White Rabbit 45 by The Jefferson Airplane

May 31, 2010

When Grace Slick replaced Signe Anderson as the lead singer of the Jefferson Airplane she brought along a couple of songs she had written for her previous group, The Great Society. “Somebody To Love” and “White Rabbit ” would be the only two top forty hits of their Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Career.

Grace Slick was one of the great female vocalists in rock history and “White Rabbit” remains one of her signture performances. Released by the Airplane during 1967, it rose to the number eight position on The American singles charts.

It was one of the first drug songs to receive wide spread radio airplay. The Alice In Wonderland hallucinatory drug imagery made it a summer of love and sixties psychedelic classic. The music was similar in style to “Ravel’s Bolero” as it continued to build throughout the song and provided a solid foundation for Slick’s vocal.

“White Rabbit” is now regarded as one of rock’s most memorable and influential songs. Any study of sixties rock ‘n’ roll should include a visit to the “White rabbit.”

I Had Too Much To (Last Night) 45 by The Electric Prunes

May 30, 2010

Every once in awhile during the 1960’s a garage/psychedelic band would have a hit song and then quickly disappear. The Electric Prunes did have the hit song but went on to issue a number of excellent albums. In fact they are still producing quality albums today.

“I first heard “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) at a high school dance. It remains one of the better examples of sixties psychedelica from the era. The raw vocals and distorted dual guitars help to put it over the top.
It would climb to number eleven on The American charts during 1967.

“I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night) is still worth seeking out and while you’re at it, pick up an album or two.

Catfish Rising by Jethro Tull

May 29, 2010

A new decade had dawned in the nineties, and Jethro Tull celebrated with a new studio album. Catfish Rising turned down the keyboard/synthesizer sound and turned up Martin Barre’s guitar which is always a positive. What resulted was their most rocking album since Rock Island, even though it was understated in places. It even had a bluesy feel at its core. An additional treat was the mandolin playing of Ian Anderson and Barre.

This would be bass player Dave Pegg’s last album with the group and his imaginative playing in the future would be missed. Mainstays Ian Anderson and Martin Barre provided their usual expertise and Doane Perry was now the full time drummer. Keyboardist Andy Giddings contributed to three tracks. He would become an important fixture in their future.

Catfish Rising was not as bad as some critics of the day made it out to be, but rather takes its place as a solid if not spectacular part of the Jethro Tull catalog.

“Thinking Round Corners” and “Doctor To My Disease” are both nice rockers and “Occasional Demons” even invades ZZ Top territory a little. “Like A Tall Thin Girl” and “Gold-Tipped Boots, Black Jacket and Tie” provide a nice counterpoint as they are acoustic based pieces. The longest song, “White Innocence” which is close to eight minutes, reminds me of their classic “Budapest” which for me is a good thing.

Yes, there are a number of average tunes which may be considered filler but none are offensive. Tracks such as “Rocks On The Road,” “This Is Not Love,” and “When Jesus Came To Play” may not be well known Tull songs but they are worth exploring every now and then. My only real complaint is the lyrics are a little more bawdy in places than they need to be, but such is the mind of Ian Anderson.

Catfish Rising may seem a little dated in places but at the time it showed that Jethro Tull was alive and well in the nineties. Today it may not be an album which comes to mind very often, but it still provides a pleasant listen.

Article first published as Music Review: Jethro Tull – Catfish Rising on Blogcritics.

The Dawn Of Correction 45 by The Spokesmen

May 28, 2010

My last post was a review of Barry McGuire’s chart topping hit “Eve Of Destruction.” Well you can’t mention that song without the rebuttle of “The Dawn Of Correction” by The Spokesmen.

The Spokesmen were a folk type trio made up of Jon Medora, Roy Gilmore, and David White who was a former member of the fifties group Danny and The Juniors.

“The Dawn Of Correction” was a patriotic song that presented a critique of the views expressed by Barry McGuire. It reached number 36 on the American singles charts while “Eve Of Destruction” went to number one proving the at least for the record buying public of the mid-sixties protest was more popular than patriotism.

Eve Of Destruction 45 by Barry McGuire

May 28, 2010

Barry McGuire was part of the early sixties folk movement. First as a member of a duo named Barry & Barry and then with The New Christy Minstrels where he co-wrote their hit “Green Green.”

His greatest musical claim to fame was his recording of “Eve Of Destruction.” The song was written by P.F. Sloan and offered to The Byrds who promptly rejected it. McGuire would record his version and by September of 1965 it was the number one single in America.

