Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grooves: The Hooters - Amore (1983)

Philadelphia, PA. One of the greatest musical cities in the country. From the golden age of doo wop to modern indie rock, Philadelphia always oozes with some great tunes. In the 80's, The Hooters were the darlings of Philadelphia. Growing up, it was impossible to avoid "All You Zombies" or "And We Danced" on the airwaves. Hometown heroes are always well played on local stations and luckily The Hooters created some decent pop hits in the 80's. I would never have gone out of my way to own a Hooters record, but a friend recently gave me some smooth tunes on vinyl as a gift and i am obligated to write about the records in my collection. Amore, the first album by The Hooters will not get glazed over just because it was a gift and not something I would buy. Vinyl gifts are my favorite kind because they make you listen to something you may not have gotten for yourself. That's the joy of records. They are easy gifts, they are great gifts to receive (even as a gag) and you open your eyes to something you wouldn't usually go out of the way to research. The Hooters are the perfect example of this.

Having zero knowledge of the band beyond their hits and Philadelphia's love of their hometown boys, I have to do some research here. Amore was The Hooters debut record and surprisingly was released independently. It's an EP of eight tracks, half of which would be re-recorded for future records. It's all of 25 minutes long. It's impressive that a band in the 80's self-produced their debut to great success. The EP was a hit in Philadelphia selling over 100,000 records. Clearly, The Hooters hit the ground running, launching their career.

Amore kicks off with the titular track, a poppy, kitschy love song. It's got a good hook but it sounds more like a cheap rip off of Duran Duran. The sax solo is the highlight of "Amore." "Blood From a Stone" is the first of several tracks that got re-done on future albums. It's much ore like a Hooters song than "Amore," sounding like the precursor to "And We Danced." The guitars drive this track and we're treated to a fantastic Casio-sounding solo halfway through. Fantastic in a cheesey sense. "Hanging On A Heartbeat" has a different structure, bordering on ska but filtered through the gloss of 80's excess. It's relatively forgettable. We finally get to "All You Zombies." And much different than anything that proceeded it, it's a far step forward in sound. However, it's a version that most would not be used to. It's a tad faster in tempo and a totally different vocal track than fans of the song would be used to. It still is by far the best song on this EP thus far, even though it's not the single version. It's much shorter too, which is a shame as it being the best of the tracks on the EP, you don't want it to end.

Side two starts off with "Birdman," which starts off with an XTC sounding intro. A drum machine churns out an interesting beat as the band plays a very staccato riff. It kicks into a Police like reggae riff. It's easily one of the more interesting songs on the EP. Musically it's much more dynamic than most of the first half. The bass line is a meandering, funky groove. It's an amalgam of 80's sounds that works really well. "Don't Wanna Fight" is another ska infused new wave track, but only moderately. It's far too slow of a song to get a groove going and too upbeat to really be a good power ballad. "Fightin' On The Same Side" starts off sounding like a goofy, carousel music and it doesn't move past that. It's a catchy enough tune, but it's pretty forgettable for the most part, like much of this album. The closer, "Concubine," follows suit. These songs are all structured well and the music is well played, but lyrically and musically in general, it's all kind of boring. None of these songs are necessarily bad, but aside from "All You Zombies" and "Birdman," it's relatively forgettable 80's pop music fare.

Record collections are almost never complete without a few misfits. Everyone grabs albums they later don't go back to. When something is 5 cents, it's hard to say no. The one thing I can take away from The Hooters Amore is that it's relatively impressive for a band to self produce and release a record to such a cult following. Most of these songs would go on to be re-recorded behind major label backing and the bumps on the EP definitely are worked out, especially in the much more intense future version of "All You Zombies." The Hooters are a local favorite of Philadelphia, but Amore is not the way to go for a casual fan. But hey, if it's a gift or its 5 cents, definitely check it out. You don't have much to lose.

Up Next: Pink Floyd's Orwellian Masterpiece

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Grooves: Neil Young - American Stars N' Bars (1977)

I am not a fan of country music. Not in the least. But when Neil Young is doing country music, I love it. Maybe it's because even if it's veiled in country music tropes, like twangy guitars, fiddle players and a bouncy line-dance beat, it's still a Neil Young song at heart. American Stars N' Bars, while not entirely country (especially side two) has some of the best Neil Young country songs one can find. But there is more to this album then some country twang. It's less of an album and more of a compilation. The songs found on this record were all recorded at different times and were intended for albums like Homegrown and Chrome Dreams. Some of the songs were recorded as early as 1974. It gives the album a stranger vibe than most with the first half being country and the second half having a hodge-podge of all sorts of sounds. This vibe isn't necessarily bad, it's just much different than what had come before. It's a forgotten album of sorts as it's only really huge hit, and a huge one at that, comes at the very end in "Like A Hurricane." It still sold well, but you can tell that Young is running out of steam a tad. It would be interesting to see what would have happened if the two failed albums had come to fruition. But, we can only speculate. And luckily, American Stars N' Bars holds up even if it's a collection of songs. It happens to be one of my top 5 Neil Young records.

I nabbed this at Prex, as many will have been, and as usual it's in good condition. But less about Prex and more about this record. Side one, the country side, is Neil Young in top gear. "That Old Country Waltz" is a last call anthem if I ever heard one. The album art itself, created by Dean Stockwell, shows Neil Young flat on his face drunk. I can hear this song coming from the jukebox in the bar. That lone couple dancing the night to its end, that lonely drunk swilling from his glass, tipping his hat to the band before tossing his last quarter into the guitar case. It's a perfect album opener that sets the tone perfectly for the first half of the record. "Saddle Up the Palamino" is about as cliche country sounding as you can possibly get. Linda Ronstadt and Nicollette Larson deliver fantastic backing vocals, a fiddle whines over the guitars and it the lyrics are about heartbreak. It stands out, however, as Young doesn't change the tone of his guitar, leaving his classic grungy crunch on the riff. It's a wonderful track that shows how country under the helm of Neil Young works on a different plain of sonic goodness. "Hey Babe" is my least favorite track on the album. It's got some nice pedal steel guitar care of long time Young collaborator Ben Keith, but otherwise it kind of lacks the same flair that the first two tracks have. "Hold Back The Tears" changes that with a wonderful violin and a show stopping harmony with Linda Ronstadt. The pedal steel and fiddle offering on this track is superb adding to the angsty vibe of Young and Ronstadt's vocals. It's one of Young's best tracks and comes as a surprise to me that it was not a single. "Bite The Bullet" then comes in with the sound and fury we're used to from Young. It's still a country rocker, but the intensity of Young grunge tones elevates it. The solo is a prelude of what's to come at the close of the record, with it's visceral pops and tones of gain. As it strays a little more from the country ballads, it's the perfect bridge from side one to two.

"Star of Bethlehem" is the oldest of the tracks on this album. Whereas the first side was all recorded in '77, this track dates back to '74, around the time Young's "On The Beach" was recorded and released. This shows in the music, even if Ben Keith's dobro playing adds that country twinge that makes it fit in with these tracks. Emmylou Harris steps in to lend her voice here and it's a sweet song down to it's melody. "Will to Love," the first of the two epics, was recorded in '76, is Young all alone playing all instruments. A crackling fire burns in the back as the simple acoustic guitar melody flits and flies over a low end of xylophones and the occasional bass guitar. It's a very unique song in the Young catalog. It has psychedelic elements and imagery in the lyrics and the music bursts and pops with different sounds from here and there. A campfire story song with a psychedelic folk twist. Blasting forth from the sleepy song is Young's flagship guitar anthem, "Like A Hurricane." It's classic Crazy Horse with their heavy and strong backbone as Young wails his weary lyrics over a surging guitar part that explodes into one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. As far as picking favorites among a catalog like Neil Young's it's next to impossible, but every time I listen to "Like A Hurricane"--which is quite often-- I can't help but think that there is no better song. For some reason, it doesn't stick out on the record, either. There are no female harmony parts, twangy fiddles or pedal steel backup, but it fits the mold. Every time I sit through the guitar solo, I'm moved. It's a sloppy solo, but every note is perfect. The explosions of the notes are piercing to the ears but the only way to experience this is at full blast. "Homegrown", the title of the album that never was, closes the record with an equally loud guitar romp. This time in a short little tune that fits in well with the country side of this record, it's a perfect closer bringing all the sounds full circle.

