Crocodile Rock 45 by Elton John

March 26, 2011

Elton John was on the verge of stardom when his label, Uni, was sold to MCA. His relationship with MCA would last eight years, and by the time he switched to Geffen, he was recognized as one of the superstars of music, as his records had sold in the tens of millions.

His first release for MCA was the single, “Crocodile Rock.” It was issued December 9, 1972, and would top the American Singles Chart for three weeks.

It was a nastalgic song of a by-gone era that was driven by an infectious sound. It was old style, up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll and remains a treat nearly 40 years after its initial release.

Where It All Begins by The Allman Brothers

March 25, 2011

Where It All Begins was the third of three comeback studio albums The Allman Brothers released during the first half of the 1990s. While it may be the weakest of the three, it is still a very solid release, as it contains nothing bad but nothing really outstanding as well. Still, it remains very listenable today.

The band’s personnel remained intact for the second album in a row. Gregg Allman was getting clean and sober and his performances are some of the album’s highlights. He became more of a presence than he had been in the past. Guitarists Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes were together for their third, and last, studio album. They were the second of three great guitar combinations that would grace The Allman Brothers Band.

The rhythm section of bassist Allen Woody and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks was as proficient as ever. Tom Dowd returned to produce his sixth album for the band, which added to its stability.

The sound may have been a little more mainstream than in the past, plus the improvisation was less than usual. On the positive side, it was the group’s usual mixture of southern rock and blues.

Gregg Allman and Dickey Betts share the principal writing chores. Allman co-wrote four of the tracks and Betts wrote or co-wrote five more. Betts would compose no more songs with another band member, which may have looked ahead to his leaving the band he had been with since its beginnings.

“Sailin’ Cross The Devil’s Sea” is an Allman, Haynes, Woody, and Jack Pearson composition and has a nice funky feel to it. It is Dickey Betts’ slide guitar that provides the highlight. “Temptation Is A Gun” was written by Allman, John Friga, and former Journey member Neal Schoen. It contains a wonderful and bluesy vocal by Allman.

Dickey Betts goes in a more rock direction than in the past. “Back Where It All Begins” clocks in at over nine minutes, which gives ample time for both Betts and Haynes to weave their guitar magic both by themselves and together. “No One To Run To” and “Mean Woman Blues” may not be the best songs Betts ever wrote, but they have a nice hard edge.

Where It All Begins would be a steady seller and eventually receive a gold record sales award. With the release of this album, the Allman Brothers would move confidently into the future. The band would remain a concert attraction as one of the best live bands in the business.

Article first published as Music Review: The Allman Brothers – Where It All Begins on Blogcritics.

Shades Of Two Worlds by The Allman Brothers

March 25, 2011

The Allman Brothers had re-established itself as one of the premier American bands with its 1989 comeback tour and excellent 1990 album, Seven Turns. The group quickly went back into the studio and issued a follow-up album during July of 1991.

Shades Of Two Worlds was a second very good album in a row. It may not have had the consistency of Seven Turns, but it was more diverse and a solid album in its own right.

The band had reduced itself to six members, as second keyboardist Johnny Neel was not asked to return. This meant that Gregg Allman was the sole keyboardist again, and he stepped forward to be one of the keys to the album’s success. It also meant that The Allman Brothers as a group was grounded in a two-guitar sound once more, and the combination of Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes was more than up to the task. They would also combine to co-write four of the eight tracks. The band also asked Tom Dowd to produce the album, marking the sixth time he had served in that capacity.

The album was a return to longer tracks, as had been the norm during most of ita early classic period. The best example is the Dickey Betts solo composition, “Nobody Knows.” At over 10 minutes, it is an epic Allman Brothers track. This is one of those occasions where Betts is smart enough to let Gregg Allman provide the lead vocal on one of his songs, and the results are excellent. In many ways, Allman’s vocal work is some of the best of his career. The dual guitars of Betts and Haynes and the drumming of Jaimoe and Butch Trucks are as good as anything the band would produce.

