Saturday, January 10, 2015
Trends exist first in the minds of marketing geniuses, require repetition to achieve some traction with consumers and become redolent of their time period. Patience is required to produce work that has both artistic merit and durability. Whether you are a casual listener or completely immersed in music, you should be aware of the difference between fine wine and grape juice. The true test of any art lies in its shelf life. What brings you back to a really good album? It may be subjective, though a modicum of thought, soul, inspiration and craft always win the day.
Joseph Bridge has made that record
One of the best sets released by any artist in a very long time, it is brimming with invention, impeccable playing, solid writing and incredible melodies. Contemporary musicians will file it under "I wish I had thought of that", while most will be swept up in a song cycle that is dazzling from start to finish.
While there are certain influences present here they are nicely bevelled by muscular playing, razor sharp arrangements and the quirky cast of characters that are presented throughout: Mr. Waterpump, Phyllis the Parking Meter Lady, Ricky the Mouse, Gregory Hawson and Marvin Penn. Marvin encounters all of these personalities, his presence integral to the underlying thread that runs through the disc. While the storyline is only suggested, Marvin spends his time in the thrall of a voice that had reached out to him long ago, stating simply: "I'm trying to find you."
Opening strong, the austere instrumentation of the extremely catchy "Mr. Waterpump" is a perfect backdrop to follow its subject on a sunny stroll through his day. Once lodged in the brain, this is an ideal launching pad to prepare for the onslaught of energy that follows. "Worlds Away" begins with scattershot wordplay, a lone acoustic guitar and quickly explodes into a punchy chorus with precision drumming and a whistled outro that will be instantly recognizable as an inside joke to those familiar with "Two of Us".
When presented with an array of equally powerful tunes, it's tough to pick a highlight. "Phyllis the Parking Meter Lady" is an obvious single, possessing all of the hallmarks of the perfect pop song. Staccato guitar and drum figures push the track, while soaring vocals ice the cake. The refrain is accentuated by decorative trumpet, which is easily assimilated and reinforces a clever hook. This is an absolutely jaw-dropping creation, which speaks volumes as it sits amongst a very stellar group of them.
One of the overall triumphs is the joy that infuses all and sundry. It seems that everyone who participated in these sessions had a blast, playing their parts with an exuberance that radiates from the finished product. Infectious in all respects, that translates to a very upbeat listening experience. Full marks go to Joseph Bridge for the lyrical subject matter. Avoiding pretension, whiny introspection, preachiness or current political issues, he creates a wonderful escape into a realm where the subjects all have great, open ended backstories. Your interpretation of them is what matters and will ensure repeated listens.
Stnadout tracks that will vie for serious radio play are "Ricky the Mouse" and "Gregory Hawson". For those who appreciate the deep cuts on classic discs, the atmosphere created in "Warning" convincingly conjures a mood of impending threat, though it's subtle. The monster lurking in the "back nine" here is the towering "Triangle Clouds" which has a turn around sequence that modern rock bands would sacrifice a limb for, with fret-melting soloing that perfectly complements the melodic heaviness of the piece. The lone cover is Syd Barrett's "Opel" which provides an air of majesty and unfinished business (the voice that reaches out to Marvin Penn). It is rendered beautifully with some tasteful assistance from Keith Scott.
This is work that anyone would be more than proud to sign their name to.
You have my estimation, though I highly recommend to anyone who is reading this to listen for yourself. You may check out and purchase the Joseph Bridge CD on iTunes
You may also learn more about Joseph Bridge here
Saturday, December 27, 2014
Recording software has made an enormous impact on contemporary music production. Through the manipulation of noises as expressed in ones and zeroes, there is much opportunity to "fix" performance. The result? Homogenous product, with voices and instrumental touches virtually indistinguishable from one another. In many instances, this intervention is absolutely necessary as the "talent" just isn't there. Instead of using available technical resources to enhance the material, laptop engineers now sublimate it.
Would you smother a gourmet meal in ketchup?
Growing dissatisfied with such trends, many artists are approaching the recording process from another angle. The warmth of analog is felt in every note in the new EP from DRLNG. Committing all four songs on Icarus to tape, a lush soundscape is created that is dependant upon precision playing, strong melody and the dulcet tones of lead singer Eliza Brown. The quartet is rounded out by Martin Newman (guitars), James Newman(bass) and Mickey Vershbow (drums). The material is thoughtful and well crafted, with the highlight (for me) being the title track.