“Eve Of Destruction” is one of the great mid-sixties protest songs. The Vietnam Was was building, the cold war was ongoing, the nuclear arms race, and the civil rights movement were all covered in the lyrics. His gravelly voice gave it just he right touch.

This would be the high point of his career. He would eventually go on to a long career as a Christian singer which was far removed from the “Eve Of Destruction.”

Ladies Of The Canyon by Joni Mitchell

May 27, 2010

Joni Mitchell has established herself as a songwriter and musician of note during the course of her forty-two year career. She began as a late ‘60s folk artist, released a series of acclaimed jazz/pop/vocal albums, and finally settled in as a respected pop/songwriter since the early ‘90s. She has always been fiercely independent and has self-produced all her releases since her debut.

Ladies Of The Canyon finds Mitchell in an early transition stage. Her music had become more textured and sophisticated and the lyrics more introspective. She would begin to expand her sound from just the acoustic guitar of her first two releases as she started to explore new directions. The album was her commercial break through and sold over a million copies.

Her voice is an acquired taste for some, but it lends an authenticity to her songs of peace, love, community, and mortality. This was a very gentle release for 1969 and many of the tracks embrace the philosophical best of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.

Three of her best-known compositions end the album. “Big Yellow Taxi” is one of the great environmental protest songs. Most folk artists were very serious about the topic but Mitchell took it all in a whimsical direction. Meanwhile, I have always preferred her own simple rendition of “Woodstock” over the version by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It fits better as a quiet folk tune rather than an electric guitar-based rock song. “The Circle Game” is a hopeful song about the dreams that life may bring, and remains one of her best and most-covered compositions.

The disc contains a number of other Joni Mitchell delights. “Morning Morgantown” is the album’s first track and is one of her more melodic compositions, providing wistful and happy recollections of just about anyone’s home town. “Rainy Night House” and “The Arrangement” travel in a more serious direction but the music contains an elegant beauty. “Conversation” is a reflective and ultimately satisfying pure folk song.

Ladies Of The Canyon was the first of nine studio albums Mitchell released during the decade and began the formation of one of the strongest ‘70s catalogues in American music history. Now forty years old, it remains a strong musical statement by a talented and revered songwriter.

Rating: A-

Fearless Love by Melissa Etheridge

May 27, 2010

I have run hot and cold in reaction to Melissa Etheridge’s music during the course of her almost twenty year career, but my reaction to her new release is very warm indeed.

Fearless Love finds her in all out rock mode. I am talking in-your-face, Bruce Springsteen-type rock ‘n’ roll. The band is stripped to basics with guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums. The return of guitarist John Shanks helps a lot, as his playing is never better, which enhances her sound.

The past couple of years have contained difficulties for Melissa Etheridge. She has fought cancer and ended a long-term relationship. Somehow she has survived, at least musically, as the lyrics are introspective, personal, emotional, and ultimately triumphant. They show a maturity as she allows the listener to journey with her through her thoughts about politics, self-awareness, and feelings concerning life.

The title track gets the album off to a rocking start and makes it immediately apparent that this is a Melissa Etheridge who has not been around in awhile. The lyrics remain high quality, but the upfront guitar sounds surround them with a wall of sound.

There is a lot of good music to be found here. “Miss California” contains some of the more incisive lyrics of her career as she rants against the issues surrounding California’s Proposition 8. “Only Love” goes in a different direction as it places the focus squarely upon the purity of her voice. “Nervous” is a nice boogie rocker that explores the edginess of relationships.

I listen to a lot of music and rarely does a song stay with me for any length of time, but such was the case with “Indiana.” It is just about the perfect rock song. It begins gently, but by its conclusion has become a hard rock anthem. The story is inspirational and the music builds and changes but retains a melodic foundation.

Fearless Love has a power and beauty to it and is her most consistently excellent release since Yes I Am. It may not be the perfect rock ‘n’ roll album, but it is very close.

Rating: A-

A by Jethro Tull

May 22, 2010

The eighties had dawned and Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull had just issued an excellent trilogy of folk/rock albums. Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch were critically acclaimed and commercially successful.

The new decade signaled change for the group and not all of it good. Ian Anderson decided to release a solo album which went in new musical directions. His label was less than enthused by the prospect and pressured him to release it under the group’s name. Legend has it the master tapes were stored in a box simply lettered with an A which became the title of the album.

Long time bass player John Glascock had passed away and drummer Barriemore Barlow left the group. Members John Evan and David Palmer were basically fired which left only Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre to carry on. A group of new musicians were assembled with the most important addition being Dave Pegg who would become a significant member of the band. He also had the good fortune to be a long time member of Fairport Convention which made him an important part of two of the more unique and excellent bands in British music history.

