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Fifty Year Friday: Unhalfbricking, Five Leaves Free

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Fairport Convention: Unhalfbricking

Released on July 3, 1969, Unhalfbricking is Fairport Convention’s third album, continuing their evolution towards a mostly English Folk music style despite inclusion of three unreleased Dylan songs.  Elements of progressive rock abound, due to the acoustic guitar work of Richard Thompson and use of organ, harpsichord, electric dulcimers, violin and the eleven minute “A Sailor’s Life” with it’s instrumental second half. Sandy Denny’s expansively liberated vocals, her deft handling of the melodic line, and the subtleties in the arranging contribute to a finely finished aura that envelops the album.

The album includes two Sandy Denny compositions, including  the deeply insightful “Autopsy”, and the widely praised “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?“, previously recorded two years earlier with the Strawbs, and performed with a more relaxed pace, greater freedom, and more maturity on Unhalfbricking,

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Nick Drake: Five Leaves Free

Fifty years later, it seems natural to look back and feel some level of loss for the music that never was — the music that never was because of the tragic and premature loss of such resonant artists as Sandy Denny and Nick Drake. It’s doesn’t help to reflect that general lack of commercial attention probably contributed to the depression that brought about Denny’s and Drake’s deaths.  However, such speculation is called into question upon consideration of artists whose stardom-level status similarly contributed to their shortened lives.

Whereas Sandy Denny at least got attention and opportunities from other, more prominent artists, Nick Drake was pretty much ignored not only up until 1974 when he died of an overdose of his anti-depressant medicine, possibly intentional, but also pretty much until the late 1980s.

Though barely twenty years old when he started to record Five Leaves Free in July of 1968, and though excited at the prospect of having an album, Drake’s life was already full of darkness and depression, as clear from the lyrics of the songs. His level of musicianship was impressive: he effortlessly sings and plays complex guitar passages artfully and effectively in real time with strings or other musicians as opposed to coming back later to dub the guitar work.  Though the recording sessions were rushed  (using downtime available courtesy of Fairport Convention) and the production and arrangements were not to Drake’s liking, by June of 1969, one of the finest singer-songwriter albums of the sixties was completed and released to the public on July 3, 1969. Unfortunately, the critics generally cared little for the album, and very few purchased it.  People like myself would never hear of Nick Drake until many years later.

It seems unimaginable today that this album was ignored for so long.  The quality of the music and the lyrics are undeniable, and the production is generally quite good.  Joe Boyd, a George Martin fan and the producer of this album, had a vision of leveraging all studio resources to provide a integral sound, whereas Drake wanted a simpler, more organic approach.  Boyd wanted an established arranger, Richard Anthony Hewson to provide the orchestration.  However, upon hearing Hewson’s attempts with Drake’s music, neither Boyd or Drake felt that such arrangements were suitable. Drake suggested they go with one of his friends at Cambridge University, music student Robert Kirby, who had previously arranged some of Drake’s music.  Though Boyd was initially reluctant to go with someone so unknown, lacking in credentials, and so inexperienced, after getting Kirby in the studio and hearing what he could do, Boyd settled upon Kirby for all the arrangements except one, “River Man” which, for whatever reason, was arranged by professional music director, arranger and composer, Harry Robertson.  Oddly, though Robertson is a skilled arranger, this is the weakest arrangement on the album. Perhaps it was just that Robertson didn’t have the personal familiarity with either Drake or his music that Kirby did.  Perhaps it was a matter of lack of attention to the depth of the lyrics and music.  Perhaps even Kirby would not have done the song justice. It’s not that this is one of those rare songs that works best left in bleakest, most natural state of single guitar and voice, the inclusion of the strings is a workable idea, its just that the particularly arrangement deployed lacks a true connection to Drake’s message. Nonetheless the song still works well, even if not as well as if it had been recorded with just Drake’s guitar and voice.  The composition is in 5/4 time — five beats to the measure, creating a slightly surreal effect. It’s not a jazzy 5/4 like Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” or Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission: Impossible” theme song, but a flowing, natural 5/4 composition further enhanced by the relationship between the minor and major chord choices.

It’s fair to say that as particularly special as “River Man” is as a song, all the songs on this album are finely crafted compositions. How this album was initially overlooked by critics but now fully embraced by them is just one of those recurring oddities in the music world  — and often later attributed to the music being ahead of its time. Yet, this doesn’t seem to be the case here.  Yes, the music is timeless and seemingly perfectly suited to the Shoegaze era of the late 1980s and 1990s, but it also fits in nicely with contemporary work of many of the other singer songwriters of 1969.  And there is nothing difficult or elusive in either the relatively simple lyrics, or Drake’s personal and distinctive,  yet easily accessible songs.

Accessible and personal does not exclude universal as in the case of “Day is Done” with its poetic representation of the inevitable finality of any given life.  Here, as in all the Kirby arrangements, the strings appropriately support the essence and character of the song amplifying its impact and effect.   “Fruit Tree” also addresses the nature of life but focuses on fame and the underappreciated artist, eerily predictive of Drake’s own life and legacy:

“Safe in your place deep in the earth, that’s when they’ll know what you were really worth.” 

