Saturday, June 27, 2015

Playboy & Playgirl - Pizzicato Five

Playboy & Playgirl
Pizzicato Five
Matador OLE 333-1

This is the American vinyl version of the album that was released in Japan as "The International Playboy & Playgirl Record" in 1998.  As was generally the case back in the 1990s vinyl fans were screwed by the record company.  The Japanese version of the album contains 13 tracks as does the Matador CD version.  The vinyl contains a mere 5 of them (plus two instrumental versions and an alternate vocal version not on the original album) running a little over 30 minutes so there was plenty of room to have included a couple more cuts.  I was such a big fan of the band that I bought both versions, but I wasn't happy about it.  I developed an attraction to Japanese pop culture in college when I became interested in Japanese cinema which expanded into an interest in manga and pop music when American record companies started releasing it in the 1990s.  Pizzicato Five with their dynamic retro style was one of my favorite Japanese groups.  By the time this record was released the group was a duo featuring vocalist Maki Nomiya and founding member Yasuharu Konishi who played multiple instruments, wrote the songs and produced the record.  The album opens with "La Dépression" which is a percussion driven song with a childish vocal from Nomiya lamenting the lack of desirable boys.  Like practically all their songs, it is sung in Japanese.  The band increases the tempo for the frenetic "The International Pizzicato Five Mansion" which did not appear on the original album.  It is a synth driven instrumental version of "A New Song" which is the next song on the album.  It features a duet with Nomiya and guest vocalist Hisashi Kato.  The vocal version features some of the synth work from the instrumental version but it is largely driven by horns.  I like it better than the instrumental version.  I love the song so I'm not all that upset about having back to back versions of it, but I'd greatly prefer to have more of the songs from the original album instead.  The side concludes with an instrumental version of "Week-End" which appeared with vocals on the original album.  The lack of a vocal track places the focus on guest performer Shin Kawano's piano runs which are admittedly exciting, but I'd still rather hear the vocal.  Side two opens with the best song on the album "Playboy Playgirl" which is one of my all-time favorite Pizzicato Five tracks.  The propulsive cut is an urgent invitation from Nomiya for the playboy of the title to take her out for a night on the town for some dancing and kissing.  The song has a 1960s sound to it which puts it over the top for me.  The group slows down for "I Hear a Symphony" which bears no resemblance to the Supremes' classic hit.  It is heavily orchestrated and sounds like a cross between sophisticated 60s pop and soft-rock.  The song celebrates the conversations between lovers which it describes as being like a symphony of love.  The group shifts gears again for the swinging "The Great Invitations" which is sung as a duet with Masumi Arichika.  It is an odd song in which the singer dreams of her imminent death and begins to fatalistically muse about the transience of life which she compares to a movie she saw on a plane while she also comments on how happy her lover has made her and hoping that she won't make her lover cry.  Maybe it loses something in translation.  The record concludes with the jazzy "Drinking Wine." On the original album the song has actual lyrics sung by Nomiya and guest vocalist Makoto Saito.  On this version Nomiya and Saito merely croon "doo doo doo" in place of the words.  I don't speak Japanese so I don't miss the words very much, but it seems like a weird decision to me to substitute this version instead.  I suppose it does emphasize the beauty of the song a little more and enhances its mellow vibe, but I prefer the original.  As a collector I can see some appeal in having some differences in the tracks on the vinyl record and the CD especially since I bought them both.  If I was supervising this release I would have issued it as a double record featuring the complete original album with the three alternate tracks added at the end as bonus tracks.  At the very least I would have made it proper album length with a few more cuts. Musically though I have nothing to complain about.  I enjoy all the songs and the record has a consistent vibe despite the variety of styles and tempos employed in the music.  It sounds good any time of the day and its enthusiasm and energy always perk me up.  It is also a nice party record if you don't mind having to flip it over every 15 minutes.  If you aren't a vinyl nut, you probably ought to just pick up the CD.  Recommended to fans of Bertrand Burgalat.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Fire and Water - Free

