Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Columbia CS 9577
I became interested in Tim Rose when I read that Jimi Hendrix's version of "Hey Joe" was based on Rose's arrangement. Hendrix's version of that much covered song on "Are You Experienced" is my favorite so I wanted to hear its origin. That led me to Rose's debut album which proved to be interesting beyond "Hey Joe." I expected a folkie, but Rose was more of a rocker both in style and spirit. He is backed by a full band throughout the album including such notable musicians as Hugh McCracken on guitar, Bernard Purdie on drums and Felix Pappalardi on bass. The album begins with Rose's composition "I Got a Loneliness" which is a soulful rocker. Rose was typically a very emotional singer who sang with a lot of force and urgency. His voice had a lot of texture becoming rough and gravelly when he got all worked up. The album shifts gears dramatically with the emotional ballad "I'm Gonna Be Strong" which was written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil and was a big hit for Gene Pitney in 1964. The song suits Rose's dramatic style although the old-fashioned string arrangement is at odds with the funky rock sound that is predominant on most of the album. "I Gotta Do Things My Way" was written by Rose and Richard Hussan who played bass on several tracks of the album including this one. This song features a welcome to the soulful rock sound of the opening track. It is driven by Hussan's rumbling bass line and Rose delivers the lyrics with a lot of passion. Rose wrote "Fare Thee Well" which is a moody slow rocker that builds in strength as it goes along. "Eat, Drink and Be Merry" is a cover of a 1955 Porter Wagoner song written by Celia and Sandra Ferguson. Rose's somber version is quite different from Wagoner's more maudlin mainstream country recording. Rose slows down the song and invests it with his usual urgency. It is a remarkable transformation from country to rhythm and blues that reminds me of Ray Charles' "Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music." I think it is one of the best tracks on the album. Side one concludes with "Hey Joe" which is erroneously listed as if it were a traditional song, presumably so Rose could claim the songwriting royalties for it. Rose did transform the song quite a bit, it is totally different from the folk-rock versions that came before it. Hendrix's version is almost identical except that it is blessed with his incomparable guitar work and Hendrix's vocal was more subdued which I prefer. Nonetheless Rose's version of the song is very impressive and it is by far the album's highlight. Side two begins with Bonnie Dobson's classic "Morning Dew" on which Rose inappropriately claimed a co-writing credit for slightly changing the lyrics. Rose sped up the song and gave it a full rock treatment which probably inspired the Jeff Beck Group's version the following year on "Truth." I like the propulsive quality of Rose's version as well as its energy, but when I want to hear the song, I usually play the Grateful Dead's version from "The Grateful Dead" which I think is more emotionally effective. "Where Was I" was written by Norman Martin. It is an old fashioned dramatic pop ballad with a soaring string arrangement. I think Rose's vocal sounds melodramatic and strained. Rose wrote "You're Slipping Away From Me" which is a lot more satisfying to me. It has a chamber pop arrangement and a more nuanced and resonant performance from Rose. Rose claimed songwriting credit for "Long Time Man" but it is really the traditional African-American ballad "It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad" which I first heard on the debut album by Ian and Sylvia from 1962. I prefer the Ian and Sylvia version which has a more robust tempo, but I admire the way Rose dramatically transformed the song through a very creative arrangement that sounds swampy and funky. His vocal is very strong as well. The album concludes with "Come Away, Melinda" by Fred Hellerman and Fran Minkoff which has been covered by many singers including Harry Belafonte and Judy Collins although I've never heard as dramatic a version as the one that Rose delivered. The man had a real gift for arrangements. His passionate performance gives the album a strong emotional finish. I have a lot of respect for this album which deserves to be better known. Rose was an expressive singer and a superb interpreter of lyrics. He reminds me in that regard of Joe Cocker, although Rose was a better songwriter. I like the way the album maintains a consistent musical tone despite a highly eclectic selection of songs. It sounds particularly nice late at night when its moodiness and dramatic ambience are especially potent. I rarely see this record in the bins so I suspect it sold poorly and that people who are fortunate enough to have a copy tend to keep it. 1967 was such an incredible year for music, I suppose the record got lost in the avalanche of great albums that came out then. It is worth seeking out though, it holds up very well nearly 50 years later. Recommended to fans of Jake Holmes and Fred Neil.
Saturday, November 26, 2016
SGC Records SD 5001
I was surprised to see a large obituary for Carson Van Osten in the "LA Times" late last year. I figured that somebody there must be a Nazz fan, but when I read the obituary I discovered that he had a prominent career as a comic book artist, Nazz were hardly even mentioned. I only knew him as the bassist for Nazz, a group that I've loved ever since I first heard them on the "Nuggets" comp as a teenager. This was their debut album which I consider one of the best albums of 1968. It begins with "Open My Eyes" which is my favorite Nazz song. Like most of the songs on the album it was written by Todd Rundgren, the lead guitarist in Nazz. It is a dazzling hard rocking song with a driving beat that makes brilliant use of phasing to give it a psychedelic edge. The song blew me away when I heard it on "Nuggets" and it still thrills me whenever I hear it. It was a flop single, but I think it is better than 99% of the songs in the top 40 in 1968. "Back of Your Mind" is similarly riff-driven, it sounds like a more pop-oriented version of Cream. Rundgren delivers a hot guitar solo and Robert "Stewkey" Antoni's lead vocal has a winning urgency that makes the song memorable. "See What You Can Be" is soaring power pop reminiscent of the Left Banke. "Hello It's Me" was a hit for Rundgren when he recorded it as a solo artist in the early 1970s. This version is slower and features a less elaborate arrangement than the hit version but I like it almost as much primarily because of the strength of Antoni's vocal and Van Osten's melodic bass lines. Side one concludes with a group composition, "Wildwood Blues." The song is a full-on rocker driven by sizzling guitar work from Rundgren. One of the things I like best about the band is that they retain their pop smarts even when they get loud and raucous much like the Beatles. Side two opens with the delicate "If That's the Way You Feel" which features a string arrangement by Rundgren and a lovely vocal from Antoni. "When I Get My Plane" is delicious power pop that blends hard rock with superb vocal harmonies, it sounds like the Association jamming with the Who. "Lemming Song" is a straight ahead rocker propelled by Rundgren's howling guitar runs. The rave-up in the song's instrumental break is extremely exciting. "Crowded" was written by Antoni and Nazz's drummer Thom Mooney. It is the weakest song on the album although it is still pleasant to listen to. The album concludes with "She's Goin' Down" which is highly kinetic featuring Rundgren wailing on guitar and Antoni's frenetic organ work supported by Mooney's hyper-active drumming. It gives the record an energetic finish. I'll never understand why this band never became big. They had it all - they were attractive, featured quality songwriting, creative arranging, a fine singer and they could play up a storm. I've heard hundreds of albums from the late 1960s and this album is better than the vast majority of them. Did people really prefer Crosby, Stills and Nash, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly or Blood, Sweat and Tears? I guess Nazz was out of touch with the zeitgeist of the era, championing pop values at a time when hippies just wanted to get down and get dirty. They missed out on a truly great album. Recommended to fans of Big Star and Badfinger.