The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion
by The Black Crowes

Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes With the follow-up to their blockbuster 1990 debut, The Black Crowes took a more rootsy and soulful approach with The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion. That debut, Shake Your Money Maker, sold over 5 million copies in its first two years and sent the band on a near-constant tour playing over 350 shows in a year and a half. The new record by the band featured Marc Ford on lead guitar, who replaced Jeff Cease after his departure the year before. This, along with the addition of a full-time keyboardist in Eddie Harsch and a strong presence of female backing vocals gave the Black Crowes room to explore, improvise, and jam with the new material.

The album borrowed its title from a popular book of hymns from the nineteenth century and was suggested by lead singer Chris Robinson. First published by William Walker in 1835, the original The Southern Harmony & Musical Companion was often the sole source of musical literacy for many rural Americans.

The core of the Black Crowes is their rhythm section, lead by Chris’s brother Rich Robinson on guitar who forges the cool, fresh-sounding grooves that anchor the band’s sound. Johnny Colt lays down the solid bass while Steve Gorman provides a very effective, assertive, and melodic form of drumming. The album was produced by George Drakoulia, who gave every instrument a sharp and clear voice, while embracing the looseness of the compositions.

 


Southern Harmony & Musical Companion by The Black Crowes
Released: May 12, 1992 (Def American)
Produced by: George Drakoulias
Recorded: Various Locations, 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Sting Me
Remedy
Thorn In My Pride
Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
Sometimes Salvation
Hotel Illness
Black Moon Creeping
No Speak No Slave
My Morning Song
Time Will Tell
Chris Robinson – Lead Vocals
Rich Robinson – Guitars
Marc Ford – Guitars
Eddie Harsch – Keyboards
Johnny Colt – Bass
Steve Gorman– Drums
Southern Musical & Harmony Companion by The Black Crowes

 

The album contains nine new songs written by the Robinson brothers, along with a Bob Marley cover “Time Will Tell”, which closes the album. Just as the band made a signature song out of the Otis Redding cover “Hard To Handle” on the previous album, they make the Marley song their own by rearranging the reggae into a more New Orleans sound. Unfortunately it does not work nearly as well as the previous cover.

The essence of the Black Crowes’ sound is their revival of the solid roots rock of the 1970s along with just enough chord changes, tempo shifts, and the decor of feedback and other effects including catchy lyrics. This is evident early in the album, starting with “Sting Me”. This album opener became a hit for the group, reaching number one on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart, while the next track “Remedy” had even greater success. This second track has a good hook in the beginning and evolves as the song goes on, never getting stuck in the same rut as some of the other songs.

“Thorn in My Pride” is one of the finest songs on the album and also sets the template for the type of approach the band took on many tracks here – a laid back, slow, and melodic build which introduces the instruments seperately above the picked out acoustic notes gradually building into an extended, 6-minute hymn which showcases all that the band is capable of doing. “Hotel Illness” is another strong track with a Stones-like riff and bluesy elements throughout.

While Southern Harmony contains a strong collection of songs, which bridge the metamorphasis between the concise pop/rock of Shake Your Money Maker and the more jam-oriented tracks of their future records, the album at times seems too even, with not enough peaks and valleys to make it an interesting adventure for the listener. This is true for the album as a whole as well as for many individual tracks. It would have been a respectable debut had it come first, but it really didn’t raise the bar for musical excellence.

~
Karyn Albano
 


1992 Images

 

Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen

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Nebraska by Bruce SpringsteenBruce Springsteen‘s 1982 solo album Nebraska was an original “demo” that found unexpected life as a major label recording by a major label artist. The tracks for this sparsely-recorded album were recorded on a cassette 4-track recorder in Springsteen’s home as demos intended to be recorded with the E Street Band. The band did start recording the full-production versions of the songs in the studio but Springsteen and his engineers later decided that the “haunting folk” essence of the original demos best suited the dark themes of the compositions. So the original demos themselves were used on the album Nebraska. This was not an easy task, as the original demos were not recorded at optimal volume or with optimal noise reduction, and it was extremely difficult to transfer such recordings to vinyl, But with the help of newer mastering technologies, the finished product found the right balance of raw legitimacy and sonic competency that would ultimately become one of Springsteen’s highest regarded efforts.

According to Springsteen, he wanted to approach his next album differently by having many songs written and arranged previously, rather than working the writing process out in the studio;

I decided that what always took me so long in the studio was the writing. I would get in there, and I just wouldn’t have the material written, or it wasn’t written well enough, and so I’d record for a month, get a couple of things, go home write some more, record for another month — it wasn’t very efficient. So this time, I got a little Teac four-track cassette machine, and I said, I’m gonna record these songs, and if they sound good with just me doin’ ’em, then I’ll teach ’em to the band…”

During these same demo sessions, Springsteen recorded tracks that would be held over for his 1984 blockbuster Born In the U.S.A., including the title track, “Downbound Train”, and “Working On the Highway”. Fans have long speculated whether Springsteen’s full-band recording of the album (nicknamed “Electric Nebraska”) will ever surface, as these recordings have been held in tight confinement for 30 years.