As much as American Stars N' Bars is an album of songs that were all from different times in Neil Young's career, it still works. Without every reading more about this album until this time, I would have not ever known that. It's still a wonderful record, housing some of Neil Young's finest songs. This doesn't have the huge hits like Harvest or After The Gold Rush, but I'd say it has pound for pound more high quality Neil Young songs. It's a fantastic record, and one that I don't see too often when shopping for vinyl. That being the case, if you see it, get it. It's worth it.

Up Next: Philadelphia's finest -- The Hooters

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Grooves: Don McLean - American Pie (1971)

Will Don McLean ever get out of the shadow of his most well known song, "American Pie?" My guess is no, but the fact remains that Don McLean's album American Pie proves that beyond the culture bomb of the titular song, McLean is still a damn good singer-songwriter. My mother is a huge Don McLean fan beyond his one massive hit. His other songs are quiet at times with some of the most beautiful poetry. and I say poetry over lyrics because the way his lyrics run on many songs flow with the beauty of a romantic poet. This album may have some of his best written poems. Only his second album, American Pie is a well crafted album of wondefully arranged tracks. Be it a piano ballad, an acoustic love song or a full band pop song, there is a little bit of everything on this album. Discovering this is the first step in getting Don McLean the kudos as a singer-songwriter what he deserves: recognition beyond just his one huge song. And it's a pretty tough feat to overcome, especially given the fact that this album is named after it.

This is yet one of many of albums found in the walls of Tunes. Tunes is an institution that has been a part of my life since being a kid. Tunes on the Dunes in Ocean City, NJ was my first Tunes of choice. Each summer, I'd stop in there and pick up some classic rock album. Then it was on CD, but Tunes opened my eyes to many new and old artists. They finally started selling vinyl and organizing it sometime in the mid aughts when vinyl fever really started for me. I grabbed this record for $1. It seemed like a must own as I had grown up with it. It's as good a record as it is a piece of nostalgia.

American Pie clearly starts off with "American Pie." Without lingering on too long on a song everyone and especially their mother knows, "American Pie" is an important litmus test in how rock and roll has an effect on society. The death of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Richie Valens was not only a tragedy in the sense of loss, but it was also a first step away from the innocent 50's into the more turbulent 60's. Don McLean obvious notes this in his litany of sorts showing the change after "The Day The Music Died" and what would happen in the country thereafter. I feel as if you could dedicate this entire post to "American Pie" as it is such a transcendent piece of rock history and pop music, but this is a look into the album itself. "Till Tomorrow" is the first of several acoustic ballads. With just acoustic guitar, some mild electric piano playing in the background and some very sparse instrumentation, it's a more conventional singer/songwriter track but still has that beautiful poetry McLean is so good at. Perhaps McLean's second most famous song, "Vincent", a ballad to Vincent Van Gogh, is just as sparse as "Till Tomorrow." One artists lament to another, lyrically it's one of McLean's best. "Flaming flowers that brightly blaze" is a wonderful lyric that is just as expressionistic as Van Gogh's paintings. The troubled mind of Van Gogh must have hit a chord with McLean. It addresses the troubled life of Van Gogh and in beautiful form. "Crossroads" ends the side on a melancholy note. Most of this record is very sad lyrically. Don McLean has a melancholy lament on all tracks, even though they all shine with beautiful melody and wonderful singing. Piano and vocals accompany this very sad song. Lyrically it's about the decisions we make, some good and some bad. It's a touching song and a great end to a wonderful first half of the record.

"Another Side" as this record states, starts with "Winterwood", the first track since "American Pie" to feature a discernible backing band. And although it's a wonderfully groovy track, there is something about the band addition that makes this a little less effective than some of the other songs on side one (called "One Side.") It gives the song a different vibe all together. "Empty Chairs" follows more along the lines of "Vincent" with McLean's wonderful lyrics backed by a gently plucked acoustic guitar that pops. This is my personal favorite of the love songs in Don McLean's collection. It's a lost love song from the stand point of someone who didn't see it coming. It hits home on many levels. Who hasn't felt the loss of someone they loved? It's as beautiful as any Nick Drake tune and just as poetic. It's definitely the highlight of side two. The crackle on this record is perfect, channeling a wonderful spirit behind the loneliness of the song. "Everybody Love Me, Baby" is a bigger distraction than "Winterwood." It's a half tongue in cheek pop song, but something about it really turns me off. I don't think McLean sells the pastiche very well. "Sister Fatima" is a peculiar track. It's a musically beguiling track and lyrically it seems to be an indictment of paying for grace from God. It's another distracting song, which was omitted when American Pie was re-issued in 1980. I guess this means I have an original record? Cool. "The Grave" is a much more effecting track. It's a dark song, almost like Tim Buckley's "No Man Can Find The War" with it's intense lyrics of war and death. It's followed by the traditional "Babylon" which is as chilling of a follow-up as you can get. It's a fitting end to an album about facing death, the ending of relationships and the loss of important figures in life. A traditional which slowly builds upon several tracks of McLean's clean vocals and a banjo being plucked. Indeed a stirring contrast to the almost joyous "American Pie."

With a few tracks left for the throwaway bin, American Pie holds its own surprisingly well. Yet you will rarely hear any song but the titular and maybe "Vincent" if you are lucky. It's a truly wonderful album, and McLean would go on to put some other fine records together. "American Pie" the song eclipses American Pie almost more than any other album containing a big hit song I can think of. It's truly a shame, but one great thing I can say is that those who like singer/songwriters should not be without this record. And what better way to discover it, be it for the first time or all over again, than on vinyl.

Up Next: Neil Young is the first repeat artist and this time, Dean Stockwell does the album art.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Grooves: Louis Armstrong - Ambassador Satch (1956)

One great thing about vinyl is inheriting it from people who no longer want it. My dad had a co-worker looking to unload and of course I immediately stepped up to take the records. It was mostly Dan Fogelberg records, which I quickly sent to Tunes for cash. However, there were some jazz records and a few gems to be had to assimilate into my collection. One of those was a live Louis Armstrong record called Ambassador Satch. Being an ex-trumpet player from days past, Armstrong has always been an idol of sorts of mine. As the title of this record goes, in the 50's, the State Department named Louis Armstrong and Ambassador of Good Will to Europe and Africa. It's a testament to Satchmo's personality as well as his brilliant skilled and soulful playing. Satchmo's influence on Jazz and music in general was huge and this album is a nice experience of live tracks from his tour of duty abroad as an ambassador as well as a few studio performances. Easily one of the most important icons of American music, owning some sort of Satchmo album should be a prerequisite for having a vinyl collection.

Being a hand-me-down, the record isn't in the greatest condition, but the album plays wonderfully. The outer jacket may be a bit worn, but it's almost 50 years old. It's pretty impressive that the thing isn't warped or scratched to oblivion. One thing I love about vinyl is the history behind it. When you get a hand-me-down record, sometimes the original owner wrote their name on it or doodled on the cover, never thinking that the record would one day be seen to some as obsolete or be seen by the eyes of a new owner. Ambassador Satch for me is a historical document as much as it is a good record. It shows that music can work as an important bridge for international relations. Satchmo is such a great figure in American music. The essay on the back sleeve has a great quote about the power of jazz in the 50's: "American jazz has now become a universal language. It knows no national boundaries, but everyone knows where it came from and where to look for more." Proof positive of the importance of music in the world we live in. Having this record is a piece of history that I appreciate, especially getting for free. I would probably not have bought the record as most of the time I stick strictly to rock in its many forms, but the Comstock Lode of jazz records from this one person was a great gift.

