Archive for October, 2009

Coming Attractions

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

The first week in November will be a busy one here. Look for these reviews:

  • Deep Sea Blues, the new Robert Mugge documentary about the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise
  • Cosmic Egg, the brand-new album from Wolfmother
  • The latest album from Reigning Sound, Love and Curses
  • My Lady Don’t Love My Lady, the new album from bluesman Bryan Lee
  • The 2CD+1DVD Creedence Clearwater Revival set The Singles Collection 
  • other stuff.

Remember, you can keep up with what’s new here by following Musoscribe on Twitter.

Album Review: The Truth – Playground

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

The Truth - PlaygroundHere’s something really special. In 1985 I.R.S. records signed British quintet The Truth to a record deal. Their initial full-length is a rare example of disparate elements (in this case, soul and 80s rock) coming together to form a seamless, effective mix.

With a sound that combines the best of Northern Soul, elements of Paul Weller‘s late-period Jam aesthetic and some modern production flourishes that — for once — actually date well, The Truth turned out a ten-song LP filled with catchy, anthemic songs. The disc’s opener “Spread a Little Sunshine” has a recorded-in-a-wind-tunnel vibe to it, but that atmosphere fits the song remarkably well. The call-and-response vocal treatment is used to excellent effect. Period instruments like synthesizer, brittle guitar lines and shotgun gated-reverb drums meld well with washes of Hammond organ. The unbelievably catchy “Exception of Love” is, if anything, a stronger tune. The reverbed handclaps drag the sixties soul revival into the 80s, and it still sounds fresh today. The B3 glissandos and harmonies of “wooh” force a grin out of the listener; try not nodding your head to this one. Yearning lead vocals are supported by stacked backing vocals, and a dynamic bass line adds action to result in a timeless number. And dig that Hammond solo.

A double A-side single of these first two tracks alone would be worth the price of admission. But the remaining ten tracks on Playground keep things going. “So Many Things” edges things a bit in the powerpop direction, with more guitar and less keyboards, but the soulful harmonies — especially effective in the high register — position The Truth as something of a catchier, more soulful U2. And the song’s brief bridge is nothing short of cinematic. Dynamic variations like a stuttering drum fill only add to the depth of the song. “Always on My Mind” leans more toward a girl-group aesthetic; it’s no stretch to imagine the song being covered retroactively by a Philly soul vocal act. “I’m in Tune” updates the vibe of the Rascals‘ “Good Lovin’” for the 80s. Again, the normally-annoying gunshot snare actually works in this setting, punching through the active bass line and swirling, nimble keyboards. The bridge finds the band bringing things down, and the B3 leads them back into a double-time, stomping outro.

The title track features pounding electric piano in place of the organ; it’s another memorable tune; the stadium-sounding drumming calls to mind the best work of Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus. “Is There a Solution” weds the backing vibe of The Supremes‘ “You Can’t Hurry Love” to a modern arrangement. “Is There a Solution” slows things down briefly, mining territory close to Spandau Ballet‘s hit “True”. But it delivers a more rocking feel, replete with soaring harmonies. The track’s simple, delicate piano figures call to mind Joe Jackson‘s better songs from around the same time. The lead vocal on “Thursday Club” sounds a bit like a young (Split Enz-era) Neil Finn. The song’s guitar figure serves as a hook and countermelody to the vocal line. Delightful. The disc wraps up with “You Play With My Emotions” is the weakest track on the disc, and even it’s not without appeal; the organ solo is quite effective. It’s just that the songs weds the elements found throughout the album to a song that’s just not quite as melodically strong. So that’s nine out of ten; most albums are lucky to approach half that level of quality.

The mod aesthetic of this album is more convincing that most other efforts of the era; in fact, in places Playground out-Style Councils the Style Council, owing largely to the uptempo, high energy delivery of all the songs. A convincing argument could have been made for nearly any of Playground‘s tracks to be released as a single; the album is that strong, that consistent. But Playground didn’t even chart; I picked the LP up on its 1985 release, but nobody I knew ever heard the album unless I played it for them. None of Playground‘s songs ever made it onto commercial radio. For all intents and purposes, this first full-length effort was the Truth’s final gasp; two later albums (one even including a track ironically titled “Throwing it All Away” — were bereft of all of the wondrous qualities displayed on this disc.

