Thursday, December 29, 2011
THE GUILDED PALACE OF SIN
This record could very well be the undisputed, heavyweight champion of brilliant, yet forgotten music. Though their debut put them in the vanguard of the country rock style, The Flying Burrito Brothers struggled to find an audience. Groups that followed (The Eagles) would steal and smooth the Burritos’ sound into what Gram Parsons described as, “a dry, plastic fuck.”
Parsons and Chris Hillman put the band together, drafting Chris Ethridge, "Sneaky" Pete Kleinow, plus drummer Jon Corneal to fill out the lineup. The Guilded Palace of Sin was recorded and released in 1969 to critical acclaim, though record buyers barely acknowledged it.
Being a step ahead of the music currents of their time, coupled with internal problems and lack of promotion ended the band before they could get started. Parsons jumped ship after the second album. Critics now trip over themselves, writing about Gram Parsons and his vision of "Cosmic American Music", though not many gave him the credit he was due in his lifetime.
Classic records usually deliver an immaculate "Side One", packing the megaton force of an A-bomb, leaving the listener barely able to comprehend what will be served up next.
This is no exception
"Christine's Tune" is the Everly Brothers on acid. Sneaky Pete's unconventional pedal steel work is incredibly inventive, while the Parsons/Hillman axis do their best "Phil and Don" harmonies. "Sin City" is a fantastic soundtrack to a hangover, filled with imagery that is less than impressed with the LA scene in the late 1960's. It's a glorious creation that reinvents the wheel in four minutes. Both tunes were co-written by Hillman and Parsons.
Soulful covers showcase the versatility of everyone involved. "Do Right Woman" fuses country with an R & B feel (Aretha Franklin had a version of this) and "The Dark End of the Street" is more of the same. Parsons' vocals display a degree of vulnerability that makes each stand out. The arrangements are tasteful with extended jamming muted in favor of playing in service of the songs.
"My Uncle" rounds out this killer side. An uptempo look at draft dodging, it has a great hook and provides subtle comment on what was then a hotly debated subject.
A letter came today from the draft board
With trembling hands I read the questionnaire
It asked me lots of things about my mama and papa
Now that ain't what I call exactly fair
So I'm heading for the nearest foreign border
Vancouver may be just my kind of town
Because they don't need the kind of law and order
That tends to keep a good man underground
Parsons and Hillman were motorcycle enthusiasts, writing "Wheels" in tribute to the freedom of gliding along on just two of them. Hot Burritos 1 and 2 really deserved better titles. They are the most passionate vocals that Gram Parsons ever committed to tape, impeccably supported by the assembled musicians.
"Do You Know How it Feels" is a real shit kicker, prefiguring Dwight Yokam by about 20 years. Short and sweet. The LP closes with the sombre, churchy organ and piano based Hippie Boy, a spoken word commentary on the 1968 Democratic Convention riots. It is well done, though redolent of its time.
Topical reference is generally avoided ("My Uncle" excepted) so this set has aged quite well. The absence of late sixties, day-glo paint poured over the proceedings also extends the shelf-life of these songs.
Vinyl copies are tough to find and are expensive when you do.
Recent repackaging on CD has given this music that fused country, rock, soul, R & B and gospel a profile in the digital age. Despite the magic that happened to create this disc, it remains woefully under appreciated due mostly to lack of distribution.
Now that you're aware of it, look for a copy. Well worth the price of admission.
Monday, December 26, 2011
BETWEEN THE BUTTONS
Wreathed in smoke, ingenuity and a touch of insanity, the sessions for this album produced hard rocking pop. Rootsy blues was shelved, with piano driven, Ray Davies-inspired English music hall styles taking hold.
Be careful, lads. It is here that the drugs will start doing YOU!
One of two sets unleashed by the band in 1967, this was unlike anything they did before or since. The US version of this LP cut "Backstreet Girl" and "Please Go Home", replacing them with "Let's Spend the Night Together" and "Ruby Tuesday". Whether this tampering with the running order improved the package or not is subjective. The latter two selections were big hits, duly promoted on radio as well as the small screen. Check out this "live vocals with a backing track" performance, taped for the Ed Sullivan show.
Dividing their time between LA and London while recording, the results run from the barrelhouse fun of "Cool, Calm & Collected" (kazoos? why not?) to the excellent "Connection", which shares honors with "Miss Amanda Jones" as the most driving piece etched into this disc.
"Guess which drug I just discovered?" colors "Something Happened to me Yesterday". Keith sings lead (his debut on record) along with Mick backed up by a prominent tuba. The cover photo reinforces the "trippy" nature of the work, with three of the five Stones immersed in the burgeoning drug culture that enveloped their peers during that era.
Brian Jones turns in his last focused efforts before he was completely dragged down by substance intake and gradually elbowed from the group. In addition to guitar and some vocals, he also handled accordion, vibraphone, harmonica, recorder, percussion, kazoo, saxophone, dulcimer and organ. Four different piano players (Jones included) bang on the 88s throughout.
"She Smiled Sweetly" is the only track that should be buried in a landfill.
Overall, the impression left here is mighty fine, with the Jagger/Richards song writing engine in top form. Underrated and overlooked, this slice of Swinging London is worth checking out.
Now for some trivia from cosmopolitan raver/drummer Charlie Watts:
"Andrew (Oldham) told me to do the drawings for the LP and said the title would be between the buttons. I thought he meant the title was "Between The Buttons", so it stayed."
WARNING: Look for a vinyl copy of this, if you truly want a fair evaluation of how it was originally presented.
The original issue of this collection on CD sounded like shit, which is really a shame. Extreme liberties were taken with the placement of instruments in the stereo field. Some tracks sound as if they have been presented in duophonic format (transferring the mono master to two separate channels, boosting the low end frequencies in one channel and emphasizing the high treble frequencies in the other) which further kills the listening experience.
The 2002 ABKCO reissues are an improvement, though audiophiles are advised to hunt down the London Records CD version (available in Europe and Japan prior to 1997) as it has the best sound of all digital releases.
Naturally, Mick has long since disavowed this material, calling it "rubbish".
Definitely in the top five of all Stones LPs.
Thursday, December 08, 2011
I hope that it isn't too cold in Central Park tonight, so that those gathered have a chance to play, sing, scream and enjoy the timeless music of a guy who crossed into the next dimension 31 years ago today.
It would be interesting to hear what 71 year old John Lennon would have to say about contemporary events. He likely wouldn't mince words. War and poverty still wreak havoc in many areas of the world. Greed drags down our attempts to put a better face on society.
He didn't have all of the answers, though he did question the madness in the methods of authority figures in his time. Remember the jokester, wordsmith and genius by listening to some of his music tonight. Messages of peace, love and hope speak volumes.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Today marks the tenth anniversary of George Harrison’s passing. His musical accomplishments were considerable, though he had a tough time reconciling his role in the biggest group of the sixties. He was wont to speak about that period of his career through clenched teeth, preferring to focus on the present. Typically dry, upon accepting the Billboard Century Award in 1992 his first remark was telling.
"I'm sure that being in the Beatles has not been a hindrance to my solo career."
Forging his own path in the early seventies, Harrison was the first of his ex-colleagues to hit number one right out of the gate. Taking steps into territory that alienated longtime fans, singing about his personal beliefs and sharing the shimmering beauty of East Indian music with anyone who would listen, he remained unconcerned about replicating the past.
