Archive for the ‘ RnB ’ Category

Dale Hawkins “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”

Dale Hawkins, cousin of the legendary rockabilly raver Ronnie Hawkins, is most commonly remembered for writing and recording the original version of the swamp-rock standard “Suzie Q” in 1957. Born and raised in Louisiana, Hawkins had reached a milestone at the beginning of his career by bringing the sound of the swamp to the masses. However, Hawkins was much more than just a writer or a singer, and he spent the next ten years recording more singles for Chess Records and working behind the scenes as a producer and A&R man.

By 1967 Hawkins was itchin’ to cut an lp of his own again and headed into a small studio in Los Angeles where, he began work on what was to become L.A, Memphis, & Tyler, Texas. Holed up in bassist Joe Osborn’s basement studio, Hawkins began laying the framework for his new record along with the help of Taj Mahal, James Burton, Ry Cooder, and Paul Murphy. Hawkins had established a practice of playing with up and coming musicians when he successfully enlisted the help of a young James Burton for the twangy signature lick on “Suzie Q”, and things were no different this time around with youngbloods Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal along for the ride. Hawkins would later travel to Memphis, TN where he worked with Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, and Wayne Jackson & the Memphis Horns at Ardent Recordings and then to Tyler, Texas where Hawkins hunkered down in a funky little studio and finished the record with the help of Texas Garage Rock obscurites Mouse & The Traps. When all was said and done he had managed to lay down ten slices of pure swamp-funk genius, even getting songwriting help along the way from Bobby Charles of “See You Later Alligator” fame and the writer of “The Letter”, Wayne Carson. Pretty impressive.

L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas sounds like the front cover looks. That is to say, laid back, down-home, stoned, and restless all at once–it’s a deep fried oddball of an album that takes the genre to new levels and doesn’t sound exactly like anything else out there. The closest points of comparison for Hawkins’ funky noise would no doubt be the kindred spirits of Jim Ford, Link Wray, and Bobby Charles, although the kinda eerie haunted vibe that possesses part of the album brings to mind Skip Spence’s acid masterpiece “Oar” more than the music of Dale’s cousin Ronnie Hawkins or Dale’s former Chess Records labelmates. Simply put, L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas is weird, in a totally wonderful way.

The title track is an instant southern juke joint dance floor classic–throw it on the turntable and watch the hips begin to shake! A perfect introduction to the record, right on par with the title track off of Jim Ford’s excellent “Harlan County” lp; the equation begins with an undeniably funky Levon Helm-esque drum beat and ends with a fat and brassy horn part courtesy of The Memphis Horns, with some slinky slide guitar from Ry Cooder and some twangin’ tele from James Burton thrown in for good measure. “Heavy On My Mind”, co-written with the help of Carson, has a great muggy southern vibe and rollicks along at a brisk pace, aided by more excellent guitar work from his young dream team of killer pickers.

Things get freaky on “Ruby, Don’t You Take Your Love To Town”, a song about a disabled Vietnam vet and his unfaithful wife, which Kenny Rogers later scored a hit with. Along with the help of his friends in Mouse & The Traps, Hawkins managed to record a version of this song that really nails the subject matter. It’s deep, dark, murky, and weird, like a bad trip put to wax. Hawkins and the boys must have been chowin’ down on some mighty strange gumbo in that funky little Texas studio to cook up something this chewy. Meanwhile, Bobby Charles co-write “La-La, La-La” is a catchy little winsome pop ditty, and “Little Rain Cloud” is a swamp masterpiece that simply must be heard to be believed. The only place Hawkins comes close to missing the mark is on his cover of the great Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do”, which falls just short of the high level of excellence set by Reed’s original version. Nevertheless, the tune fits in pretty perfectly with the freaked out funky vibe of the whole album.

The late 60’s and 70’s were a time when handfuls of great record producers such as Alan Parsons, John Simon and Jack Nitzsche were spending time on the other side of the glass recording albums of their own. Hawkins’ background as both a musician and a producer allowed him to make a record that’s distinctive and exciting in “L.A, Memphis, and Tyler, Texas”. There was nothing like it before, and nothing’s come along since. Dig in, y’all.