The album kicks off with some audience ambiance and an introduction of Louis Armstrong before tearing into a beautifully fun and bouncing "Royal Garden Blues." The best thing about jazz is that even though this is a Satchmo album, every facet of the music is astounding. The entire brass section lays the boogie down, the drums and bass keep the backbone strong and even get a highlight solo here and there. You can tell when the crowd roars that Satchmo just laid down some impressive trumpet playing. Unlike some live recordings, the crowd noise never distracts. If anything it adds an element of greatness to the record. Satch introduces the next track with that signature growl of his. "Tin Roof Blues" is a classic amongst bluesman. It's a slinky song compared to the bombastically fun "Royal Garden Blues," but it glows with life just the same. Jazz traditionals never sound overdone, especially in the hands of Satchmo. The trumpet solo is as stately as it gets, howling with Satchmo's classic trumpet affectation. "The Faithful Hussar" is a tune Satchmo picked up in Germany whilst on tour. He liked it so much, he added it to his European roster of songs. It's a whimsical tune that sparks with life, especially during Satchmo's fine scat singing during the mid section. Even in the latter age of his long career (he started playing jazz in the 20's,) Satchmo's tunes still sound fresh and new, if not a little dated as the 50's jazz masters like Miles Davis were giving a new cool edge to the institution. The side ends with "Muskrat Ramble," a perfect tune to jitterbug to. It's a fitting number to boogie to and the bands playing is as tight as ever on the track.

Side two opens up with an Italian announcer battling the raging crowd for attention to introduce Louis Armstrong. The only thing that will stop the crowd is for the band to kick in, and they do so with "All Of Me," the first track with vocals on the record. Satchmo's famous growling roars in. It's a perfect jazz standard for Satchmo, whose trumpet playing is easily some of the best on the record. "Twelfth Street Rag" follows adding a touch of ragtime to the mix. In Satchmo's hands, it gains a power all it's own. You can tell Satchmo and his All Stars are having a fun time on this track. The crowd seems to enjoy it just as much with laughter and applause every so often. Side two seems to be brimming with the best of Satchmo's trumpet playing on the record as he adds a fantastic trumpet solo to this rag. Satchmo "keeps it rolling" with "Undecided." It's a quick, bouncy jam. All players are rocking at a breakneck pace, it's hard to keep up. "Dardanella" comes next slowing the pace just a bit. Loads of clarinet over a short bouncing piano and drums, it's a minimalistic song for the most part coming and going faster than it picks up at all. Satchmo breaks out a classic in "West End Blues." This is easily one of Satchmo's most revered songs. The explosions of trumpet are powerful as the bluesy number slinks forth. Closing the album is the explosive "Tiger Rag," yet another classic jazz track. The New Orleans standard was yet another famous track for Satchmo, who blazes through it with his band at a furious pace. It has one of the best fake-out endings ever as the band launches right back into.

There are only a few records in my collection like this and after listening to Ambassador Satch, I look forward to approaching these records again. Jazz is something that to many is misunderstood. But there is jazz and then there is Satchmo. Louis Armstrong transcends jazz. He takes ragtime and melds it around his own New Orleans sound. This album is great to own not just for the contents of it's music, all of which is a welcome change to the rocking I will be listening to throughout this experiment, but it's also a piece of history. The back of the record has an essay about the power of Jazz in the 50's and how Satchmo himself was an Ambassador of Good Will. It also breaks it down track by track. Although it's a tad beat up, it's made it 55 years and still sounds great.

Up Next: Don McLean's masterpiece

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Grooves: George Harrison - All Things Must Pass (1970)

George Harrison is my favorite Beatle. His songs are always filled with lush, beautiful melody. His lyrics are poetry yet simplistic in their meaning. On All Things Must Pass, we get as close to a flawless record as one putting out 3 LP's can get. As stated many times before, my Beatles upbringing wasn't only in the band itself, but almost every facet of their aftermath. For me, there is no better thing to come from The Beatles' demise than that of All Things Must Pass. It's a deluge of greatness. Contractual obligations only allowed George one song per side on any Beatles record. Once the Beatles disbanded, it was go time for Harrison. He unleashes a daunting 23 track assault on his first proper solo album. It's pretty incredible and save for the jams that I hardly listen to, it's more or less a flawless victory. Surprisingly, it's the best selling post-Beatles record from any member of the band. It's only surprising in that George is hardly the most famous or popular Beatle. The content is definitely some of the best post-Beatle output and has some of my all time favorite songs.

One thing that makes this record a treasure for any vinyl collector is it's presentation. Three LP's is a lot of vinyl to store and so it comes in a box of sorts. Each record has it's own sleeve with lyrics and tracks with the third record having a picture of a jar of what's called "Apple Jam" (More on that later.) The album also comes with a poster of George in full beardo mode. His beard takes up most of the poster, but getting an old, kind of dust yet in great condition poster makes buying the album for all of $10 at Tunes in Marlton all the better.

All Things Must Pass is easily the bets non-girl group Phil Spector production there is. Many people don't love his Wall of Sound, but with George Harrison, Spector is in his prime. "I'd Have You Anytime", co-written with Bob Dylan, is a hazy, twangy opener. It sounds like waking up on a beautiful morning, with a little haze in your eye and a yawn deep down. It's a lovely lyric of honest love. "My Sweet Lord" may have gotten Harrison sued, but it's crescendo of back-up singers (all George Harrison) and it's pop sensibility make it a great single. The album really shows its muscle on "Wah Wah." It's an intensely personal song but has a riff that shreds as good as any. The guitar solo is extremely exceptional and the sound coming through your stereo is huge. "Isn't It A Pity" closes side one with one of Harrison's most beautiful ballads ever. It's a brilliantly melancholy song about the human condition. This song isn't as overtly spiritual as some other songs on this record, but it's more humanistic message gives it a universal appeal.

Side two starts with the rocking "What Is Life" yet another one of George's existential tracks. Phil Spector fills every nook and cranny of this song with some sort of sound, be it tambourines, acoustic guitars, drums, backing vocals by George and the Harrisons and loads of reverb. This song should be played through a Fender amp. "If Not For You" is a Bob Dylan cover from Dylan's album New Morning. It's a really beautiful song in Harrison's hands. "Behind That Locked Door", which was written for Bob Dylan, comes next and is a beautifully woozy track. It's slide guitar work via Pete Drake is an inspired touch. I would love to hear Neil Young cover this song (and have heard My Morning Jacket cover it.) Booming in after the hazy beauty of "Behind That Locked Door" is the epic burst of "Let It Down." It's a very poetic song that explodes with horns, wailing guitars and intense drums. It rivals "Wah Wah" for best rocker of the album. "Run of the Mill" ends the side and it's title lives up to it's expectation. It's not one of the better tracks on the album.

Side three makes up for the anti-climatic "Run of the Mill" big time. "Beware of Darkess" is the pinnacle of this album. It's my favorite Harrison lyric. It's very poetic and flourishes with great beauty and sends a great message. It's a truly uplifting track. "Apple Scruffs," a silly ditty dedicated to the Apple Studio groupies is kind of a throwaway if it wasn't so damn catchy. "Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let it Roll)" is a beautifully whimsical track. Lyrically, it's derived from words that were found at the estate of Sir Crisp, which George purchased. The cover art of the album was a portrait taken on the estates beautiful gardens. "Awaiting On You All" is a romp of a song musically and lyrically is all about spirituality. George lists the kind of things you don't need in order to find spirituality. "If you open up your heart, you'll see he's right there." Spirituality isn't a trek to a holy place or a prayer on your death bed, it's inside you all the time. "All Things Must Pass," originally intended and practiced during the Get Back sessions gets Harrison's first full on treatment. It's yet another amazing portrayal of Phil Spector's production with grandiose guitars slathered in reverb, horn embellishments and it's own unique atmosphere. As is with many of the songs on this album, and much like "Here Comes the Sun," this track oozes with uplifting yet existential meaning. "It's not always gonna be this grey" is just about as great a line as any to show that even the bad times will pass.

