Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison

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This album review is provided by Mike Fishman, who has written about Van Morrison for the Mystic Avenue blog and writes about film for IndependentFilmNow.com.

Veedon Fleece by Van MorrisonAny musician with a career spanning 50 years is going to hit at least a few major milestones and when you’re talking about an artist as prolific as Van Morrison the milestones inevitably start piling up. This past Fall of 2019 found many longtime fans celebrating 45 years since the release of Veedon Fleece, Morrison’s eighth studio album and one of his lesser-discussed yet just as affecting works. This October 1974 studio release, heavily influenced by Morrison’s Irish roots and personal life, shares a special kinship with 1968’s Astral Weeks as two albums that mirror and complement each other, in both subtle and overt ways.

While critically acclaimed upon it’s release, Astral Weeks did not initially sell well during a time when Morrison was financially struggling. His next (third) solo album, Moondance, would become his million-selling commercial breakthrough in 1970. Here, Morrison abandoned the previous record’s abstract folk compositions and composed more accessible and rhythmic songs. This commercial and/or critical success continued with his subsequent albums – His Band and the Street Choir (1970), Tupelo Honey (1971), Saint Dominic’s Preview (1972) and Hard Nose the Highway (1973).

All of the songs on Veedon Fleece were composed and produced by Morrison with most written in his native Ireland in October 1973. The album features prominent acoustic guitar, bass, flute and strings with the vocals delivered with an intensity and a narrative approach in the lyrics that is seen less frequently elsewhere. While Morrison would continue to mine sites of remembrance from his youth in Belfast, few other albums are as steeped in that setting as this one.


Veedon Fleece by Van Morrison
Released: October, 1974 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Van Morrison
Recorded: Mercury Studios, New York & Caledonia Studios, Oakland, CA, November 1973-Spring 1974
Side One Side Two
Fair Play
Linden Arden Stole the Highlights
Who Was That Masked Man
Streets of Arklow
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River
Bulbs
Cul de Sac
Comfort You
Come Here My Love
Country Fair
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Ralph Walsh – Guitars
James Trumbo – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Dahaud Shaar – Drums

 

Veedon Fleece opens with the second longest song on the album. “Fair Play,” and introduces a markedly consistent sound and feel that will inform the rest of the album with a mix of folk, jazz, blues and soul as well as lyrics incorporating Morrison’s Irish roots. Here, James Trumbo‘s piano is at the forefront, playing off of Morrison’s committed vocals with a gentle melody that falls into place than charges ahead. “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights” continues the album in an introspective mood. Trumbo’s piano opens the song tenderly, with notes of melancholy and regret until Morrison enters, assured and conversational with the lyrics now directly narrative and naming the main character. Morrison sings hard, barking out words, biting them off at times, and utilizing a falsetto that soars over acoustic guitar and strings. His impassioned vocals grow intense when he darkly draws out the word “hatchet.” Across just two and half minutes a story emerges of a hard-drinking man hiding out in San Francisco after having “stole the highlights” with “one hand tied behind his back.”

The third song on Veedon Fleece connects directly to its predecessor with the first line of “Who Was That Masked Man” echoing the closing line of “Linden Arden Stole the Highlights,” now detailing the loneliness of “livin’ with a gun.” Morrison again adopts a falsetto that lends urgency to the mournful melody as acoustic guitar dances around the sung lines. The title can’t help but evoke the Lone Ranger; a symbol of the America that Morrison was taking a respite from but the protagonist here is no hero in the traditional sense. There is a palpable sense of paranoia and of being watched with the image of a fish inside a bowl, an image Morrison would return to years later on one of his many songs about the pitfalls of fame, “Goldfish Bowl.” “Streets of Arklow” is notable as a culmination of the intermingling of the folk, soul and blues of its preceding three songs and the first song on the album where Morrison starts to really let loose. It’s a song enraptured with beauty and the sharing of beauty with another. “Streets of Arklow” is supported by gliding strings, at times murmuring in the background, then swelling darkly, to give the song a strong sense of movement until it comes to an abrupt stop that feels immediately picked up by the next song, “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River”. The centerpiece of the album, this side one closer is the longest song on the album with hard-strummed acoustic guitar and scat singing as strings swirl and a flute trills against probing piano. The journey in “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River” is partly down memory lane but mostly in the clear present, possibly conjoining images of Ireland and America.

Van Morrison in 1974

Opening Side Two of Veedon Fleece, “Bulbs” is strikingly jaunty with Morrison’s vocals featuring a country-blues “hey, hey, hey” along with some deep grunting that suggests a tuba. “Cul De Sac” marks a return to the more introspective feel of the album. Bluesy piano and guitar drive the song as Morrison delivers one of his most impassioned vocals on record, as he emphasizes nearly every word, enunciating, stretching vowels and repeating syllables. “Comfort You” descends gently, with Morrison singing sweetly, a guitar fluttering and strings entering, caressing the melody, while “Come Here My Love” opens with spare guitar and finds Morrison singing in a more direct manner, almost conversational although occasionally elongating a word. “Country Fair” closes the album with guitar, bass and synthesizer whispering behind Morrison’s wistful vocals as Jim Rothermel‘s recorder remains prominent throughout. The delicate melody and impassioned singing create an atmosphere both restless and calming to close the album.

Veedon Fleece has been referred to as Van Morrison’s “forgotten masterpiece” and its influence reverberated through the music of scores of artists for decades to come. After a decade without taking any time off, Morrison took a hiatus from music following the album’s release and would not release a follow-up album for three years.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1974 albums.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder

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Fullfilligness First Finale by Stevie WonderAt the age of just 24, Stevie Wonder released his 17th studio album with 1974’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. This record came when the composer, musician and vocalist was in the heart of his prime creative output  and features Wonder playing most of the instruments along with an array of backing vocalists. The result is a refined blend of pop, jazz and soul using economical musical arrangements along with a somber and reflective lyrical tone overall.

In 1971, Wonder had allowed his Motown contract to expire after nearly a decade on the famed label as an adolescent star. After two independently recorded albums, he negotiated a new contract with Motown Records which gave him more musical autonomy starting with the 1972 Music of My Mind, a full-length artistic statement with some lyrics that dealt with social and political issues. Talking Book followed later that year and featured a couple of number 1 hits, “Superstition” and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, which also won three Grammy Awards between them. In 1973 won three more Grammy Awards with the epic social consciousness of the record Innervisions.

