Daylight Again by Crosby, Stills and Nash

January 30, 2010

Daylight Again started out as a Stephen Stills and Graham Nash project. David Crosby was having personal and addiction problems so his two band mates decided to forge ahead as a duo with help from a number of their friends. Their label was concerned about the commercial appeal of the project, however, so Crosby was invited to participate, resulting in a full-blown Crosby, Stills and Nash album.

I have always felt they received too much help and support for this release. The harmonies are enhanced by a number of other voices and six of the eleven tracks were either written or co-written by other artists.

All was not lost however. The album was released in June of 1982 and while it may have been a mixed affair as far as quality, when it was good it was very good. The first five tracks are excellent and equal to much of their past and best work while the last six are spotty. What this meant in its original vinyl format was you just didn’t have to turn the record over.

The LP produced two hit singles and they are its strongest tracks. “Southern Cross” is a classic CSN song and ranks as one of their best creations. It was co-written by Stephen Stills and combines poignant storytelling, crystal-clear harmonies, and a unique tempo which all combined to make it memorable. Graham Nash’s composition, “Wasted On The Way,” cracked the American top ten. The gorgeous harmonies are in place but the lyrics are darker and may be pointed at his longtime friend, Crosby.

The rest of the first side may not reach the heights of the two hit singles, but they are still very good. “Into The Darkness” is another Nash tune about Crosby. “Turn Your Back On Love” features a gritty vocal and is catchy in its own way. Crosby may have written only one song here, but “Delta” was the perfect vehicle for one of the better vocal performances of his career.

The rest of the material has pluses and minuses—sometimes within the same song. The best of the lot is “Might As Well Have A Good Time,” which was written by keyboardist Craig Doerge and his wife Judy Henske. Crosby brought this recording with him to the sessions and while Stills and Nash may have added some vocals, it’s Crosby’s multi-layered voice which shines.

Daylight Again was the group’s fourth studio album and would continue their commercial success, reaching the U.S. top ten and going platinum. While it may have been their overall weakest album to date, you can always buy the original vinyl release and just never flip it over.

CSN by Crosby, Stills and Nash

January 30, 2010

While there had been a greatest hits and live release, it had been seven years since Crosby, Stills, Nash and the missing Young had produced a studio album. Graham Nash and David Crosby had continued their musical relationship and released three albums on their own. Stills had recorded with Manassas, Neil Young, and as a solo artist but in 1977 decided to rejoin his old band mates for another album. Neil Young skipped the project and his relationship with the other three has been intermittent ever since.

CSN is an excellent album. It has a polish similar to their self titled debut and Déjà Vu. The harmonies remain well crafted and exquisite. It is a more laid back affair, and maybe at times too much so, but it has an overall beauty to it that is missing from the first two releases.

They made the wise decision to work with a stellar group of musicians. The basic backing band consisted of keyboardist Craig Doerge, bassist George Perry, drummer Russ Kunkel, and multi-instrumentalist Joe Vitale. When they combined with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, it gave the music a real group feeling.

They wrote all twelve tracks except for one co-written by Craig Doerge which produced a lot of superior songs and really no poor ones.

Stephen Stills contributed five songs and they were better than most of the material he had been producing on his own. “I Give You Give Blind” is a good Stills rocker and he adds some of the best piano work of his career. “See The Changes” contain some of the best lyrics he has produced as he explores relationships. “Fair Game” is a folk/rocker with Stills on acoustic guitar. It has interesting tempo changes and wonderful harmonies. “Dark Star” is another beautifully put together piece about relationships.

Graham Nash contributed four tracks and they are the type of gentle songs which he had produced in the past. “Just A Song Before I Go” is the groups biggest hit to date reaching number seven on The American singles charts. I have always thought “Cathedral” is the album’s best track. It is a contemplative exploration of his anti-Christian views.

David Crosby’s three songs are highlighted by his “Shadow Captain.” You can almost smell the ocean as the voices creative a mood which few groups have ever been able to do.

CSN is an album which combined the strengths of Crosby, Stills and Nash well. It proves that the whole is better than the parts.