Fire and Water
A&M Records SP 4268

A belated post for Andy Fraser who died this past March.  Fraser was the bass player and principal songwriter along with Paul Rodgers in the British band, Free.  I loved this record when I was a teenager.  I grew up listening to classic rock on the radio and when I heard "All Right Now" it blew me away and I tracked this record down.  I've always been a sucker for a good riff and this band had plenty of them.  As I grew older I lost interest in classic rock aside from the 1960s and it has been awhile since I played this.  Listening to it now, I'm impressed.  It still sounds really good, better than most of the other records that came out in the early 1970s.  My favorite track is the opening cut, "Fire and Water" which like almost the entire album was written by Fraser and Rodgers.  It is driven by a catchy power riff and an emotional vocal from Rodgers as he assails a former lover for breaking his heart.  Paul Kossoff puts the song over the top with a powerful, bluesy guitar solo.  I even dig the Simon Kirke drum solo that closes out the song.  This is smouldering hard rock at its best, sustained tension and controlled strength throughout the song.  The record lets up a bit for "Oh I Wept" which was written by Rodgers and Kossoff.  It is a moody ballad about running away from unhappiness that is largely carried by another strong vocal from Rodgers.  The band turns to slow riffing for "Remember" which looks back regretfully at a lost relationship.  Kossoff delivers another strong bluesy solo that is the highlight of the song.  The side ends with "Heavy Load" which is also constructed around a slow heavy riff.  The song is driven by Fraser on piano until the end where Kossoff's howling guitar takes over.  This dark, ominous song is another one of my favorites on the album.  Side two opens with "Mr. Big" which is a group composition.  It is a series of threats directed at the title character.  The tune is constructed around a simple heavy riff that evolves into an intense jam between Kossoff's soaring guitar runs and Fraser's energetic bass lines.  This is the most exciting musical passage on the album.  Great stuff.  They cool down for the far less charged "Don't Say You Love Me" which is a slow ballad.  It is a variation on the so-long-babe-I-got-to-ramble type song beloved of so many rockers.  I find it a little boring although it picks up energy towards the end.  The album concludes with the group's only hit, "All Right Now."  The song is a classic rock radio standard and with good reason.  The riff is extremely catchy, Rodgers' gravelly vocal is the essence of hard rock singing, Kossoff lays down some hot licks and Kirke and Fraser propel the song along relentlessly.  The song is sexy with a chorus that sticks with you long after the song is over.  Thus ends one of the best hard rock records of its era.  It is so good it makes me wonder why Free never made it really big.  They had all the tools, good songwriting, a terrific lead singer, inspired musicianship, but none of the other Free records I've heard are nearly as good as this one.  It was probably a question of band chemistry as well as Paul Kossoff's drug problems.  At least they left this one lasting classic album.  I love its stripped down sound and sustained power.  No mindless boogies or heavy metal wank sessions, it is all purposeful and deliberate.  I admire their discipline and intelligence, a rare quality in an era of self-indulgence, excess and vapidity.  Rest in peace Andy Fraser, this great album insures that you will not be forgotten. Recommended to fans of the first Jeff Beck Group.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Fly on Strangewings - Marian Segal with Silver Jade

Fly On Strangewings
Marian Segal with Silver Jade
DJM Records DJM 9100

This is the American release of the sole album by Jade originally released in England in 1970.  The group's name was altered because there was already a group in America called Jade.  Collectors might want to pursue the British version of this album which was released in a more attractive gatefold sleeve which I believe is also the case with modern reissues of the album.  I've mentioned in past posts my fondness for British folk-rock and this is an excellent example of the contemporary version of that genre.  All the songs are originals, composed by Marian Segal, but they show the influence of traditional musical styles throughout similar to the work of Richard Thompson, John Martyn and Sandy Denny.  It is a delightful album that deserves to be better known.  It opens with "Amongst Anemonies" featuring sterling work from guest performers Terry Cox on drums and guitarist James Litherland contributing to a robust instrumental sound.  The vocal interplay between Segal and her bandmates Dave Waite and Rod Edwards is quite dynamic.  The song contrasts life in the rural countryside with a dream of the sea.  Edwards drives the delicate "Raven" with his harpsichord and organ work.  It is a cryptic song with gothic imagery that examines a May-December relationship.  Waite and Segal trade verses and then duet on the final verse.  "Fly on Strangewings" reminds me of Sandy Denny, particularly "Who Knows Where The Time Goes."  This soaring song about separation is one of my favorite cuts.  The song features a lovely vocal from Segal and engaging piano work from Edwards bolstered by a tasteful string arrangement by Phil Dennys.  "Mayfly" sounds like the traditional song "The Cuckoo."  It is a jaunty country-flavored song that laments the short life span of the title insect. "Alan's Song" commemorates a childhood friend of Segal's who died in an accident as a teen.  It is a nostalgic song that looks back on the aspirations of childhood.  "Bad Magic" is a percussion heavy song that mixes rock and chamber pop courtesy of Edwards on his harpsichord.  It reminds me of Donovan or early Traffic.  The song advises the listener to avoid the witch-like woman who is the subject of the song.  Side two opens with "Clippership" which describes a woman living vicariously through the past experiences that her singer-lover recounts to her.  It is a propulsive song in the best folk-rock manner with pleasing vocal harmonies.  "Five of Us" recounts Segal's experiences sharing a rustic cottage with four friends.  It reminds me of the first Fairport Convention album but it has a chamber pop sound as well.  Segal's vocal is especially appealing to me on this track.  This is another one of my favorite songs on the record.  "Reflections on a Harbour Wall" is precisely that, a description of the experience of being in a harbor town.  It is a guitar driven track that starts slow and picks up speed as it goes along.  James Litherland has a nice lyrical guitar solo.  "Mrs. Adams" is about the death of the title character.  John Harper's violin playing and the structure of the tune create a traditional folk sound as does the repetition of the lyrics.  The song is given a forceful folk-rock push by the rhythm section of Pete Sears on bass and Mick Waller on drums.  "Fly Me to the North" is a sensitive and gentle song about running away from heartbreak and sadness.  Segal and Waite trade verses and then duet supported by another pretty string arrangement from Dennys.  The record ends with "Away From the Family" which is also about escape, this time making it on one's own away from one's family.  It is the hardest rocking song on the record with a heavy guitar riff and honky tonk piano from Rod Edwards.  This lumbering tune obtrusively departs from the sound of the rest of the record, but it does end the record with a bang.  I am a big fan of this album.  Segal is a fine songwriter.  Her lyrics are personal and intelligent with evocative imagery.  Although influenced by folk tradition, the music sounds contemporary and is eclectic in style and instrumentation.  The record is never boring and it consistently engages me emotionally and sonically.  If you are a fan of folk-rock, it is well worth seeking out.  Recommended to fans of early Fairport Convention and Trader Horne.