Betts and Haynes combined to create another classic Allman Brothers instrumental. “Kind Of Bird,” at over eight minutes is as close to true jazz as the band would come. It seems as if every album would contain a memorable instrumental and this track was no exception as Betts and Haynes were a superb combination.

There were a number of other highlights. “End Of The Line” is probably the album’s best known track, as it received considerable mainstream rock airplay in its time. It is a nice rocker written by four of the group members and a good way to begin the album.

“Get On With Your Life” is a Gregg Allman composition and he provides another excellent slow blues vocal. “Desert Blues” is a solid blues/rocker with more stellar guitar work from Betts and Haynes.

The album ends with a cover of blues legend Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen.” Allman’s vocal does Johnson proud and Haynes provides outstanding guitar work.

Shades Of Two Worlds was the Allman Brothers’ second superior album in a row. It proved that the band was truly back and in fine form. Another essential release in the long history of one of America’s legendary rock bands.

Read more:

Because The Night 45 by The Patti Smith Group

March 25, 2011

Patti Smith may be an author and a poet, but she is above all, as tough a female rocker as you will ever find.

She has sold millions of albums, but this Bruce Springsteen song, “Because The Night,” became her only top 40 single hit. Released April 8, 1978, it reached number 13 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

It was a gritty and rocking performance and is the definition or what rock ‘n’ roll should be all about. It remains one of the better songs to grace the singles charts during the second half of the 1970’s.

Concrete and Clay 45 by Unit Four Plus Two

March 24, 2011

Unit Four plus Two was a British Invasion group that passed through music history and quickly vanished. Members of the group were vocalist Peter Moules, guitarists David Meikle and Howard Lubin, keyboardist Thomas Mueller, bassist Roy Garwood, and drummer Hugh Halliday.

Their only hit would be “Concrete and Clay,” which peaked at number 35 on the American Singles Chart.

Music history is filled with songs being released at the same time by different artists. They released their single on May 1, 1965, which was the same date as Eddie Rambeau released his version. Rambeau’s would reach number 35.

The releases were similar and no doubt hurt each other. It would be the only significant hit of both of their careers.

Twist and Shout by The Shangri-Las

March 24, 2011

The Shangri-Las are best remembered for their songs of teen angst. Songs such as “Leader Of The Pack,” “Give Us Your Blessings,” and “I Can Never Go Home Anymore,” all became hits during the mid-1960’s.
They charted 11 singles between 1964-1966.

Every once in awhile they went in a different direction and so it was with the flip side of one of their hits, “Give Him A Great Big Kiss.” It was one of the often recorded songs of the 1960’s, and while their rendition may not have been among the best, at least it was interesting as it was performed by a girls group.

One of the things I learned early in my collecting career was to always turn the 45 single releases over and give the B side a chance.

Convoy 45 by C.W. McCall

March 23, 2011

“Convoy” was issued December 6, 1975, and if there was one single that represented the culture of the mid-1970’s, this was the one. It was issued at the height of the CB phase in The United States. It was filled with CB jargon as it told the story of a truck convoy. You could not turn on the radio for any length of time during the first half of 1976, without hearing this song.

He was born William Fries but changed his name to C.W. McCall when he cut a series of commercials for the Mertz Bread Company, which are actuall very clever. He would go on to a moderately successful country career.

“Convoy” would become a huge hit reaching the number one position on the American coundtry and pop charts. Today, it is a nice slice of the 1970’s era.

While his career would reach its high point with the release of “Convoy,” he would go on to be elected the major of Ouray, Colorado.

Monk’s Music by Thelonious

March 22, 2011

Thelonious Monk (1917-1982) is recognized as one of the giants of American jazz music. One of his classic albums has now been reissued as a part of the Legacy Jazz Classics Remasters series. He is joined by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, and Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet, which is good company indeed. The series has reached the one-year mark and continues to resurrect and release some of the most important albums in American music history.

