Monday, December 31, 2012

THE WORLD IS A GHETTO  -  WAR

YEAR:  1972
LABEL:  United Artists
TRACK LISTING:  The Cisco Kid,  Where Was You At,   City Country City,  Four Cornered Room,  The World Is A Ghetto,  Beetles in the Bog
BONUS TRACKS:  (on 40th Anniversary reissue):  Freight Train Jam,  58 Blues,  War Is Coming (Blues Version),  The World Is A Ghetto (Rehearsal Take)
IMPRESSIONS:  This is another album that was always around in my childhood.  We got this when it came out and it heavily recalls the house on Linwood Ave.  A superb album that's about half instrumental and a superb album cover -- this was the era when they KNEW how to make an album cover.  I mean, just look at that beautiful cover.  The epic music of the title track and "The Cisco Kid" are unbeatable and this album is to me the pinnacle of the "apres-Burdon" War.  Then there's the excellent "Ghetto Jams" that didn't fit on the original vinyl which now are included on the 40th anniversary edition and we get an album which cannot be beat!
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  The Cisco Kid,  Where Was You At,  City Country City,  Four Cornered Room,  The World Is A Ghetto,  Freight Train Jam,  58 Blues
FACT SHEET:  THE WORLD IS A GHETTO is War's fifth album.  War's personnel at this point included Howard Scott (guitar, percussion, vocals), B.B. Dickerson (bass, percussion, vocals), Lonnie Jordan (organ, piano, timbolies, percussion, vocals), Harold Brown (drums, percussion, vocals), Papa Dee Allen (bongos, conga, percussion, vocals), Charles Miller (clarinet, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, percussion, vocals) and Lee Oskar (harmonica, percussion, vocals).  The cover was drawn by Howard Miller.  The album reached number one on the Billboard charts and the magazine awarded it the "Album of the Year" as the best-selling album of 1973. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

GROOVE GREASE  -  JIMMY MCGRIFF

YEAR:  1971
LABEL:  Groove Merchant
TRACK LISTING:  Groove Grease,  The Bird,  Plain Brown Bag,  There Will Never Be Another You,  Canadian Sunset,  Mr. Lucky,  Moonglow,  Red Sails In the Sunset,  Secret Love
IMPRESSIONS:  Here we have another jazz master of the Hammond organ:  Jimmy McGriff.  And here we also have the era in jazz when artists were "fusing" funk and soul influences into their music.  Rob Theakston of allmusic waxes poetic (or maybe gastronomic) over the results as being "...an unsurprisingly delicious slice of jazz-funk made from the finest ingredients".  While I always preferred the Incredible Jimmy Smith on the Hammond keys, McGriff here provides a relaxed and funky variation on some old chestnut standards on the album's concluding half while providing some really nice funky jazz on the opening tracks.  The electric bass is the bedrock (provided by Richard Davis) while the other musicians are free to mildly improvise on the tunes herein.  Only a little over a half hour, GROOVE GREASE leaves you hungry for more. 
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Groove Grease,  The Bird,  Plain Brown Bag,  Canadian Sunset,  Mr. Lucky,  Red Sails in the Sunset
FACT SHEET:  GROOVE GREASE is Jimmy McGriff's 22nd album. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

HOME COOKIN'  -  JIMMY SMITH

YEAR:  1959
LABEL:  Blue Note
TRACK LISTING:  See See Rider,  Sugar Hill,  I Got A Woman,  Messin' Around,  Gracie,  Come On Baby,  Motorin' Along
BONUS TRACKS:  Since I Fell For You,  Apostrophe,  Groanin',  Motorin' Along (alternate take),  Since I Fell For You (alternate take)
IMPRESSIONS:  It's jazz.  It's the Hammond organ.  It's the Incredible Jimmy Smith.  This is another artist I only got into when working at Borders and talking to Maz in the jazz cd section.  I've got several of the Incredible Jimmy Smith's albums but this may be my favourite -- if for no other reason than the album cover is one of my all-time favourite album covers.  The music on offer is nothing to sneeze at either.  I never in a million years dreamed I would like jazz played on a Hammond organ but the Incredible Jimmy Smith can be addicting.  When Smith debuted, he was hailed as something new and revolutionary in the jazz world and nowhere is his mastery on display more than this album; an album allmusic's Lindsay Planer advises "...is a recommended starting place for burgeoning enthusiasts as well as a substantial entry for the initiated".  Like the promise of the album photo, HOME COOKIN' offers some of Smith's tastiest tracks.  Accompanied by standout bandmates like Kenny Burrell on guitar, Donald Bailey on drums and Percy France on tenor sax, Jimmy Smith provides us with one swingin' set.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  See See Rider,  I Got A Woman,  Messin' Around,  Come On Baby,  Motorin' Along,  Since I Fell For You,  Groanin'
FACT SHEET:  HOME COOKIN' is the Incredible Jimmy Smith's 14th album.  Maybe.  Again, it's difficult to count when there are all these "volume one" and "volume 2" albums preceding it.  Counting them individually, this could be his 20th album.  The album features Jimmy Smith on organ, Kenny Burrell on guitar, Percy France on tenor saxophone and Donald Bailey on drums.  Tracks 7, 8, 11 & 12 were recorded on July 15, 1958.  Tracks 3 & 10 were recorded on May 24, 1959.  Tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 & 9 were recorded on June 16, 1959. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS:  THE ALBUM  -  ROWAN ATKINSON, PAMELA STEPHENSON, MEL SMITH & GRIFF RHYS-JONES

YEAR:  1980
LABEL:  BBC Records
TRACK LISTING:  Death of a Princess (An Apology),  David Attenborough!  David Bloody Attenborough!,  Confrontation Song,  Airline Safety,  National Wealth Beds,  Simultaneous Translation,  General Synod's Life of Python,  The Ayatollah Song,  Closedown,  Points of View,  That Bleeding Bloody Esther Bloody Effing Bloody Rantzen Woman,  Stout Life,  Gob On You,  Gay Christian,  Final Demands,  Bouncing Song,  American Express,  Oh! Bosanquet!,  I Believe
IMPRESSIONS:  Back before I got a VCR (top loader, thanks) in 1982, the only possible way to have a permanent record of favourite telly shows was either to back my radio shack tape recorder up to the TV speaker and press record or else to be lucky enough to find a record album of the show.  Around 1980, due to the newly-acquired habit of my local PBS station to play British comedy shows, I first saw NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS and was thrilled when visiting my local Sam Goody at the Moorestown Mall to find an LP of said comedy show in the record racks so I naturally bought it.  The album of course was on BBC Records and finding any LP from this label was a red letter day for me; this same Sam Goody also provided me with LPs of THE TWO RONNIES, THE WORST OF MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS and a couple GOON SHOW albums including THE LAST GOON SHOW OF ALL.  There was also a sort-of "BBC Records Greatest Hits" collection called "THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE BBC" which featured selections from all these records and more (one I will surely discuss on this blog one of these fine days).  NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS would come and go rather quickly on my TV then without warning (as did many other British comedy shows aired then) so having these records was the next best thing to watching the show.  And I played this album (and all the other BBC Records I had) quite a lot.  As infrequent as the show's airing proved to be, it must've made some impact on American TV since a couple years later, HBO ripped off the format with their own NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS comedy programme which some old farts like me might remember.  But that wasn't a patch on the original.  This album features many of my favourite sketches from the programme including the absolutely brilliant satire on the religious controversy over MONTY PYTHON'S LIFE OF BRIAN and especially the TV debate in which John Cleese and Michael Palin defended their film against the likes of a close-minded Malcolm Muggeridge.  Also, there are many short comedy bits in between the tracks listed above including the show's patented comedy news reports and tiny skits lasting only a matter of several seconds including one featuring a cameo from Billy Connelly.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Death of a Princess (An Apology),  David Attenborough!  David Bloody Attenborough!,  Confrontation Song,  Airline Safety,  General Synod's Life of Python,  The Ayatollah Song,  Closedown,  Points of View,  That Bleeding Bloody Esther Bloody Effing Bloody Rantzen Woman,  Stout Life,  Gob On You,  Final Demands,  Bouncing Song,  I Believe
GUEST ARTISTS:  Billy Connelly
FACT SHEET:  NOT THE NINE O'CLOCK NEWS:  THE ALBUM is the first of a few LP's culled from the programme.  The sketch comedy show starred Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys-Jones.  This album (as well as it's successors) managed to crack the UK top albums list which was a rarity for "spoken word" or "comedy" albums.  The "fake photo" album cover was made by Steve Connelly.  "Gob On You" was written by Chris Judge Smith.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

