Blue Sky Thinkin’ By Anne McCue

April 28, 2015

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Anne McCue is one of those artists you want to follow everywhere. The Australian born singer/guitarist learned her musical chops as a member of two all-female bands; Girl Monster and Eden AKA. Now based in the United States, she is about to release her 7th full-length studio album, Blue Sky Thinkin.’

She has been primarily an alternative country artist, whose music expands in a folk, blues, and rock direction upon occasion. Her releases have also been guitar based and she has developed into an accomplished instrumentalist. That’s why her new album is such a surprise as it is an abrupt change of musical direction.

She has traveled in what can be described as a light jazz direction as she draws from the past by channeling the likes of Billie Holliday, George Gershwin, and Hoagy Carmichael. The main emphasis has moved away from her guitar and settled squarely on her voice and words.

The songs are her own as she wrote or co-wrote 11 of the 12 tracks. It is the style that reaches into the past. This is very apparent on “Things You Left Out In The Rain” and “It Wasn’t Even Fun While It Lasted” as they are lyrical and melodic as she gives quiet swinging performances.

You can picture Billie Holliday in a smoky lounge late at night singing “Save A Life.” She moves in an acoustic direction with Cowgirl Blues, which is a stylistic tribute to one of her idols, Memphis Minnie. “Little White Cat” may not fit the style of the rest of the music but it is welcome as it is a rough roadhouse boogie tune.

It is always interesting to see an artist expand their horizons and try something different. Blue Sky Thinkin’ is an album that shows a different side of Anne McCue, and for those who have continued to follow her, it is a very worthwhile journey.


The Complete Atlantic Recordings By Jackie Moore

April 28, 2015

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Jackie Moore was, and still is, a gritty rhythm & blues performer. Her style may have been a little too raw for huge success but her output during the early 1970’s was the equal to most of her contemporaries. She had one big crossover hit in 1970 with “Precious Precious,” but despite 15 middling R&B Chart hits, mainline success managed to elude her.

She spent five years with the Atlantic label, 1969-1974, for whom she issued a number of singles and one studio album. Almost half of her studio recordings remained unreleased. Real Gone music has now issued The Complete Atlantic Recordings, which gathers together all 30 of the songs she produced for the label.

Taken individually, many of the songs are excellent. When taken together, they lack cohesiveness as the label was never allowed her to settle into a consistent style. Her only album, 1973’s Sweet Charlie Babe, was cobbled together from her singles, leaving an album’s worth of material in the vaults.

This is a release where many of the unreleased tracks are equal to what appeared on her single releases. “Here I Am” is a performance that fuses gospel and blues with a powerful duet with David Crawford. “I Just Started” has a big brass sound and backing vocals by the Sweet Inspirations. “Young Girls” is the type of down to earth rhythm & blues that punctuated her career. “I Forgive You” is so obscure that the composer has been lost to history but it is a deep grooved funky piece.

“Precious Precious” has a number of layers including a brass background, the Dixie Flyers, and Dr. John on piano. “Darling Baby” traveled in a different direction as it is a delicate cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit. “Sometimes It’s Got To Rain (In Your Life)” is an attempt to combine her gritty vocals with the pop soul sound of Motown, which was so popular at the time.

After leaving the Atlantic label she would continue to sporadically record, while raising a family. Her great shining moment came in 1979 when her “This Time Baby” became one of the big dance club/disco hits of the era.

The Complete Atlantic Recordings is a nice look into the career of a sometimes forgotten soul singer. It is a legacy worth exploring for anyone interested in the music of the era.


Rock & Roll Time By Jerry Lee Lewis

April 28, 2015

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Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the grand old men of rock and roll. His career now spans seven decades. He was 79 when he entered the studio to record his latest album Rock & Roll Time.

His last two studio efforts, Last Man Standing (2006) and Mean Old Man (2010) were duet albums. His latest release is all Jerry Lee. It is still heavy in star power but the likes of Keith Richards, Neil Young, Nils Lofgren, Robbie Robertson, Doyle Bramhall II, and Shelby Lynne are regulated to guitarists and background vocalists.

The title of the album is somewhat misleading. While he can still rock as seen on covers of Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” and “Promised Land;” much of the album is more in tune with the country side of his career.

The title track, written by Kris Kristofferson, has a plaintive and nostalgic feel. Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Mississippi Kid” is transformed into an emotional country-tinged performance. “Keep Me In Mind” is a pure country ballad, reminiscent of many of his country hits during the 1970’s.

He reaches deep in the Bob Dylan catalogue with a sincere version of “Stepchild.” In a tribute to his Sun label days, he straddles the line between rock and country with “Folsom Prison Blues.”

His voice may not have the explosive power of his younger days but he more than makes up for it with a laid back and smooth approach. He can still play the piano but also uses the array of guest guitarists to fill in the sound.

Jerry Lee Lewis has produced a remarkable album at an age when most of his contemporaries have retired or passed on. It may not shake your nerves and rattle your brain but there is still some fire in the music.

