My Girl 45 by The Temptations

November 30, 2010

If you play me “My Girl” by The Temptations, I’ll follow you anywhere.

The song was originally written by Smokey Robinson for his own group, The Miracles. After the Temptations heard the song backstage at The Apollo Theater in Harlem, they pestered Robinson to let them record it.

Robinson finally gave the song to them but he chose David Ruffin to sing the lead for the first time with the group.

The Temptations recorded the song Dec. 21, 1964 and by early 1965 it had reached the number one spot on the American singles charts.

ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE ranked it as the 88th best song of all time which I believe is to low.

An Evening At Trasimeno Lake (DVD) by Ana Popovic Band

November 27, 2010

Are you ready for some trivia? How many blues artists have come from Serbia? Or to be more precise, who is the leading female blues musician to be born in Belgrade, Serbia, Yugoslavia? The answer is Ana Popovic.

She was born into a musical family and at a young age decided to make the guitar her instrument of choice. By the age of 19, she was opening for Junior Wells. During the course of her career, she has released five studio, two live, and two DVD albums. All are fine examples of a blues/rock fusion sound.

Popovic is a somewhat under the radar artist in The United States as she has been more active in Europe than North America.

Her latest release is a live DVD recorded at Trasimeno Lake in Castiglione Del Largo, Italy, and is appropriately titled, An Evening At Trasimeno Lake. The sound quality and the visuals are excellent. My only complaint is at times they switch the angles too often. I would have preferred longer and more close up shots of Popovic playing her guitar, which borders on the spectacular.

The DVD extras include two acoustic performances from a different show, which are nice counterpoints to the electric material of the main concert, plus an extended interview.

Popovic is backed by an eight-piece band whose members tend to rotate in and out from song to song. The basic backing band consists of drums, bass, and keyboards. She carries one female backing singer to fill in the sound.

She may veer into jazz and rock territory upon occasion but she is at heart a modern day blues/fusion artist. Her guitar virtuosity does not take a back seat to anyone, male or female. Her fast hands and the clarity of her tone all make her one of the leading proponents of the blues working today.

Popovic has close to a perfect blues voice. It is interesting that she speaks with an Eastern European accent, but it is nowhere to be found when performing. She also sings in perfect English.

From the opening notes of “Wrong Woman,” it is a blues and guitar delight. “How’d You Learn To Shake It Like That” is the blues at its toughest and most intense. “My daddy was a preacher boy/my mother was an alley cat.”

She shows she is adept at a slide guitar style as well. “Nothing Personal” takes the sound in a slightly different direction as she adds a small brass section to fill out the sound and move it in a rock direction.

Ana Popovic proves there’s a new woman on the blues block, and the guys will have to move over and make room. An Evening At Trasimeno Lake is a delight for any fan of the blues and the guitar.

Article first published as Music DVD Review: Ana Popovic Band – An Evening At Trasimeno Lake on Blogcritics.

Tusk by Fleetwood Mac

November 27, 2010

What do you do when you have just released one of the ten best selling albums of all time, which topped the American album chart for 31 weeks? This was the question and task that faced Fleetwood Mac when they returned to the studio during late 1978 to record their follow up album to Rumours.

The resulting Tusk would be a long and sprawling double album. It would receive some criticism at the time of its release and not have the commercial success of its predecessor. It would, however, reach number four in The United States and number one in England and sell four million copies worldwide, which would have been outstanding for almost any other band or release.

Unfortunately, it was considered a failure in many circles. In retrospect, it could not have lived up to the expectations which preceded it.

I remember being disappointed at the time of its release, but the album has grown on me as time has passed and as it escaped the Rumours shadow. Today it stands on its own as another brilliant pop/rock release by Fleetwood Mac.

If Tusk was originally one thing, it was ambitious. In many places the sound veers from the safe pop styling of their last two releases to a more adventurous rock direction.

Lindsey Buckingham wrote nine of the twenty tracks and takes the most chances musically. “Tusk” was a drum=based track featuring the USC Marching Band. It was released as the lead single, which quickly announced that this was a different Fleetwood Mac release.

While the song was one of Mick Fleetwood’s crowning achievements, his drumming is excellent throughout. Just check out “Brown Eyes” and “What Makes You Think You’re The One.” Songs such as “The Ledge,” “Not That Funny,” and “What Make’s You Think You’re The One” have a frenetic feel that was not what its fan base was expecting at the time but which seem fine today. His “Save Me A Place” returned the group to a more familiar place complete with tight harmonies.

Stevie Nicks contributed five songs that may have been her overall strongest group and were what the band’s fan base expected of her. “Sara” is one of the finest performances of her career and became a deserved hit single. The original album version was almost two minutes longer than the single and remains superior. It was written about Mick Fleetwood’s wife Sara and her effects upon the group. Its harmonies, overdubbing, and emotional vocal make it one of her better creations.