ALL THINGS MUST PASS  -  GEORGE HARRISON

YEAR:  1970
LABEL:  Apple
TRACK LISTING:  I'd Have You Anytime,  My Sweet Lord,  Wah-Wah,  Isn't It A Pity,  What Is Life,  If Not For You,  Behind That Locked Door,  Let It Down,  Run of the Mill,  Beware of Darkness,  Apple Scruffs,  Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll),  Awaiting On You All,  All Things Must Pass,  I Dig Love,  Art of Dying,  Isn't It A Pity (Version Two),  Hear Me Lord,  Out of the Blue,  It's Johnny's Birthday,  Plug Me In,  I Remember Jeep,  Thanks For the Pepperoni
BONUS TRACKS:  I Live For You,  Beware of Darkness (acoustic demo),  Let It Down (alternate version),  What Is Life (backing track/alternate mix),  My Sweet Lord (2000)
IMPRESSIONS:  After initially being content with having John Lennon & Paul McCartney write all the Beatles songs, George Harrison slowly came into his own as a songwriter; tentatively at first but with rapidly increasing strength.  However, there was only so much room on a Beatles album and George only could get one or two songs per.  Come the break-up, Harrison had a huge backlog of material dating all the way back to 1966 and he produced a solo debut album that was the first 3-record LP by a single rock artist (the Woodstock concert album came first about 6 months earlier but it's by multiple artists).  For such a huge album, the material is remarkably strong. . .although your patience might be tested a little by the "Apple Jam" portion of the album (the third LP) which consists solely of instrumental jams by Harrison and his all-star friends.  "I didn't have many tunes on Beatles records," Harrison has said, "so doing an album like ALL THINGS MUST PASS was like going to the bathroom and letting it out".  Far from a pile of poo, George Harrison's debut album is my favourite first solo record by any Beatle -- and that's some accomplishment.   
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  I'd Have You Anytime,  My Sweet Lord,  Wah-Wah,  Isn't It A Pity,  What Is Life,  If Not For You,  Behind That Locked Door,  Let It Down,  Beware of Darkness,  Awaiting On You All,  All Things Must Pass,  I Dig Love,  Art of Dying,  It's Johnny's Birthday,  Thanks For the Pepperoni,  Out of the Blue,  I Live For You
GUEST ARTISTS:  Eric Clapton (electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals),  Gary Wright (piano, organ, electric piano), Klaus Voormann (bass, electric guitar),  Ringo Starr (drums, percussion),  Billy Preston (organ, piano),  Dave Mason (electric and acoustic guitars),  Phil Collins (congas on "Art of Dying"),  Ginger Baker (drums),  Bobby Whitlock (piano, organ, backing vocals),  Carl Radle (bass),  Jim Gordon (drums)
FACT SHEET:  ALL THINGS MUST PASS is George Harrison's first album.  The double single "My Sweet Lord/Isn't It A Pity" went to number one as did the album which has been certified 6x platinum.  "I'd Have You Anytime" was co-written by George Harrison and Bob Dylan.  "If Not For You" was written by Bob Dylan.  The album was co-produced by Phil Spector.  Arising out of this recording session, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon and Carl Radle would team-up with Eric Clapton to form Derek and the Dominos.  The actual line-up of guest artists is still up for debate.  Future YES drummer Alan White, who played on this album, states that John Lennon "may have" played on "If Not For You" while it's also rumoured that Maurice Gibb of the BEE GEES may have played keyboards on "Isn't It A Pity" and PINK FLOYD's Richard Wright may have also played organ on the album.  The black-and-white cover photo of George Harrison surrounded by garden gnomes was taken by Barry Feinstein on the main lawn of Friar Park and is thought to represent Harrison's removal from the Beatles (there are 4 gnomes) and his possible superiority over them; John Lennon is said to have been particularly annoyed by the cover.  For the 30th anniversary remastered cd of the album released in 2001, George Harrison re-sequenced the "Apple Jam" portion of the album so that the song order is changed to "It's Johnny's Birthday", "Plug Me In", "I Remember Jeep", "Thanks For the Pepperoni" and "Out of the Blue".       

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

DICKORY DOC WITH ALL HIS FRIENDS  -  ALDO FARNESE
 
YEAR:  1966
LABEL:  Piper
TRACK LISTING:  Dickory Doc Theme - Introduction with Doc,  Choo-Choo sings "Playmate",  Doc & Jingle Jim sing "A Frog He Would A-Wooing Go",  Mr. Bigsby sings "ABC Song",  Doc & Little Jock sing "Frere Jacques",  Doc & Professor Schnitzel sing "Schnitzelbank",  Doc sings "The Fox",  Doc Is Visited by Supermailman - Supermailman Does "Tap Dance",  Doc Visits Abby - Doc & Abby sing "On Top of Old Smokey",  Doc Visits Puffy - Puffy sings "Puff the Flameless Dragon",  Doc & All His Friends sing "Happy Birthday",  Doc Bids Farewell and sings "Closing Theme"
IMPRESSIONS:  I was too young when I got this record to remember when it was but all accounts point to it being when it came out in 1966 so this must be my candidate for the first album I ever owned.  In fact, though I must've been plopped down in front of the TV to watch the show during it's run on local Philadelphia station Channel 48 from 1966-1969, I don't really remember the show other than from this record.  But naturally, this album is something of a treasured relic from my childhood.  So imagine my chagrin when my mother accidentally stepped on it and broke the record off at the first two tracks!  I was understandably heart-broken since this is not the kind of album one could find again; there was never going to be a re-issue of it on vinyl, cassette or cd owing to its extreme obscurity as a children's TV show long-forgotten.  It was only about 10-15 years ago due to the intraweb and Ye Olde Ebaye that I finally managed to track down a copy once again and now I can hear once again the entire nostalgic album - particularly the first song duet by Dickory Doc & Choo-Choo called "Playmate".  I absolutely love this song - in fact, my fondness is so great that I am sometimes moved to tears when I hear it.  This no doubt stems from my always having known this song as from the earliest age and that it was probably the very first "favourite song" I ever had in my lifetime.  There is just something so melancholy about the song; I've heard it in several other versions (the song originates from the 1940's, I believe) but this wonderful rendition by Dickory Doc and his puppet Choo-Choo remains definitive to me.  So once again, I draw your attention to the distress I felt when this was one of the songs that was broken off the outer rim of the record album and I could no longer hear it for decades.  Then imagine my joy upon finding another copy of the record and hearing it again after all those years!  
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Oh, come on!  Could it be anything else but all of 'em?!?!?!  With "Playmate" leading the way?
FACT SHEET:  DICKORY DOC & ALL HIS FRIENDS is a  record deriving from the children's programme produced by Kaiser Broadcasting on Philadelphia's UHF WKBS Channel 48 from 1966 to 1969.  Aldo Farnese played Dickory Doc who ran a toy shop at the North Pole making toys for Santa Claus with his puppet assistants Choo-Choo, Professor Schnitzel, Jingle Jim, Little Jock and Mr. Bigsby the Buka Bird.  Supermailman (Chic Laganella) would fly in every day delivering the mail and occasionally Doc would visit Abby the Adorable Snowman and Puffy the Flameless Dragon.  After the series ended, Farnese and Laganella continued with a children's programme featuring Adam Android which took place on a spaceship and used some of the Dickory Doc puppets.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