 


Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen
Released: September 30, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Bruce Springsteen
Recorded: at Springsteen’s Colts Neck, NJ bedroom, January 3, 1982
Side One Side Two
Nebraska
Atlantic City
Mansion On the Hill
Johnny 99
Highway Patrolman
State Trooper
Used Cars
Open All Night
My Father’s House
Reason to Believe
Musician
Bruce Springsteen – Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica, Mandolin, Organ, Percussion

 

Some of the songs were inspired by left-wing historian Howard Zinn and his book A People’s History of the United States. The influence could be heard in “Mansion On the Hill”, a metaphor for the life of the wealthy that is unattainable by the working class who are locked out by the “hardened steel gates”, and “Johnny 99”, the story of a man who lost his job and then went crazy with a gun. This latter song with a nice boogie guitar has lyrics which explain the desperation of a man with debts no honest man could pay.

Nebraska got its title from a 1950s killing spree in and around Lincoln, Nebraska, by 19-year-old Charles Starkweather and his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate. The opening title song contains dark lyrics, telling a story from the point of view of a murderer in a matter of fact way – not an emotional plea but simply a statement of facts. This makes the song all the more stark, bleak, and chilling in that we are always searching for reasons why people do bad things, but in this case, the criminal says there is just meanness in this world. The writing style for this track in particular was influenced by Flannery O’Connor, who Springsteen had been recently reading.

“Atlantic City” is the best track on this album (as well as its most popular). It tells the story of a young couple relocating because the young man grew tired of trying unsuccessfully to make an honest living and is taking a job with the mob in Atlantic City. It was written right around the time when the city was looking towards big-time gaming to save the city in the early eighties. Springsteen incorporated some real-life figures into this fictional song, the “chicken man” was mafia boss Philip Testa, who was killed by a bomb planted at his Philadelphia house in March 1981.
 

 
“Highway Patrolman” continues the themes of crimes and conscience in the story of brothers – one a lawman, one a criminal. The story is once again told in the first person with the lawman constantly struggling to keep his brother out of trouble and in the end letting him escape after he kills a man in a barroom fight. Musically and melodically, this is one of the most entertaining compositions on the album.

I’ve found that the songs “State Trooper” and “Open All Night”, yet more stories of desperation are linked in a way. “State Trooper” contains a guitar pattern which emulates the recurring sound of the road. The protagonist doesn’t have a license or registration, but he is driving late at night on a deserted highway just saying a prayer that his problems don’t get bigger by being stopped by a cop. “Open All Night” contains a similar beat, with the guitar a little more jangly in the fashion of of old time rock and roll. With nearly the same scenario of a guy driving alone through Jersey, but with more optimistic anticipation of seeing the girl he just recently met. The closing song “Reason To Believe”, finishes the album with a more upbeat note.

Bruce Springsteen would try to recreate the dark simplicity of Nebraska in 1995 when he released The Ghost of Tom Joad, album very similar musically and lyrically. However, it was impossible to recreate the happy accident that brought this simple casette demo, recorded in a New Jersey bedroom on a Sunday afternoon in January 1982, to the ears of millions.

~

1982 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1982 albums.

 

Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall Crenshaw, 1982Marshall Crenshaw writes songs that could be described as simple, traditional pop/rock songs with a hint of Rockabilly in the tradition of Buddy Holly and early Beatles. In fact, Crenshaw got his first break playing John Lennon in the off-Broadway production of the musical Beatlemania in the 1970s. All the while, Crenshaw was writing and recording original songs. In 1981 rockabilly artist Robert Gordon recorded Crenshaw’s “Someday, Someway” and scored a minor hit. Encouraged, Crenshaw wrote and recorded a full length LP with a three piece band. This eponymous album was well received by critics and fellow musicians when it was released in 1982.

The album spent six months on the charts peaking at #50 and selling over 400,000 copies. These are respectable stats for a debut album, but it was hardly a blockbuster. So why is this album significant? In a sea of artists trying to be the next Michael Jackson, Crenshaw just did his thing. At that time when he was being compared to the heavily synthesized music considered cutting edge, he may have sounded a bit old fashioned, but his songs have stood up over time and still sound fresh today.

A good song can be a reflection of what the writer is thinking, feeling or experiencing . Marshall Crenshaw manages to do that perfectly on this album. The songs are not complicated, they are put together with three musicians and accentuated with overdubs. There really is a beauty in simplicity when it’s done well. The lyrics are straightforward and forthright and while there is sometimes a bit of sarcasm, they are clever and always upbeat. Crenshaw’s style was not necessarily the “next big thing” in pop music, but he created one great album filled with refreshing, smart pop tunes that stood out from the rest.
 


Marshall Crenshaw by Marshall Crenshaw
Released: April 28, 1982 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Richard Gottehrer & Marshall Crenshaw
Recorded: Record Plant, New York, January 1982
Side One Side Two
There She Goes Again
Someday, Someway
Girls
I’ll Do Anything
Rockin’ Around in N.Y.C.
The Usual Thing
She Can’t Dance
Cynical Girl
Mary Anne
Soldier Of Love (Lay Down Your Arms)
Not For Me
Brand New Lover
Band Musicians
Marshall Crenshaw – Guitars, Vocals
Chis Donato – Bass | Robert Crenshaw – Drums

 
The album opens with “There She Goes Again” a melodic tune with a catchy chorus ” Will her heart ever be satisfied, there she goes again with another guy.” This is followed by the most recognized song on the album and Crenshaw’s only Top 40 hit, “Someday Someway”. Here we have another infectious melody and chorus that gets stuck in your head long after the music stops, showing how Crenshaw can craft a simple song into a pop masterpiece.
 

