Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

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]

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Steely Dan - GAUCHO OUTTAKES (1980)

The word 'bootleg' implies a release only the most devoted should concern themselves with. This collection of unreleased recordings, however, contains not only a wealth of original songs never heard on official albums, but also some of the finest material in Steely Dan's oeuvre. It is a sad thought for the Dan fan to consider how much quality was canned as a result of the duo's insatiable fastidiousness.

This 'album' contains demo versions and outtakes from many of the cuts which eventually made it onto the final tracklist for 1980's superb yet divisive Gaucho. The demos for 'Time Out of Mind', 'Babylon Sisters', and 'Gaucho' all sound very close to their final conceptions; their piano sections seemingly identical to the finished article. They are unlike the more interesting early demos recorded prior to Can't Buy a Thrill, which show a liquidity in form and style. These relics seem to instead represent the near-suffocating control they had over their compositions by this point in their career. Like with all their demos, Fagen's voice shows considerable strain, yet through it shines his skill for characterisation in his vocal delivery. On 'Gaucho (Demo)', the song's themes of racial and fraternal tension are delivered with more menace and turmoil than on Gaucho's version. The line "What do you think I'm yelling for" has a passionate rawness which is lost in the following outtake version, yet the overall effect of Fagen's vocals is too jarring to make it a listenable alternative, unfortunately.

There is another album's worth of material on the bootleg, unheard on any official release. Many Dan fans may be aware of the ill-fated track 'Second Arrangment', even if they have never heard it. It was one of Becker and Fagen's favourite songs written for the sessions, but the tapes were accidentally erased, and the two didn't have the will to create their masterpiece again from scratch. It's surely apparent to anyone who has heard the surviving evidence of this track that it is one of the finest, downright soulful things Steely Dan ever wrote; graceful yet sharp piano hooks, poetic, yearning lyrics and a mood of bitter contemplation present on Katy Lied, Royal Scam and Aja, but never more cutting and uneasy than on this lost track. There are two versions of this track on the bootleg: a demo version, and a full-band 'outtake'. Not only is the former of much higher audio quality, but the simplicity of the demo arrangement, and the glassy timbre of the piano frames the atmosphere of the lyrics far better than the more rounded full studio version. Also, the fantastic line "I am a refugee, and I like things just the way they used to be" is disappointingly left out of the latter version.

Fagen often occupied the characters of twisted, regretful sleazeballs, and the other unreleased songs on the bootleg continue in similarly uneasy themes. 'Kulee Baba' features, past its wilfully obscure titular allusion, a TV executive, reminiscent of the movie 'Network' (1976), who presents a hollow, vicarious cultural experience to his viewers. 'I Can't Write Home About You' is narrated by a Holden Caulfield-like character, overwhelmed by the big city, and 'Kind Spirit' is a desperate, repeated refrain of some pathetic voice. 'The Bear', an absolutely sublime lost track which seems to allude all worldly interpretation - it may well be deliberate nonsense ("there's a bear that walks like a man - better shake him fast") - yet the heavy, stalking beat and threatening (McCarthy-esque?) lyrical delivery inspires no levity. It's an intense piece and, again, it's depressing to be only able to hear it in the unfinished form of a crackly bootleg. With songs of such quality, it begs the question of whether Becker and Fagen could recognise their own best work past their audiophillic perfectionism.

This is one bootleg which deserves to be as widely heard as the band's official releases. If you know anyone who might be interested in this rich, fascinating collection, I urge you to spread this link as far as you can. @200 var


1. Kind Spirit
2. Were You Blind That Day?
3. The Bear
4. Second Arrangement (demo)
5. Second Arrangement (outtake)
6. Talkin' About My Home
7. Time Out Of Mind (demo)
8. Babylon Sisters (demo)
9. Babylon Sisters (outtake)
10. I Can't Write Home About You
11. Kulee Baba (demo)
12. Kulee Baba (outtake)
13. Gaucho (demo)
14. Gaucho (outtake)

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Friday, 22 January 2010

Hall & Oates - WAR BABIES (1974)

Conventional pop wisdom would have me write something revisionist about received pop opinion at the top of a post about Daryl and John, but I'm not going to. I offer no quasi-apologetic preamble, and if you don't realise that Hall & Oates were making some of the best Soul-Pop music of the mid-70s, before their enormously successful early-80s, synthy heyday, then more fool you.