DIABOLICAL STREAK  -  JILL TRACY

YEAR:  1999
LABEL:  Sleight of Hand
TRACK LISTING:  Evil Night Together,  The Fine Art of Poisoning,  Pulling Your Insides Out,  Extraordinary,  The Proof,  Just the Other Side of Pain,  You Leave Me Cold,  Doomsday Serenade,  Precursor #7 (For A Levitation),  Diabolical Streak
IMPRESSIONS:  Picture if you will in your mind's eye if Edith Piaf was a vampire.  No no, that's not quite right.  How about if Marianne Faithful was actually a murderous living in a spooky old house at the end of a dark street and she poisoned trick-or-treating children with arsenic-laced Mars bars.  No, that's almost right but not quite.  Imagine a goth Marlene Dietrich haunting 1920's Berlin.  Well, you don't have to imagine it because Jill Tracy's here to show you exactly what all of the above would be like.  Termed a "goth-rock cabaret singer-songwriter and pianist", Tracy might be the perfect performer at a party thrown by Edward Gorey in a crumbling old castle.  Denise Sullivan of allmusic astutely points out "...it would appear she (Tracy) lives the life of which she sings and isn't just playing dress up (her wan visage would fit nicely onto one of Tim Burton's storyboards)".  Indeed, Tracy's languid upright piano playing subtly accompanied with a sparse rhythm section provided by her Malcontent Orchestra creates the aura of a spider woman slowly luring the listener to his/her doom.  And we're all quite happy to go as the poison is spiked with sugar.  Tracy's musical style is very cinematic and wikipedia lists her influences as the film music of Bernard Herrmann and the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang, the stories of Ray Bradbury (presumably not the science fiction ones), and Rod Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE.  The album ends with the sound of a scratchy gramophone record which gives the flavour of early 20th century table-tapping and spiritualism to the already heady atmosphere of Dietrichesque Berlin cabaret in a graveyard.  Denise Sullivan adds a witty coda to her description of Jill Tracy by adding "...she might just be who Marilyn Manson turns into when he grows up".
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Evil Night Together,  The Fine Art of Poisoning,  Pulling Your Insides Out,  Extraordinary,  Just the Other Side of Pain,  You Leave Me Cold,  Doomsday Serenade
FACT SHEET:  DIABOLICAL STREAK is Jill Tracy's second album.  She has been awarded "Best of the Bay" by the San Francisco Bay Chronicle and "Evil Night Together" has been awarded the SIBL international Grand Prize for songwriting.  "The Fine Art of Poisoning" was made into an animated short film by Bill Domonkos and was awarded the New Orleans Film Festival's "Best Experimental Film of 2003" and "Best Music Video" by both the 2003 Seattle and Chicago International Film Festivals.  Jill Tracy and the Malcontent Orchestra's new score to the 1922 F.W. Murnau film "NOSFERATU" debuted live at the San Francisco Foreign Cinema in 1999 and toured each Halloween for the next five years; selections from this score became Jill Tracy's 2002 album "IN THE LAND OF PHANTOMS". 

Monday, December 24, 2012

AT LARGE  -  THE KINGSTON TRIO

YEAR:  1959
LABEL:  Capitol
TRACK LISTING:  M.T.A.,  All My Sorrows,  Blow Ye Winds,  Corey Corey,  The Seine,  I Bawled,  Good News,  Getaway John,  The Long Black Rifle,  Early in the Morning,  Scarlet Ribbons,  Remember the Alamo
IMPRESSIONS:  Since my mother was a huge Kingston Trio fan as a teenager (she had even seen them in concert), I always had available to me the complete run of Kingston Trio albums of the Dave Guard and subsequent John Stewart eras.  The Dave Guard years are certainly the definitive incarnation of the band and, while the John Stewart years have much to recommend them, the Trio was mightiest with the line-up of Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds.  Here we have their fourth album which rocketed to number one and was incidentally their first album in stereophonic sound.  Included are a wide range of song subjects from sea shanties to gospel spirituals to western to French to Appalachian to contemporary humour.  The lead-off track "M.T.A." is a contemporary rewrite of a traditional folk song (a common practice in the entire history of folk music) which describes the tragic fate of a man who rides forever on the Massachusetts Transit Authority subway because he cannot pay the nickel he owes for the fare; this song was a surprising top 20 hit single in 1959.  The strength of the Kingston Trio was not in strict archival preservation of folk music performed with rigid authenticity but instead was the wide dissemination and rescue of old folk songs which may have disappeared from memory had not the Kingston Trio (and those early folkies like them) popularized them in the 1950s; most folk music stars of the 1960's (including Bob Dylan himself) count themselves as early Kingston Trio fans.  Every single Trio album of the Dave Guard years is a classic and "AT LARGE" is one more of them.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  M.T.A.,  All My Sorrows,  Blow Ye Winds,  Corey Corey,  The Seine,  I Bawled,  Good News,  The Long Black Rifle,  Early in the Morning,  Scarlet Ribbons
FACT SHEET:  AT LARGE is the Kingston Trio's fourth album.  The album spent 15 weeks at number one and was one of four consecutive albums to appear in the Billboard top ten that year.  It was the first Kingston Trio album in stereo.  AT LARGE was certified gold and is the biggest selling Kingston Trio album except for a greatest hits "THE BEST OF THE KINGSTON TRIO".  "AT LARGE" won the first Grammy Award for "Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording" and was nominated for "Best Vocal Group or Chorus".  It is also the first album to feature David "Buck" Wheat on bass; a collaboration that would continue until 1961.  Polls in both Billboard and Cashbox voted the Kingston Trio the "Best Group of the Year for 1959". 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

LOUNGE-A-PALOOZA  -  VARIOUS ARTISTS

YEAR:  1997
LABEL:  Hollywood Records
TRACK LISTING:  Miniskirt - Combustible Edison and Esquivel,  This Guy's In Love With You - Fastball,  She Don't Use Jelly - Ben Folds Five,  A Rose Is A Rose - Poe,  Black Hole Sun - Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme,  The Girl From Ipanema - Pizzicato Five,  Zaz Turned Blue - Polly Jean Harvey & Eric Drew Feldman,  I'm Not In Love - Fun Lovin' Criminals,  Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell & Michelle Shocked with Texas Tornados,  Witchcraft - Edwyn Collins,  Love Will Keep Us Together - Jimmy Scott & Flea,  Music To Watch Girls By - The James Taylor Quartet,  The Good Life - Cassandra Wilson,  Robert Goulet (On the River Nile) - Chris Ballew (of the Presidents of the United States of America)
IMPRESSIONS:  During the mid-90s, there was an explosion of interest in lounge music aka space-age bachelor pad music aka exotica aka whatever other moniker slapped on this genre of music.  This was also the heyday of so-called "alternative music" and the Lollapalooza concerts.  So naturally somebody thought of combining the two.  This album is the very definition of a "mixed bag".  There are some absolutely top-notch songs here and there are some extremely forgettable kitsch.  The album kicks off appropriately with the master of space-age bachelor pad music Esquivel and his classic tune "Miniskirt" performed with Combustible Edison.  Although, no one's gonna convince me that it isn't simply the original Esquivel recording with Combustible Edison playing over it.  Still, it's good fun and a nice way to start the album.  The album continues in an even stronger fashion with the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic "This Guy's In Love With You" nicely covered by Fastball.  Next is a classic version of the Flaming Lips' "She Don't Use Jelly" by Ben Folds Five, Poe's cover of her brother's "A Rose Is A Rose", Steve & Eydie's hilarious cover of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun", Pizzicato Five's quirky cover of Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema" and an absolutely fabulous cover of Mel Torme's "Zaz Turned Blue" by PJ Harvey & Eric Drew Feldman.  Next there's the rather uninspired Fun Lovin' Criminals cover of 10cc's "I'm Not In Love" followed by a truly terrific version of Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman by the man himself teamed with Michelle Shocked and Freddy Fender's Texas Tornados.  From here on out, the album peters out.  But up to this point, for the most part, we have a nicely idiosyncratic listen and a snapshot of the mid-90's music scene.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  This Guy's In Love With You - Fastball,  She Don't Use Jelly - Ben Folds Five,  A Rose Is A Rose - Poe,  Black Hole Sun - Steve & Eydie,  Zaz Turned Blue - Polly Jean Harvey & Eric Drew Feldman,  Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell & Michelle Shocked with Texas Tornados
FACT SHEET:  LOUNGE-A-PALOOZA is a compilation of lounge music mashed up with alternative music.  Or something.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

