Month: March 2016

The Clash – The Clash

ARTIST: The Clash  220px-The_Clash_UK

TITLE:  The Clash

YEAR RELEASED: 1977 (1979 US Version)

CHART ACTION: #126

SINGLES: White Riot (#38 UK), Remote Control, Complete Control (#28 UK), Clash City Rockers (#35 UK), (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais (#32 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  I’m So Bored with the USA, London’s Burning, Career Opportunities.

LINEUP: Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Terry Chimes (UK), Topper Headon (some US tracks)

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Stunning debut by the Only Band That Matters, not released in the US until two years after the fact and swapped out four songs with five others and added a new version of a fifth.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: No matter what version you listen to, the Clash’s first album is attention grabbing. Joe Stummer’s bark and snarl, the pop sensibilities of Mick Jones, Paul Simonon’s bass and the songs and lyrics that encapsulate a bored, unemployed youth in the UK during the time.

The UK version, which came out in 1977 but the US record company deemed it not worthy because it didn’t have ‘singles’, is almost all raw power and fury with just enough of a pop edge to make it go down somewhat smoothly. I said somewhat. “White Riot”, “Career Opportunities” and “I’m So Bored with the USA” are full of acid, but “Janie Jones” and their cover of “Police and Thieves” show another side to the band.

After selling 100,000 copies as an import, their debut was finally released in the US (after their second album had already landed over here). The Clash had recorded some outstanding tracks between albums, and here we got the pick of the litter. The brilliant “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” is the highlight of the new songs, along with “Jail Guitar Doors”.

The version now streaming in the UK version, the Clash’s original vision. The other tracks are all streaming in a big compilation. You can easily put together both versions. It’s worth it.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The songs left off from the US version: “Cheat”, “Deny”, “Protex Blue” and “48 Hours”, while “White Riot” added the siren at the beginning of the track over here.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A. Both versions have cuts which I skip over from time to time, but this is a crucial and vital work.

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Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden

ARTIST: Iron Maiden          Iron_Maiden_(album)_cover

TITLE:  Iron Maiden

YEAR RELEASED: 1980

CHART ACTION: #4 UK

SINGLES: Running Free (#34 UK), Sanctuary (#29 UK) (US Version)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  Charlotte the Harlot, Iron Maiden.

LINEUP: Paul Di’Anno, Steve Harris, Dennis Stratton, Dave Murray, Clive Burr

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: New Wave of British Heavy Metal stalwarts first album finds them defining their sound and delivery. Some of this sounds more proggy than metal.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: First albums are funny, especially for a band that evolves and changes over time. Iron Maiden’s first album definitely has some numbers that fit right in with the rest of their material, yet this album really showcases not only the prog-rock side, but also the softer side that casual fans may not recognize.

Paul Di’Anno’s vocals are gruffer than what you may be used to with Maiden, and he definitely doesn’t use an upper register like an air-raid siren, but for the songs presented here he’s effective. He does add a punk rock attitude to the songs, even if the band disavowed any connection later on.

There are some classics here (I mean, “Running Free” is an all-timer for any band)– they still play many of these songs in concert. It’s just kind of a mixed bag where the songs that tend to be more prog rock oriented don’t have the visceral excitement that you expect with Iron Maiden.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Dennis Stratton was a late replacement as guitarist, and really tried to nudge them into a prog rock (or at least a Thin Lizzy / Wishbone Ash type twin harmony guitar style), but ‘creative differences’ caused his sacking soon after.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes. The UK version omitted “Sanctuary”. It’s on a bonus disc now, and there’s a US bonus disc too with outtakes and live cuts.

GRADE: B+. It’s all good, it’s not all MAIDEN, y’know? “Running Free” boosts it up a notch.

Ambrosia – Anthology

ARTIST: Ambrosia ambrosia

TITLE:  Anthology

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Holdin’ On to Yesterday (#17), Nice, Nice, Very Nice (#63), How Much I Feel (#3), Life Beyond LA, Biggest Part of Me (#3), You’re the Only Woman (You & I) (#13),

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  That’s probably nugatory there, good buddy.

