Monday, July 30, 2012
The Mourning Star EP
Timotheos has just released a new EP of ambient music that he is generously offering as a free download. Let the carefully layered sound textures lead you along previously uncharted introspective paths.
It is waiting for you on his Facebook page
In the meantime, a small sample to enjoy.
Saturday, July 28, 2012
If you have ever entertained fantasies about a parallel universe where musicians with true talent were actually recognized for their efforts, then you are likely baffled by the amount of mediocrity that has been elevated to superstar status in these times. What about the perpetual underdog who toils in obscurity in spite of their ingenuity? Cutting an individual path should be lauded rather than ignored. Anyone who stops by here to check out my scribblings with any regularity (you know who you are and I humbly thank you) would know that I try, whenever possible, to shine a light on artists who were never quite given credit where it was due.
Today's subject is Brian Hines, who is widely 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, some of the material that he had recorded in the interregnum between leaving the Moodies and accepting McCartney's offer has largely gone unnoticed and unheard.
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
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Given the set of circumstances that surrounded the recording of the tenth Yes album, its title could scarcely be more appropriate.
Following a brief hiatus from recording they returned and managed to produce two discs in the late seventies (Going For the One and Tormato) with the same lineup. Wrapping up a world tour in 1979, it seemed reasonable that Anderson, Wakeman, Howe, Squire and White would regroup to work on new material to usher in the new decade.
Attempts were made to do so, though creative sparks did not fly.
Exit Anderson and Wakeman...
Yes without the signature vocals of Jon Anderson seemed unthinkable. Over a twelve year period players had been fired, replaced, had quit, rejoined...but the singer?
Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles were unabashed admirers of the prog rock legends. Replacing the departed, the unenviable task of filling Anderson's shoes fell to Horn. To hardcore followers this was sacrosanct. Opinions were naturally divided when Drama was originally released in 1980, though it was given a much warmer reception in the UK than in America.
Trevor Horn probably still drops to the ground in a fetal ball when thinking about the tour in support of the LP.
Nevertheless, the passage of time reveals this to be quite a good record. Squire wrapped his harmonies around those of the new recruit (abetted by Howe) giving the illusion that Jon had indeed contributed to the sessions. Close inspection reveals otherwise, though the revamped quintet catches fire, tracking with a harder edged approach. Everyone acquits themselves admirably, obviously inspired by the adoption of fresh ideas.
Six tunes were spread over two sides of the original vinyl version. Highlights are "Tempis Fugit", "Into the Lens" and the sprawling "Machine Messiah". The remaining tracks are certainly inoffensive, though not spectacular. You can hear the sonic metamorphosis taking place that would result in the first Asia project and the formation of "Yes-West". These developments would see many long time listeners turn away in disgust, while younger devotees came on board in their place. This was still a couple of years away, though.
Back to 1980.
White and Squire lock in furiously, the latter soloing with abandon in the middle of "Machine Messiah". Downes utilized the most contemporary synth voicings in very imaginative ways, without sacrificing technique. His nimble fingers effortlessly match the scale burning of Howe and Squire. Howe's style and guitar tone are radically transformed as he leans heavily on a more metallic sound. While it isn't quite "metal", it is a far cry from the more delicate, jazzy runs that he had previously favored.
With so much going for it, the disc still languishes in the cut-out bin of forgotten music. When an established act deviates from the expected stylistic framework, there is usually mutiny amongst the faithful. To many, Anderson was simply irreplaceable and that sealed the fate of this incarnation of Yes. Revisiting Drama definitely has its share of rewards, as the playing and production are solid. Perhaps those who had hitherto ignored this one might now listen with a more mellow viewpoint (hey, it's been 32 years!) and discover its charms.
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
THE YES ALBUM
Imagine the shock that listeners must have experienced upon first getting acquainted with this record.
Stratospheric vocals arched over playing that was as muscular as it was dexterous. The future had arrived in the form of a progressive rock mothership, which deposited a musical payload that left a blast-crater five miles wide.
It's still smoldering some 40+ years after the event...
Although they have their share of detractors for various reasons (Anderson’s soaring tenor for some, the sheer length of the material for others) their strengths far outweigh any perceived faults. The Yes Album contains some of the most beautiful noise that they ever committed to tape.
One key change in the lineup sealed their fate. Guitarist Peter Banks made his exit (was elbowed out) following Time and a Word, replaced by Steve Howe. Radically altering their sound, greater commercial fortunes were now close at hand.
As time wore on, a revolving door would be necessary to facilitate the comings and goings of players.
Melody in song construction is a big key as to why this became their breakthrough. There is a virtual minefield of hooks embedded in every cut, with an underlying intelligence that draws in the listener rather than seeming calculating or exclusive. Opening with authority, "Yours Is No Disgrace" is a long form piece that takes you on an exhilarating ride. Anderson is tracked with bloodhound like precision by Chris Squire's harmonies. Squire further amazes by practically attacking his Rickenbacker bass with edgy, rollercoaster runs. For all of this, the lyrics do stretch the definition of inscrutability to extremes at times. Perhaps Anderson was more concerned with scansion that pleased him rather than the actual words themselves. He has suggested that this was written with an anti-war theme in mind.
I think that there was likely a pile of dope around to "help".