AMMONIA AVENUE  -  THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT

YEAR:  1984
LABEL:  Arista
TRACK LISTING:  Prime Time,  Let Me Go Home,  One Good Reason,  Since the Last Goodbye,  Don't Answer Me,  Dancing on a Highwire,  You Don't Believe,  Pipeline,  Ammonia Avenue
IMPRESSIONS:  I got this LP as a present either for my 19th birthday or for Christmas.  Memory fails.  Regardless, I had been a fan of the Alan Parsons Project since I heard their first album "TALES OF MYSTERY AND IMAGINATION" at family friend Ronnie's house in the mid-70's.  Ever since that time, I had gotten each TAPP album as it came out.  This one was part of their early-80s hot streak beginning with "THE TURN OF A FRIENDLY CARD"'s chart success through the even bigger-selling "EYE IN THE SKY" and culminating with this album which saw their last huge radio hit with "Don't Answer Me".  This album is seriously gunning for chart success but it also features some really fine songs beginning with the superb album opener "Prime Time" which I've always considered another stab at their huge hit "Eye In the Sky" due to its similar sound.  While the single, released after "Don't Answer Me", didn't do as well possibly due to a sense of "copycat hitmaking", I find "Prime Time" to be the superior track and much better than "Eye In the Sky".  "Don't Answer Me", of course, goes for that Phil Spector sound and was a true departure in the group's usual sound.  This may not be my favourite Alan Parsons Project album but it is a rock solid collection of strong songs culminating in the epic, cinematic title track -- somewhat of a tradition in the Project's album closers.  The theme or concept of the album has a few different takes; the University of Wikipedia thinks it's about "
the possible misunderstanding of industrial scientific developments from a public perspective and a lack of understanding of the public from a scientific perspective" while allmusic.com's Mike DeGagne describes it as illustrating"how the lines of communication between people are diminishing, and how we as a society grow more spiritually isolated and antisocial."  I suspect quite a bit of both is true.  Just one glimpse at the year of release should clue one into the rather Orwellian flavour of the album.  One look at that album cover also never fails to conjure up images of "QUATERMASS 2".
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Prime Time,  One Good Reason,  Since the Last Goodbye,  Don't Answer Me,  Dancing on a Highwire,  You Don't Believe,  Pipeline,  Ammonia Avenue
FACT SHEET:  AMMONIA AVENUE is the Alan Parsons Project's seventh album and has been certified gold.  All the songs were written by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson as usual.  "You Don't Believe" appeared a year before its inclusion on "AMMONIA AVENUE" on THE BEST OF THE ALAN PARSONS PROJECT compilation.  Eric Woolfson sings lead vocal on "Prime Time", "One Good Reason", "Don't Answer Me" and "Ammonia Avenue".  Lenny Zakatek sings lead vocal on "Let Me Go Home" and "You Don't Believe".  Chris Rainbow sings lead vocal on "Since the Last Goodbye".  Colin Blunstone sings lead vocal on "Dancing On A Highwire".  The album title was inspired by Eric Woolfson's visit to the Imperial Chemical Industries facility in Billingham, England where he saw a street sign reading "Ammonia Avenue" in a street consisting of miles of pipes with no people or trees in evidence.  The music video for "Don't Answer Me" featured art and animation by DC Comics' artist Michael Kaluta while the music video for "Prime Time" was inspired by horror author John Collier's story "Evening Primrose"; previously adapted for an episode of the "ESCAPE" radio programme. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER  -  ELTON JOHN

YEAR:  1973
LABEL:  MCA
TRACK LISTING:  Daniel,  Teacher I Need You,  Elderberry Wine,  Blues For Baby and Me,  Midnight Creeper,  Have Mercy On the Criminal,  I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol,  Texan Love Song,  Crocodile Rock,  High Flying Bird
BONUS TRACKS:  Screw You (Young Man's Blues),  Jack Rabbit,  Whenever You're Ready (We'll Go Steady Again),  Skyline Pigeon (piano version)
IMPRESSIONS:  Here's one from the glory years.  This was the time when Elton John could do no wrong.  Everything he released went to number one (including, of course, this).  Here we have Elton experimenting a little with his sound by writing songs from different musical "genres":  the countrified strumming of "Texan Love Song", the orchestral "Have Mercy On the Criminal", the fabulous fifties of "Crocodile Rock" or the brass-booming trudge of "I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol" to mention a few.  For all his experimentation, the album remains uneven with some of my favourite Elton songs ("High Flying Bird", "I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol", "Have Mercy On the Criminal") cheek by jowl with forgettable offerings ("Texan Love Song", "Midnight Creeper", "Teacher I Need You").  This being said, the good stuff is certainly good enough to make this album a must have.  Then, of course, nowadays the cd is enhanced with great bonus tracks including the definitive version of "Skyline Pigeon" (much better than the clanky version which first appeared on the "EMPTY SKY" album).  There are also included the two boffo blockbuster hits "Daniel" and "Crocodile Rock" which, despite suffering from decades of overplaying, still hold up as great songs. 
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Daniel,  Have Mercy On the Criminal,  I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol,  Crocodile Rock,  High Flying Bird,  Screw You (Young Man's Blues),  Jack Rabbit,  Skyline Pigeon (piano version)
FACT SHEET:  DON'T SHOOT ME I'M ONLY THE PIANO PLAYER is Elton John's sixth album.  It was his second straight number one album and featured his first US number one single "Crocodile Rock" as well as "Daniel" which reached number two.  The album was recorded at Strawberry Studios at Château d'Hérouville, France and was produced by Gus Dudgeon.  Elton John biographer Philip Norman reveals the album was named after an encounter at an L.A. party in which Groucho Marx pointed his fingers at Elton playfully miming a six-gun with Elton reportedly quipping "Don't shoot me, I'm only the piano player!".  The album cover does feature a movie poster of the Marx Brothers film "GO WEST".  "I'm Going To Be A Teenage Idol" was reportedly written about T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan.  According to Elton John biographer Elizabeth Rosenthal, "Crocodile Rock" is a deliberate tribute to fifties music with Elton's vocal mimicking Bobby Vee, "Midnight Creeper" is in the style of the Rolling Stones and "High Flying Bird" is in the style of Van Morrison.  "DON'T SHOOT ME" is one of only two albums to feature only the core band of Davey Johnstone (guitar), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums) without percussionist Ray Cooper; the other being 1984's "BREAKING HEARTS" discussed elsewhere on this blog.  The original version of "Skyline Pigeon" appears on Elton's first album "EMPTY SKY"; the version here is a re-recording which originally appeared as the B-side to "Daniel".  The other three bonus tracks appeared before this on the Elton John 1990 box set "TO BE CONTINUED...".     

