Archive for the ‘ Baroque ’ Category

Sagittarius “Present Tense”

Present Tense

Sagittarius is the project (and zodiac sign) of one Gary Usher, collaborator and friend to Brian Wilson and producer of Notorious Byrds, and the ambitious Curt Boettcher, another Beach Boys coconspirator and genius behind the legendary Begin album by The Millennium.

Basically, they are companion albums, released in the same month in 1968, where most recommend starting with Begin and expanding into Present Tense. Some will find this album a bit twee for their tastes, and it is very hard to take seriously on first listen. But a little effort in putting it on, and it won’t take long before the album reveals itself to you. I find Present Tense to be almost a little better put-together than Begin. Realize though, that you’re not going to win points pumping this album full blast; maybe this is an album for headphones on the train, or a light rainy day.

Usually, I would balk at posting a track called “Song To The Magic Frog;” I have to though as it well represents the album. The instruments are eq’d with fairy dust it seems, and nice orchestral touches. “Will you ever, will you ever know” sounds to me like a classic Curt Boettcher melody, and though this is a Gary Usher project, Curt’s prevailing influence is unmistakable. The vocals soar on “Another Time” and it’s near the top, but I promise you that it is worth growing with Present Tense and all of its loveliness.

It’s only a matter of time before some director includes some of this Curt Boettcher madness in a popular film and all this soft California sike blows up. Included here from the bonus selections is the single version of My World Fell Down, with the preserved musique concrete bridge that Clive Davis urged removed from the album version.

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“My World Fell Down”

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The Left Banke “There’s Gonna Be A Storm”

There’s Gonna Be A Storm

Noted as one of the trailblazers of baroque pop, the Left Banke,  known for their huge hit ‘Walk Away Renee’ were original twee. Think of a classical Zombies, harpsichord instead of wurli with dramatic classically-influenced arrangements.

‘Pretty Ballerina’ is their lesser but still well-known hit, and the singing is drop dead gorgeous. Steve Martin (not that Steve Martin) was one of the most under appreciated rock vocalists of his generation and his tender delivery, combined with the delicate string arrangements assured ‘Ballerina.’ Michael Brown wrote great melodies, lyrics tuned to the woe of teenage heartbreak.

Key tracks include ‘Shadows Breaking Over My Head,’ ‘She May Call You Up Tonight,’ ‘I Haven’t Got The Nerve,’ ‘Barterers And Their Wives,’ ‘There’s Gonna Be A Storm’ etc. The 2nd half of this collection covers the material surrounding the Left Banke’s unfortunate demise.

Only a country-rocker falls flat on a completely solid album that many people call baroque pop. Their second album Too, is respectable but lacks the fire of the debut and does not benefit from Michael Brown’s absence. Essential stuff!!

For the complete recordings of the Left Banke in one package, get this.

‘Desiree’ plus ‘Men Are Building Sand’ would be part of the excellent follow up record, Montage.

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“I’ve Got Something On My Mind”

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Scott Walker “Scott 4”

Scott 4

Scott Walker sure has an interesting career going. Starting as a teen pop idol in the early sixties, moving to session work on electric bass with Jack Nitzsche, Scott later formed the fabulous Walker Brothers (neither of which were Walkers, or brothers for that matter), broke away to a solo career that is the focus of this review, and in recent years has been recording acclaimed experimental music, his The Drift making Pitchfok Media’s top 10 albums of 2006.

Scott Walker’s albums from 1967 to 1969, Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, and Scott 4 are all great and consistently satisfying records. Walker is kind of a psychedelic crooner, a deep tenored and dramatic singer backed with a full orchestra and groovy rock combo. His tunes almost sound kitschy, but should you choose to pay attention, you’ll find the words and images that no ordinary voice-man would dream to play with. It’s clear why David Bowie was so inspired by Scott; reading along with the lyric sheet is a mind wrenching exercise.

But I have to recommend treating this album as a series of poems. It’s obvious that the lyrics came before, and are tantamount to, the melodies and accompaniment. But that’s not to say that you won’t be singing along to Get Behind Me or any other great melodies on this record. On all of Scott’s earlier solo albums, Jacques Brel is a prominent songwriter, but on 4, Scott takes complete control.

There’s a new box set out but I think it would be cooler if you bought each separately and chronologically. Let us know when you get to 4.

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“The Old Man’s Back Again (Dedicated To The Neo Stalinist Regime)”

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Montage (self-titled)

Montage

Michael Brown, though not credited, is the man behind this strange, beautiful album. His work with The Left Banke will go unmentioned for this review, as we will certainly revisit it later. But if you don’t know the Left Banke, think The Zombies gone classical, replacing the Fender Rhodes with a harpsichord.

And if you don’t know Montage, think The Left Banke gone Zombies, though a year or three later, replacing the harpsichord with a bass-driven rhythm section and confident grand piano. Though we have all the chamber elements in place; each song is adequately ornamented with winds, strings and brass when needed, though never when not. What differs from the Banke is a seemingly more progressive sound, certainly a step beyond their great first accomplishments, but one that could go no further.

These songs will surprise you: the haunting She’s Alone, the unbelievable “off-note” that tunes you in to the message of Men Are Building Sand, a Left Banke leftover actually, along with Desiree, a major highlight on this disc, and even better than its original counterpart.

Best of all, The Song is Love, a lite pop master stroke: it’s awesome.

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“The Song Is Love”

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The Left Banke “Desiree”

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Montage “Desiree”