Wonder nearly lost his life when he was in a serious car accident while on tour in August 1973. After months of recovering and a renewed sense of faith and personal strength, he got back on tour and developed songs through improvisation and introspection in early 1974. Fulfillingness’ First Finale was co-produced by Wonder along with Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil and was recorded at multiple studios in New York City and Los Angeles.


Fullfillingness’ First Finale by Stevie Wonder
Released: July 22, 1974 (Tamla)
Produced by: Stevie Wonder, Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil
Recorded: Record Plant Studios and Westlake Recording Studios, Los Angeles; Media Sound and Electric Lady Studios, New York, 1974
Side One Side Two
Smile Please
Heaven is 10 Zillion Light Years Away
Too Shy To Say
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Creepin’
You Haven’t Done Nothin’
It Ain’t No Use
They Won’t Go When I Go
Bird of Beauty
Please Don’t Go
Primary Musicians
Stevie Wonder – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Harmonica, Drums, Percussion
Michael Sembello – Guitars
Reggie McBride – Bass
Deniece Williams, Minnie Riperton, Shirley Brewer – Backing Vocals

 

The smooth pop/jazz ballad of the opener “Smile Please” sets the warm vibe for the album, led by Wonder’s Fender Rhodes piano and the Latin flavored guitar of Michael Sembello. “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away” is ultimately a Gospel song where Wonder conveys confidence in his devotion and is backed by an array of backing vocalists including pop legend Paul Anka. “Too Shy to Say” follows as a different kind of ballad with Wonder’s piano complemented by the steel guitar of Pete Kleinow, adding unique ambiance for this otherwise vocal-driven ballad.

The album takes an upbeat turn with “Boogie On Reggae Woman”, a Top 5 pop hit which melds reggae with mid-seventies and displays Wonder’s incredible mastery of technologically diverse instrumentation. “Creepin'” is a pure soul love song featuring a small array of then-cutting-edge synthesizers, while the political and funky “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” is melodically entertaining with nice horn arrangement and features Wonder’s overdubbed orchestra of percussive elements. This second side opener also features members of The Jackson 5 on background vocals.

Stevie Wonder on stage

The latter part of this record is where the pure genius resides. “It Ain’t No Use” returns to the spiritually driven theme with the expert use of backing vocals in a smooth soul vibe swelling to a stronger hook while maintaining its overall compositional integrity. The haunting “They Won’t Go When I Go” was co-written by Yvonne Wright and features a sound both ancient and modern as well as a chorus of self-harmonizing by Wonder. With a combo of his smooth and upbeat styles along with great melody and strategic backing vocal chants, Wonder delivers a masterpiece with the aptly titled “Bird of Beauty”, which is also rhythmically interesting due to his fine drumming and Moog bass. “Please Don’t Go”, an excellent, upbeat love song closes the album with a style that forecasts the best elements of modern day R&B, including a fine mix of electric piano and synths and a sweet, piercing harmonica lead to climax the mood before the crescendo of the final verse and coda brings it all home.

Fullfillingness’ First Finale was Wonder’s first to officially top the Pop Albums charts and, like its two predecessors, this album received three Grammy Awards, including Album of the Year, Best Male Pop Vocal and Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance. In fact, when Paul Simon won the Album Of The Year Grammy the following for year for Still Crazy After All These Years, he sarcastically thanked Stevie Wonder for not making an album in 1975.

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1974 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 45th anniversary of 1974 albums.

 

The White Stripes

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The White StripesThe self-titled 1999 debut by the Michigan based debut, The White Stripes was at once a nod back to the American blues from the century about to end and a preview of the minimalist arrangements trend of the century to come. With great economy, the husband and wife duo of vocalist/guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White deliver a loud, raunchy, unique blend of blues, punk, country and metal among this generous collection of both originals and covers.

Jack Gillis met Meg White while he still was in high school and a drummer in a local band. The two began to frequent local music venues together. The two married in 1996 and Jack defied convention by taking his wife’s surname. The following year, Meg first began to learn the drums as Jack migrated to guitar and they found a surprising synergy together as a duo. They chose the name “The White Stripes” due to their last name and Meg’s love of peppermint hard candy. They also deliberately crafted their mysterious image by only outfitting their production in only the colors red, black and white, refusing to be interviewed separately, and occasionally (and bizarrely) presenting themselves as brother and sister.

In 1998, The White Stripes recorded and released the singles “Let’s Shake Hands” and “Lafayette Blues” on the Detroit-based independent label Italy Records. The debut album was recorded in Detroit in January 1999 with producer Jim Diamond and released in the summer of that year.


The White Stripes by The White Stripes
Released: June 5, 1999 (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Produced by: Jack White & Jim Diamond
Recorded: Ghetto Recorders and Third Man Studios, Detroit, January 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Jimmy the Exploder
Stop Breaking Down
The Big Three Killed My Baby
Suzy Lee
Sugar Never Tasted So Good
Wasting My Time
Cannon
Astro
Broken Bricks
When I Hear My Name
Do
Screwdriver
One More Cup of Coffee
Little People
Slicker Drips
St. James Infirmary Blues
I Fought Piranhas
Jack White – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Piano
Meg White – Drums

The White Stripes

 

Starting with the original ,”Jimmy the Exploder”, The White Stripes album contains 17 total tracks with just a handful clocking in at more than three minutes. Early on, there is a good cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, where Jack White provides a slide lick repeated throughout. “The Big Three Killed My Baby” refers to the major Detroit automakers and the charge that they are manufacturing automobiles which are intentionally engineered to become prematurely obsolete.

“Suzy Lee” features a beautiful bluesy electric slide by guest Johnny Walker set in between Jack White’s heavy riffing that makes this a bit of a modern classic, while “Sugar Never Tasted So Good” is a bit less refined and more spontaneous with Meg White providing some odd percussion effects. This album was officially dedicated to Delta blues legend Son House and the track “Cannon” features an a cappella section of the traditional American gospel blues song “John the Revelator”. The hyperactive “Broken Bricks” was co-written by Stephen Gillis as a full-fledged garage-rock romp.

The White Stripes

Not all the tracks on The White Stripes are top-notch and, in fact, some are pure filler and/or downright frivolous. These include (the aptly titled) “Wasting My Time”, “Astro”, “Screwdriver”, “Little People” and “Slicker Drips”. However, the latter part of the album is saved by a couple of good renditions of cover songs. The isolation tone of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” is followed by the traditional “St. James Infirmary Blues”, where Jack White breaks the formula and plays a decent piano throughout. Walker returns to provide slide guitar on the album closer “I Fought Piranhas”.

