Thursday, March 25, 2010
Artist: Bobby Hutcherson
Label: Blue Note
Bobby Hutcherson's solo debut, 1965's Dialogue, is a superior work that toes the line between the avant-garde and hard bop. While it may not be as revered in everyday conversation as Ornette's or even Eric Dolphy's records, it remains brilliantly played and paced.
It helps greatly that Hutcherson had one hell of a supporting cast. Three of the tracks were composed by Andrew Hill, whose tender piano playing drives a lot of the pieces. The other two were composed by drummer Joe Chambers. And all of their playing is phenomenal. Freddie Hubbard's trumpet is understated and subdued...and it really sets the tone for everyone else. Everyone is playing just a little bit and nobody is attempting to blow anyone else out of the water. Richard Davis on the bass switches well between playing with and without a bow, and Sam Rivers on the woodwind adds immensely to the feel of the album.
The ten-minute long title track seems to be the most abstract piece and stylistically, this album has a lot going for it. Hints of Latin and Free Jazz are present, as it straight-ahead bop. And the music seems to move in waves...decrescendos in playing seem to go on for a few minutes at a time, and then all of a sudden, a wave of sound erupts and all of the players are going. But it's not necessarily at the top or bottom of a song...it'll happen right in the middle.
Everyone who plays on this album is superb at their instrument, and the compositions and playing are elegant and really tight. A great place to start for those looking to dig on sixties jazz.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Artist: Bettye Swann
Album: Bettye Swann
Bettye Swann never was a household name, and achieved minor notoriety for her stellar Money Records hit "Make Me Yours" in 1967. This compilation was put out by Astralwerks in 2004 and covers her work for Capitol Records from 1968-1970 where the singer really tackled a more southern soul style. (Note: Astralwerks also put out similarly packaged compilations from Candi Stanton and Willie Hightower, but this one is the best!)
While the Shreveport, LA native may not have any proper LPs that are in-print and/or revered as classics now, this 22-song compilation is extremely strong...mostly because Bettye, like most great vocalists, handles a wide variety of songs and styles with equal strength. Sometimes she's the victim like in "Don't You Ever Get Tired (of Hurting Me)", but she also plays the role of heart-breaker sometimes. She's sometimes deep in love, but sometimes falling out of love as well.
She also tackles covers excellently, performing tracks by Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Patsy Cline, and even The Bee Gees. Every song features excellent arrangements, back-up singers, and a performance by Bettye.
Whatever the subject matter, Bettye's extremely fragile voice stands out. She doesn't exude the stable brilliance of Martha Reeves or Diana Ross, and she certainly never delivers the I am woman, hear me roar, don't fuck with me power of Etta James and Aretha. Instead, she sings like a gentle soul who has just been hurt too many times (sometimes at the hands of others, sometimes she's done it to herself).
Bettye Swann has an extremely unique and enchanting voice that stands apart from many of her peers and has rarely been mimicked. Check this out for some beautiful, sultry, southern soul.
Monday, March 22, 2010
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Album: Exile On Main Street
Maybe the genius behind Exile On Main Street is that it has no business being such a superb record. The Stones dominated in the 1960s with superb singles and some amazing LPs. But the 1960s ended, and Sticky Fingers, while strong, was a very new direction, and the footing the Stones found themselves on musically certainly wasn't as strong as it had been.
But then the story goes that they decided to record in Keith Richards' French Villa. They were tax exiles. They did lots of drugs, drank a lot of liquor, and everyone from Gram Parsons to a million others dropped by to say hi and record a scattered album in which only three songs have every member of the band playing the instrument they are known for. As seems to be somewhat common, though, amongst some bands, the lack of cohesion going on around the time of the album leads to the band making their definitive LP.
Every song on Exile drips with a grimey sleaze, but is incredibly focused. And like most of the great double albums released in rock history, it's breadth is grand. Standard blues covers come from Robert Johnson and Slim Harpo (Stop Breakin' Down and Shake Your Hips, respectively), gospel-turned-R&B singers litter tracks like "Let It Loose" and "Shine A Light." There are immediately brilliant hits such as "Rocks Off," "Tumbling Dice," and "Happy." There is weird experimental stuff with "I Just Want To See His Face" and possibly the band's best foray into country territory with "Turd On The Run."
It would be wrong to say there's not a weak moment on the album. "All Down The Line" is honestly a bit generic. It's really the album's only Achilles heel though. The majority of the album struts with a swagger that has honestly never been equaled but is constantly imitated.
And maybe that's just it. Imitation. The Stones ripped the blues off to a degree early garage rock bands and their peers never quite did. But they did it well and pretty much invented blues rock. And with the terrible music that the likes of Aerosmith and AC/DC have made over the years, as well as thousands of other imitators, it's that much more impressive that Exile On Main Street kicks so much ass.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Artist: The Fall
Album: Perverted By Language
Label: Rough Trade
Perverted By Language might not be the greatest Fall album (not to me anyway). It's also not their first masterpiece...but goddam if this isn't one hell of a fucking record. After spending their first few years struggling for notice, and ready to call it a day at the lack of success, 1982's Hex Endunction Hour was the band's first charting record. After its success breathed life back into their career, they recorded a mini-LP (Room To Live) and then in 1983, went to record this record.
