Dusty In Memphis by Dusty Springfield

June 29, 2009

Dusty Springfield began her career as part of the British folk trio The Springfields and eventually went solo in 1969 with the R&B release Dusty In Memphis.

Under the tutelage of legendary producers Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin, Springfield fused her pop voice with the Memphis soul style and created a unique rhythm & blues sound, resulting in one of the better albums of the year.

Side one of Dusty In Memphis
contained some of the best late 1960s rhythm and blues this side of Aretha Franklin. “Just A Little Lovin,” “So Much Love” and I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore” all feature Springfield’s unique soul stylings while the Memphis Horns provide a background counterpoint. “Son Of A Preacher Man” is one of those perfect songs that comes along every once in a while, and her seductive vocals are singing at its best.

Side two is more pop-ish and nearly as good, except for “The Windmills Of Your Mind,” which is straight pop and the only mistake on the album, as it is out of context. “No Easy Way Down” and “I Can’t Make It Alone” are Goffin-King songs that Springfield moves in a soulful direction; rarely have the songs of Carole King been interpreted in such a unique way. “Just One Smile” is another highlight.

The 1999 re-release contains 14 bonus songs, 11 of them from a 1971 Atlantic album that was never released. “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho),” which was a hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears, is slowed way down and given a fine blues vocal. “What Do You Do When Love Dies” contains a pop vocal treatment on the melody and a R&B vocal on the refrain; it is an unusual and wonderfully creative song. “Willie and Laura Mae Jones” is straight out the Aretha Franklin songbook, “All The Kings Horses” and “I Found My Way” show gospel traits and “Natchez Trace” is about as rocking as Dusty Springfield gets. However, such standards as “Make It With You” and “You’ve Got A Friend” are given a typical pop treatment and pale next to the rest of the material on the album.

Dusty Springfield died at age 59 in 1999, 10 days before her induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. As one of her highest achievements, Dusty In Memphis remains her masterpiece and contains some of the best music to come out of the late 60s.

The History Of The Dave Clak Five by The Dave Clark Five

June 29, 2009

The Dave Clark Five, formed in 1962 and gone by 1970, were at one time thought to be serious rivals to the Beatles. Those pretensions of greatness quickly passed.

The legacy of the Dave Clark Five is that of an original British Invasion band which produced a string of excellent and memorable singles and, unfortunately, about a dozen or so forgettable albums, one reason they are not as well-remembered as the other invasion groups.

After disbanding in 1970, the The Dave Clark Five never reunited for a concert or album. Dave Clark, who owned the rights to the groups music, released no material for 23 years. Finally in 1993, The History Of The Dave Clark Five was released. This two-disc 52-song set covers all the highlights of the Five’s career. And like many singles bands, when all their best material is gathered in one place, the group shines.

The Five had a unique sound for the time period. It was Mike Smith’s organ and Dennis Payton’s sax that drove the sound of the group against the backdrop of Clark’s drums. Lenny Davidson and Rick Huxley’s guitars filled out the sound, rather than dominating it. Mike Smith was also on the great lost vocalists of the 1960s.

Uptempo rockers such as “Glad All Over,” “Can’t You See That She’s Mine,” “Do You Love Me,” “I Like It Like That” and “Catch Us If You Can” are classic Dave Clark Five material. The History Of The Dave Clark Five also contains such lesser known gems such as “Look Before You Leap,” “Hurting Inside,” “Try Too Hard,” “Nineteen Days” and “Having A Wild Weekend.”

All the material has been taken from the original masters and cleaned up so that the sound is crystal clear. The History of The Dave Clark Five is a musical treat for old and new fans of the group. The release is just about the right length and includes the correct material.

In the final analysis, the Dave Clark Five may have gotten it right. They left the musical stage leaving their fans wanting more. The History Of The Dave Clark Five shows the better side of the British Invasion and is a great listen from a band that has been often overshadowed by its more successful counterparts.