This 1985 album ranks at one of the era’s great lost albums. Kudos to American Beat for rescuing another one from the depths of undeserved obscurity.

I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.

Album Review: Isaac Hayes – Shaft Soundtrack

Monday, October 26th, 2009

Isaac Hayes - ShaftIt’s no small feat to successfully convey story and emotion through music. It’s tougher still to do it in an instrumental piece. More difficult than that, even, is to get those messages across within the tight format of soundtrack music; the music has to complement the onscreen visuals and propel the story forward in a meaningful fashion; if it falls short, it’s (at best) merely aural wallpaper, or (at worst) a distraction. And beyond all those challenges, it’s mightily daunting to make soundtrack music that does more than that — music that stands on its own as worthwhile listening experience, even without the film. Isaac Hayes‘ groundbreaking 1971 soundtrack Shaft is wildly successful on all these counts. Even setting aside the brilliant, evocative title track, the remaining fourteen tracks cover a wide gamut of emotions, lengths, arrangements and musical style. In a career filled with high points (the contemporary yet very different Black Moses, to name but one), Isaac Hayes’ Shaft is a landmark recording.

It wasn’t a given that things would turn out that way. Prior to Shaft, an African-American had never scored a major motion picturee soundtrack. And while Hayes was a successful and highly-respected artist, he’d never done film work. Yet his stellar efforts were rewarded with a top-selling album. Moreover, the “Theme from Shaft” single not only hit #2 on the charts, but it won an Academy® Award for Best Original Song (not to mention a Golden Globe and Grammy®).

The songs on Shaft have been sampled far and wide in hip-hop, an ongoing testament to the enduring value of the soundtrack. At the very top of his game, Hayes produced a set of songs that built (and expanded) on his best work. While today a few of Shaft‘s tunes might sound clichéd — three guesses what was taking place onscreen while “Early Sunday Morning” played in the background — it’s worth remembering that the reason they sound clichéd is that Hayes’ musical licks and arrangements have been being ripped off for 38 years.

The songs truly do stand on their own. “Be Yourself” is top-flight Bar-Kays groove, movie or not. Throughout the songs on Shaft, Hayes makes use of a dizzying array of instrumentation, always seeming to choose just the right sounds to get his points across. Funkified guitar, sweeping string arrangements, electric piano, vibes, the jazzy guitar atmospherics of “Café Regio’s”, even the punch of the brief “Shaft’s Cab Ride”…it all perfectly creates the audio backdrop for the classic blaxploitation film.

But it’s no necessary to view, have seen or even like the film to savor the tasty mix that is Shaft. An informative liner essay — albeit one with an egregious and prominent misspelling (I’m an editor – so sue me!) — by Ashley Kahn helps put the recording into perspective. The essay reveals that Hayes and his players (the Bar Kays and the Movement) knocked out the basic tracks in two days!

The 2009 CD reissue features excellent sound; a “bonus” track “Theme From Shaft 2009 Mix” adds little beyond a hi-hat count-in, but no harm is done by its inclusion. Shaft needs no embellishing. Isaac Hayes’ Shaft soundtrack is a piece of history that also happens do be filled with fine music. Own this.

I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.

Album Review: Knight Area – Realm of Shadows

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Knight Area - Realm of ShadowsHow come the most interesting sounds in modern progressive rock are coming from the continent? While the USA has Dream Theater, far more fascinating acts from the UK and Europe are turning out compelling music that flies in the face of “prog is long past its sell-by date” conventional wisdom arguments. The latest case in point: Dutch quintet (formerly anything from a one-man project to a nine-piece) Knight Area. Their Realm of Shadows — released October 2009 — shows that there’s plenty of life left in the oft-maligned genre. Yes, the cover art is spooky, monochromatic and foreboding. But open the jewel case, pop out the disc and you’ll see something a bit jarring: the photos of the band members. Two of the guys are wearing broad smiles, and the other three don’t have that dour who-peed-in-my-cornflakes look, either. Something’s amiss! Might Knight Area subscribe to the idea that prog need not be self-important to be worthwhile? The sonic evidence strongly suggests that’s the case.