Side four kicks off with the kind of goofy "I Dig Love." Before this listening experience, I probably have listened to this song all of one or two times. After this listening experience, I can safely say that it will most likely remain that way. Definitely my least favorite song on the album. On the contrast, "The Art of Dying" is a fantastic song, featuring a 19-year old Phil Collins on percussion. It's yet another bombastic track of monolithic sound. It's a confirmation of all of George's existential strife preparing himself for the end. The ultimate end is inevitable and George faces it directly in this song. "Isn't It a Pity (Version Two)" is a fitting reprise after "The Art of Dying." Shorter in length, but a slower tempo, it's more dirge like with it's organ heavy approach. The side closes with "Hear Me Lord," yet another fitting part of a trio of songs about death and acceptance and repentance. The track stands as a prayer of forgiveness closing the side with a lamentation. As this ends the more proper part of the record, it's a fitting closer.

The last two sides to the record are the Apple Jam, as it is called on the sleeve. I can't lie to you; the Apple Jam is one of those things I rarely listen to. It's the strange misfit of the album, yet on vinyl, it takes on a new life for me. Side five starts with "Out Of The Blue" which is a meandering static jam with not enough variety to make it into a worth while improv jam. Clapton never makes fireworks enough. It flows into the Monthy Pythonesque "It's Johnny's Birthday." It's a carnival goofball throwaway that really doesn't fit with everything else that has been coming our way on the album. It's only worthy as it was recorded for John Lennon's 30th Birthday in 1970. "Plug Me In" is the only redeeming song on side five. It's a classic blues riff and pretty well structured but it feels like it should have been proper vocals. It's less George Harrison and more of some strange super group rocking a blues jam proper. It's a pretty decent track, but again, it sticks out amongst the rest. Phil Spector's Wall of Sound doesn't seem fit as well to the psych jams as it did to the spiritual mantras from the four previous sides.

Side six is two final jams. "I Remember Jeep" is a juggernaut of big names. Ginger Baker, Klaus Voorman, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton and George Harrison all on one track. Flying in on the explosion of tape feedback from a previous George Harrison song called "No Time or Space." From this a boogie jam filled with soulful piano playing, a pounding rhythm section, and jangly guitars. Amidst this boogie jam are explosions of sound. This is a definite upgrade from the meandering sound of "Out of the Blue." There is still something about it that just really sticks out. Spector's reverb doesn't give the song enough edge to really rock hard. "Thanks For The Pepperoni" is a Chuck Berry jam. It's a classic remodeling of the "Johnny B. Goode" riff, but it all gets drowned in the Spector mix. With a little less reverb, this would be a much more eviscerating track. The mix ruins the playfulness of it. My only real take on the whole Apple Jam is that it must be a nice catharsis for George Harrison to take the helm of these great names that he had been working with for years and just conduct a studio jam. He deserves to let loose and have some fun with his friends. One thing is for sure. The joy of vinyl makes it so you can just not put the third LP on and still experience the album just fine without listening to the jam. It's almost the first "bonus disc" in the history of popular music.

All Things Must Pass is a fantastic record. In our age of deluxe boxed sets, this was easily the first of its kind. A big thick outer casing holding three records of original music from your favorite artist, a poster and an in depth track listing with personnel on all tracks, it's really a wonderful presentation. Then we are doubly thanked by getting high quality songs. It's a wonderful listening experience. Even if the Apple Jam isn't really that great, it's still far ahead of its time. The spiritualism of George Harrison's songwriting combined with the wonderful musicians helping to craft the songs and a heaping helping of Phil Spector bombast makes this the perfect proper debut album.

Up Next: In the 1950's Satchmo was an Ambassador of Good Will to the World. That's how great his music is.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grooves: Mott The Hoople - All The Young Dudes (1972)

It's quite serendipitous that All The Young Dudes comes immediately after Aladdin Sane. If not just because Bowie produced and wrote the titular track, but also because this A-Z endeavor has gotten me on a real heavy glam rock kick. Mott the Hoople is one of those bands that gets stuck under the weight of their biggest single, "All The Young Dudes." For ages, I just assumed it was David Bowie as it pretty much hits every Bowie-ism possible. When I found out it was written by Bowie and produced by him, I then assumed that the rest of Mott the Hoople's music must not be that great as it's hard to live up to Mr. Stardust. However, further research into Mott's music has been nothing short of a glam odyssey worth every penny. One great thing about vinyl is if you can find an album in a $1 bin and you don't know much about the bands music other than a song or two, you might as well get the album. If it's a terrible record, you lost $1. Such is the case for All The Young Dudes. This is where anyone delving into Mott's catalog will start and it's definitely a proper start.

Mott the Hoople's history is important to this record. Their early records are a melange of Rolling Stones cock rock and Dylanesque lyrical balladry. It's a good mix on some songs, but the albums leading up to their glam years are hit or miss. Songs like "Backsliding Fearlessly" on Mott the Hoople is a perfect mixture of these two sounds. They struggled from their beginnings and were on the verge of breaking up in 1972 when David Bowie stepped in. He has been quoted as saying Mott the Hoople was one of his all time favorite bands. He gave Mott a song called "All The Young Dudes" and offered himself to helm the production of another album. Lucky for Mott the Hoople as they came full circle and brought a fantastic performance on the album. Their reinvention into a glam rock giant was all care of their guardian angel, David Bowie. The thing that really rules about Mott the Hoople is that they prove it that they are more than just a pet band of a monolithic giant of rock history. They are actually great songwriters in themselves. It just took the right muse to get them off the ground.

All The Young Dudes starts with a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane." It's a perfectly apt song for the band, with it's bar room swagger and supremely catchy riff, but in the hands of Mott, it sounds a bit flat. It lacks the intensity in the vocal performance but shines musically. This is all turned around with "Momma's Little Jewel." A shining jewel of a performance all around, the track has a great boogie stomp to it. The songs that shine the most are the ones that Ian Hunter and Mick Ralphs write. Their covers are good, and "All The Young Dudes" is about as great as a song gets, but in the original songs, there is a different vibe to it. "Sucker" is easily one of my fav Mott songs. It's got a great chugging riff, a blazing sax part, care of David Bowie, and some of the best overly sexual lyrics of the glam era. Unlike The Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs", "Sucker" makes the sado-masochism sound like a romp. "Jerkin' Crocus" finishes the side with equal parts glam vamping from Ian Hunter's vocal performance. If there is any song that seems to be a prelude to the resurgence of glam rock in the 80's, "Jerkin' Crocus" seems to fit the bill. You could gear Poison or Ratt revamping this track with heavier guitars and over-the-top theatrics.

Side two begins with a ringing telephone on the forgotten single "One of the Boys." It's classic track about all the debauchery and other tomfoolery that comes with being one of, well, the boys. It fades out into sounding as if the band is rocking over the phone that was calling us at the beginning before swelling back into the rock. "Soft Ground", written and sung by organist Verden Allen is the weakest link on the record. It's a forgettable rocker that fits well with the rest of the album, but doesn't really stand out. Mick Ralphs' tune "Ready For Love/After Lights" is one of my favorite songs on the album. Mick Ralph's would leave Mott the Hoople after this record and re-record the song with his new super group, Bad Company. Mott's treatment isn't much different from the revamped version other than the production value and the superior vocal performance of Paul Rodgers on the Bad Company album.. The Mott version isn't as good as the Bad Company take, but it's still a rocking good song. The different parts to the song that are added by Ian Hunter definitely adds to the track. The closer, "Sea Diver", is a quite closer and kind of a welcome sound from some of their older albums. It doesn't have the over the top glam rock sound the rest of the album does and it is a perfect respite from the large amount of rocking that just ensued.

Mott the Hoople would go on from their successful All the Young Dudes to record two more albums before disbanding in 1974. Most of the original personnel left after this record, which is surprising as this was their high watermark at the time. It's not my favorite Mott album (we'll save the praise for that record when the letter H rolls around) but it's an quintessential album for anyone's collection.