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“Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town”

:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Bell | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2006 | Revola | buy here ]

Daniel Moore “Daniel Moore”

Daniel Moore is one of countless songwriters in the history of early rock and roll music that, despite attaining a measure of financial success through their material, never quite made a name for themselves as artists in their own right. It’s a rather old and tired tale, I’ll be honest, but what makes Moore’s story so much more frustrating is that in the midst of penning bland, superficial radio hits for artists like Three Dog Night and B.W. Stevenson, he also crafted one of the greatest ‘back to the roots’ records to come out of the early seventies.

Indeed, the songs found on Daniel Moore’s 1971 debut completely eschew the irritating soft rock sensibilities that scar his more famous material. We’re talking homegrown music here, weaving together the sounds of country, soul and blues into a tapestry that Gram Parsons once beautifully coined, ‘Cosmic American Music,’ From the very first tune, the haunting dirge “May 16, 1975,” it is clear that Moore had been keeping the Band’s first two records hot on the turntable, for the rustic vibes and mythical American spirit of those albums are everywhere. Not to say that this record is derivative, it will only take a single spin to recognize that this album stands very much on its own. From the horn-fueled rock and roll of “That’s What I Like In My Woman,” a spirited ode to wild and independent girls, to the oddly Zombies-esque ballad “Paul and Mabel,” about a preacher who “tried farming, and only grew failure,” Moore pieces together a compelling portrait of America.

As is the case with the best of all Americana, whether or not the world being invoked truly exists or is one founded in folklore and youthful romanticism isn’t really important. In most cases it’s as much about the message as the story anyways. The very last cut on the record, “Did I See You Tremble, Brother?”, may be one of the simplest, yet most powerful songs of brotherhood I have ever heard.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The second side of the record kicks up some serious dust with the rock and roll groove of “Funky Music,” but afterwards the band drops off, and things disappear and settle into the lazy acoustics of “World War I.” It should be noted at this point that the ragtag arrangements of background singers on these tracks really tend to capture that elusive, communal charm of the Band’s earliest recordings. It’s a beautiful sound, and one that can be hard to put into words. “Ride, Mama Ride” makes as if to continue the mood, with Moore’s singing evoking something between Lowell George and a backwoods Van Morrison, but before you get too comfortable some funky electric guitar work picks up the tempo and brings back the heavy grooves. The cats playing on this record, I should add, consist of some pretty recognizable names, including Chris Ethridge and Sneaky Pete from the Flying Burrito Brothers, Chris Stainton, Don Preston, Jim Keltner, T-Bone Burnett, Jim Price, and, believe it or not, the 1969 cast of Hair.

Daniel Moore is still very active in music, and since the early 1990s has recorded a number of additional records, but despite its obscurity this still stands as his crowning achievement. I was in touch with the man himself a while back, inquiring as to whether or not this album would ever see a reissue on compact disc here in the States, but he replied that the record company still has control of the master tapes, etcetera, and he is extremely doubtful of its re-release. From what I can tell there is a rather obscure Japanese pressing available, but I’m not all that sure as to its background. If you are a fan of artists like the Band, Delaney & Bonnie, or Leon Russell you should really work at finding yourself a copy; the original vinyl doesn’t appear to be too difficult to find online.

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“May 16th, 1975”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971  | ABC/Dunhill | search ebay ]

Koerner, Ray And Glover “Lots More Blues, Rags And Hollers”

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when white musicians decided to copy and adapt
black popular music forms in the nineteen-fifties and early sixties the result was all too often insipid,
sanitised shades of what had been urgent, emotive works. Fortunately there were exceptions:
Koerner, Ray And Glover may have been to all intents and purposes a white Sonny Terry And
Brownie McGee, but their version of the acoustic blues and plantation folk music was no less brash,
enthusiastic and full of energy than that of Sonny and Brownie.

“Spider” John Koerner, whose nickname allegedly derived from his being built like a harvestman
and walking like one, was an early reviver of the acoustic country blues and acapella field hollers
largely abandoned by the classic black bluesmen when they moved north from the Delta and
embraced electricity. Adeptly picking his weapon of choice, a seven-string non-resonator National
with an octave G string, and singing in a clear, powerful, distinctly non-black voice, engineering
student Koerner developed his catalogue of Leadbelly and similar covers and upbeat, lyrically witty
originals in the coffee houses around the University of Minnesota, frequently performing alongside
a teenage Bob Dylan (who compliments Koerner in Chronicles, Volume One). Encountering fellow
undergrads “Snaker” Dave Ray, who fingered a rare and mean Martin twelve-string and sang like
Muddy Waters, and Tony “Little Sun” Glover, a then unusual white exponent of blues harmonica, the
trio became official in time to benefit from the explosion of interest in “authentic” white folk music
around 1962.