Dylanesque Live (DVD) by Bryan Ferry

June 29, 2009

Dylanesque Live: The London Sessions is a companion DVD to the recent album Dylanesque. Bryan Ferry has had some brilliant successes and some spectacular failures throughout his long and varied career, yet Dylanesque Live is not a success or failure, which means it’s not terribly interesting.

In his introduction to the DVD Brian Ferry said that he did not want to put a lot of time into the writing of songs and was looking for something quick. He had always admired the songs of Bob Dylan. That’s not a promising intro, as quick is not necessarily good and is not the best reason to produce an album.

Dylanesque Live is not a concert DVD but rather is Ferry and band in studio simply running through the songs on the CD.

Now, Bob Dylan’s material has been covered thousands of times, and three outcomes can occur: incompetence, unnecessary or a new interpretation (think Hendrix doing “All Along The Watchtower”). Dylanesque Live mostly falls into the second category.

This does contain a few good moments. “Baby Let Me Carry You Down” is given a good rocking treatment. Bonus material song “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is simply Ferry’s voice, harmonica and a piano. It is the highlight of the DVD. The original 1973 video of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” is included and shows a young Ferry at his best.

The real failures include “All I Really Wanna Do” and “The Times They Are A Changing,” which do not at all measure up to the originals. Meanwhile, “All Along The Watchtower” just never takes off, which admittedly is hard to do given the excellent versions put forth by Hendrix, U2 and Dave Matthews.

Bryan Ferry is now in his early 60’s. I don’t know how many more albums or musical projects he has left in him. He has shown many times that he can be one of the more interesting artists in rock music. I would hope that for his next production he will take the time to let his musical juices flow instead of bang out a half-hearted cover disc.

Close As You Get by Gary Moore

June 29, 2009

Every year or two, I get a visit from Gary Moore in the form of his latest album. He’s like an old friend who, while not exciting, is nice to catch with as to what’s been going on in his life.

The Ireland-born Moore has an excellent, bluesy voice and is a fine guitarist who can play the blues. I just don’t know if he has ever lived the blues. His rock roots run very deep and so I consider him to be a blues/rock fusion artist, and that’s fine, if not a bit unoriginal at this point. As such, he won’t break much new ground or change his approach, so if you take Moore on his terms the music is satisfying, nothing more.

Close As You Get features five original compositions and six covers. The covers seem to work a little better as they are straight rock; the old Chuck Berry tune “Thirty Days” shows that Moore can still flat-out play when challenged by the music, and his original composition “Hard Times” has great harmonica work by Mark Feltham set against some flashy guitar.

The Sonny Boy Williamson classics “Eyesight To The Blind” and “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” are well done but also edge closer to straight rock. It’s not that Moore can’t play — in fact, he’s a truly underrated guitarist in America, though a rather popular one across Europe. It’s just that this collection offers nothing in the way of originality, which is necessary after 50 years of rock artists playing the blues.

There are truly no bad songs on this album, but very few are excellent. The last few Gary Moore albums are interchangeable, so it doesn’t really matter if you get this or another one released since 1990. In short, this is a disc for fans of Moore or of standard blues/rock, one that you’ll spend time with and then invite back in another couple of years, just like an old friend.

300 Watt Music Box by Michaelangelo

June 17, 2009

I read once that about 1000 new 45’s each week were being issued in the early 1970’s. About 10 would become hits on the pop charts, the same on the country charts, and a few more on the R & B charts. If you want to be generous fifty or so would make money. The rest would quickly disappear.

I was the program director of my college radio station from 1970-1972. We received hundreds of records each week. We were more inclined to feature albums so the 45’s rarely made into our airplay rotation. We would throw them out, give them away or just consign them to dusty corners. I must have played thousands of 45’s during that time period.

Every once in awhile an obscure record would knock me out and so it was with “300 Watt Music Box” by Michangelo on the Columbia Label. While their only album ONE VOICE MANY would have vocals this particular track is an instrumental.

What made this song so unique was the use of an autoharp as the lead instrument. Their overall sound can be considerd folk/rock and has a gentleness to it. This track just moved smoothly along and was memorizing in a way.