The Final Reunion (DVD) by Cliff and The Shadows

January 28, 2010

Cliff Richard is to England what Elvis Presley was to The United States. He began his career in the late fifties as the frontman for the rocking Shadows. A decade later they went their separate ways and Richard would go on to a stellar career as a solo artist. The Shadows would continue on and release 23 albums and close to sixty singles.

Richard’s stats in The United Kingdom are truly staggering. He has amassed 14 number one hits and has had 125 singles reach the top forty. While he had moderate commercial success in the U.S., worldwide he has sold 250 million albums.

In the fall of 2009, to celebrate their 50th anniversary, Cliff Richard and The Shadows reunited for what they are calling The Final Reunion Tour which will continue into 2010. The Final Reunion Tour DVD is a chronicle of that reunion. While it was filmed over a three-night stand at London’s O2 Arena, the recording has an overall feel of one continuous performance as the forty song, two-hour-plus set flows by quickly.

They may be past retirement age but Cliff Richard and The Shadows can still rock as the concert is energetic from beginning to end. They wisely stick to songs they recorded together and eschew Richard’s later solo pop material. Number one hits such as “Living Doll,” “Traveling Light,” “Please Don’t Tease,” “I Love You,” “The Young Ones,” “Bachelor Boy,” and “Summer Holiday” return to the stage with a freshness and modern interpretations.

Richard’s voice is still supple, clear, and formidable, having lost little range despite the passage of time. And he can still hit the high notes with ease. After a half century of performing he makes it all look so effortless.

Original Shadows guitarists Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch are both present. Marvin, in particular, is one of the most influential guitarists in British music in history and he demonstrates his skill on song after song. His tone is excellent and each note has an individual clarity and precision. Both men also provide the vocal harmonies. Drummer Brian Bennett, whose playing provides a solid underpinning for the overall sound, is the newest Shadow as he joined in 1961 replacing Tony Meehan (who died in 2005). Only bassist Jet Harris is missing.

It seems some thought went into the recording process as both the sound and visuals on the DVD are excellent. There is also a thirty-minute, behind-the-scenes documentary which provides a number of reflective interviews with the participants.

The Final Reunion tour is a rare chance to see one of the legendary groups of rock ‘n’ roll history in performance. It should appeal to their millions of fans who want to remember and maybe earn the group a few new ones on this side of the pond as well.

Electric Dirt by Levon Helm

January 28, 2010

Levon Helm is now a grandfather, just about four months shy of seventy years old. Plus he is a cancer survivor. He was also the drummer and co-lead vocalist for one of the legendary bands in rock ‘n’ roll history. His vocals on such songs as “The Weight,” “Up On Cripple Creek,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” helped The Band become critically acclaimed while selling millions of albums, ultimately being inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994.

He now spends most of his time at his Woodstock farm with occasional excursions for touring. He holds his own concerts called Midnight Rambles at the farm, attracting such artists as Elvis Costello, Garth Hudson, Norah Jones, Emmylou Harris, Donald Fagen, and Allen Toussaint. The public is cordially invited.

Dirt Farmer, issued in 2007, was his first studio release since 1982 and won The Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. He returned in June of 2009 with Electric Dirt which became a commercial success, reaching number 36 on the Billboard album charts.

This is an album that tells stories of the land and the people who inhabit it. Helm’s mournful and soulful voice brings these stories to life through gospel, soul, rock, and blues. His voice seems to have recovered from his bout with throat cancer and is the perfect vehicle to covey these stories of joy, wisdom, struggle, and mortality.

He only co-wrote two of the eleven tracks but they are both very strong. I can say with a great deal of assurance that “Heaven’s Pearls” will make my list of top songs for the year. It is a rock song with a structured beat and its lyrics fit a man approaching seventy who has dealt with his own mortality. It is a reflective and philosophical treatise about accepting death which ultimately allows the listener, and hopefully the composer, to find peace. Helm’s other co-written song, “Growing Trade,” is an ode to the struggling small farmer.