For the record, Dark Horse is an excellent album. Listen to it again!
Refusing to succumb to trivial audience pandering, he created on his own terms. When he was fed up with the bullshit that came with his trade, he retreated to his family and garden. The pleasure of music-making never disappeared from his radar, but he felt no compunction to reinvent himself every few years for the fickle masses.
Just dig what he was presenting live in '74.
Possessed of a dark sense of humor, when he heard that Neil Innes was reviving "The Rutles" in the mid 90s to parody The Beatles' Anthology with "Archaeology" he asked which one of them would get shot.
Slide guitar wizard, skirt-chaser, film mogul, lover of old scratchy records, ukelele virtuoso, racing enthusiast, spiritual seeker, philanthropist...lifelong smoker
He did kick the habit toward the end of his journey here in the material world. Sadly, it would not be in time.
My recollection of Nov 29, 2001 involves playing a lot of George’s music and drinking far too many beers. The following night I headed out to see Blue Oyster Cult at the Warehouse in Toronto with one of my best friends. BOC played “I Need You” as part of their set that evening, in fulsome tribute to a guy who likely inspired them to take up their instruments. It remains a very fond memory.
Late November 2002 brought two very pleasant surprises. Brainwashed, the record he had been working on in the last years of his life was posthumously completed (by his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne) and released. That and Tom Petty's Last DJ disc played constantly in my atmosphere for about a month afterward.
If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there...
Shortly after this, on Nov 29th, The Concert for George was held at the Albert Hall, featuring a band comprised of rock legends, all playing their friend on his way by performing his songs. When the DVD of this event was released the following year, it was yet another gift to those who continue to celebrate his legacy, winning new converts along the way.
Ten years on, the world still misses Nelson Wilbury. I’ll be playing his tunes tonight, drink in hand, wondering how a goddamn decade managed to slip by so quickly.
For your reading pleasure, check out this 1977
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Badfinger's history is best described by that famous quote about there being no happy ending when you tell the rest of the story.
Prior to contractual problems, crooked management and the loss of two gifted songwriters to suicide, there was a band that created timeless music. Released at the tail end of 1971, Straight Up is their high water mark, though it had a difficult gestation period. Legendary Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick was in the producer's chair first and they completed a full album, which Apple Records rejected. Joey Molland picks up the story from here.
We had already recorded a version of the album which Apple had turned down because they thought it was a bit crude sounding, and it kind of sounded like the No Dice record. They [Apple] were looking at doing something a bit more sophisticated for our second album. We had gone into the Manor which was Richard Branson’s studio in Oxford, by ourselves and had recorded a bunch of songs such as Blind Owl, Get Away, Timeless, and some of it was later used on the Ass  album. We gave that entire album we had recorded to Apple as the next Badfinger album but they knocked it back.
Enter George Harrison, who offered to run the sessions if they started the process from scratch. He produced four tracks; two were re-recordings of "Name of the Game" and "Suitcase" plus two new songs, "I'd Die Babe" and "Day After Day".
Working with George was a great experience, he was a master in the studio and he brought all his Beatles experience into the mix. George was very encouraging and co-operative. He would bring in his guitar and plug in and work on songs with you. He was only too willing to play a bit of rhythm guitar or some lead guitar and advise us on singing vocal parts. He did make us work around the microphone and made us sing all the backing vocals all at once. He wouldn’t let us overdub them one track at a time. So it was all the three part harmony done live. He also played the slide part with Pete on Day After Day. It took them about six hours to do that. He and Pete did that part together, overdubbed live, which is difficult, getting it right and getting the pitch right. George also played the acoustic rhythm on I’d Die Babe and that off-beat lead line in it too. That’s the only bits he actually played on the album.
Harrison had to then turn his attention to organizing the Bangladesh concerts and did not return to the project.
Todd Rundgren came in to finish the record. Todd was really hard to work with, a real egomaniac and it was insufferable. Baby Blue was recorded live except we overdubbed an acoustic, then Todd took the tapes off and did what he did to it. It was not an enjoyable experience working with him, but Straight Up was our best selling album.
Rundgren salvaged a bit from the Emerick recordings, kept Harrison's work and proceeded to tape some new tunes. He also did the final overall mix, for which he was not credited. Despite the number of cooks, the finished album is sequenced beautifully and has a uniform sound. Pete Ham and Tom Evans wrote great material, as did Joey Molland. Melodic with fantastic harmony structure, their tunes rarely strayed beyond the five minute mark. "Day After Day" is a perfect example, with verses every bit as memorable as the chorus. They were so much more than a sugary pop act though, capable of delivering harder edged performances and were a tight unit on stage.
Strength in arrangement, especially in the vocal department, puts their work in the category of another legendary British group to which they were closely tied. This connection would serve to both help and hinder the band throughout their short existence.
Ghostly backing vocals and fuzzed guitar arpeggios over piano are key drivers of their sound, coloring much of the material. "Take It All" even drops in a Garth Hudson-esque organ toward the fade. Power pop just was another dumb tag assigned to these guys. Ignore the labels and you'll find a wealth of clever transitions ("Money" gracefully coasting into "Flying"), hooks galore and epic sounding pieces (the stabbing horns and strings in "Name of the Game).
"Day After Day", "Baby Blue" and "It's Over" stand out, though there is not one bad song or wasted note to be found here. One of the best rock recordings of the early 70s, bar none.
So with such a winning combination, why would it linger in the "forgotten" files?
Money stole my lady
When Apple Records fell into financial chaos, legal machinations prevented the further pressing and distribution of this classic work. Badfinger's Apple albums became instant collectors items. Truly heartbreaking, considering the combined talents of this star-crossed group. Without proper distribution, their shot at getting a commercial foothold was finished before they even properly started. How rare was it to find this recording? I found Straight Up on vinyl in the mid- 80's. The asking price exceeded 100 dollars!
Rolling Stone's review at the time was negative, as well, which didn't help from a PR perspective. Further proof that if you base your buying habits solely on recommendations from Rolling Stone, you have a shitty music collection.
When years of legal wrangling were finally resolved, "Straight Up" was remastered and released on CD in 1993 with bonus tracks. Interesting it is for the audiophiles out there, as the bonus stuff is primarily the Geoff Emerick productions (His versions of "Name of the Game" and "Suitcase" are awesome). Well worth looking for. Sadly, Badfinger is known primarily for the series of tragic events that ripped them apart, rather than the transcendent music that they created. This is a "must have" LP.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Occupying a curious position in the JT discography, One Man Dog ended up a top five disc following its release in late 1972, though critics and fans were divided in their estimations.
Intended to be a loose song suite, in the fashion of the long medley that graces the back nine of Abbey Road, there is no heavy underlying concept at work. What I hear is the artist, entrenched in his home studio, bringing in some very talented friends and saying, “Here’s the tune, the meter isn’t running, so we’ll play and see where this goes.” The ultra-slick, high production values that would soon become an integral part of the sunny, California sound in the mid 70s are, mercifully, not in place here. This is not to say that it is sloppily executed, as the record sounds great (especially in vinyl format) and the playing/singing is first rate.
