Storm Front by Billy Joel

Storm Front by Billy Joel

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Storm Front by Billy JoelWith Storm Front, his eleventh overall studio album, Billy Joel made a concerted effort to radically change his approach on several levels. First, he discharged a few members of the support band which had been with him since the mid 1970s. Next, Joel decided not to work with producer Phil Ramone (who had produced every Billy Joel album since The Stranger in 1977, and instead enlisted Foreigner’s Mick Jones, who had brought his band to pop super-stardom earlier in the decade. The result of this pivotal effort at the sunset of the 1980s was a commercially successful album that received lukewarm critical feedback and, in many ways, began the decline of Joel’s incredible pop career.

Following the release of Joel’s previous album The Bridge three years earlier, he initiated an ambitious undertaking by becoming the first major American rock act to perform in the Soviet Union. The album КОНЦЕРТ (Russian for “Concert”) was released shortly after the August 1987 performances in Tlbisi, Moscow and Lennigrad, in part to recover the estimated $1 million of his own money that Joel spent the trip and concerts. However, more financial troubles were to come as an audit revealed major discrepancies in the accounting of Joel’s longtime manager in August 1989, subsequently costing the longtime pop star much of his fortune.

Guitarist Russell Javors and bassist Doug Stegmeyer, each of whom had been with Joel since the recording of Turnstiles in 1976, were fired prior to the recording of Storm Front and replaced by Joey Hunting and Schuyler Deale respectively. Joel also hired vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Crystal Taliefero while retaining three members of his regular band. In 1988, Joel made a cameo on Mick Jones’ self-titled solo debut and was so impressed with his production abilities that he hired him to help forge the sonic tones and moods on Storm Front.


Storm Front by Billy Joel
Released: October 17, 1989 (Columbia)
Produced by: Mick Jones and Billy Joel
Recorded: The Hit Factory and Right Track Recording, New York, Spring-Summer 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
That’s Not Her Style
We Didn’t Start the Fire
The Downeaster ‘Alexa’
I Go to Extremes
Shameless
Storm Front
Leningrad
State of Grace
When in Rome
And So It Goes
Billy Joel – Lead Vocals, Piano, Clavinet, Accordion, Keyboards
David Brown – Guitars
Jeff Jacobs – Horns, Keyboards
Schuyler Deale – Bass
Liberty DeVitto – Drums, PercussionStorm Front by Billy Joel

 

The opening track, “That’s Not Her Style” , has an underlying vibe of bluesy rock, especially during harmonica laden intro of Don Brooks, but is otherwise nothing more than topical sanitized pop. “We Didn’t Start the Fire” follows as a history lesson through rap, cut by the chorus hook that has richly disguised vocal harmonies. The main keyboard riff sounds like it could have composed on xylophone, especially along side the tribal percussive sounds and bouncy synth bass during verses. The lyrics are exclusively composed of words, terms and names of historical significance, starting in 1949, the year Joel was born. The song was Joel’s final #1 hit in the U.S.

The middle songs of this album are where you will find the top quality material. “The Downeaster Alexa” is the most indelible song on the album, led by Joel’s great vocal melodies, and an almost Gordon Lightfoot approach in its composition. It contains extraordinary sonic arrangements from the ever-present accordion of Dominic Cortese to the deadened guitar riffs to the slow methodical drum march to the strategic organ and synths. There is also a fine violin lead credited only to “World Famous Incognito Violinist”. Lyrically, “The Downeaster Alexa” tells of the plight of fisherman from Joel’s native Long Island with some poetic phrases like;

“tell my wife I am trolling Atlantis and I still have my hands on the wheel”

“I Go to Extremes” is the the purest pop/rock song on the album with a great melody and beat along with a couple of decent piano leads later in the song. This song with a bipolar theme reached #6 on the Billboard pop charts. “Shameless” is soulful and pleasantly melodic throughout, almost with the tenor of a seventies light pop/rock hit (although it would be most associated with Garth Brooks in the early nineties). This song also contains the best guitar work on the album by the team of David Brown and Joey Hunting. The title song “Storm Front” is pure Motown through and through with good rhythm, slow riffs, and a rich horn arrangement by Jeff Jacobs.

“Lenningrad” is historical ballad which feels like it would have fit in well on the 1982 album The Nylon Curtain. Influenced by Joel’s trip to the U.S.S.R. and has a great arrangement towards the end with the piano being almost classical to fit the mood. Joel compares his protagonist’s life with his own, much like he did in a previous song, “Ballad of Billy Kid”. The last really good track on Storm Front is “State of Grace”, a real forgotten gem driven by Joel’s high melodies and fantastic guitar work throughout by Jones, making it his best musical contribution on the album. “When In Rome” contains some Motown elements, especially in lead and backing vocals along a pretty good sax solo. “And So It Goes” closes the otherwise upbeat album with a sad ballad, almost tortured in its approach with vocals closely mimicking piano.

Storm Front reached the Top Ten on both sides of the Atlantic as the 1990s began. Billy Joel would release one more pop/rock album, The River of Dreams in 1993, before effectively retiring from this aspect of the music industry.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Great Radio Controversy by Tesla

Great Radio Controversy by Tesla

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Great Radio Controversy by TeslaThe group Tesla never quite fit within any definitive genre box, which may have ultimately prevented the Northern California band from reaching their critical or commercial potential. In the 1980s they were a “hair band” that was a few steps ahead of the norm back then. In the 1990s they were too focused and upbeat to get swept up in the “grunge” wave. In between they bridged the gap with 1989’s Great Radio Controversy, their most highly renowned album. While riddled with more than its share of eighties “heavy metal” caricature, there is material on this album with soul and musicianship which few new releases touched at that time.

Formed in 1982 and originally named City Kidd, the group renamed themselves Tesla after inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla, during the recording of their first album, Mechanical Resonance. The band’s signature sound was forged by lead vocalist Jeff Keith along with guitarists Frank Hannon and Tommy Skeoch.

Produced by the team of Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero, The Great Radio Controversy contains mainly big-sounding production methods in line with 1980s pop-metal, but also reaches back to more authentic and earthy methods. The album was produced at Bearsville Studio outside of Woodstock, NY, a studio originally built by Bob Dylan’s manager.