“Storms” is moody and quiet, while “Sisters Of The Moon,” and “Beautiful Child” continued to develop her mystical personality.

Christine McVie sort of put it on cruise control for this release. “Never Make Me Cry” is a nice piano-based ballad. “Honey Hi” is surrounded with beautiful harmonies. “Over & Over” may have a mournful sound but it is also well created pop.

In many ways, Tusk is the modern pop Fleetwood Mac’s most creative album. It is a release that has stood the passage of time well and bears repeated listens to be truly appreciated.

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Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

November 27, 2010

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie started a nice little blues band back in the 1960s. Despite personnel changes, both professional and personal, the band endured and increased in popularity while transitioning from a traditional blues band to a pop/rock group. Their tenth self-titled album brought the band acclaim and unprecedented commercial success as it topped the American charts and ultimately sold in the neighborhood of five million copies. Fleetwood and McVie must have been feeling pretty good when they entered the studio during 1976 to record their next album.

Rumours was released February 4, 1977, and remains one of the most successful albums in music history. It topped the United States album charts for 31 weeks and sold 19 millions copies while producing four top ten singles. It also topped the British charts and sold 10 million copies in that country as well. When all was said and done, it became one of only ten albums to sell in excess of 40 million copies worldwide.

Rumours is rightly recognized as being pop perfection. The songwriting, harmonies, melodies, and slick production all added up to a perfect mix.

Christine McVie had been developing as a writer of pop songs, and here she created several of her masterpieces. “Don’t Stop” was a personal song about the end of her relationship with husband John McVie but from an optimistic viewpoint. It is catchy pop/rock at its best and reached number three as a single release. “You Make Lovin’ Fun” was another hit single in the same vein. This time it dealt with her affair with a member of their road crew that put the fun back in her love life. “Songbird” is a gentle song with an innate beauty. “Oh Daddy” may be a bit melancholy, but it is another song encased in pop melodies.

The three Stevie Nicks tunes are highlighted by the number one hit single “Dreams.” It would further cement her growing reputation as the pop witch queen. “Gold Dust Woman” is delicate pop that she was so good at creating.

Lindsey Buckingham’s major contribution was “Go Your Own Way.” His song was about his break-up with Nicks, coached in harmonies and melody. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it as the 119th best song of all time, and The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame honored it as one of The 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll.

“The Chain” is a rare Fleetwood Mac song that gives writing credit to all five members. Their 1992 4 CD, compilation box set, 25 Years: The Chain took its title from the song. It was a group effort and makes one wish they could have joined together more often.

Rumours remains one of the key releases in pop/rock history. It has been honored for decades and has kept Fleetwood Mac among the elite artists of the music world since its release.

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Fleetwood Mac By Fleetwood Mac

November 27, 2010

Bob Welch had left Fleetwood Mac and the group was in disarray. Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie decided to replace him with the obscure duo of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who had issued one commercially unsuccessful album. The Buckingham/Nicks addition would turn out to be brilliant and, when combined with the remaining three members, would create music history.

The band’s self-titled album was released July 11, 1975. It was a release that gathered commercial speed as the months passed. It took 53 weeks to reach the number one position on The United States charts, which was a record at the time. It would eventually sell five million copies in The USA alone. It would not be as initially successful in Great Britain as the new Fleetwood Mac would not be embraced until the release of Rumours, which would allow this album to reach number 23. Rolling Stone magazine would honor it as one of The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.

Lindsey Buckingham’s “Monday Morning” is the first track and quickly established the fact that this was indeed a new Fleetwood Mac. Their blues foundation had been left behind and been replaced by a pop/rock masterpiece. It is an infectious, up-tempo classic that featured the beginnings of the legendary McVie, Buckingham, and Nicks harmonies. His other solo composition, “I’m So Afraid,” closed the album on a haunting note.

Christine McVie wrote four tracks and co-wrote a fifth. “Say You Love Me,” with its sensual vocal, and the emotional “Over My Head,” would both become successful singles and be identified with the Fleetwood Mac sound for decades. Her lesser known “Warm Ways” is smooth and romantic. “Sugar Daddy” may not measure up to the first three but is a solid creation in its own right. She wrote “World Turning” with Buckingham which is slow, smoldering, and a little funky in places.

Not to be outdone Stevie Nicks contributed three songs. The hit single “Rhiannon” established her persona as the Welch witch and quickly became one of her signature performances. “Crystal” was originally released on her duet album with Buckingham. The lyrics provide an impact and the music is airy in a typical Stevie Nicks way. Her “Landslide” has an innate beauty that leaves you wanting more.

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie must have thought they had died and gone to heaven. The group that bore their names was now on top of the music world in The United States. They could not have imagined at the time that this brilliant album was only a warm-up for what was to come in the very near future.