Thursday, December 20, 2012

THE CIRCLE GAME  -  TOM RUSH

YEAR:  1968
LABEL:  Elektra
TRACK LISTING:  Tin Angel,  Something in the Way She Moves,  Urge For Going,  Sunshine Sunshine,  The Glory of Love,  Shadow Dream Song,  The Circle Game,  So Long,  Rockport Sunday,  No Regrets,  Coda
IMPRESSIONS:  Tom Rush is one of my dad's icons.  He met him back in the 1970s and in the last ten years my parents have travelled up north many times to see him perform live; Rush has invited my parents to sit on stage while he performed and has referred to them lovingly as "my stalkers".  Needless to say, I've had this album around in my life practically as long as I can remember.  As the itunes review for the album rightly states:  "...THE CIRCLE GAME is a perfect song cycle, telling the story of a relationship from start to end."  The review goes on to tell us that "This album is often cited as the catalyst for folk singers becoming singer/songwriters and as a key influence on the music that would dominate the early '70s."  All this is most probably true.  Another reason why this album was so important is that it introduced three then-practically-unknown songwriters by the names of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne; all of whose songs Rush recorded on this superb song cycle.  Then, of course, there is Rush's own much-covered self-penned song "No Regrets" which the Walker Brothers later had a big hit with.  To top it all off, Rush's instrumental "Rockport Sunday" holds a special place in my heart since it is about my favourite place on earth:  Rockport, Massachusetts.  Neither my parents nor I would never have known about Rockport if it hadn't've been for this song.  And my mother requests it every time they see Rush in concert.  As previously noted, THE CIRCLE GAME thematically "tells" the story of the path of a relationship from beginning to end by the choosing of the expertly-sequenced songs.  Rush's recording of Joni Mitchell's song "The Circle Game" pre-dates her own and, with all due respect to the great Joni Mitchell, Rush's version of "Urge For Going" is the definitive version on record.  James Taylor's "Something In the Way She Moves" receives an unexpected up-tempo rendition; as does the perennial song used in the film "GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER":  "The Glory of Love".  And then there's the gorgeous rendition of Jackson Browne's "Shadow Dream Song" which, again, is the definitive version to my mind.  Itunes goes on to call this album "Essential"; and it's hard to argue that fact.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Tin Angel,  Something in the Way She Moves,  Urge For Going,  Shadow Dream Song,  The Circle Game,  So Long,  Rockport Sunday,  No Regrets
FACT SHEET:  THE CIRCLE GAME is Tom Rush's sixth album.  "Tin Angel", "Urge For Going" and "The Circle Game" were written by Joni Mitchell.  "Something in the Way She Moves" and "Sunshine Sunshine" were written by James Taylor.  "The Glory of Love" was written by Billy Hill.  "Shadow Dream Song" was written by Jackson Browne.  "So Long" was written by Charlie Rich.  The cover photograph features Tom Rush with his then-girlfriend Jill Lumpkin and the iconic (in our household) photo was taken by Linda Eastman (later to be better known as Linda McCartney).  The instrumental coda which ended the original album was always left off cd reissues until it was restored to the 40th Anniversary edition along with bonus tracks of the single versions of "Something in the Way She Moves" and "Urge For Going" along with take one of "The Circle Game".   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

PETER'S FRIENDS:  THE ALBUM   -   VARIOUS ARTISTS

YEAR:  1992
LABEL:  Epic
TRACK LISTING:  Everybody Wants To Rule the World  -  Tears For Fears,  My Baby Just Cares For Me  -  Nina Simone,  You're My Best Friend  -  Queen,  Girls Just Want To Have Fun  -  Cyndi Lauper,  If You Let Me Stay  -  Terence Trent D'Arby,  Hungry Heart  -  Bruce Springsteen,  Don't Get Me Wrong  -  The Pretenders,  The King of Rock 'N' Roll  -  Prefab Sprout,  What's Love Got To Do With It  -  Tina Turner,  Give Me Strength  -  Eric Clapton,  Love and Regret  -  Deacon Blue,  Let's Stay Together  -  The Pasadenas,  Rio  -  Michael Nesmith,  Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home)  -  Paul Young,  I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues  -  Elton John,  As the Days Go By  -  Daryl Braithwaite
IMPRESSIONS:    I usually watch PETER'S FRIENDS in the week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  Almost every year, in fact, I pop in the DVD because it's perfect viewing for the dwindling year.  Set on December 30th through January 1st, the film which has unfairly been called "the British BIG CHILL" finds a group of college friends (who graduated in 1982) who meet up again in the year 1992 with all their neuroses and baggage dragging along behind them.  The film, if you're interested, is much better than "THE BIG CHILL" and it's sure a whole lot funnier.  However, the soundtrack is one of the most perfect fits for any film I've seen.  Merely a collection of (mostly) 80's pop songs (a soundtrack practice for which I'm usually more than a little dubious), the selection of songs is so expertly chosen as to really compliment the film.  The "backward-looking" 80's songs naturally call up nostalgia for Peter's Friends themselves but also for those of us who were around in the 80s too; and the inevitable melancholy which accompanies these songs as they are juxtaposed with the "present life" of the characters speaks all the more clearly to the disappointment with the way their lives have unfolded.  Each song seems to fit perfectly its corresponding scene in the film:  the Tears For Fears song during the opening credits accompanies a "time capsule" of clips from the years 1982-1992, the Pretenders' "Don't Get Me Wrong" bouncing along during the joyous dinner scene, or the sedate early morning fog-enshrouded perambulations around the estate grounds to the strains of Eric Clapton's "Give Me Strength" are just a few of the nice touches.  Now, this isn't a perfect soundtrack album -- there are several songs which appear on the soundtrack which are not in the film at all and they can be safely skipped over -- but the songs on this soundtrack are so well-chosen that I even like the songs I don't really like!  For instance, I can't stand Bruce Springsteen but "Hungry Heart" gets a pass from me simply because it's in this film!  I will not listen to that song under any other circumstances . . . except if I'm listening to the PETER'S FRIENDS album.  Now, that's some accolade for a soundtrack album!
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Everybody Wants To Rule the World  -  Tears For Fears,  My Baby Just Cares For Me  -  Nina Simone,  You're My Best Friend  -  Queen,  Hungry Heart  -  Bruce Springsteen,  Don't Get Me Wrong  -  The Pretenders,  What's Love Got To Do With It  -  Tina Turner,  Give Me Strength  -  Eric Clapton,  Rio  -  Michael Nesmith
FACT SHEET:  PETER'S FRIENDS - THE ALBUM is the soundtrack for the 1992 film written by Rita Rudner and Martin Bergman and produced and directed by Kenneth Branagh.  The film stars Stephen Fry, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Imelda Staunton, Alphonsia Emmanuel, Hugh Laurie, Phyllida Law and Tony Slattery.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

ESCAPADE  -  TIM FINN

YEAR:  1983
LABEL:  Mushroom/A&M
TRACK LISTING:  Fraction Too Much Friction,  Staring at the Embers,  Through the Years,  Not For Nothing,  In A Minor Key,  Made My Day,  Wait and See,  Below the Belt,  I Only Want To Know,  Growing Pains
IMPRESSIONS:  This album came out my first year of college.  Already a huge Split Enz fan, a solo album by Tim Finn was definitely something I snapped up in a hurry.  This record (yes, vinyl) I immediately taped onto cassette so I could listen to it in the car tape deck of my 1975 copper Ford Granada while I drove the 40+ minute commute to Glassboro State College ("Because it's there, it's cheap and you're never too stupid" was our comedy motto in the school magazine).  Made while Tim was still a member of Split Enz, this album featured songs some of which he had been holding onto since the late 1970s because they didn't fit the Enz sound.  What that is generally said to mean is that they were more "groove" oriented with a stronger dance rhythm  --  and this is no doubt the truth as there is a lot to dance to on this album while Split Enz doesn't offer boogiemonsters much in the way of booty-shaking opportunities.  Also, "ESCAPADE" is very definitely more "bubblegum pop" sounding as well and much more radio friendly; this fact born out by the substantial success of the album for Tim which was the primary kick in the pants which led him to quit Split Enz after the "CONFLICTING EMOTIONS" album later that year.  While I am still very fond of this album, some of it is a tad harder to listen to all these years later without the fine fog of nostalgia to soften some of the cheesier and more blatantly bubblegum sounds which occur from time to time on the album.  Listening to "ESCAPADE" 30 years later does produce one or two cringe-worthy moments.  However, the album is still full of packed with great songs that, with a more modern arrangement, would still hold up today.  Lead-off single "Fraction Too Much Friction" is still a fun song with a slight reggae beat while "In A Minor Key" is probably the most Enz-like song on the album.  The bright and breezy "Through the Years", the perfect-for-driving perambulation of "Not For Nothing" and the melodic "Wait and See" are stand-out tracks even today as are the "heavy-on-the-groove" tracks "I Only Want To Know" and "Below the Belt"; the latter song apparently only appearing on the American version of the LP replacing the song "Grand Adventure".  Also, the song sequencing from the original Mushroom Records album shuffles the song order for the States.  All in all, even today in Tim Finn's 60th year, "ESCAPADE" is an enjoyable listen with it's bright red cover signalling the candy-coated goodness inside.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Fraction Too Much Friction,  Through the Years,  Not For Nothing,  In A Minor Key,  Wait and See,  Below the Belt,  I Only Want To Know
GUEST ARTISTS:  Ricky Fataar (drums, percussion, keyboards, backing vocals),  Venetta Fields (backing vocals),  Richard Tee (piano on "Fraction Too Much Friction",  Rhodes on "In A Minor Key" and "Wait and See"),  Vince Gill (mandolin on "Not For Nothing")
FACT SHEET:  ESCAPADE is Tim Finn's first album.  The album was meant to be a temporary side project for Tim after which he would return as usual to Split Enz; however the unexpected mass success of the album surprised the singer and left him preoccupied when returning to work on Split Enz's "CONFLICTING EMOTIONS" album and eventually led to his departure from the band.  A more pop-oriented sound for the album was the goal as Finn brought in such accomplished session musicians as the great Richard Tee (who famously appeared on classic albums by Billy Joel, Paul Simon, etc.), Ricky Fataar (percussionist on many pop albums as well as being a member of the Rutles) and soul-singer Venetta Fields (who backed such bands as the Rolling Stones on "EXILE FROM MAIN STREET").  The presence of future country music star Vince Gill on mandolin still astounds me!

