Saturday, February 28, 2015

Small Faces - Small Faces

Small Faces
Small Faces
4 Men With Beards  4M181

This is a 180 gram re-issue of the Small Faces' debut album originally released in the U.K. on Decca LK 4790 in 1966.  There was no American release during the lifetime of the band.  It is my belated tribute to Ian McLagan who died last December.  He replaced the band's original keyboardist Jimmy Winston prior to the recording of this album.  I was a fan of the Faces growing up and when I learned they were an offshoot of this earlier group I became interested in them as well.  I first encountered the group on a crappy compilation album from the 1970s on MGM called "Archetypes."  I liked their sound and was even more impressed when I picked up their two albums on Immediate Records from the late 1960s.  I replaced "Archetypes" with better comps years ago, but I was still delighted to finally obtain a copy of this album.  It opens with an exciting cover of Sam Cooke's "Shake" with a gritty vocal from Steve Marriott.  "Come on Children" is a group composition with Winston and is a high energy cut that demonstrates the band's soulful sound.  With Kenney Jones' frantic drumming and Marriott's slashing guitar chords it starts out sounding like the Who before a James Brown style rhythm and blues groove takes over.  It is one of my favorite tracks on the album. "You Better Believe It" was written by Kenny Lynch and Jerry Ragovoy.  It is a poppier cut but still has a soulful flavor reminiscent of the Young Rascals.  The song is boosted by a forceful organ solo from McLagan.  "It's Too Late" is another group composition with Winston.  It was the b-side of the band's second single and recorded with Winston. The song is driven by Marriott's guitar riff and sounds like the early Kinks.  "One Night Stand" was composed by Marriott and bassist Ronnie Lane.  It is another riff driven cut with a strong beat.  The side concludes with "What'Cha Gonna Do About It" which was the band's debut single recorded with Jimmy Winston.  It was written by Ian Samwell and Brian Potter and rips off Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" for the catchy riff that drives the song.  The propulsive tune features an urgent, passionate vocal from Marriott with the other band members crooning the title phrase behind him.  It is very fun and will stick in your head all day long after you play it.  Side two begins with another Kenny Lynch song, "Sorry She's Mine."  The song itself is vapid and dull, but the band's energetic playing and Marriott's emotional vocal transform it into a memorable performance.  "Own Up" is a Marriott/Lane composition.  It is a rocking instrumental that sounds like a blend of Booker T and the MGs with the Who with its loud guitar chords and McLagan's dynamic organ work.  It ends way too soon.  The bluesy "You Need Loving" is also by Marriott and Lane.  The song is shamelessly lifted from the Muddy Waters song "You Need Love" by Willie Dixon although with McLagan's crazed organ playing, the band's heavy groove and Marriott's fantastic vocal, I prefer it to the original.  Led Zeppelin would later steal it themselves for "Whole Lotta Love" in an arrangement that was obviously influenced by this one.  "Don't Stop What You Are Doing" is credited to the group and Jimmy Winston.  The song is relatively low key compared to the other songs on the record and the lyrics are inane, but Marriott's soulful vocal makes it compelling anyway.  He may have been a small man, but he had a huge voice.  "E Too D" is a Marriott/Lane song that sounds like the early Who with the noisy drumming and crashing guitar chords.  The incessant pounding beat, an exciting rave up and Marriott's passionate vocal make it another winner.  "Sha La La La Lee" was the band's third single and was written by Lynch and Mort Shuman.  The song was forced on the band by their manager and is very poppy and catchy.  It reminds me of the Crystals' big hit "Da Doo Ron Ron."  The band may not have liked it much but I think it is terrific.  The propulsive bass riff, Marriott's gravelly vocal supported by the higher pitched backing vocal from the band and an irresistible hook make this a classic single and gives the album a strong finish.  I love this record.  Its only weakness is the songwriting, which is hopelessly lightweight compared to their peers the Zombies, the Kinks, the Beatles, the Who and the Rolling Stones.  However even with such deficient material, the band's instrumental prowess and Marriott's superb singing delivers a consistently exciting and engaging record.  Marriott was one of the best vocalists in England at the time and his soulfulness was rivaled only by Eric Burdon among his peers.  Ian McLagan was a superb keyboard player and Jones and Lane provided a dynamic rhythmic groove that gave the band an enthralling instrumental sound.  I never get tired of listening to them.  They still sound as fresh and exciting to me as they did when I first heard them as a teenager.  Recommended to people who prefer "The Who Sings My Generation" over "Tommy."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell - Glen Campbell

The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell
Glen Campbell
Capitol ST 2023