LINEUP: David Pack, Christopher North, Joe Puerta, Burleigh Drummond

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Yacht rock quartet’s anthology shows their pretensions and their insidious talent for earworms.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ambrosia released five albums in their initial heyday. Two of them stiffed with no hits, and of the other three, you basically know the highlights and the reason people bought them.

They were always trying to mix prog rock with mellow LA sounds, which caused their music to be kind of unnecessarily busy at first. Their harmonies were always spot on, so their three later hits are ones that take full advantage of that, and not their progressive pretentions.

This collection has everything and more that’d you’d ever need. One song is kinda racist and I exiled it, and they have three new songs they appended here that are, well, not good and the 90’s drum sounds really sound out of place. Why didn’t they find two or three other cuts, or just release a 12 song anthology? I don’t think anyone would really give a rats patoot.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: They’re still out there touring. Pack has left but the other three added three other guys and they’re coming to a casino near you.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. There are other compilations. Just make sure all the above singles are on it, and you’re golden.

GRADE: C+. The good stuff is great earworm material, and probably the definition of yacht rock. Their rock and prog pretentions aren’t so great and the newish stuff…why?

Cream – Fresh Cream

ARTIST: Cream        Fresh_cream

TITLE:  Fresh Cream

YEAR RELEASED: 1966

CHART ACTION: #39 US, #6 UK

SINGLES: I Feel Free (#116 US, #11 UK) (US Version), Spoonful

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  Sweet Wine, I’m So Glad, Toad, probably others

LINEUP: Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Blues band hot shots form a power trio and focused on electrifying the blues on this first release..

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Except for “I Feel Free” (which was not on the original UK release, because you know, singles never being on albums there), not many stations play anything off of this album unless they’re into deep cuts. The reason is that it’s more of a blues exploration than any blues / rock / psychedelic combo that they’d turn to on future albums.

Half of the album are blues covers, and “Sleepy Time Time” is an original that’s definitely rooted in the blues – and “Sweet Wine” could be somewhat a blues tune (it’s got blues and pop elements).

It’s a great album to listen to how the three players play with each other in traditional song settings (whether more rock and pop oriented like “I Feel Free”) or in the blues (“I’m So Glad”, etc.). It’s not commercial for the most part, but that’s also part of its charm – you’re not sick of these songs.

But…there’s a drum solo in “Toad”. Not as long as he’d whip out in concert, but still…

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The original US pressing omitted “Spoonful”, which is odd because that’s one of the songs most identified with Cream (from this era, at least).

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The Swedish vinyl pressing had their first single “Wrapping Paper” AND a rare track (“The Coffee Song”) appended to the album.

GRADE: B+. The drum solo tips it into the B+ range.

If – If

ARTIST: If    If-If-1

TITLE:  If

YEAR RELEASED: 1970

CHART ACTION: #187

SINGLES: Raise the Level of Your Conscious Mind, I’m Reaching Out on All Sides

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  None

LINEUP: JW Hodkinson, Dick Morrissey, Dave Quincy, Terry Smith, John Mealing, Jim Richardson, Dennis Elliott

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: UK jazz rockers are more jazzing than rocking.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Formed in 1969, the band If fit right in with Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Soft Machine and others who were mining the combination of jazz and rock. If was more of a purer jazz band than Chicago and BST, and were musically adept.

Yet the issue with If, at least on the first album, was creating hooks and melodies that were going to stick with the regular rock and pop audience. They, like the Soft Machine, emphasized the musicianship and the chops, but If forgot some of the basics of rock songwriting 101. Even the boho progressive bands of the time had some hooks in there.

It’s nice kinda jazz kinda rock. Not the fusion that the jazz world was experimenting with, though. This stuff falls into a crack where it’s OK but not challenging for a jazz enthusiast and not song-oriented enough for a pop fan.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their 1970 tour saw them at the Fillmore East with Black Sabbath and Faces. One of these things is not like the other.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two bonus cuts, the cut down versions of the singles..