The general mood, set by the opener ("One Man Parade") is one of ebullience. One can almost picture Taylor hunched over his acoustic, finger-picking the intro and then leaping to his feet to march around singing, swept up in his own joyous noise. It is this sense of fun which has a positive impact on the material, which is melodic and inventive. For a writer whose subject matter had generally tended toward the darker side of life, a tune like “Chili Dog” is definitely a 180 degree turn away from “Fire and Rain”.
Don't read me no Ann Landers/Don't feed me no Colonel Sanders
That sense of humor extends to the sonic dimension of the project as he pulls off the most clever deployment of saws (both chain and hand) on record in the link between "Fanfare" and "Little David".
There are passages that have a slightly jazzy feel and others have a gospel inflection, though “relaxed” is the best overall descriptor. No one expects speed metal tempos from a JT album nor do they happen here. Reminiscent of McCartney's first solo effort in terms of the brevity of certain songs and the fact that he tosses in a couple of instrumentals, Taylor earns points for trying his hand at something different with the attempt to weld these fragments together. Perhaps listeners at that time saw this as "unfinished" when compared to his last two releases.
“Don’t Let me Be Lonely Tonight” was the obvious choice for a single, though that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the rest.
Produced by Peter Asher, featuring scads of guests, this is one forgotten gem that begs to be heard on vinyl, if at all possible.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Today's announcement that the original members of Black Sabbath plan to release a brand new album and tour the world in 2012 was the best piece of music news
that I have heard in quite some time. Perhaps all of that noise about 11 11 11 being an auspicious date wasn't too far off the mark.
There have been several reformations since the late 90s and the band have acquitted themselves quite well in each instance. Their first crack at recording a full length disc with the original four in 2001 was aborted, with only a couple of tracks seeing the light of day.
Here's hoping that the new material is strong and that Ozzy, Geezer, Tony and Bill show a new generation of rock fans why their music has remained vital after 41 years.
Monday, November 07, 2011
Emerging quietly from hiatus, the Jayhawks came back with their mid-90s lineup in place to play some shows in 2009. Mark Olson, who had left the group in 1995, has returned to the fold. Mockingbird Time marks the first, full length Jayhawks recording since Tomorrow the Green Grass with Olson and Gary Louris collaborating. Despite the tepid reviews that I have read, to these ears at least, this is a solid set of songs.
What in the name of fuck do people want? We are subjected to a ton of the most objectionable garbage that has ever poisoned the airwaves on a daily basis and a few hipsters complain that the Jayhawks "didn't make their best album ever, per their claims prior to its issue". On the contrary, they have written songs with great changes, played with feeling and topped by two-part harmonies that soar. In a time where one note shit, with gimmicky noises and phony, processed vocals rule the musical landscape, people should be falling over themselves to welcome something real.
While not as uniformly excellent as Tomorrow the Green Grass, there is still quite a bit to celebrate. Most all of the selections deliver in terms of melody, arrangement and the vocals of Louris and Olson blend effortlessly. Sonically, their harmonies have a slightly melancholic quality, though this never overwhelms the program. Their voices still sound magical when paired.
Tying things together beautifully are the deft keyboard touches of Karen Grotberg. Her contributions to the music supply a ton of personality and would be greatly missed if taken out of the mix. There are a few attempts to bring electric guitars to the fore, though a gentler, more introspective mood prevails. My only request would be to trim the running time on a couple of songs and remove the title cut. It is the only one in the pack that seems to strain to find something to say, fails and would have best been left for a future box set.
Standout tracks include "Hide Your Colors", "Tiny Arrows" (shades of CSNY), "She Walks In So Many Ways" and the excellent closer "Hey Mr. Man". Repeated listening will be required, but there's enough diversity with forays into folk, esoteric 60s rock and country to maintain interest. The playing is impeccable, atmospheric strings provide depth and color to several tunes, and the hooks are subtle though once they set up camp in your brain they do not let go. Why this band has never really broken big is a mystery to me.
Strong, engaging and undeserving of some of the critical stick it has received, Mockingbird Time will hold up well down the road. Long after the contrived, overly sugared pop confections of 2011 leave people with an upset stomach and nothing more, thoughtful music with soul will be waiting to sweep you up in its charms when you're ready.
The Jayhawks are touring the US currently. Get out and see them if you have a chance.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Nothing stokes the fires of sentimentality quite as powerfully as the prospect of reuniting a rock group who had once hit dizzying creative heights. More often than not, the actual event is anticlimactic with fantasy crumbling in the face of unrealized expectation. Such was the case with a very high profile quintet of folk-rock pioneers.
The Byrds coupled great vocal harmonies with the jangling 12 string and note perfect arrangements of Roger McGuinn. They provided an exciting response to the sounds of the British Invasion in 1965. Following a short string of brilliant LPs, the original line up began to fracture. One by one, four out of the five charter members quit (or were fired) and by late 1968, McGuinn was left to carry on with the name. From this point through 1971 the band all but dropped off the commercial radar.
Flash forward to late 1972
By dint of the ever-shifting career sands that the four ex-Byrds found themselves treading at this point, the planets oddly aligned. David Geffen, who was then chief evil officer of Asylum Records, helped broker a deal to bring the old gang back together once more. Out of everyone, David Crosby had found the greatest post-Byrds success with CSN (and sometimes Y) and would wear the producer's hat for these sessions. The group blueprint used for Crosby, Stills Nash & Young was also, albeit awkwardly, applied in titling the reunion effort. Everyone was given equal billing, their names emblazoned on the front cover, with the proviso that they were free to indulge in their own musical endeavors and regroup whenever they wished for future projects.
As it stands, this would be the last time that all five entered the studio together to make an album.
Was it worth their time?
While this is not necessarily a poor collection of songs, Byrds definitely lacks the spark of their earlier work. If you come in expecting to hear McGuinn's Rickenbacker 360 12 in full cry, revisiting the sounds of '65, you will quickly be disappointed. On the other hand, if you dig acoustic guitars and laid back arrangements then this will hit the spot.
The old adage about how “you can’t go home again” is more than appropriate in this instance as it is damn near impossible to recover the past. Especially when you are up against a ticking clock. The individual “Byrds” in 1972 had been brought back together with business interests taking precedence over the joy of actually making music with each other again. Time may have softened their attitudes to a degree but it didn’t erase the intense bullshit that had drove them apart. It is to their credit that they managed to get through a month of tracking without imploding all over again. Perhaps because no one wanted to spoil the moment with critical arguments over quality control, the material that each songwriter brought to the table was taken at face value. Topping the "if only" list would be the fact that they really didn't get a chance to get together and simply play. Given the opportunity to jam and trade ideas, they may have at least rediscovered a professional rapport and written some new songs together. Very little time was allotted to this endeavor (roughly one month), so the end result feels slightly underdeveloped.
“See the Sky About to Rain” is the only truly majestic moment, due mostly to Gene Clark's immaculate delivery, which managed to outdo Neil Young's version when he finally etched it in stone for On the Beach. The Byrds had always been far more successful at interpreting the work of others and this is a shining example. McGuinn's guiding hand had to have played a large part in shaping the arrangement, as this has always been his forte.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
A NICE PAIR
Following the overwhelming success of "The Dark Side of the Moon", EMI decided to re-release the first two Pink Floyd LPs as a cleverly titled double set in December 1973.