 
Later on the first side comes a pair of power pop tunes – “Girls, Girls Girls” and “I’ll Do Anything For You”, which are simple love songs that almost anyone can relate to. “Rockin Around In N.Y.C.” has a great rockabilly beat to help paint a euphoric scene of chasing down a dream.

There are a couple of songs here that bear an eerie resemblance to rock legend Buddy Holly. So much so that they may fool those who don’t know any better into thinking that it actually is the Crickets. The strongest of these is “Cynical Girl”, which starts out with a jangly Holly-ish melody and adds Crenshaw’s crisp, bouncy vocal settling into a steady rhythm with some cool lyrics;

“Well I hate TV, there’s gotta be somebody other than me who’s ready to write it off immediately…”

To date, Crenshaw has recorded nine more studio albums since his 1982 debut, but he has never quite reached the same level of popularity. However, several of his songs were covered through the years by many talented artists, a validation of Marshall Crenshaw’s songwriting talent.

~
Karyn Albano
 

1982 Images

 

 

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

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Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex PistolsThe ongoing tradition of rock n roll has always been to push conventional boundaries and be a voice for the youth. In the 1950s, Elvis dared to sway his hips in a “scandalous” fashion. In the early sixties, The Beatles grew their hair “long” by fashioning their mop tops. Later in the sixties, artists like Jim Morrison pushed the envelope onstage. Through the early seventies rock stars dressed in freakish ways and the world had become accustomed to the hedonistic drug and alcohol-laden lifestyle that was the rock and roll world. But by the mid seventies what was left to do in showcasing shocking rebelliousness? Enter the Sex Pistols.

This short-lived band turned the rock world on its ear by managing to be irreverent and creative all at the same time. Although they ranted about living for the present, they were actually forging the future on a daily basis. They lived for the moment like no one else – whatever felt good at the time was what they did and whatever absurd thought came to mind is what they said. This is a classic youth rebellion, but the Sex Pistols took it to an absurdly unrefined level. In their wake, spawned the new genre of punk rock along with several sub-genres which rippled through pop culture for several decades.

Although this London band had roots back to the early seventies, they didn’t really get much attention until 1976 when they added lead vocalist Johnny Rotten, who would perform crazy antics on and off the stage with a wild vocalization style. But the band also had some musical credentials, led by guitarist Steve Jones the band had developed into a tight live act. The instrumentalists experimented with overload, feedback and distortion which accented their overall attitude. By late 1976, the Sex Pistols were signed to the major EMI label and entered the recording studio.

However, a profanity laced tirade by Jones on live television, a vomit and spit fest at Heathrow Airport, and other shock incidents wore thin with the label as well as bassist Glen Matlock, who left the band and was replaced by Rotten’s friend and Sid Vicious in early 1977 with virtually no experience at all on his new instrument, the bass guitar. Although Vicious would ultimately become the most famous (or infamous) Sex Pistol, he only played on one track of their debut Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Steve Jones played most of the bass parts on this one and only studio album .
 


Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols
Released: October 27, 1977 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Chris Thomas & Bill Price
Recorded: Wessex Sound, London, October 1976-August 1977
Side One Side Two
Holidays In the Sun
Bodies
No Feelings
Liar
God Save the Queen
Problems
Seventeen
Anarchy In the UK
Submission
Pretty Vacant
New York
EMI
Group Musicians
Johnny Rotten – Lead Vocals
Steve Jones – Guitars, Bass, Vocals
Paul Cook – Drums
Glen Matlock – Bass
Sid Vicious– Bass

 
The album contains fresh guitars and nicely layered tracks, with simple driving drumlines by Paul Cook. The production is almost slick, with Rotten’s vocals cutting throw with a quasi rap/chant rather than traditional singing. There is nothing at all complicated about this music and there aren’t groundbreaking musical techniques or virtuoso performances here. The irreverence of this music is what sets it apart. The music
is short and to the point with not much more to it.

However, there are some musically rewarding moments on the album, starting with the opener “Holidays In the Sun”, with a musical intro which sounds similar to material Mott the Hoople, at least until the the vocals start. The second side contains the gem “Submission” with a good beat, hook, and almost melodic vocals.

“God Save the Queen” is not so much a message as an attitude; “we will be irreverent just because we can…” The scabrous lyrics prompted widespread outcry and an unintended marketing boom for the band as the song was released to coincide with the height of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. The single reach number two in the UK, with many conspiracy theorists claimimg that it was actually number one but the chart had been rigged to prevent a spectacle.

“Anarchy in UK” is most famous for its sneering opening lyric “I am the anti-Christ” and became the defacto punk anthem, labeled by some as “the clarion call of a generation.” It contains an interesting, decending guitar riff by Jones and some of the best playing by the band as a whole.

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols is not influential for being cutting-edge music but more for simply cutting-edge attitude. It was a true spark of fire that burned in a flash. By January 1978, the Sex Pistols split and this ever-so-short chapter of rock history was concluded.

~

1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

A Trick Of the Tail and
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis

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Buy Wind & Wuthering

A Trick of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering by GenesisWe love Genesis here at Classic Rock Review. Although, this is certainly not evident by our treatment of the band so far in this inaugural year. We’ve had four previous opportunities to cover Genesis albums during our look at four classic years but passed on each of those albums (Trespass in 1971, Abacab in 1981, Invisible Touch in 1986, and We Can’t Dance in 1991). Well, today is an opportunity for some make up as we will do a double review of Genesis’ two 1976 releases A Trick Of the Tail and Wind & Wuthering.