Their first album, Blues, Rags And Hollers, appeared in a limited vanity run in June 1963 and was
quickly snapped up by Elektra for national distribution. The threesome had taped forty songs in one
twelve-hour session, recording as individuals, as duos (either Koerner or Ray with Glover) and just
occasionally as a trio, and when these were trimmed to twenty the resulting record was raw, gutsy,
one-take, down-home acoustic music, its jug-band feel propelled by Koerner’s favoured percussion
instrument, his foot, crisply recorded with plenty of reverb. The second album, Lots More Blues,
Rags And Hollers
, appeared a year later. After a third and final collection, The Return Of, in 1965,
the group bowed to the inevitable decline in the popularity of unamplified folk music following the
British Invasion and went their separate ways.

It’s been said that the intensity of Lots More is rather less than that of the debut, but to my ears
the record displays more mature musicianship, classier songs and considerably more originality
in the performances, and thus it’s my preferred platter. Outstanding are Koerner’s solo “Whomp
Bom” which highlights his outstanding seven-string dexterity and distinctive vocal; the cover of
Muddy’s “Honey Bee” in which Glover’s buzzing, stinging harp wonderfully complements Ray’s
relaxed vocal and throbbing guitar; and “Fine Soft Land” on which Ray picks an astonishing riff with
a bottleneck on his twelve-string (only Leo Kottke comes close). Both albums are currently available
individually, augmented with bonus tracks, or as a twofer without the extras. The latter includes a
top-quality insert booklet with the original extensive liner notes plus a fine new retrospective.

Unexpectedly, I recently discovered in a charity shop a private-label reunion album the three players
had cut in 1996: One Foot In The Groove. The style hasn’t changed much; the heads are greyer,
the voices hoarser, but the enthusiasm is still audible in the songs and the twelve-strings chime as
sweetly as ever.

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“Honey Bee”

:D CD Reissue | 1999 | Red House | order here ]
:) Original Issue | 1964 | Elektra | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Album | download here ]

The Sorrows “Take A Heart”

The Sorrows’ roots can be traced back to Coventry (around 1963), where Don Fardon (vocals), Pip Whitcher (lead guitar), Terry Jukes (rhythm guitar), and Philip Packham (bass) played in various local beat groups.  While plying their trade in the local night clubs the group was discovered by John Schroeder, Picadilly’s label manager.  Their first Picadilly (owned by Pye) single, “I Don’t Want To Be Free/Come With Me,” was an excellent Kinks-like number, full of power chords and tough, soulful vocals.  Another quality single leaked out (“Baby”) but success seemed to elude the boys.

It wasn’t until “Take A Heart” that the Sorrows had their big top 20 smash.  Originally written by songwriter Miki Dallon and recorded by the Boy Blues, “Take A Heart” for my money, is one of the UK’s greatest rock n roll singles.  The song’s arrangement gradually builds up into an explosion of speedy guitar work, charging rhythms, and violent lead vocals (Fardon was a great vocalist).  Without question, this 45 is one of the true classics.  To capitalize on the single’s success Pye released the Take A Heart LP in December of 1965.  The LP is consistently good, featuring originals, a few more tracks written by Miki Dallon and some interesting R&B covers.  Standouts include their ferocious take on “Teenage Letter,” the trashy mod pop of “Come With Me,”  a couple of strange beat ballads (“How Love Used To Be” and “We Should Get Along Fine”), and a Dylan influenced folk-rocker titled “Don’t Sing No Sad Songs For Me.”  Another great cut is their cover of “Let Me In,” a track that rocks really hard and features impressive fretwork.  Take A Heart is right up there with the early Stones’ output, the Pretty Things first two LPs, and the Small Faces debut; it’s that good.