What's so clever about it?
A sticker was used to hide the two elements that would have had prospective male buyers pointing at the album cover, coughing out a blast of pot smoke while simultaneously attempting a lewd act of self gratification.
Or so the censor-mad folks at the time imagined. Boobs! Can't let those loose in public...
My copy looks like this.
Quasi-pornographic images aside, surely there was nothing controversial etched into the grooves of these vinyl records? If you are familiar with "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" in it's original format and you own a copy of the US version of "A Nice Pair", then the answer is "yes". Back in 1967, Capitol Records in the US took the already-perfect debut recording from the group, removed "Astronomy Domine", "Flaming" and "Bike" and released it with "See Emily Play" pasted in as the first track.
Getting back to 1973, Capitol executives decided to atone for past tampering, restore the aforementioned missing songs to Piper and cash in on the new-found wave of "Floyd-mania" that now greeted the band. Their marketing plan was sound, as they had the masters at their fingertips. Two discs were already in the can. Add a cover and everyone gets rich.
This is where serious collectors received an unexpected bonus.
"Astronomy Domine" did appear as the first song, though it was the live version from 1969's "Ummagumma" that was used. Crowd noises were erased. "Interstellar Overdrive" was shortened and did not link to "The Gnome" as it did on the UK version. "Flaming" shows up in mono with a different mix. All of this was frustrating to the hardcore fan, though these variances would make this release extremely desirable when it went out of print.
What were the glaring differences between "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" and "A Saucerful of Secrets"?
These guys did the first one.
While these fellows completed the latter.
Confused? You won't be after this week's episode of SOAP.
Monday, October 17, 2011
THE WHOLE LOVE
Wearing the crown of "Critics' Darlings" since their debut, Wilco have earned this title by producing some of the most thoughtful and experimental records of the past fifteen years. Eight albums in, Jeff Tweedy and the group are still capable of marrying ethereal sounds to conventional song structures. Pushing forward with a trunk-load of melodies here, only fleetingly are they stretched, re-shaped, interspersed with telepathic white noise and made to run naked through a gauntlet of guitars. It's still a damn good listen.
Found a fix for the fits/Come listen to this
For the uninitiated, Wilco is not part of some secret, hipster club that you have to dress up or shave your head to join. They do take some wild chances with their art, which is tightly helmed by one Jeff Tweedy. As chief cook and bottle washer in the band, his vision is fleshed out by an incredible group of musicians.
Special mention this time around goes to bassist John Stirratt. Charter member, multi-instrumentalist, harmony vocal champ; shit, the guy has never played anything other than inventive lines to underpin the songs. He is in particularly great form here, executing a slew of delicate, fine bass figures that are deservedly brought to the fore in the mix. "Art of Almost" gives him plenty of room to work, though it starts out with glacial noises that compete with an insistent drum pattern. Harking back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/A Ghost is Born era experiments, the music ebbs and flows, climaxing in a full on wig-out to the finish line.
More kudos to the bassmanship displayed in "I Might", married to some wicked wordplay. Tweedy seems to be reeling in thoughts from a special stream of consciousness. What comes on with a near Motown feel boasts the feel good line of the disc:
You won't set the kids on fire/but I might
There are even a couple of Beatle-action-replays thrown in for giggles. "Sunloathe" has Harrisonoid slide, high fret territory McCartney bass noodles, Lennon's trusty, heavy-on-the-reverb piano plonking, a Ringo fill or two and some sweeping 'ahhhhhhh's' to ice the cake. It's a fine tune as well. "Capitol City" is pure Hoagy Carmichael on LSD, dragged through the filter of a White Album session, adorned with a slew of sound effects and presented here for your listening pleasure. Even more bizarre, the title track bears a striking resemblance to "Magneto and Titanium Man".
Venus and Mars-era Wings. I'm not joking.
For all that, it still works.
What starts out with the promise of some good old fashioned freak-outs quickly detours toward laid-back fare. Again, with material is as strong as the string-framed "Black Moon", it really doesn't matter. As close to perfection as it gets.
I can only register one complaint. The closer, "One Sunday Morning" is sung in an annoying, half whispered fashion that comes across as if Tweedy had returned from a dental appointment, with the lingering effect of Novocaine hindering his ability to enunciate properly. Just fucking sing! It also hangs on a fairly pretty hook, though it is not worthy of twelve-minutes. He should have just incorporated this idea into "Rising Red Lung" as both are pretty close cousins, sonically. Either way, it is at times like this that I wish Jeff would bring in a collaborator to truly challenge his authority in the studio. Down the line, the magic eight ball foresees a few issues with Mr. T not being able to see the forest for the trees when it comes to what makes it past quality control.
Make no mistake, these guys are committed to their craft and are functioning on a level that is head and shoulders above many of their contemporaries. Ultimately, this disc blows over you as would a gentle breeze on a muggy summer afternoon. Enough to refresh, though you are left wanting a bit more.
That's why you have no choice but to listen again.
Despite my one objection, The Whole Love offers impeccably rendered tunes that lesser bands would die to have on their resume. Scaling back on surprises, the creative retrenching effort that began with Sky Blue Sky seems complete. Curious to see where they'll go next.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Phenomenal performance of the Byrds classic, Mr. Spaceman. What an inspired pairing. Filmed in 1996, we see Roger McGuinn joyfully backed by Wilco. Note the two tasteful, face-melters that the late Jay Bennett peels off with ease.
This quick post hints at two write-ups that will be coming soon. I have been listening to Wilco's latest (The Whole Love) quite a bit and the long delayed review is on the way. McGuinn? One of the most underrated musicians on the planet.
This quick post hints at two write-ups that will be coming soon. I have been listening to Wilco's latest (The Whole Love) quite a bit and the long delayed review is on the way. McGuinn? One of the most underrated musicians on the planet.
Sunday, October 09, 2011
Today marked the 40th anniversary of the UK release of John Lennon's second solo effort, Imagine. Raiding the Beatles closet for the best of his unused late sixties compositions, he recorded them alongside some new tunes over the course of two weeks.
It takes some contemporary artists that long get a decent drum sound, let alone finish the bulk of a hit album.
Having just installed a state of the art (for 1971) studio at Tittenhurst Park, Lennon brought in a crew of session players and friends (George Harrison dropped by) to accompany him. The result was a very tuneful collection that was critically and commercially successful. Once again, Phil Spector shared production duties with John, though he was given far more to work with than the austere soundscape of Plastic Ono Band had allowed. Strings were added to some tracks ("sugarcoating" as Lennon referred to it later on) as Capitol's PR crew, led by Pete Bennett, wanted something radio friendly that they could market widely.
Very stellar set from the opening, title track right through to the catchy, lighthearted closer, "Oh Yoko". The only tune that doesn't really take off is "I Don't Want to be a Soldier". He seemed to run out of gas with his next two records, despite initially keeping on top of things more than McCartney would with his first solo ventures.
This weekend, John would have celebrated his 71st birthday.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Late September of 1991 brought a great musical sea change. Little known at that time to mainstream listeners, Nirvana had only recently replaced their drummer and were hard at work playing live. Winning over small audiences that were soon to balloon to stadium sized crowds, the band often took off on spectacular flights on stage. Now, they were on the cusp of releasing a game changing second album. Kurt Cobain was about to be put on a pedestal that he both worked toward and despised once his Converse clad feet were anchored upon it.
