Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ornette Coleman “This Is Our Music” (1961)

It was over 30 years ago that I bought my first Ornette Coleman album, Free Jazz, from the second-hand record shop: it was love at first sight (first hear?). Love is inexplicable, at least to those in love, but the sound of Coleman’s alto had an immediate effect on me, an emotional connection, that continues until today. It is the early Atlantic recordings that remain at the heart of my love for Coleman. I have only been listening to This Is Our Music for the past couple of months (I feel no need to rush a love affair), but, other than Free jazz, it has become my favorite of the Coleman-Atlantic albums (but I don’t feel I have to be bound by that judgement in the future). I have heard it said that compared to other figures of the 1960s jazz avant garde Coleman now seems very tame: I think that is true, at least as far as he doesn’t howl and shout in way that threatened to blow away all our assumptions of what music should be, but then the other avant garde sax players tended to fall in behind Coltrane, in their stance of difference they tended to sound the same, while Coleman remains unique. He has created his own musical world, one I find as vivid and friendly as an Impressionist painting, and it is a world that has no successful copies. The one musician who shared this vision was Don Cherry and he is the Engels to Coleman’s Marx, the Watson to his Holmes, the Robin to his Batman – he is the lesser figure, the one who takes his imaginative world from his dominating companion, but maybe he brings Coleman closer, creating a bridge between him and us. Charlie Haden is the anchor for this music, for most of this album playing an idiosyncratic hard bop bass, it has the clear lines that stabilize the music. The exception is Beauty Is a Strange Thing where, playing with a bow, he allows the music to drift away like a cloud without any clear edges. Ed Blackwell is a unique drummer (and I much prefer him to Billy Higgins’ work on the earlier Atlantic-Coleman albums) – he is the gentlest of drummers, not giving the music the rhythmic propulsion we expect a drummer to provide, but rather a rhythmic voice responding to and answering the horns. Writing about other Coleman-Atlantic albums I have said that their great limitation is that all the tracks tend to be a bit the same – here there are two numbers that stand out for their difference: the slow and hovering Beauty Is a Rare Thing and the reinvention of Embraceable You. The latter is the only Ornette Coleman version of a standard I know – it is as though Gershwin’s melody has been replanted in a totally alien soil and it has grown in an unforeseeable way, still recognisably having the same shape, but also disturbingly different. –Nick

Monday, September 27, 2010

Kiss “Kiss” (1974)

Before the merchandising, neon spandex, and nostalgia circuit, KISS were just another hard rock band with stars in/on their eyes. Kiss, the debut, is loaded with future klassics that display the Stanley/Simmons partnership's knack for grafting pop hooks to bludgeoning riffs, sporting the likes of "Deuce," "Strutter," "Nothin' to Lose," and immortal hooker drama "Black Diamond," a vocal-shy Ace checking in with urban intoxication anthem "Cold Gin," and an overlooked gem in the simple charm of "Let Me Know." While the less said about the "Kissin' Time" cover grafted on to later pressings, the better, and ignoring the fact that a certain sluggishness drags some of these recordings down compared to their Alive! revamps, Kiss remains an auspicious debut. –Ben

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Fixx “Reach the Beach” (1983)

I remember seeing The Fixx on MTV when I was 13, there was always this dark sophistication surrounding them. Their sophomore album, Reach the Beach lives up to those first impressions. This record was quite a success for them with the hits "Saved by Zero", a complex tune with a hopeless optimism that seems to clash with the melody & "One thing Leads to Another", an almost dance track about deceit in relationships. The rest of the record follows suit with clean, chorus drenched guitar licks, snappy bass slaps, dissonant keyboards & those wonderful synthesized drums we all loved from the eighties. Cy Curnin's vocals croon like The Cure's Robert Smith trying to imitate Duran Duran's Simon Le Bon, in fact, the music could be described in the same way, new wave funkiness with a sense of melancholy underneath it all- like trying to dance when your sad. Slightly cynical lyrics with upbeat, yet complex arrangements spare this record from being another eighties novelty, the contradictions keep it real. –ECM Tim

Repost: 10cc “Sheet Music” (1974)