The Sorrows released a few more 45s from the lp but none of them made the charts.   At this point Fardon decided it was best that he leave the group to pursue a solo career.  The Sorrows would soldier on, releasing an excellent early psych 45 in 1967 (“Pink, Purple, Yellow, Red”) and then relocate to Italy.  It was around this time that the group cut an LP titled Old Songs, New Songs in 1968.  A respectable LP, Old Songs, New Songs was a mixture of group originals and covers of then popular tracks by Traffic, The Small Faces and Family.  Despite the LP’s fine guitar work, it was nowhere near as good (or original) as Take A Heart.

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“Take A Heart”

;) MP3 2-Album | 2006 | Sanctuary | download ]
:)  Vinyl | search ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

Mark Leeman Five “Memorial Album”

The UK didn’t produce garage bands; in post-austerity Britain few enough people had cars, let alone covered accommodation for them. The Brit equivalents cut their teeth during the early sixties in youth clubs or in the few schools whose music teachers were sufficiently broad-minded to admit that anything more recent than Elgar was actually music. In these restrictive settings a rash of teenage groups got together on cheap instruments to bash out joyous covers of the black American underground sounds recently imported by merchant seamen and cult blues enthusiasts. The Animals in Newcastle, the Rolling Stones in Dartford, the Spencer Davis Group in Birmingham and those four lads in Liverpool all offered their own distinctive takes on R’n’B, coloured by their preferred influences: Berry and Diddley for the Stones, Hooker and Jimmy Reed for the Animals and the Spencers, Tamla and Arthur Alexander for the Fabs. The Mark Leeman Five chose to enhance their R’n’B with a smattering of funky jazz via the likes of Booker T, Ray Charles and Nina Simone, mostly courtesy of their trump card, the splendid acoustic/electric pianist and occasional organ player Terry Goldberg. Along with the spiky guitar of Alan Roskams and the solid rhythm section of David Hyde (bass) and Brian Davison (drums) came the aggressive, punky pipes of Mark Leeman.

The Five assembled at school in Woolwich in 1961, and their initial influence was clearly Joe Meek judging by their first demo single. The second covered Barrett Strong’s “Money” – well before the Fabs got hold of it – and indicates their change of direction. Sometime in 1963 they cut an eleven-track demo album which was two years ahead of its time and didn’t find a sponsor. Undaunted, Leeman and the lads built up a formidable live following around the capital until spotted by Manfred Mann’s manager Ken Pitt in January of the following year; an impressed Pitt subsequently ensured prestigious support slots to the Manfreds. Twelve months later a single “Portland Town” b/w “Gotta Get Myself Together”, the latter benefitting from harp by Paul Jones, finally hit the record racks. Five months further on, and tipped by their peers as the band “most likely to succeed”, the Five’s train hit the buffers when Leeman was killed in a car crash on his way home from a gig in Blackpool. Vocalist Roger Peacock was recruited to replace him, but as a tribute to their former frontman the band kept the same name. Three further singles were released, but the zeitgeist was past and the Five folded within a year. The only member to find subsequent celebrity was Brian “Blinky” Davison, who went on to thump the tubs with the Nice.

The Five’s recorded oeuvre remained in limbo till 1991, when with Ken Pitt’s assistance See For Miles released this compilation which includes both sides of the two early demos, both sides of the four later singles and the whole of the demo album (allegedly previously unreleased, although I’ve found reference to it as Rhythm And Blues Plus!, including cover art, on one website: possibly a few pressings did escape). The three final singles, produced by Denny Cordell, are competent, unremarkable Manfred-ish fare, deliberately commercial.

The second demo single and the album are revelatory; though all the tunes are covers, the musicianship is impressive and the energy is astonishing, the latter blasting through the unpolished but surprisingly clean production. Goldberg’s stomping electric piano take on “Green Onions”, IMHO, blows the original away. His boogie-woogie piano and Roskams’s bluebeat guitar power a fine, edgy rendition of Simone’s “Forbidden Fruit”, while “Work Song” and “Let The Sunshine In” hold up easily against the better-known versions by Mose Allison and Ray Charles. The straightforward R’n’B cuts include the overworked staples “Shame, Shame, Shame”, “Got My Mojo Working” and “You Can’t Judge A Book”, but the Five attack these as if they’d never been heard before, with Goldberg’s piano always to the fore.

The Memorial Album has never seen a re-release and is now hard to find; I picked up my copy in a record store clearout some ten years ago. However, copies can be found at a price, and both collectors with an ear for early British Invasion influences and fans of quality R’n’B garage music from the Animals to the Mysterians should hunt down this fine early
example of the genre.