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Be My Baby 45 by The Ronettes

November 27, 2010

Ronnie Bennett (Spector) was actually the only member of The Ronettes who sang on the song and sing she did. Phil Spector recorded 42 takes before he was satisfied he had enough for his Wall Of Sound.

“Be My Baby” would become a huge hit reaching number two on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE singles chart for three weeks during 1963.

Spector was at the height of his producing powers during this period of time and would employ a fill orchestre and all manor of backing singers including a young Cher).

“Be My Baby” remains one of the best examples of the early sixties girls group sound that was so popular at the time.

Waltz For Debby by Bill Evans

November 25, 2010

Bill Evans, August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980, is regarded as one of the best and most influential jazz pianists of all time. The apex of his work was the four albums he recorded as the Bill Evans Trio with bassist Scott Lafaro and drummer Paul Motian.

They expanded both the jazz trio concept through their interplay and individual solos, plus the use of the piano as an interactive jazz instrument. Evans would almost deconstruct a song through his skill at the piano. They would set a standard that many jazz artists would follow in the future.

Waltz For Debby was one of two albums recorded at the Village Vanguard on June 25, 1961, during a five-set performance. It was the last release by his original trio as Lafaro was killed in a car accident less than two weeks after its appearance.

Waltz For Debby remains a Bill Evans classic and a milestone in the history of jazz music. Released during late 1961, it now returns as a part of The Concord Music Group’s Original Jazz Masters Series. The sound is crystal clear and five bonus tracks have been added.

While three are different takes of the album’s original songs, they remain interesting for the subtle differences that appear. “Discussing Repertoire” is only 30 seconds long and could have been eliminated. The gem is “Porgy (I Love You),” which at over six minutes presents the trio in all their interactive glory.

The original liner notes are included, which are always welcome. The written gem of the set is the four-page essay about the performance by 87-year-old Orrin Keepnews, who was one of the founders of the Riverside label on which the album was originally released. He was at the performance and was the producer for the album 49 years ago.

The title track was a musical portrait of his niece. It appeared as a short piano performance on his 1956 debut album. It returned on this album in a filled out, elongated form and would become his signature song.

“My Foolish Heart” was a pop standard that first saw life in the film of the same name where it earned an Oscar nomination. Evans would turn it into a slow tempo jazz number, a style which would be covered by generations of jazz artists that followed.

Evans was a member of The Miles Davis Sextet for eight months and while their time together was short, it would be productive for both. Evans covers Davis’ famous “Milestones.” He twists and turns the song through the use of the trio’s three instruments but is always true to its intent.

The career of Bill Evans would come to a tragic conclusion at the age of 51. His longtime use of heroin and cocaine caused his body to finally give out. He is buried in Rose Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Baron Rouge, Louisiana.

Waltz For Debby remains a classic Bill Evans release and a center piece in the history of American jazz.

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Heroes Are Hard To Find by Fleetwood Mac

November 25, 2010

Heroes Are Hard To Find was released September 13, 1974, and would find Fleetwood Mac recording almost exclusively as a four person unit for the first time in its career. Bassist John McVie, keyboardist Christine McVie, drummer Mick Fleetwood, and guitarist Bob Welch were still on hand to carry on.

It was Welch who carried the writing burden for the second album in a row as he wrote seven of the eleven tracks. Christine McVie wrote the remaining four. In some ways the Welch compositions, while very good in places, looked to the band’s past while McVie’s focused on the future. In The United States music buyers embraced this contradiction of styles by making it their most successful release to date reaching number 34 on the album charts.

The album begins with Christine McVie’s brassy title song and her strong vocal performance enhances the sound. “Come A Little Bit Closer” is a pop masterpiece with her piano sound surrounded by strings. They imported pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow to play on the track, which gives it a dash of country.

“Prove Your Love” is the album’s best track. It has a beauty reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s best pop work and contains the feeling of sunset as her soulful vocal washes over you. Even the average “Bad Loser” has a pop sheen to it.

Christine McVie could always sing. She had been honored twice as British Female Vocalist Of The Year for her work with the blues/rock band Chicken Shack. Now she had not only evolved into a very good songwriter but was able to create pop excellence which would have great commercial appeal. She was ready for the next phase of Fleetwood Mac’s career.

Welch’s contributions include a number of styles and sounds. “Coming Home” is a spacey semi-instrumental that is mesmerizing in an odd way. “Angel” may be the hardest rocking song in the Mac catalogue. “Silver Heels” shows what a good lead guitarist he could be at times. While he would never be in the Peter Green or Danny Kirwan category, he was more than competent. The album’s last song, “Safe Harbour,” is a Welch instrumental.

He would leave the group following this release. He had carried the band through their mid-career period and in many ways was responsible for the band’s survival. He had produced music that filled the transition from blues to pop band. He and Christine McVie had complimented each other well and their time together had increased the band’s popularity.