It opens up with the, not necessarily poppy, but certainly easier on the senses "Eat Y'self Fitter" which certainly still sets the bar for nonsense by the band. It sounds like MES might just be recanting on some random dreams he had with superb memory. The song really sets the tone for the record, because it might be their most repetitive one yet. Many of the songs are without bridges or choruses except for slight chord changes in a minor instrumental break played between verses.
Perhaps the commercial success of Hex really just boosted M.E.S.'s ego that much more. He was always cocky, but now people were listening to his band. Plus, he got married, so having a wife in his corner now (American musician Brix Smith who is often given credit to encouraging the poppier edge the band took) probably upped his ego. And how does it come into play? There are only 8 songs! MOST are over the 5 minute mark and they see the Fall at their most minimal. The Fall right at this moment are at their best, writing their best songs and playing them perfectly. And it seems so damn effortless.
The lyrics are also noticeably different here. No song on Perverted By Language seems to be about something definitive. Earlier Fall albums had lyrics that often didn't make sense, but were also often about things like popping pills, old geezers, and many a tune taking swipes at music journalists and others in the "industry." All lyrics of that sort are seriously absent here. Yet the lyrics are still so damn effective. In the live take of "Tempo House" he utters "Winston Churchill had a speech impediment" (a reference to bills posted in UK around that time encouraging people not to be discouraged who had disability) and the vocal effect allows the line to linger, and it really resonates. He croons "Smile" over and over in that track, and "Garden," certainly a story about something (I probably should know) repeats nearly no lyrics. But the whole comes together in some brilliant collage of Jews on motorbikes and other such things.
While many point to this record as the first one to usher in the new era of the Fall, it's successor Wonderful And Frightening World Of... really set the production tone that they would keep at for the rest of the decade. Though Brix is in the band and the guitars are notably less caustic, this is really the end of that first brilliant era of the Fall's superb career. This album is not to be slept on at all!
Monday, March 8, 2010
Album: Tago Mago
Tago Mago, nearly 40 years after its release, seems to still be the most revered of all CAN records. It was the first full-length they recorded and released with lead singer Damo Suzuki. A double-record, with several songs (in a row) that top the 10-minute mark, it can often seem like the most daunting of all CAN records, but Tago Mago is still the CAN album I love the most to this day.
The first LP of the set is relatively straight-forward, especially compared to LP2. Upon its release, they had released the album Soundtracks and one fully with original lead singer Malcom Mooney: Monster Movie. As good as those records were, LP1 of Tago Mago still sounds immediately brilliant, even upon early listens. My old internet friend Matt Stumpf always championed Damo Suzuki because he knew when to shut the fuck up...and really allowed the rest of the band the necessary space to expand musically. "Paperhouse" is a brilliant opening track...at times psychedelic, lush, and it might be the last time the band really "rocked" during the breakdown. Finishing side 1, "Mushroom" finds the band in a stone groove, and "Oh Yeah" features backwards vocals and cymbals. The drum-line was also later lifted for The Fall's CAN tribute "I Am Damo Suzuki." The three songs here are all immediate, gripping, and psychedelic in the best possible ways.
The entirety of side two is devoted to the epic "Halleluwah" which for 18 minutes sets the tone for the rest of the record. The track is built around one epic...essentially two measure groove. Damo's semi-improvised vocals (I assume) form the initial backbone for this absolutely stellar song. Honestly, I can't stress to you how great all 18 minutes of this song are.
The second LP is a pretty significant departure from everything the band had done before. In the CAN Documentary, the band seems to take umbrage with ever being considered a "rock and roll" band, insisting that most of their influences are non-Western, let alone rock and roll. If "Halleluwah" shows how much CAN are capable of with one groove, "Aumgn," the track that makes up side 1 of LP 2, really flexes CAN's musical nuts. Definite Asian influence litters much of the avant-garde track. It's the dark counterpart to the song that comes before it.
Before Tago Mago closes (at over 70 minutes!), you are treated to "Peking O" and "Bring Me Coffee or Tea," two more superb tracks, the latter of which seems to find the band kind of teasing the listener with the thought it could become a straight-ahead song...but it never really does.
Tago Mago is a landmark and as far as non-electronic albums in Krautrock go, it's probably the definitive record of its genre. Parts of it are immediately gratifying and others take repeated listens, but once it sinks in, you can realize how genius the record is, and there will certainly be no doubt in your mind about CAN's greatness once you've heard the record.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Artist: The Rolling Stones
Album: Beggar's Banquet
Somehow Beggar's Banquet gets skipped over it seems when discussing the best Stones records. Let It Bleed marked the end of the 1960s and features two of their greatest songs as openers and closers. Exile On Main Street is the greatest sloppy record ever, and their last triumph...and a double LP to boot. Even Sticky Fingers gets credit for being a truly sleazy record...and the first to mark their new sound. But it's still 1968's Beggar's Banquet which is their true masterpiece. But I don't want to talk to much about the other albums, and I'm sure I'll touch on them very soon, but Beggar's is their only album from this period with NO BUM TRACKS! Beggar's Banquet is their masterpiece.