The intro “Antagony” sounds like something classic-lineup Asia would have done. And — I actually mean this in a good way — the insistent beat in sections of the song brings to mind Journey‘s “Separate Ways”. All the hallmarks of progressive rock are evident on Realm of Shadows: you’ll get your meter changes, your Mellotron, your conceptual story line. But all of those elements are applied judiciously. Unlike garden-variety prog, the results aren’t overwrought.

The punchy bass lines of Gijs Koopman betray a strong affinity for the style of Yes’ Chris Squire; in most rock subgenres, having a bassist play like a (frustrated) lead guitarist end up being a detriment. In this case it works quite well, adding an additional melody line of sorts to the music. Vocalist Mark Smit has a pleasing voice; it’s a bit like Geddy Lee without that Donald Duck-on-helium quiver, and Smit manages to convey emotion without going (on one hand) thuggish or (on the other) over the top.

The nimble and lyrical keyboardist Kerben Klazinga makes what to this listener is a most unusual sonic choice: the piano tones on the sweeping album opener “Ethereal” are unmistakably that of the very 80s-sounding digital piano. So while the music isn’t tied to that era, the piano sound is. Judging from the music palette applied to the album as a whole, it was a conscious decision, not a case of this-is-all-we-got.

I’ve heard Knight Area compared to Dream Theater, but I don’t hear it. (and if you’ve read my concert review of a DT show, you’ll understand that I’m glad I don’t.) I do hear hints of Gabriel-era Genesis, a bit of Kansas. Strong melodies abound, and prog-metal screaming is delightfully absent. Analog solo-note synthesizer lines are effectively used as a lead instrument throughout, but there’s plenty of guitar pyrotechnics courtesy of Mark Vermeule.

And in a radical move that might threaten to get Knight Area’s prog license revoked, the band delivers two songs that clock in at well under three minutes each. The eleven-plus minute album closer “Occlusion” offsets things. “Occlusion” opens like something from a Lord of the Rings-style soundtrack, and unfolds slowly; hints of Grobschnitt crop up here and there. There’s even a brief country-styled lick that sounds like pedal steel guitar; surprisingly, it works, and leads right into a majestic synthesizer solo laid carefully atop a Mellotron choir. The final minute of Realm of Shadows is all atmospherics; it’s evocative of the band finishing a concert and descending into the mists like some Nordic spectres. Effective stuff; if your player is set on repeat, the opening of “Ethereal” features a snippet of those sounds, creating a cyclical effect. Done before? Sure. But if it works, it works.

The album art suggests a dark journey, and certainly the lyrics deal with the usual prog tropes (quests, the unknown, tears) but this is musically pretty upbeat stuff. These must be some pretty well-adjusted guys: when Knight Area takes a leaf from the gospel according to King Crimson, they manage to do it without going all humorless.

While the song structures and instrumentation are quite classicist, the production is very contemporary (especially the thunderous bass lines on tracks like “Dark Souls”). Realm of Shadows strikes a delicate balance between sweet melodies (the kind that wouldn’t be totally out of place on an album like Styx‘s Equinox) and bone-crushing Moog Taurus lines that threaten to loosen the listener’s dental fillings. The playing is expert but not showy; one gets the sense that the guys in Knight Area are comfortable enough with their abilities so that they don’t feel the need to go all look-what-we-can-do on the hapless listener who merely wants a good prog melody.

In that sense and many others, Realm of Shadows delivers. Serving up lovely songs delivered with grace and power, Knight Area is a band to watch.


I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.

Blast From the Past: Julian Lennon – Photograph Smile

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Here’s the final of five reviews covering the recorded work of Julian Lennon to date.

Julian Lennon - Photograph SmileIn 1999 — eight years after his last album Help YourselfJulian Lennon quietly staged something of a comeback, albeit one than hardly anyone heard. Similar in that sense to Badfinger‘s ill-fated Wish You Were Here, Julian’s Photograph Smile finds him self-assured, freed from whatever pressures being on a major label exerted upon him. Plus, he was pushing forty. And as any good therapist can tell you — and as Julian’s dad poignantly wrote — life begins at 40.

