Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

Friday, 12 August 2011

Claude Debussy - 3 SONATAS / SYRINX

This album is a collection of Debussy's three Sonatas (recorded 1962 - 1966) and the short solo-flute composition 'Syrinx' (1913). Among Debussy's final works, the Sonatas were first performed between 1915 and 1917, and stand as three of his most memorable and majestic compositions. The Flute Viola and Harp Sonata is a composition for a Chamber trio, whilst the Violin and Cello Sonatas are duets with piano. For their length and small arrangements, they might be mistaken for minor works, however in their majesty and sensitivity they are the culmination of a life's work; if not in scale, then in expressive power. Their loose, organic composition allows a great deal of interpretation for performers. Especially on the Cello Sonata, each musical phrase has the intricate possibilities of a verbal utterance. I have heard weaker recorded performances in which the performers saw away as if to a click track, dampening how spontaneous and alive the composition is. This recording is especially worthy of praise for the aborial, contemplative recording of Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp; the sonata which features the most satisfying complexity of interaction. Part III's tilting built and overflowing energy at 2:30-3:20 is executed with perfect, controlled asperity. @320

(R.I.P. Singer Saints, to whom credit belongs)


1. Violin Sonata in G minor: I. Allegro vivo
2. Violin Sonata in G minor: II. Intermede (Fantasque et leger)
3. Violin Sonata in G minor: III. Finale (Tres anime)
4. Cello Sonata in D minor: I. Prologue (Lent)
5. Cello Sonata in D minor: II. Seranade (Moderement anime)
6. Cello Sonata in D minor: III. Finale (Anime)
7. Syrinx for Unaccompanied Flute
8. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: I. Pastorale (Lento, dolce rubato)
9. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: II. Interlude (Tempo di menuetto)
10. Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp: III. Finale (Allegro moderato ma resoluto)

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Beach Boys - LOVE YOU (1977)

If I played this album for someone I could never confidently expect an appreciative reaction. Even to a long-time convert like myself, the risibly cheesy lyrics and melodies still sound strange. It's appeal is difficult to describe to the skeptical... It certainly isn't anything to do with kitsch or irony. It might always be a puzzle to me why I revere it as highly as Pet Sounds or Surf's Up

Along with the stopgap release 15 Big Ones (1976) before it, this album bucks a trend of developing aesthetic maturity in the Beach Boys discography
. Dennis and Carl had grown considerably in significance in the years 1968-1973, and new members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplain, for their short time as Beach Boys on the consecutive albums 'Carl and The Passions: So Tough' and 'Holland', brought some refreshing hipness to the band's woefully unfunky sound. Owing more to Neil Young than Brian Wilson, 'Holland' (1973) stands as a true classic, but the public remained indifferent. Now that Brian was largely absent from their output, they were contemporaneously viewed as has-beens, even at the artistic height of their songwriting maturity.

Then came 15 Big Ones and Love You, which had the significant selling-point of boasting the words "produced by Brian Wilson" on the reverse; not seen on a Beach Boys album since Pet Sounds (1966).
15 Big Ones offered half an LP of 50s favourites, recreated with tongue affectionately lodged in cheek, and another half of original Beach Boys compositions. 'Had to Phone Ya' and 'It's OK' - the best of this category - also harked back, but instead to to the naive lyrics and carefree sounds of Wilson's own early songwriting career. One track, 'Just Once in My Life' (a cover), however, demonstrated the emotional punch the band was still fully capable of delivering, and that would be delivered with much greater sucess and concentration on Love You.

Love You's side one is utterly ridiculous. From the stomping synths opening 'Let Us Go On This Way' to the exuberant honky tonk of 'Mona', both the music and lyrics are best described as "well-oh-my-oh-gosh-oh-gee" ('Roller Skating Child'). With the heavy beat and bombastic synths/brass, it's resembles neither the barber shop surf-rock of their early days, the grandeur and sophistication of the Pet Sounds/ SMiLE era, nor the more mature musical developments on the Brother label. After years of searching for an image that would recapture the public, this album stands utterly naked of pretense. Without Tony Asher's philosophical elegance or Van Dyke Parks's inscrutable, verbose turns of phrase, Brian Wilson's lyrics honestly reflect an endearing simplicity in terms of subject. Whereas Carl Wilson's superb song of Imperialism, 'The Trader' (Holland) felt overcooked, lyrically, Brain here does not reach for poignancy at all. Instead he sticks to familiar topics of cars and girls. As he sings on 'Good Time': maybe it won't last but what do we care, my baby and I just want a good time

Side two is where things get interesting (it is a pity that this distinction is something lost on CD/media players). The opener, 'Solar System' is a strangely haunting one, and makes for a clear departure from side one, lyrically. With his quakey croon, Brian sings, in a wide-eyed tone, lines like "Saturn has rings all around it / I searched the skies and I found it" or "Solar system / Rings of wisdom". Combined with it's bright and carnivalesque instrumentation there is a child-like awe at these mysterious bodies. Similarly content are Mike Love and Carl Wilson's lead vocals on 'Airplane'. Both tracks share a sense of calm and hopeful wonder at the world.