Great Radio Controversy by Tesla
Released: February 1, 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero
Recorded: Bearsville Studio, New York, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Hang Tough
Lady Luck
Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)
Be a Man
Lazy Days, Crazy Nights
Did It for the Money
Yesterdaze Gone
Makin’ Magic
The Way It Is
Flight to Nowhere
Love Song
Paradise
Party’s Over
Jeff Keith – Lead Vocals
Frank Hannon – Guitars, Piano, Organ
Tommy Skeoch – Guitars
Brian Wheat – Bass
Troy Luccketta – Drums

Great Radio Controversy by Tesla

 

While the songs early on are somewhat standard, the album does improve as it progresses. Co-written by bassist Brian Wheat, “Hang Tough” starts with his mechanical bass pattern before the twin guitars come in for a harmonized riff and later return for a decent dual guitar solo. “Lady Luck” follows with some rich vocal harmonies before “Heaven’s Trail (No Way Out)” breaks in with the driving rhythm guitar of Skeoch. A simple yet rewarding song, this third is cut by bluesy breaks in between the verses.

“Be a Man” starts with a long, bluesy slide intro before the slow riffing brings the song into its proper context. The pure rocker “Lazy Days, Crazy Nights” is a notch above most tracks on the early half of the album, with a dark and determined feeling overall along with a decent vocal hook. The album continues to get stronger with “Did It for the Money”, which creatively meanders before finding its footing, which is pretty solid and strong. “Yesterdaze Gone” displays Tesla at their heaviest, almost true heavy metal in beat but firmly down in the arena rock vocally, along with a pretty wild mid section guitar lead with harmonies so rich it almost sounds like a synth envelope.

“The Way It Is” was co-written by drummer Troy Luccketta and is one of the highlights of album as well as Tesla’s career. The moody acoustic intro and verse eventually gives way to the strong yet deep choruses. The song’s bridge and outro bring the song to a whole new level sonically as repetition works well with theme and musical backing and Keith’s vocals are at their absolute zenith during “The Way It Is”.

Tesla in 1989

“Love Song” is nearly as impressive, being perhaps the best power ballad ever. This uni-directional song is driven by the beautiful guitar motifs of Hannon. Commencing with a complex acoustic intro before moving towards the joyful strummed electric riff that introduces the song proper. The song is complete and melodic to the end without a wasted note or moment. “Paradise” is another fine song that contains a sad acoustic intro to a love song with a distinctly different feel than the song titled “Love Song”. Keith’s vocals pick up the pace while the music remains low key in the mid section prior to a funk-influenced alternate section which follows. The closing track,”Party’s Over” tries to end the album with a rock anthem, but falls just a bit short.

Great Radio Controversy reached the Top 20 of the American album charts and spawned three Top 40 hits on the Mainstream Rock chart. In 1990, Tesla maintained their commercial momentum with the live Five Man Acoustical Jam before returning to the studio the following year with Psychotic Supper.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.

 

Pump by Aerosmith

Pump by Aerosmith

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Pump by AerosmithThe second distinct phase of Aerosmith‘s fame hit full stride in 1989 with the release of Pump, the band’s tenth overall studio album and their third release since reuniting in 1985. And much like their third overall release Toys In the Attack back in 1975, this album was a tremendous commercial success. Pump sold over seven million copies, is the only Aerosmith album to score three Top 10 singles on the Billboard pop chart, and became the fourth bestselling album overall for the year 1990. The album is also notable within the Aerosmith collection for its inclusion of a variety of instrumental interludes which precede several of the album tracks, adding a sense of diversity to the mix.

However, the overall musical quality of Pump is more mixed than its impressive commercial accolades may indicate. This was the second of three sequential studio albums with producer Bruce Fairbairn, which were all recorded in Vancouver, BC, Canada. All of these albums employed an overt attempt to further commercialize the band, with hook-heavy material trumping Aerosmith’s strong tradition of more raw and improvised-style, heavy, blues rock. On the bright side, guitarist Brad Whitford explained that the album title was a celebration of how “pumped up” the group was to kick their various substance abuse habbits, and this was especially evident in lead vocalist Steven Tyler, who put forth his greatest effort of his long career.

The group spent of the bulk of the winter of 1988-89 working on this album, first getting together to rehearse in December 1988 near their homes in Massachusetts and then migrating across the continent to the studio in Vancouver in Early 1989. Nearly 20 songs were written, with Fairborn splitting these compositions into “A” and “B” lists as far as “single” consideration. A few of the tracks not included on Pump were the later 1997 hit “Hole In My Soul” and the country-flavored “Sedona Sunrise”, which was later included on the 2006 compilation Devil’s Got a New Disguise.


Pump by Aerosmith
Released: September 12, 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Bruce Fairbairn
Recorded: Little Mountain Sound Studio, Vancouver, BC, February–June 1989
Track Listing Group Musicians
Young Lust
F.I.N.E.
Love In An Elevator
Monkey On My Back
Janie’s Got a Gun
The Other Side
My Girl
Don’t Get Mad, Get Even
Voodoo Medicine Man
What It Takes
Steven Tyler – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Harmonica
Joe Perry – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Whitford – Guitars
Tom Hamilton – Bass, Vocals
Joey Kramer – Drums
 
Pump by Aerosmith

 

Pump commences with a super-sexed triology of tunes filled with not-so-subtle innuendos, almost to the point of absurdity. Tyler later admitted this was almost over-compensation for all the years of fame they spent wasted and disinterested in sex. The Opener “Young Lust” is simple and cheap, yet not terribly trite. Co-written by lead guitarist Joe Perry and hired hand Jim Vallance, this is a strong and frenzied number that, if nothing else, proves the group was not going “adult contemporary” as the 1980s wound down. A fairly impressive drum solo by Joey Kramer bridges into the follow-up “F.I.N.E.” This second song is much more melodic and original than the opener, closer to seventies-era Aerosmith in approach and dynamics. The expert use of both guitarists with distinct rock textures act as a canvas for Tyler’s strong vocals. The song’s title is an acronym for “Fucked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional”, coining a Hollywood catch-phrase for the nineties, with the only real drawback of “F.I.N.E.” being a few lame attempts at comedic lines.