Monday, December 17, 2012

THE MURRAY HILL RADIO THEATER PRESENTS THE SHADOW  -  ORSON WELLES

YEAR:  1976
LABEL:  Murray Hill
TRACK LISTING:  The White God,  Murder On Approval,  Aboard the Steamship Amazon,  The Creeper,  The Power of the Mind,  The Hypnotized Audience
IMPRESSIONS:  Back around 1979 when I first got into old radio shows via my friend Ed Jacoby, I got my first taste of the Shadow with this 3 record box set I checked out of my school library.  I kept renewing the record and kept them checked out, as I recall, the entire months of October, November and December.  So therefore, while there's nothing Christmasy here, I do associate this record with winter and the Christmas season.  I taped the records, naturally, and listened to the millions of times but there was nothing quite as nice as having the actual LP to put on my turntable.  There is, of course, practically no better radio show opening than THE SHADOW with Rosa Rio's hauntingly spooky organ music and the classic tag line "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows!"  But I also loved the commercials spoken by the announcer for Goodrich Safety Silvertown tires "with the lifesaver tread"; there was just something so evocative about picturing in my mind's eye the rainy streets at night from these commercials and the blinking show hadn't even started yet.  Then of course there were the fine episodes taken from Orson Welles' tenure as Lamont Cranston/The Shadow; six corkers including the exotic "White God" residing inside an active volcano and probably my favourite all-time Shadow episode "The Creeper" in which a creepy character sneaks into people's homes at night (usually during a thunderstorm) via a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels beneath the city to kidnap his victims and spirit them away in the dark, drippy catacombs beneath the earth.  I mean, how can you beat this stuff?!?  My adolescent ears spun and my brain bubbled as my imagination and "mind's eye" were sparked into life.  
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  I will resist the temptation to say all of 'em so I'll choose:  The White God,  The Creeper,  The Hypnotized Audience
FACT SHEET:  THE MURRAY HILL RADIO THEATER PRESENTS THE SHADOW was a 3 record box set featuring six episodes of the Shadow radio programme.  THE SHADOW programme in this era starred Orson Welles as Lamont Cranston aka the Shadow and Agnes Moorehead as Margo Lane.  "The White God" was originally broadcast May 1, 1938.  "Murder On Approval" was originally broadcast August 21, 1938.  "Aboard the Steamship Amazon" was originally broadcast July 17, 1938.  "The Creeper" was originally broadcast May 29, 1938.  "The Power of the Mind" was originally broadcast July 3, 1938.  "The Hypnotized Audience" was originally broadcast March 27, 1938.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

THE 25TH DAY OF DECEMBER  -  THE STAPLE SINGERS

YEAR:  1962
LABEL:  Riverside
TRACK LISTING:  The Last Month of the Year,  The Virgin Mary Had One Son,  Go Tell It On the Mountain,  Joy To the World,  Holy Unto the Lord,  The Savior Is Born,  Sweet Little Jesus Boy,  No Room At the Inn,  There Was A Star,  O Little Town of Bethlehem,  Wasn't That A Mighty Day,  Silent Night
IMPRESSIONS:  Hey, you know it's Christmas time?  You'd never know it from this blog recently.  However, I thought I should post at least a couple Christmas albums this time of year.  And I frankly can't think of many better ones than this 1962 Staple Singers outting.  You may or may not know that I consider Mavis Staples one of the greatest voices of the 20th century (and beyond) and this album is a spectacular example of the lady at her prime.  In fact, Pops, Yvonne and Pervis are also at the top of their form as the simple, unfussy song arrangements don't get in the way of the Staples' performance making this one of the most enjoyable Christmas albums you're likely to hear.  The organ playing of Maceo Woods is placed far enough back in the mix as not to overpower the vocals while Al Duncan's drumming is sympathetic as well.  Pops Staple's trademark "spooky" reverb guitar playing is the perfect counterpoint to Mavis' glorious voice and the whole thing ends up a classic album.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Oh come on!  All of 'em!
GUEST ARTISTS:  Maceo Woods (organ), Al Duncan (drums)
FACT SHEET:  It's difficult to number the Staple Singers albums so I won't attempt it.  The album was recorded at Chicago's Universal Studios in 1962. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

THE NYLON CURTAIN  -  BILLY JOEL

YEAR:  1982
LABEL:  Columbia
TRACK LISTING:  Allentown,  Laura,  Pressure,  Goodnight Saigon,  She's Right On Time,  A Room of Our Own,  Surprises,  Scandinavian Skies,  Where's the Orchestra
IMPRESSIONS:  It's the early Reagan years in America and Billy made an album about the bleak outlook for the American Dream that we would do better than our parents.  This album is one of Joel's personal favourites and he laboured over it more than any other album before.  It is a quite ambitious project in that it tackles many of the concerns of the early 1980s.  From the opening factory whistle, Joel announces the decline of the American steel industry and many other industries, in fact, with the anthemic "Allentown".  Coming only a year and a bit after the murder of John Lennon, "THEY NYLON CURTAIN" has its fair share of Beatles and particularly Lennonesque aspects; none more prominently than the terrifically Beatles-like "Laura" which is a more successful homage than the rather laboured "INNOCENT MAN" album to come later.  Joel's singing voice in "Scandinavian Skies" either consciously or unconsciously takes on a very John Lennon-like timbre and delivery; all this along with the drum riff from Paul Simon's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover".  The dawning of the hedonistic consumerist paradise of the 1980s was already on Joel's mind in the sharp, biting wit of "Pressure".  The long-delayed acceptance of Vietnam veterans perhaps got it's primal start in the intensely moving "Goodnight Saigon".  "A Room of Our Own" sounds like a lost Elton John song; if you listen to this song and can't hear Elton John in every note you simply aren't familiar with Elton John.  I wonder why La Reg never covered it?  I suppose Elton figured that Billy Joel had already covered a song Elton himself had never even done so there was no need.  Or something.  "Surprises" is no doubt written about his wife Elizabeth as was "Just the Way You Are" but it is the antithesis of that earlier song in that it documents the messy break-up of that relationship in a Marvin Gaye-"Here, My Dear" juggular vein.  The album winds up with the melancholy "piano man" torch song "Where's the Orchestra" sitting alone back in the smoky piano bar after hitting all the stops through the land of the Nylon Curtain.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Allentown,  Laura,  Pressure,  Goodnight Saigon,  A Room of Our Own,  Surprises
FACT SHEET:  THE NYLON CURTAIN is Billy Joel's eighth album and was produced by Phil Ramone.  It is one of the first albums to be recorded, mixed and mastered entirely digitally.  The album was nominated for the Album of the Year Grammy Award.