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Fifty Year Friday: Trout Mask Replica, Brave New World

Trout Mask Replica

“I don’t know anything about music.”  Don Glen Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart)

Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica

Recorded from August 1968 to March 1969 and released on June 16. 1969, Trout Mask Replica is a double album for the ages whether you might love it or hate it — and for most people, it’s rather easy to hate.  Far different from Captain Beefheart’s previous album,  Safe As Milk (which though partly confined within a traditional blues framework and ethos, provides many imaginative moments and approaches), Trout Mask Replica breaks into territory no artist has yet covered on record:  it’s been called out as the musical equivalent of rusty barbwire, and it certainly is as about as far away from easy listening as music gets.  But careful, focused, not-so-easy listening reveals the complexity in a large portion of music on the album which includes complex polyrhythms and polytonality.

Yes, there is a lot of non-musical content on the album — Frank Zappa produced this gem and granted total artistic freedom to Captain Beefheart and his band, so one doesn’t get continuous, highly refined music.  Instead one gets pockets — and the treasures here are in the instrumental accompaniment and interludes.  It’s been said that Captain Beefheart’s voice makes Tom Waits sound like Julie Andrews, that’s true, and the engineering of the album emphasizes these vocals as does their general lack of alignment with the backing instrumentation. It has been alleged that the lack of synchronization was due to Beefheart’s not wanting to wear headphones during recording, which resulted in him becoming hopelessly dependent on his own sense of time and on the immediate sonic reverberations of the studio.

Though there are people that will swear that the main value of this album is to drive away unwanted visitors, its influence on many musicians is indisputable.  Bands or individuals reportedly influenced include Henry Cow, The Residents (clearly), The Clash, Tom Waits, The Sex Pistols, Velvet Underground, The Little Feat and myriad others.  For me, the repeated polyrhythmic motifs anticipate Gentle Giant, King Crimson and some of the more aggressive math rock bands.   If you don’t like this album immediately, try it again, clearing away any possibility of distractions, as well as any expectations, taking the music and non-musical elements for what they are — rejoicing in the unusual, and what most would consider weird, amalgam of musical freedom and musical discipline.

rack listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Don Van Vliet and arranged by John French.

Side One
 # Title Length
1. “Frownland” 1:41
2. “The Dust Blows Forward ‘n the Dust Blows Back” 1:53
3. “Dachau Blues” 2:21
4. “Ella Guru” 2:26
5. “Hair Pie: Bake 1” 4:58
6. Moonlight on Vermont 3:59
Side Two
# Title Length
7. “Pachuco Cadaver” 4:40
8. “Bill’s Corpse” 1:48
9. “Sweet Sweet Bulbs” 2:21
10. “Neon Meate Dream of a Octafish” 2:25
11. “China Pig” 4:02
12. “My Human Gets Me Blues” 2:46
13. “Dali’s Car” 1:26
Side Three
 # Title Length
14. “Hair Pie: Bake 2” 2:23
15. “Pena” 2:33
16. “Well” 2:07
17. “When Big Joan Sets Up” 5:18
18. “Fallin’ Ditch” 2:08
19. “Sugar ‘n Spikes” 2:30
20. “Ant Man Bee” 3:57
Side Four
 # Title Length
21. “Orange Claw Hammer” 3:34
22. “Wild Life” 3:09
23. “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” 1:40
24. “Hobo Chang Ba” 2:02
25. “The Blimp (Mousetrapreplica)” 2:04
26. “Steal Softly thru Snow” 2:18
27. “Old Fart at Play” 1:51
28. “Veteran’s Day Poppy” 4:31
Total length: 78:51

Personnel

Musicians

Additional personnel

  • Doug Moon – acoustic guitar on “China Pig”
  • Gary “Magic” Marker – bass guitar on “Moonlight on Vermont” and “Veteran’s Day Poppy” (uncredited)
  • Roy Estrada – bass guitar on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Arthur Tripp III – drums and percussion on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Don Preston – piano on “The Blimp” (uncredited)
  • Ian Underwood – alto saxophone on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Bunk Gardner – tenor saxophone on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Buzz Gardner – trumpet on “The Blimp” (uncredited/inaudible)
  • Frank Zappa – speaking voice on “Pena” and “The Blimp” (uncredited); engineer (uncredited); producer
  • Richard “Dick” Kunc – speaking voice on “She’s Too Much for My Mirror” (uncredited); engineer

Brave New World

Steve Miller Band: Brave New World 

Also released on June 16, Steve Miller and his band’s Brave New World and Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band’s Trout Mask Replica are as far apart musically as composers such as Muzio Clementi and Harry Partch.   Brave New World may display less overt, convention-defying courage than Trout Mask Replica, but the musicianship is solid and Steve Miller’s vocals flexibly fit the songs whether those vocals are reassuring and comforting as with the dreamy evocative “Seasons” or appropriately bluesy as on the Hendrix-like “Got Love “Cause You Need It.” Of course, the hit of this album, is “Space Cowboy” which borrows the ostinato-like chromatic blues riff from Lady Madonna, possibly with Paul McCartney’s blessing who jams (under the psuedonym, “Paul Ramon”,) with Steve Miller on another track on this album, “My Dark Hour.”

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

1.

“Brave New World” Steve Miller

3:27

2.

“Celebration Song” Miller, Ben Sidran

2:33

3.

“Can’t You Hear Your Daddy’s Heartbeat” Tim Davis

2:30

4.

“Got Love ‘Cause You Need It” Miller, Sidran

2:28

5.

“Kow Kow” Miller

4:28

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Length

6.

“Seasons” Miller, Sidran

3:50

7.

“Space Cowboy” Miller, Sidran

4:55

8.