“Love In an Elevator” begins with a female spoken-word intro known as “Going Down” while the song proper is pure Tyler and Perry, following each other in riff and melody. The verses contain some anthemic chanting in the spirit of Def Leppard and Perry’s mult-part lead is somewhat interesting with odd backing sound motifs thrown in during this extended mid section, including some backwards-masking and vocal harmonization this continues in the outtro with some trumpets by Fairbairn. Released as a single, the song peaked at number 5 on the Billboard pop chart. “Monkey on My Back” starts with Perry’s slow but heavy, bluesy slide guitar. This song’s overall feel is messy and distant, much like material from 1977’s Draw the Line, which gives it a bit of nostalgic touch, while scorning the excess of those old days with it’s telling of the consequences of heavy drug use.

Bass player Tom Hamilton, an oft-forgotten member of Aerosmith, co-wrote the classic “Janie’s Got a Gun”, which brought the group their first and only Grammy award. This masterpiece of arrangement and production is a true rock classic with beautiful sonic breezes coming from all directions – from the bouncy, high-pitched bass riff and slamming percussive effect of the verses, to the masterful use of keyboards and strings to the storybook passages of distinct song sections. The song tackles serious subject matter in a tackful and creative manner and it solidifies Aerosmith as a notch above most rock bands in their class. While there is little guitar presence (for such a guitar-centric group), “Janie’s Got a Gun” is certainly in the top echelon of pieces through their multi-decade career.

Aerosmith 1989

Many of the musical interludes on Pump were done by Randy Raine-Reusch, with his most impressive being the “Dulcimer Stomp” intro to “The Other Side”. Another Top 40 single, the song proper contains a nice arrangement of horns, harmonized vocals and plenty of pop hooks, while economically using guitars, with just small and subtle bits of riffing. The real weak spot of the album follows in the next trio of songs. “My Girl” contains very little substance or soul, while “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” has a decent bluesy beginning before it abruptly screams into something totally uninteresting. co-written by Whitford, “Voodoo Medicine Man” seems to make an attempt at something dramatic and deep, but this ultimately doesn’t amount to much beyond the opening verse and the somewhat interesting mid section.

“What It Takes” really salvages the latter part of this album, by returning to the group’s mid seventies practice of performing a power ballad to conclude their albums. Co-wriiten by long time collaborator Desmond Child, Aerosmith perfects the song type they invented a decade and a half earlier, with their secret being more “power” than “ballad”, exuding all the emotion without resorting to any lame, sappy maneuvers. Fairborn’s generous use of accordion and Perry’s interesting pre-bridge guitar lead is only trumped by the song’s outro, the best moment on the album. True performance magic in the fantastic, improvised vocals by Tyler show the true heights of the singer’s talent. While “Janie Got a Gun” is the creative masterpiece which ended the original side one, “What It Takes” is the performance masterpiece to end Pump on the highest of notes.

With the greatest commercial success of their career, Aerosmith found a whole new audience and used this as an opportunity to tour and release a couple compilation albums in the early nineties. Their next studio release would not come until 1993 with the album Get a Grip.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.
 

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

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The End of the Innocence by Don HenleyThe End of the Innocence was Don Henley‘s best selling solo album and his lone solo release in the 16 year span between 1984 and 2000. A pure pop effort, the album spawned seven singles with six of those reaching the Top Ten of the Mainstream Rock charts and the title song reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard pop chart. The End of the Innocence expands on Henley’s extraordinary talent for composing, which dates back to the Eagles debut album, and moves firmly into the adult contemporary realm. While the sound of the album has remnants of 1980s slick, Henley’s enlistment of six co-producers, gives The End of the Innocence enough diversity to make it interesting.

Taking five years to compose and refine material for a follow-up, Henley relished in the success of his blockbuster 1984 album Building the Perfect Beast. Taking this time also gave him the time to gather some compositional, performance, and production talent for his next effort.

Among his collaborators on the album are Mike Campbell and Stan Lynch of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, musical journeyman Bruce Hornsby, and Danny Kortchmar, part of California’s “mellow mafia”, who worked with Jackson Brown, Linda Ronstadt, and Warren Zevon among others. The result is an overall high quality album, albeit uneven. When the songs are good, they are very good, profound, rewarding, and indelible. On the flip side is the cheap eighties filler which, unfortunately, there is quite a bit of between the fine tracks. Still, there is little doubt that Henley was shooting for something big on this album to solidify his legacy in rock, and there is no doubt he achieved that goal.


The End of the Innocence by Don Henley
Released: June 27 1989 (Geffen)
Produced by: Don Henley, Mike Campbell, John Corey, Bruce Hornsby, Danny Kortchmar, Greg Ladanyi, & Stan Lynch
Recorded: 1988-1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The End of the Innocence
How Bad Do You Want It?
I Will Not Go Quietly
The Last Worthless Evening
New York Minute
Shangri-La
Little Tin God
Gimme What You Got
If Dirt Were Dollars
The Heart of the Matter
Don Henley – Lead Vocals, Drums
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Keyboards
Bob Glaub – Bass
Stanley Jordan – Guitars, Drums, VocalsThe End of the Innocence by Don Henley

 

The End of the Innocence is bookmarked by two of its finest tracks. “The Heart of the Matter” closes and solidifies the album with a perfect tone and tenor and great melody and hook. The wise and mature lyrics about “forgiveness” wash away the bitter taste of some earlier tracks. These lyrics are accompanied by fine musical motifs, from the opening twangy guitar riff through the many rooms of pleasant melody and sonic bliss. “The Heart of the Matter” was co-written by Campbell, and sometimes-Eagles contributor J.D. Souther and reached the Top 20 with significant airplay. The opening title track was co-written by Hornsby and features his deliberate, choppy piano style backing Henley’s melancholy driven melody. This is pure, calm, adult-oriented music with lyrics about the the shattering of childhood simplicity. with low-key yet tremendously effective vocals. “The End of the Innocence” also features an outstanding soprano sax lead by Wayne Shorter which adds to the overall mood of longing for redemption.

The original first side of the album includes a few pure eighties rockers that could be mistaken for cheesy movie soundtracks. After a strong percussion intro, “How Bad Do You Want It” is driven by a sax riff with synth decor and simple rhythms. The straight-forward melody and catchy hook is accompanied by background vocals by many including Sheryl Crow. “I Will Not Go Quietly” has some blues-based guitar riffing but is mainly rock-oriented with simple, hard rock drum beats up front. This song also kind of awkwardly features Axl Rose on backing vocals.