Friday, December 14, 2012

NEGOTIATIONS AND LOVE SONGS 1971 - 1986  -  PAUL SIMON

YEAR:  1988
LABEL:  Warner Bros.
TRACK LISTING:  Mother and Child Reunion,  Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,  Something So Right,  St. Judy's Comet,  Loves Me Like A Rock,  Kodachrome,  Have A Good Time,  50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,  Still Crazy After All These Years,  Late in the Evening,  Slip Slidin' Away,  Hearts and Bones,  Train In the Distance,  Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War,  Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes,  You Can Call Me Al
IMPRESSIONS:  Once more we have basically a greatest hits album - which I don't like to do except when I don't really own "actual" albums by an artist and this is one of those times.  This is basically the only Paul Simon cd I own and I'm OK with that.  Even though it makes the cardinal sin of omitting "American Tune" from the track list!  I'm pretty sure this collection has been deleted in favour of newer "best of" cds but this is the one I prefer (again, I'd like "American Tune" added to it).  I mean come on, the cover photo of Simon in fedora with film noir shadows falling across him can't be beat by the generic covers of later greatest hits albums.  Grumpy ole Paul knocked out some substantial hits in the 70s and 80s period covered here before he co-opted African music on "GRACELAND" (which frankly left me cold as a Franco & OK Jazz fan).  As 80's yuppies and critics were lauding GRACELAND as groundbreaking and original, I was thinking a chap named Peter Gabriel had been there before and managed to retain his own musical identity rather than simply copying another musical style.  But here we have the post-Garfunkel and pre-Graceland Paul Simon - the one I grew up hearing in addition to the old Simon & Garfunkel records I loved.  Simon's 70's work always showed him as a bit of a magpie with the slightly reggae rhythm of "Mother and Child Reunion" (named after a chicken and egg dish he spied on a menu), the slightly latin sound in the bouncy hop of "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard" which bounces like a basketball in that very same schoolyard or the pseudo-gospel of "Loves Me Like A Rock".  On this collection we also get the "nice bright colours" of "Kodachrome" (very S&G sounding), the jazzy sound and playful lyrical exercise of "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover" and the masterpiece solo Simon of "Still Crazy After All These Years" (possibly my favourite song on the album).  I'm also a huge fan of the subdued and biographical "Hearts and Bones" which delineates Simon's marriage to Carrie Fisher ("one and one half wandering Jews") and the smokestack railway sound of "Train In the Distance".  Simon sweetly marries the surrealist painter Magritte with a loving evocation of 50's doo wop groups ("The Penguins, the Moonglows, the Orioles, the Five Satins...") which somehow works with the rocking chair atmosphere of this wonderful song.  Then we come to the African explorations of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" (nicely dueting with Ladysmith Black Mambazo) and the delirious silliness of "You Can Call Me Al" which is just plain joyful.  And then, of course, I prefer having this cd because I'm pretty sure Fink lost his copy.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Mother and Child Reunion,  Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,  Loves Me Like A Rock,  Kodachrome,  50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,  Still Crazy After All These Years,  Slip Slidin' Away,  Hearts and Bones,  Train In the Distance,  Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War,  Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,  You Can Call Me Al
GUEST ARTISTS:  Ladysmith Black Mambazo (vocals on "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"),  Cissy Houston (backing vocals on "Mother and Child Reunion"),  the Dixie Hummingbirds (vocals on "Loves Me Like A Rock"),  Phoebe Snow (backing vocals on "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover),  Patti Austin (backing vocals on "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover"),  the Oak Ridge Boys (vocals on "Slip Slidin' Away"),  Jeff Porcaro (drums on "Train In the Distance"),  the Harptones (vocals on "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog After the War"), Youssou N'Dour (percussion on "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"), Adrian Belew (guitar synthesizer on "You Can Call Me Al")
FACT SHEET:  NEGOTIATIONS AND LOVE SONGS is a greatest hits collection spanning the years 1971 and 1986.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

CHAOS AND CREATION IN THE BACKYARD  -  PAUL MCCARTNEY

YEAR:  2005
LABEL:  EMI
TRACK LISTING:  Fine Line,  How Kind of You,  Jenny Wren,  At the Mercy,  Friends To Go,  English Tea,  Too Much Rain,  A Certain Softness,  Riding To Vanity Fair,  Follow Me,  Promise To You Girl,  This Never Happened Before,  Anyway
BONUS TRACK:  I've Only Got Two Hands (hidden track)
IMPRESSIONS:  That old duffer Macca was not really on my radar when this album came out.  While working at the Hellmouth we "overhead played" McCartney's previous releases typified by that horrendous 9/11 "Freedom" song and the word I used to describe his output then was "insipid".  That's why "BACKYARD" is such a gobsmack because it's incredibly listenable from start to finish and the only embarrassing moment in it occurs when he rips off "People Get Ready" for the first verse of "Anyway".  Or should I call that "homage"?  Somehow it doesn't feel like we're meant to recognize the Curtis Mayfield song but instead it seems more like an "unconscious plagiarism" instance a la George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" or the Rolling Stones' "Has Anybody Seen My Baby".  Other than that, "BACKYARD" is Macca's strongest album in years . . . probably decades.  A great deal of credit for this goes to producer Nigel Godrich who was used to producing Radiohead and Beck and really had no fawning reverence for the ex-Beatle.  This was apparently just what McCartney was looking for when he asked Godrich to produce (at the suggestion of the eminent Sir George Martin, no less).  Apparently, Godrich was fairly blunt and wouldn't allow McCartney to skate by with sub-par material.  In Macca's own words, Godrich "...refused to allow me to sing songs that he didn't like, which was very cheeky of him".  McCartney was reportedly taken aback at first but then upon listening to the results knew he'd made the right choice in producer.  This album has the paradoxical quality of sounding very fresh and energized while at the same time sounding very Beatlesque to me; however its done in such a way not to sound like a pastiche but instead as emerging from McCartney's natural creative bent.  He wasn't copying anybody when he was with the Beatles and Godrich has somehow allowed McCartney to tap that same wellspring.  But all the credit cannot go strictly to the production end because McCartney provides the tunes which would sound good even stripped down and acoustic.  Godrich has managed to kick McCartney up his geriatric bum and enabled the old rocker to sound like the old fab lad whose creativity knew no bounds.  Just when I had counted him out, too!
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Fine Line,  How Kind of You,  Jenny Wren,  At the Mercy,  Friends To Go,  English Tea,  Too Much Rain,  Riding To Vanity Fair,  Follow Me,  This Never Happened Before,  I've Only Got Two Hands
FACT SHEET:  CHAOS AND CREATION IN THE BACKYARD is Paul McCartney's 13th solo album.  Paul McCartney plays a great many of the instruments himself.  The album was nominated for three Grammy Awards including Album of the Year.  "Friends To Go" is inspired by and dedicated to George Harrison.  The cover photograph of a young Paul McCartney playing guitar in his family's back garden in Liverpool was taken by his brother Mike McCartney(aka Mike McGear) and was originally titled "Paul Under Washing" before being retitled "Our Kid Through Mum's Net Curtains".    