While The White Stripes did reach Gold status in the United States, it didn’t really receive much attention or critique until a few years later when the duo’s fame began to spread. Still, this set the pace for more success to come in the new millennium, starting with 2000’s De Stijl, the home recorded analog follow-up album.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Couldn’t Stand the Weather by Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble

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Couldnt Stand the Weather by Stevie Ray VaughanCouldn’t Stand the Weather is the critically acclaimed sophomore release by Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble. The album features an equal mix of original compositions and cover songs, all executed masterfully by Vaughan and company’s original interpretation of classic Texas-style boogie blues. While the album was put together in a hurry following a frenzy of recording and touring during that year, the spirited energy works perfectly within this 1984 snapshot of musical lightening.

Vaughan had been an active musician since he was a teenager in the late 1960s, performing in groups called Brooklyn Underground and Southern Distributor. Bassist Tommy Shannon first heard Vaughn play at a Dallas club and they later began performing together in a band called Krackerjack. Around this time, Vaughn also gained experience as a studio session musician and by sitting in with blues legends like Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers and Albert King and groups such as ZZ Top. Double Trouble was officially formed in Austin, TX in 1978 as the trio of Vaughn, Shannon and drummer Chris Layton. However, recognition of the group outside of Texas would take nearly a half decade when record producer Jerry Wexler recommended them for the Montreux Jazz Festival, where there controversial performance (later released on DVD in September 2004) garnered widespread attention. Jackson Browne offered the group free use of his personal recording studio in downtown Los Angeles .  The group recorded ten songs in two days which became the group’s debut album Texas Flood. While in the studio, Vaughan received a call from David Bowie who invited him to record sessions for his upcoming studio album, Let’s Dance, released in April 1983.

After the success of Texas Flood, the group returned to the studio in short time to record a follow-up. Couldn’t Stand the Weather was recorded through much of January 1984 with producers Richard Mullen, Jim Capfer and John Hammond at the Power Station in New York City.


Couldn’t Stand the Weather by Stevie Ray Vaughan
Released: May 15, 1984 (Epic)
Produced by: Richard Mullen, Jim Capfer, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
Recorded: Power Station, New York City, January 1984
Side One Side Two
Scuttle Buttin’
Couldn’t Stand The Weather
The Things (That) I Used to Do
Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)
Cold Shot
Tin Pan Alley
Honey Bee
Stang’s Swang
Group Musicians
Stevie Ray Vaughan – Guitars, Vocals
Tommy Shannon – Bass
Chris Layton – Drums

The album begins with the instrumental “Scuttle Buttin'”, an upbeat piece which tonally sets the stage for the title track. “Couldn’t Stand The Weather” features a definitive, indelible riff with strategic stops led by Layton in between during the deliberative song intro. The song proper has great rhythmic movement and well-placed chord changes under melodic vocals, along with two back to back leads that showcase Vaughn’s incredible talent. Next comes the Eddie Jones cover “The Things (That) I Used to Do”, a traditional slow blues featuring a guest appearance by Stevie’s brother Jimmie Vaughn providing rapid guitar licks in between each vocal line.

A true highlight is the rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, which maintains much of the psychedelic vibe of the original while adding some hair and with a bit more technical clarity. This version starts with the verse before going into an extended jam before reaching next verse. “Cold Shot” kicks off the second side as an accessible track for pop/rock audiences built on simple but catchy whiny guitar riff which at once complements and contrasts the smooth and reserved vocals of Vaughn.

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble

The album thins out a bit through its three closing tracks. “Tin Pan Alley” starts with an extended, fine long intro but this song overall isn’t quite as dynamic and seems like a bit of a missed opportunity for this over nine minute track. The much shorter “Honey Bee” returns to upbeat blues, along with slightly silly lyrics as it incorporates some fifties style rock to the distinct blues style as Shannon adds some great bass patterns. “Stang’s Swang” is a cool, jazzy instrumental with guests Fran Christina on drums and Stan Harrison on saxophone taking the spotlight, as Vaughn just playing competent guitar chords for an overall odd but interesting epilogue to the record.

Couldn’t Stand the Weather reached the Top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart and led to a worldwide tour in support of album. In an interview around the time, Vaughan said his goal for the future was to “keep playing our hearts out. You know, I love the blues. What else is there?”

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1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Reggatta de Blanc by The Police

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Reggatta de Blanc by The PoliceDriven by the strength of two UK number one singles, Reggatta de Blanc helped launch The Police into the commercial stratosphere. Building on the strength of their 1978 debut, Outlandos d’Amour, this second album marked a slight change in the band’s sound, with a more polished and refined production of the trio’s energetic musical performances. The album’s title loosely translates to “white reggae”, a label which aptly describes the core of the group’s signature sound but falls short of touching on the depth of their influences.

In 1976, American drummer Stewart Copeland was playing in a British progressive rock band called Curved Air when he met former school teacher turned musician Gordon Sumner, professionally known as Sting. The two jammed and contemplated starting a punk rock band with guitarist Henry Padovani. The trio toured the UK as a supporting act and even recorded a single called “Fall Out” in 1977. Later that year, Copeland and Sting merged with two members of a band called Strontium 90, Mike Howlett and guitarist Andy Summers. About a decade older than the other musicians, Summers had much music industry experience dating back well into the sixties with groups such as Eric Burdon and the Animals. After some live gigs, the Police pared back to a trio with Sting composing original material. Copeland’s older brother, producer Miles Copeland, helped finance the Police’s first album, Outlandos d’Amour, released in 1978. On the strength of the single,”Roxanne”, Miles got the group signed with A&M Records, and the later hit “Can’t Stand Losing” sparked the group’s first tour of the USA.

Like it’s predecessor, Reggatta de Blanc was recorded at Surrey Sound with producer Nigel Gray. The studio was considered too small for a major label act but it was where the group was comfortable recording. With a small budget and limited time for recording, some of the material was re-purposed from previous group projects.