10cc’s “Sheet Music” may be one of my favorite pop albums of all time, lovingly crafted songs, witty, ironic and containing themes still highly relevant even today (“Clockwork Creep” is both funny yet scary when one consideres what the world has had to endure these last few years and “Hotel” nails American Imperialism down with wit and ingenuity), musically this album never fails to surprise taking in 70’s rock (Wall Street Shuffle, Silly Love, Oh Effendi), Calypso (Hotel), Latin Rock (Baron Samedi) and pure pop (The Worst Band In The World, Clockwork Creep), however the two standouts are the most cinematic pieces on the album, “Somewhere In Hollywood” brilliantly send up Hollywood and the star system, whilst “Old Wild Men” looks forward to 10cc’s eventual decline with heart and soul. –Derek

“Sheet Music” is a perennial Jive Time favorite and one of my top ten albums of all time. Fans of Sparks, late Move and early ELO will find things to love here. For those who only know 10cc from their hits; you may be pleasantly surprised when you hear “Sheet Music.” –David

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Love “Da Capo” (1966)

Inhabiting a strange dimension between the Byrds-meets-the-Rolling Stones bluster of first LP and the psychedelic mariachi sprawl of Forever Changes, Love's Da Capo is a transitional album in every sense of the word. Taken together, the six songs that constitute its “Side A Suite” represent some of the best music of the 60’s, making it all the more painful that Side B represents one of the biggest let-downs in Rock History. On the opening track, “Stephanie Knows Who”, Arthur Lee not only comes into his own, but also establishes himself as one of the most unique and expressive lead vocalists of his generation. There are probably Hallmark cards that are less maudlin and sappy than the MacLean-penned second track, “Orange Skies”, but somehow, miraculously, the band’s tight playing and Lee’s delivery elevate it to greatness. The flamenco-flecked “¡Que Vida!” is a little on the fluffy side, but it’s groovy as hell. The mighty “Seven and Seven Is”, one of the few Love songs that ever charted, has been reproduced on garage compilations many times over, but hearing it here in its natural environment reveals what a massive artistic achievement it really is. Loud, fast, and intense, it could only end with the famous nuclear blast of its coda. Thankfully, respite is provided in the form of the acoustic and introspective gem, “The Castle”. Finally comes the mystical masterpiece, “She Comes in Colors”, a song so great that even the Hooters couldn’t ruin it when they covered it almost two decades later. But then there’s the meandering blues-jam, “Revelation”. Taking up that whole flipside and clocking in at almost 20 minutes, it’s perhaps unfairly maligned. On its own merits it’s not terrible, and it’s certainly not boring (live it was probably mind-blowing), but here it only detracts from the focused brilliance of what came before, and it wears out its welcome quickly. Had wiser council prevailed at Elektra, Da Capo would take its place among such giants such as Are You Experienced, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and even its creators’ own definitive artistic statement, Forever Changes, but instead this sophomore effort has to settle for “almost great” status. However, it is still essential. –Richard

Frank Zappa “Hot Rats” (1969)

If there's one thing I'm a sucker for, it's psychedelic wah-wah guitar; Eddie Hazel's Game, Dame & Guitar Thangs, Randy California's Kapt. Kopter, John McLaughlin's Devotion. And Frank Zappa's second solo effort, 1969's Hot Rats, proudly belongs among this stellar mind-blowing company. Somewhat of a break from the high-concept Mothers Of Invention, it's divided between long guitar jams, most notably "Willie The Pimp," which re-introduced Captain Beefheart to the world in all his eccentric splendor, and fusionoid instrumentals featuring multi-reedist Ian Underwood in multiple overdubs. Interestingly, Underwood's flat intonation here takes intriguing lyrical compositions such as "Little Umbellas" and "It Must be A Camel" out of jazz wannabe Weather Report territory into a more formal "classical" direction, always the underlying goal with Zappa anyway. But, in the end, Rats is a showcase for Frank to wail and he ain't fooling around! –Singersaints

Friday, September 17, 2010

Felt “The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories” (1984)

"The Strange Idols Pattern..." is the masterpiece of early indiepop, although is often less considered than Felt's fifth album, the organ driven "Forever Breathes The Lonely Word". Here Maurice Deebank provides the best guitar playing I've ever heard, a constant whirl of sweet jangly picking (on a 12 string guitar I think) and sometimes classical/Spanish melodies; Lawrence encapsulates such imaginative and brilliant solo playing in wonderful three-chord songs, sung with a monotonous and subtle tone that never sounds cheesy or pathetic like Morrissey's howling. I understand that such vocals can be considered boring, but I think they're the best accompaniment for the stream of background notes that - at least for me - has to be on the frontline, while the vocals are secondary. Absolutely great album, my favourite song here is "Crystal Ball", with the best guitar work ever made by Deebank, and a constant sense of tragedy that remains subtle and never explodes, not even in the final short solo. –Gneo