 


The Last Month Of The Year (CD Reissue) By The Kingston Trio

April 25, 2015

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The passage of time has dimmed the legacy of the Kingston Trio. They were one of the groups that were responsible for the folk revival of the late 1950’s and were recognized stars in the pre-Beatles era. Five of their albums topped the Billboard Magazine album chart for a total of 46 weeks, which still ranks in the top ten all-time.

Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds were college students in the 1950’s when they formed the Kingston Trio. While their greatest popularity was during the first half of the 1960’s, a version of the group is still on the road today.

The Last Month Of The Year was released in late 1960. It ranks as a unique holiday offering as the material is drawn from English and European folk songs and spirituals of the southern United States rather than traditional Christmas fare.

The music of the Kingston Trio always had an easy going and spontaneous feel to it. The Last Month Of The Year was different from that norm as it was the result of an extended recording process. The instrumental backing has a very technical quality and the harmonies are polished. Despite being one the better and most creative albums of their career, it did not sell as well as their other releases at the time and was quickly pulled from circulation by their label. It has only rarely made an appearance in print during the last half-century. It now returns as a reissue by Real Gone Music with a crystal clear re-mastered ound and an excellent booklet, which presents a history of the music and band.

It is a folk album first and foremost. “All Through The Night” is an 18th Century Welsh folksong, while “Go Where I Sent Thee” is from the American South of two centuries ago and fuses gospel and traditional folk. “A Round About Christmas” was originally a song that was sung as a round, while “Last Month Of The Year” is an up-tempo jaunt with a jazz feel to it.

The harmonies on “Follow Now Oh Shepherds” and “Bye Bye Thou Tiny Little Child” are some of the best of their career. “The Snows Of Winter” is music from the fourth movement of Brahms First Symphony with lyrics co-written by Bob Shane.

The Last Month Of The Year is a holiday album that takes the road less traveled and is all the better for it. It is many times a forgotten holiday masterpiece and a must listen for the season.

 


Core By Arjun

April 25, 2015

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Core by Arjun is an album you need to listen to a number of times to appreciate the textures  and understand the subtleties.

The band was formed during 2003 and consists of guitarist Eddie Arjun Peters, drummer Lamar Myers, and bassist Andre Lyles. They are an experimental threesome who combine rock and jazz improvisations into a fusion sound.

Their approach is instrumental and given the nature of their music, it is safe to say that vocals would be a hindrance. The rhythm section lays down deep grooves as Peters guitar dances above the rhythms. Some of the songs move in a gentle direction, while others have a powerful impact.

They have developed into a tight band who after a decade together are able to intimately connect with each other, which given their improvisational approach, is an important component of their success.

Arjun has carved out a nice niche for themselves in the musical landscape. Core is an album well-worth exploring.


Baby Love By The Supremes

April 23, 2015

It took the Supremes several years and a number of failed singles before they became successful. “Where Did Our Love Go” hit the top of the charts August 22, 1964. Two months later, on October 31, 1964, they reached number one again with “Baby Love,” where it remained for four weeks.

Their second number one hit established Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson as one of the top vocal groups in the United States. They may not have known it at the time but the best was yet to come.


Live In Memphis (DVD) By Big Star

April 19, 2015

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Alex Chilton, formally of the Box Tops, formed Big Star in 1971 with Chris Bell, Jody Stephens, and Andy Hummell.  Their first two albums were critically acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful. The band folded in 1974 but re-appeared in 1993 with vocalist/guitarist Chilton and drummer Stephens joined by two members of The Posies; guitarist/vocalist Jon Auer and bassist /vocalist Ken Stringfellow. The band recorded and performed together until Chilton’s death in March of 2010.

While there are a number of live Big Star recordings around, their Memphis concert of October 29, 1994, was the only one to have been professionally filmed. That concert has now been released as a DVD, CD, and double vinyl LP.

Despite being professionally recorded the sound and video is average by today’s standards. The energy of the band more than makes up for it as it was a homecoming concert and was advertised as their farewell performance. The band is trying very hard and it shows in this superior live show.

The material is primarily drawn from their first two albums, plus a number of cover songs that Chilton liked to include in their live shows. The exception is a poignant cover of deceased member Chris Bell’s solo tune “I Am The Cosmos.” Jon Auer provides the vocal as they salute one of their founding members.

The highlights of their tunes from their acclaimed first albums are “September Gurls” and “The Ballad Of El Goodo,” which are presented in all their harmonic pop glory.

Chilton always had an eclectic taste for other people’s material and that was on display in this concert. The covers range from a wicked interpretation of Todd Rundgren’s “Slut,” to a rocking cover of the Kinks “Till The End Of The Day,” to the pop/jazz classic “The Girl From Impanema.” He even reaches into the obscure past with a cover of the long-forgotten Gary and The Hornets “Patty Girl.”

Live In Memphis catches the second generation Big Star at their best. While their first two albums remain must listens; this live albums presents a different version of the band that was about to carve out its own legacy.