These two albums mark Peter Gabriel‘s departure and drummer Phil Collins debut as the group’s lead singer. These are also the only two albums where Genesis is a four piece band. They were a five piece with Gabriel and would become a three piece in the future following the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett.

The band had searched long for a replacement for Gabriel (some claiming as many as 400 auditions were conducted) all while they wrote and recorded the instrumental tracks for what would become A Trick Of the Tail. Collins provided a vocal “guide” so these candidates could become familiar with their potential vocal role for this material, but no one was sufficient for the job. After briefly considering putting the album out as a pure instrumental, the band decided that Collins should be the new permanent vocalist, although he was initially reluctant to do so.

Critical expectations were low leading up the release of A Trick Of the Tail in early 1976. Hence, the album’s quality and originality were a pleasant surprise to all. It was although the four remaining members had a point to prove – that they could continue successfully without Gabriel – and they proved it brilliantly. Collins demonstrated that he is an excellent singer by staying with in the tonal range of Gabriel while still exploring his own territory vocally. The songwriting credits extend to everyone, making the album’s composition a true group effort. They stayed true to the Genesis legacy while evolving ever so slightly towards a new, modern sound. In musical direction, the album is an impressionist piece of art rock, using storytelling with and without words. The lyrics are like fairy tales or fables and the music makes you envision scenery much as an opera.

With Wind & Wuthering the band stayed true with the basic formula and philosophy as A Trick Of the Tail. However, it feels a bit more forced sounding less fresh than its predecessor. This is especially true on the second side where the band seemed to be making one last try at constructing an art piece in the fashion of their earlier albums. But, most of the songs sound under developed. That being said, Wind & Wuthering does have some brilliant moments, especially when it comes to the songs that open and close the album.

 


A Trick Of the Tail by Genesis
Released: February 2, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Trident Studios, London, October-November 1975
Side One Side Two
Dance On a Volcano
Entangled
Squonk
Mad Man Moon
Robbery, Assault, & Battery
Ripples
A Trick Of the Tail
Los Endos
Wind & Wuthering by Genesis
Released: December 23, 1976 (Virgin)
Produced by: David Hentschel and Genesis
Recorded: Relight Studios, Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands, September-October 1976
Side One Side Two
Eleventh Earl of Mar
One For the Vine
Your Own Special Way
Wot Gorilla?
All in a Mouse’s Night
Blood On the Rooftops
Unquiet Slumbers For the Sleepers…
…In That Quiet Earth
Afterglow
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Phil Collins – Lead Vocals, Drums, Percussion
Steve Hackett – Guitars
Tony Banks – Piano, Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars

 

One of the fascinating qualities about A Trick Of the Tail, is how each song is so entirely different from the previous one. Some may consider this to be non cohesive, but we feel it enhances the listening experience by presenting the talents of these musicians in one package. “Dance On a Volcano” is the most complete group composition on the album. With a minute long intro that sets the sound scape, a measured, plodding tempo during the two verses moves into a frantic pace during the futuristic section that drives the song on a tangent towards its conclusion. The message of the song is when faced with an ugly, volatile challenge, you need to attack the situation like a hero would and dive right into the fire and fight. The song reprises during the album’s closing instrumental “Los Endos”, a foray into the world of jazz fusion. During the closing fadeout, the band pays homage to their former lead singer as Collins recites a few lines from “Supper’s Ready” off of 1972’s Foxtrot, an epic song closely associated with Peter Gabriel.

Steve Hackett’s “Entangled” has an ethereal musical soundscape, like an old English folk song. The lyrics juxtapose the peaceful sleep induced by anesthesia and the dreams of flying over the landscape until the song drifts towards a haunting instrumental section at the end. As a counter piece on the second side, Mike Rutherford‘s “Ripples” is a beautiful but sad ballad with fine melodies during the chorus that lament old age and dying –

Sail away, ripples never come back, they’ve gone to the other side…”

Keyboardist Tony Banks contributed the most compositions on A Trick Of the Tail. “Mad Man Moon” is a piano ballad with strings that blossoms into something almost theatrical, like an opera or performance art. “Squonk” is the first heavy, rock sounding release of the “new” Genesis. Full of hooks and catchy melodies, it retells the English legend of the squonk, a sad creature which roams about wallowing in misery and then melts away to tears once captured. Banks also wrote the album’s predominant “pop” songs.

The upbeat title song “A Trick Of the Tail” focuses on a “beast” character who leaves his own kingdom and enters the world of humans. He is captured and put on display in a freak show after his captors refuse to believe in his kingdom, which he claims is covered in gold. “Robbery, Assault, and Battery” is an entertaining song which moves from section to section, exploring many different time signatures and melodies. Both of these songs had promotional videos made, a forecast of the music world a half decade later with the advent of MTV.
 

 
Wind & Wuthering begins with a seven and a half minute mini-suite called “Eleventh Earl of Mar”, a good jam lead by Rutherford’s keys with and interesting middle section led by the folksy motifs of Hackett. This piece feels like a combination of several songs off The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and refers back to an historical English figure and events. Banks’ “One For the Vine” is a nearly ten minute piano tune with fine vocals by Collins. Sounding more like 80’s era Genesis, this piece morphs into a mellow, program-music-like piece before breaking out into a wild, percussive upbeat section.