Reggatta de Blanc by The Police
Released: October 2, 1979 (A&M)
Produced by: Nigel Gray & The Police
Recorded: Surrey Sound Studios, Leatherhead, England, February – August 1979
Side One Side Two
Message in a Bottle
Reggatta de Blanc
It’s Alright for You
Bring on the Night
Deathwish
Walking on the Moon
On Any Other Day
The Bed’s Too Big Without You
Contact
Does Everyone Stare
No Time This Time
Group Musicians
Sting – Lead Vocals, Bass, Synths
Andy Summers – Guitars, Synths
Stewart Copeland – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The opener “Message in a Bottle” was the lead single from the album and subsequently became the group’s first number one hit on the UK Singles chart. This jazzed up reggae with a definitive pop/rock sheen was derived from a riff that Sting had developed while on the first American tour in 1978. The potent and metaphoric lyrics about finding other lonely “castaways” were written during the Surrey studio sessions. The title quasi-instrumental “Reggatta de Blanc” commences with Copeland’s rapid percussive intro, leading to bass rhythm under various delicate guitar textures and vocal chanting and yodeling throughout. Composed collectively by the trio, this evolved from improvisational stage jams during performances of the hit “Can’t Stand Losing You” and the track went on to surprising win a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1980.

On “It’s Alright for You” the group reached back to their punk roots, albeit with a little more of pop smoothness and variable tempos to make it a dance bop. Sting’s “Bring on the Night” has an extended, dramatic intro before settling into another fine pop/reggae track with some of the lyrics re-purposed from a song he wrote with his former band Last Exit. “Deathwish” follows as an interesting closer to the original first side, using several simple riffs, phrases and beats all fused together for a unique kind of jam.

The Police 1979

The textual “Walking on the Moon” was built on Sting’s simple bass riff, Summers’ atmospheric chord strum and very subtle high end percussion by Copeland. Sting said he wrote it as “walking around the room” while intoxicated one night after a concert, remembering the tune the following morning but altering the title. The song became their second British chart topper and a big hit in many other countries but did not chart in the United States. The first of two songs to feature Copeland on lead vocals, “On Any Other Day” is a happy-go-lucky rock track about the crumbling of domestic life. This is followed by the pure reggae track “The Bed’s Too Big Without You”, another track originated by Sting during the Last Exit days. Copeland penned the next two songs, “Contact” which features a crisp and jangly intro riff by Summers trading of with rich synths in the verses, and “Does Everyone Stare”, a tune where Summers plays piano Copeland does his second lead vocals. “No Time This Time” is a strong, punk-like rock closer which actually includes a rare guitar lead. The song was previously released as the B-Side to the “So Lonely” single in November 1978.

Reggatta de Blanc was the first of four consecutive albums by The Police to reach #1 on the UK Album charts. Soon after the group embarked on their first world tour, branching out into places that had been seldom destinations for rock performers like India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Greece, Egypt and Mexico.

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1979 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

Human Clay by Creed

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Human Clay by CreedHuman Clay is the 1999 second album by Creed, which built on the momentum of their fine 1997 debut to reach their climax of popularity. This #1 album was an instant success which surprisingly debuted at the top of the charts. The record rose to prominence by finding the right combination of post-grunge musical theatrics with anthem-laced pop melodies, laying a foundation that helped the group ride high as we entered into a new century and millennium.

The group’s self-financed debut, My Own Prison, became a surprise hit world wide and, at the time, was one of the Top 200 selling albums of all time. With the proceeds from that album, the group instantly began to compose and record music for a follow-up record, using the same formula of music by guitarist guitarist Mark Tremonti and lyrics by vocalist Scott Stapp.

Producer John Kurzweg also returned for this album. In recognition of what fans craved from the first album and not really being concerned with originality, Kurzweg built a continuation of the group’s successful sonic attack, which paralleled the thematic direction. According to Tremonti, this album’s theme (and cover art) is meant to represent our ability to lead our own path and make our own destiny. This, along with the theme of many songs, gives Human Clay a real spiritual feel throughout.


Human Clay by Creed
Released: September 28, 1999 (Wind-Up)
Produced by: John Kurzweg
Recorded: Winter 1998-1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Are You Ready?
What If
Beautiful
Say I
Wrong Way
Faceless Man
Never Die
With Arms Wide Open
Higher
Wash Away Those Years
Inside Us All
Scott Stapp – Lead Vocals
Mark Tremonti – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Marshall – Bass
Scott Phillips – Drums

Human Clay by Creed

 

The opening track “Are You Ready?” starts with an Eastern sounding intro before fully breaking into its rock verses, complete with some odd chord combos which at once make it a little clunky and a bit interesting. An issue with the early part of Human Clay is the formulaic song craft and this is almost immediately evident as “What If” sounds very similar to the opening track in sequence. However, this second song reached greater popularity as it was used in the film Scream 3 in 2000 and it’s accompanying video worked off that theme. “Beautiful” is another dramatic track with verses delicately picked in contrast to the sloshy rock choruses, while “Say I” is a choppy and thematic dark rocker.

Things start to get interesting with “Wrong Way”, a mini-suite with multiple forms and musical textures to make for a good overall listen. Here, Stapp exercises various levels of power and restraint vocally while Kurzweg adds B3 organ and guest Kirk Kelsey provides mandolin. “Faceless Man” is another good track, perhaps the best thus far on the album, with measured acoustic and electric combinations picked and strummed expertly by Tremonti along its compositional and some stand out bass by Brian Marshall. On the track “Never Die”, the band adopts some Alice-in-Chains-like simplicity with a grunge approach and hammered-on notes in the riff pattern. This track also features Scott Phillips providing his best drumming thus far.

Creed 1999

The album finishes strong with its most indelible tracks late in the sequence. “With Arms Wide Open” starts with subtle guitar textures with melodic lead vocals, offering the clearest pop sheen on top of the group’s typical hard edge, including some string arrangements in the uplifting arrangement. This song earned Stapp and Tremonti a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 2001, along with several other awards. “Higher” is the group’s ultimate acoustic grunge anthem with a fantastic hook that made this a great hit. Like the previous song, this makes nice use of bridge/outtro to take the song to a “higher” level. “Wash Away Those Years” follows as a quiet and dark ballad, leading to one final anthemic track, “Inside Us All”, to close the album with a theme that speaks to the “peace inside your soul”.

Human Clay sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide and charted all around the world. The album’s success was a mixed blessing as the group’s meteoric rise made them subject to some subsequent derision and Marshall struggled with substance abuse and was out of the group before the group recorded their third album in 2001.
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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Euphoria Mourning by Chris Cornell

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Euphoria Morning by Chris CornellAfter a long but whirlwind career as the front man for Soundgarden, Chris Cornell forged his own musical direction with his 1999 debut solo record, Euphoria Mourning (originally titled Euphoria Morning). While still primarily a hard rock album, this work varies greatly from the grunge metal style of Soundgarden’s prime, with the organic compositions textured with rootsy and bluesy sounds throughout. With this altering of musical direction, while critically acclaimed, the album did not sell as well as previous Soundgarden releases.