On Photograph Smile Julian takes more command over the proceedings, seemingly paying heed to all he’s learned through his years of recording. For the first time, he’s credited as co-producer. His choice of musical collaborators includes Robbie Blunt (Robert Plant et. al.) on guitars, plus old friend Justin Clayton. Highlights abound on this, his finest record to date. The opening track “Day After Day” is a strong pop number that evokes much of what was good about late 1960s music; the tasteful string arrangement suits the songs perfectly. “I Don’t Wanna Know” (no relation to Valotte’s “I Don’t Know” or Mr. Jordan‘s “I Want You to Know” or even The Secret Value of Daydreaming‘s “You Don’t have to Tell Me” or Photograph Smile’s “I Should Have Known”) is a Britrocker in the tradition of, well, a lot of what was on the BeatlesYesterday…and Today LP. It’s an infectious, catchy rocker with a memorable hook; if Julian had released this on an earlier album, he well might have gotten a hit. The clean, spare arrangement of “How Many Times” is a true contrast from Julian’s sometimes overproduced earlier material, and the song features a strong melody. Throughout the record, the players sound more like a band and less like hired hands.

Instrumentation is consistently interesting on Photograph Smile. Bouzouki, slide guitar, tabla, and electric sitar are all used to great effect; they’re critical ingredients rather than pasted-on gimmicks. “Crucified” is Julian Lennon’s musical visit to Kashmir, and it’s a convincing one at that. The waltzing “Good to Be Lonely” is a fetching, intimate tune that ranks among Julian’s finest moments on record; it’s sort of Julian’s answer to “In My Life”. The slide guitar that opens “And She Cries” is unmistakably influenced by George Harrison; if the liner notes didn’t indicate otherwise, you’d seriously wonder if it was him.

And the other songs are damn fine as well.

Throughout Photograph Smile, Lennon sounds self-assured, as if to say, this is who I am and what I sound like. Photograph Smile is a criminally overlooked record. At fourteen tracks, it’s his longest album, and there’s not a weak track in the bunch.

As of this writing (October 2009), Lennon has just released a single track online. The track, “Lucy”, is dedicated to the memory of a childhood friend who died recently. Julian’s childhood drawing of his classmate was the inspiration for John Lennon‘s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” Julian promises a new album called Everything Changes — his first in a decade — in 2010. Stay tuned.

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.

Album Review: Julian Lennon – Help Yourself

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

NOTE: In 2009 Noble Rot reissued three of Julian Lennon‘s albums. They didn’t reissue the Valotte debut, nor did the put out a new release of Photograph Smile, Julian’s 1999 album (and arguably the finest work he’s produced). Instead, this new label — in keeping with its reputation for unearthing underappreciated albums from the 80s and 90s such as those by Toy Matinee and Marc Bonilla — released digipack versions of The Secret Value of Daydreaming (1986), Mr. Jordan (1989) and 1991′s Help Yourself. Here’s the fourth in a series of five reviews.


Julian Lennon - Help YourselfIn 1991 — five years after releasing Mr. JordanJulian Lennon would return with Help Yourself. Working with the estimable Bob Ezrin as producer (Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper), the album kicks off with an ambitious number, “Rebel King.” The vocals in particular sound as if Ezrin brought along the female chorus from a Pink Floyd session. What’s more, lead playing from Steve Hunter (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, both past Ezrin clients) adds to the bombast in a pleasing way. Julian’s voice still heads for the low notes at times, but here –unlike on the last album — he doesn’t sound like David Bowie. Not at all.This very promising start is followed up by the disc’s highlight, “Saltwater”, a song that explores Julian’s environmental concerns. The Mellotron flutes and strings don’t hurt, either. These slow-to-midtempo pieces — likely written on piano — are truly Julian’s m�tier. “Get a Life” — despite co-composing credit by Squeeze‘s Glenn Tilbrook — starts out sounding like a rock version of the verses from John Lennon‘s “Give Peace Chance”. But then the chorus kicks into gear and sounds like…Julian Lennon and Squeeze.