Best Of By Roger Taylor

April 19, 2015

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Drummer Roger Taylor was a founding member of Queen and is a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. In the United States he has always been associated with his band. In his home country, he has also had a successful solo career. Now the music from his solo career is coming to two compilation CD’s. If you are a hard core fan there is The Lot, which is a 12 CD, one DVD box set, which contains his entire solo output. If you want a taste of his career there is Best, which draws 18 tracks from his five albums and two singles.

Taylor’s solo career has been very different from that of Queen as without the band around him, he has been free to move in different directions. There are passionate ballads, electronic music, and good old rock and roll.

Taylor has always been able to create a song. He has written or co-written three number one songs in the United Kingdom; “These Are The Days Of Our Lives,” “Innuendo,” and “Under Pressure.”  In addition, at least one of his compositions was included on every Queen album. While he is the drummer for Queen, on his solo releases he also is a capable guitarist and vocalist.

“Foreign Sand” is an excellent example of his ability to carry a ballad that builds throughout. “Man On Fire” is a down to earth gritty tune. “A Nation Of Haircuts” finds him letting loose as he just rocks.

There is an excellent booklet that provides an informative history of his solo career. The music is well-recorded and clear, which enhances the listening experience.

Best may not be a cohesive album as it jumps from different periods of his career and sometimes skips a decade. What it does is provide an introduction to his solo music and possibly whets your appetite to explore his music further. It also proves that he has a creativity that extends beyond Queen and that he is capable of creating some good music on his own.


Our Family Portrait/Stairsteps By The Five Stairsteps

April 12, 2015

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Dubbed the first family of soul in the pre-Jackson 5 era, The Five Stairsteps released seven studio albums between 1967 and 1976. The group was comprised of siblings Alohe Jean, Clarence Jr, James, Kenneth, and Dennis Burke. Every once in a while Cubie would appear on the credits or in a picture but never really performed with the group. Real Gone Music has now reissued their arguably two best albums as a two for one package under the title Our Family Portrait/Stairsteps, originally released on the Buddah label in 1968 and 1970.

The Stairsteps were modeled on the traditional soul and rhythm & blues vocal groups of the day with Clarence as the primary lead singer and the other members providing the backing and harmonies. Eighteen of their singles made the Pop Charts and 16 the Rhythm & Blues Chart but they really only had one big and memorable hit. “Oh-o-child” was named one of the 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time by Rolling Stone Magazine. It had a silky vocal and feel and remains one of the defining soul songs of its era.

Stairsteps is the better of the two albums. In addition to their signature hit, it contains two Beatles covers, “Getting Better” and Dear Prudence,” which are taken in a creative soul direction. Clarence wrote six of the nine tracks and “Sweet As A Peach,” “Because I Love You,” “Up & Down,” and “Who Do I Belong To” fit together into a cohesive whole.

Our Family Portrait has a more cobbled together feel. Clarence again wrote five of the 11 tracks but the six cover tunes are not as successful. The old Jimmy Charles hit “A Million To One” is fine but when they move toward such songs as the Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune “The Look Of Love” and Terry Knight’s “Find Me,” they leave their comfort zone.

As with most Real Gone releases, the enclosed booklet provides a fine history of the band and music.

The Five Stairsteps were a group that probably promised more than they delivered but at times their music was equal to just about any soul releases of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. When there were at their best, there is an eternal quality to their sound that still shines bright today.

 


Superstition By Siouxsie & The Banshees

April 12, 2015

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Siouxsie & The Banshees last four albums have just been re-issued with bonus tracks. The third release in the series is their 1991’s Superstition.

The early 1990’s marked a period of change for the band as they moved closer to the mainstream. The lead single from the album, “Kiss Them For Me,” symbolizes the change as it features a foundation of dance rhythms with strings added to give it close to a pop sound. The lyrics are a little wicked in places but that did not prevent the song from becoming their only top 40 hit in the United States.

The change in sound may have alienated some of their fans but the album proved to be their most commercially successful in the United States. The lyrics are still some what obscure in places but the music is lighter than in the past and the rough edges are polished and made a lot smoother.

“Shadowtime” is a pure up-tempo pop piece, while “The Ghost In You” is mesmerizing. “Fear (Of The Unknown)” is fit for a 1990’s dance club with its up-tempo beat.

The three bonus tracks are the best of the four releases. While “Kiss Them For Me” is a different mix and inferior to the one that was released on the album, the other two inclusions are good news. “Kiss Them For Me Kathak #1 Mix was previously unreleased and is more of a throwback to their previous sound. “Face To Face,” the single release version, was featured in the film Batman Returns. It has a slow tempo with orchestration. It may not fit into the original album’s music but as a stand-alone piece it has a depth of textures.

Superstition is a different type album for Siouxsie & The Banshees as they leave their alternative rock roots in the past. It is a solid release but does not have the creative energy of their previous albums. How you appreciate this change of direction will determine whether this is an addition to your music collection.