The middle of the album contains a couple more fine tracks. “The Last Worthless Evening” has acoustic with electric overtones reminiscent of Eagles. This stellar – musical mix and production to compliment Henley’s excellent vocals, perhaps his best on the album. The harmonized hook in the bridge brings this song , co-written by John Corey, to the next level. Like a classic movie score with high strings and a club piano out front, “New York Minute” arrives as the album’s most unique and interesting track. The song proper features a fine electric piano by Toto member David Paich along with another great sax solo by Shorter.

The remainder of the album contains songs of lesser quality which have not held up over time. “Shangri-La” starts with a semi-interesting percussive intro before it breaks into a lame attempt at a dance song. “Little Tin God” contains a reggae beat and is a little better than the rest of the filler, due to the great middle high-pitch bend synth solo. “Gimme What You Got” features a pleasant melody and good guitar textures but quickly gets old as it progresses. “If Dirt Were Dollars” has a good bluesy acoustic by Campbell throughout, but the lyrics and delivery are cheap (“as dirt”) as it is trite, preachy, and hard to get through. It is tracks like these that keep The End of the Innocence from being an absolute classic.

Still, the album sold over 6 million copies in the United States alone and won Henley his second Grammy award for Best male Vocalist in 1990. With various Eagles reunions through the 1990s. it would be another 11 years until Henley released his next solo album, Inside Job in 2000.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

1989 Images

 

Junta by Phish

Junta by Phish

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Junta by PhishOriginally released only on cassette, Junta by Phish, defies almost every convention for debut albums. The album was independently recorded and produced by the Vermont-based group but contains top-notch sound to complement the rich progressive-rock influenced epics that persist throughout the album’s lineup. Titled after the band’s first official manager, the album contains mainly nontraditional structures and arrangements based on jazz fusion and improvisation, resulting in symphonic-like epics where each member is given ample room to shine. The rare, few “basic” songs on Junta are mainly light and tend to lean towards the upbeat, funk side of the rock spectrum.

Phish was formed by guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman at the University of Vermont in 1983 and they played their first live performance at the school’s cafeteria late that year. They cut their teeth in the mid eighties playing Grateful Dead songs. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell joined the group, completing the band’s four-piece lineup, which persists to this day. During this era, the group distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes and Anastasio went so far as to write a nine-song concept album accompanied by a written thesis called The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday.

In 1988, the band began a rigorous practice schedule, which included locking themselves in a room and jamming for hours on end to “discover” new material. Junta is a product of a couple of these sessions and was brought as one piece to the studio to be recorded in its entirety.


Junta by Phish
Released: May 8, 1989 (self-release)
Produced by: Phish
Recorded: Euphoria Sound Studios, Revere, Massachusetts, 1988
Track Listing Group Musicians
Fee
You Enjoy Myself
Esther
Golgi Apparatus
Foam
Dinner and a Movie
The Divided Sky
David Bowie
Fluffhead
Fluff’s Travels
Contact
Trey Anastasio – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Page McConnell – Piano, Vocals
Mike Gordon – Bass, Vocals
Jonathan Fishman – Drums, Trombone, Vocals
 
Junta by Phish

 

Anastasio got the bulk of compositional credit on the album, starting with the opener “Fee”, a truly excellent song with Caribbean and jazz percussive beats and tones. The soaring vocals with staccato backing vocal scats shows that, although they rarely display it, the group has some vocal chops. The first epic, “You Enjoy Myself” is in sharp contrast to the melodic opener, making its arrival one of the few really awkward moments on the album. Improvised with odd timings, the piece works into a progressive waltz, driven by the organ and piano McConnell. Then at about the midway point, an excellent guitar rips in for a few fleeting moments before the climatic funk section starts along with one word chants and a strong bass by Gordon.

“Esther” takes the album on yet another wild turn, as lyric-rich journey which changes mood from carnival to church to an ultimate tranquil tragedy of drowning. The excellent piano riffs by McConnell are reminiscent of Tony Banks during the better Genesis years and the persistent groove by Fishman throughout provides the glue for the song through its nine and a half minutes. “Golgi Apparatus” starts as definite funk jam but soon morphs into something more rock oriented, perhaps the most rock-oriented song on the album, showing the versatility of the group. The next couple of tracks tend to get a bit repetitive. “Foam”, repeats the same mechanical pattern forged by a bass riff with sharp piano notes and guitar motifs above, while “Dinner and a Movie” gets a bit mundane lyrically, but is interesting musically. This is the part of the album where you’re just waiting for a release, the whole jam thing is a bit exhausting by this point.

Then comes the most rewarding song on the album, “The Divided Sky”. This mostly instrumental, twelve-minute epic begins with a nice acoustic intro with the perfect complement of xylophone by McConnell and bass by Gordon. The intro section is cut by deep vocal harmonies where the music stops completely before returning with a totally different feel and arrangement. Here the group methodically builds towards a guitar lead before breaking down to a quiet organ motif on which a new, signature guitar riff builds the song back up. Then comes the payoff of the greatest guitar lead on the album by Anatasio and a full-fledged musical jam by the entire band through the latter part of the song. In contrast, the follow-up eleven-minute “David Bowie”, while still a great jam, pales as a follow-up to “The Divided Sky”.

“Fluffhead” starts with a fine, elongated acoustic guitar riff and honky-tonk piano and breaks into a catchy (albeit silly) hook. Combined with the instrumental part “Fluff’s Travels” (which really isn’t a separate piece), this is the longest piece on the original album, which is saying something for an album like Junta. Another good guitar lead over some very odd chords and timing also make for, perhaps, the closest to a true jazz improv. Eventually it all releases into reprise of “Fluffhead” with some Gospel-like revival singing improvisation before it dissolves into a simple, strumming acoustic riff and a winding rendition of the opening riff. The album wraps with “Contact”, the sole composition by Gordon, whose slow bass riff introduces the song. Much like the album’s opener, this closer has a Latin feel and, while lyrics are again repetitive again, but not as mundane as on other songs and the tune is more than salvaged by some nice bass motifs and a bridge with romantic lyrics.