Cornell co-founded Soundgarden in the mid 1980s, with the group breaking through with Badmotofinger in 1991 and ultimately reaching their commercial pinnacle with the success of 1994’s Superunknown, which topped the album charts and won multiple awards including a pair of Grammys. The highly anticipated follow up, Down On the Upside, was released two years later and featured a more experimental approach that caused creative tensions within the group and ultimately led to Soundgarden’s break up in 1997.

In collaboration with Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider of the band Eleven, Cornell began working on material for a solo album in 1998. Recording was done at their Los Angeles home studio, with the song “Sunshower” (a bonus track on some versions of Euphoria Mourning, being contributed to the Great Expectations soundtrack that year. Another song, “Heart of Honey” was recorded for the film Titan A.E., but it was not used for the soundtrack nor released on Euphoria Mourning. Cornell debated the album’s title, initially capitulating to his manager at the time, who favored “morning” but later reverting back to the ironically poetic “mourning” as the title’s cannon.


Euphoria Mourning by Chris Cornell
Released: September 21, 1999 (Interscope)
Produced by: Chris Cornell, Natasha Shneider & Alain Johannes
Recorded: 11 AD Studios, Los Angeles, 1998-1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Can’t Change Me
Flutter Girl
Preaching the End of the World
Follow My Way
When I’m Down
Mission
Wave Goodbye
Moonchild
Sweet Euphoria
Disappearing One
Pillow of Your Bones
Steel Rain
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, harmonica
Alain Johannes – Guitars, Bass, Mandolin, Vocals
Natasha Shneider – Keyboards, Bass, Vocals
Josh Freese – DrumsEuphoria Morning by Chris Cornell

 

Cornell wrote all the lyrics to the songs, while Johannes and Shoeider composed the music on select tracks. The first of these is the opener
“Can’t Change Me”, which starts with a dramatic intro before quickly dissolving into the rock/waltz verse. The first single released from Euphoria Mourning, this opener features very melodic vocals over deliberative chord structure put forth in a pop/rock way. “Flutter Girl” follows with a slightly more alternative bent led by treated rhythms and guitar effects. This song originated during the Superunknown sessions, half a decade earlier. The introspective, acoustic ballad “Preaching the End of the World” is beautifully composed and produced with plenty of diverse textures and sound effects above the melancholy singer/songwriter core of the track, while “Follow My Way” is a moderate and deliberative rocker with some odd time signatures and a few upper gear’s of Cornell’s vocal intensity.

Next comes the bluesy jazzy club tune “When I’m Down”, featuring Cornell’s slightly crooning vocals along with light backing vocals. “Mission” reverts back to harder alternative rock, while “Wave Goodbye”, a tribute to the late great Jeff Buckley, is a slow and sloshy melodic blues tune. “Moon Child” cleverly adds country/psycedelic guitar leads to a moderate and consistent pop/rocker, followed by the acoustic “Sweet Euphoria” which features plenty of divergent chord structures.

Chris Cornell 1999

“Disappearing One” brings us back to a classic Soundgarden sound with great vocals above super-produced sound textures. “Pillow of Your Bones” has a unique title with a unique stylistic blend of traditional blues and Indo/Eastern elements along with fine execution of rhythmic elements by Josh Freese. With droning, slow alt/acoustic verses and choruses that have majestic vocals while maintaining tempo and feel, “Steel Rain” ends the original album at an unexpected place with an upbeat bass line, extra percussion and electronic effects accompanying the whining guitars. The later added “Sunshower” may be Cornell’s definitive solo work as an extraordinary melancholy romantic tune driven by a classical sounding dual acoustic soon topped by persistent modulating electric guitar. This song’s chord composition employs both moody descending and unique divergent patterns all to complement Cornell’s classic rock vocals.

While Euphoria Mourning sold over 75,000 in its first week reaching the Top 20 in both the US and Canada, the album ultimately proved commercially unsuccessful. Still, this album was critically acclaimed and acted as an important stepping stone between Cornell’s work with Soundgarden and the future group Audioslave, formed early in the new century.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa

Buy Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III

Joes Garage by Frank ZappaFrank Zappa is one of those musical figures that people either get or they don’t. If you happen to fall in the latter category and want to give his music another try, a good place to start would be Joe’s Garage. Zappa is very demanding. He makes little effort to be approachable. However this particular ‘project/object’ collection contains all of the Zappa benchmarks that his fans love: Musical virtuosity, social parody, pop satire, compositional complexity, stylistic diversity, crude lyrics and a wicked sense of humor. JOE’S GARAGE is a semi-political rock opera containing a variety of styles. But the primary focus on this particular outing is story-driven rock and roll in the tradition of The Who’s Tommy. Joe’s Garage, Act I and Acts II & III are release numbers 28 & 29 in Zappa’s 62-album discography.

1979 was a very productive year for Zappa. He released seven LPs’ worth of new material in the course of a year. Joe’s Garage was comprised of 3 records – Act I was released in September and Act II & Act III were released together two months later. This particular outing is a brilliant mix of stellar musicianship, social commentary, melodic pieces, scathing lyrics, guitar improvisation, detailed production and humor. It is highly creative, imaginative and above all, quite a bit of fun. Joe’s Garage is noted for its use of “Xenochrony”, a recording technique created by Zappa that takes guitar solos from older live recordings and overdubs them onto newer studio recordings to produce random musical coincidences. Zappa described this album as a stupid little story about how the government is going to do away with music.

Frank Zappa moved into Village Recorders on April 11, 1979 planning to record a couple of songs and leave. By the first of June, he and his entourage had completed a dozen tunes. According to one studio staffer, Zappa claimed to have exhausted his supply of written material, but asked to extend his stay nonetheless. “I’m going home and writing an opera this weekend,” he told the skeptical staff. The following Monday, he was back in the studio with Joe’s Garage. This concept piece wove the material Zappa had already recorded with other songs he’d written over the weekend.


Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III by Frank Zappa
Released: Act I released on September 17, 1979 (Zappa Records)
Acts II & III released on November 19, 1979 (Zappa Records)
Produced by: Frank Zappa
Recorded: Villiage Recorders, Hollywood, CA, April-August, 1979
Joe’s Garage, Act I
Act I, Side 1: Joe’s Exploits Act I, Side 2: Sex and Side Gigs
The Central Scrutinizer
Joe’s Garage
Catholic Girls
Crew Slut
Wet T-Shirt Nite
Toad-O Line
Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?
Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up
Scrutinizer Postlude
Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III
Act II, Side 1: The Closet Act II, Side 2: Prison
A Token of My Extreme
Stick It Out
Sy Borg
Dong Work for Yuda
Keep It Greasy
Outside Now
Act III, Side 1: Dystopian Society Act III, Side 2: Imaginary Guitar Notes
He Used to Cut the Grass
Packard Goose
Watermelon in Easter Hay
A Little Green Rosetta
Musicians
Frank Zappa – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
Warren Cuccurullo – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Denny Walley – Slide Guitar, Vocals
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
Tommy Mars – Keyboards
Arthur Barrow – Bass, Guitar
Patrick O’Hearn – Bass
Ed Mann – Percussion, Vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums, Combustible Vapors, Optometric Abandon
Jeff Hollie – Tenor Sax
Earle Dumler – Baritone Sax
Bill Nugent – Bass Sax
Craig Steward – Harmonica
Ike Willis, Dale Bozzio, Al Malkin, Terry Bozzio, and The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen – Vocals & Chorus

 

The rock opera starts with a spoken word narrative by “The Central Scrutinizer”. The narrator tells us what can happen if we choose a career in music. He warns us that it will not be an easy life if we chose to go down that path. The protagonist, Joe, doesn’t heed the government’s warning and sets out on his journey on the title track, “Joe’s Garage”. This song accurately describes a typical teenager’s first trip to his friends’ garage to jam with his buddies. The plot chronicles the journey from the first band practice to the eventual record deal, followed by changing musical trends, the subsequent loss of the record deal, and then nostalgia for the innocence of the old garage days.

Joe’s band starts getting their first gigs at church functions and Joe sings about the virtues of their original fans, the “Catholic Girls”, in this intricate drum-workout song with the 9/16 time signature breaks. Zappa name checks two members of his band, master drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, later of Missing Persons and Duran Duran fame. The story introduces a new character, Mary, who is the innocent “Catholic Girl” of the aforementioned song, and chronicles her ominous evolution in the next song; the raucous blues number “Crew Slut”. Portrayed by Dale Bozzio, a later founding member of Missing Persons. Mary is also the central figure in the following funk-rock-pop-samba, “Wet T-shirt Nite”. Even if the lyrics offend, there is always the brilliantly complex music chugging underneath. Mary’s character arc is now complete. This composition contains a marvelous Carlos Santana-like guitar jam outro.

He Used to Cut the Grass

Following the trajectory of Joe’s story so far, the next song asks the obvious question, “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” This is a purposely juvenile, AOR-type rock song with lavatory lyrics but with a complex bridge that reminds you of Genesis or King Crimson at their most bombastic. The song is quite the juxtaposition of 3 distinctly different styles that Zappa loves to combine to create his own unique genre. “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” is a semi-serious reggae song about a girl that seduced Joe then abandoned him after he developed feelings for her. Joe is getting pretty discouraged in this light, soulful ballad. This is really the only song on the record without ‘eyebrows’ on it. That is the term Zappa used to add his distinct personality to all of his music from synclavier solos to large orchestral pieces.

Frank Zappa Joes Garage Acts II and IIIActs II & III opens with “A Token of My Extreme”. This song has a gorgeous melody and an impossibly cool drum and bass section that people still study. JOE looks to find comfort from the toil of musical disappointments, relief from the heartache of broken relationships and a remedy from the onslaught of disease by joining a new age church – “The First Church of Appliantology”, owned by L. Ron Hoover (Scientology founder). With salvation promised to him, Joe goes to a dance club to celebrate his new found joy in the turgid disco song, “Stick It Out”. Partially sung in German, this is an upbeat dance song that pushes good taste to the limit (don’t play this for your mom!) Joe picks up a partner, “Sy Borg”, at the club and romances his new date over a quiet storm of funky reggae and trippy avant-jazz moog solos. This song may make you uncomfortable the first time around, but you’ll get used to it. It’s good for you.

The lifestyle finally caught up with him. Joe eventually got arrested for deviant behavior and met a man in jail named Bald-Headed John. The melody, rhythm section, production and imaginative lyrics in the song “Dong Work for Yuda” is Zappa at his peak. The puerile lyrics are 9th grade humor; also the way Zappa liked it. Drummer Terry Bozzio narrates in a made up language (based on the speech patterns of Zappa’s road manager) and the song is peppered with in-jokes from the band. It is impossible to feel gloomy while listening to this slow-paced, doo wop melody. I dare you. “Keep It Greasy” is Joe trying to adapt to a solitary life in jail over a drum beat that alternates between 19/8 and 21/8 making it ridiculously impossible for most humans to play or even tap their feet to the groove. Zappa often used funny or crude lyrics as a tool to get people to pay attention to his more complex serious music (Case in point – The considerable profits from Zappa’s 1982 comedy-rock song “Valley Girl” paid for his hugely expensive classical LPs. London Symphony Orchestra Recordings, Voumes 1 & 2).

In the alienation anthem, “Outside Now”, Joe dreams of being released from jail. This is an oft -covered song by Zappa enthusiasts. This one is in 11/4 and has a beautiful ostinato pattern that flows over the symmetrical vocal round at the end of the piece. At this point, a totalitarian twist is introduced to the story in “He Used to Cut the Grass”. While Joe was in jail, the government outlawed music in America (following Iran’s lead in 1979) to save us from depravity and to control the population. This song is somber and reflective and mostly instrumental guitar improvisation.

