#1 Record By Big Star

November 30, 2014

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If ever a band deserved commercial success, it was Big Star. Instead they were regulated to existing as the darlings of critics and recognized for being highly influential as one of the originators of the power pop sound.

Alex Chilton of Box Tops fame (guitar and vocals), Chris Bell (guitar and vocals), Andy Hummer (bass and vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums) formed Big Star during the early 1970’s. They released their first album #1 Record in 1972. The release was listed among Rolling Stone Magazine’s Greatest 500 Albums Of All Time and has now been reissued.

#1 Record was the brain child of Chilton and Bell. In the recording studio, Chilton would use a one take approach for the guitar and vocal tracks. He would then hand them over to Bell who would add the textures, polish them with overdubs, and then put together the harmonies. It all added up to an album that would influence power pop bands and their descendants for the next three decades.

“Thirteen” is just about the perfect pop song and Rolling Stone ranked it among the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. The acoustic ballad is different from alot of their up-tempo material but its delicate nature makes it a stand-out.

“In The Street” has a slower tempo than the version that appeared as the theme song of That 70’s Show. The signature guitars, the tight harmonies, and the smooth delivery combine to give it layers of textures. “My Life is Right” and “Don’t Lie To Me” fuse pop and rock, while “Watch The Sunrise” is a return to a simpler approach.

I have heard this album on CD and vinyl in the past and the sound quality here is a huge upgrade. Each instrument is distinct and the vocal harmonies leap out of the speakers. You can even year the guitarist’s hands move over the instrument on the acoustic numbers. In addition the new liner notes are by Mike Mills of R.E.M.

Bell quickly became disenchanted with the album’s lack of success and left the band. He died in a car crash in 1978 at the age of 27. Chilton remained the center of Big Star until his death in 2010. Their brief time together resulted in one of the brilliant, if underappreciated albums of its era.

 


In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth (Vinyl Reissue) By Coheed & Cambria

November 30, 2014

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If one has never been exposed to the music of Coheed and Cambria, one might guess that that the name might refer to a hip-hop duo. Nothing could be further from the truth as they are a band who combines elements of progressive rock, pop, and hardcore punk into their sound.

They are also a band that evokes strong feelings. Most people tend to like them or hate them with very little middle ground.

Guitarist/vocalist Chris Sanchez, guitarist Travis Slever, bassist Michael Todd, and drummer Josh Eppard formed the band in 2005. They have traveled in a different, unusual, and creative direction as each studio release is a concept album. They are based on the ongoing science fiction story of The Amory Wars, which is also a comic book and graphic novel series conceived and written by Sanchez. The band’s name is taken from two characters in the series.

Given the band’s approach, the albums are not a light listen. The songs flow into each other and while the textures and tempos may vary, they all further the story. Some tracks can be pulled off and listened to individually but overall each album is a creative whole, as is the series.

Their second album, In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 has just been re-issued as a two-LP, 180 gram vinyl set. As with carefully produced LP’s recorded on non-recycled vinyl and played on a good system, the sound is equal to and many times surpasses that of a CD.

The music and the lyrics many times run counter to each other. The music is melodic and at times contains catchy hooks. At other times it is atmospheric, while some of the songs have a heavy metal or post-punk foundation. The lyrics, in addition to telling a story, travel a very dark road.

In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 is the second album in the series and find Coheed and Cambria developing their style and sound as they settle into the story. Like them or hate them, their music is always interesting.


Soul Brothers By Otis Clay And Johnny Rawls

November 20, 2014

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Otis Clay began his career back in the 1950′s singing in such gospel groups as The Voices of Hope, The Christian Travelers, and The Songbirds. In the early 1960′s he embarked upon a solo career, which culminated with his 2013 induction into the Blues Music Hall Of Fame.

John Rawls has released 16 albums during his career, which have produced 12 Blues Music Awards nominations.

While they have both been involved in the music business for decades, their paths did not cross until about ten years ago. Last year Clay guested on Rawls’ album, Remembering O.V. Now they have joined together to create the album Soul Brothers, which will be released next month.

Soul Brothers is a combination of original compositions and cover tunes. They take Dave Mason’s “Only You And I Know” in a funky blues direction. Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” is a bit rawer than the original. Tyrone Davis’ “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” emerges as a bluesy track.

The Johnny Rawls penned “Hallelujah Lord” is a return to the gospel music of yesterday when blues and gospel music were first cousins. Original songs such as “Road Dog,” “Living On Borrowed Time,” and “Voodoo Queen” serve both vocalists well as they bring their years of experience to the music. The brass section gives the music an energetic and modern feeling.

Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are two experienced blues masters who have combined their talent to produce an excellent album that should please any aficionado of the blues.

 


Midnight Dancer By Willie Hutch

November 20, 2014

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William McKinley Hutchison, 1944-2004, better known as Willie Hutch was an artist who enjoyed a forty year career, yet only achieved moderate commercial success despite enjoying prosperity as a songwriter (“I’ll Be There”) by The Jackson 5), releasing seven albums for the Motown label where he also served as a staff writer, and scoring a number of films including Foxy Brown.

Real Gone Music has just reissued his two albums recorded for the Whitfield label 1978-1979. Midnight Dancer was the second and stronger of the two releases as it found him settling in to a sustained groove. While the album received little notice at the time of its release, it contained some of the better music of his career.