On Help Yourself Julian would work more closely with his original musical cohorts, as well. Justin Clayton cowrites a few songs on the album, including “Maybe I Was Wrong,” another track hinting at a return-to-form approach. Overall this album finds Julian on firm footing and on the right track, asserting his own style and/or assimilating his influences into something cohesive. The title track sounds modern and pleasantly classicist all at once. “Listen” features a dated arrangement, with its brittle, sterile Yamaha CP-70 piano bed and gated-reverb drums, but musically it wouldn’t be out of place on Valotte. The soaring “Other Side of Town” marks Julian’s first recorded duet, featuring nice vocal work from the Blue Nile‘s Paul Buchanan.

But “New Physics Rant” proves that Julian is capable of severe missteps like anyone else. Here he sounds like Mr. Bowie again, and he (sort of) raps. A Girl Scout troop guests on vocals. They don’t need no ed-u-cay-shun. Presumably we can blame Ezrin for this one; he did co-write the track, after all. The album wraps up with a real oddity: a track in which Lennon had no hand in composing. And it’s pretty awful; it bears no sonic relation to anything Julian had done before, and didn’t — we could hope — point the way toward a future direction. “Keep the People Working” sounds like nothing so much as one of the “songs” from Stomp. Bo Diddley is spinning in his grave.

And that would be it from Julian for nearly a decade. Lennon did co-write “If You Want the Sun to Shine” with Pat DiNizio for the SmithereensBlow Up album, but other than that he got on with his life.

Any survey of Julian’s work that doesn’t discuss Photograph Smile does the man a terrible disservice. I’ll take a look at that one — his last release to date — next.

I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.

Album Review: Julian Lennon – Mr. Jordan

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

NOTE: In 2009 Noble Rot reissued three of Julian Lennon‘s albums. They didn’t reissue the Valotte debut, nor did the put out a new release of Photograph Smile, Julian’s 1999 album (and arguably the finest work he’s produced). Instead, this new label — in keeping with its reputation for unearthing underappreciated albums from the 80s and 90s such as those by Toy Matinee and Marc Bonilla — released digipack versions of The Secret Value of Daydreaming (1986), Mr. Jordan (1989) and 1991′s Help Yourself. Here’s the third in a series of five reviews.


Julian Lennon- Mr. JordanThree years after 1986′s The Secret Value of Daydreaming, Julian Lennon returned with Mr. Jordan (the title is a nod to the classic 1941 Claude Rains film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, itself remade as Warren Beatty’s Heaven Can Wait in 1978). This time production was handled by Pat Leonard, already a hot commodity based on his other production work (Madonna) and keyboard work (Ted Nugent, Stanley Clarke, the David Gilmour-led Pink Floyd). Leonard would go on to his own projects (Toy Matinee, 3rd Matinee) and more production (Marc Bonilla); all have been released on Noble Rot in 2009; that’s probably more than a coincidence.

But back to Mr. Jordan. From the opening drum figure and power chord, it’s clear that Mr. Jordan is no Valotte or Daydreaming. But what the hell is it? “Now You’re in Heaven” sounds unnervingly similar to the sounds David Bowie was putting on his albums during that time. But did anyone buy Tonight or Never Let Me Down? I sure didn’t, and I’m a Bowie fan (or was, up to that point).

The decision to channel the Thin White Duke is, in retrospect, quite an odd one. This album might have gone over well on its release; in fact the liner notes quote a Rolling Stone review of the era, making noises about Mr. Jordan helping to salvage Julian’s credibility.

And it’s not a bad album, not at all. It just doesn’t sound like Julian Lennon, whatever that means. (The world would have to wait until Photograph Smile to find out, by which time — sadly — few were listening.) Leonard tones down the keyboard and aims for a guitar-oriented radio-ready sound that serves Lennon well. But his voice…Julian sings in a lower register through much of the disc. On one hand, it does showcase his increasing range, but the album really doesn’t help establish Lennon with any sort of musical identity. Fans weren’t asking for an Oasis (“let’s release the same album six times in succession”) but neither did they sign on for a stylistic pinball machine like, um, David Bowie.

And some color on the album sleeve would be nice: Mr. Jordan, like the two albums before it, sported a black-and white cover. (The Help Yourself cover would finally add a few spalshes of color.)