“LT’s Midnight Dream” Lonnie Turner

2:33

9.

“My Dark Hour” Miller

3:07

Total length:

29:52

Personnel

Additional personnel

 

Fifty Year Friday: Power to the People, The Giant is Awakened, Empty Sky, At San Quentin, and Charisma

 

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Joe Henderson: Power to the People

Recorded in late May of 1969, Power the Power stands out distinctly from both those late-sixties partly-commercially friendly hard bop albums and the bevy of free-jazz albums being recorded in 1968 and 1969.  It opens with one of the most sensually gorgeous jazz ballads of the era, the beautifully lush Black Narcissus with Herbie Hancock’s Fender Rhodes electric piano providing the appropriate ambient backdrop. Henderson’s tenor work here is stunningly elegant as he shapes his lines with a rare level of delicate control.  And though “Black Narcissus” is the highlight here for me, Ron Carter’s “Opus One-Point-Five” is also particularly beautiful with Henderson’s tone capable of the most nuanced reflection and introspection.  Hancock is on acoustic piano, and Jack DeJohnette’s percussion fits in perfectly.

Despite all this beauty, on cannot overlook the other tracks including an updated version of Henderson’s Monk-influenced “Isotope” that Henderson and Hancock had previously recorded in 1964 for the “Inner Urge” album.  As a Thelonious Monk fan, this resonates with my personal music sensibilities, and so very glad to have both the longer 1964 version and this version. “Lazy Afternoon” swings effortlessly, “Afro-Centric” is hard-edged, modally adventurous hard bop, and “Foresight and Afternoon” omits keyboards with the trio charging into the realm of free jazz territory.  The title track, “Power to the People”, is also adventurous, with a modern hard-bop theme, aggressively inventive improvisations, and sparking electric piano work by Hancock. Now if I had to change one thing about this album, I would have liked to have a second version of “Power to the People” included with Mr. Hancock on acoustic piano. That would be one way to make an amazing album even more incredible!

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All compositions by Joe Henderson, except where noted.

  1. “Black Narcissus” – 4:50
  2. “Afro-Centric” – 7:00
  3. “Opus One-Point-Five” (Ron Carter) – 4:56
  4. “Isotope” – 4:53
  5. “Power to the People” – 8:42
  6. “Lazy Afternoon” (MorossLatouche) – 4:33
  7. “Foresight and Afterthought (An Impromptu Suite in Three Movements)” – 7:33

Recorded on May 23 (2, 5) and May 29 (all others), 1969.

Personnel

 

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Horace Tapscott: The Giant is Awakened

Recorded on the first three days of April 1969, released later that year to negligible sales and then not reissued until 2015, The Giant is Awakened is Horace Tapscott’s first album as a leader, with not another album in his name until 1978, by Tapscott’s choice, as he was reportedly disappointed in being excluded from the mixing process of this album despite assurances to the contrary.  Reportedly, Tapscott was particularly dissatisfied with the over-emphasis on the piano, which aggressively stands out whether soloing or providing accompaniment. The two basses could have been brought out more, particularly in passages where one is bowing and the other is being plucked.

The album finds middle ground between standard hard bop and extreme free jazz as nicely exemplified in highly structure and rhythmically-driven “The Giant is Awakened.”  This is also Arthur’s Blythe’s first recording, but his distinct alto playing is evident even at this point in his career as he provides an orchestra’s worth of tension and forward momentum in the first track, preceding Tapscott’s unrestrained and exploratory solo. Blythe also contributes the composition “For Fat’s” with its Monk-like opening theme and its freer contrasting section —  the two themes rotating in a straightforward ABABA form.  The third track,  the relentlessly rhythmic “The Dark Tree” is particularly appropriate for showcasing Tapscott fearless piano technique. The final track, “Niger’s Theme”  begins with a distinct, angular melody that then gives way to Blythe’s almost chaotic, but brilliant, free improvisation, followed by some pungent and highly accentuated piano.  This returns to an extended restatement of the main theme, with a suitable diminuendo bringing an accessible, engaging, and adventurous album to a pleasant but decisive close.

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Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All compositions by Horace Tapscott except as indicated

  1. “The Giant is Awakened” – 17:23
  2. “For Fats” – 2:20
  3. “The Dark Tree” – 7:01
  4. “Niger’s Theme” – 11:55

Personnel

 

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Elton John: Empty Sky

Recorded in December of 1968 through April 1969, Elton John’s first album was released in the UK on June 6th 1969.  Like many baby boomers in the States, my first exposure to Elton John was his self-titled second album, which at the time I purchased it, I believed to be his first.  It wasn’t until a few months after I had purchased Tumbleweed Connection, that I saw Empty Sky in the import section, and as it was at a reasonable price for an import album, $3.99,  I bought it.  I listened to it once, put it aside, listened to it again, but never took a strong liking to it as I had with those second and third albums, which, along with Yellow Brick Road, are what I consider to be the best of his long, productive career.

That said, Empty Sky is still a good album, with well-written lyrics by Bernie Taupin, skillfully set to music by Elton John.  Yes, the second and third albums have stronger songs, and also benefit from the wealth of quality musicians that contribute as well as Gus Dudgeon’s accomplished production — Empty Sky lacks anything approaching “Your Song”, “Take Me To the Pilot”, or “Burn Down the Mission”, does not have the same production values or range of contributing musicians — and appears to be constrained by a lower budget.