'The Night Was So Young', following unexpectedly from the hilarious 'Ding Dang', is the strongest piece of songwriting on the album, and a shift from the naive contentment of its two preceding tracks. It's long, sustained chords and delicate vocals on the verses create a meditative, window-gazing mood ("Skies turning grey / There's clouds overhead / I'm still not asleep / In my bed") whilst the chorus breaks out in longing declarations like "is somebody going to tell me why she has to lie?". The arrangement is minimal and swampy, giving foreground to some simple but stirring harmonies on the chorus. The subtle mournfulness of the "doo doo doo doo doo"s and tasteful string-bends add much to the track with great economy. The following track, 'I'll Bet He's Nice' - sung by Dennis with a gravelly emotion verging on menace - is an unrequited love song for an ex, now with another guy. It shares the lovelorn mood of 'The Night Was So Young', but with a bitter edge that is only thinly veiled behind the playful electronic keys and nursery-rhyme melody. It features a gorgeous middle-eight sung by Carl.

'Let's Put Our Hearts Together' is in my opinion the most touching and lovely song the Beach Boys ever recorded. It's a duet between Brian and his wife, Marilyn. The tune is bright, happy and rolling. The tone is direct and earnest - mushy, even. The song is a straightforward and unguarded request to be love and be loved in return, including the ability to be vulnerable with another person. The song doesn't attempt to recapture a love of youthful inexperience but describes a more mature love which has grown defensive; wary of the serious pain of romantic failure and dishonest posturing:

- Take your time, don't worry
how you feel because
you know we've got forever

Maybe I'll come up with some idea
And you'll think that I was clever

- I never had someone
I need someone
To live with and be good to

- Don't worry 'bout your past loves
And if they never understood you

As Peter Buck comments in the sleevenotes of the CD release, "it's so personal that it's hard to listen to". The two would divorce just two years after the album's release. The song begins with Brian singing: "I don't want to tell you that I care for you / And have you just ignore me". Reminiscent of 'God Only Knows's famously contrary opening lines, this is a curious beginning for such a lovey-dovey love song. It's something that most people wouldn't have the honesty to say to a person in real life, never mind on record, but it's an entirely relatable sentiment - all the more true for its blunt eloquence. Something about Brian's rough-throated emotional honesty, set against the honied tones of Marilyn's Broadway vocal manner makes this track hopelessly sad to listen to. Though I don't believe it was Brian's intention to create a subversive song, I presume that having had a life such as his, it was simply not possible for him to write something naively idealistic about love.

The album ends hopefully with the tracks 'I Wanna Pick You Up', 'Airplane' and 'Love is a Woman'. The first features Dennis's gruff vocals on lead well-suited to the song's subject of father-infant love. 'Airplane' would have given a nice image of travelling and open-ended anticipation to end the album on, especially with its soothing, contented mood and sudden giddy coda of "can't wait to see her face", but the final track, 'Love is a Woman' ends the album on a big, brassy, sing-along send-off that is either cheesy or sarcastic - I'm not sure. It's enormously fun in the same way that the best tracks on 15 Big Ones are.

The complexities of this album's second side help frame the startling bombast and zeal of the first. Fans of Pet Sounds can play down the 'gee darn gosh'ness of the Beach Boys, if they wish, by focusing attention on the lush orchestration, experimentation with features of art music, Asher's trenchant lyrics etc etc. With Love You, you can't fool yourself that what you're listening to is cool. The music is brash and unfinessed, but nevertheless highly rewarding, with moods that are all the more true and timeless for the unconventionality of the sounds, and lyrics that carry greater profundity for all their surface simplicity. Multitracked vocals and symphonic are gone. What's left is naked and unashamed. @160


1. Let Us Go On This Way
2. Roller Skating Child
3. Mona
4. Johnny Carson
5. Good Time
6. Honkin' Down the Highway
7. Solar System
8. Ding Dang
9. The Night Was So Young
10. I'll Bet He's Nice
11. Let's Put Our Hearts Together
12. I Wanna Pick You Up
13. Airplane
14. Love Is A Woman

