Posts Tagged ‘omnivore’

November Hundred-word Reviews, Part 1

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Once again, it’s time for a run of hundred-word reviews. My inbox has been overflowing of late, and even after removing the material that I deem not worth my time (nor yours), I’m left with far too many discs to cover in my customary manner (500-800 word reviews). So herewith are twenty-five –count ‘em, twenty-five – brief, to-the-point reviews. The first five are reissues of albums originally released in the 1970s (with one late ’69 title slipped into the mix).

The Ides of March – Vehicle
You know the title song: it’s the one you were sure was by another, more well-known artist. “Vehicle” is the 70s answer to The Knickerbockers‘ “Lies.” And like Head East‘s Flat As a Pancake, hardly anyone has heard anything beyond the single. But the other tunes on this ten-track LP (newly reissued with four bonus tracks) show that this, er, Chicago-based band had a pretty wide breadth of style in their bag of tricks. Not all the tracks are horn-laden, either. Some interesting covers (CSN, Jethro Tull, Beatles) and some tasty lead guitar work make this album well worth re-discovering.

The 5th Dimension – Earthbound
After their string of hits, The 5th Dimension began to tire of their soul-meets-MOR formula. This album – long out of print – was an attempt to try something new. Commercially, it was largely a failure, yielding no hit singles and barely scraping the album charts. But this Jimmy Webb-produced album (with Larry Coryell on guitar!) is a surprisingly varied affair, with some gems waiting to be discovered. Though the opening title number is syrupy and mawkish, “Don’t Stop For Nothing” is some deep funk. And the group’s inventive reading of The Beatles‘ “I’ve Got a Feeling” is excellent. Groovy.

Ian Matthews – Stealin’ Home
Though he was a one-time member of Fairport Convention, on this solo LP – the most well-known of oh-so-many – Matthews is in soft-rock mode. The songs here sound like a softer version of Alan Parsons Project: flawlessly performed, arranged and recorded, full of catchy melodies. Nothing here rocks – not by a long shot – but nearly every track sounds as if could have been a radio hit in the late 70s (“Shake It” was indeed). Fans of that laid-back Southern California sound (see also: Fleetwood Mac, Stephen Bishop) will dig. A live ’78 concert adds nine bonus tracks.

Zephyr – Zephyr
The career of guitarist Tommy Bolin is looked upon as one of promise largely unfulfilled. His solo albums have some great moments, but remain spotty; his posthumous outtake collections show he had plenty of talent and ideas. This album – originally released in 1969 – is his earliest recorded effort. Though the group is sonically dominated by husband-and-wife duo David Givens (bass) and Candy Givens (histrionic, Janis Joplinesque vocals), Bolin does get the chance to strut his stuff on some lengthy numbers. If one can get past the vocals, Zephyr is a very good album in the Big Brother mold.

Renaissance – Scheherazade and Other Stories
Arguably, British “progressive” music has long drawn from a different set of influences than its North American counterpart. Renaissance built their music upon a foundation that was equal parts classical and European folk. With the five-octave voice of Annie Haslam as its central focus, the group made gentle yet ambitious music. Scheherazade remains the high water mark of the group’s 1970s output. This new reissue doesn’t add bonus tracks or liner notes; what it does instead is present the album in SACD format, an ideal move for a record that featured crystalline production (by the band themselves) to begin with.

20 more capsule reviews to come.

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Album Review: Bobby Patterson – I Got More Soul!

Monday, July 28th, 2014

If you happened upon a spin of I Got More Soul!, the new album from Bobby Patterson, you could be forgiven for thinking he’s the latest in young new recording artists playing an authentic 21st century brand of classic southern soul. Patterson name-checks Johnnie Taylor, BB King and other soul/blues/r&b giants in the title track, a funky groove that nails the Stax, Ardent, Muscle Shoals and Hi studio vibes of yore, and the band is in the pocket, providing for each of the ten tracks the sort of backing that fits the songs’ moods perfectly.

The thing is, Bobby Patterson is 70, and I Got More Soul! was cut a nine-hour drive southwest of Memphis, in Austin TX’s Arlyn Studios. And Patterson (who co-produced the album with Zach Ernst of The Relatives, who back Patterson) is a journeyman soulster who released a tasty string of singles in the period 1969-1976 on smallish Jetstar and Paula Records, and cut the now-impossibly-rare It’s Just a Matter of Time LP in 1972.