If you only listen to two songs on this record, they should be the next two. “Packard Goose” is Frank’s critique of rock journalism. Because he doesn’t have any instrument to play, Joe imagines music in his head in his jail cell. Then he imagines reviewers’ critiques of his imaginary music. Funny. The hidden meaning is that fans opinions matter, not the opinions of journalists that tell fans what is good and what isn’t. (Zappa had a hostile relationship with the rock press, even though they typically fawned over his work.) This piece is a top-tier composition with beautifully constructed complex music, thought-provoking lyrics, and a prog-rock instrumental section reminiscent of 70’s Return to Forever or Gentle Giant. Another amazing Vinnie Colaiuta workout is showcased on this track. This song has the oft-quoted, ‘Music is the Best’ poem that shows up on Zappa social media memes and T-shirts. Bitterness never sounded so righteously beautiful;

Maybe you thought I was the Packard Goose
Or the Ronald MacDonald of the nouveau-abstruse
Well f**k all them people, I don’t need no excuse
For being what I am. Do you hear me, then?
All them rock ‘n roll writers is the worst kind of sleaze
Selling punk like some new kind of English disease
Is that the wave of the future? Aw, spare me please!
Oh no, you gotta go
Who do you write for?
I wanna know
I believe you is the government’s whore
And keeping peoples dumb (I’m really dumb)
Is where you’re coming from
And keeping peoples dumb (I’m really dumb)
Is where you’re coming from
F**k all them writers with the pen in their hand
I will be more specific so they might understand
They can all kiss my ass
But because it’s so grand
They best just stay away. Hey, hey, hey
Hey, Joe, who did you b**w?
Moe pushed the button boy
And you went to the show
Better suck a little harder or the shekels won’t flow
And I don’t mean your thumb (Don’t mean your thumb)
So on your knees you bum
Just tell yourself it’s yum (Yourself it’s yum)
And suck it till you’re numb
Journalism’s kinda scary
And of it we should be wary
Wonder what became of Mary?
VOICE OF MARY’S VISION:
Hi! It’s me . . . the girl from the bus . . .
Remember? The last tour? Well . . .
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
MUSIC IS THE BEST . . .
Wisdom is the domain of the Wis (which is extinct)
Beauty is a French phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth neck ornament
Currently in resurgence . . .
JOE:
If you’re in the audience and like what we do
Well, we want you to know that we like you all too
But as for the sucker who will write the review
If his mind is prehensile (Mind is prehensile)
He’ll put down his pencil (Put down his pencil)
And have himself a squat
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
Give it all you got
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
Sit ‘n spin until you rot
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
He really needs to squat
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil) (Cosmic Utensil)
Now that I got that over with
I’ll just play my imaginary guitar again
Hey . . . hah . . . soundin’ pretty good there, me!
Ah . . . get down . . . UH!
Boy, what an imagination!
Love myself better than I love myself . . . I think . . .
What tone! Sounds like an Elegant Gypsy!
What is that? Musk? It’s hip!

“Watermelon in Easter Hay” is possibly the most beautiful instrumental that Zappa ever wrote. It’s a guitar melody, in the style of David Gilmore that Joe hears in his head but cannot play since he is still in jail. The expressive guitar line soars over a beat in 9/4 and builds to a climax with gongs, marimbas, chimes and mallets. This haunting emotional odyssey is atypical for Frank since his guitar playing is more commonly in the ‘mangle it, strangle it’ style of the solo section. Even Zappa’s harshest critics confessed that it was one of the most gorgeous pieces of music ever produced.

The final track, the goofy coda “A Little Green Rosetta”, tells of Joe’s decision to quit the music business in order to restore his sanity. He gets a new job making cupcakes at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (Zappa’s newly completed recording studio.) This pleases the Central Scrutinizer, who’s narrated the entire story up until this song. The song has a cast-party sing along from the band members and staff and concludes the story on a happy note.

Joe’s Garage was released at the mid-point of Zappa’s career and expanded his reach to a new generation of rock fans. The record peaked at number 27 on the Billboard charts. It has been called one of Zappa’s most important late ’70s works and overall political statements. Highly recommended for lovers of liberty. For his performance on Joe’s Garage, Vinnie Colaiuta was named ‘the most technically advanced drummer ever’ by Modern Drummer, which ranked the album as one of the top 25 greatest drumming performances of all time. If you are offended by George Carlin’s list of 7 dirty words, it’s best to skip this fine collection and check out Hot Rats, Zappa’s Grammy-winning, 1969 instrumental jazz-fusion album. No bad words on that one. Freedom of speech can get gross at times.

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”.
– Frank Zappa

Ron Simasek is a profession drummer, former member of The Badlees and current member of Gentlemen East, who has performed with dozens of artists and played on hundreds of recordings.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Into the Music by Van Morrison

Buy Into the Music

Into the Music by Van MorrisonVan Morrison completed his impressive 1970s output with his classic 11th studio album, Into the Music in 1979. The album features a large ensemble of musicians and singers to back Morrison’s distinctive, soulful and oft-improvised vocals, with many of the lyrics celebrating life, love and other positive themes. The album’s title was taken from a 1975 biography of Morrison by Ritchie Yorke, which is a play on the song title “Into the Mystic” from 1970’s Moondance album.

Moondance was Van Morrison’s first million selling album and it was quickly followed by a couple more albums which were critically and commercially successful, His Band and the Street Choir later in 1970 and Tupelo Honey in 1971. Both of those albums also produced hit singles but Morrison decided to break from that formula with a trio of meditative, poetic and experimental albums, Saint Dominic’s Preview in 1972, Hard Nose the Highway and Veedon Fleece in 1974. By this point the artist had been working almost non stop for nearly a decade, so he decided to take an extended hiatus. He returned in 1977 with the release of A Period of Transition, a collaboration with New Orleans legend Dr. John, followed by the synth-heavy album Wavelength in 1978.

Morrison wrote most of the songs for Into the Music while staying in a rural English village and would often compose while walking through the fields with his guitar. The album was recorded in early 1979 at the Record Plant in Sausalito, CA with co-producer/engineer Mick Glossop and released in the summer of that year.


Into the Music by Van Morrison
Released: August 1979 (Mercury)
Produced by: Mike Glossop & Van Morrison
Recorded: Record Plant, Sausalito, CA, 1979
Side One Side Two
Bright Side of the Road
Full Force Gale
Steppin’ Out Queen
Troubadours
Rolling Hills
You Make Me Feel So Free
Angeliou
And the Healing Has Begun
It’s All In the Game
You Know What They’re Writing About
Primary Musicians
Van Morrison – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Herbie Armstrong – Guitars, Vocals
Mark Jordan – Piano
David Hayes – Bass
Peter Van Hooke – Drums

 

One of the more upbeat tracks, “Bright Side of the Road”, opens the album. The song is a lyrical and musical celebration to its core and is both expertly performed and produced, even if its single release failed to reach the Top 40. “Full Force Gale” continues the upbeat trend but with a more country flavor due to the prolific fiddle by Toni Marcus and a slide guitar lead by Ry Cooder. The lyrics by Morrison are explicitly spiritual as he describes the feeling of encounters with “the Lord”.

