Speeding Time by Carole King

October 31, 2011

Lou Adler had produced six albums for Carole King, 1971’s Tapestry through 1976’s Thoroughbred. After four somewhat lackluster albums saleswise, he hoped to return her to the huge commercial success of her past.

Adler’s vision was to update and modernize her sound. It was the 1980s, and that meant synthesizers. King’s best work always centered on her voice interpreting her lyrics and music, and anything removing the focus from those strengths reduced the effectiveness and enjoyment of listening to her music. The album’s personnel reflected this new direction, as King was listed as a synthesizer player in addition to vocals and her usual piano virtuosity. Robbie Kondor was also listed as a synthesizer musician and Rob Meurer as synthesizer programmer. In the end it didn’t matter commercially as it was her first album not to chart in the United States.

After listening to the album several times during the last couple of days, it is better than I remembered. Maybe time has made it more appealing, but some of the songs are worth revisiting once in a while. It was by no means one of her better efforts, but it was not as bad as its lack of success at the time would indicate.

Side one of the original vinyl release contained three credible performances. Her remake of her 1961 composition (co-written with Howard Greenfield) “Crying In The Rain,” which was a big hit for The Everly Brothers, was a good example of an old hit being updated. The synthesizer shares the stage with Danny Kortchmar’s guitar and Plas Johnson’s sax work. The tempo is different, and it all added up to a nice re-interpretation of an old classic. “Sacred Heart Of Stone” has too many synthesizers, but the vocal and lyrics save the song. The title track has a classic Goffin/King melody and the chorus enhanced the lyrics. The only real downer was the lead track,“Computer Eyes,” where the keyboards go a little overboard, which unfortunately spoiled a fairly good song.
Side two is overall less successful. The best track was the five minute “So Ready For Love,” which found King back at her acoustic piano. The album closer “Alabaster Lady” is another longer track and is also worth a listen.

The album was an experiment that was not appreciated by the music-buying public of the day. There is some good music to be found here, but much of it suffers from 1980s overindulgence. While it’s not essential to the Carol King catalogue, Speeding Time is worth exploring.

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Article first published as Music Review: Carole King – Speeding Time on Blogcritics.

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Swingin’ On A Star 78 by Bing Crosby

October 30, 2011

During July, August, and September of 1944 Bing Crosby had two songs spend a total of 13 weeks on top of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Singles Chart in the United States.

“Swingin’ On A Star” was originally sung by Crosby in the film, GOING MY WAY, and won the OSCAR for best song. Released as a single, it became the number one song in the country August 5, 1944 and remained in that position for nine consecutive weeks.

The song has since been covered by a variety of artists and remains an American standard. It also remains one of Bing Crosby’s most recognizable performances.


Dark Glasses 45 by Billy Joe Royal

October 30, 2011

Billy Joe Royal’s first chart single remains his most famous. “Down In The Boondocks” reached number nine in the United States and number one in Canada during 1965.

Careers have to start somewhere and during the early 1960s he released a series of singles on several small independant labels. “Dark Glasses” on the small Fairlane album was one of those releases.

His sound was still developing and the song received virtually no radio airplay and zero chart action.

Billy Joe Royal, at age 69, is still active on the bar circuit.


Party Doll 45 by Buddy Knox

October 30, 2011

I think it’s safe to say that Buddy Knox is the only artist to have a number one hit to have been born in Happy, Texas.

He formed the Rhythm Orchids at Texas State University with himself as vocalist/guitarist, bassist Jimmy Bowen, guitarist Don Lanier, and drummer Dave Alldred.

“Party Doll” was released February 23, 1957 and topped the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart for one week. It was an up-tempo blast of early rock ‘n’ roll and a rare rockabilly tune to reach number one. Unfortunately Knox would change his style as time progressed and never have that type of success again.

Knox would pass away during 1999. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame would honor “Party Doll” as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock ‘n’ roll. He is a member of The Rockabilly Hall Of Fame.


Greatest hits by Ricky Nelson

October 28, 2011

Except for Elvis Presley, no artist was as commercially successful during the late 1950s and early 1960s pre-British Invasion era than Ricky Nelson. He was a wholesome and safe alternative to the likes of Elvis, Fats Domino, and Little Richard, but a lot more hip than Pat Boone and The Kingston Trio.
One of the original teen idols, Nelson had the advantage of starring in the television series, The Adventures of Ozzie And Harriet. As he got a bit older he would close many of their episodes with a performance of his newest single. This constant exposure to a weekly television fan base resulted in his singles and albums selling in the tens of millions.

His early career was built around a combination of rockabilly songs mixed in with ballads. Many of his singles became double hits, where both sides of the record would chart; usually one side would be uptempo rock ‘n’ roll and the other side something slower. During the early ’60s he moved toward a more polished pop sound.

Nelson’s material has been released many times over the ensuing years. Unless you want to explore his legacy through a box set or the reissue of his original albums, though, the best representation of his sound is the 2005 release, Greatest Hits. Its 25 tracks cover most of his hits from 1957 through 1963, except for one song. My only complaint is that they are not in chronological order, which is always appreciated with a compilation album like this.

The best of the rockabilly sides include covers of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin,’” “My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It,” and “Be Bop Baby.” This side of his career is often ignored today but these tracks, among others, remain an important part in the development of rock ‘n’ roll as it exposed this type of material to a middle American audience.