Up Next: George Harrison's 3 LP Adventure

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Grooves: David Bowie - Aladdin Sane (1973)

Just like Neil Young and The Beatles, David Bowie is one of the 12 Olympians of my love of music. Without Bowie, I'm not sure where my life would be at this point. My parents didn't have a lot of Bowie records, in fact they only owned Station to Station on vinyl and maybe a Greatest Hits on CD. As a kid, I bought the ChangesBowie best of and still listen to it (just did on the way to work today.) When I got older, I finally delved into Bowie's entire catalog and boy was I in for a surprise. The hits are great, but the albums flourish with such fervor and passion that I immediately fell in love all over again. Bowie wore many masks throughout the 70's and went everywhere from glam rock to Philly soul to krautrock. I have a hard time picking a favorite album, but one thing is for sure, Aladdin Sane is my favorite glam-rock era Bowie album. It may not be full of hits, like The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, but it has some of the best early Bowie musical performances around. Mick Ronson is at his all time best, laying down some of the crunchiest riffs of his career. Bowie amps up the glam and strangeness here, straying away from the overly baroque sounds on Ziggy for more of a guitar assault with some sax, care of Bowie himself, and some of the best piano on any Bowie record. It's a gem and a must own for any vinyl fan.

This is another purchase from Album Hunter in Maple Shade. I think I've had this record for quite some time now and Aladdin Sane will always remind me of a transitional period in my life. I simultaneously got the deluxe edition of this album on CD from Polly's in Vorhees, NJ. It's an album that I needed on both mediums. The deluxe CD comes with a bunch of outtakes and alternate versions and a few other songs, but the album is so good, that the extras were just a small reason for getting it.

Defining glam rock is strange as the classificaton and naming of glam was because of the style and not the music and songwriting. Sure, Bowie was an androgynous, space-aged funky freak who wore man-dresses and make-up, but the music of glam rock is why I go to the genre. Glam rock is usually a combination of both blues and garage rock mixing in lyrics of mysticism, futurism and nostalgia all in one. Especially on Aladdin Sane. "Watch That Man" is a bar room rocker with boogie piano, hard, crunchy guitars care of Mick Ronson at peak form and backing vocals from female singers to give it a little extra kick. It's a wonderful kick off to the album. After the raucous start, we are treated to "Aladdin Sane (1913-1938-197?)" The song has the typical glam futuristic lyricism and one of the best piano performances in rock and roll history. Mark Garson's intense, staccato and frenzied piano solo is unlike any other I've heard. It's truly a fantastic song that explodes with emotion and fury. "Drive-In Saturday" is one of those lost Bowie singles that was much bigger in England than it was in the US. It's a doo-wop throwback and a post-apocalyptic summer time anthem all in one extremely catchy song. It's just as good as any other Bowie single and easily one of my top 10 Bowie songs. The saxophone care of Bowie himself ads such a sexy vibe that wouldn't be heard again in such grandeur until 1975's Young Americans. "Panic in Detroit" is as paranoid as any song on Station to Station and has one of the best percussion sections in any Bowie track. It's very limited on cymbals and let's the guitars and bass meander in and out of each other with the bass taking a funky vibe, the guitar psych rocking it and the drums giving off a tribal pound. "Cracked Actor" is one of the grungiest songs and one of Bowie's hardest rockers. With a Neil Young rattle on Mick Ronson's guitar with a groovy rhythm section, it's a sinister indictment of Bowie's future home. It's kind of strange as Bowie launched into acting , became heavily addicted to cocaine and extremely paranoid. "Cracked Actor" is a futurescape for Bowie himself giving it even more of a sinister edge. Obviously, he didn't know it at the time, but he predicted his near future. It's a hell of a way to close side one.

Side two starts with more Mark Garson magic. "Time" begins as a show tuney piano ballad, all flamboyant and pomp. Then Mick Ronson kicks in taking it up a huge notch and launching Bowie's haunted vocal performance into the stratosphere. It's an extremely intense song and points to Bowie's experimental future while still holding on to his guitar driven rock of the past. It's about as epic as it gets in terms of grandiosity. "The Prettiest Star" by comparison is a pretty basic track. It's easily the weakest link on the album, but it's by no means bad. It's hard to compare another doo-woop, hand clapping pop track after the intense avante-burlesque of "Time." A prelude to Bowie's next album Pin Ups (which will appear on this endeavor,) Bowie tears through an inter-stellar cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together." It comes out of nowhere with this insane synthesizer intro (a prelude to Low, perhaps.) It boogie's forth at an intense gallop and has all sorts of insane twists and turns. "The Jean Genie" is one of the most underrated Bowie songs. It was written the year prior during Bowie's tour of America, as much of this album is based on his first impressions of the USA (the album has a city name attached to every song where it was written.) It's what Bowie calls "a smorgasbord of imagined America." And the lyrics and musical style is wonderfully Americana but with the lens of a Brit. Closing the album is another Mark Garson show stopper "Lady Grinning Soul." It's a truly beautiful song that floats through the air with it's romanticism. It's also one of Bowie's finest vocal performances, unmatched until Station to Station via a cover of Nina Simone's "Wild is the Wind." It is a truly unmatched song in the early part of Bowie's career, save for maybe "Life on Mars?"

Aladdin Sane is definitely my favorite glam era Bowie album after this listening adventure. It has such a raw power and strange, historical importance for the pantheon of David Bowie's career, yet I feel it doesn't get the props it deserves. It definitely is a great vinyl experience with each side being chock full of ear candy. Bowie would then slide into Diamond Dogs, which is my least favorite early Bowie record. It was all excess, even more so than Aladdin Sane. But the Bowie later to come would make up for that with a intense turn in the late 70's during the Berlin phase of his career.

Up Next: One year earlier, Bowie produces Mott The Hoople

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grooves: The Sword - Age of Winters (2006)

As much as some people may not enjoy playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you have to see the value in what it has done for popular music. Mixing rock music with video games is nothing new, but these games bring the music to the forefront and with it, you will inevitably hear something new to you. Be it a younger audience discovering Deep Purple for the first time or someone older getting a little taste of Paramore and finding out it's for them, that has a magical quality to it. What does this have to do with Grooves you might ask? Without Guitar Hero, I would most likely not have heard of The Sword. Sure, maybe someone would have introduced me to it, but GH2 is who I have to thank for this love. The Sword is one of those bands that gets the reason why vinyl is better than CD's. sure, you can't take a record with you in the car, but The Sword always includes a digital download of the album with the record. Their album art is always really cool and each of their records comes in some multi-color format. Age of Winters, which is their first record and the album that has "Freya" from Guitar Hero 2 on it, is pressed on translucent vinyl. Very cool. It looks like a disc of ice, carved from a Norwegian fjord.

The Sword is on easily my favorite non-Matador independent label, Kemado Records. Other bands that had Kemado under their wing at one point or another include Danava, The Fever (sadly defunct), Cheeseburger, Saviours and Vietnam. I purchased the album directly from the band at their show during the tour prior to releasing their second album, Gods of the Earth. As you can see by the album cover, it's got some gorgeous artwork. This is a staple of The Sword as you will see on their two other full length LP's as we continue this grand excursion in analog. I mentioned in the last post how it was fitting that The Sword show up so soon and that is because they are currently on tour and coming to Philadelphia touring behind their new album Warp Riders. Getting to spin this record was already in the cards as I need to amp myself up for the show.

Age of Winters does not fuck around. Side one starts with an instrumetal "Celestial Crown." The guitars rumble in like the surging North Sea tide and as the song picks up, you can immediately conjure up the image of warlords aboard a Viking ship running head-long for foreign shores, preparing for battle. As the song comes to a rumbling close, it immediately launches into "Barael's Blade." Here is when the gang-planks drop and the warriors start their furious fight. It's a riff heavy track that is bludgeoning and fast. The fury doesn't stop (and won't) continuing on with "Freya." It's the kind of battle cry metal chug that got me into this band. It's not so much a song that is showy in it's guitar solos, but more impressive in it's sludging and heavy sound. The mid-section is just a neck breaking back and forth between fast drums and extremely heavy guitars. Probably the best track on the album, "Winter's Wolves" tears at the flesh with it's Iron Maiden chug and intense rhythm. It's a staple of The Sword's live set, where it takes on new heights in thrash goodness. The side ends with "The Horned Goddess" which is hardly a highlight on the record. This track is best suited for the live show where they expound on it's sludgy riff, but on the record it kind of pales in comparison to the rest of side one.