“Steppin’ Out Queen” is a jazzy pop track featuring fine piano by Mark Jordan and a rich arrangement with brass and backing vocals are excellent additions to make this a rich arrangement which still leaves plenty of space for Morrison’s soulful vocals. “Troubadours” is a rather unique ballad with instrumentation that includes fanfare, flutes, and violin all over Jordan’s simple piano and the bass rhythms of David Hayes, while “Rolling Hills” is a pure Irish folk song with fiddle, mandolin and perfectly executed vocal delivery. The celebratory first side concludes with the melodic and pop-oriented “You Make Me Feel So Free”, a stellar example of well-produced late seventies sound, complete with a sax lead by Pee Wee Ellis.

Van Morrison

For this album, Morrison set out to “return to something deeper and once again take up the quest for music”, and this is most evident on the spontaneous and transcendent second side. On “Angeliou”, an otherwise very English folk song with harpsichord, the repetitive lyrics are beautifully delivered by Morrison’s summoning every vocal trick at his disposal, while later spoken word sections are accompanied by the distant, beautiful vocalizing by Katie Kissoon. “And the Healing Has Begun” is another Gospel ballad with a simple, rotating chord structure, leading to the climatic medley built on the 1951 cover “It’s All in the Game”, with a very relaxed and subtle unfolding of the song and arrangement. “You Know What They’re Writing About” is, essentially, the long outro to the previous track which offers Morrison a final opportunity for dramatic vocal gymnastics, where he fluctuates from a whisper to a crescendo.

Into the Music reached the Top 30 on the UK Charts and received widespread acclaim with some critics listing it as one of the year’s best albums. The release finished off a legendary decade of output for this artist who continues to perform 40 years later.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

‘Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread Panic

Buy ‘Til the Medicine Takes

Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread PanicThe 1999 release of ‘Til the Medicine Takes was Widespread Panic‘s sixth studio album and it finely displays the musical breadth of this Athens, Georgia based Southern rock/jam sextet in their prime. Here, the group refined their legendary live performances into a dozen succinct tracks which do well to maintain their diversity and dynamics. The result is a fine mixture of blues, country, Americana, psychedelia, and standard hard rock which is still a fresh and pleasant listen two decades later.

The origins of Widespread Panic date back to the early eighties when vocalist John Bell and guitarist Michael Houser formed a duo at the University of Georgia. Later on in the decade, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Domingo Ortiz joined to officially initiate the group Widespread Panic, named for panic attacks frequently experienced by Houser. Through these years the group developed a fusion of Southern rock, alt country and Grateful Dead-like improv techniques in their live shows. After producing an independent album called Space Wrangler, the group signed with Capricorn Records and released their self-titled debut in 1991. Soon the group expanded regionally and nationally and expanded their lineup by adding keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann in 1992. A series of subsequent studio releases followed through the mid 1990s, with the group releasing their much heralded live album, Light Fuse, Get Away, released in 1998 in conjunction with a free concert in their hometown of Athens Georgia.

‘Til the Medicine Takes was recorded at producer John Keane‘s studio in Athens, the same studio the group had previously used for Space Wrangler as well as their 1995 studio album Ain’t Life Grand. Keane brought in several guest musicians to contribute to several tracks on the album.


‘Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread Panic
Released: July 27, 1999 (Capricorn)
Produced by: John Keane
Recorded: Athens, GA, January 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Surprise Valley
Bear’s Gone Fishin’
Climb to Safety
Blue Indian
The Waker
Party at Your Mama’s House
Dyin’ Man
You’ll Be Fine
One Arm Steve
Christmas Katie
All Time Low
Nobody’s Loss
John Bell – Vocals, Guitar
Michael Houser – Guitar, Vocals
John Hermann – Keyboards, Vocals
Dave Schools – Bass
Todd Nance – Drums, Vocalss
Domingo S. Ortiz – Percussion

Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread Panic

 

The longest track on the album is the six-minute opener “Surprise Valley”, it slowly works its way into a groove through a long intro and guitar lead. Then, after a single verse enters another long break for riffing, guitar lead, percussion interlude and organ lead before a second verse leads nicely to diffused outro. On “Bear’s Gone Fishin'”, the funky jazz with ethereal keys sets the stage for the verses with baritone vocals by Bell and choruses that are much more rock-oriented to make this song very interesting and entertaining, While most songs are collectively composed by the group, the exception on this album is “Climb to Safety”, written by Jerry Joseph and Glen Esparanza, with a heavier sound built on a rock riff and artistically strained vocals.

With the lyric that gives ‘Til the Medicine Takes its title, “Blue Indian” is folksy with classic country elements throughout and driven mainly by Hermann’s piano. The tightest and best executed recording thus far, this song also features a lazy guitar lead by Houser which works with the overall classic American sound with plenty of subtle sonic candy. “The Waker” follows with an upbeat Western style complete with banjo provided by Keane, while “Party at Your Mama’s House” is a pleasant and mellow instrumental built on acoustic and layered electric riffing and fine drum/percussion backing throughout. Changing pace once again, “Dyin’ Man” is a funky track with looped rap-record scratches and other background effects in contrast to the rock guitars and harmonized vocals, while “You’ll Be Fine” is a short, mellow, sad ballad with exquisite vocal arrangements and terrific sonic execution at every level, topped by the tone of Houser’s guitar lead.

Widespread Panic in 1999

A real gem from this album is “One Arm Steve”, featuring simple, layered riffs and accent notes joined by Schools’ effective bass and Hermann’s animated piano throughout. The double vocal effects deliver the storyteller lyrics, which tell the story of a junky’s adventures and hardships with an array of supporting characters ranging from baseball legend Willie Mays to the mysterious title character. “Christmas Katie” further expands the group’s array of styles as a New Orleans-flavored track featuring convincing vocal delivery and an array of guest players known as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. “All Time Low” is a pure Southern rocker highlighted by the excited, Gospel-influenced vocals of guest Dottie Peoples in the song’s coda, while the duo percussion attack by Nance and Ortiz takes a break for the stripped down closer, “Nobody’s Loss”, a pure acoustic country waltz with rich vocal harmonies and Keane providing pedal steel guitar.

While ‘Til the Medicine Takes only peaked at #68 on the Billboard 200 chart, it was an overall success for this mainly non-commercial group. As the new century began, Widespread Panic developed their own label Widespread Records for the follow-up album Don’t Tell the Band in 2001. Sadly, that would be Michael Houser’s final studio album with the group as he died from pancreatic cancer in 2002.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.