The disco era was on the wane and his music caught the tail end of that era but also looked ahead to the slick and funky soul of the 1980’s.

The album is bookended by two laid back disco tracks. “Disco Thang” and “Down Here On Disco Street” both make use of strings and brass. They are smooth, extended cuts that flow along, propelled by his relaxed and unhurried vocal style.

The title track clocks in at over eight minutes and looks ahead to the 1980’s. There is a two minute instrumental introduction with a synthesizer, strings, and guitar all vying for attention. It all adds up to a dance track that would have been in vogue in the post-disco era.

Tracks such as “Kelly Green,” “Never Let You Be Without Love,” and “Deep In Your Love” have a slower tempo. “Kelly Green” is a nostalgic ballad, while the mid-tempo “Deep In Your Love” is a gentle love song.

Midnight Dancer is a solid album, which is emblematic of Willie Hutch’s career. He could produce good albums that were listenable but were not cutting edge.  One plus to his music is it is not stuck in its era but has a very modern feel to it. His music remains interesting if limited.

 


The Mason Williams Ear Show By Mason Williams

November 16, 2014

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Mason Williams first claim to fame was as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He capitalized on that success with the release of The Mason Williams Phonograph Album, which contained the instrumental “Classical Gas.” Released as a single it reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in June of 1968. The single propelled the album to commercial success.

His mainstream success belied the quirky side of his creativity. “Classical Gas” was very different from what would follow. His next release, The Mason Williams Ear Show, while not as successful, was more in tune with who he is as an artist. That album, and its predecessor have been reissued by Real Gone Music.

The Mason Williams Ear Show is an eclectic affair containing a number of tracks that present his quirky brand of humor. “The Last Great Waltz” is odd at best and contains a speeded-up vocal. “$13 Stella” is an ode to a cheap guitar. “Cinderella-Rockefella” contains the type of weird and off-kilter humor that was so common on the Smothers Brothers television show.

“Baroque-A-Nova”  was another try at creating a mainstream hit. His guitar play was excellent but the sound was a little to close to his previous big hit and failed as a single release. That failure helped move the album from the mainstream to more of a niche release.

The sound quality has been enhanced by modern-day technology and the enclosed booklet presents a fine history of Williams and the album.

The Mason Williams Ear Show is a creative album from a mind that continues to travel the road less traveled.


Passing Through By Grace Griffith

November 16, 2014

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That this album actually exists is due to the grit, determination, and spiritual fortitude of Grace Griffith.

Griffith was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease almost 20 years ago and her condition deteriorated with the passage of time. Today she is unable to play the guitar, has problems walking, and has difficulty with her vocal control. She is currently living in an assisted care facility in Washington D.C.

She possesses a wonderful soprano voice and it was her desire to record one more album. Through the help of her friends, a editing process by Chris Biondo, and two years in an out of the recording studio; resulted is the album Passing Through.

The songs she chose for the album are a collection of modern and traditional folk and Celtic songs.

“The Wood Thrush’s Song” places the emphasis on her voice as it is an a capella performances complete with backing vocals. “Nature Boy” is more of the same simple approach as it is her vocal and Richard Miller’s guitar.

During 1981 English poet Sydney Carter wrote “Loud Are The Bells Of Norwich,” which he based on a 14th century prayer by Julian of Norwich. Backed by guitar, upright bass, violin, and cello; she takes the listener on a moving spiritual journey. The traditional “Down By The Sally Gardens,” based on a poem by William Butler Yates, and accompanied only by Sue Richards on the Celtic harp, is an expression of emotion.

The album concludes with the bonus song; “Water, Fire, and Smoke.” it is the only previously released track, which was taken from he solo debut album. Its inclusion brings her music career full circle.

Music moves in many directions and has all types of connections with the listener. The music of Passing Through is an album in which the journey of its creation is just as important as its result.

 


The Entertainer: Greatest U.S. And Canadian Hits By Ray Griff

November 14, 2014

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While never as popular in the United States as Canada, Ray Griff did place 23 singles on the Billboard Country Charts although he never reached the top ten. In Canada he consistently reached the top ten including his number one country hit “If I Let Her Come In.” Real Gone Music has now gathered his most successful singles under the title The Entertainer – Greatest U.S. & Canadian Hits.

The 24 tracks are presented in chronological order 1967-1986, and encompass his work for six different labels. The songs are not modern country but rests firmly in what today can be labeled as a classic country sound. The material takes you back to the Hank Snow and Ray Price era when country music was basic and told a story without the rock and roll trappings of today.

It was with the Capital label during the mid-1970’s that he achieved his greatest commercial success as a recording artist. “If I Let Her Come In” is a pure country cheatin’ ballad with a unique falsetto vocal. “You Ring My Bell” contained a little funk in its country approach.

Griff just rolls through the ballads and mid-tempo material. His delivery is smooth and his vocal style mellow, all of which makes one wonder why he was not a bigger star.

As with all of the Real Gone reissues, the sound quality is impeccable and the accompanying booklet gives a fine overview of his career and music. It would have been nice to have some of his early rockabilly material included but that would not have fit the “hits” theme of the release.

Ray Griff is an artist whose music has been out of print for several decades. While his sound may not resonate with modern day country aficionados, it is a nice trip back in time to when country music had a twang and sincerity that is missing today. An excellent compilation album by a many times forgotten artist.