My favorite songs are the opening (and title) track, “Empty Sky,” “Western Ford Gateway,” which sounds similar to content from Tumbleweed Connection, and “Hymn 2000,” which would fit in nicely on the second album.  The last track has a jazz-blues section, which would provide a nice ending to the album, except for the intrusion of a collage of snippets from each track that provides a musical flashback — a puzzling approach, but something repeated by both Gentle Giant (“In a Glass House”) and Queen (“Jazz”), with Gentle Giant keeping their snippets to a little under two seconds each, for a total length of nine seconds (not counting the few seconds of shattering glass) compared to the nearly two-minute recap on Empty Sky.  (In regards to Gentle Giant and Elton John, Elton, when still Reginald Dwight, played with Simon Dupree and the Big Sound for a couple of months when their regular keyboard player, Eric Hine, was ill.  The Shulman brothers and Reggie got along great, and recorded Elton and Bernie Taupin’s “I’m Going Home” as mentioned here.)

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All songs written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.

Side one

  1. “Empty Sky” – 8:28
  2. “Val-Hala” – 4:12*
  3. “Western Ford Gateway” – 3:16
  4. “Hymn 2000” – 4:29

Side two

  1. “Lady What’s Tomorrow” – 3:10
  2. “Sails” – 3:45
  3. “The Scaffold” – 3:18
  4. Skyline Pigeon” – 3:37
  5. “Gulliver/Hay Chewed/Reprise” – 6:59*

Personnel

  • Elton John – vocals, piano, organ, Fender Rhodes, harpsichord
  • Caleb Quaye – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, congas
  • Tony Murray – bass guitar
  • Roger Pope – drums, percussion
  • Nigel Olsson – drums on “Lady What’s Tomorrow”
  • Don Fay – saxophone, flute
  • Graham Vickery – harmonica

 

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Johnny Cash At San Quentin

Whereas Elton John was just getting to his first album, Johnny Cash was tackling his thirty-first. If you had any relatives in 1969 or the early seventies that were partial to country music, there’s a good chance that this album would be in their collection, and for good reason: it is an exceptionally engaging live album, recorded on February 24, 1969, just two days before Cash’s 47th birthday, and released on June 4, 1969.  Those of us with any memory of 1969, will recall the repeated playing on the airwaves of this live concert’s version of Shel Silverstein’s cleverly-written “A Boy Named Sue”, and the bleeping out of “son of a *****” — how quaint censorship was back then.

Track Listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one
1. “Wanted Man” (Bob Dylan) 3:24
2. “Wreck of the Old 97” (arranged by Cash, Bob Johnston, Norman Blake) 2:17
3. “I Walk the Line” (Johnny Cash) 3:13
4. “Darling Companion” (John Sebastian) 6:10
5. “Starkville City Jail” (Johnny Cash) 2:01

Side two
1. “San Quentin” (Johnny Cash) 4:07
2. “San Quentin” (performed a second time at the audience’s request) (Johnny Cash) 3:13
3. “A Boy Named Sue” (Shel Silverstein) 3:53
4. “(There’ll Be) Peace in the Valley” (Thomas A. Dorsey) 2:37
5. “Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash) 1:29

Personnel

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Lee Morgan: Charisma

With a lineup that immediately ensures a high level of quality, Charisma was recorded in 1966, but not released until May 1969.  Compared to the plethora of free jazz albums being released in 1969, this may seem embarrassingly accessible to more sophisticated jazz listeners, but there is nothing embarrassing about the quality of the musicianship and the level of improvisation. One can scarcely go wrong with any Lee Morgan Blue Note album, so given that everyone must own a copy of his 1963 Sidewinder album with Joe Henderson as well as the 1964 Search for the New Land with Wayne Shorter, Grant Green and Herbie Hancock, it seems reasonable one would be able to find a place in their music collection for an album where Lee Morgan teams up with Jackie McLean, Hank Mobley, Cedar Walton, Paul Chambers and Billy Higgins, particularly when it is also on Blue Note and is this good!

The album starts with “Hey Chico”, one of those mid-sixties blues-based jazzed numbers tailored for AM radio, though it never got such exposure, followed by, what for me, is the gem on the album, “Somethin’ Cute”,  rich in great solos, particularly the alto solo from Jackie Mac. Walton is exemplary on the lovely ballad, “Rainy Night”, and the fourth track, is another of those relatively simple, commercially friendly tunes, upbeat and perfect for the excellent soloing after the initial statement — particularly impressive is Lee Morgan’s trumpet solo.  This is followed by another Duke Pearson tune, with particularly notable solos by Morgan and Walton.  The last track, “The Double Up”, provides a nice symmetry against the opening track, and includes strong solos by Morgan and Mobley and a notable solo by Walton against the horns.  Chambers and Higgins are excellent, with Higgins flavoring these performances with unobtrusive ranges of shading and percussive hues and tints that lie almost below the range of general perception yet significantly contributes to the overall impact.