Mike Rutherford’s “Your Own Special Way” is the plainest forecast of the new pop-ier direction that the band would pursue as a trio in the late seventies and through the eighties. A waltz, lead by a strumming, 12-string riff the song breaks into a full-fledged soft love song during chorus. It later goes into a gratuitous electric piano part that seems to do nothing but eat up clock, showing that the band was, in some sense, just trying to get through this album. “Wot Gorilla?” concludes the first side as a basic yet interesting instrumental.

Genesis in 1976

The second side of Wind & Wuthering sees the band attempting to return to Gabriel-era theatrics, but falling just a bit short in this quest. “All In A Mouse’s Night” is a play involving a couple, a cat, and a mouse, while “Blood On the Rooftops” starts with a nice, classical sounding guitar and contains fine overall instrumentation, but the song as a whole doesn’t quite reach its potential. The album concludes with a three song medley, the first two of which are average but interesting instrumentals. “Afterglow” concludes it all with a beautiful and simple approach that offers a melodic conclusion to Genesis’ second album of 1976.

With our previous two presentations of twin album reviews (Alice Cooper in 1971 and Guns n Roses in 1991), the material was close to even in quality and importance. However, this is not quite the case here as A Trick Of the Tail, which we consider a classic, is decidedly superior to Wind & Wuthering, which may be reserved for dedicated Genesis fans.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1976 albums.

 

Revolver by The Beatles

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Revolver by The BeatlesAs many times as I’ve heard someone say they love The Beatles, I have heard someone else say they think they are overrated. To a generation of listeners raised in the digital era, this lack of appreciation may be understandable. It is like trying to explain what people did to entertain themselves before every home had a television. The genius of the Beatles lies in their innovation. Their songs are tangible evidence of what was possible when you broke the rules of accepted songwriting styles and production techniques. What they produced nearly half a century ago on analog tape with limited tracks stands the test of time. It remains relevant even in today’s age of digital production, seemingly limitless tracks, and computer aided sound engineering.

Due to their unprecedented and phenomenal success, The Beatles had a license to kill. By the end of summer 1966, the band stopped touring all together. Their primary focus would be recording albums as the individual members settled into domestic life in England. While Rubber Soul, released in December 1965, kicked off the Beatles evolution from four mop tops playing simple guitar based pop/rock songs to ventures with ethnic instruments and a folk rock sound, Revolver pushed the band into a new direction with an eclectic mix of sounds spun together in unconventional ways that shouldn’t have worked. Not only did it work brilliantly, it laid the groundwork for the future of sound production. The album also marks the beginning of more individualistic styles in the band’s songwriting. Like in the past, most of the songs are credited to “Lennon/McCartney”, but on Revolver the songs are more distinctly Paul McCartney or more distinctly John Lennon.

Before getting into the nuts and bolts of this review of Revolver, it is important to realize that there were two different versions of this album. It was customary at this point in the international music business to release a UK version of an album as well as an altered US release with less songs and jumbled sequence. Revolver was not released in the US in its present form until the release of the digital CD in 1987. This was when it was settled that the UK versions were the “official” Beatles albums, so this is the version we have reviewed.


Revolver by The Beatles
Released: August 5, 1966 (Capitol)
Produced by: George Martin
Recorded: Abbey Road Studios, London, April-June, 1966
Side One Side Two
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
I’m Only Sleeping
Love You To
Here, There, and Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said, She Said
Good Day Sunshine
And Your Bird Can Sing
For No One
Doctor Robert
I Want to Tell You
Got to Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows
Band Musicians
John Lennon – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Synths, Vocals
Paul McCartney – Bass, Guitar, Piano, Percussion, Vocals
George Harrison – Guitars, Sitar, Percussion, Vocals
Ringo Starr – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album kicks off with George Harrison’s “Taxman”, inspired by the shockingly high income taxes paid by the band and other high earners in Great Britain – sometimes as high as 95%. It is a political song that takes a direct shot at Harold Wilson, the British Labour Prime Minister, and Edward Heath, Britain’s Conservative Leader of the Opposition. This was a very bold move for the times. Like “Taxman”, there are several straight-forward rock/pop songs on Revolver, molded in the Beatles’ mid-60s, “Swinging London” style. These include Lennon’s guitar driven “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “Doctor Robert”, and McCartney’s uplifting “Good Day Sunshine”. But the heart of the album is built from multiple unconventional songs.

“Eleanor Rigby” consists of layers of strings and vocals. The stark instrumentation and arrangement set the scene perfectly for the tale of the ‘lonely people” in the song. It is noteworthy that this is a song where no Beatle plays any instrument, just McCartney’s lead locals and backing vocals by the other band members. The music is driven by a string octet arranged by producer George Martin. McCartney also wrote “For No One”, a mellow song featuring the writer playing clavichord and a famous horn solo played by guest Alan Civil, and “Here, There, and Everywhere” which showcases his knack for writing and arranging stunningly beautiful melodies.

Got To Get You Into My Life by The BeatlesMcCartney’s “Got to Get You into My Life” was influenced by the Motown sound with extensive use of brass. The song was not released as a single in the US until 1976, ten years after Revolver and six years after the Beatles disbanded, and amazingly, it became a top ten hit at that time. Harrison’s “Love You To” is a nod to his fascination with Indian music featuring the sitar front and center, which was used previously on “Norwegian Wood” from Rubber Soul, but is more famously used here. Harrison’s third and final composition on the album is the piano-driven “I Want To Tell You”, a far more traditional song with lyrics about his difficulty expressing himself.