Monk’s recording career reaches back to the 1940s. By the mid-1950s, he had compiled an impressive catalogue of work, which had received critical acclaim within the jazz community. The commercial results were moderate, as his use of dissonant notes and odd melodic shifts did not appeal to a broad spectrum of music buyers. That all changed during his time recording for the Riverside Label, 1955-1961.

Monk’s Music was recorded during June of 1957, and while it is instantly recognizable as classic Thelonious Monk, his sound had moved just enough toward the mainstream to make it and the albums which followed, commercial successes, and push Monk to the top of the American jazz hierarchy.

Monk is joined by one of the most impressive backing groups in jazz history. Trumpeter Ray Copeland, alto saxophonist Gigi Gryce, tenor saxophonists John Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins, bassist Wilbur Ware, and drummer Art Blakey were some of the best musicians in the world at the time.

The album begins with the short “Abide With Me,” which is one of the most unusual in the Monk catalogue. It consists just of the four horn players joining together on this old hymn.

Monk reached back to 1947 for “Well You Needn’t.” The song is extended out to over 11 minutes which allows everyone to provide solos. “Ruby, My Dear” is another song Monk first recorded in 1947 with a trio. The original composition went back to his teen years and is one of the more melodic tunes he would produce.

“Off Minor (Take 6)” was first recorded during the late 1940s by Bud Powell. Monk, Copeland, and Hawkins all take solos. They recorded the song six times while in the studio and take four was used on the album.

“Epistrophy” is another old tune that was resurrected for this album. The extended solos by Copeland and Coltrane are worth the price of admission. “Crepuscule With Nellie (Take 6)” is another unique track as it is a structured song with little improvisation. It places the emphasis on Monk’s brilliance as a songwriter.

There are three bonus tracks. “Off Minor (Take 4)” and “Crepuscule With Nellie (Takes 4 and 5)” are interesting to compare with the versions that appear on the original release. The third bonus track was recorded without Monk. He was exhausted and not up to playing, but paid for studio time that remained. Minus the piano, the remaining musicians created the hard bop piece, “Blues For Tomorrow.”

Monk’s Music is a fine addition to the Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. The sound is pristine, the original liner notes are intact, and the new notes by Ashley Kahn shed light on the participants and music. It is an essential addition to any jazz collection.

Article first published as Music Review: Thelonious Monk – Monk’s Music on Blogcritics.

Ugetsu by Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers

March 22, 2011

The Concord Music Group has been releasing classic jazz albums via their Original Jazz Classics Remasters series. To celebrate the one year mark of the ongoing series, four more albums are now seeing the light of day. Albums by Thelonious Monk, Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, and the subject of this review Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers have been issued with a pristine sound, excellent packaging, and informative notes. They are a must for all jazz aficionados.

Art Blakey (1919-1990) is now recognized as one of the most influential drummers in jazz history. He was one of the originators of the modern bebop sound, along with Max Roach and Kenny Clarke.

His career began during the 1940s with stints in Fletcher Henderson’s and Billy Ecstine’s orchestras. He would go on to play with such jazz superstars as Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis. He first used the Jazz Messengers name during the late 1940s, but did not regularly record under its name until the early 1950s. They would become one of jazz music’s lasting and influential groups.

Blakey would be the constant member of the ever changing Jazz Messengers until his death in 1990. It was the training ground for dozens of musicians, including Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Keith Jarrett, Chuck Mangione, and Wynton Marsalis.

Ugetsu is one of the legendary jazz albums as it includes one of the Jazz Messengers classic line-ups. Recorded live at Birdland in New York City during June of 1963, it featured trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Cedar Walton, bassist Reggie Workman, plus group leader and drummer Blakey.

The Jazz Messengers were not the Art Blakey show. Most of the time he was content to provide the foundation for the songs which allowed the various members room to solo. Still, he always announced his presence with precision and clarity which helped to define the sound.