This is an absolutely terrific album. After their early, unsurpassed milestone of Abandoned Luncheonette (1973), they came out with this overlooked gem; fusing Power Pop and their own mellifluous style of Philadelphia Soul as successfully as the former album fused Soul with Sifunkel-esque folk. This crisp Power Pop aesthetic is without a doubt the handywork of their producer for this album, the young studio wizard Todd Rundgren. Members of Todd's novelty (sorry, 'prog') outfit, Utopia, in fact play on many tracks.

The vocals lead this album with a confidence and conscious irreverence for their lyrical content. I can't help but feel they know their strengths well enough to, not embrace, but make their own, their weaknesses. On 'Your Much Too Soon', lines like "I love you... but I don't love you", and "let me go let me go let me go now baby" have no pretensions, yet they carry tremendous strength simply in their unapologetic tunefulness (the latter lyric spirals with deft self-reliance on the extended outro). The baby boomer theme tune, 'War Baby Son Of Zorro' has probably more oblique ennui than any protest song before composed by a pop group, and every guitar solo on the album has a good-natured tongue-in-cheek tone (the ludicrous jazz-fusion interlude in 'Screaming Through December' should be proof enough to any unconvinced reader). All this ironical camp is merely an aesthetic, however, and the songs are robust, varied and, despite it all, really just as moving as the more sincere tracks on Abandoned Luncheonette.

I honestly cannot think of a bad word to say about this album. Every track works, and on its own terms. It really deserves a larger audience. @160kbs


1. Can't Stop The Music
2. Is It A Star
3. Beanie G. and the Rose Tattoo
4. You're Much Too Soon
5. 70's Scenario
6. War Baby Son of Zorro
7. I'm Watching You (A Mutant Romance)
8. Better Watch Your Back
9. Screaming Through December
10. Johnny Gore and the C Eaters

[reuploaded 29.03.11]

Friday, 1 January 2010

Laura Nyro - SEASON OF LIGHTS (1977)

This album marks post-hiatus Nyro at an early point where, thankfully, she did not yet begrudge her fans their desire to hear their favourite tracks from Eli, Tendaberry and The Beads of Sweat. It was unjustly butchered in order to fit onto two sides of vinyl for its original 1977 release. Its restored form is much appreciated, as every track is a fascination to the Nyro fanatic; especially considering how this record represents one third of her seventies recording output.

The live band she had gathered for the '76 tour, from which these tracks are selected, smoothed out the dramatic edges of her old songs somewhat, creating a sound not unlike like Joni Mitchell's Jazz-infused pop music from the time, as well as sporting some pithy and precise lead guitar-work reminiscent of the concurrent Steely Dan sound. Nyro seems to be drawing influence from those she had originally inspired.

This is no bad thing. Nyro admitted in interview that she found listening to her early releases difficult, especially as her career advanced into the eighties. I imagine it as a comparable discomfort to reading a diary from one's teenage years (but knowing the contents are public). Instilling these songs with an approximation of the emotion felt when writing them would have been a dishonest exercise. Instead, this new band sound lends warmth to tracks so familiar for their beautiful melancholy; 'Sweet Lovin' Baby' is somehow less lonely with the full, rich sound of the backing band, 'Upstairs By A China Lamp's beautiful but heartbreaking key-pounding is ameliorated by an optimistic decoration of sax and flute. Having said that, the tracklist generally consists of brighter songs from Nyro's back-catalogue; 'Timer' (two versions, even) , 'Sweet Blindness', 'When I Was A Freeport And You Were The Main Drag', 'And When I Die', as well as many tracks from the recent LP, Smile, which are upbeat and enjoyable, if not a dent on her pre-hiatus work. The highlight of the album is her extended re-invention of 'Captain Saint Lucifer' from New York Tendaberry. The adolescent euphoria and fury of the original is imbued with an altogether more mature vocal delivery, and blends marvellously into a funky, horny, 3-minute outro. The album contains two tracks never released elsewhere; the Eastern, free-jazz jam, 'Mars', and a track called 'This Morning News'. Both are worthwhile inclusions.

The album is perhaps not a great place to start for first-time listeners, but I can highly recommend it to any afficianados out there, curious to hear the classics moulded to the late-seventies nyro aesthetic. @160kbs


1. Money
2. Sweet Lovin' Baby
3. And When I Die
4. This Morning News
5. Upstairs By a China Lamp
6. When I Was a Freeport and You Were The Main Drag
7. Captain Saint Lucifer
8. Smile
9. Mars
10. Sweet Blindness
11. The Cat Song
12. Emmie
13. The Confession
14. Timer
15. Midnight Blue
16. Timer

[reuploaded 29.03.11]