Running For The Drum by Buffy Sainte-Marie

August 31, 2009

For anyone who came of age during the sixties folk movement, the name Buffy does not conjure up the image of a blonde vampire killer.

Buffy Sainte-Marie has traveled a lot of musical miles since the issue of her debut album in 1964. She is a sixties artist who has keep the faith in the ideals established by the folk movement of that era. She is also a Native American artist who has remained true to her heritage.

Her body of work is extensive but she is remembered most for several signature performances and original songs. Her best known recording is probably a cover of the classic Joni Mitchell song, “The Circle Game.” Her original composition, “Until Its Time For You To Go,” has been recorded by such artists as Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, and Neil Diamond, among many others. Additionally, she co-wrote “Up Where We Belong” for the movie An Officer and A Gentleman, which won her an Oscar.

She has now returned with her first album of all new material in 13 years. Running For The Drum is an eclectic collection of twelve original songs which center on her life as an activist, pacifist, and Native American. Among them she also includes a couple of love songs and a few others just for fun. Her voice has aged well and does not have the shrill edge it once had. Her lyrics, though, remain her greatest strength as she is able to paint pictures with words as she communicates her thoughts and feelings.

The lead track, “No No Keshagesh,” has a rocking beat but is a biting criticism of modern society. She continues in a critical vein with “Working For The Government” which looks beneath the seemingly peaceful surface of our government. “Little Wheel and Spin” is a throwback to her sixties work as its simplicity and topic are, to me, reminiscent of her “Universal Soldier.”

The two tracks that are just for fun are actually very strong songs. “I Bet My Heart On You,” complete with honky-tonk piano, is a tribute to New Orleans and particularly Fats Domino. And “Blue Sunday” is an Elvis Presley clone that she gets just right.

The most sophisticated song is “Too Much Is Never Enough,” on which she sings about heroes, love and loss. The lyrics are some of her finest.

“Cho Cho Fire” is a return to her roots and the campfire, featuring chanting in the background. “America The Beautiful” is adjusted to include Native Americans which works better than it sounds.

The accompanying DVD is a generous documentary of her life as an artist and performer, tracing her journey from the sixties to the present with many clips and still photographs. Interviews with such people as Joni Mitchell, Robbie Robertson, and Eric Anderson serve to enhance the experience.

Running For The Drum is a fine addition to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s catalogue and legacy. She remains unintimidated by life and her surroundings and, as a result, she has issued an album of strength and beauty.


Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy

August 31, 2009

Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy is an album I respect and one I consider to be possibly the most creative of Elton John’s career. It is also an album that I rarely, if ever, listen to as John has a number of releases that are just more entertaining and enjoyable.

This is a concept album. He and his musical partner, Bernie Taupin, created this autobiographical opus about their early problems pursuing a career in music. As such it is an intimate and mature affair, with music and lyrics that are both complicated and sophisticated. It is in stark contrast to the albums which preceded it, especially his huge selling Greatest Hits, which was a seemingly random collection of many of his hit singles.

It may not have sold as well as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road but many of his fans embraced the release as it continued his string of number one albums in the United States. The critical reaction was positive and Rolling Stone Magazine ultimately ranked it at number 158 on their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

There was only one single issued, “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” which was a huge hit and dealt with a suicide attempt and recovery by Elton John. Its music is almost symphonic yet it is, above all, a haunting look at the breakdown of a relationship.

I find the title track catchy country/rock but the two songs that follow, “Tower Of Babel” and “Bitter Fingers,” are biting criticisms of record companies. The irony of course is that he would later become a label owner himself.

“Writing” is a mid-seventies look at him wondering how long he could sustain his success. The answer would be the rest of his life.

The final two tracks contain some of the best piano work of his career. “We All Fall In Love Sometimes” and “Curtains” are possibly the two best tracks on the album.

Early CD reissues were enhanced by the inclusion of two of his biggest hit singles. “Philadelphia Freedom” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” made the release much stronger musically but on the other hand they did not match its theme.

Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy may not be the most accessible Elton John album but it is by far the most personal and allows the listener a look into the psyche of one of the most talented musicians of his generation.


Greatest Hits By Elton John

August 31, 2009

Elton John spent one month inside a studio in January 1974 to record Caribou before setting off on a world tour. In order to keep him in the public eye, he and his label decided to release a Greatest Hits album. It was a wise decision as it would become his biggest selling album with 24,000,000 copies sold. And it was the number one album in the United States for ten weeks.

By 1974 Elton John had amassed a large number of hit singles and ten of them were gathered to create this release. When looking at the tracklisting, each one is instantly recognizable thirty-five years later and still forms part of the foundation of his live act.

The album is also an indication of what a formidable presence he was on radio play lists. This was during the era when singles mattered both financially and for publicity. Even people who did not buy his studio albums would be familiar with these songs and more likely to purchase them all together, which is exactly what happened.

“Your Song” was from his first release in the U.S. and was originally the B-side of the “Take Me To The Pilot” single until radio disc jockeys flipped the record over. It is a gentle and innocent love ballad which set the tone for many more that would follow. “Border Song,” a gospel tinged track complete with a choir, was the other early inclusion.

I am always amazed that “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” and “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” could come from the same studio album. The first is 1970’s soft rock at its best and the second is just a wonderful foray into explosive rock ‘n’ roll.

“Honky Cat” is a song that has grown on me over the years. John delivers a jazzy vocal and some of the best piano work of his career. Its lack of guitar is made up for by its creative use of a horn section. “Rocket Man” continues to build and soar almost four decades after its release. When you add in “Daniel,” “Bennie and The Jets,” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” you have an album with no weak tracks.