 

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

All compositions by Lee Morgan except where noted

  1. “Hey Chico” – 7:17
  2. “Somethin’ Cute” – 5:39
  3. “Rainy Night” (Walton) – 5:39
  4. “Sweet Honey Bee” (Pearson) – 6:54
  5. “The Murphy Man” (Pearson) – 7:34
  6. “The Double Up” – 6:01

Personnel

 

Fifty Year Friday: Crosby, Stills and Nash

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The first generally-recognized rock “supergroup” was the blues-leaning Cream with Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.  Prior to that, Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, and Stevie Winwood had formed Powerhouse, originally to have included Ginger Baker, but with only an output of three songs, and with two lesser-known members, Powerhouse could hardly have been considered the first supergroup. When Cream formed, Eric Clapton was already considered an established guitarist, Jack Bruce had survived the Graham Bond Organisation and made a name for himself in Manfred Mann, and Ginger Baker had established his credentials as a skilled drummer in the Graham Bond Organisation before founding Cream in 1966.

The second rock supergroup was formed during the initial stages of the inevitable rise of country-rock and country-folk-rock by three talented and recently “released” artists: David Crosby, was given the boot by the Byrds, mainly due to Crosby’s vision of the direction the Byrds should take not aligning with Roger McGuinn’s and Chris Hillman’s views, Stephen Stills was now free with the break-up of the Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash was now seeking new opportunities — Nash, the effective leader of the Hollies, had grown dissatisfied with the Hollie’s aggressive touring schedule and was also no longer interested in having to navigate the gap between Nash’s more creative and musically adventurous aspirations and the other Hollies’ members tendency towards more traditionally pop-oriented music.

Story goes that at a party in July 1968, either at Mama Cass’s or Judy Collin’s home, Nash had asked Stills and Crosby to sing Stills’ “You Don’t Have To Cry” and at some point Nash joined in, harmonizing on the spot.  The three then realized that had something, and soon determined to form a group — but not a group that would continue without any of them — and so they determined the best way to equate the group with the founding members was to name that group after those founding members: “Crosby, Stills and Nash.”

The trio reached out to the management team of Elliot Roberts and David Geffen who signed them with Atlantic, which then had to basically work out a trade for Graham Nash, sending  Richie Furay and his new band Poco to Epic.  (Note that Poco fit nicely into the rising popularity of country rock, releasing their first album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, on May 19, 1968, only ten days before the release of Crosby, Stills and Nash. I ran out of time last week to review, but for those that like country-rock, this is a very solid country-rock album.)

Recorded in February and March of 1969, and released on May 29, 1969, Crosby, Stills and Nash album became almost instantly popular, with “Marrakesh Express”, a song Nash originally intended for the Hollies, getting airplay on AM radios in the middle of July, eventually reaching number 28 spot, soon followed by Suite Judy Blue Eyes peaking at number 21.  FM radio stations embraced the entire album, playing a number of the other fine tracks.

Excellency is really the hallmark of this album. Even if someone is not a fan of folk-rock, the effervescent and transparent blend of vocals and acoustic guitar work has to resonate with even the most selective of listeners.  If somehow you missed growing up with this classic album, or have otherwise not heard it, seek it out, for it is one of the most enjoyable country-folk rock albums ever recorded, so much so that I include this as another valid entry in my list of non-progressive-rock progressive rock albums!

Track listing [From Wikipedia]

Side one

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes Stephen Stills Stills

7:25

2.

Marrakesh Express Graham Nash Nash

2:39

3.

Guinnevere David Crosby Crosby with Nash

4:40

4.

“You Don’t Have to Cry” Stephen Stills Stills with Crosby & Nash

2:45

5.

“Pre-Road Downs” Graham Nash Nash

2:56

Side two

#

Title

Writer(s)

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Wooden Ships Crosby, Paul Kantner, Stills Crosby with Stills

5:29

2.

Lady of the Island Graham Nash Nash

2:39

3.

Helplessly Hoping Stephen Stills Stills with Crosby & Nash

2:41

4.

“Long Time Gone” David Crosby Crosby with Stills

4:17

5.

“49 Bye-Byes” Stephen Stills Stills

5:16

 

Personnel 

Fifty Year Friday: The Who’s Tommy

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Though not the first rock opera, The Who’s Tommy, released on May 23, 1969, due to its length, two long playing records, the inclusion of an opening instrumental track titled “Overture”, the prominence of Entwistle on french horn, its greater commercial success and overall quality, and the deployment of three recognizably distinct vocalists, surpasses earlier, less operatic, generally more narrative albums by the Pretty Things (SF Sorrow)  and Nirvana (The Story of Simon Simopath.)

It wasn’t until Christmas of 1970 that I got this album.  After hearing “See Me, Feel Me” on the radio when visiting Oregon in the summer of 1970, I determined that this was a must-have album and put it on my Christmas wish list.

And from the start, this album lived up to its promise.  The overture, is a true rock overture, magnificent, dramatic, spacious, and expectant.  Much to my delight (at that time of first listening) the opening of the overture is a simple display of the chord sequence of  the chorus of “See, Me, Feel Me” morphing into a true fanfare section with french horn, coming back to the “See Me, Feel Me” theme, moving away into new material, coming back once again and then touching on material from “Pinball Wizard”, which soon meanders into a brief explanatory vocal, “Captain Walker didn’t come home: His unborn child will never know him.  Believe him missing with a number of men, don’t expect to see him again”, and then meanders back out into a guitar passage that, without any break, becomes the next track, “It’s a Boy.” So much going on in this overture to absorb in the first listening!  Astonished and delighted to hear three alternate references to that “See Me, Feel Me” theme,  I had heard in Oregon! It wasn’t until hearing the album all the way through and starting again, that I could notice that the overture was more Broadway-like than classical, incorporating music from the entire album similar to a Broadway musical overture. And yet, this doesn’t detract from the integrity of this overture, which is one of the finest examples of an instrumental (excepting the short expository-like Townshend vocal) opening to a single-topic rock album.