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“Green Onions”

:D CD |  1990 | Sfm | at amazon ]

Shuggie Otis “Freedom Flight”

As we all know, the oldest cliché in rock is the casualty list. There are the high-profile heroes of misadventure: Buddy Holly, Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan. There are those that couldn’t handle success and took the ultimate way out: Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, Jeff Buckley. But perhaps saddest of all are those huge talents who unaccountably chose simply to fade into obscurity, often in self-imposed seclusion: Brian Wilson, Peter Green, Emitt Rhodes . . . and Shuggie Otis.

Johnnie Velotes Jr was a precocious musical polymath. Son of extrovert jump-jive bandleader Johnnie Otis, Shuggie inherited the musical gene in spades, playing guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and vibes fluently before reaching his teens. At fifteen he replaced Mike Bloomfield in Al Kooper’s occasional all-star supergroup for the album Kooper Session: Al Kooper Introduces Shuggie Otis. In the same year he played bass on the sessions for Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats; that’s Shuggie’s bubbling, syncopating bass on “Peaches En Regalia”.

A year later the teenage prodigy released his first solo album, Here Comes Shuggie Otis, co-written and produced by his father and backed by the cream of Johnnie Sr’s session pals. The second followed a year later: its title Freedom Flight symbolised Shuggie’s breaking loose from his father’s patronage, with most compositions being credited to him alone and with a much smaller coterie of backing players, while Shuggie overdubbed his own bass and keyboard parts and wrote his own string and brass charts. But even this new level of creative control wasn’t enough: his third and final album, Inspiration Information, took three years to construct, with Shuggie playing everything bar the horns and strings which he scored. And then, at the age of 22, Shuggie Otis went into self-imposed retirement. Apart from occasional studio sessions for other artists and, recently, some low-key live appearances in Northern California, he’s remained silent and invisible.

The first album is an enthusiastic freshman romp through blues and funk, showcasing Shuggies’s youthfully exuberant guitar; the last is an introspective, sensitive effort that unites soul and jazz in what would now be called ambient soundscapes, way ahead of its time but with a curiously vulnerable, unfinished quality. Freedom Flight is undoubtedly his most-realised collection. The blues/funk axis carries over from Here Comes, notably on the killer opener “Ice Cold Daydream” and the sole cover, Gene Barge’s “Me And My Woman”, but with a far more mature, considered approach to his guitar playing from the eighteen-year-old virtuoso. The album also nods in other directions; the gorgeous psychedelically-tinged California soul of “Strawberry Letter 23” with its astonishing coda, the restrained modal slide guitar work on “Sweet Thang” and the guitar/flute dialogue that ends the joyous “Someone’s Always Singing”. But the big surprise is the title track, which moves unexpectedly into the most melodic of free jazz with the guitar improvising against tenor sax, Fender Rhodes and a ubiquitous wind chime for thirteen minutes, and not a wasted note anywhere – Shuggie’s absolute masterpiece. This points toward the third album, and the direction he’d probably have taken thereafter had he stayed the course.

One reviewer called Shuggie Otis the link between Sly Stone and Stephen Stills; personally I’d say between Mike Bloomfield and Curtis Mayfield. But such comparisons are subjective and irrelevant. If you want to follow up this brilliant, enigmatic young musician’s brief career on CD, Inspiration Information was reissued on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop imprint in 2001 with four key tracks from Freedom Flight included as bonus cuts, while the first two albums reappeared in full as a twofer on the excellent Raven label from Australia in 2003. Both releases are unreservedly recommended.

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“Strawberry Letter 23”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Epic | search ebay ]
:D CD Reissue | 2003 | 2fer | Raven | at amzn ]

Moby Grape “Live”

Something tells me, if I had been at San Francisco’s Avalon Ballroom in June of ’67 to witness Moby Grape at the height of their powers, scorching through their set of two-minute pop blasts, blaring triple-guitar action and five-part harmonies soaring, I might not have survived the night. None was the match of the mighty Grape in those days; the band was “flying musically” and easily the toughest act around. Moby Grape Live is the first official release to afford a glimpse into the raucous and entrancing stage performances of one of the most exciting, original, and underappreciated bands of the ’60s.