"Sympathy For The Devil" kicks things off, and in earnest, I thought when I went to listen to the album the other day I wouldn't care for it anymore. I've heard the song a thousand times...we all have...it has to be the weak track, right? But with lyrics that are probably unparalleled in any Stones song, and a closing which features Jaggar absolutely losing it and declaring, "Tell me baby! What's my name?!" it still kills. "Sympathy" like "Jig-Saw Puzzle" is also the Stones at their most Dylan-esque. Both songs feature a narrative type of lyricism that screams Zimmerman. "Jig-Saw Puzzle" also features such Dylan words like "tramp" and "cinderella" that are only really out of place in Stones songs. It may be my favorite song on the album...but there is so much more greatness.
"Dear Doctor" is at first seemingly a semi-cheesy country track, but with such exceptional lyrics (I'm noticing a theme here) such as "I've been soaking up drink like a sponge" the track maintains its greatness. It and "Factory Girl" are probably the simplest songs on the album, and show the band could still do so much with so little. The same could be said about the bluesier tracks, "No Expectations," and their cover of "Prodigal Son." The Stones are still at a point here where they've found their niche...and realized they are really good at it, but are far from lazy...the way they've been for the last nearly forty years at this point.
"Street Fighting Man", the other single on the album, also kicks off side two with a bang. The closing track, with an awesome first verse sung by Richards, "Salt of the Earth," is as ballad-y as the band got at this point, but with a choir behind them, the song maintains awesomeness.
I've always really loved Beggar's Banquet, but only with recent listens have I realized its brilliance. That guitar that rings out one note of feedback at the end of the verses in "Jig-Saw Puzzle", immortal lines like "I can see you're 15 years old/but I don't want your I.D." Honestly, this album is so dirty and sleazy, a shower needs to be taken after listening to it.
In truth, the Stones released some of the greatest songs of the 60s and even had two killer albums in the 1970s. And truly, while each of the three albums that succeed Beggar's are often seen as both ushering in and closing an era of the Stones, Beggar's is the one that does it best. The last time we could see them before they were huge rock stars, selling out stadiums and having Stevie Wonder open for them. Before they were so rich they had to record an album in a French villa to avoid paying taxes. There was a time when the Stones were a bunch of young, sleazy, badass kids! And this is the last album where that really shows, and we can still enjoy them. Beggar's Banquet is the Stones' greatest masterpiece.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
Artist: Yo La Tengo
I never had much of an opinion on Yo La Tengo. Though I owned two of their records, they never did much for me...so I just sat on them. Years would go by, I'd listen to the albums again, try out whatever new album they'd release...even saw one of their Chanukah shows once...but still never cared about them! And excluding the absolutely perfect song "Deeper Into Movies" (from 1997's I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One) this remained the case until two weeks ago.
While pillaging through my CDs to decide what to listen to that day, I just so happened to land on Painful...an album MAYBE I'd listened to three or so times in full. I don't even remember where I was going...but something about the opening track "Big Day Coming" really clicked with me. And the same went for "From A Motel 6" and "Double Dare." The rest of the album was nice, too...but I didn't pay it as much mind.
But since then...there hasn't been a single day where I didn't play at least a portion of it. And I've realized that the album works in so many ways where other Yo La Tengo albums don't: PACING. Clocking in just under 50 minutes, there's time for the rocking re-worked opening cut. There's the haunting-in-tone but absolutely stellar "I Was the Fool Beside You For So Long" and "Sudden Organ." These last two songs show that Yo La Tengo, at times, are absolute masters of making excellent super-simple songs.
The shorter songs on the album...some instrumental some just short little atmospheric pop songs, work extremely well, too. Rather than coming off like YLT are just trying to flex musical nuts (the problem of over-diversity in Heart Beating As One), these songs add to the album as wonderful asides that allow for some cool-down between stellar, lengthier songs. The closing song is an instrumental, and even at seven minutes, "I Heard You Looking" is absolutely killer.
The stand-out track on the album is certainly "Double Dare." The sound of the organ litters this album and is clearly the cornerstone of the sound they are going for, and it shines on this track better than any other one. It just passes over the three-minute mark and is just pure pop bliss.
I'm still not a huge YLT fan. I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One made it to my stereo last week, and it didn't have nearly the impact Painful did. And I still find many of their albums (most notably the newest one Popular Songs) to be wildly uneven. With that said, Painful is awesome, and with great sequencing, a reasonable length, and no songs that are even remotely kitschy, I'd recommend starting here if you're looking to dig on them.
I, for whatever reason, had the sudden urge to start a blog just now where I review every record I own. That includes CDs and vinyl and even seven-inches and 45s. So individual songs might get reviewed. As long as I own a copy of it, it's fair game!
I'm going to try to do one now.
I'm going to try to do one now.