Archive for the ‘Record Reviews’ Category

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.

Country Rebel Makes Perfect Pop Shocker

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Kacey Musgraves  is known as something of a country rebel, and she certainly isn’t in the conventional Nashville mould, but her latest album is very much a conventionally great pop record. Golden Hour may be closer genre-wise to country than anything else, but the great songwriting hearkens to classic American songbook. The occasional uptempo hoedowns of her earlier work are replaced more mid-tempo pop sensibilities -with occasional nods to the dancefloor, especially on High Horse but always ensuring great melodies and real musical instruments dominate. The overall mood is a lot more positive and romantic than earlier works, linked to singer’s recent marriage, but hints of the rebelliousness and previous disappointments still linger.

Everything here is very listenable, with some noteworthy tracks being the beautiful Butterlies, played at my own wedding, the pop perfection of Space Cowboy and the lovely title track which hearkens to both a past nostalgic utopia and a future where great songwriting would be appreciated as much as in the golden eras of pop. We live in a world on edge, but Kacey Musgraves has made the world a much better place to live in.

The Beach Boys Christmas Surprise

Monday, December 18th, 2017

Exactly 3 months after the belated Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys released another album just a week before Christmas. It wasn’t a seasonal album but a collection of all-new songs that saw the band move from psychedelia and complexity to simplicity and basic R&B. It was also released just a few days before I was born, so as Wild Honey celebrates its 50th birthday, it will be last Beach Boys album featured in my 50 anniversary posts that is older than me.

After the trauma of the scrapping of SMiLE and the critical and public befuddlement at the “odd” Smiley Smile, the Beach Boys clearly needed to take another direction. However, coming so soon after Smiley Smile, this new album direction was released to a public that, in the USA, at least, was already indifferent to the Beach Boys.

The new direction took the “back to basics” element of Smiley Smile and added the boogie-woogie feel that Brian and his family had grown up. The result is a spirited, up-tempo album that still hinted at the melodic genius of Brian. It was also an album for Brian to “cool out” to, in Carl’s words, after the traumas of 1967, although as with all the albums in the immediate wake of the SMiLE sessions, there is still a connection to the material from those sessions in Mama Says, a fragment of Vegatables abandoned for Smiley Smile. Brian is, from a composers point of view, still very involved, although How She Boogalooed It is the first original non-instrumental track put out by the band not written by Brian.

Individual track highlights include Aren’t You Glad which hints at Bacharach, the beautiful, soulful Let The Wind Blow and Darlin’ which is a retread of the earlier tune Thinking About You Baby but features a fantastic Carl vocal and great production.

The rest of the songs all fit in well to the overall mood of the album, but the fact the harmonies, production and tunes are not all top-drawer prevents this album from being right at the top of the Beach Boys pile. Having said that, this is still a vastly underrated album that gives many other much more vaunted works of 1967 a good run for their money in the quality stakes, and this year’s release of Sunshine Tomorrow and the rich body of the band’s work at this time has helped with the critical re-appraisal of the record.

Indeed, the fact that 1968 releases from the Stones, Dylan and the Beatles reflected a “back to basics” ethos may indicate that Wild Honey was ahead of its time. While there were probably many other factors in these 1968 releases going in that direction, it is hard to believe that Wild Honey had absolutely no influence on this direction, even given the Beach Boys’ diminished “hipness” as that stage. Once again, the band put out a work ahead of its time, and for all times.

Roll Up, Roll Up

Monday, November 27th, 2017

TheBeatlesMagicalMysteryTouralbumcover.jpg Last week, my income tax website reminded me that it was the 50th anniversary of the release of the Magical Mystery Tour. They seemed to have jumped the gun a bit, as the American LP was released 50 years ago today, on 27 November 1967, and the UK Double EP 11 days later. But as the only American “reconfiguration” that is now part of official Beatles canon, it is an anniversary worth celebrating.

The American album includes the remainder of the Beatles official 1967 output not on Sgt. Pepper including the six songs from the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack and five A and B sides from the three singles that year (I Am The Walrus from the soundtrack served as the B side of Hello Goodbye). And while it is definitely a lesser of Sgt. Pepper in terms of broader cultural impact, there are definitely some arguments that it is at least a musical equal. Few will argue the merits of Strawberry Fields Forever, Penny Lane and I Am The Walrus, but even the “filler” such as Baby You’re A Rich Man and Blue Jay Way can be re-assessed as the some of most underrated Beatles songs.