Side two starts off strong with "Iron Swan." This is speed thrashing at it's best, with an acoustic and tambourine stomp intro. It's easily the fastest, heaviest song on this album, only to be matched by Gods of the Earth stand out "Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians." Try saying that ten times fast. "Lament of the Aurochs" is a little long winded. It's the first "epic" of sorts for The Sword and not until this years Warp Riders have they been able to nail down a downright enthralling epic. More instrumetal (n omitted on purpose) comes by way of "March of the Lor." Supposedly it has 8 movements, but it's all of 4 minutes and much like other Sword instrumetals, it's very awesome. The Sword's lyrical content is much like any doomy metal band. It's hardly what you're listening for and the production on this album kind of proves that point. On the instrumetal songs, we get crisp guitars and pummeling drums. But if vocals were involved, they would be buried behind the cacophony of metal demanding a listener who wants to hear tales of warriors and wolves and Aurochs, whatever they are, to turn their record player up to insanely loud levels. This isn't a bad thing as metal should be blasted, but until Warp Riders, the vocals hardly make an impact. "Eberthorn" closes the disc in grand fashion, wrapping everything up in a guitar blitz not much different than the eight tracks prior. This may sound like a dis of sorts, but The Sword write consistently bone crushing tracks throughout Age of Winters. It's only 42 minutes, perfect for vinyl as you may see, and it rocks furiously only getting a little indulgent during the one epic.

The Sword may not be the greatest metal band and I may not be the best judge of metal in general. What I do love about The Sword is their epic consistency. They slightly change their game on Warp Riders by taking their epic tales into the stratosphere, but not much else ever changes with The Sword. This consistency makes them a damn good band. It's hard to release three decent records in a row. They might get harshed on either by hardcore metal heads calling them "hipster metal" or by the average person as run of the mill or cliche metal, but their rootsy vibe and adoration of Black Sabbath aside, they still know how to slay. To me, that's all I need from metal. Ridiculous riffs, splintering guitar solos and cheesey lyrics to get lost in.

{Editors Update: Sadly, Trivett Wingo, Drummer for The Sword, has left the band. This is indeed sad news as he has shown his weight in gold on Warp Riders and is a huge part to my love of The Sword. The website for The Sword has more info. I wish him the best in the future.}

Up Next: One of several David Bowie alter egos

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Grooves: Neil Young - After The Gold Rush (1970)

Neil Young is one of the staples of my life. I've blogged about his various albums, devoted a Discography post to him and have celebrated as many as possible of his 30 plus album catalog. In terms of devotion to listening to an artists music, Neil Young comes in around #3 of my all time list right after The Who and Beck. Needless to say, After the Gold Rush will be one of many Neil albums to get their due here on Grooves. There are many I do not have yet, including such greats as On The Beach or Harvest Moon, but maybe by the time I get to those letters, I will have found them out there in the world of purchasing vinyl. What else is there to say about After The Gold Rush, Neil's third solo album released the same year as the first Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young record Deja Vu. This man was churning out great songs in 1970. From that CSNY album we got "Helpless" and "Country Girl," two excellent tracks. Then we are treated to an entire album of Young songs on After The Gold Rush. Young takes his backing band Crazy Horse and mixes it up with Stephen Stills, Jack Nitszche and Niles Lofgren making some cameos all over the record. The sound gets a little more dynamic than the crunchy, hard edge of Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. And for that, it stands out as one of Young's best records of the early era. It's not my personal favorite from this time frame, but it still packs a huge amount of excellent songs onto one album.

This album was purchased at easily the best record store in New Jersey. Princeton Record Exchange, also known as Prex, never ceases to fail in delivering the goods. Be it new albums, import records, good, moderately priced albums and a nice, orderly fashion and always has some gems floating around. This album isn't necessarily a gem as it has hundreds of copies and re-issues flying around, but the fact is you rarely can get a $3 record in the kind of condition that my copy of After The Gold Rush anywhere else. The record is clean, in really great condition and has no scratches or flaws on the actual album sleeve itself. That kind of meticulous care is hard to come by unless you are in Center City, yet nothing in Philadelphia lives up to the caliber of Prex. It's worth the 45 - 50 minute drive from the Philly area.

If you have no knowledge of Neil Young, After The Gold Rush is the way to start things off. It's the perfect balance of what Young can do with Crazy Horse but with a slightly more cohesive sound from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. "Tell Me Why" is just Young and the acoustic guitar in one of my favorite tracks of his. It has one of the most romantic lines in a song: "I am lonely but you can free me/All in the way that you smile." Next comes the titular track. Yet another track of just Young but this time behind the piano. Also one of my favorite tracks, "After the Gold Rush" is a perfect song. The French horn adds a wonderful touch to the beautiful, but sombre piano. "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" is a decent enough song, but it's mostly your standard pop affair. It's Young's emo song, if you will. Young finally utilizes Crazy Horse to their full talents on "Southern Man." The classic track sounds so much better amidst these other songs then it does out of context. It has one of Young's classic guitar solos that turns mechanical at the end. The reason I love it on the album is because we are treated to the short ditty "Till The Morning Comes," which is Donovan by way of barn-yard choir. It seems like a throwaway at first, but it's a really great track that closes the first side.

Side two pales in comparison to side one. It starts off with the classic country ballad "Oh Lonesome Me." It's perfect for Young, but he could write a better ballad than this song. "Don't Let It Bring You Down" is the perfect example of the classic Young song structure. Every time I listen to it, I think of the Dana Carvey bit from his stand up special (you know the one.) For this, I can never listen to it seriously. I'm not sure if that's the songs fault or the brilliant comedic nature of the bit. Needless to say, the song can never be taken out of context for me. "Birds" is another quiet, piano driven song. It's a very pretty song, but leaves no impressive mark like "After The Gold Rush." Then comes "When You Dance I Can Really Love." It's an oft forgotten Neil Young single and it's deserving of praise. Jack Nitszche piano in the background adds a nice layer to the rough guitar work of Neil Young and Danny Whitten. It's a nice mid-tempo jam. "I Believe In You" is a little less impressive, sounding like leftovers from 60's era Buffalo Springfield. It's a little of the old mixed in with a lot of the newer sounds Young was playing with and it kind of sticks out. The album closer is easily one of the best Neil Young songs and it's all of a minute and thirty-four seconds. It gets stuck in my head for days. And I love it.

Funny enough amidst doing this vinyl undertaking, I read the liner notes and discovered that After The Gold Rush was inspired by a screen play written by Dean Stockwell and Herb Berman for a movie with the same title. Upon further research, it seems that the movie never came to be, but the album was a major success. Dean Stockwell also designed the cover for the next Neil Young album that will appear on this. So strange how that worked out. Also, I found inside the record a print of hand-written lyrics about the size of a small poster. I've had this record for a few years now and totally forgot about that. The little treats vinyl brings! Very cool.

Up Next: Perfect timing.... The Sword's first of a few

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grooves: Television - Adventure (1978)

Television is one of the most enigmatic bands of the 70's. They emerged during the punk rock scene in New York and even though they are labeled as proto-punk or art punk, this seems to be a misnomer. My introduction to Television made them sound much less like punk rock and more like sprawling guitar prog. Where the difference lies is in the production and the songwriting. Marquee Moon is a masterpiece (and we'll get to that later on in this grand undertaking.) It's about as close to perfect as an album gets, so following it up was going to be an inevitable hurdle to jump for the band. Not including their self titled release in the 90's, the only other record of original tunes would come in the form of 1978's Adventure. The biggest difference between the two records lies in the production of the two. And much to any one's non-surprise, it makes the sound completely different, but doesn't ruin what Television does best. In fact, some songs benefit from this different grade of production. Adventure may not be on the same level as Marquee Moon, but it's hardly from a

I'm pretty sure I picked up Adventure at Album Hunter in Maple Shade, NJ. Before diving into the record itself, let me tell you a little bit about this place. Album Hunter lies on Main Street in Maple Shade and is one of the oddest, yet best places to get vinyl. Unlike most record stores, this place is unassuming and is not anywhere near the cool vibe of say Princeton Record Exchange or AKA Records in Philadelphia. In fact, it's far from cool. On the outside, it looks like it's a store that closed in 1986. On the inside, it's a treasure trove. The owner blares Conservative Talk Radio, yet he never really seems to agree with the statements. I was most frequently there during the Bush Administration and he constantly ripped on W. That aside, the man had an impeccable taste apparently as Kraftwerk posters and a large amount of really awesome rare records littered the walls. It's totally unorganized for the most part, but I have found so many great records there that it's worth the hour or two you'll spend going through the cardboard boxes to find something such as Television's Adventure for all of $3.00. To me, putting up with Rush Limbaugh for an hour in order to find something good, is totally worth it. i haven't been back in a long time. I think that needs to change. I highly suggest a trek out to the Shade for anyone in the Tri-State area to check out this strange, yet wonderful place.