The group consisted of Angel (electric autoharp), Steve Bohn (lead guitar), Robert Gorman (bass), and Michael Hackett (Drims). While the album would receive some minimal play in its day it would ultimately fail commercially and the group would soom disband and fade into the mists.

What is left is one shining 45. No I did not thro841lw it away or leave it behind. It still sits in my collection.

Live Blueswailing by The Yardbirds

June 17, 2009

I am a record person, always have been, always will be. I buy CDs for three reasons — a new release that will never be found in vinyl form, a box sets that contains unique material, or an impulse purchase when I can hear the CD whispering to me. Live! Blueswailing July ’64 by the Yardbirds falls into the third category.

The Yardbirds are one of the forgotten groups of rock history. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1992, they are remembered today not so much for their music as for being the training ground for three of the great rock guitarists in history. Eric Clapton (May 1963-March 1965), Jeff Beck (March 1965-June 1966) and Jimmy Page (April 1966-July 1968) each learned their craft as the lead guitarist of the Yardbirds.

As if that wasn’t historically significant enough, the tail end of the band’s golden era was equally as noteworthy. When the Yardbirds broke up in July 1968, Page and bassist Chris Dreja decided to form the New Yardbirds in order to fulfill some concert commitments. Singer Terry Reid turned them down but recommended Robert Plant, who brought along drummer John Bonham. Then, in one of the worst voluntary decisions in rock history, Chris Dreja decided not to participate in the new group, became a photographer and was replaced by bassist John Paul Jones. The New Yardbirds decided to look for a new name. Any idea what they settled on*?

Meanwhile, back in 1964… Blueswailing July ’64 features the Eric Clapton edition of the Yardbirds. The group is led by singer/harmonica player Keith Relf, who would die by electrocution playing the guitar at home in 1976. Relf was a wonderful blues/rock vocalist and one of the better rock harmonica players. The interplay of Relf’s harmonica with Clapton’s guitar playing is the highlight of this CD, which is unfortunately only half an hour long.

In fact, it is similar to the LP Five Alive Yardbirds and probably comes from the same concert tour. The main problem is that it was recorded in 1964, probably on a simple tape recorder, and is limited in sound. Three old rock/blues standards form the meat of the set — “Too Much Monkey Business,” “Smokestack Lightning” and “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” – and all feature a young Clapton learning his craft. The highlight of this disc is the song “I’m So Respectable,” which features the wonderful harmonica-guitar interplay mentioned above.

Make no mistake, while the main interest here may be centered upon Clapton, the leader and focus of the Yardbirds at this point in their history is Relf and here, at least, he shines. Still, it is 1964. The sound is very raw, not a surprise given that the Yardbirds never develop a very sophisticated sound, but here it’s too weak to give a true testament to the band’s concert sound.

As such, it’s interesting for a listen and for its historical value, but it’s not something you’ll return to very often unless you’re a huge Yardbirds or Clapton fan. Me, I’ll stick with the albums.

The Album by Art Tatum and Ben Webster

June 17, 2009

Art Tatum (1909-1956) is recognized as one of the best — if not the best — jazz pianists of the first half of the twentieth century. His influence would inspire a generation of jazz pianists who would follow him, including Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Chick Corea among many others who would build upon his legacy.

Tatum played within tight structures, rarely venturing into the wild improvisations that dominated jazz in the second half of the twentieth century. He was also more melodic than many of the artists who would follow him.

His genius lay in his accuracy and timing. At times his playing could be frenetic yet each note is distinguishable from the next. His sound is instantly recognizable by its clarity. He was also a genius at changing chord progressions within the melody of a song. His virtuosity was such that when listening to his recordings, this one included, you will swear there is more than one piano being played.

Art Tatum was primarily a solo artist as the majority of his performances and recorded work featured only his piano. Every once in a while, however, he would assemble a trio or quartet, which brings us to Ben Webster.

Webster was a tenor sax player and contemporary of Tatum. He began his career as a member of The Duke Ellington Orchestra in the mid-thirties and would go on to a stellar career both as a solo artist and as a member of numerous groups until his death in 1972. He was known as a swing artist who fit Tatum’s style perfectly.

