Archive for the ‘Record Reviews’ Category

Three’s Very Charming

Saturday, April 6th, 2019

5o years ago, Scott Walker was close to the top of the album with his third solo album. Indeed, his first three solo albums, while not imaginatively titled, all made top 3 in the album charts, with Scott 2 reaching the peak in era where the charts were dominated by the Beatles, Stones, Dylan and The Sound Of Music. This was followed by Scott 3, released in March 1969, and reaching number 3 in the charts in April that year.

Scott 4 may be the cult favorite, but Scott 3 is a close contender for Scott’s best album, with 10 new Walker compositions, featuring breathtaking orchestral arrangements, lovely melodies and bittersweet lyrics. It’s Raining Again is often seen as Scott’s signature composition, while Copenhagen, Rosemary, Big Louise and Two Weeks Since You’ve Been Gone are all shimmeringly beautiful. We Came Through and 30th Century Man see a bit of a change of pace and style. The album ends with three Jacques Brel songs, which could be seen as an afterthought, but try not to be moved by Scott’s interpretation of If You Go Away.

This album may seem far away from Scott’s “difficult” later music, but the contrasts between beauty and horror are still there, even if lovingly suger-coated throughout. If you want Scott at his most beautiful, yet still challenging, three is definitely your number.

 

The Beach Boys “White” Album

Sunday, February 10th, 2019

This post is a week later than the actually anniversary, but thanks to WordPress’s ability to change time, the posting date reflects the exact 50th anniversary of 20/20

This album can be seen as the Beach Boys’ White Album in that it has a wide variety of styles from the raucous rock of All I Want To Do to the gentle music box instrumental, The Nearest Faraway Place. It also shares a creepy Charles Manson connection in that it is almost certain that Manson had a hand in writing some of Dennis’s contributions to the album, in particular Never Learn Not o Love.

More significantly, this is the first Beach Boys’ album that is not dominated by Brian Wilson compositions. Brian’s lack of contribution is somewhat masked by the conclusion of two SMiLE pieces making their first vinyl release, Cabinessence and Our Prayer. Aside from that, Brian’s contributions are limited to the brilliant trilogy Do It Again, I Went To Sleep and Time To Get Alone, as well as producing the cover version of Cotton Fields. The rest of the band fill the breach, a feature of the 1969-71 period, and even more pronounced on the next album Sunflower, with Carl’s production of I Can Hear Music and Dennis’s Be With Me being most noteworthy. Bruce’s instrumental The Nearest Faraway Place is also particularly atmospheric and invokes a haven of peace in a chaotic era.

All in all, there is a sense of brilliant songs, but with a whole not quite being the sum of the parts, given the varying sources of the material.Regardless 20/20 is another very good album in a terribly underrated era of the band’s music.

Double 1968 Bounty

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

Beach Boys fans have been used to Christmas presents for the past few years, with various “copyright  extension” releases coming out in the past few years. There have been rumors of various releases relating to 1968, but in a few days, two separate digital albums were announced and immediately released on 7 December, a Christmas bounty of note.

Wake The World: The Friends Sessions (32 tracks) and I Can Hear Music: The 20/20 Sessions (40 tracks) is a massive outpouring of unreleased 1968 music – a year that saw the band release Friends and record 20/20,  which was released early 1969. It was at a point that Brian was retreating and Dennis was entering his greatest creative period- yet the Friends  collection contains a number of unreleased tracks by Brian, and even his contribution on the 20/20 set is a decent proportion of the total output.  Dennis comes into his own as a contributor on 20/20,  although the dark shadow of Charles Manson and the general madness of the era does lurk a bit in some of Dennis’s work.

The material came out a few days ago, so there isn’t time to digest everything, but a few listens reinforce my view that the 1967-1971 (Smiley Smile to Surf’s Up) was one of the most underrated of eras of any band – far from being burned out from the failure of SMiLE, Brian could have completed three or four albums on his own during that time. And it’s another happy Christmas for Beach Boys fans.