Junta finally got wide release when Elektra Records distributed a massive two CD, two-hour release in late 1992, three and a half years after the original cassette. The newer version included three bonus tracks – “Sanity”, “Icculus”, and the twenty-five minute “Union Federal” – along with a longer version of “Contact”. In 2012, a vinyl version of the original eleven song version of Junta was released, which in a way completed this classic album’s journey to the appropriate medium.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1989 albums.

 

Yer Album by the James Gang

Yer’ Album by The James Gang

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Yer Album by the James GangYer’ Album is the debut album by James Gang,  displays this power trio’s genius and raw power through the compositions but also shows  their lack of recording experience due to the various filler throughout. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, it is clear that the group looked both to the East and the West for musical inspiration. This applies to their original compositions as well as the pair of covers. With a healthy dose of British heavy rock and California folk rock topping the trio’s Southern blues-flavored core, Yer Album is a celebration of all elements of the expanding world of rock and roll and the end of the sixties.

James Gang drummer Jim Fox was a member of the band, The Outsiders, who had a national hit, “Time Won’t Let Me”, in the mid sixties. After leaving that group, Fox wanted to form a group oriented towards British rock. He recruited bassist Tom Kriss and a guitarist and keyboardist to form the original incarnation of the James Gang. After several lineup shuffles during the group’s first year, Fox was approached in 1968 by guitarist Joe Walsh who wanted to audition for the group. As the group narrowed from a five piece to a trio, Walsh assumed lead vocal duties and would eventually be their most identifiable member.

ABC Records staff producer Bill Szymczyk was assigned to the group, a serendipitous move that began a long professional relationship between Szymczyk and Walsh. Szymczyk would go on to produce all three of the James Gang’s albums which Walsh played on as well as many of his solo albums through the 1970s and later albums by the pop group the Eagles, which Walsh joined in 1976. But long before the group was posthumously dubbed “Joe Walsh’s James Gang”, they were a legitimate power trio, with each given their own space to jam and demonstrate their musical chops.


Yer’ Album by James Gang
Released: March, 1969 (ABC Records)
Produced by: Bill Szymczyk
Recorded: The Hit Factory, New York City, January 1969
Side One Side Two
Introduction
Take a Look Around
Funk #48
Bluebird
Lost Woman
Stone Rap
Collage
I Don’t Have the Time
Wrapcity in English
Fred
Stop
Group Musicians
Joy Walsh – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Piano
Tom Kriss – Bass, Flute
Jim Fox – Drums, Percussion

First the frivolous and annoying. In the grooves of the at the ends of each side of the original LPs were the infinite spoken messages, “Turn me over” and “Play me again”. Such antics also pertained to the opening tracks of each side. “Introduction” starts the first side with an improvised string quartet which cross-fades to a strummed acoustic riff which then roughly dissolves into the first proper song. It is a bit ironic that the first proper song by a group featuring a guitar legend like Joe Walsh is so keyboard dominated as “Take a Look Around”. The verses and chorus are dominated by an out-front organ and a piano holding the back end, all built on calm textures and acid rock ambiance. The song is strong on melody and mellow throughout with the middle section cut by a slow but piercing electric guitar lead, which returns again in the outro with a fuller arrangement. After this song is an odd, but interesting, section with competing spoken words and phrases.

“Funk #48” contains the simplest of grooves and lyrics in the simplest of songs, albeit still very entertaining and a great contrast from the previous song. Szymczyk commented that the song started as a sound check warm-up riff but quickly developed into the funk/rock groove, driven by the rhythm section of Kriss and Fox. The second half of the first side contains a couple of extended renditions of contemporary covers. Starting with a grandiose intro of piano and strings and interrupted by wild guitar interludes, the group eventually kicks into a rock-oriented version of Buffalo Springfield’s “Bluebird”. After a few verses, the song slowly meanders into a middle jam with exquisite drumming by Fox and texture-based guitar phrases by Walsh. The Yardbirds’ “Lost Woman” provides an extended showcase for each musician, particularly bassist Tom Kriss, who starts his showcase with a hyper-riff on bass and provides, perhaps, one of the most extensive bass solos in rock history. Most of this nine minute is an extended jam where each member leaves it completely out on the floor, especially the rhythm players, as the entire jam is much more than self-indulgence, it builds in tension and intensity throughout.

Side Two starts with more ambient noise, in the totally annoying “Stone Rap” before the beautiful, moody, and dark “Collage”, co-written by Patrick Cullie. This track could be the theme song for the entire album, as it truly is a collage of musical styles. The calmly strummed acoustic is accented by poignant but moody bass and strong drums and later some high strings and slight electric guitar join the mix. Overall, the tune is a real sonic treat and is original like no other. “I Don’t Have the Time” sounds (early) Deep Purple influenced as it is fast paced heavy rock, dominated by guitar overdubs and a furious drum beat, all while Walsh’s vocals carry an even keel, keeping the whole song grounded.

The final filler piece, “Wrapcity in English” goes back to the piano and string quartet with a melancholy, minor note and not quite as frivolous as the rest of the filler on the album. “Fred” is one of the odder songs on this oddest of albums. The organ returns (although not as much presence as on “Take a Look Around”) and first two verses have long and deliberate vocal lines for a somewhat psychedelic effect. In contrast, the middle bridge features an upbeat jazz/rock section with harmonized guitars. The twelve minute “Stop” feels like the most natural song for the band on the album – a totally legitimate power trio jam, which seems like it will never actually “Stop”. A great track for jam-band enthusiasts, especially those who lean towards the heavy rock/blues side, the group provides a parting shot to show the great promise for the future.

However, Yer’ Album would be the one and only album to feature these three together, as bassist Tom Kriss departed from the group by the end of 1969, making this a true capture of lightning in a bottle.

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1969 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

The Allman Brothers Band 1969 debut album

The Allman Brothers Band

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The Allman Brothers Band 1969 debut albumAs a group that became known for their live performances, The Allman Brothers Band did put out a handful of excellent studio albums. The first of these was their self-titled debut which fused blues, soul, and jazz into a potent rock and roll mixture. The album was produced by Adrian Barber with the original compositions written by lead vocalist and keyboardist Gregg Allman and features the inventive lead guitar work of Duanne Allman. Led by the brothers that gave the group its name along with a rich ensemble of six talented musicians, The Allman Brothers broke new ground in the very fertile music year of 1969.