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Camel “The Snow Goose” (1975)

The Snow Goose is an essential experience, evocative and emotional, ambitious in it's concept and execution, but accessible as well. The band manage to sustain an entirely instrumental album by filling it with brief, memorable pieces, carried by their always measured performances. While most of the album is devoted to the familiar Camel sound, they are joined in places by a small woodwinds group, expanding the scope of the music. Although you'll want to leave the needle in place once you drop it, a few especially awesome moments are worth mentioning in particular, such as the multi-dimensional "Rhayader Goes To Town", "The Snow Goose" which features some tender, spine-tingling guitar phrases, the duo of "Preparation", with it's foreboding sequencer pattern, and it's haunting, slow-boiling partner in "Dunkirk". But this is a complete, constantly unfolding album that should be heard with the lights down low, brew of choice in hand, the world of The Goose swooping into your listening room and filling the next 40 minutes with it's sublime sounds. –Ben

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leonard Cohen “Songs of Love and Hate” (1971)

Never the most chipper of performers, Cohen seems to have stopped taking his happy pills here, but the album is all the better for it as far as I'm concerned. Songs about religion? Check. Anguish? Check. Love? Check. No sex though..must be his impotent period. But anyway, it's just fabulous from start to finish, and contains some of his best lyrics, especially "Avalanche", "Famous Blue Raincoat", and "Diamonds In The Mine". The latter track finds him nearly losing it like some angry lounge singer, his background vocalists barely keeping him in check. There was never any doubt Leonard Cohen was a poet, but both his written word and music shine perfectly in unison here. Speaking of poetry, if you're a woman in college right now and some smooth character is shooting you provocative looks from the poetry section in the library, run like hell. I know he's probably holding a copy of Cohen's "Beautiful Losers" and has a wine collection, but he's not worth it. Trust me. –Neal

David Crosby “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (1971)

Along with Gene Clark’s “No Other” and John Philips “The Wolf King Of L.A.,” David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” is considered another great lost seventies classic. And rightly so! It has the lore; the album was recorded shortly after the tragic death of his partner, the line up; a who's who of the West Coast in 1971 including Neil Young, Grace Slick, Graham Nash and Jerry Garcia among others. And the songs; the haunting “Laughing” (featuring Joni Mitchell), the dreamy “Tamalpais High” and the transcendental “Orleans.” Beautiful and decadent, organic and excessive, the album perfectly captures the early seventies California sound and scene while creating something entirely unique. –David

Friday, September 10, 2010

Chuck Jackson “Goin’ Back to Chuck Jackson” (1969)

Chuck Jackson must have been a really weird fit for Motown. Kind of like the Yankees acquiring Michael Schumacher; top brand aquires top talent, despite the obvious apples/oranges implications. His tenure at Wand was mainly filled with well-done Iceman ballad stylings with the odd Northern track (“Chains of Love”) thrown in for giggles. But just like the Iceman himself making a pair of brilliant albums in Philly, this album works extremely well. I would have to imagine that Chuck did something wrong in his interview with Berry Gordy. Maybe he didn't seem too thrilled at the prospect of putting two white teenagers kissing on a beach on the album cover. Maybe he went on and on about how much he liked the new Isley Brothers single on T-Neck and how they're doing so well now. In any event, Berry did not stack this album with songwriting talent. Two Smokey songs, one H-D-H, one Ashford/Simpson, one Stevie Wonder, and then some other guys. No producer's credit either. Needless to say this does not sound like a 1969 Motown album.

The album starts off well enough with a Bert Berns song but then sidesteps into a big heaping pile of Jimmy Webb. There are a lot of Jimmy Webb fans out there; I am unequivocally not one of them. I like bits of the first Fifth Dimension album. Other than that, I think his songs are firmly in the schmaltzy pathos category and one of the worst things to happen to soul music (other than Bobby Womack) was the endless assembly line of "Witchita Lineman" covers. (Oh, you're a lineman for the county? Shut up already and fix the power lines then.) Things pick up with a solid version of "Cry Like a Baby". Side 2 is the real stormer, however. An interesting cover of Tyrone Davis' "Can I Change My Mind" is great, even if the trademark jangly guitar is slightly buried. "I'd Still Love You" follows and, whoa, fuzz guitar! Ominous spoken intro leads into the best production on the album. Again, I would love to know who produced this cut, as it's definitely not Norman Whitfield territory but it's close. "The Day My World Stood Still" is a wonderful little sleeper that opens up into a dramatically darker bridge featuring swirling strings and woodblocks with an ersatz flamenco feel and a Chuck Jackson vocal that is certainly up for the challenge. It's the kind of staggeringly effective minor key bridge that was more common to UK psych (just replace the ersatz flamenco with ersatz Middle Eastern). A baffling little excursion that I can't get enough of.