Legendary producer and label owner Norman Granz managed to lure Tatum and Webster into the studio together. Backed by Red Callender on bass and Bill Douglass on drums, Tatum and Webster recorded all eight tracks that comprise The Album on September 11, 1956. It would be Tatum’s last recording session as he would pass away not long after its completion.

The first track, “All The Things You Are,” sets the tone as Tatum begins with a solo while exploring the song’s structure and theme. Webster then joins in the exploration with his smoky sax sound. While Tatum tends to dominate, Webster’s sax meanders in, out, and around Tatum’s piano to create a dual sound that constantly splits and reunites.

“Gone With The Wind” finds Tatum literally bending the melody with one hand while playing a number of runs with the other. It is an excellent example of his layering technique and creating a two-piano sound. Webster provides a nice counterpoint in support.

Webster would later say that he considered his performance on “Night and Day” one of the best of his career. He assumes more of a dual lead as the purity of his tone wafts over the melody established by Tatum.

There are four bonus tracks which are very interesting. “Gone With The Wind,” “Have You Met Miss Jones,” “Night and Day,” and “Where Or When” are all repeated, but here they are done so with solo performances by Tatum, allowing the listener to compare both versions.

The Album by Ben Webster and Art Tatum is considered one of the best jazz releases of all time. The two geniuses who created this wonderful work are now sadly slipping from the public consciousness. This reissue should restore the luster of their virtuosity and hopefully their popularity as it remains a testament to two of the most influential American jazz musicians of the twentieth century.

The Complete Liberty Singles by Gary Lewis and The Playboys

June 16, 2009

Sometimes I can’t remember my wife’s birthday yet I can remember Gary Lewis & The Playboys playing “This Diamond Ring” on The Ed Sullivan Show way back in 1964.

Gary Lewis is the son of legendary comedian and actor Jerry Lewis and his group was discovered playing at Disneyland by producer Snuff Garrett. They would go on to create a string of hits that may not have been essential to the history of rock ‘n’ roll but they were extremely catchy and pleasant nonetheless; plus, they were tremendously popular, selling millions of copies. And they still put a smile on my face over forty years later.

Collector’s Choice has just released The Complete Liberty Singles by Gary Lewis & The Playboys. This two disc, 45-track set contains all of the group’s singles — both the A and B sides — plus a couple of unreleased songs.

While they would release a number of albums, they were at heart a singles band. Their LPs would basically contain a couple of their hits surrounded by a bunch of cover songs. They sold quite a few albums with this formula, but the singles remain their superior recordings.

Having Jerry Lewis as your father didn’t hurt as they were able to debut their first ever recording on The Ed Sullivan Show in front of tens of millions of people. The recorded version actually featured some of the best studio musicians of the day, including drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Leon Russell, who would become a fixture in the studio. Who played on the song didn’t necessarily matter, though, as “This Diamond Ring” hit Number One on the American charts and made stars of the group.

They would become mainstays on the charts, sharing radio time with the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. Top twenty hits such as “Count Me In,” “Save Your Heart For Me,” “Everybody Loves A Clown,” “She’s Just My Style,” “Sure Gonna Miss Her,” “Green Grass,” “(You Don’t Have To) Paint Me A Picture,” and “My Heart’s Symphony” still provide a nice if simple look at the innocent side of rock ‘n’ roll during the sixties.

I rarely remember the flip side of old singles unless they are excellent in themselves or memorable in some other way. While Gary Lewis had a couple of B sides that could have been hits, “Without A Word Of Warning” and particularly the 60’s surf and drag piece, “Little Miss Go-Go;” a number of these songs were so bad or so odd that they remain in my memory banks. “Tijuana Wedding” would appear a number of times but under different titles. Gary Lewis sang like his father on “Time Stands Still” and “Looking For The Stars” came complete with celebrity impersonations. And then there is the famous cut, “I Saw Elvis Presley Last Night.” One can only hope that they made some money for all concerned.