Full marks go to all involved here, especially in terms of how they have carefully chosen to put the songs first and not succumb to layering and tracking to the point where the music loses all personality. The band have issued Icarus as a limited edition vinyl release (300 copies pressed) in addition to downloadable format. In truth, this recording is tailor made for your turntable, as it would best allow listeners to appreciate how these arrangements breathe outside of the confines of digital mastering.
I look forward to hearing a full length release from DRLNG, though in the meantime you can purchase the Icaras EP right here. Be sure to add this to your collection.
Find out more about DRLNG and like them on Facebook
Monday, December 08, 2014
True talent isn't always recognized by the masses. Ingenuity shouldn't toil in the long shadow of mediocrity, though this is reality for those who cut an individual path. With that in mind, the spotlight searches out (and locates) Mr. Brian Hines, who is better known by his adopted stage name, Denny Laine.
As a founding member of the Moody Blues, he first came to prominence singing lead on a tune that was previously recorded by Bessie Banks called "Go Now". He left the group in 1966. Most rock fans saw this multi-talented soul return to the spotlight when Paul McCartney asked him to join Wings in 1971, where he would remain until their dissolution in 1981.
While his term with Wings was indeed high profile, the material that he had recorded in the interregnum between leaving the Moodies and accepting McCartney's offer has largely gone unnoticed.
THE MISSING YEARS...
Laine formed the Electric String Band in late 1966, which included Trevor Burton (formerly of The Move) and drummer Viv Prince. Four classical players, Wilhelm Martin (violin), John Stein (violin), Clive Gillinson (cello) and Chris Van Campen (cello), were recruited to achieve his vision. Utilizing strings to play live, he also forged a sound that would be picked up in earnest by ELO when they formed out of the remnants of The Move in the early seventies. Though mainstream success eluded them in their short time as a functioning unit, they did manage to commit material to tape that was released in the form of two singles.
"Say You Don't Mind" was the first and it is extremely fine. Denny performed the song on early Wings tours, though you can hear the original 45 right here. As a record, it is definitely bathed in the psychedelic production values of 1967, though the tune is pretty strong. Laine's vocal is immaculate and the chord progression has some very intricate twists. John Paul Jones handled the string arrangement.
"Too Much in Love" was the second try, appearing in early 1968.
Curiously, there is more locked in the vaults from this timeframe. Produced by Denny Cordell, "Why Did You Come" was slated to be the third single but never saw the light of day. Thanks to their appearance on John Peel's radio program in October of '67, you can now have a listen. Similarly, another lost composition ("Guilty Mind") is presented from the same show. For those who are not acquainted with this phase in Laine's career, it would be a revelation to see these tracks re-mastered and brought into the 21st century marketplace. Better still if there were more quality gems from these sessions in the can, waiting to be dusted off and properly issued.
Opportunities missed, Electric String Band had a series of lineup changes before passing into the mists of time, with Laine disbanding them for good in February 1968.
While he is still plying his trade, recording and gigging, it is a shame that many more listeners haven't been exposed to his music. Deservedly, he should be recognized for his pioneering work from the late sixties.
Find out more about Denny Laine here
Sunday, November 16, 2014
SIN AFTER SIN
Definitely brings back many hazy memories of high school. Occasionally, side one of this disc would be in rotation in my "soundtrack to pass out for the night routine". Worked like magic, too. "The Last Rose of Summer" provides a lush, soft landing pad for that gelatinous mass of chemicals and electric impulses, settled into a groove on the pillow as it ends your programming day.
It's a phenomenal song, with a touch of Hendrix and the peerless vocals of Rob Halford. Unfairly, it has often been panned as a "Rain Song" rip-off. Have a listen and see why it stands up.
Third album from the "metal gods" and it is a truly fine offering, balanced on the precipice of the sound that they would soon fully embrace and scorch many devoted eardrums with. Roger Glover's production is clean and punchy, playing up the strengths of all involved, with an attack that's fairly advanced for 1977. The group did have "exploding drummer syndrome" so the drum stool was filled here by nineteen year old Simon Phillips, who would go on to become a top class session man. His credits are astounding as is his work on this set.
Honed to perfection, the twin guitar mathematics of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing raise the game on a strong set of songs. "Sinner" and "Dissident Aggressor" are standouts, though, as with the bulk of their material, they rarely forgot to employ melodies with the mayhem. Those that have written them off really need to take another listen. Halford should get far more credit than he has, as he is a fantastic singer.
"Starbreaker" from Tokyo in 1978. Les Binks on drums. He was an excellent musician and writer but quit after only two years with the group. He didn't explode, though he takes a nice solo here.