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath - COUNTRY COOKING (1988)

I was first introduced to the name Chris McGregor through seeing a set of his works played by a group of University Music students - not knowing at the time a thing about whose music was being played. At the close of their set they played a wild and winding 15-minute piece. It utterly entranced me. Its energy was sublime; unfolding powerfully with snakelike basslines, screeching saxophones and stern, regimented brass- all laid over a litany of African rhythms, inexhaustible in inventiveness. Its brilliance urged me to speak with the conductor after the set and ask whether there were recordings of this bandleader - this track in particular - on CD. He told me the name of the track, 'Dakar', and the album album, Country Cooking. So I noted it down, expecting later to find some blogger online who had this rare item.

I couldn't find it anywhere, however. 'Chris McGregor' search results were limited and were mainly about the the Brotherhood of Breath's excellent self-titled debut, which was given a CD re-release earlier in the decade. There was no hint of a re-release for the rest of the McGregor catalogue, however. I searched for a long time, presuming music this good couldn't be out of reach of the entire internet, but it took a good few months before I found someone in the USA with an old library copy. After £20 and a month waiting on air-mail it arrived!

So anyway, I'm happy to finally share such a rare item. The album is really a lost gem. It's timeless in sound; soulful, spirit-lifting music that's classy and Ellingtonian one moment, and then raucously wild the next. The band's Free Jazz experimentation is played down considerably on this recording, which is a disappointment because the strong melodic backbone of the his music is only improved when the Brotherhood are allowed some creative space to challenge these structures - as evidenced by earlier live recordings. I would love to hear some live variation on 'Dakar', but I've only been able to find live shows from earlier in the (not lofty) height of their notoriety: early to mid seventies.

Nevertheless, the album is dense, complex and full of personality, despite it's polished sheen. The album opens with the gentle and playful title track. Blissful woodwind romance on 'Bakwetha' meets abruptly with dizzy, swaggering horns on 'Sweet as Honey', laid over a sensitive Bill Evans-esque piano. 'You And Me (Sejui)' flits between funky, determined horn stabs and celebratory instrumental conversations. 'Big G' chugs along with a locomotive drive, occasionally spiraling into dramatic suspensions over spasmodic double-bass twiddling. 'Maxine', with it's romance and Garbarek-esque saxophone, reminds me a lot of Keith Jarrett's European Quartet at it's best, but with the richness of a Big Band orchestra. The album ends with 'Dakar', which, despite my complaints, is a downright important piece of music that would be a standard if there were any justice. @256


1. Country Cooking
2. Bakwetha
3. Sweet As Honey
4. You And Me (Sejui)
5. Big G
6. Maxine
7. Dakar

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Ry Cooder & The Moula Banda Rhythm Aces - LET'S HAVE A BALL (1987)

Miraculously, someone on the internet once went to the trouble of digitizing an old VHS home-recording of a 1987 Ry Cooder concert and uploading it some two decades after it was first broadcast on the UK's Channel 4. A fine human that person was. As a fan, I thought I'd do my small duty and help share the joy.

This recording, running just over 75 minutes, shows a collection of born performers at work, playing an evocative, virtuoso set of Blues Rock, Soul and Gospel songs from the history of popular song in the US. Like all of Cooder's output, the set takes you on a whistlestop tour of American popular music history. In a run of three consecutive tracks you glimpse the reception of telecommunications on 'Jesus on the Mainline', dustbowl hardships on 'How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?', and Cold War-era Millenarianism on 'Atom Bomb'. The cast is mighty, featuring fellow Americana-lover Van Dyke Parks (paying homage in-dress to Colonel Sanders) on keyboards; Flaco Jiménez, bringing the distinctive accordions of Chicken Skin Music (1976) to the show; the sublime gospel vocals of Bobby King and booming Baritone Terry Evans; and the prolific session drummer Jim Keltner.

In a manner that will be familiar to fans of his solo career, Cooder's choices of homage both reexamine and update acknowledged classics, such as the soul-stirring, big-band rendition of 'Chain Gang', but also play with tangents of pre-Industry popular music that few would have otherwise remembered.