Live jazz is many times preferable to studio jazz. Surprises lurk behind every corner and each performance is presented with all its delights and all its flaws exposed. The Jazz Messengers got it right on this release and the results continue to satisfy nearly 50 years later.

A number of memorable songs were introduced, which would remain a part of the Jazz Messengers live shows long after the writers had left. Wayne Shorter’s “One By One” and “On The Ginza,” Curtis Fuller’s “Time Off,” and Cedar Walton’s title track made their debuts.

It is an album of highlights. “One By One” is melodic but the brass section gives it a funky feel. It contains one of the nice early solos of Hubbard’s career. The title track, which Blakey explains means fantasy, contains another nice solo by Hubbard. “Time Off” presents Blakey at his best as he directs the song from behind his drum kit. “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” allows sax player Frank Shorter to step forward for the key solo. Another highlight is the previously unreleased “Conception.”

Ugetsu is a nice trip back in time with one of the better jazz groups at the height of their powers. It takes repeated listens to fully appreciate the brilliance of this release.

Read more:

Ella and Oscar by Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson

March 22, 2011

The Original Jazz Classics Remasters Series has reached the one year mark. They have released a number of classic jazz albums, which have been remastered so as to achieve a clear and pristine sound. Most contain unissued bonus tracks and all contain the original liner notes plus an extended essay presenting a history of the music and recording sessions. Four new titles have just been issued. Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson, and Cal Tjader/Stan Getz Sextet are the newest additions to what will hopefully be a long series of releases.

Ella and Oscar by Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson was recorded during 1975, and was produced by the legendary Norman Granz. The only other musician to appear is bassist Ray Brown who provides support on tracks 6-9, which was side two of the original vinyl release. Brown played with Peterson for decades and was married to Fitzgerald for six years. He would continue to support her professionally after their divorce.

Oscar Peterson, 1925-2007, is recognized as one of the enduring piano players in jazz history. His career extended over 60 years and he recorded nearly 200 albums worth of music as a solo artist, group leader, and supporting other artists. He may not have been as creative as some of his well-known counterparts, but his preciseness and the melodic nature of his music appealed to a vast audience, which extended the acceptance and commercial appeal of jazz music.

Ella Fitzgerald, 1919-1996, is now recognized as one of history’s premier jazz vocalists. During her six decade career, she recorded over 80 albums and placed 60 plus singles on the pop charts. She won 13 Grammy Awards and received The National Medal Of Art from President Ronald Reagan and The Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President George H. W. Bush.

Fitzgerald and Peterson toured together many times during their careers and both received wide commercial success while signed to Norman Granz’s Verve Label. Granz sold the label to MGM during the early 1960s for $3,000,000. In 1973 he formed the Pablo Label and quickly signed Fitzgerald and Peterson.

Ella and Oscar is so relaxed, it could have been recorded in the living room of either of the artists. Both just seem to cruise through the sessions without really straining, yet the results are stunning.

“Mean To Me” is an old Billie Holiday tune that Fitzgerald smooths out. Gershwin’s “Midnight Sun” and Johnny Mercer’s “How Long Has This Been Going On” were taken for Fitzgerald’s Song Book Series. The melodies are made for Peterson’s style and Ella’s retrained vocals are a perfect match.

The classics “I Hear Music” and “April In Paris” were long term favorites of Fitzgerald. It was about as swinging as she would ever get and Ray Brown joining Peterson provides a nice foundation.

There are a number of nice ballads. The playing of Peterson on “Street Of Dreams,” “More Than You Know,” “There’s A Lull In My Life,” and “Midnight Sun” draws you in and Fitzgerald’s vocals transport you to other places.

The four bonus tracks are unreleased, different takes from material contained on the album. It is fascinating to hear how different they are from the material that was selected.

Ella and Oscar is a look at two jazz icons at the height of their powers. It remains a smooth listen 36 years after its initial release.

Article first published as Music Review: Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson – Ella and Oscar on Blogcritics.