It's no secret that Cobain's songwriting model, musically, fused the best attributes of Black Sabbath and the Beatles. His lyrics permeated the collective cerebellums of thousands of young music fans, particularly because of the bitter wit that colored his subject matter. This would generally be taken out of context by many who poured through his words, emphasizing the darkness of some lines and missing the tongue in cheek factor that lay behind many of Cobain's themes. Whether he was celebrating/ mocking the apathetic nature of "Gen X'ers", taking potshots at the rednecks who had once bullied him and his friends or just spitting out a violent stream of bile for the hell of it, the "meaning" was purely subjective. Only he could tell you what it all amounted to and that ship sailed with his death in 1994.
This record joined that special list of other classic discs that have a perfect "Side One".
Smells Like Teen Spirit
Come As You Are
What dictated this immaculate running order?
Tough to think of a more consistently brilliant sequence of songs on a contemporary rock release. That it was hit upon in random fashion is mind-blowing. The revolution would be televised once the video for the stunning "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit MTV.
Upon first hearing the tune in late fall of 1991, goosebumps happened instantly and I felt an incredible rush of joy to which words could never do justice. I wasn't tapped in to the grunge movement nor had I laid ears on Nirvana before this. It just felt good to hear something real that carried the same weight as all of the best music from generations past. This one belonged to me, though the ride would be short-lived.
Preoccupied with labels, bands that emerged from the Seattle scene had their sound simply labeled as grunge. Flannel shirts, torn jeans and a general don’t-give-a–shit-about-appearance attitude is what the media zoned in on. For the groups themselves, the hype was laughable, especially when the “grunge uniform” was marketed as aggressively to kids as sugary cereal was during Saturday morning cartoons.
Proper evaluation of this movement in music quickly reveals the real reason why it captured the public imagination in such a big way.
Anyone who feared for the impoverishment of popular music had compelling reasons for their disposition in the early nineties. “Artists” from all corners had hits with an offensive assortment of digitized assaults on the ears. Drums were programmed and then jacked up to obscene levels in the mix, synthesized farts were substituted for melody lines and the process of “sampling” (aka stealing) the music of others to be dropped in over the beat of a “new song” started to rear its misshapen head.
Bad hair metal, shitty, overproduced pop, turgid, boring dance music. Enough! Something new had to emancipate listeners from the bloated crap that was clogging the charts.
The last time that this had happened, punk had landed with megaton force in the middle of late 70s disco and bloated, soft rock. Revolutions do not occur without provocation. Cobain was an ardent fan of hardcore punk, though the other side of his musical coin was steeped in melodic music and classic rock. It isn’t by accident that the giant riff for Teen Spirit comes via Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” or that “Come As You Are” is a very close cousin in feel to Sabbath’s “Killing Yourself to Live”.
In addition to sharp arrangements, a killer rhythm section and hooks galore was the projection of a unique, gritty voice. Cobain sounded as if he was singing for his life on the heavy tracks and then, turning on a dime, “Polly” and “Something In the Way” are delivered in a deliberately melodic fashion, complete with a second harmony vocal. Had his life script been allowed a few more pages, it’s a safe bet that this is the type of writing/performing style he would have transitioned toward.
Does Nevermind still hold up in 2011?
The indelible image of Grohl, sticks raised high, about to pummel his kit, the giant Novoselic laying down a heavy groove on his low-slung Gibson Thunderbird and Cobain in flight toward a messy collision with the drums is a just quick snapshot of the excitement that the trio generated on stage. This was not a matter of style over substance, though, as there was great depth to the material. Compared to Bleach, Nevermind was practically flawless in execution and devastating in its overall cultural impact. Strip away all of the hype that surrounded the genre and the ensuing media circus that traveled a half step behind the “Kurt ‘n’ Courtney Show” and the songs remain as powerful now as they did twenty years ago. The music was raw, sweaty and real with a subversive depravity tempered by a very thoughtful and sensitive soul. It’s no wonder that people were floored by the stunning coupling of angst and intellect that shot out of their speaker grills; every note demanding their full attention.
Last weekend, Krist Novoselic, Dave Grohl and producer Butch Vig gathered around the campfire to talk about Nevermind in a two hour interview that was hosted by Jon Stewart and broadcast on SiriusXM.
What does it mean to the guys now?
Grohl: "I think our lives are sort of defined by that one thing."
Before the talk ended, Novoselic noted one element that was missing from the celebration.
"I wish Kurt was here," he said somberly. "It's a big hole."
Sunday, September 18, 2011
In many respects, the 1970s were very kind to Paul Williams. His image was unforgettable: vertically challenged with a shoulder length, blond shag framing a face that hid behind ever-present, tinted, aviator glasses.
Making Johnny Carson crack up, co-hosting The Mike Douglas Show, guesting on The Love Boat, singing “Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog, picking up armloads of Grammys, cracking wise on The Hollywood Squares...Christ, he even had his own show at one point.
It wasn't all about starring in Smokey and the Bandit movies, though.
Williams had a rare gift for turning out hit songs. He scored an Oscar for "Evergreen" and five additional nominations (including one for The Muppet Movie's "Rainbow Connection") and co-wrote The Love Boat theme for the small screen. Add to this a string of pop hits like The Carpenters' "Rainy Days and Mondays", "We've Only Just Begun", and Three Dog Night's "Old Fashioned Love Song" to name only a few examples and you begin to envision a mountain of publishing royalties that could sustain a person through several comfortable lifetimes.
Then he just vanished.
Hard core drug and alcohol addiction was the lesser known side to Williams' wild ride through the seventies and eighties. Director Stephen Kessler, fascinated with the performer who was his childhood idol, had assumed that Williams had died. Turns out he was very much alive, 20 years sober after facing down his demons and very different from the slick TV stalwart whom Kessler had once adored. The director spent more than two years traveling with and filming Williams. The result?
Paul Williams Still Alive
Williams turns 71 today and is very grateful that he's around to see this film. For others who had walked the same path, this would be a posthumous exploration of their career. The documentary has earned critical praise on initial screenings and will likely renew interest in Williams' work.
Here's a recent interview with the man himself.
Sunday, September 04, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
One of the most misunderstood records that Neil Young has ever let loose on an unsuspecting public, Trans was slightly ahead of its time. He wasn’t the first artist to delve into synthetic music, although it was a jarring 180 degree turn in terms of what had come before. “Changeable Charlie” had outdone himself.
Throughout the seventies, he was at the top of his game. Capping an amazing, ten year run with Rust Never Sleeps in 1979, well-deserved critical accolades flowed from every rock scribe.
Young entered the eighties by putting out two discs that, sonically, did not stray very far from previous territory. The big difference was that both Hawks and Doves (1980) and Reactor (1981) lacked the spark that had fueled his best work. The magician clapped his hands and nothing appeared. Few were aware of the very tough personal circumstances that he and his family were facing in dealing with a special needs child. Adversity inspired the concept for his next project.
Reactor had been greeted with indifference, both critically and commercially. Young felt that his record company, Reprise, had failed to support it and had not followed through on some of his requests involving promotion.
Enter David Geffen.