He travels in a number of directions for the remaining nine tracks. Very few people could pull off The Staples Singers “Move Along Train.” His voice is made for this gospel tune and the use of female background singers provides a nice touch. Randy Newman’s “Kingfish” is right out of a New Orleans saloon and Allen Toussaint’s horn arrangements enhance the feeling. The Grateful Dead song, “Tennessee Jed,” is given a rousing and countrified rendition.

He goes in a straight blues direction with two Muddy Waters tunes. “Stuff You Gotta Watch” and “You Can’t Lose What You Never Had” were originally cut during the Dirt Farmer sessions but fit the style of this album better. Helm concludes on a joyful and inspirational note with “I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free.”

Electric Dirt is a brilliant album from an old rock ‘n’ roll master. Let’s hope there are a lot more to come.

This Diamond Ring 45 by Gary Lewis and The Playboys

January 26, 2010

Gary Lewis had a built in advantage at the beginning of his career. He was the son of comedian Jerry Lewis and so he debuted his first single on The Ed Sullivan Show which was seen by millions of Americans. “This Diamond Ring” promptly shot to the top of The American singles charts for two weeks in Jan. of 1965.

His records all contained simple melodies with with uncomplicated lyrics and Lewis’ voice is pleasant. It was typical inoffensive radio fare and his singles sold in the millions.

His backing group was the Playboys and consisted of guitarists Al Ramsey and John West, keyboardest David Walker, and bassist David Costell. Lewis played the drums during the early part of his career.

Gary Lewis and The Playboys would place 15 singles on the American charts between 1965 and 1969 with seven entering the top ten.

He would be drafted into the army in early 1967 and give a farewell performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. By the time he was discharged the music world had changed drastically and he quickly faded from the scene although he remains active on the oldies scene.

“This Diamond Ring,” written by Al Kooped and with arrangements by Leon Russell remains a nice relic of a simplier time.

It’s My Party 45 by Lesley Gore

January 24, 2010

“It’s My Party and I’LL Cry If I Want Too” are the words which launched the career of then teenager Lesley Gore.

Lesley Gore was sixteen when “It’s My Party” was released and was close to her seventeenth birthday when it reached the number one position on The American singles charts for two weeks in May of 1963.

It was an upbeat and catchy tune which told the eternal high school story of love lost. She would get her revenge with the song “Judy’s Turn To Cry.”

She would go on to place 19 songs on The American charts between 1963 and 1967. She would continue to release albums and tour but never regained the popularity of her youth. I remember seeing her in concert during the early 1980’s

The odd note is the Mercury Label always issued her picture sleeves in black and white.

Thoroughfare Gap by Stephen Stills

January 23, 2010

I think I remember playing this album quite a bit when it was released in 1978. But I haven’t listened to it lately, which means its been years and probably decades since the last time I did.

Stephen Stills had spent 1977 producing a studio album and touring with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He contributed several strong songs to the album and saw his popularity soar due to their reunion.

In 1978 he returned to the studio and issued his sixth solo album in September of that year. It would mark the end of a very prolific period of his career, as it would be six years before he issued another solo release, and four until the next Crosby, Stills, & Nash project.

Thoroughfare Gap is emblematic of many of his solo albums as it contains a few good songs among the chaff. Much of the material would have a somewhat different sound than his previous releases as he veered away from his rock/country roots. It proved to be his least commercially successful solo release to date peaking at number 83 on the American album charts.

The first sign of trouble is the number of instruments he plays on the album which include guitar, horns, strings, percussion, bass, and synthesizer among others. He would have been better served to have left more of the instrumental tasks to his huge cast of supporting players.

There are still a few gems to be found here. The title song is gentle, contemplative, and has a beauty to it. “Woman Lleva” is filled with Latin rhythms and is a direction he should have explored more often. I also still like his version of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away.”

On the other hand it’s the seventies and “You Can’t Dance Alone” is a poor attempt at trying to conform to the music of the day. The title “Can’t Get No Booty” just about sums up the closing track and was not a good way to end an album. The rest of the material just disappears into his vast catalog.

Thoroughfare Gap is a fairly typical album of the seventies. As such, it remains a mundane stop in the career of Stephen Stills.