On I Got More Soul!, Patterson serves up songs that put his voice – an amazingly youthful instrument – right out front. On the deep funk of “Can You Feel Me?” Patterson assumes the persona of a tough-talkin’ dude, not unlike early hip hop vocalists whose tunes were often about how hip they were. And in Patterson’s capable hands and voice, the song leaves no doubt that Patterson truly is the man. Shades of Sly Stone (whose “Poet” gets a knowing reading from Patterson) and Little Willie John are shot through this collection of eight originals and two covers.

Patterson belts it out when he needs to, but he brings it way down low for semi-spoken bits, proving that a skilled and effective vocalist can command attention without having to shout. The funky “It’s Hard to Get Back In” sounds like the best blaxploitation film theme you’ve never heard, a streetwise swagger of a tune with charts that nail the Memphis Horns vibe to the wall.

The album’s no-frills production never calls attention to itself; the sound is clean but never slick, and the band’s rhythm section and the horn players do most of the musical heavy lifting; the keyboards and guitar are subtle and used more sparingly. The net effect of the arrangements is to provide sympathetic backing for the star of the show. On the smoky and alluring “The Entertainer Pt.1,” Patterson tells us he’s in the house while what sounds like the percussion setting on a 70s organ lays down the beat. The tasty electric piano backing behind Patterson’s sung/spoken vocal feels like vintage Donny Hathaway. “I don’t care if you’re on the hood or in the trunk,” Patterson tells us, “Ain’t no way you can get away from my funk.” He truly is The Entertainer. And when Patterson lights a torcher as on the Otis Redding-styled “I Know How It Feels,” you’ll believe that he really does know. And the gospel-flavored “Everybody’s Got a Little Devil in Their Soul” proves that this soul veteran knows how to testify. Open your ears to the deliciously varied I Got More Soul! and Bobby Peterson will make you a believer.

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Album Review: Jaco Pastorius – Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

This week, I’m quite busy attending Moogfest 2014 here in Asheville NC, the adopted of hometown of both myself and the late Dr. R.A. Moog, for whom the five day event is named. I hope and plan to bring extensive coverage to this blog very soon. In the meantime, here are some shorter-than-usual reviews. Please note that the relative brevity is in and of itself no comment on the quality of the (uniformly excellent) music.

Last Saturday was Earth Day. It was also Record Store Day. As RSD has grown in popularity – I read multiple reports of long waiting lines outside independent record shops across the country – there has been an associated increase in RSD special releases. Most notably (though not always) on vinyl and in exceedingly limited quantities, these releases are also often noted for the quality of the music they contain. Today and tomorrow I’ll review my favorite.

Jaco Pastorius – Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions
The young wonder that was Jaco seemed to burst onto the scene fully formed. A revolutionary bassist, Pastorius went on to gain great fame as a member of Weather Report, and then – not too many years later – suffer a fatal flame-out, a story that included mental illness, homelessness and deteriorating health. But while he lived, his muse shone brightly, and even before he became so well known, he had created enduring works. This collection of material brings together a great deal of previously-unreleased material, most of it dating from 1975 when he cut demos at Criteria Studios in Miami. A mix of original and cover material (including some by Charlie Parker, an oft-cited influence on the bassist), the set previews material that would surface on Pastorius’ proper debut, his self-titled 1975 LP. By definition less “produced” than the trackso n that set, these demo recordings nonetheless feel full put together. Other than percussion support and Alex Darqui‘s piano and Fender Rhodes, it’s all Jaco all the time here, on electric and upright basses and some more Rhodes. The sound feels a bit muffled throughout – this is a demo, and it is bass, after all – but it’s an eminently listenable set. Pastorius’ lightning runs up and down the fretboard are the highlights here. If you don’t like “busy” bass playing and think bass players should stick to the root note, stay far away from Modern American Music…Period! But if you’re unfamiliar with Jaco yet dig Frank Zappa‘s 70s fusion forays, you’ll find a lot to discover here.

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EP Review: Old 97′s and Waylon Jennings

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

The argument is often put forth – and not wholly without merit – that modern commercial country and western is an extension of rock music. The thinking goes that today’s c&w superstars craft songs that have much in common musically with “classic rock,” and that what they do to change it has more to do with lyrical subject matter and (real or affected) regionally accented vocals.