Motown may not have given a lot of effort and attention to Chuck Jackson, but you should. Plus he looks pretty suave in that turtleneck. He certainly looks better than I do in them. –Mike

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band “Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band” (1976)

This self-titled debut (!!!) album is one of my all-time favorite records. I've played it thousands of times and know it by heart. Too jazzy for Disco fans, too "trivial" for Jazz fans, too remote from "roots" for the Soul/Funk division, this album was and is a dream-come-true for all those who don't wear blinkers when it comes to music. All seven songs are jewels, and together, they're a string of pearls. No matter from which angle - the compositions, the arrangements, the singing, the performance - always five stars. I can't think of or play this album without fits of rapture. –Yofriend

Monday, September 06, 2010

Todd Rundgren “A Wizard, A True Star” (1973)

Nothing could have prepared audiences in '73 for the brain scrambler that is A Wizard, A True Star, a double-album's worth of ideas crammed horizontally (in the brevity of the songs) and vertically (in the impenetrable layers of sound) onto one album, albeit a long one. Was this the same guy who released Something/Anything a year before? But start peeling A Wizard back, and that pop-rocker is still there, most notably on the impassioned "Sometimes I Don't Know What to Feel," space age soarer "International Feel," oddly beautiful cabaret of "Zen Archer," hard rock/lush pop hybrid "When The Shit Hits The Fan/Sunset Blvd.," and the first of a new recurring theme for Todd, the uplifting anthemic "Just One Victory." But the distinguishing characteristic of A Wizard is the 1 to 2 minute slices of "real" songs and outright weirdness that disorient the listener, to the point that a few tracks into this one you've either been totally seduced or completely given up, placing it as one of those polarizing efforts of either genius or bullshit, depending on your view. An easy five stars, of course. –Ben

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bob Dylan “Blood On The Tracks” (1975)

Quite simply, Blood On The Tracks is my favourite Dylan album. In one of those too few illuminating moments, I knew the first time I heard it that this was something special and through the years it has sustained me through some really bad times: divorce, depression and my Dad's death. When written, Dylan himself was experiencing the traumas of a marriage break-up and all the muddled feelings that engenders are in evidence - sadness, bitterness, anger, relief and regret. But, even with this background, Blood On The Tracks is not a depressing album. "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go", "If You See Her, Say Hello", "You're A Big Girl Now" and "Tangled Up In Blue" expose a man unsure of his feelings but striving to make a good fist of it. I could, and still can, identify with that. Even though his turbulent emotions must have been a dominating factor, Dylan also managed to pen a couple of wonderful morality tales: "Simple Twist Of Fate" and "Shelter From The Storm", and a brilliantly inventive novella: "Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts." Blood On The Tracks will remain an album I will return to again and again. –Ian

Friday, September 03, 2010

Black Sabbath “Never Say Die!” (1978)

This was a pleasant surprise because I'd heard so many bad things about this album both from critics and the band themselves. Stories of being too drugged up to continue in the studio don't seem to gel with the final product, which sounds crisp and well mixed to me, the spectacular drumming up front and Ozzy's vocals not sounding in the least druggy. I guess there's a lot to be said about post production. But the songs to me sound better and more musically adventurous than those on Sabotage or even the Dio era albums that followed. Particular highlights are the psychy, wah wah feel of Junior's Eyes and Iommi's riffage on Shock Wave. All in all, I really don't think it was a bad album for Ozzy to bow out on. –Neal

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Incredible String Band “The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion” (1967)

Yes, I think this is even better than The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. The difference is while that record gets its strength from its total weirdness -- it meanders in the best sense -- this one has actual songs: great, great songs that will move you, make you laugh and make you think. "First Girl I Loved" alone is enough to get you seeking out this record, but add to that the prescient sarcasm of "Back In The 1960s" (which foresees the death of the hippie ideal before it had even begun), the Wind In The Willows on acid of "Little Cloud" and "The Hedgehog Song" (The Archbishop of Canterbury's fave ISB number!) and the simply beautiful "Painting Box". Plus I love the way Williamson sings. For those of you who wonder what "The Fool On The Hill" would have been liked if Lennon had written it. –Brad