But as well as tipping his hat to these forgotten composers, Cooder also pushes the bounds of genre, borrowing from all eras and roots-music styles in his adaptations. Take, on this film, his epic, Latin-Blues-tinged rendition of Blind Alfred Reed's 'How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?' (first covered on his self-titled 1970 debut), in comparison to the decidedly un-hip original. It feels as if the link between the two is always about to snap under the weight of the latter's effortless alloy of influences. However, something of the original's essence is always retained in spirit, despite the gleeful transgressions in form:

Cooder's always articulate presence is never far from the forefront. Admiration for his playing his now a platitude, but I would say that I admire his tactful restraint just as much as his astounding vocabulary of expression. For times when he is not centre stage, his playing is, for the most part, delivered in subtle, complementary utterances: the group's setup is virtuoso, loose but, fundamentally, cooperative. You can see the infectious joy of musicians in the midst of fellow masters of their crafts. You see them feed off each other's spontaneous creativity and, together, maintain the thrill of live improvisation from second to second.

From the pouting four-wheel-drive of Soul-hoe-downs (Shoul-downs?) like 'The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)' (vastly improving on the velveted studio version on Bop Til You Drop, 1983) to the menacing brass plunges in the murky atmosphere of 'Mississippi', the set is captivating and unpredictable at every turn. It's a pity that Cooder doesn't talk more in the film, being as he is such an curious yet charismatic presence on stage. But his gruff crooning and spontaneous in-character deliveries are still great entertainment value.

Anyway, I here reupload the home-recorded video - I stress it's not my achievement - but also, underneath it is handy, portable audio version, cut into tracks and even featuring some hastily designed album art by myself. If a Ry Cooder fan more knowledgeable than me can place what the name of the track I labelled '[Instrumental]' is, then I would much appreciate knowing.@256

18.07.11 - The instrumental track is 'Goodnight Irene', also on Chicken Skin Music (1976). Thanks to Lukas for identifying it.


1. Let's Have A Ball
2. Jesus on the Mainline
3. How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?
4. Atom Bomb
5. Mississippi
6. Goodnight Irene
7. Just a Little Bit
8. The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)
9. Crazy 'Bout An Automobile
10. Chain Gang
11. Down in Hollywood

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Ry Cooder - CHÁVEZ RAVINE (2005)

BACK! Hopefully now with some semi-regular content. Uploading old stuff to Mediafire, as Sharebee has disappeared off the face of the internet.

The album is the first of what eventually became a trilogy of historical concept albums that Ry Cooder made in the second half of the last decade. Cooder talks of this album now as sowing the beginnings of a creative re-awakening: allowing him to write lyrics through the fictionalised mouthpieces of real archetypes of modern history. The trilogy was completed with My Name Is Buddy in 2007, and I, Flathead in 2008. The albums combine Cooder's populist politics with his love of 20th century popular music and have made for by far the most satisfying entries in Cooder's already classic discography. The songs on the album detail with warmth the lost Latino community of Chávez Ravine, LA, and its liquidation by private contractors in the late 1950s for the eventual construction of Dodger Baseball Stadium. It's a fascinating story, but whilst Cooder clearly wanted to bring it to increased public awareness, the music on this album creates a memorial not to the 'fallen', but to the loves, the fears; the hipsters, outcasts; struggles and laughter that all took place in a community of living people.

Amongst the many glimpsed images on the album are odd turns that might seem like diversions or dead ends alongside the central plot. This plot involves McCarthyist denunciation of local leaders in opposition to the proposed plans ('Don't Call Me Red'), the coming of the 'dozers ('It's Just Work For Me'), the soliloquy of the real estate contractor ('In My Town') and the eventual erection of the baseball stadium ('3rd Base Dodger Stadium') on the bulldozed grounds. This plotline grows surprisingly defined, the closer you listen, but so also it becomes apparent that the tangential asides are essential to the kind of big picture offered.

In the sublime cover art, a goofy, B-Movie UFO hovers alongside the real machine rolling over a real community. The image reflects something about the album's broadly human - not merely morbid - focus. On the album, mocking songs about the coinbox-carrying Chinese laundryman ('Chinito Chinito'); sailors battling Pachucos ('Onda Callejera'); honourable sportsmen denounced ('Corrido de Boxeo'); concerned mothers and reckless daughters ('Muy Fifif'); local heartbreakers ('3 Cool Cats'); the politics of dance trends ('Los Chucos Suaves'), and UFO sightings ('El UFO Cayó') all share equal importance in the portrayal of the town as the story of its destruction. Descriptions of the album's concept can sound sour and mournful, but this is a compeltely unfit description of the music.

