Personality and Chantilly Lace 45 by Mitch Ryder

August 28, 2009

826z“Personality and Chantilly Lace” by Mitch Ryder was what you call a career killer.

Mitch Ryder had a great career going from 1965-1967. With his backing group the Detroit Wheels he produced some of the most energetic rock ‘n’ roll of the time period. Songs such as “Jenny Take A Ride,” “Devil With The Blue Dress” and “Sock It To Me Baby” were powered by his booming and raw vocal and are still enjoyable over forty years later.

Some time in 1967 someone had the idea of making him into a Tom Jones type crooner. His first release, “What Now My Love” was not very good but managed to hit number thirty on The United States charts. He followed that with the old country hit “You Are My Sunshine” which was a disaster. By the time he released “Personality and Chantilly Lace” in early 1968 his career would be officially dead. It would be fifteen years before he would return to the charts.

I caught Mitch Ryder in concert about fifteen years ago and he was still very good but this song had been deleted from his live act decades ago.

Madman Across The Water by Elton John

August 28, 2009

Madman Across The Water was the third studio album released by Elton John in the United States and the second in a row that did not contain any big hits. Despite the lack of successful singles, however, it would sell over three million copies. While this would be his least successful studio album until 1979’s Victim of Love, it was still a breakthrough release as it established him as a commercial force to be reckoned with.

I have to admit that this album is not one of my favorites. It contains four excellent tracks and a number of average ones. What it does have going for it, though, is lyrical precision and the use of strings and orchestra to enhance its sound. It also contains some excellent piano work by Elton John.

John surrounded himself with a stellar cast of musicians in the studio. Drummer Nigel Olsson, bassist Dee Murray, and guitarist Davey Johnstone all appear on various tracks, forming what would become the core of John’s concert band for years. Chris Spedding and Rick Wakeman also make notable contributions.

Two songs were released as singles and while neither cracked the American Top Twenty they would eventually become well-known. “Tiny Dancer,” which eventually gained a wider audience as a part of the soundtrack to the Oscar nominated film Almost Famous, is a beautiful love song with a chorus that just propels it along. It is early seventies pop at its best. “Levon” contained another smooth vocal and was one of the first social statements of his career.

There are two other songs of note. The title track is haunting and melodic as it rocks smoothly along. And “Indian Sunset” is a soaring story song about the Native Americans during the Colonial period.

The remaining five tracks fall into the average to forgettable range. “All The Nasties” is both beautiful and odd but the use of a choir is a distraction. “Razor Face,” “Rotten Peaches,” and “Holiday Inn” are all up-tempo but they pale in comparison to what would follow during the next several years.

Madman Across The Water found Elton John gathering himself as an artist as his next seven albums would all reach Number One, selling close to seventy million copies. Ultimately it remains a flawed album and often overlooked which is probably as it should be given that his catalog is one of the best in music history.

Tumbleweed Connection by Elton John

August 28, 2009

Tumbleweed Connection is not one of the more familiar albums in the Elton John catalog. This may be due to the fact that it contained no hugely successful or memorable hit singles. What it did present, however, was an album of solid songs that deserve more exposure than they’ve received.

The album is noted for its excellent production which allows the acoustic guitar playing and particularly the piano work to shine. Just about each note is crystal clear, providing a stunning background for the vocals.

Tumbleweed Connection is above all an intimate affair that allows the listener to connect to the music on a personal level. The sound just envelops you and draws you in.

“Ballad Of A Well Known Gun” is a bluesy rocker that begins the album on a positive note. This story about a gunslinger at the end of his life is a lost Elton John gem.

“Come Down In Time” is a nice ballad but is also a rare song in that there is no piano present. It is an acoustic guitar sound that propels his gentle vocal along.

“My Father’s Gun” is an epic Civil War tale by a master storyteller (Bernie Taupin). This story of sailing down the Mississippi comes alive through the artistry of Elton John.

“Love Song” is another unusual track, especially at this time in his career, in that it was not written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Penned by Lesley Duncan, the tune is another beautiful ballad with an acoustic guitar in support. Elton’s vocal skims lightly along the surface of the backing sound.

“Talking Old Soldiers” is another song of looking back at youth, this one featuring an emotional vocal that tells the story of a lonely veteran. The piano provides the musical foundation and moves the song along nicely.