Originating from the coast of Florida, the brothers Allman formed many groups through the 1960s. Starting with The Escorts in 1963, when the brothers were in their mid-teens, they went on to form the Allman Joys in 1965 and Hour Glass in 1967. Finally, The Allman Brothers Band was formed as the fourth incarnation of an Allman led group. Dickey Betts was enlisted as a second lead guitarist along with bassist Berry Oakley and the twin drummer/percussionists of Butch Trucks and Johanny “Jaimoe” Johnson.

After forming in early 1969, the group worked out their sound by playing throughout the South and building a dedicated audience. They also migrated their base from Jacksonville, Florida to Macon, Georgia during this time, as illustrated by the album cover photo at Mercer college. Once they worked out a record deal, the Allman Brothers recorded their debut album in New York City in September 1969.


The Allman Brothers Band by The Allman Brothers Band
Released: November 4, 1969 (Atco)
Produced by: Adrian Barber
Recorded: Atlantic Recording Studios, New York, September 1969
Side One Side Two
Don’t Want You No More
It’s Not My Cross to Bear
Black Hearted Woman
Trouble No More
Every Hungry Woman
Dreams
Whipping Post
Group Musicians
Gregg Allman – Lead Vocals, Keyboards
Duane Allman – Guitars, Vocals
Dickey Betts – Lead Guitars
Berry Oakley – Bass, Vocals
Butch Trucks – Drums
Jai Johanny “Jaimoe” Johanson – Drums, Percussion

Perhaps an odd selection for the opening track of a debut album, the Spencer Davis Group instrumental cover “Don’t Want You No More” takes the lead.  The track thunders in through a rudimentary first section with excellent drum beats by the duo drummers of Trucks and Johanson, and acts as a perfect overture and intro to the weeping blues of “It’s Not My Cross to Bear”. The most striking thing about this tune isthe soulful vocal by Gregg Allman in the type of intense blues rock which would soon be echoed by Led Zeppelin, especially on 1970’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”.

With a joyous intro riff with odd timing in rhythm, “Black Hearted Woman” may be the quintessential Allman Brothers composition from this album. While the verses are funk/rock in nature, the song is the most rock-oriented song with catchy riffs, a cool percussion section, and vocal wailing to match the guitars. After a false ending, the song gets even more frantic for the final 30 seconds. “Trouble No More” ends the first side with the second and final cover song, originally recorded by Muddy Waters in 1955. It starts with straight-up drum beat and contains acoustic and electric guitar interplay between Duanne Allman and Dickey Betts throughout, which works to bring the blues standard into the stratosphere.

Allman Brothers Band 1969

Side two starts with “Every Hungry Woman”, a cool sixties electric rock track. After an intro slide guitar, a rock riff, meanders its way into the verses, accented by Gregg Allman’s overloaded organ sound and single guitar notes squeezed out with the urgency of a car horn. The rhythm is also excellent with the bouncy bass by Oakley and twin drummers hitting every jazz and blues button. The best overall song on the album, “Dreams” rolls in with methodical sound scape of sustained organ and savored guitar notes. It soon morphs into a high-class blues rock tune with a masterful musical interlude during the refrains with a rapid guitar rotation and matching rhythm. The long middle guitar lead starts prior to the two minute mark and takes up the bulk of the middle of the song before the group returns with another two verses divided by sections which feature a much stronger organ presence and a descending guitar riff.“Dreams” is a nice slow blues song that, at seven minutes, gives Duane some room to improvise

The album closes with “Whipping Post” and the doomy, picked bass intro which has become one of the more famous riffs in rock music. The song illustrates Gregg Allman’s travails in the music business, although he was only 21 at the time of composition. By far, this is Berry Oakley’s best performance on the album and definitely its most popular song.  The tune does tend to get melodramatic towards the end, but not to the point of tackiness. While only five minutes long on this studio version, “Whipping Post” would swell to over twenty minutes when performed live, as illustrated on the side-long epic on the 1971 live album,  At Fillmore East.

The Allman Brothers Band was in no way successful commercially, as it received little beyond the Southern region of the United States and would only peak at number 188 on the album charts. However, it set the table for the vastly more popular material of future years and established the Allman Brothers Band as a musical force.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead

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Aoxomoxoa by The Grateful DeadAoxomoxoa is the third studio album by Grateful Dead and, perhaps, the one most dominated by lead guitarist and vocalist Jerry Garcia. Created under the working title of “Earthquake Country” (because the group wanted to create a “seismic shift” in popular music), the album’s unique name was a fabricated palindrome by lyricist Robert Hunter who co-wrote all of the songs, marking the commencement of a longtime songwriting partnership with Garcia. Aoxomoxoa was completely self-produced by the Grateful Dead and claims to be the very first recorded on a 16-track tape machine.

The Grateful Dead was formed in 1965 as a five-piece group called The Warlocks consisting of Garcia, Bob Weir on guitars and vocals, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan on keyboards and harmonica, Phil Lesh on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. They changed their name to Grateful Dead for a performance at one of Ken Kesey’s Acid Tests in December 1965. With various influences mixed into a loose format, the group has been labeled “the Godfathers of the jam band”. Their self-titled debut album was released in March 1967 and consisted mainly of covers with only two band originals on that album. Later that year, the group added Mickey Harty as a second drummer. The second album, Anthem of the Sun was released in July 1968 and contained completely original material, with each of the (then) six band members contributing to the compositions. Keyboardist Tom Constanten joined the band in the studio to provide piano and “electronic tape” effects on Anthem of the Sun, which eventually led to his formally joining the band as a seventh member, although he would only be with the group for barely a year.

With this widely expanded lineup, one might expect rich, full, orchestral arrangements. However, Aoxomoxoa does have a strong emphasis on acoustic songs and simple arrangements, which give it a very accessible sound on most tracks. Still, the group put tremendous time, effort, and money into the production of this studio album, something they would focus much less on as their career unfolded and they became more focused on their legendary touring.