“I Get Up” kicks off with helium female vocals and a high-energy arrangement, but then, that voice again. By this point, some waggish listeners might suggest Lennon should have titled this album Mr. Bowie. On the bridge and chorus he sounds like Julian again, but it’s just so…weird. The song’s pretty cool, though. For 1989, anyway. “Mother Mary” successfully merges the Valotte vibe with the new Julian, and works in some tasty cellos as well. It’s a highlight of the disc, and most likely to please those who enjoyed the first album and were left wondering where it all went off the rails. “Angillette” channels — for once — John Lennon. Not up to the quality of level of Julian’s dad’s work, it’s nonetheless a fine tune, one that finds Lennon back in familiar territory: sweeping piano ballads.

“Open Your Eyes” sports some jarring tempo changes, but once the listener acclimates to those, the song reveals some interesting production and arrangement choices. It’s easily the most musically compelling thing on Mr. Jordan, and deserving of a close listen. “Make it Up to You” suggests — albeit two-thirds of the way through Lennon’s third album — that he’s found his niche. Here he sounds like himself, and a little like his dad during the Walls and Bridges era. The chunky horns and female backing vocals are right in the pocket, and one supposes this number would have worked well live. The waltz “Sunday Morning” features some trumpets that sound like they were flown in from 1967, along with some nice classical instrumentation. But the too-modern keyboard sounds intrude on the pastoral tune, making it less satisfying that it might otherwise have been. “Second Time” sounds like an album closer (in a good way) and suggests that Lennon and Leonard front-loaded the Bowie-isms. But then the disc wraps up with “I Want You To Know.” By this point I didn’t want to know, and I didn’t want to hear any more “Blue Jean” -era Bowie influences.

But there’s more. An unlisted eleventh track — a brief bizarre time signature reworking of Chuck Berry‘s “Johnny B. Goode” — must be heard to be believed. This tantalizing taste suggested that there was more — much more — to Julian than his albums had yet revealed.

It’s understandable in this case why Noble Rot didn’t include musician credits: they would have had to use very small type. There are a lot of musicians on this disc. One minor complaint, though, and one that seems to hold true for several Noble Rot projects. It seems that the reissue label merely shot a photo of an LP cover rather than attempting to locate the original album art. The result is a slightly grainy, blurry finish to the reissue covers (though the cover of The Secret Value of Daydreaming looks okay).

Next Up: a review of Help Yourself, reissued in 2009.

I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.

Album Review: Julian Lennon – The Secret Value of Daydreaming

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

NOTE: In 2009 Noble Rot reissued three of Julian Lennon‘s albums. They didn’t reissue the Valotte debut, nor did the put out a new release of Photograph Smile, Julian’s 1999 album (and arguably the finest work he’s produced). Instead, this new label — in keeping with its reputation for unearthing underappreciated albums from the 80s and 90s such as those by Toy Matinee and Marc Bonilla — released digipack versions of The Secret Value of Daydreaming (1986), Mr. Jordan (1989) and 1991′s Help Yourself. Here’s the second in a series of five reviews.


For The Secret Value of Daydreaming, Julian Lennon reunited with Valotte producer Phil Ramone (Billy Joel). And Lennon’s friends, co-writers and bandmates Justin Clayton (guitar) and Carmine Rojas (bass) were along as well. But the Muscle Shoals contingent that was such an integral part of the Valotte sound wasn’t part of the project.Their beefiness, their punch…it’s missed here. The songs are sturdy compositions, but overall the album has a dreamy, plaintive feel. There are some stabs at genre-hopping: a bit of reggae beat here, some programmed beats and now-very-dated keyboard sounds there, but the record never really gets going. “This is My Day” is the closest thing to a rock number on the album. And while it’s perhaps expecting too much for Julian to have developed a distinct musical personality by his second album, the overall feel of Daydreaming is a bit on the generic side.To be fair, “generic” was a hallmark of many sophomore albums of the era. What now sounds horribly dated was fresh and new in 1986 (think of Phil Collins‘ gated reverb drums; you’d get slapped if you tried to put that sound on a record nowadays, and with good reason.) So let’s forgive Julian for all the DX7 preprogrammed sounds (and the fretless bass on “You Don’t Have to Tell Me”). Listeners who, er, stick around for the final track will be rewarded. Despite its slightly creepy title, “Want Your Body” is a lovely piano ballad, and is, along with the opening track (and single) “Stick Around”, a high point of the album.