“Burn Down The Mission” — arguably the album’s best-known track — is a grand epic and is almost cinematic in scope. This track would be a part of John’s stage act for years and its tempo changes are among the most interesting of his entire career.

Tumbleweed Connection is mostly a peaceful album yet there are some surprises along the way. The songs fit together well and still provide a nice listen 39 years after its release.

Elton John by Elton John

August 28, 2009

Sometimes I forget about this old album by Elton John, which is my loss as it’s a pretty good listen. Elton John was issued in April of 1970 and was his second studio album but first to be released in the United States. His debut, Empty Sky, was released in England but would not see the light of day in America until 1975. This self titled album would be surprisingly successful as it reached number four on the American charts while Rolling Stone Magazine ultimately ranked it number 468 on its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

While Elton John was a product of its time, it maintains a simple and enduring beauty. Catchy melodies, thoughtful lyrics, and superb piano playing all combine to make it an quality effort.

It’s hard to believe that 39 years have passed since “Your Song” was released. This haunting love song marked his first U.S. hit and remains a testament to the idea of what’s simple is best.

Two other well known songs grace this release. “Border Song,” which is another simple tune that focuses on the vocal and piano, is about peace and tolerance. “Take Me To The Pilot” has undergone a number of incarnations over the years. Here it is the first great rock track of his career complete with a gospel-tinged vocal. I’m still not quite sure about the meaning of the lyrics, but it remains an excellent early effort.

There are several other interesting songs that have now disappeared due to his huge and impressive catalog. “I Need You To Turn To” may be a little too serious but the use of the harpsichord is creative and unique. “The Cage” has an almost funky sound similar to early Santana. “Sixty Years On” is an introspective song about aging from a man in his twenties. I am curious as to what he thinks about this early lament now.

Elton John is often a lost album due to his many classic releases that followed it. However, if you want to explore the music of Elton John in depth then this is the place to start.

My Tribute To Chet Atkins by Steve Wariner

August 26, 2009

Chet Atkins was probably the most influential country guitarist of the twentieth century — and one of the best guitarists, period. His pickin’ style and the clarity of each note were legendary. His long career as an instrumentalist and producer exerted a huge influence in the field of country music from the fifties through the seventies.

He was a perfectionist, especially when it came to his chosen instrument. He developed his own award for excellence on the guitar — the abbreviation c.g.p., which stands for “Certified Guitar Player.” He only bestowed the title four times during his career. John Knowles, Jerry Reed, Tommy Emmanuel and Steve Wariner were the recipients of what was considered a great honor.

Steve Wariner, who is now beginning the fourth decade of his distinguished career, has issued eighteen studio albums and placed at least fifty singles on the U.S. country charts. He has finally released a fitting tribute to Atkins, his mentor and friend who passed away in 2001.

If you like guitar music and especially guitar pickin’ country music then My Tribute To Chet Atkins is an album for you. Wariner has a style that is similar to Atkins. The focus is on the clarity of each note and he is able to produce a tone that is second to none. The album is a combination of covers and originals but all evoke the sound and memory of the master.

With the first two tracks, Wariner establishes his sound. His original composition, “Leavin’ Luttrell,” as well as his take on the traditional American folk song, “John Henry,” are basic in their presentation. He is backed by only a muted bass and percussion, which allows the focus to be squarely on his guitar playing. He begins to expand the sound with the next two tracks. “(Back Home Again In) Indiana” was recorded by Atkins in 1954 and Wariner remains true to the original as he shares center stage with a fiddle sound. “Leona,” which is a tribute to Atkins’ wife, makes use of some strings that create a full sound.

In concert, Chet Atkins would always play a medley of songs he had produced. Wariner suitably presents his own “Producer’s Medley” here, which is a mix of eight pop and country hits. The center of the medley is “The Three Bells,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Java,” and “Let It Be Me,” which is smooth and at times subtle as his guitar plays in front of more strings and a piano. He finishes with a quick tribute to old friend Jerry Reed on “When You’re Hot You’re Hot.”

The last two tracks contain the album’s only vocals. The better of the two is “Chet’s Guitar,” which is a poignant tribute to his old friend as he sings about stealing licks from him.

My Tribute To Chet Atkins is a heartfelt and superior release by one of the best country guitarists alive today. Somewhere, Chet Atkins is smiling.