Chavéz Ravine is a work of anger, but its overall impression is one of affecting humanity. Cooder, and the remaining Ravine musicians he could track down, rebuild and remodel the community the "'dozers" destroyed. Of Cooder's trilogy of historical concept albums, this first collection of songs is by far the most warm and moving. With less talented musicians, it would be a polemical history set to music, however the album is foremost a suite of living landscapes - with the sense of melancholy remaining an undertone, and not seeping anachronistically into the music. I mean to say, that this album is a tribute to the extinct community first, and a story of the town's destruction second.

That said, it's with a stingly undercurrent of bitterness that Cooder writes the lyrics to the album's most tender, yet most politically bold and unsettling song, 'In My Town'. Under the persona of the real estate contractor, the lyrics are a destainful monologue of an idealist visionary looking down upon "old town, crook town, wop town, and spic town / Black town, shack town, and hick town / From my room". However, he sees "the future going" his way: "Can’t you see a 50-story building / Where a palm tree used to be?". From this wistful opening (his racism curiously accompanied by delicate keys) the song shifts tone to his hatred of the obstacles to his vision - the community. The community is a pack of "commie rats"; a nuisance to be replaced by "cement mixers" and "50-story buildings": "a town that's flat", "a town that's clean". The narrator's conception is that land is not a place where people build lives, but create profits; that (with a few smart maneuvers) the outdated idea of land-ownership can be surpassed to make way for beautiful modernity, with no evidence of the ugliness that lay in the past.

The heartbreaking finalé of the narrative, '3rd Base, Dodger Stadium' gives the lie to this philosophy, in the form of the voice of an ex-Ravine resident; now "working nights, parking cars" at the stadium which sits on top the ground he grew up on. The concept of building atop a legally annexed community is expressed with a heartrendering, stark metaphor. As he watches the game, he sees the players running over where "Johnny Greeneyes had his shoeshine stall". He sees "grandma in her rocking chair", and "in the middle of the first base line", remembers the location of his "first kiss (Florencina was kind)" - "if the dozer hadn't taken my yard, you'd see the tree with our initials carved". Speaking to the famous "baseball man", whom is clearly "anxious to go", the man once from Chávez Ravine lets him know that "if you want to know where a local boy like me is coming from: 3rd Base, Dodger Stadium". @256


1. Poor Man's Shangri-La
2. Onda Callejera
3. Don’t Call Me Red
4. Corrido de Boxeo
5. Muy Fifí
6. Los Chucos Suaves
7. Chinito Chinito
8. 3 Cool Cats
9. El UFO Cayó
10. It’s Just Work for Me
11. In My Town
12. Ejercito Militar
13. Barrio Viejo
14. 3rd Base, Dodger Stadium
15. Soy Luz y Sombra

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Keith Jarrett - MY SONG (1978)

The sheer prolificness of the Jarrett oeuvre is an intimidating initial obstacle to first time listeners. Rather than the lounge-maestro stereotype that fairweather stoners take from listening to The Köln Concert, his discography is in fact chock full of intense free jazz experimentation downright hostile to identifiable melody - not to mention the sublime fusion of Expectations (1972); a far cry from Köln's inspirational lyricism. Shades (1975), Backhand (1974), Byablue (1977) and The Mourning of A Star (1971) all seem to actively resist Jarrett's greatest strengths, as both a composer and virtuoso pianist, using dominating chord vamps as the central source of movement, rather than the carefully phrased timbre of Jarrett's right hand. This, his most accomplished and satisfying single work, My Song, features his unique talent for mature, wistful melodic phrasing with prominence, but the more experimental and frenzied side of the man's work tastefully incorporated; if you want the laid-back you must also take the crazy.

I can't be sure whether the man himself thought of this project as a synthesis of two distinct styles, but the ordering of the tracklist is suspiciously binary in its unfolding. Opening the album is the slow-rolling 'Questar', whose interrogative opening sax melody steadily anchors the increasingly impatient and fractured piano accompaniment. As the piano interludes begin to dominate the track (tailed by the faint sound of Jarrett's hilarious scatting) the track's stream-of-consciousness style grows frantic yet determined. The sax eventually tames this unruly solo, returning to a variation on the opening melody. The second track, 'My Song' is a fine example of Jarrett at his most clear and melodious. There is a vocal quality to his playing which renders his playing so memorable, and this song is perhaps one of his most pre-meditated (and therefore accessible); evidenced in the Pop verse-chorus structure. The following track, 'Tabarka', has a similarly quizative personality to 'Questar', but the unresolved, frustrated chain of notes and off-beat tribal bongos build an atmosphere of unease and shifting balance.