And while that may be true, those c&w acts aren’t exactly fishing in the deep end of the pond; record sales aside, The Eagles are few critics’ idea of an artistically valid musical aggregation. And while some might not have an affinity for more modern rock sounds (a la Nirvana and even newer groups), at least those artists were/are trying – if only fitfully – to do something new. No old wine in new skins for them. Modern country, in contrast, tends to serve up the same lite pilsner, album after album. The country scene is a narrow one, leaving no room for artists like Junior Brown (with his cross pollination of the styles of Ernest Tubb and Jimi Hendrix; hybrids such as his serve only to confuse modern pop-country tastes).

It need not be so. There have been a few successful hybridizations of country and rock. The Byrds‘ later-period output is the most celebrated example. Even the work of Tom Petty draws from the quality parts of both styles. And said styles share common roots, so it makes sense that finding the commonalty shouldn’t be impossible. Outlaw country, for example, arguably has more in common with Led Zeppelin than it does with, say, Blake Shelton.

One of the most successful exponents of the country/rock hybrid in modern times has (and remains) Old 97′s. Sporting songcraft that falls firmly into the outlaw/honkytonk subgenres, Old 97′s couch their melodies in arrangements that owe more to powerpop than anything one might hear on country radio. And thus they can serve as a gateway drug for the rock fan who’s interested in exploring country music.

A new EP collects a handful of early Old 97′s rarities including some previously-unreleased cuts in which they back a master of outlaw country. Old 97s & Waylon Jennings features a pair of finished tunes – “Iron Road” and “The Other Side” with Waylon Jennings on lead vocal, plus four band demos from 1996.

By ’96, the band had released their first two albums – Hitchhike to Rhome (1994) and 1995′s Wreck Your Life, both of which were highly regarded among the cognoscenti, and neither of which set the charts alight.

That happened after Old 97′s signed with Elektra and released 1997′s superb Too Far to Care. But one suspects that the four demos cut a year earlier helped seal the deal with Elektra. The spare tunes mostly feature Rhett Miller on lead vocals, and often include little beyond vocal and acoustic guitar, but the bare bones delivery serves to highlight the quality of the songs themselves.

And working with Jennings – a dream pairing the band pursued on a whim – yielded the pair of songs cut late that same year. The fire is there, with Old 97′s stinging yet twangy lead guitars duetting with Jennings, who spins out a tale of life on the railroad. Phillip Peeples‘ shuffling drum work in particular conjures the vibe of the rails.

It’s tantalizing to think what might have become had the band gone on to cut an entire album’s worth of material with Jennings. Despite the pleadings of its title, Jennings’ then-current album Right for the Time failed to chart, and is considered a middling, unadventurous effort at best. But his final album Closing in on the Fire (a big “wow” on the alternately and ironic and prophetic nature of his album titles!) cast a wider stylistic net and fared much better with fans and critics alike; one wonders if Jennings’ experience with the young Old 97′s upstarts from Dallas influenced his approach on what turned out to be his final release.

We’ll never know, but this pair of tunes represents a worthwhile and interesting addition to the bodies of work of both Jennings and Old 97s.

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Album Review: Jellyfish — Radio Jellyfish

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

It’s pointless (not to mention plain wrong) to argue against the assertion that the “unplugged” concept had played itself out by the middle of the 1990s. But the format – originally devised (with others) by Jules Shear – was itself a good one: stripped-down, intimate live performances of rock songs. That concept was oft-abused and just plain overused, and the resulting product often added little to listeners’ understanding and appreciation of the music.

But there were exceptions. And though baroque/powerpop act Jellyfish never in fact appeared on the television program MTV Unplugged, they would make use of the presentation style in a few radio performances during their time together.

In many ways, Jellyfish were perfectly suited for the unplugged format. Most who had heard the finely-wrought arrangements on their pair of studio albums (Bellybutton in 1990 and Spilt Milk in 1993) could be forgiven for thinking that the band were a bunch of studio rats a la Steely Dan or Alan Parsons Project, and that those intricate (but not-quite-fussy) arrangements could never be successfully translated to a live setting (see: Queen Live Killers). But that was not the case: the band’s co-leaders Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning were dynamic and spot-on during the band’s relatively few live shows.