GRADE: B-. Jazz rock people may like it, because they’re better than the BST album cuts (and the later stuff by them) and they play pretty well. Still, the songs don’t quite work as songs.

 

Isis – The Red Sea

ARTIST: Isis           220px-Isis_Red-Sea

TITLE:  The Red Sea

YEAR RELEASED: 1999

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  None

LINEUP: Jeff Caxide, Aaron Harris, Aaron Turner, Jay Randall or Chris Mereschuk on electronics.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Doom sludge death growl metal infused with some electronics and samples.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The first cut is just a noise experiment really, so that’s discarded (it made my head hurt), then we get to the meat of this. ISIS is fusing metallic riffs, time signatures, and repetition into one big stew, plus the addition of some electronics providing texture and sonic depth.

The vocals ain’t pretty, but they’re probably fitting with the material. It’s not music for the faint-hearted. In fact, you have to have a tolerance of noise, death growl and experimental riffing to really get it.

This was kind of a ‘canvas’ for future albums, experimental and dark.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The last few cuts of this was their cassette demo used to get signed..

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: In Japan, one cover version.

GRADE: C+. I myself can deal with some of this, I get it. It’s not their best, nor does some of it really work. But it’s a start.

Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

ARTIST: Ryan Adams          220px-RyanAdamsHeartbreaker

TITLE:  Heartbreaker

YEAR RELEASED: 2000

CHART ACTION: #183 UK

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)

LINEUP: Ryan Adams, Ethan Johns, David Rawlings, Gillian Welch, Pat Sansone. Emmy Lou Harris, Kim Richey and Allison Pierce do backing vocals on one song each.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: After Whiskeytown slowly imploded, Adams starts his solo career with a set that fits right in with what his band was doing at the end.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The slow, sad demise of Whiskeytown birthed Adams’ solo career, and realistically, the last Whiskeytown album was pert near a solo album anyway.

This is a pretty standard alt-country record, featuring Adams’ aching heart love songs or pleading heart love songs (and some other songs about being young, etc.). There’s a lot of great stuff here, like “My Winding Wheel”, “Oh My Sweet Carolina” (featuring Emmylou Harris) and “Come Pick Me Up” (featuring great vocals from Kim Richey). “Amy” is just gorgeous.

Adams, even then, was very prolific (just look at bonus cuts on a couple of Whiskeytown releases), and that’s to this album’s detriment. Amidst the great stuff, there’s some mediocre material that could have been left for B-sides. Trimming 10 to 12 minutes wouldn’t be that hard, and it’d be a better, more compact album.

Still, Adams was off to a great start on his solo career as the highlights of this album show.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The album starts with an argument on what album “Suedehead” by Morrissey was on. It’s on both Bona Drag and Viva Hate, BTW.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: In France (not Japan, believe it or not!)

GRADE: B+. When you look at the tracks left on the album after about 10 to 11, that’s a sign the record’s too long.

 

Foreigner – Foreigner

ARTIST: Foreigner   220px-Foreigner_debut

TITLE:  Foreigner

YEAR RELEASED: 1977

CHART ACTION: #4

SINGLES: Feels Like the First Time (#4 US, #39 UK), Starrider, Cold as Ice (#6 US, #24 UK), Long Long Way from Home (#20 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  Headknocker

LINEUP: Lou Gramm, Mick Jones, Ian McDonald, Al Greenwood, Ed Gagliardi, Dennis Elliott

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Mainstream arena rock to the hilt, with half of the songs just kind of thrown on there to make up the numbers, it seems.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: When Spooky Tooth finally bit the dust, Mick Jones (not the guy from the Clash, mind you) formed this band with Ian McDonald, formerly of King Crimson, some UK studio guys and US vocalist Lou Gramm. The sound they were going for was geared toward mass acceptance on US radio, both Top 40 and rock stations. They succeeded on that part.

The singles you know hit that target demo right on the nose. To this day, they sound better on the radio (at least to my ears), as if that was the medium they mixed it for. The rest of the songs? Well, a couple are OK, the rest are meh as meh can be.