Separated into four sides, this double LP takes us to performances from the same weeks their infamously overhyped masterpiece Moby Grape was released, to their few high-octane minutes at the legendary Monterey International Pop Festival, jumping forward to a 1969 performance in Amsterdam featuring cuts from Wow and ’69, and ending back at the start: a full side of  “Dark Magic,” recorded New Years Eve, 1966. This one’s worth the purchase for Side 1 alone. The rabid energy of the band, issuing rapid-fire gems like “Rounder” and “Looper,”  hits a high point in “Changes” into “Indifference” featuring Jerry Miller’s careening lead guitar. Skip Spence turns in a beautifully honest vocal to cap the blistering set with “Someday.” The highlight for me, however, are the post-Skip tracks from 1969 on Side 3. “Murder in my Heart for the Judge” shows the band at their loosest, the slack and soul of the rootsier Grape a refreshing contrast. “I am Not Willing,” one of their best songs, gets a grooving drawn out treatment and it’s interesting to hear a matured group attack earlier hits “Fall on You” and “Omaha.” The closing 17-minute raga, “Dark Magic,” is more than a piece of rock music history, an actually listenable and fascinating performance, it features inspiring guitar leads, primitive electronic squeals, Skip’s far out vocal, and the driving force of sound that made Moby Grape one of the hottest band of the era.

Sundazed has curated an important document here. Hardcore Grape addicts should note much of this material has been featured on bootlegs over the years (notably the tracks from Monterey Pop and “Dark Magic”) but none of this has ever been officially released, and never with such pristine sound quality. David Fricke’s notes are the icing on the cake. After the essential debut record, this is the Moby Grape record I would recommend next.

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“Murder in My Heart for the Judge” (1969, Amsterdam)

:) 180 Gram Vinyl | 2-LP | 2010 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]
:D CD | 2010 | Sundazed | buy at sundazed ]

Hoyt Axton “Joy to the World”

After too many years over-exposure to the words “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…” I thought I would never make it all the way through another version of “Joy to the World.” Hoyt Axton’s original delivers the goods though, and much more to dig on this 1971 gem, his most celebrated and “hits” filled record.

In quotations since none of the “hits” were from his own version. Before any research, it sounds like a collection of covers, but I was surprised to learn he actually wrote “Joy to the World,” “Never Been to Spain” (both as made famous by 3 Dog),  and “The Pusher” (Steppenwolf). Clearly a talented songwriter but a damn fine performer at that, seeing as how his originals endure better today than their played-out cover versions. These productions are raw, but layered and textured, a bit twangy and sometimes pumped up with an overdriven gospel chorus. It’s a kind of sound that could even sound good on blown out speakers.

Axton’s vocal varies track to track: sometimes it’s a little unconvincing, like on the swampy “California Women” (great work with the blues harp on this one), but a couple lines in he’ll hook you back. The payoff is in the growl and squonk when his voice is most worn.

This record’s worth it for some key moments. The panning moog (or distorted bass guitar, sax? can anybody call it?) on “Alice in Wonderland’s” addicting chorus.  The first verse of “Lightnin’ Bar Blues” (another song so good I can’t believe it’s original) before the bar fight sound effects nearly ruin the track. And “Have a Nice Day,” now that’s my kind of tune, it’s like the content of a R. Davies track with some J. Sebastian feel.

Get this any way you can find it, but the Raven CD reissue comes as a 2fer with his previous recording, Country Anthem, another great one.

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“Alice in Wonderland”

:) Original Vinyl | 1971 | Capitol | search ebay ]
:D CD reissue | 2001 | Raven | 2fer | at amazon ]

Creedence Clearwater Revival “Bayou Country”

For a long time I wondered why four guys from the musical wellhead that was late ‘60s San Fran set out to sound like a swamp’n’roll band from the backwoods of Louisiana, whilst accepting as perfectly natural that five young long-haired white boys from London, England should have bust their guts to emulate a black 1950s Chicago bar band. Eventually I stopped wondering and started trying to pin down why this album has remained Creedence’s most underestimated, least discussed collection, despite coming closest to the ideal they sought. Not that it didn’t sell; just that nobody ever seems to mention it till near the end of a CCR conversation, if at all. And at the time of writing it’s running a distant fourth in The Rising Storm’s Creedence discography uReview vote.