Prior to his move over to Geffen Records, Neil had already begun the work for what would eventually become Trans. He actually had the carcass of another project (Island in the Sun) recorded, though it left Geffen executives unimpressed when it was offered up for a listen. Three of these tracks would be included on Trans, unchanged. Others would be stripped of the contributions made by those involved in these sessions, their parts digitally replaced.
Young often appeared as an otherworldly presence to most people, save for his close friends and family. The metallic, alien feel of electronic music was a good fit for a guy who had always been interested in the technical side of things, whether it was tied to advances in model railroad construction or the latest developments in digital recording. For the Trans tour, he played the role of robotic, new wave messenger very convincingly. Hair cropped, he stalked the stage in black, wrap-around shades with his wireless mic triggering a chilly, inhuman vox, courtesy of the Sennheiser Vocoder VSM201. All of this sailed over the heads of audiences who had not heard a note of the new disc, which wouldn’t come out until the end of that year.
Though it is thematically out of step with the rest of Trans, “Little Thing Called Love” was chosen to open and is a definite highlight. Featuring an incredibly catchy chorus, it also sports an acoustic riff following the turnaround that he would recycle a decade later as the cornerstone of the song “Harvest Moon”.
Wasting no time, he then leaps behind the wheel of the DeLorean, puts his foot down and flashes forward to a distant future that marches to the pulse of an unrelenting synclavier. Who else but Neil could have foreseen the sordid business of hacking in cyberspace and written about it in 1982? Check out "Computer Cowboy (AKA Syscrusher). There was also some prescience (and a dry wit) involved with “Sample and Hold”, which explored the possibilities of robot matchmaking. Social networking for the artificially intelligent. Who knew?
Living on the bleeding edge of technology does come with a price tag. “We R in Control” paints an austere picture of future government, structured as a cold, cyber-dictatorship.
We control the TV sky.
We control the FBI.
We control the flow of heat.
We will prevail, and
This theme has crept into works of fiction since the advent of the mechanical age, taken up in greater detail by the likes of Orwell, Rand and Huxley. Young's vision did not dwell on this warning of enslavement by grim, virtual overlords. Taking random snapshots, love still prevailed amongst the machinery. Beneath the veneer of circuitry beats a very human heart, though the back cover artwork reveals its power source to be transistors and microchips. His genius here lies in coupling raw emotion with icy data, revealing man and machine as one. Neil also saw fit to craft great melodies around his subject matter.
“Transformer Man” is one of his finest.
In context, the lyrics read as a vow to break through the communication barrier between him and his son Ben, who was born with severe cerebral palsy, which left him as quadriplegic and unable to speak.
So many things still left to do
But we haven’t made it yet…
Unlock the secrets.
Let us throw off the chains that
Hold you down.
Following the pattern that characterized much of his writing, Young’s message was carefully veiled so as to be appreciated on a universal level. As no one outside of his inner circle was informed of Ben’s condition at that time, the connection was by no means evident to the outside world.
“That’s what the record’s about… It’s the beginning of my search for a way for a non-oral person, a severely physically handicapped non-oral person, to find some sort of interface for communication… That’s what I was getting at. And that was completely misunderstood.”
Purely nostalgic reasons prompted me to dust off my copy of Trans. Would I be let down?
Not a chance.
Inexorably tied to a very happy time in my now-distant past, the sounds and smell of the vinyl transported me back to the day I had bought it. Reminded of that first time hearing the re-make of “Mr. Soul” on the radio and flipping, I had even thought it to be superior to the original version.
Since I wasn't part of the generation that shared its first joint with After the Goldrush or Harvest when they were brand new, I did not view his foray into drum machines and synthesizers as tampering with what was considered sacrosanct. That's why this effort received such a critical pasting upon issue. The artist wasn't playing to expectation and the work was dismissed offhand.
As much as I champion this album, objectively, there are a few minor deficiencies. The inclusion of the three conventional tunes dilutes the overall concept and feel. Trans may have fulfilled the promise of its cover art (depicting the mechanization of humanity) had there been a bridge between the two styles. This would have required a rethink in terms of creating a narrative to define the transition from organic instruments to a synthetic sonic landscape. Otherwise, he should have just remade the three “regular” compositions in the fashion of the other songs. "Like An Inca" would have killed in a more spacey, electronic format.
Subjectively, I still think that it stands as one of the most interesting statements he’s ever made.
So why is Trans relegated to the cut-out bin of forgotten music?
Accessibility is one major factor. To date, Trans is officially unavailable in digital format here in North America. You can order it on CD as an import, but it doesn’t come cheap.
What about classic rock radio? Wouldn’t we hear it there?
This format has lots of room for Neil Young’s music, except when it barely resembles “Neil Young”. Completely submerging all trace of his conventional style in the murky waters of digitized noise and vocoders would serve as a hindrance to garnering airplay.
With everyone doing their “singing” these days with auto-tuners and pitch correction software, it wouldn’t be a stretch to single out Trans as an influence on such developments. In truth, Neil came a bit late into this game as groups like Kraftwerk had been in the vanguard of this type of expression long before him. This was also merely one facet of Young’s complex musical persona. Within a year he would remove his techno-hat in favor of rockabilly.
From an artistic viewpoint, he is to be commended for making such a bold move at a time when many of his contemporaries had long fallen victim to creative stagnation or had simply burned out. He could have played it safe, sold a truckload of product. Long before this he had chosen to follow a career trajectory that was driven by passion rather than business interests.
Next time you're out hunting for music, if you spot a vinyl copy of Trans, buy it.
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Nothing are really something. The Ottawa based band is currently in the midst of the third round of the Big Money Shot and their new song, "Home", needs some Facebook love so that they may advance to the next round of this contest.
Live 88.5 FM has posted entries from each contestant. Please go to the link have a listen and click "like" to support their effort.
You can find out more about Nothing here.
Here's a live clip from May 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Manassas ranks as one of the nicest bonuses that came out of the CSNY implosion in the early seventies. Stephen Stills assembled a first-rate cast of musicians for this project and they gelled extremely well. No less a light than Chris Hillman was up front with Stills, providing stellar harmonies, second guitar and he was indispensible when it came to lending his blazing mandolin chops to the bluegrass tracks.
Clocking in at 70 minutes and change, your attention is required. If you are not an ADD riddled sort, then your patience will be rewarded. Stills succeeds in presenting an eclectic mix of genres under the banner of cleverly produced ‘roots rock’. His strength as an arranger is frequently highlighted and the material is decent. Stylistically, Manassas doesn’t fly off in as many directions as The White Album, though there’s enough diversity to keep things interesting.
Why then does this disc find itself in the realm of forgotten music?
For starters, there was no huge hit single to be found here ("It Doesn't Matter" should have been). The songs did not possess the big hooks that reel in casual music fans, either. This is not to say that they don't captivate the ear, it's just that the melodies are crafted to sneak up on you. Smart music often needs time to grow and take root in your brain through careful listening sessions. Another strike against this release was the record company's indifference. Atlantic had a vested interest in Crosby, Stills and Nash as they raked in staggering amounts of cash for the company. Manassas was relegated to side project status, which lowered their profile, slackening any effort put into the promotion machine.
Embarking on an extensive tour that took them around the world, the group name (and album cover) was settled while on an early stop in Virginia. Rock, bluegrass, folk, country, blues and Latin jams sound effortless in the hands of this extremely versatile crew. Highlights? "It Doesn't Matter", "The Treasure", "Johnny's Garden", "Cuban Bluegrass" and "Fallen Eagle".