Yesterday, a morning came / A smile upon your face / Caesar's Palace, morning glory / Silly human, silly human race...
Bruford seals his place as a premier drummer, madly inventive but still tasteful. Tony Kaye anchors it all with extremely intuitive keyboard flourishes. I have to state that I much prefer the material here to what was conceived for the follow up (Fragile). There is greater consistency in that even a minor effort like "A Venture" is far more satisfying than similar fare from the next LP ("We Have Heaven")
How(e) about that new kid on guitar?
Bringing a heady mixture of classical, jazz and Chet Atkins into the fold, Howe perfectly compliments the group dynamic. "Starship Trooper" contains extraordinary passages. Those ethereal descending runs that color the "speak to me of summer" section, the dead stop which ushers in virtuoso acoustic fingerpicking and the hypnotic, phased "Wurm" outro all amount to a masterclass in just under 10 minutes. This man is perpetually overlooked when those frustrating "best guitarist" lists are drawn up, which is unbelievable considering his estimable talents.
"I've Seen All Good People" remains the most accessible slab of multi-part wonder in the set, earning a slot in classic rock play lists, where it is still heard regularly. Borrowing a phrase from John Lennon, the message of peace is sincere with a seductive melody and a riff that Jimmy Page could almost claim as his own in terms of style. They really should have closed out the disc with this one as it has much more visceral impact than the more sedate "Perpetual Change". No need to quibble, as both are more than worthy.
All of the most impressive qualities of this exceptional band are present on The Yes Album. Epic compositions are nicely beveled with enough stunning detours to give the listener variety, with the indulgences muted (for the most part). Both sides are broken up by breezy interludes that hold interest and clear the sonic palette before the next substantial course. Overall, a great place to begin your journey into their discography. Undeniably, one of the most stirringly creative, accomplished bands in the universe.
People are still struggling to catch up with them.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Jon Lord: classically trained pianist, composer and co-founder of Deep Purple has passed away today at age 71. His writing credits include some of Purple's best known songs, including "Smoke on the Water", "Black Night", "Strange Kind of Woman" and "Child in Time". Breathtaking assaults on the Hammond B3 became a signature, placing him squarely at the center of the prog-rock movement as it began to take shape in the late sixties. He pioneered rock and orchestral fusion with his Concerto for Group and Orchestra, first performed by Deep Purple with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1969.
Blues, jazz, symphonic pieces...his range was stunning, extending to many genres. His session work was also extensive.
Sadly, our culture currently seems to be celebrating the anti-musician, with dancing idiots in headsets conveniently bypassing the 10,000 hours of practice traditionally deemed necessary before taking the stage. The performances captured below serve as a reminder of his great talent.
Lord was a gent, legend and a craftsman. Today the music world has lost one of the true masters.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Mondegreen: the term for misheard song lyrics that give rise to new words or meanings.
Sylvia Wright coined it in an essay she had written for Harper’s in 1954, recounting a frequent mishearing of a lyric from a Scottish ballad called “The Bonny Earl O’Moray”
As a child, Wright heard the words as:
Ye highlands and ye lowlands
Oh where hae you been?
Thou hae slay the Earl of Murray
And Lady Mondegreen
Of course, Lady Mondegreen existed only in her mind, for the correct line reads, "slay the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green." To this day the "mondegreen" has been used to describe all misunderstandings of this type.
Here are a few classics:
“Secret Asian man”
“Chicken to ride”
“’Scuse me while I kiss this guy”
"There's a bathroom on the right"
"Slow walkin' Walter"
Feel free to share your own interpretations in the comment section.
Wednesday, July 04, 2012
OGDENS' NUT GONE FLAKE
Whether you're sailing through the air on a fly's back or just having a few, this is really fun to listen to. Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane's creations were Britpop. Understanding the good time that went into making this is the key to absorbing the album.
Doesn't hurt that Marriott was one of the greatest rock singers of all time, bar none.
Starting with the instrumental title track, it's evident where all of the "inspiration" is coming from. Weak psychedelia doesn't apply here though, as they played heavier than most bands in that category.
Exaggerated Cockney delivery, huge hooks and an imaginative story about searching for the other half of the moon (the "Happiness Stan" suite on side two) are just some of the draws of this remarkably layered set. Stanley Unwin provided the narration in a style so unique that it was dubbed as 'Unwinese'.
"Lazy Sunday" was extracted as the single. Exuberance? There is enough here to power a large city for months. It is an absolutely perfect 3 minutes of pop.
Given their youth at the time these songs were created, it is astounding how insightful some of the lyrics were. Without doubt, my favorite bit of wordplay comes from the closer, "HappyDaysToyTown".
"Life is just a bowl of All-Bran/ You wake up every morning and it's there"
Whether intentional or not, the line is as funny as it is grim. All-Bran tastes sweet but it gives you the shits.
Produced by Glyn Johns, Ogdens featured some lavish overdubs that made it impossible to reproduce on stage, though they presented it (miming to backing tracks) on BBC TV shortly after release. It was the only time that this treasure of an LP was performed "live".
Here then, are the Small Faces on "Color Me Pop", June 21, 1968
Nice to report that this set was number one in Britain for six weeks in the summer of 1968. Steve Marriott left the Small Faces at the end of that year to form Humble Pie.