After less than two years since McCartney fought to get the lyrics included in the Sgt. Pepper’s album, accompanying lyrics were now, in 1969, becoming commonplace — particularly important for an opera. At this point in my life I had started to check out full opera albums from the library and the inclusion of lyrics with Tommy made listening to the music while following the lyrics a similar experience to listening to those opera albums — except instead of having to track the original language at the same time following the translation, Tommy was in English!  That Christmas I had also received Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ, Superstar (lyrics by Tim Rice) and had just purchased a low-cost four LP box set of Handel’s Messiah (lyrics by Charles Jennens)  — this was my first experience in following libretti booklets that required no cross referencing from the original language to the translation.  It made me wonder why the classic operas weren’t recorded in English so they would have wider appeal and be to be more competitive with contemporary albums sold in English speaking countries. It certainly would make following the text much easier.

Looking back, Tommy is certainly not produced like a real opera, as Daltry, Townshend and Entwistle handle all the vocals.  Clearly the 1975 movie soundtrack provides distinct parts, underscoring the inherent operatic nature of the work. This original, though, is the true reference, a musical work of art as good as any album of the 1960s.

Its worth noting that this work incorporated some previously written songs, including “Sensation”, “Sally Simpson” and “I’m Free”, the latter an expression of the spiritual peace Townshend achieved from association with Meher Baba, the Irani-Indian self-proclaimed Avatar and spiritual master.

We also have a blues number based on Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Eyesight to the Blind”, re-titled, “The Hawker” as well as two John Entwistle tunes, written on request from Townshend to cover the heinous actions of Cousin Kevin and Uncle Ernie.  Not surprisingly, given the nature of his earlier compositions, Entwistle makes use of chromatic passages in both songs, creating a darker, perverse mood that contrasts sharply with the usually brighter Entwistle compositions.

In short, this is a classic rock album, and though Who fans may freely dispute if this is better than the preceding Who Sell Out or the two subsequent albums, “Who’s Next”, and Quadrophenia, one point is indisputable: this album has stood the test of time for the last fifty years and will stand up just as nicely for the next fifty years.  It is my favorite Who album, filled with musical color and magic, and it continues to sound fresh, alive and vital to me — even though I listened to it this time around at much lower volume levels!

What is your favorite The Who album and why?

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

All tracks written by Pete Townshend, except where noted.

Side one

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Overture Townshend

3:50

2.

“It’s a Boy” Townshend

2:07

3.

“1921” Townshend, Roger Daltrey on chorus

3:14

4.

“Amazing Journey” Daltrey

3:25

5.

“Sparks” Instrumental

3:45

6.

The Hawker” (Sonny Boy Williamson II) Daltrey

2:15

Total length:

18:36

Side two

 #

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

Christmas Daltrey, Townshend

5:30

2.

“Cousin Kevin” (John Entwistle) Entwistle and Townshend

4:03

3.

The Acid Queen Townshend

3:31

4.

“Underture” Instrumental

10:10

Total length:

23:14

Side three

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

“Do You Think It’s Alright?” Daltrey and Townshend

0:24

2.

“Fiddle About” (Entwistle) Entwistle

1:26

3.

Pinball Wizard Daltrey, Townshend on bridge

3:01

4.

“There’s a Doctor” Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle

0:25

5.

Go to the Mirror! Daltrey and Townshend

3:50

6.

“Tommy Can You Hear Me?” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

1:35

7.

“Smash the Mirror” Daltrey

1:20

8.

“Sensation” Townshend

2:32

Total length:

14:33

Side four

#

Title

Lead vocals

Length

1.

“Miracle Cure” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

0:10

2.

“Sally Simpson” Daltrey

4:10

3.

I’m Free Daltrey

2:40

4.

“Welcome” Daltrey, Townshend and Entwistle

4:30

5.

“Tommy’s Holiday Camp” Townshend

0:57

6.

We’re Not Gonna Take It Daltrey, with Townshend and Entwistle

6:45

Total length:

19:12

The Who

 

 

Fifty Year Friday: Aretha Franklin, Soul ’69; Neil Young; The Beatles

arertha69

Aretha Franklin: Soul ’69

Some albums showcase great songs or excellent compositions, some great arrangements and some showcase great talent. The title is misleading, as this is more of a jazz and blues album than a soul album, and a much more appropriate title would have been “Aretha 1969.”

This excellent album, released January 17, 1969, showcases one of the great vocal instrumentalists of the last hundred years at her best.  In general, the arrangements set up Aretha Franlin to effectively display her incredible musicality.  On this album, Aretha is not song-interpreter in the manner of Billie Holiday, Mildred Bailey, Johnny Hartman, or Chet Baker, but is an expressive instrumentalist like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, or Eric Dolphy.   For anyone wishing to explore what made Aretha so great, this is a perfect album to start with.

We also get a myriad of skilled jazz musicians backing her up.

Track listing (from Wikipedia)

Side one

Writers(s)

1.

“Ramblin'”
Big Maybelle

2.

Today I Sing the Blues
Curtis Reginald Lewis

3.

“River’s Invitation” Percy Mayfield

4.

“Pitiful” Rosie Marie McCoy, Charlie Singleton

5.

Crazy He Calls Me
Bob RussellCarl Sigman

6.