No Gary Lewis compilation would be complete without “Doin’ The Flake.” In 1965 Kellogg’s cereal issued an EP consisting of “This Diamond Ring,” “Count Me In” and a new song recorded just for them entitled “Doin’ The Flake.” All you had to do was send two box tops and 25 cents to Battle Creek, Michigan and a couple of months later the record would arrive at your door. My copy still resides in my record collection.

Gary Lewis entered the service in 1967 and though he managed to record a few songs while on leave, by 1969 his hit-making career was finished. Today he tours on the oldies circuit.

Gary Lewis & The Playboys are a nice stop in the history of sixties pop fare and The Complete Liberty Singles cover the length and breadth of their career well. Their music may not be as sophisticated as brain surgery but it remains a lot of fun.

Jackdawg by Jackdawg

June 16, 2009

Jackdawg was comprised of bassist Stu Cook of Creedence Clearwater plus lead vocalist and guitarist John McFee and the late drummer Keith Knudsen who both were members of The Doobie Brothers. The fifteen tracks that make up this album were recorded in 1990 but remained unreleased until now.

McFee joined The Doobie Brothers in 1979 and co-wrote “One Step Closer” with Knudsen. When The Doobies broke up in the early eighties they formed the country/rock band Southern Pacific. Cook joined that group a couple years after its formation and the three remained together until its dissolution in 1991. McFee and Knudsen then re-joined the re-constituted Doobie Brothers.

I can’t help but think that Jackdawg was an off shoot of Southern Pacific that never worked out long term. However this music came about, it has sat in the unreleased vault for almost two decades.

Plainly put, Jackdawg is just fine straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It has a harder edge than one would associate with members of Creedence Clearwater or The Doobie Brothers. McFee’s stinging guitar licks stand out and drive the sound. I always thought that he made an odd career choice to front what was basically a country band, but here he seems more at home. I guess my only complaints are that the drums are mixed a little too loud on some of the tracks and a number of the songs have a sameness. But other than those two issues it is a surprisingly excellent rock release.

The group members also managed to write 13 of the 15 tracks. “Bayou Baby” has an ominous sound that features McFee’s guitar playing. He proves to be a formidable musician and is able to create a mood with experimentation yet remain within the structure of the song. They are even able to produce credible three part harmonies. “When The Sun Don’t Shine” features several more extended guitar solos but they use some brass to fill in the gaps of what is essentially a three instrument sound for the most part. “Take It Off” boogies along with some more brass and McFee switches to the keyboards for a change of pace.

The two non original tracks are both first rate. Roky Erickson’s “Cold Night For Alligators,” which was produced by Cook, has a much fuller sound to support the excellent vocals. Interestingly Southern Pacific did a cover of this song. Early in his career McFee played with Van Morrison and here they give a rock workout to his classic “Wild Night.”

These tracks showed a lot of promise for Jackdawg. My feeling is that Knudsen and McFee couldn’t pass up the opportunity to re-join The Doobie Brothers and so this project was abandoned. It was a safe decision as Knudsen would remain with them until his death and McFee is still a Doobie. And so we are left with an excellent album of what might have been. Recommended not as a curiosity but for the music.

In The Year 2525 45 by Zager & Evans

June 15, 2009

841iDenny Zager and Rick Evans were a folk duo for a number of years. They released a number of records but failed to gain commercial success. One of the releases was a song called “In The Year 2525” issued on the small Truth label in 1967. It was a catchy song about the problems of modern technology and the future of the human race. It quickly disappeared without any fanfare.

Enter the RCA label who re-released the song. It became one of the biggest hits of the decade as it spent an amazing six weeks in the number one position on The American charts.

“In The Year 2525” would make Zager and Evans one of the great one hit wonders of all time as they would never have another top 40 hit. They would quickly slide from the public consciousness and into obscurity. However very few artists ever have a number one hit song, never mind one that stays at the top for a month and a half.

Today Denny Zager is a guitar maker of note and in a way has proved far more successful in that profession.