The undeniable ability of John Fogerty’s outfit to produce immaculate three-minute power-pop singles shines throughout CCR’s oeuvre, from “Suzie Q” to “Sweet Hitch Hiker”. But this album finds the band stretching out on what is to all purposes a live stage set performed in the studio: raw and honest, high energy, no discernable overdubs. The three long, sweaty, riffing jams – “Born On The Bayou”, “Graveyard Train” and “Keep On Chooglin’” – and the shorter but similar “Bootleg” get as close as CCR ever did to the authentic swamp-rock of Tony Joe White. On the mandatory classic rock’n’roll cover “Good Golly Miss Molly” John does what Paul McCartney did on the Fabs’ version of “Long Tall Sally”: his eviscerating vocal simply leaves the original for dead. “Proud Mary” is the hit single, but despite its prettiness it’s the weakest cut on the album, as the pace and energy level dip temporarily. The real surprise, and true gem, of the whole collection is “Penthouse Pauper”, an uncharacteristic twelve-bar blues on which both John’s voice and his Telecaster are fit to strip wallpaper.

The straightforward, no-frills nature of Creedence’s music enabled them to record and release an astonishing six albums in two-and-a-half years, from July 1968 to December 1970. (Think on that, Coldplay.) Whilst on an extended vacation in western Canada in 2007 I got to talk to and play with a number of young musicians who weren’t born till years after these albums came out. I was surprised to find that CCR was right up there as one of their favourite acts to cover. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised: the simple but irresistable songs, the natural, unaffected guitar sound and that unique banshee voice have a genuinely timeless quality.

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“Penthouse Pauper”

:D CD Reissue | 2008 | Fantasy | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl | 1969 | Fantasy | search ebay ]
;) MP3 Download | at amazon ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]

The Rolling Stones “Aftermath (UK)”

The Rolling Stones may still elicit the soubriquet “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world”, but in my opinion they’ve produced in a 42-year recording history (to A Bigger Bang, 2005) just two albums really worthy of the full five stars. Both came in the 1960s when they were still comparatively young and hungry, and both interestingly represent periods of transition. Aftermath was a product of their move from faux American R’n’B garage band towards a British pop-psych sensibility motivated by the success of mid-period Beatles and the demand by their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, that they develop as songwriters; and Beggars’ Banquet the corresponding move back to their roots, post-psychedelia.

Aftermath was the Stones’ first album to comprise only their own compositions, and can be compared to Rubber Soul in its mix of adventurousness and commercial appeal. Although Jagger’s and Richards’ songs are in general not as strong harmonically as Lennon’s and McCartney’s – the Stones lacking the Fabs’ insight into such diverse musical fields as jazz, Tamla, country and showtunes, not to mention a studio Svengali of the calibre of George Martin – the best of them are right up there, and the eclectic instrumentation brought to bear by Brian Jones, Jack Nitzsche and the invisible “sixth Stone” Ian Stewart is every bit as effective as Martin’s baroque embellishments. “Under My Thumb”, “Take It Or Leave It” and “Out Of Time” were all considered commercial enough to be covered immediately as singles by high-profile acts. The eleven-minute bluesy jam “Going Home” (not the Ten Years After song) was unprecedented on a British pop album, yet works brilliantly in the context of the wider work. The one dubious quality is the mysogynous nature of many of the lyrics; “Stupid Girl”, “Thumb”, “Time”, “Dontcha Bother Me” and “Take It” unambiguously reveal Jagger’s prevailing frame of mind.

Despite the classic British Invasion sound of the album, it was recorded in RCA’s Hollywood studios and engineered by Dave Hassinger, who would fall out big-time with the Grateful Dead a year or two later but who got along famously with the Stones if his sleeve notes are to be believed. Production was, as usual, credited to Oldham, but Nitzsche was ever-present at the sessions and the hallmarks of his touch are all over the record. North American readers should note that Aftermath UK is a greatly superior artefact to the US release of the same name, benefitting from omission of the superfluous previous hit single and from the band’s preferred sequencing, not to mention offering fourteen tracks against the US version’s eleven.

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“Mother’s Little Helper”

:D CD Reissue |  2002 | Abkco | at amazon ]
:) Original Vinyl |  1966 | Decca | at ebay ]
8-) Spotify link | listen ]