The great ’50s-sounding romp, “Crocodile Rock,” brings the set to a close. It’s infectious, nostalgic, and upbeat, all of which allowed it to spend three weeks as the number one song in the U.S. in early 1973.

When this album was released in 1974 it made for an appealing compilation and millions flocked to purchase it. Vinyl copies can still be easily found at flea markets and tag sales. While it has been superseded by more extensive and complete greatest hits compilations by Elton John over the years; if you want a glimpse of his very best, then this is the place to start.


Caribou by Elton John

August 31, 2009

1973 was probably Elton John’s most creative and commercially successful year. Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road both topped the charts, produced hit singles, and sold in the combined neighborhood of 24 million copies.

1974 found him preparing for a grand world tour and so Caribou was, in effect, a hurried and less ambitious affair. As such it didn’t have the creative consistency of the previous year’s two albums despite being brilliant in some places. Nevertheless, it marked his fourth consecutive Number One album in the United States.

Two classic songs tower above the rest of the material. “The Bitch Is Back” is one of his best known and enduring rock songs. The title came from a comment by Bernie Taupin’s wife about an Elton John rant. The guitar introduction is classic and the energetic vocal is backed by the legendary Tower Of Power brass section. And Dusty Springfield provides some of the memorable background vocals. “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” is a timeless love song, featuring background vocals by Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, and Toni Tennille. It made a return on the charts in 1991 as a live duet with George Michael.

The rest of the album is a pick-and-choose affair but none of the songs measure up to the aforementioned two and, when taken together, make for an average group at best. “Pinky” has a nice melody but for once Taupin’s lyrics failed to match the quality of the music. “Ticking” is a piano based story song about a teenager on a shooting rampage. “I’ve Seen The Saucers,” whose title is self explanatory, and “Grimsby” which is about a man and a boat and not much else are both entirely forgettable.

The CD reissue of this album benefits from two of its bonus tracks. John’s cover of “Pinball Wizard” is memorable and well done. Also included is his Christmas song, “Step Into Christmas,” which is campy yet infectious.

In the final analysis Caribou remains an average listen at best and aside from the few better tracks is mostly forgettable.


In Dreams 45 by Roy Orbison

August 31, 2009

Roy Orbison consistantly placed his songs on the American charts during the first half of the 1960’s. He placed 23 songs on THE BILLBOARD CHARTS from 1960-1965 including two number 1’s and two number 2’s.

“In Dreams” is a gentle balled that reached number seven in Feb. of 1963. It contained the usual clear vocal as it flowed smoothly along.

By the time of its release Orbison had become a star and would be one of only a handful of Americans who would have consistant chart success in the face of The British Invasion at the time.

While it may not have had the power of “Running Scared” or the sonic quality of “Crying,” it was was a poignant song of longing and love and presented him at his best.824g


I Want That Boy 45 by Sadina

August 30, 2009

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“I Want That Boy” by Sadina was one of the great musical mysteries of my teen years.

The song was played a number times on a local radio station that I listened too while growing up in Rhode Island. I tried to find the record at just about every music store in my area with no luck. The song just disappeared into the mists.

As the years passed and I became a heavy record collector, it remained on my top ten list of wants. I am forever grateful that the disc jockey actually announced the artist and title of the song.

A quarter of a century later, in the early 90’s, I walked into a used record store and found three copies in average condition. Yes I bought all three.

It was a catchy and up-beat girl sound similar to The Angels of “My Boyfriends Back” fame.

I have to say that I still don’t know alot about Sadina. I had assumed it was a solo singer but now I think it may have been a group. Any information would be appreciated.

And so we have one of the holy grail collectables of my record collection.


Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

August 29, 2009

1973 was a good year for Elton John. January found him releasing Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player. It sold millions of copies as it and its lead single, “Crocodile Rock,” both reached Number One on their respective American charts. It established him as a formidable creative and commercial presence.

Ten months later he returned with his grand opus.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road would ultimately become one of the best-selling studio albums in music history, confirming Elton John’s status as one of pop music’s leading superstars.

Elton John has issued close to forty albums but this may be his most famous. It was originally released as a double album and is a rare effort where the quality of music actually warrants two discs. As such it is a sprawling affair that ranges from tender, simple ballads to all-out rock ‘n’ roll. Many of its songs still receive radio play today and are among the most famous in pop history.

The album is fueled by three memorable songs that became successful singles. “Bennie and The Jets” marked his second release to top the singles charts. Its staccato rhythm and almost jazz-type vocal help it endure as one of his his signature songs. The title track is a grand ballad and seventies music at its best. “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” just rocks from beginning to end. I saw Elton John perform this song live a number of years ago and it was the highlight of the concert.

“Candle In The Wind” received a lot of airplay at the time of the album’s release. This gentle and sensitive ballad was a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, yet in 1997 it was re-worked as a tribute to Princess Diana and became one the biggest-selling worldwide singles in history.

The album contains a number of other strong tracks as well. “I’ve Seen That Movie Too” is bluesy, mellow, and brilliant soft rock. “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock ‘n’ Roll)” is a nostalgic trip back to the days of sock hops. The opening track, “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” checks in at over eleven minutes and is one of the longer recordings of his career. The instrumental introduction segues into a song about the end of an affair. The song’s length allows him to stretch and experiment as the music ebbs and flows. Finally, “Roy Rogers” is a cinematic tribute to old television heroes and movies.

Elton John’s career and music flow through this album. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road remains one of the classic releases in pop history and is still more than worth the price of admission.