Ballads such as “Poor Little Fool,” “Lonesome Town,” “Never Be Anyone Else But You,” and “Young Emotions” represent some of the best of the era.

“Travelin’ Man” and “Hello Mary Lou,” released in 1961, continued the trend of combining rockabilly and ballads on one single but here more of a pop sheen was added to the mix. Both sides became huge hits, with “Travelin’ Man” reaching number one on the Billboard Singles Chart and “Hello Mary Lou” checking in at number nine. They remain two of Nelson’s better and most recognizable performances.

“Fools Rush In” is the only track from 1963 and marked his transition to a pop sound. It would also mark the beginning of a downturn in his popularity as The Beatles were about to change music, likening his style and sound more as a link to the past.

I would have liked to have had 1962’s “Teenage Idol” and 1972’s “Garden Party” presented back to back as they represent the two sides of his artistry and make for nice bookends when considering his overall career.

Ricky Nelson died in a plane crash at the age of 45. He is a member of both the Rock and Roll and Rockabilly Halls of Fame. When the best of his music is culled down to 25 tracks, it becomes an essential listening experience to anyone even mildly interested in the music of the late ’50s and early ’60s.

Article first published as Music Review: Ricky Nelson – Greatest Hits on Blogcritics.


One To One by Carole King

October 27, 2011

By 1982, Carole King’s contract with the Capital label had come to an end. She then signed with Atlantic Records for the release of the album One To One that year.

For better or worse, her album releases have been compared to the brilliant and mega-selling Tapestry since it came out in 1971, and have always come up short. That album was so ingrained into the American music consciousness that it has been difficult for any subsequent release to escape its shadow and stand completely on its own.

One To One was a Carole King album that was very good in its own right. The song structures were imaginative and the melodies were sound. The lyrics may not have been as personal or sophisticated as her earlier work but all in all, it added up to to one of her better middle career efforts.
King mostly recorded with a basic band, plus she handled the piano work and lead vocals herself. It was always a good sign when guitarist Danny Kortchmar appeared among the music personnel. Here he was joined by another superior guitarist, Eric Johnson. Other musicians included keyboardist Reese Wynans, bassist Charles Lackey, and drummer Steve Meador, among others.

She was the solo composer of seven of the 10 tracks, but the three with other writers were very good. The title song was written with Cynthia Weil, who was part of another great 1960s husband-and-wife writing team with Barry Mann. The melody was addictive, and as the first track, it got the album off to a solid start.

“Looking Out For Number One” was written with Gerry Goffin, daughter Louise Goffin, and Warren Pash. This time, too many cooks were not too many. It was tuneful and made for King’s voice. She turned to former husband Gerry Goffin for “Someone You Never Met Before.” It was the album’s strongest track and proved that their ability to create songs of beauty remained intact over two decades into their songwriting careers.

There were several solo-penned songs that were strong as well. The autobiographical and aforementioned “Looking Out For Number One” was a philosophical statement of where she was on her life’s journey at the time. “Read Between The Lines” had a catchy chorus that just stayed in your mind. “Little Prince” closed the album and left you wondering who exactly was the little prince.

One To One remains an underappreciated and sometimes forgotten album in Carole King’s vast catalogue. It deserves better as it is a very good album that is still worth a visit now and then.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-carole-king-one-to/#ixzz1c1nNWrOU


The Innocent Ones by Willie Nile

October 26, 2011

So what does a person do when he graduates from the University of Buffalo with a degree in philosophy? Well in Willie Nile’s case you become one of the better, if underrated, rock artists active today.

Since the release of his self-titled debut album in 1980, he has floated in and out of the rock limelight. He has now returned with his latest release, The Innocent Ones. It has only been available as an import, but now will be issued in the United States beginning next month.

The album is basically a three man affair. He continues to play the guitar and keyboards plus provide the vocals. He is joined by longtime friend and bandmate, Frankie Lee who handles the drums and percussion, plus multi-instrumentalist Steuart Smith. Nile and Lee also share writing credit on 10 of the 11 tracks.

During the first two decades of his career he only released four studio and two live albums. He has been a lot more prolific lately as since 2006 he has issued three studio and three live albums. His new release follows in the footsteps of 2006’s Streets Of New York and 2009’s House Of A Thousand Guitars. The production is slick, the intriguing lyrics explore themes of the forgotten and hopeless, the musicianship is first rate, and the vocals are emotional.

The album’s press release states that Nile considers this album to be as good as anything he has ever produced, and listening to the music he may be right.

The music stands on its own. “Singin’ Bell” is an anthem that combines Pete Seeger and The Ramones. “One Guitar” is a philosophical statement about how one guitar and one voice can change the world. He is encouraging other artists to record the song as part of his One Guitar Campaign. All versions will be sold on iTunes with the profits going to charity.

There are beautiful ballads (“Song For You” and “Sideways Beautiful”), rock/pop creations (“My Little Girl” and “Far Green Hills”), and some rockers as well (the aforementioned “One Guitar” and “The Innocent Ones”).

It’s nice to have Willie Nile back performing and recording on a regular basis. He has always had the respect of his peers and his small but rabid fan base. Hopefully The Innocent Ones will bring him the commercial success that has always eluded him. His new album shows that his passion for creating good music still burns bright.

Read more: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-willie-nile-the-innocent/#ixzz1bx4dDy5S