Love is growing in the street,
Right through the concrete

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]