Not an awful record, The Secret Value of Daydreaming is merely a slightly forgettable one. Lennon could (and eventually would) do better. As is standard on Noble Rot releases, there are no bonus tracks on the CD. The brief liner notes add little, and the original LP liner notes (who played what, etc.) are nowhere to be found.

Coming next in this series: a review of Lennon’s Mr. Jordan, reissued in 2009.

I have a material connection because I received a sample or review copy, or an item of nominal value that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was/am expected to return this item after my review.

Blast from the Past: Julian Lennon – Valotte

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Note: In October 2009 Noble Rot reissued the second, third and fourth albums by Julian Lennon. While the first and fifth did not see re-release, it made sense to this writer to provide context by reviewing all five in chronological order.

Julian Lennon - ValotteWhen Julian Lennon released Valotte in 1984, a lot of people were surprised. This writer — even then a hardcore Beatles fan and keen follower of Beatles news and trivia — was caught off guard, like a lot of Beatles fans. Yes, a nine-year-old Julian had made his recording debut on Dad’s Walls and Bridges cover of Lee Dorsey‘s “Ya Ya”, but that track was little more than a novelty, and didn’t represent a serious effort on anyone’s part.

So a decade later when the “Valotte” single was released — with a pic of the 20ish Julian bearing strong echoes of a famous Jurgen Vollmer photo of a 20ish John Lennon taken in Hamburg — a lot of us were a bit suspicious. No known musical background, and now an album?

Julian Lennon - Valotte (single, US picture sleeve) John Lennon - Rock'n'Roll (US LP)
But Julian Lennon’s debut LP was in fact quite good. Fully half of the record’s ten tracks were high-quality pop; the title track was a very atmospheric tune, strongly reminiscent of Julian’s dad’s work a decade earlier, and several other numbers (“On the Phone”, “Too Late for Goodbyes” “Say You’re Wrong” were memorable. And even the weaker tracks (some of which, admittedly, haven’t worn well) were ok; nothing was wretched. Julian wrote or co-wrote all the songs; moreover, he played a bit of keyboard and whatnot. Thus, his involvement with the project was at a level equal to that of many other pop acts.

A brief aside, if I may. I saw Julian Lennon in concert on June 1, 1986. He was playing at the amphitheatre at Six Flags Over Georgia, just outside Atlanta. The venue hosted a number of pretty-cool-for-an-amusement-park acts; I saw the Plimsouls and the Tubes there as well. Lennon and his band put on a winning set, and he conveyed a warm, engaging onstage personality. But the audience was there for “Valotte” and that alone. Once Lennon played his hit, a full two-thirds of the audience split for the nearby rollercoaster. Lennon gamely came back out and announced to the remaining fans that he’d play some more just for them (us, I mean). He proceeded to put on an entertaining show. I felt bad for him in a way, but too was I impressed by his professionalism. (The YouTube clip below is from a Japan concert of the era. Not bad…)

But a few months later, the real test, as it often is, would remain: could he follow up Valotte with a quality studio product? Coming up: a  look at Julian Lennon’s The Secret Value of Daydreaming, released in 1986 and reissued in 2009.

I have not received any compensation for writing this content and I have no material connection to the brands, topics and/or products that are mentioned herein.

Inbox: Wolfmother – Cosmic Egg

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Wolfmother Mark IIJust got an advance of the new Wolfmother album Cosmic Egg, set for release next Tuesday October 27. I’ll check it out and post my thoughts soon.

As you might recall, leader Andrew Stockdale parted ways with everyone else in the band (Quit or sacked? Was Humpty pushed or did he fall? Cosmic Egg indeed). It will be interesting to hear how much of the trademark Wolfmother sound (or the “fill-in-the-name-of-your-favorite-heavy-band-circa-1973-from-whom-Wolfmother-nicked-their-sound” sound) remains intact with the new lineup.

I saw them at Bonnaroo 2007 and they really had the whole pre-Energy Crisis vibe a’happening. I’m set to see them onstage again in a couple weeks as well.