With increasing predictability, now, the next track, 'Country', is a short and mellifluous tune. An unambiguous expression of summertime joy. The rich timbre of the sax is comforting and sincere, duetting in close harmony with the keys. For this song, the bass and drums stay strictly in check, but in the most challenging track, 'Mandala', they are freed to run stampede. When Garbarek finally re-enters he has a the fast-burning energy of a rambling hobo, yet the quartet seems as though each is locked into their own world; each ignoring the others' outbursts and competing to be paid due attention.

The album ends with my personal single favourite from the entirety of Jarrett's sprawling, five-decade career. 'The Journey Home', following the contented mood of 'Country', is an gorgeous, lyrical monologue, with each member of the quartet perfectly tuned to each of the others' strengths. The breezy, relaxed meter underscores the carefully structured and perfectly attuned layers of virtuosity, while the hopeful melody reaches out and sinks in comforting eloquence. The song's slow-descending finale is a meditative reflection in triumphant optimism. The final notes cling and lull with modest joy. @192


1. Questar
2. My Song
3. Tabarka
4. Country
5. Mandala
6. The Journey Home

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Burt Bacharach - MAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF (1969)

Listening to Burt Bacharach's arrangements on his own-name releases always reminds me of what marks these recordings as a league above the ranks of singers he farmed his compositions out to. The Bacharach style of melody-driven pop is as ubiquitous and distinctly pastiched as whole genres of music, but even now, after his influence is perhaps finally waning, it's clear that Burt was still an absolute original.

Take one example of the sort here, in the form of a clip from 1970's 'The Phantom Tollbooth'. All elements are there; the flurries of strings, the infectious, sunny vocal melody, the walk-on solos, the woodwind, the call-and-response instrumentation... however you can always tell the well-intentioned imitators from the real deal. Where a melody like 'Milo's Song' strays; repeating its key melody with neat efficiency and soft glides, you're left wanting in Bacharach's own recordings. With fine tact, they avoid the caricatured tunes which drowned the charts in his wake. For an example (not from this album), the first time I heard Bacharach's '(They Long To Be) Close To You' was a revelation for how different the emphasis was when compared to the famous Carpenters version. With the latter you remember the sweet main refrain and its indelible lyrics. However, with the former, this bouncy, saccharine opening section is a slow horn section, with vocals as no more than a supporting instrument. The emphasis of the song is shifted completely to Bacharach's avuncular croon on the chorus - a gorgeous melody which is downplayed entirely in The Carpenter's rendition.

His most famous lyrics are often completely absent from his solo-albums, in fact. The emphasis is much more on the instruments, with the lyrical melody replaced rather than simply replicated. Not anchored to just the one instrument (voice), these versions draw attention to the great expression possible from contrasting the bold, big-band instruments he had at his disposal. Seemingly to underlie this relegation of vocal melody from 'lead' to 'support' is Bacharach's decision to have a chorus of uncredited soul singers deliver the majority of lyrical content on this album.

His own voice is rough and unpolished, but its appeal is in its sincere, comforting timbre. On the title track, 'Make It Easy on Yourself', Burt sings solo for the only song on the album. The qualities of his singing voice really shine on account of the affecting simplicity of the lyric's repeated aphorism: "Make it easy on yourself... because breaking up is a hard thing to do". The sentiment may seem corny in writing, but the pathetic mood which the track evokes makes the futility of the humour in such a situation the more moving. Similarly, the reflective 'This Guy's in Love With You' and, with an even more desperate refrain, 'Wanting Things', both step back from overselling their emotion. The songs share the same strengths as (avid fan) Brian Wilson's songwriting for the Love You Beach Boys album in 1977. Both succeed for their realistically ineloquent portrait of infatuation.@160kbs


1. Promises, Promises
2. I'll Never Fall in Love Again
3. Knowing When To Leave
4. Any Day Now
5. Wanting Things
6. Pacific Coast Highway
7. She's Gone Away
8. Whoever You Are I Love You
9. Make it Easy on Yourself
10. Do You Know The Way To San Jose
11. This Guy's in Love With You

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Todd Rundgren - TODD (1974)

Rundgren fans are divided over this album. To put it in context, it was the second of a three-album arc which began with 1973's playfully experimental, occasionally astounding, A Wizard, A True Star and ended with 1975's dense (but noodley) prog-rock exploration, Initiation. The albums are comparable to Neil Young's 'ditch' trilogy; an iconoclastic reaction to mainstream success. 1972's Something/Anything? was very much Rundgren's Harvest (released in the same month no less). Some think this trilogy of albums represents Todd's best work, but others, perhaps in greater numbers, believe that they were an interesting tangent which spun a great deal of essential tracks, but far more which were dull and masturbatory.

