canadian James Taylor.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" opened my eyes to his talent and a bit later via Ian and Sylvia I became aware of his 1960s work and turned into a fan.  "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" is a great song, my favorite of all of Lightfoot's work.  It has a compelling folk-rock melody that sounds timeless and it is driven along by atmospheric stinging guitar licks from Terry Clements.  The lyrics are brilliant, using Native American references and an abundance of poetic detail to give the wreck an epic and mystical quality.  The song is full of vivid language and descriptions, lines like "old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams" and "the wind in the wires made a tattletale sound" really send me.  I've heard the song countless times and I still love hearing it.  In a way the song is too good.  It completely overwhelms the rest of the record.  When I first got the record I just played that song over and over, ignoring the rest of the record.  There are other good songs on it however.  I particularly like "Race Among the Ruins" which is a bright folk-rocker with a country rock flavor courtesy of Pee Wee Charles' steel guitar work.  The song is about optimism in the face of life's difficulties and the challenges of finding love.  There is some suggestion that the person the song addresses is delusional, but it is delivered with compassion so it doesn't seem mean or judgmental.  "Summertime Dream" is another sparkling tune that celebrates a summer tryst out in the country with colorful and expressive descriptions.  I also am impressed by "Protocol" which reminds me of Richard Thompson with its ringing guitar riff and evocative lyrics about heroism.  I'm not sure what "Too Many Clues In This Room" is driving at but it sounds nice.  The rest of the album is less inspired but still pleasant to listen to.  "I'd Do It Again" is a punchy country rocker about a musician with more solid guitar licks from Clements.  "The House You Live In" is full of moralizing that I find a little tedious.  "I'm Not Supposed to Care," "Never Too Close" and "Spanish Moss" are quiet songs about the foibles of love.  They are kind of ordinary but Lightfoot sings them with enough feeling to hold my interest.  The man has a terrific voice, its deep timber and resonance gives his songs a richness and gravity that sets him apart from most of his singer-songwriter peers.  Recommended to fans of Ian Tyson.