John Lennon wrote “I’m Only Sleeping”, an odd stroll through a state (most likely drug induced) between being awake and being asleep. The backwards guitars add to the confused and muddled feeling of John Lennon’s vocals. “She Said, She Said” includes lyrics taken almost verbatim from a conversation between Lennon and actor Peter Fonda while they were under the influence of LSD in California in 1965. During a conversation, Fonda said “I know what it’s like to be dead,” because as a boy he had almost died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The Beatles in 1966

The most groundbreaking song on this album from a technical aspect is the psychedelic final song, “Tomorrow Never Knows”. The lyrics were inspired by Timothy Leary’s book, “The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead”. Musically, the drone-like song included such groundbreaking techniques as reverse guitar, processed vocals, and looped tape effects. The elaborate recording, which included several simultaneous tape machines and creative processing of Lennon’s vocals, was conducted by engineer Geoff Emerick.

The light and childlike “Yellow Submarine” was written to provide Ringo Starr his token lead vocal for Revolver. With the help of all band members and the Abbey Road production team, overdubbed stock sound effects from the studios’ tape library were used to add the memorable soundscape to this famous song.

Revolver is considered by many critics to be one of the top albums of all time. It marked the beginning of the second half of the Beatles’ career, when they produced a string of highly influential, classic albums right up to the very end of their storied run.

~

1966 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1966 albums.

Luck of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt It had taken nearly two decades for Bonnie Raitt to achieve the commercial success that critics had long felt she would achieve. That success came with Raitt’s 1989 album Nick of Time, her tenth album overall. She followed this up with the 1991 album Luck of the Draw, an even more popular release which has sold close to 8 million copies in the United States alone to date. The album spawned many radio-friendly hits and introduced Raitt to a general pop audience. This is a bit ironic in that Raitt’s claim to fame had long been as an outside-the-mainstream female blues performer who uniquely played signature bottleneck slide. Although some of this legacy cascaded into Luck of the Draw, it wasn’t quite the front and center element which made this album successful.

While in college in the late 1960s, Raitt became enthralled with the blues and eventually played alongside such established blues legends as Howlin’ Wolf, Sippie Wallace, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. In the Fall of 1970, a reporter from Newsweek caught her act at a nightclub in New York City and the subsequent article spawned much interest in Raitt from major recording labels. She recorded her debut album in 1971 and during the 1970s released a series of roots-influenced albums which incorporated elements of blues, rock, folk and country. By the mid 1980s however, her sales began to slump and it appeared that her run was over when she made this dramatic commercial comeback.


Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt
Released: June 25, 1991 (Capitol)
Produced by: Don Was & Bonnie Rait
Recorded: Ocean Way Recordings & Capitol Studios, Los Angeles, Spring 1991
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Something to Talk About
Good Man, Good Woman
I Can’t Make You Love Me
Tangled and Dark
Come to Me
No Business
One Part Be My Lover
Not the Only One
Papa Come Quick (Jody and Chico)
Slow Ride
Luck Of the Draw
All At Once
Bonnie Raitt – Guitars, Piano, Vocals
Turner Stephen Bruton – Guitars
Bruce Hornsby – Piano, Keyboards
James “Hutch” Hutchinson – Bass
Curt Bisquera – Drums

Buy Luck Of the Draw by Bonnie Raitt

With Raitt taking writing credit for only four songs on Luck of the Draw, and none of these “hits”, this album was created mainly around her talent as a performer and collaborator. The down side of this method is that while it has her face and voice throughout, it is not a personal look into the artist.

“Something to Talk About” was written by Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, who has written for Ann Murray, Emmylou Harris and Cher. The song was actually rejected by Ann Murray’s producers her own album Something to Talk About. Raitt’s guitar work on this pleasant, bouncy pop song makes it an interesting listen and a way to kickoff the album out with some sass .

The duo, “Good Man, Good Woman” with Delbert McClinton is a predictable pop song with a steady back beat accented by McClinton’s harmonica. This is followed by “I Can’t Make you Love Me”, perhaps Raitt’s biggest hit on this record. Her voice is understated while she hits all the right notes. It is the bare simplicity and honesty of her voice against the soft piano played by Bruce Hornsby that give this song it’s universal appeal. How much more honest can lyrics be, “I can’t make you love me if you don’t” – a simple truth to which almost any listener can relate. The remainder of the album’s “hits” – “Slow Ride” and “Not the Only One” – are also pop songs that may have been hits performed by other artists, but find a happy home in this collection.

The songs that Raitt wrote herself include “Tangled and Dark”, a jazzy song with a cool sax interlude and “Come to Me”, which is drenched in Caribbean rhythms and gutsy lyrics like “I ain’t looking for a man Baby can’t stand a little shaky ground/He’ll give me fire and tenderness/And got the guts to stick around. The most insightful and heartfelt performance is the album’s closer, “All At Once”, which offers a glimpse into the difficulties of a family going through a divorce. The anger and confusion of trying to come to terms with damaged relationships penned in lyrics such as “Looks to me there’s lots more broken than anyone can really see/Why the angels turn their backs on some is just a mystery to me.”

Record companies had been trying to make a superstar out of Bonnie Raitt for years. They did not achieve success until they started capitalizing on her assets – her expressive vocals and her guitar skills while using collaborators in pursuit of commercial success. The resulting album drops Bonnie Raitt the folksy blues singer guitar player into a pillow of pop perfection.