Woodstock 45 by Matthews Southern Comfort

August 26, 2009

Ian Matthews founded the influential folk/rock group Fairport Convention. He stayed with them through their first three albums and then moved on. In 1978 he would would have a solo pop hit titled “Shake It” which would reach number 12 on The Billboard Magazine singles charts in The United States.

In the middle of these two endeavors he would produce what I believe was his best work. He would form Matthews Southern Comfort which was another folk/rock group but alot more mainline than Fairport Convention.

Joni Mitchell wrote “Woodstock” about the legendary concert. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would have a top twenty hit with the song in 1970.843l I believe that Matthews Southern Comfort’s version was superior as it two became a hit in 1971 reaching number 23.

It was a gentle verson of the song. It had a more melodic feel than the versions by CSN&Y and Joni Mitchell. It was also their one shining moment as a group as Matthews would leave shortly thereafter.

It is one of those forgotten tunes that is well worth seeking out as is alot of the material from this group.

Turn Of The Radio Age by Buckfast Superbee

August 25, 2009

So what’s in a name?

Brother Adam was a Benedictine Monk born in 1898. He spent most of his life living and working at a Monastery in Buckfast Abbey in England. His job was that of a beekeeper, selling wax and honey to earn money for the church. His avocation was crossbreeding bees. Before his death at age 92 he had developed a strain of bee that was immune to most diseases, lived twice as long as the average bee, and was fairly gentle. The Buckfast Bee or Super Bee as it is sometimes referred to is now the most popular honeybee in the world.

I am impressed that an indie band from San Diego would know these obscure historical facts and name themselves Buckfast Superbee. They consist of singer/guitarist Timothy Joseph, drummer Bill Driskill, bassist Kevin Stram, and guitarist Derek Dutt.

Their publicity releases for Turn Of The Radio Age bills them as a pop/rock band. Let me say, however, that there is not much pop in their music. Rather, they are a straightforward, drums and guitar hard rock band. While there are some catchy melodies, the sound is basically an all-out assault on the ears and other senses.

The lyrics at this point in their four year career are more advanced than their music. There is a controlled anger as they rant and criticize the government, society, the music business, and life in general.

If I have one criticism it is, except for the short first track that introduces the album and serves as a counterpoint for what is to come, all the songs exhibit a musical sameness. The musicianship is fine but their messages would be presented a lot more effectively if they changed tempos and style upon occasion. A couple of ballads would have been welcome as well.

They are several tracks worthy of attention and are representative of the best of what they have to offer. “Gibraltar” has a few nice bass interludes which break up the guitar attack and allow you to catch your breath. “Tilt-O-Whirl” is about a musician achieving balance in life and features some creative guitar playing and interplay. “Pitch vs. Rotation” may be a little too long at over ten minutes but it is the one song that takes the music away from the pounding, frenetic assault of the rest of the songs. Well, a little anyway.

Buckfast Superbee has a number of positive attributes; it just seems they are trying a little too hard at times. Turn Of The Radio Age is a good introduction to the band, though, and is worth a listen.

The Woodstock Experience by Santana

August 24, 2009

Two things happened to Santana during the summer of 1969: they performed at The Woodstock Music & Art Fair and released their first self-titled album, which became an immediate commercial hit. These two events combined to make huge stars out of the group.

Legacy Recordings has issued a series of two CD releases that combine complete performances at Woodstock, plus the album issued closest to that performance. Such artists as Sly & The Family Stone, Janis Joplin, The Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter, and Santana themselves return in all their historic 1969 glory.

This recording features the original and classic Santana line-up: guitarist Carlos Santana, keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie, drummer Michael Shrieve, bassist Dave Brown, percussionist Jose Areas, and conga player Mike Carabello. While there have been a lot of incarnations of Santana over the years, this was the tightest, featuring them combining Latin rhythms with a fusion of rock and blues.

Santana’s original self-titled album has been remastered and cleaned up, giving it a clear and pristine sound. I have owned this album on vinyl since its release forty years ago, and many of the songs are still instantly recognizable. The rhythms just wash over you, and Carlos Santana proves that his early solo improvisations showed the genius that would flower over the course of his career.