Aoxomoxoa by Grateful Dead
Released: June 20, 1969 (Warner Brothers)
Produced by: Grateful Dead
Recorded: Pacific Recording Studio, San Mateo, CA, September 1968-March 1969
Side One Side Two
St. Stephen
Dupree’s Diamond Blues
Rosemary
Doin’ That Rag
Mountains of the Moon
China Cat Sunflower
What’s Become of the Baby
Cosmic Charlie
Group Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass, Vocals
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan – Keyboards, Percussion
Tom Constanten – Keyboards
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums, Percussion
Mickey Hart – Drums, Percussion

With Garcia taking the lead on most of the recorded material, “St. Stephen” acts as an exception with some compositional work by Lesh and some strong vocals and guitars by Weir. The song feels its way around before it kicks in to proper verse and after three rapid renditions of verses, the tune enters a middle European folk section for the bridge, driven by instrumental motifs from keyboards, bass, and lead guitar. A couple of good jam sections dominate the ending sections of the song, which tell of 1st century martyr and saint of the new Christian religion. This is followed up by “Dupree’s Diamond Blues”, an entertaining carnival-like blues with ascending and descending single-note guitar riffs complimented by bouncing organ. Garcia delivers rapid vocal verses which are melodic and entertaining, built on his advanced sense of jug band songcraft.

“Rosemary” Is a short acoustic ballad with emotional, flanged vocals by Garcia. Beginning immediately with no lead-in, the lyrics are hard to decipher because of the heavy vocal treatment and, after three brief verses and a couple of bare guitar phrases, the song quickly ends. “Doin’ That Rag” contains very interesting musical arrangements and great drumming by the team of Kreutzmann and Hart. With much melody and song craft, this piece goes through various style changes rotated through the verse, post-verse and chorus along with some well-timed sudden stops and starts. “Mountains of the Moon” closes the first side with a picked acoustic rhythm topped by harpsichord. This track has a definite Baroque feel musically, but Garcia’s vocals are more blues-based and Lesh’s sparse acoustic bass provides just enough variation to make it interesting.

Grateful Dead in 1969

An odd drum roll introduces “China Cat Sunflower”, which takes a few seconds to find its groove but when it does the great complementing riffs make this one of the most indelible Dead songs ever. Here the group also provides vocal choruses which actually harmonize decently (something they fail to do on many songs in their catalogue). A very popular song among “Deadheads”, “China Cat Sunflower” was one of the most performed songs in through the decades. In contrast, “What’s Become of the Baby” is one of their most forgettable tracks. Almost monk-like chanting by Garcia throughout with well-treated vocal effects, this song almost ruins an otherwise fine album with this ridiculous eight and a half minute indulgence, which was only really meant for use with the right chemical mix. Then, like landing back to Earth with fine rock blues, “Cosmic Charlie” finishes the album with fine rudimental harmonies during the bridge section and whining lead guitars throughout. Finishing things on a high note, this song sets the band up for the type of music they would forge and make famous the in 1970, when they produced two of their most famous albums.

Aoxomoxoa was not a tremendous commercial success, as it did not receive “gold” certification until 1997, nearly three decades after its release. However, it was a critical success and held in high enough regard by the band that they completely overhauled the mix in 1972 to catch up with technical innovations.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

Crosby, Stills and Nash

Crosby, Stills & Nash 1969 album

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Crosby, Stills and NashCrosby, Stills & Nash is an extremely rich and influential debut album from the “super group” of the same name. The trio of vocalists / guitarists which forged this group each came from successful 1960s pop/rock acts. David Crosby was from The Byrds, and Stephen Stills played in Buffalo Springfield, both Southern California folk/rock groups, while Graham Nash was from the British pop group The Hollies. Together, the group put an original twist on folk, country, blues, and rock topped by their masterfully blended three-part harmonies. Many credit this album for helping spawn the prolific soft rock groups of the 1970s which dominate many of the pop charts through that decade.

Crosby was dismissed from The Byrds in late 1967 due to internal conflicts, while Buffalo Springfield broke up a few months later, leaving Stills without a permanent gig. The two met informally during a jam with Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. Crosby knew Nash from a UK tour in 1966 featuring The Byrds and The Hollies. The three members first performed together at a private party in July 1968 where they instantly realized they had a unique vocal chemistry. This sparked Nash to depart from The Hollies and use their surnames as the title of a brand new group.

The debut album was co-produced by Bill Halverson, in collaboration with the three members of the band. Musically, Stills took the lead role by providing most of the lead guitars, bass, and keyboards along with his vocal parts. Crosby and Nash each added some acoustic and/or rhythm guitar along with their vocals, with Dallas Taylor providing drums. The simple, improvised album cover features the three members sitting on a couch in front of an abandoned homes just days before that dwelling was torn down.


Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash
Released: May 29, 1969 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Bill Halverson, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash
Recorded: Wally Heider’s Studio III, Los Angeles, June 1968-April 1969
Side One Side Two
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes
Marrakesh Express
Guinnevere
You Don’t Have to Cry
Pre-Road Downs
Wooden Ships
Lady of the Island
Helplessly Hoping
Long Time Gone
49 Bye-Byes
Group Musicians
Stephen Stills – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
David Crosby – Guitars, Vocals
Graham Nash – Guitars, Vocals

The seven and a half minute “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is a true suite in every way. Stills wrote this about his former girlfriend, folk singer Judy Collins. It is an early example of truly progressive music built on acoustic rhythms and harmonies throughout it’s four distinct sections. The first section is a traditional pop song, with the second, slower section focused on three-part harmonies, concluding with a brief acoustic lead by Stills. A unique percussion is played during the third part with a full drumbeat introducing the climatic ending part, which features some Spanish lyrics accompanying the famous “doo-doo-doo-da-doo” vocals. The song actually preceded Nash’s involvement in the group and was the very first recorded once he joined in mid 1968.

“Marrakesh Express” is a short but pleasant pop song by Nash, written while he was still with The Hollies but originally rejected by that group. It features an unforgettable, well-treated lead guitar by Stills and less harmonizing than on the opening song. The song was a pop hit, reaching the Top 10 on the Billboard charts. Stills’ guitar riff floats over the song in a way reminiscent of the sitar. Crosby’s initial contribution, “Guinnevere”, is much darker song than preceding two songs. Very soft and hypnotic, the song never picks up the pace or the intensity and features strange tuning and time signatures.