 

50 Years, 30 Directions

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

Almost eighteen months after Sgt.Pepper ( a gap longer than Pet Sounds to Smiley Smile), the Beatles released their next album, simply called The Beatles, in plane white packaging. It was the single biggest outburst of new Beatles music; 30 unheard tracks, none released on a prior single or available for early listening on Spotify…

The title and white packaging may indicate a move towards simplicity and group harmony. There was certainly a move away from the psychedelia of 1967, but in about 30 different directions. We got the softest side of the Beatles (Goodnight, Honey Pie) at the same time as the hardest (Helter Skelter, Yer Blues), the weirdest (Revolution 9) alongside straightforward rock and pop. It’s unlikely you will love all 30 tracks, or even want to listen to some of them again, but it’s also very possible that some of your favorite Beatles songs, if not your favorite songs of all time, are part of this album.

And now the White Album is exactly 50 years old, and tearing up the charts again,courtesy of a comprehensive 50 year anniversary release, showcasing the legendary Esher demos plus a lot more on the deluxe editions. The Esher demos demonstrate that John, Paul and George were not short of inspiration after Rishikesh. George, in particular, was starting entering his composing high-point, where one song per side of a Beatles record would not accommodate his brilliant creativity –Long Long Long is probably my favorite “unknown” Beatles song.

Indeed, the White Album sessions in retrospect indicated the beginning of the end for the Beatles as a group, and the white color is pretty much the only unifying theme of the album. The brilliance is very much there, but there is a sense of disunity and division, which is very much a theme of our 2018 world. We can’t run away from this reality, but we can temporarily forget about it in the brilliance of this album, or at least the parts that reflect our own musical idyll.

First Blood

Saturday, November 10th, 2018

Yesterday saw the 50th anniversary re-release of the White Album, and there will be more on that on this blog in due course.  But another classic album has just given the “official bootleg” treatment, and it is my favorite Dylan album Blood On The Tracks.

More Blood, More Tracks may sound like a death metal record, but the heart of the collection is a disc of early takes of the entire album plus Up To Me, which reflects a stripped down alternative version of the classic album. Blood On The Tracks was always a fairly acoustic album, but this alternative version is more like Blood On The Tracks..naked, with just Dylan, his guitar and harmonica.

The anger of Idiot Wind is replaced by a more world-weary resignation, but the album shows that the song were fully-formed and brilliant from the start, with an interesting twist to the track order, including a strong finish with Idiot Wind, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go and Up To Me, with the final track providing a more a downbeat finish than the slightly more optimistic Buckets Of Rain. The original album is in my views Dylan’s most “perfect” album, but this is a very interesting alternative take on one of the all-time classic records.

Eddy, Back At Last (Detail)

Sunday, November 4th, 2018

In the first half of the naughties, A Girl Called Eddy (Erin Moran) delighted with us with her eponymous debut album,  plus a few EPs and singles. Then, for 10 years, nothing. In 2014, there were a few guest vocals on a Gramercy Arms album, and the first rumblings of a follow-up album. But nothing concrete until this year- and specifically the release of The Last Detail album.

The Last Detail is Erin Moran and Mehdi Zannad from Fugu. It is a collaborative album, but on Fun Fair, You’re Not Mine, Fairweather Friend, Talk To Me and Lazy, it feels like a reunion with an old, dear friend that you haven’t seen for almost 15 years. The romantic, world-weary vocals accompanied with breathtaking melodies are all there, and that alone is worth the price of admission. But the contributions from the other half of the band are also noteworthy, especially the gorgeous pop tunes Places and Trust Your Buddy. The final track, Photographs, is a fitting seasonal closer, and the only real duet on a great album.

But…that isn’t all. Eddy is now promising her second solo album early in 2019, a few months after this wonderful release. It’s not so much London buses, but it feels like a long-lost, beloved railway branch line now has a full service of regular trains. Thank-you A Girl Called Eddy (and Mehdi Zannad), for making a weary world suddenly a better place.