They sounded great live, too, often playing three hour sets. Here's a clip from 1972 (German TV)
Bill Wyman co-wrote "The Love Gangster" and played bass on the track. Manassas is the band he reportedly said that he would have quit the Stones to join. High praise indeed.
Generally available on CD as an import, though the record can be found fairly easily, "Manassas" is the summit of Mount Everest in the Stills catalog and may be the most fully realized example of this gifted man's talents.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Very sad to hear of the passing of Dan Peek, singer/multi-instrumentalist/writer with the band America from 1970 until his departure in 1977. He wrote a number of hits for the group and continued to make music as a solo performer. Here he is, performing one of his many great tunes, "Lonely People". Peek was just 60 years old.
Monday, July 18, 2011
MOTHER NATURE HATES ROCK FESTIVALS
Bluesfest has been a premier summer music event in Ottawa since the mid nineties. This year, the lineup was quite amazing, though I did not make it to any of the shows.
Until last night.
By chance, a good friend of mine asked if I would be interested in checking out Cheap Trick, who were one of several acts closing the festival this year. I have not seen these guys live since the late 80's ("The Flame" was a surprise return to the charts for them at that time).
I was in!
We had a couple of beer and were kindly given a lift down to the site. Arriving just before the band hit the main stage, we lined up for more beverages and found a spot just as the pre-recorded intro finished. They came out strong with "Hello There" and carried on with an unexpected "Tonight It's You".
So far so good.
About 15 minutes in, an ominous, dark shadow began to creep up behind the audience. People began to point skyward and take pictures of the advancing dark clouds.
Something wicked this way comes
Sensing a heavy downpour was imminent, many of the assembled now began to turn away from the stage, pack up and leave. My buddy told me to turn around and look at the trees in the background. The wind was bending them almost to the ground. Then the mains went dead, though the band still had a monitor mix. A flock of birds was blown out of their planned flight path, toward the stage as 120 kmph winds roared past. Cheap Trick downed tools, fled the stage and thirty seconds later, disaster struck.
The stage was lifted and toppled backward in a completely chaotic and surreal scene. We were stunned, though all of us agreed to calmly find a safe spot as hail, rain and debris pelted the crowd. It is astounding that no one was killed.
I have been to hundreds of shows. This is by far the strangest and most unsettling concert experience that I have ever had. We trooped away from the site as emergency vehicles screamed toward the scene. Hitting a pub after a trek in the rain, pints were hastily ordered and consumed as we tried to make sense of the weather bomb. Not quite the evening that any of us expected, though it will be memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Western Ninja has a mid-tempo, very catchy single called "Alone In the Crowd", available now. You can check it out and download the song right here
Using a combination of classic rock grit and modern-day hedonism Western Ninja celebrate the smashed party atmosphere and bring energetic hooks. Their debut album, See You in Hell,is now available at iTunes
Using a combination of classic rock grit and modern-day hedonism Western Ninja celebrate the smashed party atmosphere and bring energetic hooks. Their debut album, See You in Hell,is now available at iTunes
Friday, July 08, 2011
NOTES FROM SAN FRANCISCO
One of the great mysteries in life is how one person can be blessed with copious amounts of talent and not be a superstar, while those who are comparatively lightweight in this respect become world famous. Such is the case with the late Rory Gallagher. His career trajectory aligned with rise to prominence of some of the greatest guitarists of the sixties (Hendrix, Clapton, Page and Beck) so it’s understandable that he may have been somewhat overshadowed in such company.
Musicians have long been singing his praises. He maintained a very devoted fan base who snapped up his recordings and went out of their way to see him shred in person. To the delight of his followers, a long buried treasure has been unearthed and made available recently. These fabled sessions began in 1977, with Rory set to record with producer Elliot Mazer. At the end of a year-long world tour, and without so much as a couple of days off in between, Gallagher and his solo band arrived at Mazer’s studio in San Francisco to begin work on the album which he hoped would capture some of the American musical spirit that he so admired.
Departing from his usual approach, Gallagher conceded to augmenting the core instruments with what would be, for him, surfeit layers of sound. He voiced his dissatisfaction with certain elements of the mix. His brother, Donal, takes it up from here:
“Rory wasn’t really happy with where the album was going. After Christmas, Rory and I returned to San Francisco to do another set of mixes. But remix after remix, there was something radically wrong, in Rory’s view. He just wasn’t happy. So by mid-January 1978, he decided he wasn’t going to go through with it.”
Mazer, no stranger to completing recording projects that would ultimately be shelved (Neil Young’s “Homegrown” LP) watched another one slip by.
Upon his decision that the disc would not be issued, Rory then broke up his band of five years and quickly turned his attention toward a new project. In 1992, he implied that this work would only see the light of day only if all of the tracks could be remixed.
Fast forward to 2011 and the release of “Notes From San Francisco”, which not only gives fans of the late guitar genius the “lost” album but also includes a second, live CD taken from four gigs in 1979 at San Francisco’s The Old Waldorf.
Far from being a collection of outtakes that have been rushed to the marketplace for a quick buck, this is a solid, cohesive set. All that was needed was a fresh set of ears to listen and undertake new mixes of the completed material. Gentle surprises come in the form of "Wheels Within Wheels", an acoustic based piece with very tasteful electric overlays and "Fuel to the Fire" which boasts a stunning solo. Elsewhere, he swings wildly with big overdubs that hit hard ("B Girl"), stinging boogie riffs ("Çruise On Out") and what amounts to a tougher edged Stones vibe (circa Exile on Main Street) complete with horns ("Rue the Day"). All are on target, while showcasing the nimble playing of his band.
As for the bonus live disc, expect no less than a masterclass in guitar technique, with devastatingly tight performances being the rule and not the exception.
This is one of the most satisfying "from the vault" releases that I have heard in a long time. If you are a fan of his work, this will not disappoint. Notes From San Francisco is also sure to attract new and willing converts to his existing army of admirers.
Check out more here
Sunday, June 12, 2011
NAME IT WHAT YOU WANT
Fusing the musical head and heart is always a delicate balancing act. Some artists overreach, straying too far into the intellectual ether, losing that precious connection with a wider listening audience.
Tristan Clopet's songwriting recipe perfectly combines clever subject matter with melodic hooks, making each note count and delivering something that can be universally enjoyed. Eclecticism is the key element that will bring you back to this disc for repeated spins. Lots of great chances are taken, exotic instruments employed, yet all remains focused and in context.
There is one attribute that separates this guy from many of his contemporaries:
Expressive, capable of hitting soaring heights, though never deployed in a way that is over the top (unnecessary showing off, over-extending notes), Clopet's vocals need no assistance from the bland pitch-correction devices that are now so ubiquitous on the pop landscape. Influences can be detected, though he has synthesized them into a style that is his alone. Topping this, his skills as a writer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist are formidable.
There are so many high points in the ten songs that comprise Name it What You Want, that it is tough to pick just one or two. "A Summer in Sussex" kicks off the album in an uptempo fashion with scatter-shot, slightly stream of conscious wordplay, shifting gears toward the finish. The one-two punch in sequencing lands the brilliant "A Chat With My Brain" next, which was a wise choice for the taster single that preceded this set.