Songs such as “Evil Ways,” “Persuasion,” “Jingo,” and “Soul Sacrifice” all combine heavy percussion and bass rhythms with Rolie’s organ. Santana responds with intermittent guitar solos. He is one of those rare guitarists that can wring impossible notes from his instrument.

Santana’s complete eight-song, forty-five minute Woodstock performance sees its official light of day for the first time here. Seven of the eight songs are taken from their debut, album which hints at their lack of material at the time. Even so, it is nice to hear early live versions of these tracks. The bass and the percussion dominate more than on the studio tracks. Carlos picks his places carefully and his solos do not overpower the music.

The Woodstock tracks are a prisoner of their time, however, as the recording techniques of 1969 do not match those of today, especially in such a huge outside venue. They are passable, though, and what they lack technically, they more than make up for historically.

The Woodstock Experience presents the best of both worlds. You receive a classic rock album, plus a treasure trove of unreleased material from the most historic festival of all time. It is essential listening for any rock fan.

Blood Red by The Groove Kings

August 24, 2009

Every once in awhile I grab the independent music brass ring, and so it was with the Groove Kings.

The Groove Kings are not your typical independent group. They consist of songwriter, producer, and instrumentalist Howard Forman, plus vocalist Irene Marc. They have had a couple of commercially successful albums in their native Canada, a top twenty hit, a nationally televised concert, performed and recorded with
Cirque De Soleil and been nominated for two Canadian Academy Awards.

They have been a duo since a chance meeting at a club in the early ‘90s and have learned their craft well over the years. Blood Red is their latest release and it is one of the better albums that have recently come to my attention. The production is crisp and clear, the songwriting has a depth and creativity, plus Marc’s vocals are powerful with good tone. It all adds up to an enjoyable affair.

They are at heart a rhythm and blues duo, although they spread out in a pop/rock direction upon occasion. This stylistic variety, as well as the constantly changing tempos and types of material, keep the music interesting and the listener engaged.

The title song introduces the album by settling into a low key groove. Marc’s vocal reminded me of fellow Canadian Alannah Myles who had a huge hit in 1990 with “Black Velvet.” Her style here is sultry as she croons about the realities of love. “I’m The Rain,” which is the album’s outstanding track, comes right out of a smoky lounge: “Open your windows up wide, all my lovers get wet, but they never forget, feeling satisfied.” Her vocal on “So Real To Me” just soars above the music.

They turn up the heat with a couple of brass laden tracks. “Real Love” is up-tempo rock with a wonderful sax break. “Temporary Man” has a light blues feel with a subtle trumpet sound in support.

Blood Red is a solid affair from beginning to end. Hopefully it will be their breakout release and gain them some popularity south of the Canadian border.

Down By The River by Mac McAnally

August 21, 2009

And now ladies and gentlemen, all the way from Red Bay Alabama, we have the latest album release by Lyman Corbitt McAnally Jr.

Mac McAnally is now over thirty years into his successful, if sometimes under the radar, career. He has been a songwriter, producer, background vocalist, as well as having released eleven studio albums of his own. He is currently a member of The Coral Reefer Band which is Jimmy Buffett’s backing group. He is probably most famous for his duet with Kenny Chesney on his song “Down The Road” which became a number one country hit for the duo in early 2009.

His latest release, Down By The River, finds him experimenting with his traditional country sound. His songs take the listener to Nashville for some simple country music, New Orleans for some Cajun cooking, Texas for some country swing, the Caribbean for some parrot head music that would make Jimmy Buffett proud, and finally to some smokey old honky tonks.

McAnally has learned his craft well. He wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks. The lyrics show sophistication as they provide authentic pictures of life and living. The music ranges from simple to complex and his expertise on the guitar, piano, harmonica, and ukulele is some of the best you will hear. His style is similar to an old friend telling stories that invade your mind and stay with you.

“Blame It On New Orleans” is a trip to The Big Easy with some brass and especially a clarinet in support. “On Account Of You” contains a gospel driven vocal with Mac providing the foundation with his stellar piano playing. “(Nothing Like A) Sunny Day” is a feel good tune as your cares slip away. It contains some creative bass lines. “Bound To Get Down” is up-beat as it chugs along nicely. “Until Then” is just a beautiful country ballad that places the emphasis squarely on his lyrics which proves that simple is sometimes best.