Bring It On Home to Me
Sam Cooke

Side two

7.

Tracks of My Tears
Smokey RobinsonPete MooreMarv Tarplin

8.

“If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody”
Rudy Clark

9.

Gentle on My Mind
John Hartford

10.

So Long
Russ Morgan, Remus Harris, Irving Melsher

11.

I’ll Never Be Free
Bennie BenjaminGeorge David Weiss

12.

Elusive Butterfly
Bob Lind

Personnel 

neil-young-debut

Neil Young: Neil Young

I’m a pushover for early Neil Young, whether it’s his simple, uncomplicated songs (uncomplicated harmonically and lyrically) like “The Loner” or his repetitive, extended songs with unfathomable lyrics like “The Last Trip to Tulsa.”  Nothing here on this album to get a Pulitzer Prize for music or a Nobel Prize for poetry, but how can you not love how Neil cuts to the core of what the singer songwriter experience is all about and provides the equivalent warmth and informalness of those Saturday lunches at a friend’s house?  It’s always a pleasure to take this timeless debut album, released January 22, 1969, for a spin — a classic album which winningly captures and represents Neil Young being Neil Young.

yellowsubR-4497960-1366572256-6586.jpeg.jpg

The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

And of course, I have to mention the Yellow Submarine “soundtrack” album, released January 13, 1969, which importantly contains one masterpiece, John Lennon’s 1968 blues-based “Hey Bulldog” with its opening, addictive riff emphasizing the melodic dissonance of the tritone and McCartney’s solid and sometimes improvisitory bass work, and one other very strong composition, George Harrison’s 1967 “Only a Northern Song.”  Also included is the 1967 early psychedelic, “It’s All Too Much.”

Fifty Year Friday: The Pretty Things, S.F. Sorrow; Led Zeppelin

s.f.-sorrow-front

Pretty Things: S.F. Sorrow

Recorded from November 1967 to September 1968 in Abbey Road Studios, The Pretty Thing’s S.F. Sorrow, initially largely ignored but now generally considered a classic, was released in the UK in December 1968, and then not released in the U.S. until the middle of 1969.  Panned by the Rolling Stone’s Lester Bangs as an “ultra-pretentious” concept album, the album received limited attention for years. Its poor reception and lack of sales precipitated founder and lead guitarist into leaving the band for a period of nearly a decade.

There seems to be many contributing factors to the album’s commercial failure: the lack of promotion, the late release of the album in the States (coming out after, rather than before, The Who’s superior, more opera-like concept album, Tommy), bad reviews, and the dark, despondent subject matter, allegorical and tragic, with its primary character named Sebastian Sorrow.  Also, heavily influenced by the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers and “Fool on the Hill”,  its musical language is that of the psychedelic rock of late 1967 and 1968, now losing much of its mass popularity.  By the time of the album’s release, the major proponents, adherents, and imitators of psychedelic rock were moving on to hard rock, progressive rock, or heavy metal.  These and other reasons caused the album to be pretty much ignored until reissued by Edsel records in the late 1980s on vinyl and then on CD in the early 1990s.

I purchased a S.F. Sorrow CD around 1992 and set it aside for some time, coming back to it recently, taking the time to appreciate what it had to offer and its historical significance — not so important as an early concept album — remember Nirvana’s 1967 album as well as other concept albums, including Sgt. Peppers, Days of Future Passed, and The Who Sell Out preceding it — but as one of the last carefully-crafted psychedelic albums of the sixties — and one that looks forward towards hard rock, progressive rock, and heavy metal — three of the most prevailing, and commercially viable, offshoots of the psychedelic rock era.

The Beatles’ influence, particularly from Sgt Peppers and singles like “Fool on the Hill”, is strong — the second track borrows elements from “Norwegian Wood” through “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”, and the third track, “I am the Walrus” and “Good Morning” — yet, this is an album that incorporates and absorbs those influences more than mimics.

More to the point, is the quality of the album which starts out strong and builds to the end without weakness or filler; even the somewhat musique-concrete “Well of Destiny” (possibly influenced by the transitional section of “Day in the Life” ) serving its purpose in the musical narrative.  The arrangements, variety, and appropriateness of instrumentation further elevates the quality of the album, and in fact are usually of greater interest than the melodic/harmonic content of the songs themselves. (Perhaps the best song on the album, is the most simply arranged one, the poignant, “Loneliest Person”)

Though this album is very much a product of  1967 and 1968 sensibilities and styles, there are passages and techniques that anticipate other works of 1969 and the early seventies.  One can hear hints at later music from the Beatles-influenced Electric Light Orchestra (especially in “Trust”) and Badfinger to Benefit-era Jethro Tull (“Private Sorrow”) to the Who’s Tommy (“The Journey” and the intro to “Old Man Going”) to Queen.  The most remarkable similarity is to the heavy metal, bass-dominated style of Black Sabbath in “Old Man Going”  which also includes a short hard-rock electric guitar.

The CD release includes some notable bonus tracks, including “Defecting Grey” , a commercially unsuccessful single from this time period.