50 Years Again

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

BuffaloSpringfieldBuffaloSpringfieldAgain.jpg

Buffalo Springfield are a legendary group -not just for the musicians that came out of the group, but also for their music itself. This is best exemplified by their second album which celebrates is 50th today. While it is a cohesive musical statement, the individual members were already going in their own directions. Niel Young rocks out on Mr Soul, while Expecting To Fly and Broken Arrow are orchestral early Young classics- Broken Arrow’s disillusionment still resonating 50 years later. Stephen Stills contributions are more conventional rock, with Bluebird and Rock And Roll Woman regarded as classics, while Richard Furay contributes his first songs – Sad Memory is a beautiful ballad while A Child’s Claim To Fame is another beacon on the road to county rock. This may not be everyone’s first answer to classic records of 1967, but it makes most best albums lists,   and 50 years later, warrants repeat listens.

Changing 50 Years On

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

Image result for forever changes Since 1967 predates the internet, let alone Facebook, the exact release date of Forever Changes seems to have been lost in the sands of time. But evidence seems to point to early November 1967, so this does seem an appropriate time to celebrate 50 years of one of the best records ever released. Love’s masterpiece may not have burned up the charts, but in 2017 the record that focused on the flipside of the hippie dream seems more poignant than ever.

Indeed, at a time that many of the 1967 hippies may well have voted for greater division, the sense of paranoia and doom exhibited on tracks like The Red Telephone and A House Is Not A Motel seem a bit more relevant than many sentiments on Sergeant Pepper or wearing flowers in your hair. Not to mention the utter brilliance of Alone Again Or, Maybe The People Would Be The Times Or Between Clark And Hilldale and You Set The Scene. \


There was a lot of great music in 1967, much of which remains fresh in 2017. But Forever Changes may well the album that resonates most fifty years on.

Playing Back 30 Years

Monday, September 25th, 2017

If you ignore the release of the Caroline No single under the name of Brian Wilson, the first solo Brian record was released30 years ago, namely the Let’s Go To Heaven In My Car single. That means that for more than half his musical career, Brian has been predominantly a solo artist with only the occasional work done with his old band. In that respect, a compilation is overdue. Given the quality of his often under-estimated solo work, it is a also rather good.

One can always quibble over the song selection (one song from Lucky Old Sun would be my main one) , but Playback does provide a fair selection of the last 30 years, including his greatest solo triumph, the completion of SMiLE. But aside from the two SMiLE tracks and the cover of Colors Of The Wind, the compilation does showcase 15 Brian Wilson compositions from the solo years.

Serious fans will know the 16 previously released tracks and will know from this blog my praise for songs such as Midnight’s Another Day, The Like In I Love You Melt Away and Lay Down Burden.  Serious fans will probably even know one of the “new” tracks, Some Sweet Day, a highlight from the 90s Paley sessions, finally seeing legitimate release and good sound quality. The one really new track is Run James Run, which hearkens back to the classic early Beach Boys sound with some wonderful harmonies, and continues to remind us that we almost certainly haven’t heard the last great Brian Wilson song.

An Odd Smile

Monday, September 18th, 2017

Today is the 50th anniversary of the release of Smiley Smile – more than 16 months after Pet Sounds, which would be seen as productive these days, but was an eternity in the mid 60s. And a lot has happened since I posted on the 50th anniversary of Pet Sounds in May last year.

Ah..Smiley Smile, the album released during the “Summer Of Love” in 1967 that befuddled a generation, changed the commercial and critical perception of the Beach Boys, and now survives as a minor cult classic. What can one say about this unusual album which sounds nothing like the Beach Boys, or any other group, released before or since. “Barbershop on acid” may be one description, but one really has to hear this record to believe it.
Smiley Smile shares a similar name, and at least five songs with the abandoned SMiLE album that you can read about here. Indeed much of the music was probably conceived at some stage during the SMiLE sessions, but aside from Good Vibrations and parts of Heroes And Villains, was completely re-recorded in Brian’s home studio.

There is a “stoned” feel that permeates much of the album, but there is also a wide variety of styles. The slick production of Good Vibrations also doesn’t sit well with the homespun feel of much of the remaining material. Quality is also a mixed bag…Little Pad and With Me Tonight have strong tunes beneath the goofiness, the alternative Wind Chimes is spooky but fascinating, but the bizarre approach to Wonderful doesn’t work when contrasted with the SMiLE versions.

As David Leaf noted, the progression from Surfin’ Safari to Pet Sounds was stopped with this album which seemed to go in a direction that no-one predicted or understood. This album must take some of the blame for the loss of critical and commercial appeal that blighted the Beach Boys in the late 60s and early 70s, and prevented the strong albums that followed this one becoming succesful in their own time. It also seems bizarre that the band approved this release when seeming to resist the groundbreaking, but surely more conventional album that SMiLE surely would have been had it been released in 1967.

Even so, an album with Good Vibrations,Heroes And Villains and some great harmonies and a sense humor is still better than average. Smiley Smile will befuddle you, but over time, you may well learn to love much of it.