Whilst A Wizard, A True Star and Initiation are both very fine albums, Todd is by far the best album to come out of this experimental detour (before recapturing the pop/rock sound which made him famous with Faithful and Hermit of Mink Hollow). The album is a schizophrenic and uneasy mix of genres - something which is often cited as a shortcoming. It does not ease you in, beginning with a severely monged crescendo of unintelligible spoken word, buzzing and repetitive electronic noises, a perfect build up to the first killer ballad, 'I Think You Know'.

With the exception of the slightly abrasive (but titularly-inspired') 'In and Out The Shakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)'', this album features some of Todd's most tight and appealing instrumental tracks, featuring the density of 'Initiation's compositions, but succinct, groovier and, like on A Wizard A True Star, of a curious, playful personality. The superb 'Sidewalk Café' is the best on the album, but the ambient waltz of 'Drunken Blue Rooster' and the colourful dizziness of 'The Spark of Life' are also great instrumental tunes.

Todd's virtuosity has always lain in his penchant for immaculate rock/ pop ballads, however, and 'Todd' has its fair share. One of his best-known songs, 'A Dream Goes on Forever' is a simple but moving, electric-piano led ballad, 'Useless Begging' is an pithy and understated tune (with a memorable windscreen-wiper rhythm), and 'Izzat Love?' is a trademark Rundgren ballad, whose uplifting harmonies are capable of lifting any dark mood. ‘I Think You Know’ and ‘Don't You Ever Learn’ are slow and deceptively simple ballads, but offset with an uneasy atmosphere, with Rundgren's typically boyish croon more drowsy and cynical - eyebrow cocked and pupils dilated. The standout track on the album, however, is the epic and intimate 'The Last Ride', featuring, on the outro, one of Todd's most electrifying guitar-solos and a passionate, half-spoken lyrical delivery.

The rest of the double album does not quite match the quality of these ballads and instrumentals, but the quirky ‘An Elpee's Worth of Toons’, with it’s oblique appraisal of the music industry, the manic yet joyous ‘Heavy Metal Kids’ and the final singalong, ‘Sons of 1984’, with it’s stirring chanted chorus, are all memorable demonstrations of Rundgren's eclectic gifts. Though one has to be in the mood to appreciate Todd's wide spectrum of musical styles, It is this variety which makes it such a fine showcase of Rundgren’s talents and the crowning achievement of his very respectable repertoire. @256


1. How About a Little Fanfare?
2. I Think You Know
3. The Spark of Life
4. An Elpee's Worth of Toons
5. A Dream Goes on Forever
6. Lord Chancellor's Nightmare Song
7. Drunken Blue Rooster
8. The Last Ride
9. Everybody's Going To Heaven / King Kong Reggae

10. Number 1 Lowest Common Denominator
11. Useless Begging
12. Sidewalk Cafe
13. Izzat Love?
14. Heavy Metal Kids
15. In and Out the Chakras We Go (Formerly: Shaft Goes to Outer Space)
16. Don't You Ever Learn?
17. Sons of 1984

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Rickie Lee Jones - PIRATES (1981)

Though Rickie Lee Jones was always passionately vocal about the strong regard with which she held Laura Nyro's music, she was more commonly compared to the 'other' female singer-songwriter, Joni Mitchell, in the contemporary music press. This comparison seems very shallow today. Pirates is far more identifiably influenced by Nyro's trilogy of albums in the late 60s than anything Mitchell released. This album stands head and shoulders above the rest as the high watermark of Jones's oeuvre.

The optimistic longing in the opening track, 'We Belong Together' is a peaceful overture to the soulful and heartbreaking 'Living it Up' (the highlight of the strong tracklist). Though it's the elegant piano which is so central to the affecting tone of both these tracks, it is the personality of Jones's vocals which make the streetwise lyrics so memorable in attitude. The sudden surge of aggression preceding the chorus lyric, "oh we're giving it up, ya we're living it up", adds some bitter ambiguity to the refrain,

The record makes a surprising tonal shift in the middle of the tracklist. After the melancholy, lullaby-like 'Skeletons' ends, the piano fades, and the sound of a funky, R&B bassline grows in the background. (Fairly rehearsed-sounding) generic party banter preludes the start of the song proper. 'Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking' dumps the listener into a spirited party jam; with its jazzy interludes and walking basslines it feels just like an old standard, and despite the phoney bandter at the start, it sounds as if everyone involved had a great time recording it.