And so it was in 1993 that Jellyfish found themselves doing a number of unplugged-style radio dates. Tracks from two of these, in Holland and Australia, make up the new ten-track Radio Jellyfish. And in addition to proving that they could play the songs live in the unplugged format, Jellyfish illustrated just how strong the tunes themselves were (and remain).

Running through an essentially best-of list of tracks from the two albums, the band also served up a pair of ace covers. The Move‘s “I Can Hear the Grass Grow” is no easy tune to cover; not only does Jellyfish nail it, they reinvent the tail-end of the song, effectively making it their own. And even without thunderous bass lines and electric guitars, the song remains powerful, if a bit less psychedelic than the original version.

Newcomer and former Producers bassist Tim Smith plays acoustic guitar on the set, as does Roger’s brother Chris, who had been brought into the band specifically for the ’93 tour Eric Dover, who had replaced the departed Chris Manning*.  Sturmer – normally the band’s drummer – sticks to vocals here, while Manning plays mostly acoustic percussion (instead of his customary bank of keyboards). But again: even without the electronics, the band shines. Badfinger‘s “No Matter What” was a highlight of the band’s live shows, and it too is delivered in spirited fashion on Radio Jellyfish.

Only the Move cover tune has been released before; as a teaser of what the band could do acoustically, it was a highlight of the 4CD (out of print and hard to obtain) Fan Club set from years ago. The remainder of these tracks are appearing on CD (and vinyl!) for the first time when this set hits the street on December 10.

It would have been nicer if the set had gone on a bit longer: at ten tracks, Radio Jellyfish is a bit on the short side. But with a catalog that initially counted a mere two albums, the latter-day Jellyfish post-breakup releases are to be treasured…no matter what.

* My apologies for initially getting this wrong. — bk

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Album Review: Various Artists — CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

When endeavoring to judge the merits of a soundtrack album, there’s always the quandary of what measure to use. Should one judge it on the merits, strictly as a thematic collection of songs? Or measure it as an audio companion to the film?

With regard to CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, I’m going with the former. There are two reasons for this. The first is practical: I haven’t seen the film yet (it premieres in New York City tonight). The second is more subjective: I like the disc a lot, but suspect it works far better viewed as a collection than as an adjunct to the film.

Twenty songs on a single disc means that CBGB gives good value for the money. And the selections are – almost without fail – uniformly excellent, both thematically and just-plain musically. Now, some of the artists on this set never got anywhere near the famed Bowery club, and if they did, it wouldn’t have been called CBGB then, anyway. Since the club opened in 1973, The Count Five (responsible ofr the classic nugget “Psychotic Reaction”), the (original) Stooges (1969′s sonic barbed wire of “I Wanna Be Your Dog”), and The Velvet Underground (“I Can’t Stand It”) all folded too soon to experience the glories of the club’s notoriously filthy restroom. But the aesthetic of all thee bands – in turns, garagepunkpsych, dark proto-alternarock and anarchic punk – is wholly in line with the outsider sensibilities the club engendered.

CBGB plays much like the various entries in Rhino’s 1990s DIY series, most notably Blank Generation: The New York Scene (1975-78). Surveying as it does a host of NYC bands (and/or bands associated with the city’s nascent punk/new wave scene), CBGB serves as a tidy sampler of the various styles of music showcased at the club. And drawing from the original versions means that listeners aren’t subject to something odd and potentially displeasing, like, say Stana Katic (who’s otherwise quite lovely) singing in Genya Ravan‘s stead. (Apologies to Val Kilmer).

There are, natually some serious omissions. No New York Dolls? How did that happen? (It’s probably own to licensing.) No Suicide? That one’s a little tougher to figure. And what exactly The Police (“Roxanne”) are doing here besides adding some non-punk hit value is also a tough question to answer (Joan Jett might have made a bit more sense).

But such arguments are mere quibbling. Taken as a bunch of songs, CBGB is a fun, nostalgic listen. No, MC5 don’t really fit in here – they rocked way too hard; only Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer” comes close to that level of intensity here – but there’s rarely a time when “Kick Out the Jams” isn’t welcome. Also welcome is Johnny Thunder and the Heartbreakers‘ reading of “California Sun,” one of the lesser-heard tracks on this set. At just a shade over an hour, you’ll likely be surprised how quickly it blows by.