Side one concludes with Stills’, “You Don’t Have to Cry”, a pleasant country-influenced song with more fine three-part harmony and some pedal steel, and Nash’s “Pre-Road Downs”, which features really cool pedal effects on the lead guitars and cool, funky bass. The second side begins with “Wooden Ships”, a song which dates back to the original jam of Crosby, Stills, and Kantner (who co-wrote the song and did his own version with Jefferson Airplane), and is the only songwriting collaboration on the album. The song was written from the point of view of the few survivors of a post-apocalyptic world, with Crosby using his boat to set the scene.

Crosby Stills and Nash in 1969

Next comes a couple of pure folk tunes, “Lady of the Island” is nearly all Nash, with Stills adding some laid-back harmonies in a duet reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel. “Helplessly Hoping” returns to the rich harmonies with some beautifully done, picked acoustic providing the sole backing throughout this quintessential Crosby, Stills, & Nash song.

“Long Time Gone” is a cool 1960s pop/rock song with Stills playing a great funky bass, organ, with lead guitar licks throughout the verse and fantastically strong harmonies in rock context during the chorus. Crosby wrote it the night Bobby Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan. The album concludes with the fine, “49 Bye-Byes”, a rock waltz led by choppy organ and more great multi-part vocals. The song breaks into some interesting sections (almost its own mini-suite) and really rocks in its own way while never getting too intense.

Crosby, Stills, & Nash peaked at #6 on the Billboard Albums chart. After its release, the group played some high-profile shows, including the famous Woodstock Music Festival. Later in 1969, the group joined up with Neil Young, expanding the trio to a quartet as the new decade began.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

The Band 1969 album

The Band 1969 album

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The Band 1969 albumAs a perfect counterpart to Music from Big Pink, their 1968 debut album, The Band embarked on part two of their new musical, North American roots journey with their eponymous second album in 1969. It was as if to say that the debut was no mistake, the group upped the ante by declaring in the liner notes that “the songs focus on people, places and traditions associated with an older version of Americana…” This recording was a critical and commercial success on all fronts, reaching the Top 10 on the pop album charts and eventually preserved into the US National Recording Registry due to its “cultural and historical importance”.

The album that would eventually become known by some as “The Brown Album” was recorded between gigs as the group played their first live shows, starting in early 1969 through an appearance at the Woodstock Festival in August which happened to be named after the town adjoining their “big pink” dwelling which gave the Band’s debut album its title. The album was recorded in Los Angeles and featured songs mainly written by guitarist Robbie Robertson and produced by John Simon, who also provided much of the brass instrumentation on the album.

With this second, strong album, the Band came into their own as a viable, independent group, breaking out of the shadow of Bob Dylan, who they had previously backed up and began their debut album with. The blend of rural Americana and urban-centric rock really struck a chord with listeners as the mature musicians who began their musical journey in the 1950s found broad appeal in the post-psychedelic era.


The Band by The Band
Released: September 22, 1969 (Capitol)
Produced by: John Simon
Recorded: West Hollywood, CA, Early to Mid 1969
Side One Side Two
Across the Great Divide
Rag Mama Rag
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek
Whispering Pines
Jemima Surrender
Rockin’ Chair
Look Out Cleveland
Jawbone
The Unfaithful Servant
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
Band Musicians
Robbie Robertson – Guitars, Vocals
Richard Manuel – Piano, Keyboards, Saxophone, Vocals
Garth Hudson – Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Saxophone
Rick Danko – Bass, Fiddle, Vocals
Levon Helm – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

“Across the Great Divide” starts as a spiritual before breaking into a steady rocker. There are effective keyboards bass and drums from Rick Danko and Levon Helm. The shortest song on the album, this acts as a nice intro track for The Band. The title “Rag Mama Rag” leaves no mystery to the song’s style and features Helm on mandolin and Danko on fiddle. The song was released as a single and reached the Top 40.

Although not released as a single, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” has become one of the most popular songs by the group. While written by the Canadian born Robertson, the song convincingly tells of the last days of the American Civil War and the culture of Antebellum. Musically, the song paints a vivid picture perfectly of the human sense of history and aura of authenticity.

Pianist Richard Manuel co-wrote and sang, “When You Awake”, a steady and melodic ballad. In contrast, the choppy, upbeat rhythms of “Up on Cripple Creek”, paired with the ever-present clavichord of Garth Hudson helps make this song indelible. The multi-verse format leaves signs of Dylan influence but, overall, The Band’s sound makes this undeniably original. Helm’s lead vocals, from barking out the verses to yodeling the outro are constantly loose and carefree while Hudson tactfully applies a wah pedal to his clavichord during the breaks after the choruses. “Whispering Pines” is a unique ballad with dark, almost psychedelic organ accompanying the minor key piano by Manuel. There is a definite Grateful Dead influence, making it both haunting and beautiful.

The Band in 1969

The second side opens with “Jemima Surrender”, co-written by Helm with a melody very similar to “Up On Crippled Creek”. However, it is musically much different, driven by ever-present piano licks along with other musical motifs on guitar and horns. “Rockin’ Chair” is bluegrass to the core. Acoustic guitar, mandolin, and fiddle sets the rustic mood and paints the perfect picture of a porch jam, while providing great variety for this album, as nothing else is quite like this on The Band. “Look Out Cleveland” is the most rock-oriented song on the second side with interesting rhythms and fills, especially Danko’s sizzling bass and Robertson’s bluesy guitar riffs.

“Jawbone” is a very interesting hybrid of a song – from spiritual to waltz to a rock-riff oriented verse. The song has diverse qualities which barely jive, but jive nonetheless, to make it an excellent listen and the best song on side two of the album. The mood is then brought down a bit with “The Unfaithful Servant”, an acoustic and piano ballad where Simon’s horns add a wild, almost spooky element to the otherwise typical country-waltz. The closer “King Harvest (Has Surely Come)” provides yet one more surprise, being funky and jazzy musically like nothing else preceding it. Although credited solely to Robertson, this was really a group effort and a very strong selection to finish the album.

Following the release and success of The Band, the fame and attention to the group, along with the press anointing Robertson as the “leader”, started to take toll on the band’s chemistry. Still, they continued to tour and make great music right through The Last Waltz in 1976, when they retired from touring with a massive farewell concert.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.