Don’t kid yourself, this was a band programmed to extract airplay from radio so they could extract cash from US rock fans, but it was catchy enough that it didn’t scare away pop fans. Calculating, yes? Still sound good on the radio? Sure. Can you sing the hit singles note for note? Of course. They won.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Gramm’s former band opened for Spooky Tooth at one point and that’s how Jones and Gramm met.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, some demos that really aren’t necessary (except for the one song not on the album, which sounds pretty good).

GRADE: B-. I almost put this in the “C” range because of the cold, calculated effort the band succeeded, and the meh songs. But the good songs are good enough that you probably ought to sample everything, and exile what you don’t dig. Dig?

The Chemical Brothers – Dig Your Own Hole

ARTIST: The Chemical Brothers 220px-Dig_your_own_hole_album_cover

TITLE:  Dig Your Own Hole

YEAR RELEASED: 1997

CHART ACTION: #14 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Setting Sun (#80 US, #1 UK), Block Rockin’ Beats (#107 US, #1 UK), Elektrobank (#122 US, #17 UK), The Private Psychedelic Reef

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  Dig Your Own Hole, Where Do I Begin

LINEUP: Ed Simons, Tom Rowlands. One cut features Noel Gallagher. One features Beth Orton.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Beats, samples, block rockin’ beats FTW!

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The place where beats, electronica, techno, hip-hop and all of the other genres like that meet? It’s here; it’s this album.

There’s a lot going on. Yeah, the beat in each song is incessant, almost to a fault. But wisely they use the beat as an easel to throw all kinds of elements on there. Being DJs and producers, the Chemical Brothers have an ear for what works together, and what will provide contrast when juxtaposed – which is just as important.

I doubt that Daft Punk would be a big thing without the Chemical Brothers blazing the commercial trail for them. This entire record is kind of their playbooks – big beats, big sounds, samples, production, repetition, hooks, guest vocals, all of it. They were contemporaries, but the success of the Chemical Brothers paved the way for Daft Punk to be received by the general populace.

Anyone who is a remote fan of techno, house, electronica, whatever you wanna call it, this is the place to start.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Two tracks, “It Doesn’t Matter” and “Don’t Stop the Rock” where the initial songs in their Club DJ series “Electronic Battle Weapons”

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: A. Put this on and groove, move, dance, whatever. Plenty of beats available!

Ray Price – The Essential Ray Price

ARTIST: Ray Price rayprice

TITLE:  The Essential Ray Price

YEAR RELEASED: Compilation

CHART ACTION: None

SINGLES: Disc One much like the other collection. Disc two top 10: Pride (#5 Country), Walk Me to the Door (#7 Country), Make the World Go Away (#100, #2 Country), Burning Memories (#2 Country), The Other Woman (In My Life) (#2 Country), A Way to Survive (#7 Country), Danny Boy (#60, #9 Country), She Wears My Ring (#6 Country), You Wouldn’t Know Love (#8 Country), For the Good Times (#11, #1 Country), You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me (#82, #1 Country), Faded Love (#3 Country)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW:  San Antonio Rose

LINEUP: Ray Price and Nashville hot-shots.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: The entire collection covers Price up through his heyday on the pop chart.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: As in the first review of a Ray Price collection, there’s two with basically the same title. The first review covered his honky-tonk phase. This one is a double CD with the first CD covering the same period and the second covering his Countrypolitan phase.

The weepy strings, lachrymose melodies, and sleepy, heartfelt vocals were all the rage, but they’re just too goopy and syrupy for me. I know that some country fans were NOT in favor of this trend, and that’s why Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, among others, became huge favorites with that crowd. It’s also why Outlaw Country became a big thing.

There are some decent songs here, but a lot of it is fluff that a pop crooner could have done.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Though not in these collections, he had Top 10 country hits as late as 1981.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No. But there are other compilations out there that are quite thorough.

GRADE: B-. That grade mostly for the honky tonk stuff that’s let down by the country weepers.