The terrific 'Pirates (So Lonely Avenue)', which follows, starts with the same high-spirited, funky instrumentation as Woody and Dutch, sounding initially not unlike 'Chuck E's in Love' from her début, yet with another shift in tone, the mood becomes introspective again, and the keys return for the ambiguously hopeful mood of 'A Lucky Guy'. In the eight-minute 'Traces of the Western Slopes' Jones's vocals spiral upwards, adopting an airy, ethereal quality... and plenty of Van Morrison-esque scatting. At the same time, her delivery of the melody leads with confidence and a deserved sense of grandeur. The final track, 'The Returns' is a brief, more grounded finale to the album - the tone is of melancholy optimism. We hear the abrupt line, "one of these days...", and the album ends.

I think that the Jones/Mitchell comparisons were partially a result, inevitably, of the latter's comparative prominence, but predominantly that of Jones's gender and shoulder-length blonde hair. Jones's music had neither the ditzy persona or hippy-dippy attitude of early Mitchell, nor the more moody, jazz-infused, narrative qualities of her later career. Rather, Pirates shares an intensity with Nyro's heartbreaking 1969 album, New York Tendaberry. Nyro's horns on Tendaberry thrust with momentary emotional peaks, confessing all to the listener, whereas on Pirates, Jones's sounds are more warmly inviting. The album has a timeless originality and humanity just as remarkable as her hero's. @128


1. We Belong Together
2. Living It Up
3. Skeletons
4. Woody and Dutch on the Slow Train to Peking
5. Pirates (So Lonely Avenue)
6. A Lucky Guy
7. Traces of the Western Slopes
8. The Returns

S'more trouble dan i's woith (sorry for the 128)

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Steely Dan - ROARING OF THE LAMB (1993)

As you can probably already tell from the hopelessly faux cover art, this is another unofficial Steely Dan song collection. There are many collections such as these, all featuring frustratingly incomplete selections from early demo recordings made by an early form of Steely Dan, and songs which even pre-date the name. I first came across a slighter selection of these curiosities on CD under the title The Root of Steely Dan, but they had long before been released to the public. They were distributed piecemeal, in vinyl form, under such names as Stone Piano and Sun Mountain. All featured a great deal of overlapping content - but all with Pokémon-style exclusive rarities which could not be found on others. This particular collection, Roaring of the Lamb, released on CD in 1993, has the most tracks of any I've come across, which I why I'm sharing it. It still lacks, however, a handful of early songs which can be found on Stone Piano amongst others (which I will share in time), but the most listenable and worthy, by far, can be found on this one.

What is interesting to hear is how much more adventurous and challenging these early compositions were in comparison to the sunny 'Classic Rock' sound of their début, Can't Buy a Thrill. In Brian Sweet's excellent biography, Reelin' In The Years, he describes the first album not as a humble beginning, but a conscious retreat into commercial rock which allowed the band a stronger career position for subsequent albums. It's fascinating to see how songs which appeared as late in their discography as 'The Caves Of Altamira' were actually penned before 1972 (albeit in an earlier form). As well as these familiar songs ('Parker's Band', 'Any World', 'Charlie Freak'), the majority of the tracklist is composed of demo tracks for songs destined never to resurface. As you might imagine, this miscellaneous and unofficial collection spans a broad spectrum of genre and quality; motown vocal harmony on 'A Horse In Town', acoustic riffs in 'Ida Lee' whimsical pop ditties like 'You Go Where I Go' and 'A Little With Sugar', Carole King-esque piano pop in 'Sun Mountain' and more. The best songs to be found on this collection defy easy categorisation, however - even easy comparison to their later, realised albums. Songs like 'Stone Piano', 'Android Warehouse' and 'Oh, Wow It's You' have the uneasy grace which is familiar from their darker LPs, but with a haunting atmosphere borne from the agoraphobic demo recordings.

These real gems are only few, making this an unwise choice for the Steely Dan newcomer, but those tracks which shine (till the end of the line) really feel perfect, despite their stripped arrangements. They sound as if performed in a remote, empty and dimly lit hanger, with no short-tempered record executives or common-denominator public to appease. @224


1. Android Warehouse
2. A Horse In Town
3. Parker's Band [demo]
4. More To Come
5. Ida Lee
6. Stone Piano
7. Any World [demo]
8. Take It Out On Me
9. This Seat's Been Taken
10. Barrytown [demo]
11. Oh, Wow It's You
12. Charlie Freak [demo]
13. A Little With Sugar
14. Roaring Of The Lamb
15. The Caves Of Altamira [demo]
16. You Go Where I Go
17. Sun Mountain

[reuploaded 29.03.11]