Having found a non-reissued version of any Television album seems like a hard task, so when I saw Adventure, I had to get it. I haven't listened to it in a while and I must say that Adventure is a great album. It's not perfect, but it's great. The smoothed out edges on opener "Glory" sounds like Big Star by way of Tom Verlaine. It's a power pop tune of sorts that has some catchy hooks and very interestingly arranged guitars weaving in and out of each other. It's classic Television, but with the refined edges of production, it takes on a clearer vision. It's a typical Television song, but much more streamlined. "Days" follows similar suit. These two tracks benefit from the cleaner production. It's a shimmering beauty of a song. It has one of my favorite lyrics care of Verlaine: "No matter how much I cross, I always see the same stream/I'm standing up on these bridges, that are standing in a dream." Truly wonderful. The next two tracks seem to lose some edge with the polished production. "Foxhole," a truly wonderful guitar rocker and anti-war song gets hit the most by this. The choppy production of Marquee Moon, during which this song was written, would have had a much harder edge to it had it appeared there. Same goes for "Careful" which is a bouncy, pop track and easily my least favorite moment of the record. Both are great songs, but when you listen to them, you can see the untapped potential they would have had. The side ends with "Carried Away", yet another mid tempo track which again sounds better than the harder hitting rockers on the album. It's gospel choir organ gives a nice touch.

Side two is a bit more even then side one, but it's only three tracks long. "The Fire", with it's eerie, opening guitar riff kicks off the side with a spacey, sprawling guitar epic. It's the highlight of the second half. "Ain't That Nothin'" sounds like an older track, maybe written during the Marquee Moon sessions. With it's gang vocal chorus, it's an anthem to slackers everywhere. It's probably one of the only songs with the punk spirit at it's core. "The Dream's Dream" is the finale and unlike "Torn Curtain" from Marquee Moon, it lacks the fireworks and the urgency. But for some reason, it works on this album. It's a slow burn that slowly fades away.

This being the last album from Television in the 70's, it ends leaving us wanting more. I have yet to find or listen to the Television self titled record from the 90's, but I have a feeling that it's not really worth it from what I've read unless I delve into solo Tom Verlaine. Until then, I keep Adventure as a rainy day back-up to Marquee Moon. If anything, the next best record to get by Television is their live album Live at the Old Waldorf which actually shows the true power behind the tracks found on Adventure, especially "Foxhole." I am not saying I don't enjoy Adventure. It just has something missing from it. I definitely am glad to have it on vinyl. The crackle and sizzle of the analog sound definitely helps make the mix sound a little less polished. The CD Re-Issue is far less intriguing as it's so clean, it lacks any of the nostalgic sounds that the vinyl gives forth.

Up Next: The first of many Neil Young albums

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Grooves: Santana - Abraxas (1970)

Santana is one of those artists that many immediately think first of his latter day sins with songs like "Smooth" featuring Rob Thomas. However, on his second album Abraxas, Santana was in true form. His guitar virtuoso status may never be completely questioned, his songwriting has definitely lacked the "black magic" that it had back in 1970. Aside from Love and War (funny how those two band names match up), I can't think of any other Latin infused rock and roll bands active or in existence in the mainstream. Please correct me if I'm wrong as I love all three bands. Anyway, all this blathering on is to say that Santana is an old, and much welcomed friend of mine. His early works can not be tarnished by his latter day sins and Abraxas is proof positive of this. This is the only Santana record I've owned on any format. And although I started my listening as a kid with their greatest hits, this is really a one stop shop for anyone who moderately likes Santana. For uber fans, it's easily his best record. I find myself in the former camp, but still think it's a worthy disc for any record collector. Look at that artwork! So psychedelic!

I believe I procured this delightful album from Tunes in Voorhees, probably for about 50 cents. Yet another John Arena connected record, as he worked at Tunes for many, many a year. It's a tad beat up, but the record still plays exquisitely. What's great about Abraxas is the usage of instrumentals. Santana's music is never about lyric quality. You go for Carlos' guitar and the general vibe that is created around his mystical guitar playing. This record has a special place in my heart as it was mostly listened to whilst living in a glorified walk-in closet in West Philly for a year and a half. As much as the claustrophobic nature of my efficiency was kind of harsh, one thing that got me through some of those more annoying, trying times was vinyl and Abraxas was surprisingly one of the frequent players involved.

The album itself is a treat. It starts with the beautiful and psychedelic instrumental "Singing Winds, Crying Beasts" written by percussionist Mike Carabello. It's one of those songs that the title nails it and gives you said image of a jungle teeming with strange sights which immediately gives way to "Black Magic Woman," a fitting song for the image created. It's as if we traversed these jungles with the band to reach this mystic lady. One strange note, I never knew that the song "Black Magic Woman" was written by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. I am world famous for hating Fleetwood Mac. In fact, they stand at the top of my list of least favorite bands. Someone needs to do some deeper research it seems. "Black Magic Woman" is a hell of a song in Santana's hands, and it's easily his best of the period. The beginning riff and ending jam are all taken from a Hungarian track called "Gypsy Queen" which seems to fit rather perfectly with the titular conjurer of Black magic. Even though I hate The Mac, I feel the urge to do my proper research here and give a listen to the original. "Oye Como Va" is yet another cover of a Tito Puente classic. Even though we were treated to two covers in the first half, Santana has a way of making them their own. Be it the tasty guitar groove or the excellent Latin percussion in the background, you know a Santana song when you hear it. lastly there is "Incident at Neshabur", yet another instrumental arrangement that closes the side perfectly. It is truly a wonderful musical experience. Side two ups the Latin ante big time and in a great way. If the first side was more psych rock, the second side is the groovier, Sambacore side. Both "Se A Cabo" and "Samba Pa Ti" are wonderful Latin grooves with plenty of Santana's fluid riffing. "Hope You're Feeling Better" is the lone rocker on the side as more of these tracks traverse the fine line between blues and Samba music. The closing is a tad anti-climactic with the quick sing-along of "El Nicoya" closing things up. Regardless of this, the record is an enchanting experience and for 50 cents, sounds stellar. No scratched, no skips, just a few little crackles to give it that warm feeling that makes vinyl so wonderful.

I have never listened to Santana albums on any other medium other than vinyl. It's the only way I have experienced his music and I think I'm going to keep it that way. It has a certain mystical power on vinyl. Like a magic spell conjuring some ancient jungle voodoo, the music is it's own spell. The arrangements are amazing on Abraxas make it an essential listen for any music lover. Santana may have created some of my least favorite songs in the past 10 years, but his 70's work is nothing short of legendary as this album proves.

Up Next: Television's follow up to a masterpiece.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Grooves: The Beatles - Abbey Road (1969)

It's a little too good to start this musical discourse about vinyl with Abbey Road. Sure, The Beatles are great, blah, blah, blah, but this post is less about them and more about the vinyl experience. My love affair with the medium goes back to being a youngster. My parents record collection was a bastion for young research and my parents being Beatlemaniacs, it was no wonder that I immediately started my love of Abbey Road on the medium itself. It's easily the greatest record ever made. The technology was all analog and it had limitations. So the music itself is the perfect usage of the album as art to it's fullest potential. It's two sides are beautiful in their own respect. Side one a collection of the last Beatles songs we'd ever hear and side two, the fragmented medleys that work on a level unlike anything else I've heard. You can't make something like Abbey Road any other way.