What should have been the closing track? Their ingenious reworking of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust". Worth mentioning that this song, inspired by Bob Dylan, is covered so well by a band that was named for one of his songs ("The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest")
Priest would soon undergo a wardrobe change and enter the 80's as a much heavier entity. "Sin After Sin" is an excellent piece of plastic and ranks with the best of their seventies releases.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Produced over months of arduous sessions, the $100,000 wet dream that became The Soft Parade was universally panned when it first appeared in 1969. Don't believe for a second that this is simply The Doors buried in "101 strings", though. Jim Morrison would slip into the vocal mannerisms of Frank Sinatra (in places), adding a crooner's voice to their most adventurous music to date. Imagine these tunes drifting from the radio of a '63 Pontiac Laurentian. Don't feel too bad about passing over this disc, as you had probably heeded the warnings of those critics and fans who just didn't care for the contents.
This is actually a very solid record.
Please, please listen to me children
Morrison's contribution is slight on this outing. Waning interest in the group dynamic, Herculean consumption of alcohol and various film projects claimed more of his calendar time than did the business of writing songs. When he did engage, some memorable imagery emerged ("Wild Child", "The Soft Parade"). Robbie Krieger stepped up to fill the compositional gap, though his lyrics were more conventional. Listeners who had become accustomed to the inventive wordplay that had heretofore graced their LPs noticed the variance, contributing to the split personality that presents itself here. You can easily pick out the Krieger penned material as all are augmented by strings or brass. Densmore and Manzarek were intent on bringing jazzier touches to the table, encouraging the experiments with an expansion of their soundscape. "Tell All the People" is heralded by epic fanfare. Reportedly, Jim took issue with the "Can't you see me growing/Get your guns" line, refusing at first to sing it. Sounding nothing like what had come before, this smart opener must have been quite a shock to those who were conversant with the first three albums. They offer a stripped down version here, filmed for "PBS Critique".
The main engine of the band is never sublimated by the layers, with "Touch Me" being the most successful integration of the two worlds. Curtis Amy's Coltrane-dipped sax freakout is stunning, powered by the core instrumentalists pushing the intensity well to the limit. "Shaman's Blues" and "Wild Child" are classic Doors, while "Easy Ride" is fun and slightly reminiscent of Elvis' Sun period.
Not enough mention is made of the tasteful instrumental contributions made by Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore. They sounded like no one else of that time period, with no nods to British psychedelia or the West Coast bands that had a decidedly multi-colored vibe. Darker themes were often explored without hesitation, which would long keep their music in the purview of subsequent generations.
Stylistically diverse, this collection probably threw off listeners looking for some revelation or profundity that Morrison must have hidden within the grooves somewhere.
YOU CANNOT PETITION THE LORD WITH PRAYER!!!!
Though you can return to this thoroughly enjoyable set regularly. Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it never wears out its welcome.
Thursday, October 09, 2014
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Absolutely bare-bones, lovely, unfinished, ethereal, ragged, uplifting and heartbreaking all apply to Oar, the lone solo recording by Alexander "Skip" Spence. He was at the epicenter of the San Francisco music scene in the mid-sixties, playing drums on the first Jefferson Airplane disc and co-founding Moby Grape, who made a stunning debut album and then imploded with Spence in the middle of the fray.
It is not the function of this humble forum to make comment on the tribulations of individuals who saw rough times. Mr. Spence did indeed have more than his share of adversity, though it does not detract from his obvious talent. He was a musical "all-rounder' who could play just about anything that he picked up, a great performer and first rate songwriter.
The tale of how Oar was conceived and recorded is well worth your time, as is the album itself. Following six months of recovery in a mental health facility, Spence emerged with a desire to get his latest compositions on tape. There are many corners of the internet that you may explore to flesh out the rest of the story.
"Little Hands" was the opener...
Should you be interested, seek out this disc, keeping in mind that you are in for a challenging but rewarding listen. This is primarily because he followed his instincts and let the songs flow naturally with no attempts to pander to the prevailing trends of that era. These are the sketches of a great artist, who was not given the opportunity to reach a wider audience in his time, as he was a few steps ahead of the curve. Released with no promotional help in 1969 on Columbia Records, Oar sold a very modest amount of copies before being quietly removed from consideration for further pressing. All of this took place in the space of one year and this disc did not come back into circulation until it appeared on CD in 1991. Still considered a curio, this is forgotten music that subsequent generations have rediscovered (and covered).
Beck, Wilco and Leslie Feist cover "Little Hands", giving Mr. Spence some much deserved love. He would have likely been quite thrilled to hear this.