Archive for the ‘Record Reviews’ Category

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.

Taking The Midland Line

Friday, May 25th, 2018

I’ve recently covered some great country pop albums by the ladies, so now it’s the turn of the gentlemen. On the recommendation of Jason Brewer of the Explorer’s Club, I explored Midland’s debut album On The Rocks, and I’m impressed. Ostensibly neo-traditionalist country, it is full of catchy and melodic songs that transcend the country genre and move into great pop music.  There are a lot of really strong songs here, but Drinkin’ Problem, Burn Out and Electric Rodeo are some of the standouts.

Darling Music

Monday, May 7th, 2018

They say good things come in threes, so here is a third great pop album from a country lady. This one is a bit older than the Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe records, but it has recently come to my attention. While the title says Dream Country, there is actually quite a wide range of pop styles, with some classic songwriting on tracks like the gorgeous romantic Montmarte, the classic Where Cowboys Ride and a cover of the Smiths Please Please Let Me Get What I Want.  You can order this great record here on her webpage.

Monroe Suede

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Like London buses, one good country pop album follows another. Three weeks after the release of Golden Hour comes Ashley Monroe’s new record, Sparrow. Monroe has always been on the neo-traditional side of country music, but here the tradition extends to the countrypolitan sound of Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb. The album is clearly personal, much of it written while she was pregnant with her first son, with titles like She Wakes Me Up and Daddy I Told You. As with Golden Hour, there are even forays into a more disco sound on Hard On A Heart, and the album still has a sultry core with songs like Wild Love and Hands On You. Good pop music may not be topping the world charts, but it is still around, courtesy of these country ladies.

50 Years Undead

Thursday, April 19th, 2018

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a cult album released by a group that had already broken up. But the album has proved as “undead” as the group’s namesakes, and still growing in stature as a pioneering work. Here is my review of the album from 2007 with some corrections of text garbled by WordPress updates, and in the context of a series of reviews post the 40th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper.

 With Sgt. Pepper still on our minds, I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at some late 60s albums that were conceived with the same principles in mind such as classy pop songs,  harmonies, a sense more than substance of a unifying theme,  and some hints of psychedelia. The next three album reviews are what I will call the three “Os” -three album titles that begin with O that I believe meet the above criteria. Maybe you can start guessing what the next two will be…..

The first one is a true “cult” album, Odessey And Oracle (and yes, that Odessey is a typo by the record company that has never been corrected) by the Zombies. The story of the album seems almost like one of those scenarios that they could make a blockbuster movie…band on the verging of breaking up make one final classic album, album sinks without trace due to no publicity in 1968,  DJ starts playing a track a year later that becomes a big hit and pop standard, and the album gains cult status and critical acclaim over the years.

The big hit is Time Of The Season, which readers should know. It is a classic slice of 60s pop rock with a fantastic riff and harmonies, and it more than deserves its “standard” status.  But it is in illustrious company, as the album clearly shows a band that shows it has nothing to lose and is prepared to take chances and a lot of care over the songs.

The music is sophisticated, harmonic pop, with slightly jazzy arrangements tinged by the use of a Mellotron, which should definitely appeal to fans of both the Beatles and Beach Boys. Lyrically, there is some very interesting ground covered – most notably in the very personal war experience song, Butcher’s Tale (Western Front 1914). As with Pepper, there isn’t really a unifying theme, but the songs do feel like they belong together. And bits of it were recorded at Abbey Road studios.

My personal favorite song on the album is Hung Up On A Dream, an evocative journey through a “a dream…that gave me peace and blew my mind” that includes some stunning melodic and harmonic moments.

Some more good background can be seen on the Wikipedia article, and it is still very readily available on-line.  This is certainly an absolute must for 60s pop fans and anyone serious about having a complete collection of the great pop and rock albums.