Returning to this record is nothing but an excellent experience. No matter how many times I change the station when "Come Together" starts, I always look forward to it starting the album up. It's only an overrated Beatles song because classic rock radio has destroyed it. The slow rumble of McCartney's bass and the precession of Ringo's drums are something special. When "Something" comes next, we're treated to easily one of the greatest love songs ever written. Unlike the production of Phil Spector on Let It Be, George Martin's production here is what makes this song so gorgeous to the ears and heart strings. Surprisingly, "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" is indeed my least favorite track on the record, but it's whimsically dark bounce was a sign of McCartney to come. "Oh! Darling" is an explosively, passionate piano-centric ballad that is quiet easily McCartney's finest vocal performance on any Beatles song. The much hated and misunderstood "Octopus's Garden" may seem like a throwback to "Yellow Submarine", but it still shimmers in the ear drums. The guitar work is beautiful. And it makes it all the better when "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", the Beatles take on Psychedelic Rock, kicks in after the under sea antics. "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is a rival for favorite Beatles song. With it's fantastic bluesy guitar, heavy riff and ultimate crescendo into silence that ends Side A, it's a beast of a track. The cut-off makes the song perfect. It's an action packed first half of a record.

Side B starts off with "Here Comes the Sun" which feels like a sunrise in musical form. Again, Harrison brings his A Game to the table with a beautiful and uplifting track. But immediately following it is the dirge "Because", things turn from sunny to sinister in a flash of synthesizer gloom. Then a final complete track of sorts, "You Never Give Me Your Money" works as a prelude to the fragmented end of the record. It's signals musical moments to come and is one of my all time favorite songs, possibly my favorite on the side. Then we are treated to the two medley's. The "Sun King" medley is more of Lennon's undertaking. Its a psychedelic walk down a street of random weirdos, far superior to "Penny Lane." "Sun King's" psych glow of gibberish into the more plodding "Mean Mr. Mustard" and the intense "Polythene Pam" are all fragmented and last all of a minute and a half before the longer of the parts of the medley, "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" takes over. Then the "Golden Slumbers" medley comes to steal the show. McCartney's strung together fragments are less of parts of a whole and more movements in the best mini rock opera not written by The Who. "Carry That Wait" brings the call back to "You Never Give Me Your Money" back into the picture for a beautiful music moment. "The End" is a beautiful closer. Ironic as it is that this was the end of The Beatles, it makes it even a more perfect finale. A triple guitar solo with gang vocals singing "love you" can't be a better way to set up that famous of epitaphs. Of course, then there is "Her Majesty" to come and sweep the lasties blanket from under the medley's heels, but it's fitting for The Beatles silly side. It's a Monty Python move of sorts.

My vinyl copy was a gift from former band mate and brother in everything John Arena. It, along with another record on this list coming up, was one of the best gifts I've received. Funny that I didn't already own Abbey Road but it seemed rude to buy a new version from the one I had listened to and made mix tapes off of from growing up. Instead it felt right that my friend and drummer in a band Noringo (see the connections all over?!) gave me this excellent album. It sounds great and is in beautiful condition. It should be one of my framed records in my guest room, but I want easy access to it as it's easily one of my favorite vinyl experiences. Not many other albums rival it in it's magical way.

Next Up: A return to an old groovy friend. Santana.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Ok folks... here it is. The next long-winded, I-need-a-reason-to-keep-this-blog-alive feature from the folks (me) at Poseidon.

Much like the AV Club's Popless where one writer sat down with his record collection and only listened to it A - Z without listening to new music mixed with Picasso Blue's Vinyl Vednesday, I will undertake my own record collection in the same vein. From A - Z. This feature will take a few days to get off the ground, because I'll need to reorganize my record collection, but I will listen to every record LP or EP I have from A to Z and give you my rundown accordingly. Interesting, right? No? Well, I'm doing it anyway! It will be fun when I get to the more embarrasing records (see Supertramp's catalog.) It will also be fun because there are a few hand-me-down records that I have yet to listen to. This feature will include everything from track-by-track album reviews, sound quality issues, album art critiques and a history of how it fits in to my general scheme of things as a music listener. There won't be a set day for posting. So just keep a look out. This could get ugly.
Oh yeah, and I'm calling it Grooves.

Friday, October 01, 2010

No Country For Old Men?

In this new decade, a handful of rock's legends have proven their relevance. It seems a hard task for aging classics to compete with the way music has changed so drastically, but 2010 sees two standout recordings from two very different, but equally prolific icons of music: Nick Cave and Neil Young. We'll start with the former.

Nick Cave is 52. He's been making music since 1976 with his first band The Birthday Party making an impact in the early 80's. He then went on to The Bad Seeds who have changed from post punk darlings to Gothic ministers to balladeers to gospel grunge and back again from the late 80's to their current lineup. And then there is Grinderman. A menacing, garage rock soaked album of squealing guitars, foreboding and distorted violins care of Warren Ellis and a boogie thump from other Bad Seed members Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos. Now we have a second offering from Grinderman (aptly titled Grinderman 2) and it is nothing short of glorious. Sure, it's still gritty and messy at times, but unlike their first offering, it seems to have more direction. Cave's vocals and lyrics are at their all time scummiest, maybe the closest to The Birthday Party he'll ever get. That being said, he's channeling his spirit from close to 30 years ago now to create this raucous romp of bluesy, gritty tunes.

Grinderman 2 starts off with a chugging riff on "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man" with cave's insane lyrics kicking in like a lunatic washing off the haze of last nights boozery. It's an outstanding album opener that gives way to the second single "Worm Tamer" which compares his love to all sorts of crazy demonic and sexual beings. However, this is just a prelude to the catchiest and most gritty track on the record, first single "Heathen Child." The guitar gurgle at the start of the track is just like watching the Big Bad Wold (on the ridiculously bad ass cover and a common character on this album) creeping around a dark corner, snarling. The bass line keeps everything together as Cave paints a tale of a seemingly helpless child in a bathtub, which turns out to be much more of a beast than the wolf man that she's waiting for to come and take her away. We then get the one-two punch of the dynamic "When My Baby Comes" and the pastoral to an extent ""What I Know." "When My Baby Comes" starts off in familiar Cave territory, sounding at first more like a Bad Seeds cut from 2008's Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! but takes a sharp mid song curve off the cliff into a psychedelic sludge coda. "What I Know" is the only breath of air Cave and Co. give us with as close to a slow ballad as we're going to get. "Palaces of Montezuma" is another highlight with it's litany of crazy bad asses throughout history. What makes Grinderman 2 so good is that underneath the murk and darkness is a really catchy album. The music swells and explodes at times, sometimes in noise, other times in sweet melodies, but always sounding dynamic and awesome. Nick Cave may be getting old, but he hasn't lost a single beat in his songwriting.

Neil Young, on the other hand, has had a longer career, stranger at times, career. After a Golden Age in the 70's, a dark period in the 80's, a small renaissance in the 90's and a strange 00's, Young finally gives us something a little bit newer in Le Noise. Here lies an album unlike anything (for the most part) in Young's career. Not since 1982's unfairly hated Trans has Young ran off the rails into new territories in sound. Teaming up with legendary producer and pedal steel virtuoso Daniel Lanois, Young straps on his electric (and brings back the old acoustic for two tracks) and has at it. You get Young's guitar, vox and Lanois "sonics" and that's it. It is anything but stripped down. In fact, the sound is huge. Not unlike his soundtrack for the 1995 Jim Jaramusch acid western Dead Man, the guitar is the real focal point. As much as these songs are not instrumentals, the lyrics are really just your usual Neil Young fodder. The magic is in the music and the atmosphere. "Walk With Me" lyrically is all about feeling. And even though they are unremarkable lyrics, they do echo (literally and figuratively) the music played along with them. This music is all about feeling. You feel the guitar buzzing and humming and crackling along with the atmospheric flow of the effects. Young simply asks us to do as the title asks and on this disc, we join just him on a quest of sonic wonderment. As grand an experiment Le Noise is, it doesn't have a dynamic touch aside from it's overall thesis statement. It's a sonic experiment that doesn't really play great as an album, but more as a study in just how important Young's guitar playing is in the grand scheme of rock and roll. At 65, Young is showing us his relevance with Le Noise.