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

WOODFACE  -  CROWDED HOUSE

YEAR:  1991
LABEL:  Capitol
TRACK LISTING:  Chocolate Cake,  It's Only Natural,  Fall At Your Feet,  Tall Trees,  Weather With You,  Whispers and Moans,  Four Seasons In One Day,  There Goes God,  Fame Is,  All I Ask,  As Sure As I Am,  Italian Plastic,  She Goes On,  How Will You Go
BONUS TRACKS:  I'm Still Here (a hidden track which starts 30 seconds after "How Will You Go" ends)
IMPRESSIONS:  The Finn Brothers always seemed to be playing leapfrog.  Split Enz had Tim but not younger brother Neil until a band shake-up left room for the youngster to join.  After several years, Tim would leave Split Enz for a solo career and Neil would carry on briefly as the band's leader before disbanding to form his own band Crowded House which released two albums to great commercial success.  Then, by the time of Crowded House's third album "WOODFACE" who should suddenly join the band but Tim Finn!  Until the next album, then he was gone again.  Crowded House would carry on for a while before disbanding and -- you guessed it -- Tim and Neil would team up for several albums under the Finn Brothers moniker.  As well as carrying-on with separate solo careers.  Oh yeah, but then there was Tim's mini-supergroup Alt . . . and that Pajama thing Neil's doing now . . . as well as having reformed Crowded House for a couple recent albums.  Whew!  Who can keep track.  But it doesn't really matter as the Finn Brothers are better together than separately and "WOODFACE" is my favourite Crowded House album as, to me at the time, it was something of a Split Enz Mach II.  A statement on the "LOVE THAT ALBUM" podcast declared side one of "WOODFACE" to be one of the best side ones of any album.  Well, it is certainly pretty damned good.  The album didn't do nearly as well in the US as it should have owing mainly to the bone-headed decision to release "Chocolate Cake" (a good song, don't get me wrong) as the first single; not the best choice when you had such monumental songs as "Weather With You", "Fall At Your Feet" and "Four Seasons In One Day" to choose from, for Pete's sake!  "Fall At Your Feet" and "Four Seasons In One Day" remain some of my favourite songs by the brothers along with torch song "All I Ask" (the first song a Neil Finn composition with the latter two collaborations between the brothers).  
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Chocolate Cake,  It's Only Natural,  Fall At Your Feet,  Weather With You,  Whispers and Moans,  Four Seasons In One Day,  All I Ask,  She Goes On
FACT SHEET:  WOODFACE is Crowded House's third album.  After the second album "TEMPLE OF LOW MEN", Neil and Tim Finn wrote songs together intending to release as a Finn Brothers album.  After these songs were recorded, Neil Finn rejoined Nick Seymour and Paul Hester to write and record the third Crowded House album; however the record label rejected most of these songs as unsuitable.  Neil asked Tim if they could use the songs the brothers had recorded for the Crowded House album and Tim (now stating that he was joking) said "Sure, but only if I can join the band".  Regardless, the record was recorded with Tim a full fourth member of Crowded House.  "All I Ask" was used for AIDS Awareness adverts in Australia.  Tim would leave the band during the UK tour for the album.  Nine songs were recorded for WOODFACE before Tim Finn became involved and were not included on the album:  "Anyone Can Tell", "Left Hand", "Dr. Livingstone", "Sacred Cow", "I Love You Dawn", My Telly's Gone Bung", "Time Immemorial", "Fields Are Full of Your Kind" and "My Legs Are Gone".  All but the last two songs were included on the 1999 rarities collection "AFTERGLOW"; the final two songs still remain unreleased.  Again, hilariously, New Zealand's favourite sons and their band Crowded House's album "WOODFACE" was named #3 in the greatest Australian album list. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

THE DIVINE ONE  -  SARAH VAUGHAN

YEAR:  1961
LABEL:  Roulette
TRACK LISTING:  Have You Met Miss Jones?,  Ain't No Use,  Every Time I See You,  You Stepped Out of a Dream,  Gloomy Sunday,  What Do You See In Her?,  Jump For Joy,  When Your Lover Has Gone,  I'm Gonna Laugh You Out of My Life,  Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,  Somebody Else's Dream,  Trouble Is A Man
IMPRESSIONS:  More Sassy so soon?  You can never have too much Sarah Vaughan.  This is an intimate sounding album with Sassy backed by a small trio of piano, trumpet and drums only and beautifully represents the pared-down sound she established once she moved to the Roulette label.  This is only the second album she made during that brief but important portion of her career; her first Roulette album "DREAMY" sadly remains unissued on cd as is the case with the criminally un-reissued "SNOWBOUND" album!  I first encountered some of these tracks on a 1991 compilation cd called "SARAH VAUGHAN THE ROULETTE YEARS VOLUMES ONE & TWO" which cherry-picked songs from her three-year stint at the label.  The floating head on the album cover gives a sense of the quieter aspect of Sarah's Roulette work as the listener imagines the singer with her small trio ensconced in the solitude of the recording studio laying down track after track of superb jazz standards; although many of the selections here are lesser-known songs -- even those by such well-known songwriters as Rodgers & Hart, Nacio Herb Brown & Gus Kahn, Hal David or Duke Ellington.  This is an album perfect for anytime:  late-night quietude or sunny afternoon spring-cleaning listening!  Although I must admit I can never hear "Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams" without immediately thinking of the famous Bing Crosby blooper!
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Have You Met Miss Jones?,  Ain't No Use,  You Stepped Out of a Dream,  Gloomy Sunday,  Jump For Joy,  I'm Gonna Laugh You Out of My Life,  Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams,  Somebody Else's Dream,  Trouble Is A Man
FACT SHEET:  THE DIVINE ONE is Sarah Vaughan's 16th album (more or less, it's difficult to gauge these things) and her second album for the Roulette label.  Sarah is accompanied by the trio of Jimmy Jones (piano, arranger), Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet) and Don Lamond (drums).   

Sunday, December 2, 2012

NEWS FROM LAKE WOBEGON  -  GARRISON KEILLOR

YEAR:  1983
LABEL:  PHC
TRACK LISTING:  Me and Choir,  A Day In the Life of Clarence Bunsen,  Letter From Jim,  Fiction,  The Living Flag,  The Tollefson Boy Goes To College,  Tomato Butt,  Chamber of Commerce,  Dog Days of August,  Mrs. Berge and the Schubert Carillon Piano,  Giant Decoys,  Darryl Tollerud's Long Day,  Hog Slaughter,  Thanksgiving,  The Royal Family,  Guys On Ice,  James Lundeen's Christmas,  The Christmas Story Re-Told,  New Year's From New York,  Storm Home
IMPRESSIONS:  Around 1984 I had a fantastic college professor for my Mass Media class - Dr. Denis Mercier - who, in order to demonstrate something which I can no longer remember, played for us in his lecture hall "The Tollefson Boy Goes To College" by Garrison Keillor.  At that point in my life I had never heard of Keillor or his radio programme "A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION" and was thus totally ignorant of his "News From Lake Wobegon" readings.  I was completely captivated.  Keillor's voice was spellbinding and his story was both warm and funny.  Naturally, at the end of class I asked Dr. Mercier where to get that album and he showed me the "butter box" of four cassette tapes which comprised the four volumes of "NEWS FROM LAKE WOBEGON" which make up this album.  The four volumes are divided thematically into "Spring", "Summer", "Fall" and "Winter".  I've since heard many, many Keillor monologues and many, many episodes of his radio show but none hold that special place in my heart as this collection and his "GOSPEL BIRDS" tape which I bought at the same time . . . I believe I got them at the Waldenbooks store on Route 70 (now long gone) back in those early to mid-80s.  There was something just so right about the packaging of that original cassette box which made it look like a Land-O-Lakes butter box.  I now, of course, have it on cd and it's just not the same.  The album starts off with one of Keillor's greatest ever monologues:  "Me and Choir" which is as near to a half hour long as makes no difference -- and is one of the greatest monologues I've ever heard.  There's the genuinely hilarious "Tomato Butt" which recalls a summertime youth and the expertly-observed "Thanksgiving" with all the faults and foibles -- as well as the heart of family.  Then the entire collection ends in winter with another of my all-time favourite stories:  "Storm Home".  Ever since hearing this story, I too have achingly longed for a "storm home" of my own.  These recordings are around 30 years old now and they've grown to become treasured classics to me; as comfortable and rewarding as a beloved old book.
MY FAVOURITE TRACKS:  Truthfully?  Every one of them.
FACT SHEET:  NEWS FROM LAKE WOBEGON is a 4 volume collection of monologues by Garrison Keillor taking from his weekly public radio show "A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION".  PHC has been running in its present format since 1974 (although it uses the name of a previous unrelated show which began in 1969).  PHC is a live radio variety show broadcast live usually from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota every Saturday afternoon from 5 to 7 pm.  The show takes its name from the Prairie Home Cemetery of Moorhead, Minnesota near Concordia College.  This album compiles Keillor's most well-known and beloved feature of A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION:  his "News From Lake Wobegon" monologues which describe events in his fictional hometown of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average".  Each monologue always begins with another Keillor catchphrase:  "Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon; my hometown...".