Bob Welch’s time with Fleetwood Mac served the band well and his parting would leave them better off in the long run as his replacements would be guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Heroes Are Hard To Find may not be a classic, but it is more than acceptable and does shine in places. It closed a period in the career of Fleetwood Mac and left them poised to become one of the most popular bands in the world.

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Mystery To Me by Fleetwood Mac

November 25, 2010

Fleetwood Mac may have been a troubled band in 1973, but they managed to produce Penguin and a second album in that year, entitled Mystery To Me. Bob Weston contributed to the album but was not a full-time member, so some of his contributions may have been recorded before his departure. His career in the band came to an abrupt end when he had an affair with Mick Fleetwood’s wife.

Bob Welch and Christine McVie dominate the album. Welch wrote six of the tracks himself and co-wrote a seventh. McVie stepped forward and wrote four tracks. The album would not be a consistent classic but contained two songs as good as anything Fleetwood Mac would ever produce.

Mystery To Me is really a Bob Welch affair, and it was his determination that kept the group alive during this period of its career. His “Hypnotized” is one of the two terrific tracks and was an album-only radio staple for decades. The guitars combined with McVie’s keyboards to create a mystical, druggy type song. It may not have been representative of the Fleetwood Mac sound but was a perfect early seventies song.

There were several other Bob Welch songs of note. “Emerald Eyes” was a track that built as it progressed and proved he could really write sophisticated music. The lyrics dealt with the issue of infatuation and the song remained in the group’s concert act after his departure.

“The City,” “Miles Away,” and “Somebody” introduce the rocking Bob Welch and were presented back-to-back on the original vinyl release. He even manages a competent vocal on the old Yardbirds hit, “For Your Love.”

Christine McVie was responsible for the other memorable track. “Why” is an emotional ballad which closed the album. She created just the right vehicle for her soulful and bluesy voice, and the song would also remain a part of the group’s concert act for decades. Her vocal on “Just Crazy Love” is almost as good, as it is McVie at her wistful best.

Mystery To Me finds Fleetwood Mac in a holding pattern between their blues era and their classic pop era. Most of Welch’s contributions fit into neither style, but McVie’s would look ahead to the Fleetwood Mac of the mid-to-late seventies. It remains a unique and in some ways interesting release in the group’s catalogue.

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Eric Clapton: The 60’s Review (DVD) by Eric Clapton

November 25, 2010

There has been a proliferation of unauthorized artist DVD’s recently, and many of them are quickly thrown together from archival clips with a few interviews included for good measure. They are released, probably sell some copies to the artist’s fan base, and then quickly disappear.

I am happy to report that Eric Clapton: The 60’s Review is a cut about these quickly released compilations as it presents a nice overview of Clapton’s early history as a member of The Roosters, The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Blind Faith. It’s amazing to realize he was only in his mid-twenties at the time Blind Faith dissolved at the end of the sixties.

There are no complete performances, rather his story is told through clips, photos, and rare footage interspersed among a number of interviews.

It is the variety and quality of the interviews and the rarity of the photos that gives the DVD its appeal. I have seen a lot of photographs of Clapton down through the years, but the ones from his childhood, and his work with The Roosters, and Casey Jones & The Engineers are new to me and worth the price themselves.

It was nice to see and hear the comments by lifelong friend Ben Palmer, who was a member of The Roosters with Clapton and would go on to become Cream’s road manager. I would have liked to have heard Palmer talk about their trip to Greece as The Glands as it has always been the little discussed lost adventure of Clapton’s life.

Another interesting addition was Top Topham, who was The Yardbirds’ first guitarist. He was 15 at the time and was grounded by his parents who wanted him to become an artist. Clapton, who was only a few years older, took his place.

There are some Yardbird clips worth seeing as they present Clapton showing off with some of the fastest hands in guitar history, plus some video follows the early development of his sound. Chris Dreja’s comments about the era and the band are excellent.

Getting John Mayall to provide comments was a coup. He said he was attracted to Clapton because of his performance of “Got To Hurry” on the B side of the “For Your Love” single. All the interviewees speak about his progression as a guitarist during his tenure with Mayall.

The Cream section was interesting in places but much of the story was familiar. There was a clip of a young Clapton explaining how to play the wah-wah guitar. There was also a long clip of Jimi Hendrix playing “Voodoo Child” which rivaled Clapton’s work with Cream. Ben Palmer’s story of being hired as the band’s road manager was amusing as he thought he was being interviewed and ultimately hired as their driver.

The Blind Faith years are the least satisfying and are given short shrift and come to an end all too quickly.

Eric Clapton: The 60’s Review is an ultimately satisfying documentary of the early career of a guitar legend. Even his long time fans should be able to find some nuggets contained within its two hours.

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