A pair of modern-day tracks are admittedly relevant yet odd. The production values on a 2013 re-recording of Blondie‘s “Sunday Girl” feel a little too modern to fit seamlessly, though Debbie Harry‘s voice seems more intact that you might’ve guessed. And CBGB club owner Hilly Kristal gets the last word with a ditty called “Birds and the Bees,” recorded way back in…2005. As far as his singing and songwriting abilities, let’s just say that Kristal was an important club owner. On the upside, weighing Kristal’s presence reminds us that Joey Ramone (“I Get Knocked Down (But I’ll Get Back Up)”) was a better singer than he often got credit for.

With those DIY discs long out of print, CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is a concise sampler of the late 70s NYC musical scene., and for that alone it’s worth picking up.

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Album Review: The Three O’Clock – The Hidden World Revealed

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

The whole so-called “paisley underground” scene happened during my college years. Like many of my generation, I had expanded my listening experiences beyond classic rock into what would eventually be known as “college rock.” And through my experience working in a record store, I was exposed to even more then-current music, much of it – unlike my heroes The Beatles, Pink Floyd and so on – made by people a mere five or six years (at most) older than me.

The sounds out of southern California were of particular interest. Having little in common with that region’s early 60 stock-and-surf scene, the paisley underground umbrella encompassed artists who took the work of later L.A. scenesters (The Byrds, Love, etc.) as their musical touchstones. In addition to a healthy dose of jangle, they also drew upon the late 60s psychedelic stylings of San Francisco (Moby Grape) and England (Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd).

Chief among this crop of like-minded (but each decidedly distinctive in their own way) groups were The Bangs (later the Bangles), Rain Parade, and The Three O’Clock. The last of these was fronted by the high- and fragile-voiced Michael Quercio. Originally calling themselves The Salvation Army (you can guess how that played out), the group eventually hit it relatively big and released an EP and four albums (on three labels) in the period 1982-88.

Jason Falkner was a member of the band during the tail-end of this period (during which they released Vermillion on Prince‘s Paisley Park label), but the band folded shortly thereafter. All the members went on to other projects, and in 2013 the group (Quercio plus prime-era members Danny Benair and Louis Gutierrez) reunited to perform in support of the new compilation The Hidden World Revealed.

The Hidden World Revealed is not a best-of collection; instead it’s twenty tracks (half of them previously unreleased) of demos, alternate versions, fan club releases, and relative rarities. Nearly all of the material dates from the band’s earlier days (up to around 1983) prior to signing with I.R.S. The result is a cohesive listening experience, though perhaps not the best starting point for those new to the band’s catalog.

The Three O’Clock’s musical style was a poppy mix of slightly baroque pop, the kind of thing that felt and sounded like an 80s update of Summer of Love radio pop. Quercio’s approach to the bass guitar owed a lot to Paul McCartney‘s Sgt. Pepper era manner of playing. But there was an insistent hard-charging dimension applied to the baroque’n'roll, as evidenced on “With a Cantaloupe Girlfriend” (yes, Quercio’s song titles would fit comfortably on a mixtape with those of Syd Barrett and, say, Robyn Hitchcock). In the new set’s track-by-track liner notes, drummer Danny Benair characterizes “Jet Fighter” as the band’s most well-known tune, and that Macca -style bass is here as well, contrasted with some (then-)modern sounding synthesizer lines.

The Barrett influence is worn on the band’s sleeve as they take a stab at “Lucifer Sam,” originally a fan club-only b-side. Uniquely, the band’s generally sunny disposition is nowhere to be found on this vaguely menacing tune (there’s really no other way to play the song). “When Lightening Strikes” [sic] sounds a bit like an American answer to The Teardrop Explodes crossed with, say, Haircut 100; that pop-trifle vibe set against a rock feel is perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of the Three O’Clock sound.

“Around the World” pointed the way toward a decidedly more rock-oriented approach the band would explore in their I.R.S. era. An early, unadorned mix of The Bee Gees‘ “In My Own Time” reminds modern-day listeners that early Bee Gees music was influenced more by Revolver-era Beatles than anything else; The Three O-Clock’s version has a similar feel. Some listeners may find the woefully out-of-tune vocals on the previously unreleased “Why Cream Curdles in Orange Tea” rough going, but the tune is not without its charms.

And so it goes with the other tracks, of which a closing cover of The Byrds’ “Feel a Whole Lot Better” remains a highlight. Longtime fans of the band will find this collection a welcome addition to The Three O’Clock’s relatively slim catalog; new listeners are advised to start elsewhere.

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