Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stories - Stories

Kama Sutra Records KSBS 2051

I'm beginning to dread looking at the obituaries in the newspaper (yes I'm the kind of dinosaur who still reads print media.)  It seems like every day another rocker appears in there.  There are a bunch of them I've yet to comment on.  However seeing Michael Brown's obituary in the "LA Times" on Saturday, really hit hard.  Despite his small discography the man was one of my musical idols.  His album with the Left Banke "Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina" is one of my all time favorite records. This album can't compete with that masterpiece, but I still love it.  It was the debut album by Stories the band Brown formed with vocalist/bassist Ian Lloyd after leaving Montage.  Brown and Lloyd co-wrote all the songs on the album.  It begins with "Hello People" which is a hippie utopia song driven by Brown's piano.  Lloyd has a strong vocal on the song supported by some enthusiastic gospel style back-up singing.  It gets the record off to a bright start.  "I'm Coming Home" is an upbeat song with a ragtime feel until the chorus which sounds like Badfinger.  Brown plays energetic piano throughout with a nice solo.  The song rocks out winningly at the end.  It was released as a single but didn't crack the top 40.  "Winter Scenes" is pure chamber pop with sensitive and evocative lyrics using winter imagery to describe a love affair.  Halfway in, the song abruptly shifts into a boogie with frenetic keyboard work from Brown and then alternates between chamber pop and rocking out.  "Step Back" is more of a conventional rock song with Steve Love's guitar licks out in the forefront.  Lloyd's forceful vocal carries the song.  "You Told Me" is another chamber pop song that features Brown and Lloyd's fathers playing violin (they are depicted on the back cover with their sons.)  Both violinists were professional musicians and their playing largely drives the song and gives it a baroque sound.  The song is about breaking up and heartbreak with an emotional vocal from Lloyd.  Side two opens with "St. James" which is a propulsive rocker displaying dynamic interplay between Brown's piano and Love's guitar.  It is the most exciting track on the album.  The album slows down for "Kathleen" which is a chamber pop love song.  It boasts a pair of harpsichord solos from Brown and violin support from Brown and Lloyd's fathers.  "Take Cover" is riff driven with a lumbering guitar solo from Love who also offers effective vocal harmonies backing up Lloyd.  "Nice to Have You Here" is a delicate chamber pop song dominated by Brown on harpsichord and organ.  The song allows Lloyd to demonstrate his vocal range and emotional expressiveness.  The album concludes with "High and Low" which is loaded with pop smarts - creative vocal harmonies, swelling shifts in tempo, stinging guitar solo, multi-tracked keyboards.  This effervescent, shimmering song about the turbulence of love gives the record an ebullient finish.  This is a wonderful record, one of the best of its era.  Ian Lloyd was the most talented vocalist Brown ever recorded with and his vocal strength greatly enhanced Brown's music.  He could rock out or gently croon with equal authority and grace.  His voice has an appealing grain to it, a slight raspy quality that reminds me of Robert Plant or the young Rod Stewart.  The music sounds great, brilliantly arranged and loaded with texture and density.  Like Badfinger and Big Star, Stories brought the best qualities of the music of the 1960s into a 1970s sound - short songs, creative arrangements, melodic hooks and elaborate vocal harmonies.  43 years later it still sounds great to me.  These guys should have been huge and Michael Brown should have made dozens of albums instead of a mere five.  How is it possible that guys like Don Henley and James Taylor made more records than Brown did?  How did Carly Simon and Chicago sell millions more records than Brown did?  I was around back in the 70's and I haven't a clue.  Most of the music on the radio back then was mediocre, even awful.  I hated it so much that I fled back to the 1960s for my music.  Later I realized that good music was out there in the early 1970s, it just wasn't on the radio and maybe we were just too dumb to appreciate it.  A generation that preferred to listen to the Doobie Brothers, America or the Eagles instead of Badfinger, Big Star or Stories basically got what it deserved.  It is tragic that Chris Bell, Tom Evans and Pete Ham died before they were rediscovered by a new and smarter generation of music fans, at least Alex Chilton and Michael Brown lived long enough to see their music finally embraced and celebrated.  They are both gone now, but their music will live on and if you've never heard any of it this album is a good place to start.  Recommended to fans of early Todd Rundgren.

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