~
Karyn Albano

1991 Images

Strong Persuader by Robert Cray

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Strong Persuader by Robert Cray The 1980’s music scene is best remembered by most people as a time when synthesized sounds ruled the radio waves and the glitzy MTV videos of hair bands and rap and hip hop artists were all the rage. In this unlikely era of technology driven pop, Robert Cray helped rein in the appreciation of a new generation for the blues. Some have criticized his blend of blues, soul and rock as a homogenization of the blues but his contemporary style was easily accessible and entertaining to a wide audience. His Gammy winning 1986 release Strong Persuader is credited with helping the Blues find new life as it spawned a top-five hit with “Smoking Gun”, with a video also shared frequent MTV screen time with the likes of A-ha and The Pet Shop Boys.

Perhaps Robert Cray’s brand of electric blues might be the result of his diverse background. Though he was born in Columbus, GA, he was an “army brat” and was raised all over the country. He started playing guitar in his early teens while living in Newport News, VA and cites blues legend Albert Collins as a major influence. Later, he would collaborate with Collins on his album Showdown!, which won a Grammy itself in 1987. Cray also lists guitar greats George Harrison, Eric Clapton and B.B. King as some of his early influences.

His third major label release, Strong Persuader remains one of his best albums to date. The songs all revolve around a common blues theme of love gone wrong. While he may not possess a technically perfect voice, Cray is a superb vocalist, delivering precisely the right emotion whether it be specific levels of sincerity, sarcasm, or cynicism. The sound of the album is simple, crisp, and clean and never muddled. It is modern electric blues featuring Memphis horns, steady bass and drums, and Cray’s signature, attack-heavy guitar style with no wasted notes.
 


Strong Persuader by Robert Cray
Released: November, 1986 (Mercury)
Produced by: Bruce Bromberg & Dennis Walker
Recorded: Sage & Sound, Los Angeles, 1986
Side One Side Two
Smoking Gun
I Guess I Showed Her
Right Next Door (Because of Me)
Nothin’ But a Woman
Still Around
More Than I Can Stand
Foul Play
I Wonder
Fantasized
New Blood
Primary Musicians
Robert Cray – Guitars, Lead Vocals
Peter Boe – Keyboards
Richard Cousins – Bass
Wayne Jackson – Trumpet, Trombone
David Olson – Drums

 
For how sanitized the may album sound, at its core Strong Persuader is really quite racy. This dichotomy is best portrayed on the song “Fantasized”, which contains some rather risque lyrics above an nonthreatening basic, soft-rock music track. If fact, “Strong Persuader” became a nickname for Cray himself due his skills at convincing young women as portrayed in the popular song “Right Next Door (Because of Me)” where he brags about his conquest being “just another notch on my guitar”.
 

 
The album’s opener, “Smoking Gun”, is perhaps Cray’s most popular song ever, accented by Peter Boe’s signature piano riff and a fine, “slow hand” guitar solo. The following song “I Guess I Showed Her” takes another musical direction, with a nice blend of cool jazz and funk, highlighted by the brass of Wayne Jackson with some ironic/comedic lyrics. Later in the album, Cray settles in to more traditional, guitar-driven blues and nearly-crooning vocals on songs like “I Wonder” and “New Blood”.

Throughout the rest of album, the songs vary with different combinations of these three styles, all held together by the consistent production of Bruce Bromberg & Dennis Walker. some of the highlights include the catchy and melodic “More Than I Can Stand” and the excellent “I Wonder”, with its totally unique solo technique which at one point seems to use alternate tuning and at another almost sounds like a banjo, and the cool lyric – “…Is this a dream or has Bob gone crazy?”

Inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame just last month (May 2011), Robert Cray gave us an interesting and entertaining album a quarter of a century ago, which remains one of his most popular. Since Strong Persuader, Cray has released 11 studio albums but none have been as popular as this 1986 tour-de-force.

~

Robert Cray online

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1986 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1986 albums.

 

Pearl by Janis Joplin

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Pearl by Janis JoplinPearl was the final, posthumous album in the brief but explosive career of Janis Joplin. She died before the album’s completion on October 4, 1970, at just 27, done in by an overdose of heroin. Janis lived hard and died young.

An awkward girl from Beaumont, Texas, she would make her mark in a time and place that must have seemed like another universe – San Francisco in the late 1960s. She was fearless in the sense that she never let the shallow opinions of her adolescent peers define her and she found her place making her mark in unapologetic, unyielding fashion.

But this radical transformation ultimately came at a tragic price, as chemical dependency grabbed hold of her and refused to let go. It’s not that she didn’t try to escape this fate, even going so far as to move back to Beaumont and adopt the fashionable bee-hive hairdo of the day. But in the end, she just couldn’t stay away from the scene, the lifestyle, the drugs, and the music.

“You can go all around the world trying to do something with your life, but you only got to do one thing well…”

Janis’s style was rough, raw, and completely genuine. She didn’t have an image manufactured by a team of publicists, and would not have done well in an American Idol-like situation. She lived in the moment with every note she sang, deeply entrenched in the emotions that effervesced from every strained vocal.
 