Track listing [from Wikipedia]

Side One

1. “S.F. Sorrow Is Born” Phil May, Dick Taylor, Wally Waller 3:12
2. “Bracelets of Fingers” May, Taylor, Waller 3:41
3. “She Says Good Morning” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 3:23
4. “Private Sorrow” May, Taylor, Waller, Jon Povey 3:51
5. “Balloon Burning” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:51
6. “Death” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink 3:05

Side Two

7. “Baron Saturday” May, Taylor, Waller 4:01
8. “The Journey” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 2:46
9. “I See You” May, Taylor, Waller 3:56
10. “Well of Destiny” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink, Norman Smith 1:46
11. “Trust” May, Taylor, Waller 2:49
12. “Old Man Going” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey, Twink 3:09
13. “Loneliest Person” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 1:29
Bonus tracks

14. “Defecting Grey” May, Taylor, Waller 4:27
15. “Mr. Evasion” May, Taylor, Waller, Twink 3:26
16. “Talkin’ About the Good Times” May, Taylor, Waller 3:41
17. “Walking Through My Dreams” May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:35
18. “Private Sorrow” (Single version) May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:50
19. “Balloon Burning” (Single version) May, Taylor, Waller, Povey 3:45
20. “Defecting Grey” (Acetate recording) May, Taylor, Waller 5:10

Personnel

The Pretty Things

  • Phil May – vocals
  • Dick Taylor – lead guitar, vocals
  • Wally Waller – bass, guitar, vocals, wind instruments, piano
  • Jon Povey – organ, sitar, Mellotron, percussion, vocals
  • Skip Alan – drums (on some tracks, quit during recording)
  • Twink – drums (on some tracks, replaced Alan), vocals

CFP National Championship - Alabama v Clemson

Led Zeppelin: Led Zeppelin

With the semantic essence of heavy metal captured in the group’s name, its hard to dispute that Led Zeppelin forged a new path down the nascent arena of hard rock and heavy metal. With a name remarkably similar to Iron Butterfly, and a similar, but more promising, blues-based musical DNA, we have the beginnings of what would soon be the quintessential hard rock group influencing predecessors like Free to countless successors like Aerosmith, Metallica, Queen, Alice Kooper, Guns N’ Roses and countless emulators that never landed a major recording contract.

From the opening guitar and drums in the opening track, “Good Times, Bad Times”, there is a focus, crispness and intensity not present in many of the blues-based rock albums immediately preceding this one.  My first experience with this album was when my next door neighbor brought it over for me to capture on my reel-to-reel tape deck for my own, limited music library.  Based on my friend’s direction, I recorded the tracks he thought worth putting on tape, securing the more accessible tracks, like”Good Times, Bad Times”,  “Babe I’m Going to Leave You” and “Communication Breakdown” but leaving out a couple I would not listen to again for decades — the last two tracks of side two.  Fortunately, since my friend had fairly good taste, we recorded all of side one, including the mysteriously dark and heavy, “Dazed and Confused”, a well-written composition, starting with, and repeating, a chromatically-descending chord sequence. Though credited to Jimmy Page on the album, the work is mostly based on a song by the same name on a 1967 album by Jake Holmes, which the Yardbirds (a group that included Jimmy Page for a while) had originally “borrowed.”  If you haven’t heard the Jake Holmes version, do yourself a favor and take the time to listen to it below.

Side Two of Led Zeppelin starts with a majestic organ solo by John Paul Jones as part of the captivating beginning of “Your Time Is Gonna  Time.” Unfortunately, the verse is much stronger than a weak, almost annoying, chorus that detracts from the rest of the work.

The next track, one which we also recorded for my repeated listening pleasure was “Black Mountain Side” based on an arrangement of the Irish folk song “Down by Blackwaterside” taught to Jimmy Page by Al Stewart.  This is followed by “Communication Breakdown”, later to become an AM radio hit.  For me, this title always brings to mind that famous phase in Cool Hand Luke — “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

The last two tracks are probably what my friend would have referred to as the band just jamming, but listening to these again, I appreciate the quality musicianship and the  overall mood.  That said, I can’t particularly bemoan not having grown up with these two tracks as part of the musical soundtrack of my high school years (1969-1973.)

Though I have mixed feelings about this album, which has many strong points, but is certainly guilty of not properly crediting others, a common enough practice in the Renaissance and Baroque days of music, but not so acceptable in the late 1960s,  I would pick this in an instant over contemporary albums by Steppenwolf and Iron Butterfly.  Do I regularly, or, on average, once-a-decade listen to this? Not really; I find the later Led Zeppelin albums more appealing — and I pretty much don’t listen to those due to all the more interesting jazz, rock and classical music that contends for my limited listening time.  However, that said, prior to posting this Fifty Year Friday entry, I did truly enjoy listening to this first “L-Zep” (modern transformation of their name) once again (and then a second time), forty-nine and a half years later after first hearing all of it, and  making a copy of it for my own use, just as Jimmy Page had made a copy of both “Dazed and Confused” and “Down by Blackwaterside” for Led Zeppelin’s own use on their very first album.

No. Title Writer(s) Length
1. Good Times Bad Times 2:46
2. Babe I’m Gonna Leave You

 

6:42
3. You Shook Me 6:28
4. Dazed and Confused Page, inspired by Jake Holmes[c] 6:28
 

Side two

No. Title Writer(s) Length
5. “Your Time Is Gonna Come”
  • Page
  • Jones
4:34
6. Black Mountain Side” (instrumental) Page 2:12
7. Communication Breakdown
  • Page
  • Jones
  • Bonham
2:30
8. I Can’t Quit You Baby Dixon 4:42
9. How Many More Times
  • Page
  • Jones
  • Bonham
8:27

 

Led Zeppelin

Additional personnel

 

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