Psychotic Reaction 45 by The Count Five

January 22, 2010

The Count Five were a garage band with a raw sound which formed in 1965. Their skills were limited but they were able to win the lottery when they produced one of the better songs of the psychedelic era.

“Psychotic Reaction,” with its memorable guitar introduction and clashing guitars became an instant hit in The United States. In the fall of 1966 it reached number five on the National charts. They could never repeat that sound or its success and would go down in history as one hit wonders.

Within a couple of years the group would split and be lost in the musical mists of time. Still they left behind one of the better relics of their era.

Long May You Run by The Stills-Young Band

January 20, 2010

Drawn like a moth to a flame or ‘can’t live with him, can’t live without him’ probably best describes the relationship between Neil Young and Stephen Stills.

The duo had recorded and toured together as a part of Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young and issued solo releases, but in early 1976 decided to produce an album together within a band context. Their goal was to recreate the sound and energy of their legendary Buffalo Springfield days. The resulting Long May You Run did not achieve that goal. They did not write any songs together nor are there any stirring guitar duels. It has the feel, most of the time, of two solo artists using the same backing band. Another mistake may have been to remove the backing vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash from the final mix.

The Stills-Young Band is small but tight and fits the sound they were trying to create well. Percussionist Joe Lala, keyboardist Jerry Aiello, bassist George Perry, and drummer Joe Vitale were all veterans of the road and the studio.

For some reason I have always associated this album with Neil Young. When I pulled it off the shelf for this review, it was filed under Young and not Stills. This may be due to the fact that two Young tracks are the best of the nine. The title track is a brilliant performance and would have fit any of his solo albums at the time. “Fontainebleau” is just a cut below and features some creative guitar work and an odd beat. His other three songs are okay which is faint praise. “Let It Shine” is amusing if nothing else, “Midnight On The Bay” does have some nice guitar work from Stephen Stills, and “Ocean Girl” just disappears.

Now we come to Mr. Stills who contributed four tracks. The best of a desultory lot is “Guardian Angel” which is up beat and has a spiritual nature to it. “12/8 Blues” is a competent blues rocker but “Black Coral” and “Make Love To You” continued the downward trend of his writing skills which was plaguing his solo career at the time.

Neil Young and Stephen Stills would tour together to promote the album but would soon part company again. They would leave behind a relic of their off again, on again relationship. In the final analysis when Stephen Stills and Neil Young walk into a recording studio together more is expected.

Illegal Stills by Stephan Stills

January 20, 2010

1975 and 1976 were two very prolific years for Stephen Stills. Two studio, one live, one greatest hits, and a duet album with Neil Young kept him busy and in the public eye. Illegal Stills was released in March of 1976 and was the fourth of these five albums.

This album marked the beginning of a down turn in the quality of his albums and commercially would be his last release to reach The American top thirty. While he would continue to produce good and sometimes brilliant tracks here and there, his solo work would not have the consistent excellence of the past.

Donnie Dacus is back on board for a third album and is over-involved, which means Stephen Stills is not involved enough. In some ways this album can be considered a Stills-Dacus project rather than a solo release. He co-wrote five of the tracks, which are both good and bad, plus plays a lot of guitar.

The best of The Dacus tunes is “Midnight In Paris,” written with Veronique Sanson. Sanson was a French singer of note and was married to Stephen Stills for six years. “Soldier,” written with Stephen Stills, is a better than average post Vietnam protest song. However, “Closer To You,” “Different Tongues,” and “Ring Of Love,” range from average to just filler.

The albums best track is a Stills creation which demonstrates just how good he can be at times. “Buyin’ Time” was an acoustic part of his live act, but here is re-invented as a rocker and it works. It features excellent guitar playing, a solid song structure, and is just Stephen Stills doing what he does best.

“Stateline Blues” is almost good but is under developed at less than two minutes. His cover of Neil Young’s “The Loner” is competent but I prefer the original. “Circlin’” and “No Me Niegas” fall into the average category.

Illegal Stills is an album that had not been off the shelf for years, and probably decades, until I gave it a couple of spins for this review. When reaching for some Stephen Stills music there is any number of superior releases. It does have a great cover which needs to be seen on the original vinyl release to be truly appreciated.