I can’t remember the last time I listened to this album before giving it a couple of spins for this review. Unfortunately upon listening to it, I now know why it has not left my storage area in decades. It is one of the weakest releases in the vast Tull catalogue. The fact that no track from this release appeared on their 20th anniversary box set probably says it all.

It is very eighties as it contains a lot of synthesizers and keyboards providing the foundation for the music, which is not really what I want to hear from the mind of Ian Anderson.

The only truly interesting track is the instrumental “The Pine Marten’s Jig,” which is out of place as it looks back to their folk sound. “Crossfire” and “Fylingdale Flyer” at least have some interesting rhythms and some well layered vocal harmonies but nothing else rises above the average.

A has been safely tucked away and it is doubtful if it will ever see the light of day again. This one is for only real hard core fans of the group.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

Bursting Out by Jethro Tull

May 22, 2010

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As I make my way through the Jethro Tull catalogue, I am reviewing this album a little out of order as it was released between Heavy Horses and Stormwatch.I do this because it provides a fitting conclusion to the first part of Tull’s career. The 1980s would find a far different group both in terms of sound and personnel.

Bursting Out remains one of the better live albums of its era. It also provides a better retrospective of their first ten years than any of their greatest hits or compilation albums at the time.

The album is not one live concert but rather each track is taken from a different show. While it has an excellent live feel, the songs do not flow into each other and should be taken individually rather than as a collective whole. I am reviewing my original two disc vinyl LP but beware as some of the early CD releases eliminated certain tracks which diminished the appeal and impact of the album.

It is fitting the group’s classic line-up is featured on this release. Leader Ian Anderson, guitarist Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, drummer Barriemore Barlow, keyboardist David Palmer, and bassist John Glascock are the musicians listed and represent the best of the Jethro Tull line-ups.

The first two tracks, “No Lullaby” and “Sweet Dream” get the album off to a thunderous beginning courtesy of Martin Barre and his guitar. At the other end of the album is an elongated “Aqualung” with a lot of improvisation on the bride between the chorus’ and a hard rock version of “Locomotive Breath” which finds the group moving toward their sound of the future.

In between there are a number of fine performances. The twelve and a half minute rendition of Thick As A Brick is preferable to the forty minute album version and is this piece of music at its finest. The middle acoustic section is highlighted by “Songs From The Wood.” “A New Yesterday” from Stand Up is given a nice bluesy work-out. There are also definitive live versions of “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Jack In The Green,” and “Skating Away On The Thin Ice of A New Day.”

Most of the songs that helped to make them one of the better and unique rock groups of their generation are presented here. Bursting Out remains Jethro Tull at their live best.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org

So Rare: Treasures From The Crosby Archive by Bing Crosby

May 22, 2010

Bing Crosby recorded over 2000 songs, had just under 400 chart hits including over forty which reached number one, and had his own radio show for over twenty years. It may not be the largest catalogue of material in recorded music history but it has to be close.

Collectors’ Choice has issued six new CD’s which touch on the highlights of his fifty year career.So Rare: Treasures From The Crosby Archive contains 36 rare and unreleased tracks from the family’s personal treasure trove and has issued them as a two CD set. It may not appeal to the rock ‘n’ roll generation but it provides a number of missing pieces from one of the premier mid-twentieth century pop stars.

Crosby spent almost five years as a vocalist for bandleaders Paul Whiteman and Gus Arnheim. He went solo in 1931 with his own radio show and the initial track, “Just One More Chance,” is his initial performance from his first show. The second track is Bing talking about his first radio show.

The tracks travel the length and breadth of his career. “Where The Surf Meets The Turf” was a private recording made for the De Mar Turf Club. “I’ll Be Seeing You” was recorded during World War II for an Allied Expeditionary Forces Broadcast. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” was a 1954 private recording for the staff of the Shriners Hospital For Crippled Children. There are a number of tracks which are labeled as rejects from The Bing Crosby Show sessions form the mid-fifties. He used to fish with a group known as The Clams and his “Anthem Of The Clams” was privately printed as a 7” yellow vinyl 45 for its members. The albums final track “That’s What Life is All About,” was taken from a live 1976 concert performance where he was backed by Nelson Riddle and his orchestra.

The sound has been cleaned as well as the original technology of the day will allow. Many are mixed in stereo for the first time which will be a treat for Crosby collectors.

In The final analysis So Rare: Treasures From The Crosby Archive is a fine addition to the Bing Crosby catalogue. Whether he was the greatest pop singer of his generation is open to interpretation but this release certainly adds more material to the discussion.

Article first published as on Blogcritics.org