The intro alone to "Toutes Directions" is enough to make you want to hand over a vital organ just to claim part ownership of its construction. Don't let that stop you from enjoying the rest of it, though. Tight, funky guitar riffs intermingle with an inventive piano part that will echo in your head for days.
All before the first verse even begins.
Instances of interesting arranging tricks abound, there's a particularly inspired break that uses a rush of strings in "An Introduction...To Forward Thinking" which seamlessly flows into the guitar solo. These nuances serve to enhance the listening experience. One of the most ambitious pieces found here is the closer, "The 4:45 Through Remembrance". Threading several ideas through a very haunting four minutes of music, this stunner comes across with the swagger of a mini-epic, complete with atmospheric vibraphone and a fluent, classical piano flourish midway through.
"Ladies and gents, we've reached our final destination."
This is very mature work, mixing introspection with exuberance. All ten tracks are stellar. Worthy of note: It's very exciting to hear a new artist with a vision for their output that supersedes the notion that it's merely empty "product" to be consumed and tossed aside. The praise which I have heaped upon this record may seem over-effusive- until you listen to it. Every superlative is well deserved. This is music that you'll be able to enjoy today, twenty years on and beyond. Name It What You Want? Brilliant Debut.
Right now, Tristan Clopet and his band are touring, spreading the word and bringing these songs to life on stage. You can find out where he's heading next right here
Masterfully produced by Raymond Richards, Name It What You Want is available now
Tuesday, June 07, 2011
Every dream has a soundtrack...
With soaring, extraordinary music, THIS TIME takes you from the streets of South Central Los Angeles to New York’s Park Avenue on a unique musical journey in this uplifting story. The musicians are legendary recording artists, The Sweet Inspirations
Myrna Smith, Estelle Brown and Portia Griffin
Somewhere in the world, The Sweet Inspirations are being played on the radio at this very moment. The Sweets were background session singers on dozens and dozens of hit records and albums, including among others: “A Natural Woman”, “Spanish Harlem”, “Chain Of Fools”, “Don’t Play That Song” (Aretha Franklin), “Moondance” (Van Morrison), “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again”, “Alfie”, “I Say a Little Prayer”, “Don’t Make Me Over” (Dionne Warwick), “Son Of A Preacher Man” (Dusty Springfield), as well as singing with Jimi Hendrix, Nina Simone, The Drifters, Wilson Pickett, Luther Vandross and backing-up Elvis Presley in concert and recordings throughout the last eight years of his life. Perhaps the most famous back-up group in history, The Sweet Inspirations were also solo artists with seven albums on Atlantic, Stax and RSO Records from 1967 – 79. Originally from Newark, New Jersey and members of the New Hope Baptist Church, Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney Houston, and aunt of Dee Dee Warwick and Dionne Warwick) was the first member of The Sweets. Sylvia Shemwell then joined the group and the girls quickly found their way onto records with the likes of Wilson Pickett, Garnet Mimms and Aretha Franklin, who was then struggling to make a name at Columbia Records. In 1965, Myrna Smith (also from New Hope Baptist Church) and Estelle Brown (from Harlem) came in to form the line-up most remembered today. In late 1969 the group underwent some radical changes. Cissy Houston left the group in order to pursue a solo career. After the death of Elvis, The Sweet Inspirations recorded one more album on the RSO label in 1979, then retiring for a period before re-emerging in 1994 to perform worldwide in Elvis Presley tribute concerts including “Elvis - The Concert”. In 1996, Portia Griffin joined the group as lead singer and in 2002 they began recording a new album, IN THE RIGHT PLACE, with producer / composer Peitor Angell on Frixion Records, as documented in THIS TIME. Their first single off the album, “Celebration” reached #32 on the Billboard Club Chart.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
The early 70s brought softer sounds to the airwaves. Crosby, Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and a host of other singers armed with acoustic guitars provided a mellow landing pad for many listeners. When CSNY imploded in a tangle of ego, substance abuse and solo efforts, America took up their sonic blueprint. Moving forward with great melodies, three part harmonies from heaven and a memorable first single ("Horse With No Name") Bunnell, Beckley and Peek arrived at number one right out of the gate.
Still in the afterglow of their successful debut, they set to work to prove that they were not one-hit, Neil Young clones. Riding that momentum, their sophomore disc was issued in late 1972 delivering ten pop confections that expanded upon the sound of this often underrated trio.
Homecoming opens with one of their best ever offerings. That silky, harmonized acoustic riff announcing "Ventura Highway" is signature and high marks are awarded for the arrangement. The tight vocal blend caps a very impressive tune, courtesy of Dewey Bunnell.
Taken as a whole, this disc is a chocolate sundae with all of the trimmings. All ten songs have something special that pull the listener in. The ones that really stand out for me are "Cornwall Blank" and "California Revisited", which both feature extended instrumental passages in their outros and serve to illustrate that Bunnell and Peek took their compositions in oblique, yet engaging, directions.
Beckley, on the other hand, seems content with being the Paul McCartney of the group, bringing great pop sensibility to his offerings of which the highlights are "To Each His Own" and "Only In Your Heart". Melodic, piano driven and pretty easy on the ears, these songs would garner a fair amount of airplay.
Augmenting the trio were a number of studio pros, most notably Hal Blaine on drums who was part of the famed "Wrecking Crew". They played on many of the sessions that produced countless hits in the 1960's. Impeccable playing on everyone's part brings additional strength to the record, which also boasts high production values.
Objections remain in the fact that, with some exceptions, their lyrics were not always that strong (case in point being "Til the Sun Comes Up Again"). America also took some stick for sounding like CSN (and sometimes Y) junior. That aside, the group counters such criticism on Homecoming by delivering a consistently satisfying set of songs. It stands up well today on the basis of inventive musical motifs and peerless vocal harmonies. Music that conjures up images of a sunny afternoon, cooler full of beer and no commitments, it is quite possibly the best album that they ever made.
Monday, May 23, 2011
The new CD 'Survival & Other Stories' by legendary vocalist/writer Jon Anderson features eleven songs that chronicle love, life, understanding, healing and survival.
One of the most recognizable voices in music, Anderson, best known for his work with Yes, Vangelis, Kitaro and other notable music artists, is preparing to release one of the most highly anticipated albums of the year, 'Survival & Other Stories'. Jon's new CD has an inspirational message for all who will listen.
“About four years ago I just put in an ad on my website: 'Musicians Wanted'... This is the result. Writing the songs for 'Survival & Other Stories' was uplifting for me on many levels. I was working with musicians from around the world via the internet. It's a new world and music is a healing energy. I had a tough 2008, due to illness and the music that I've been writing since is a celebration of life on many levels...I hope you get the chance to hear the album..Big Love..Jon."
Survival & Other Stories' is the first of three planned releases from the artist over the next two years.
Jon recently completed a successful east coast tour of the US, “An Acoustic Evening With Jon Anderson”, showcasing an exciting mixture of material from his solo career, collaborations with Vangelis and classic Yes songs, along with compositions from his new CD 'Survival & Other Stories'. Jon will be performing select shows throughout this summer in the US and Canada. For tour dates visit here
Jon Anderson 'Survival & Other Stories' available soon through Voiceprint Records.