I recently saw the excellent documentary "Glen Campbell: I'll Be Me" which is a behind the scenes look at his farewell tour emphasizing the devastating effect of Alzheimer's Disease on him.  I saw one of the shows on that tour and I was astonished to see in the film how far gone he already was.  Sitting in the audience at his show I thought he seemed in control and confident.  In reality not only could he not remember the words to songs he has sung thousands of times (he used a teleprompter for the lyrics), he could barely remember his kids' names.  Amazingly he could still play like the virtuoso guitarist he has always been.  I guess that part of his brain is different from the part ravaged by his disease.  This album showcases his instrumental skill.  It was his third album.  It seems likely that the weasels at Capitol Records did not know what to do with him.  Here's this good-looking kid with a wonderful voice and they tried to turn him into Chet Atkins.  It is a testament to his immense talent that he made this record work with his engaging and energetic fret work.  My favorite cut is a performance of Bob Dylan's "Walkin' Down the Line" which starts out as a sprightly instrumental and then almost as if he can't help himself, Campbell bursts into song to sing a couple of verses.  The record really jumps to life at that moment and you can see why the guy who wrote the liner notes felt that Campbell was going to "gain equal fame" as a vocalist.  My favorite cuts among the instrumentals are a pair of duets with Roy Clark on the banjo, "Lonesome Twelve" and "The Ballad of Jed Clampett."  The dynamic interplay between Clark and Campbell is very stimulating and frenetic.  The album is worth picking up just for those two cuts alone.  Campbell's own compositions "12-String Special" and the rocking "Bull Durham" are almost as good with lots of fine country-style picking.  Campbell also tackles a bunch of folk hits.  He is joined by Clark again for "Wimoweh" which isn't as exciting as the other two Clark cuts but still enjoyable.  On "Puff (The Magic Dragon)" and "This Land Is Your Land" he plays the first verse straight then starts to embellish the songs with some terrific jazzy flights before coming back to earth to finish.  Great stuff.  He uses the same formula for "Blowin' In the Wind," "500 Miles (Away From Home)" and "Green, Green" but the improvised sections are more sedate.  He's joined by Earl Palmer on bongo for "La Bamba" which gives the cut plenty of propulsion upon which Campbell lays down some of his finest guitar work on the record.  I'm fond of this record, Campbell was a natural entertainer and that goes for his guitar solos as well.  There is not a boring moment on this record.  The man was certainly among the best guitar players of his generation.  It makes me sad to think that not only has the great man's voice been silenced, but that I'll never get to hear another one of his lightning fast guitar runs again either.  At least I have this record to remind me of his tremendous ability.  Recommended to fans of the "pickin' and grinnin'" segments on "Hee-Haw."

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Dear Eloise/King Midas in Reverse - The Hollies

Dear Eloise/King Midas in Reverse
The Hollies
Epic BN 26344

This is my favorite Hollies album.  Well actually "Butterfly" the British version of this album is my favorite Hollies album but I only have that on CD.  The butchers at Epic removed three songs from "Butterfly" and changed the running order on this album.  Those three songs, the lovely "Pegasus" and the psychedelic "Try It" and "Elevated Observations," were among the best songs on "Butterfly."  They were replaced with the single "King Midas In Reverse" and "Leave Me" which had been on the British version of the Hollies' previous album "Evolution" which Epic had also chopped up.  The songwriting on the entire album is credited to Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Graham Nash.  The record is an enchanting mix of chamber pop and sunny British psych that makes me feel good whenever I play it.  It opens with "Dear Eloise" which features Nash and Clarke sharing the lead vocal.  It is a poppy tune in the Hollies tradition with some psychedelic touches.  The band's trademark harmonies are evident throughout.  It is kind of a creepy song in which a guy sends a letter to a woman who has lost her lover feigning condolence while smugly saying I told you so and gleefully anticipating having the woman for himself.  "Wishyouawish" is a jaunty song that features a pied piper type character describing an idyllic walk through the countryside.  It sounds a bit like Simon and Garfunkel and is bolstered by some tasteful brass accompaniment.  "Charlie & Fred" is about an impoverished rag man and his horse.  Despite the humble subject of the song, it is a majestic tune with a soaring vocal from Clarke and robust support from the horns.  The chamber pop "Butterfly" is another idealized portrait of the countryside that reminds me of Donovan.  The song is a quiet ballad gently crooned by Nash backed by an orchestra.  It was the closing track on the British version of this album which seems like the ideal spot for it.  "Leave Me" is a good song but it doesn't fit in with the rest of the album.  The harsh lyrics  encourage a lover to leave the singer.  It is a riff driven rocker with prominent bass and organ.  Its vindictive attitude and rough sound are the opposite of the good vibes, refined tone and colorful visions that permeate the rest of the album.  Side one ends with the propulsive "Postcard" which is one of my favorite tracks.  It is an invitation to join the singer and experience the joys of living by the sea.  It is an extremely catchy and atmospheric song.  Side two opens with "King Midas in Reverse" which is about a guy who destroys everything he touches and the lyrics alternate between first and third person.  Although not part of the original album, it fits in quite well with its rich harmonies and orchestration.  I think it is one of the best songs Nash ever wrote and I can see why its commercial failure as a single upset him so much.  "Would You Believe" is about a guy in love with a girl who is out of his league.  It is another heavily orchestrated ballad with a powerful vocal from Clarke.  "Away Away Away" is a description of a pair of lovers escaping their problems with a blissful vacation by the sea.  It is an upbeat chamber pop track given a twee feel by the woodwinds and horns.  "Maker" is a trippy account of escaping reality through what sounds like a religious retreat but it could also be a drug trip given the vague but colorful descriptions that are used throughout the song.  The song features a sitar and exotic percussion making it the most overtly psychedelic track on the album.  I'm surprised that Epic didn't remove it and keep the more pop oriented "Pegasus" instead.  The record ends with "Step Inside" which is an invitation to a former lover to come and enjoy the singer's hospitality.  It is a joyous song with an engaging melody and wonderful vocal harmonies.  This album represents the pinnacle of the Hollies' artistic development.  They would never again even come close to making a record this good.  The album's lack of sales convinced the band to assume a more commercial direction.  They would follow this up with the disastrous "Words and Music by Bob Dylan" album and drive Graham Nash out of the band pushing them out on the steep downward slope to irrelevance.  Of course Nash himself would never make a record this good either and that includes the ditties he composed for Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young.)  This record is so enjoyable and appealing, it makes me regret that the band couldn't continue in this vein a little longer.  Although not as far out as Pink Floyd, Tomorrow or Tinturn Abbey, the album is definitely in the spirit of its time.  It embodies British psychedelia in the lushness of its sound, its colorful imagery, its whimsy and its preoccupation with escape from reality.  Recommended to fans of Kaleidoscope and the psych-era Small Faces.