Pearl by Janis Joplin
Released: January 11, 1971 (Columbia)
Produced by: Paul A. Rothchild
Recorded: Los Angeles between September 5 and October 1, 1971
Side One Side Two
Move Over
Cry Baby
A Woman Left Lonely
Half Moon
Buried Alive in the Blues
My Baby
Me and Bobby McGee
Mercedes Benz
Trust Me
Get It While You Can
Primary Musicians
Janis Joplin – Vocals
John Till – Electric Guitar
Bobby Womack – Acoustic Guitar
Ken Pearson – Organ
Richard Bell – Piano
Brad Campbell – Bass
Clark Pierson – Drums, Vocals

 

Pearl has a more polished and accessible sound than anything Joplin had done earlier with Big Brother & the Holding Company or The Kozmic Blues Band, the original bands she worked with in San Francisco with limited success on the national and international scene.

The sound of the album was due in large part to the expertise of Paul A. Rothchild, who had shaped the sound of The Doors as their long time producer. Further, The Full Tilt Boogie, a profession group of backing musicians, shaped the sound that was the canvas for Janis’ dynamic vocals. Joplin had previously met and worked with the band over the summer of 1970, when they were on board the famous Festival Express, a train filled with performing and partying musicians that rode across Canada.

Aside from the Kris Kristofferson penned hit “Me and Bobby McGee”, there is really nothing special about the selections on this album. But, they are entertaining enough to make Pearl the crown jewel in the catalog of this rare talent. Most of the songs are standard rock and blues with a bit of country influence here and there. This is immediately apparent on the first two tracks, “Move Over”, which Joplin wrote herself, and the quasi-famous “Cry baby”. But there are also a few oddities on the album, like the a capella “Mercedes Benz” and the purely instrumental “Buried Alive in the Blues”, which was included despite the fact that Janis died before recording the vocals.

I’d trade all my tomorrow’s for one single yesterday…”

Kristofferson had just introduced his song to Joplin just a few weeks before her death, and wasn’t even aware that she had actually recorded it until afterwards. Ironically, it would be her biggest hit and most famous song, true fame that she wasn’t able to experience during the shooting star trajectory of her life.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.

 

Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic

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The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by TrafficTraffic reached a level of distinction with the second album of the second incarnation of the band (their fifth album overall). The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is a diverse and entertaining album that showcases the band at its absolute peak, but also forges a path as peculiar as the album’s title. The album follows-up 1970’s John Barleycorn Must Die and pretty much follows the same formula of a methodical mix of rock and slow fusion jazz, built mainly in the studio. Although it was not a rousing commercial success, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys was met with a great critical response.

The original phase of the band, led by Dave Mason was more rock and pop oriented than this second more experimental and progressive phase led primarily by Steve Winwood.

The band nearly broke up after Mason left the band in 1968. Winwood moved on to the super-group Blind Faith while the remaining members joined various other projects. Blind Faith disbanded after just one album and Winwood soon went to work on a solo album. He called in his former band mates Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood to help out but their contributions were so significant that it was decided that the project would become a Traffic album. Released in July, 1970, John Barleycorn Must Die was a surprise hit reaching #5 on the Billboard charts, and giving Traffic unexpected new life.
 


Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys by Traffic
Released: November, 1971 (Island/Reprise)
Produced by: Steve Winwood
Recorded: Island Studios, London, September, 1971
Side One Side Two
Hidden Treasure
The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys
Light Up or Leave Me Alone
Rock & Roll Stew
Many a Mile to Freedom
Rainmaker
Group Musicians
Steve Winwood – Guitars, Piano, Organ, Vocals
Jim Capaldi – Percussion, Vocals
Chris Wood – Flute, Saxophone
Ric Grech – Bass, Violin
Jim Gordon – Drums

 
While Traffic operated as a trio for Barleycorn, they became a quintet for the follow-up by adding Ric Grech, who played with Winwood in Blind Faith, on bass and Jim Gordon on drums. This not only gave the band a fuller sound, but also allowed them to branch out towards richer sub-genres, as showcased in the album’s title song.

This eleven and a half minute anthem draws deep influence from Mile Davis’ Bitches Brew, released just a year earlier, with a nice break towards standard rock for the choruses. The title of “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” has been the subject of much debate over the years, including references to many drug, but the lyrics suggest that it most likely is a direct shot at the music industry in general and the fad of glam rock in particular –

“The percentage you’re paying is too high priced while you’re living beyond all your means and the man in the suit has just bought a new car from the profit he’s made on your dreams”

 

 
A commentary on commercialism of the industry, the artists are a means to a financial end, the creative process takes a back seat to profits, it can steal your pride, but it can’t take your spirit.

” But spirit is something that no one destroys.”

Listening to the album as a whole, which contains a mix of jazz, progressive, and classic rock, “Rock & Roll Stew” may have been a more appropriate title song. Along with “Light Up or Leave Me Alone”, it is one of two songs where Capaldi takes over on lead vocals, a rarity on Traffic albums before or since. Both songs are also similar as straight up classic rock with some funk influence.

The rest of the album is at a calmer, more “mellow” pace, as set by the album’s opener, “Hidden Treasure”, with a jazzy piano, steady beat, and strategic flute motifs. “Many a Mile to Freedom” is a progressive rock “ballad” co-written by Winwood and Capaldi’s wife, Anna. It has a beautifully flowing style, accented by some soaring electric guitar, with the flute “floating” dreamily along with the lyrics –

“for together we flow like a river, together we melt like the snow…”

In all, The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys is a bold and creative album using the talents of each band member to their fullest, and showcases Traffic at their absolute peak.

~

1971 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1971 albums.