Weller Country

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Late 1967 and 1968 saw many artists move in a simpler, more pastoral direction (think Friends, John Wesley Harding, Sweetheart of the Rodeo). 50 years later, Paul Weller has also moved in this direction with True Meanings. Weller, who has just turned 60, has been prolific , with six albums in the last 10 years, including last year’s A Kind Revolution. All of these recent records have been well-received, with Weller’s willingness to experiment and innovate earning favor with the critics and the public.

True Meanings may be something of a musical retreat to an acoustic, lightly orchestrated sound, but in the mayhem in 2018, this is no bad thing, especially when there are such gorgeous melodies among the fourteen tracks. All of the songs are well-crafted, but standouts include Aspects, Books and What Would He Say?

An Important Trip To The Country

Thursday, August 30th, 2018

Today another important album turns 50 – Sweetheart Of The Rodeo was a commercial failure with a mixed critical reception, but is now regarded as the first country-rock album and a major milestone in the ever-expanding palate of pop and rock in 1968.

The Sweetheart Of The Rodeo Byrds were a very different group to the band that popularized folk rock and took Mr. Tambourine Man to number one. Only Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman remained from the original band, while the iconic Gram Parsons was an important addition to the band.

The two Dylan songs were a link to the past, but these were two unheard Dylan songs from the Basement Tapes sessions, done in traditional country style alongside two Parsons originals plus seven older and newer country standards. While Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere and Parsons Hickory Wind are probably the standouts, especially in terms of the original music, it is the overall countrified sound across all the songs that makes the album an important listen throughout.

On release, the album managed to alienate both rock fans, who didn’t like the traditional country and possibly even the traditional values espoused by The Christian Life and some other songs, as well as country fans who didn’t like the idea of the long-haired hippies doing their music. 50 years later, the union of rock and country has inspired many an artist, and showed us that building bridges across differences is a lot better than building walls.

 

The Friends That Stay A Long Time

Sunday, June 24th, 2018

The hippie dream may seem long dead in the divided 2018 world, but it started unraveling in the chaos of 1968. And so 50 years ago today, the Beach Boys sent Friends out into a rock universe that was heading into harder, edgier territory. Seemingly at odds with Revolution, Street Fighting Man and Sympathy With The Devil and ignored chartwise, at least in the States, this album can almost be seen as the first “new age” album and has now become something of a minor cult classic.

However, if one moves away from the historical context of this album, one can also see it as an album celebrating what the Beach Boys do best- beautiful songs, beautiful harmonies. Another noteworthy feature is the emergence of Dennis Wilson as a songwriter- Be Still and Little Bird are his first serious songwriting contributions and neither disgrace this album. Brian Wilson is still very involved, at least co-credited on the remaining ten tracks and apparently uncredited as a part-writer on Little Bird. The Wilson brothers provide a thematic unity throughout the album of peaceful music, celebrating the simple joys of life, although this is shattered somewhat by Transcendental Meditation, the album closer and weak spot of the album. The remaining eleven tracks – while not absolute classics in themselves -work well together to ensure a quality album.

Friends remains an impressive achievement, and a definite refutation of any theory that great Beach Boys music ended with the 1967 demise of SMiLE. Sometimes simpler is better.

At The Philharmonic

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

It’s easy to knock the new Beach Boys album as a cash-in that quickly repackages known songs to make more money. But given the renewed chart interest that seems to have been created by the record, there is certainly no harm in getting Brian Wilson music known to a potentially new audience -and for that reason alone, this record is worthwhile.

As a record, the orchestral overdubs have mixed results -working better on the slower songs with less production like In My Room and Disney Girls. The up-tempo tracks feel a bit disco-fied, while the orchestral overdubs feel superfluous on the Pet Sounds/SMiLE tracks. A bonus is the opener California Suite, which while not a Brian composition, does invoke Brian’s melodic vision.

For completists, this may be the 50+ version of many of these songs. But if a few more people understand Brian’s genius via this record, then it is worthwhile.