Month: September 2016

Blood, Sweat & Tears – Blood, Sweat & Tears

ARTIST: Blood, Sweat & Tears     220px-bst_cover

TITLE:  Blood, Sweat & Tears

YEAR RELEASED: 1968

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #15 UK

SINGLES: You’ve Made Me So Very Happy (#2 US, #35 UK), Spinning Wheel (#2 US), And When I Die (#2 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: God Bless the Child

LINEUP: David Clayton-Thomas, Lew Soloff, Bobby Colomby, Jim Fielder, Dick Halligan, Steve Katz, Fred Lipsius, Chuck Winfield, Jerry Hyman. Alan Rubin on one track.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT:  Re-constituted band ditches a lot of the more outre jazz elements and adds in more rock and pop to garner hit records.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Al Kooper jumped or was pushed (I think the latter) and two other players left, and the ‘new’ Blood, Sweat & Tears debuted as more of a rock band with horns than anything. Sure they extended to some classical (with a piece by Erik Satie), and in “Blues, Pt.2” they really went out on a limb and bored everyone for 11 minutes.

Aside from those, you know the singles, and probably “God Bless the Child”. Their best attempt, I believe, is a version of Traffic’s “Smiling Phases” which showcases everyone without becoming bloated. Their “God Bless the Child” goes into a completely awkward direction halfway through.

This was more popular sure, but not better than the Kooper-led debut.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: This reached #1 in the album chart three times during 1969.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, a couple of live cuts.

GRADE: B-: When it’s good, it’s good. When it’s bad, it’s boring or overblown. Time to pick and choose your poisons.

The Temptations – Cloud Nine

ARTIST: The Temptations                   220px-1969-tempts-cloud9

TITLE:  Cloud Nine

YEAR RELEASED: 1969

CHART ACTION: #4 US, #1 R&B, #32 UK

SINGLES: Cloud Nine (#6 US, #2 R&B, #15 UK), Runaway Child, Running Wild (#6 US, #1 R&B)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

LINEUP: Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams. Norman Whitfield produced and used Motown’s best funk players.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT:  Psychedelic soul is born as a reaction to Sly & the Family Stone’s successful mix of genres.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: The leader of the group, Otis Williams, thought Sly Stone had something with funky production and multiple lead singers, so he pitched the idea to Norman Whitfield that they should try something like that. Whitfield demurred at first, but when they did “Cloud Nine” in that style, a new Motown genre was born.

Utilizing the lead vocal strengths of Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks’ falsetto, and Melvin Franklin’s deep and powerful bass, the Temptations had the vocal chops to pull it off. Whitfield’s production and musicians definitely incorporated the funk and the fuzz, distortion and swirls of psychedelic music. The result was some brilliant work, with some cuts being long workouts (the LP version of “Runaway Child, Running Wild” is over 9 ½ minutes long).

The second side seems more traditional. The songs are nice, but the arrangements aren’t as exciting. Still side one is pretty revolutionary for Motown.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Eight of the ten tracks were from the pens of Barrett Strong and Whitfield as writing partners.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B+: Had Side Two not been as ‘traditional’, it would have definitely been a higher grade.

Chicago – Chicago III

ARTIST: Chicago                   chicagoiii

TITLE:  Chicago III

YEAR RELEASED: 1971

CHART ACTION: #2 US, #9 UK

SINGLES: Free (#20), Lowdown (#35)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: I really don’t think so

LINEUP: Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Serpahine

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT:  A more experimental and jazzy album that relies again on big suites. This time, though, the jazzy elements fall flat, and the band seems tired.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Three double albums released in 2 ½ years? That would tax anyone but the most prolific or insane artists (Robert Pollard, please step forward). Because Chicago relied on jazz and improvisations for some of its material, it didn’t really seem as daunting.

But it was. The band resisted (for now) the temptation of pop stardom and still tried to expand its musical palette, adding funk and country elements and giving some room to free jazz that was missing from Chicago II. But the funk seemed strained, the country insincere, and the free jazz tedious.

There are some nice moments. “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home” sounds absolutely joyful with some great flute work by Walter Parazaider. “Mother” has some interesting horn charts before going into a jazz-funk motif. But the hooks weren’t there, and the excitement didn’t seem there for the band or rock fans. It sold a lot at first, but no one really plays this anymore.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Included with the double album was a poster of the band dressed in historical military uniforms in front of a field of crosses. A powerful anti-war statement, perhaps more powerful than the music itself.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B-: Some of the more boring or blah stuff is exiled.

The Rolling Stones – The Rolling Stones No.2 / The Rolling Stones, Now!

ARTIST: The Rolling Stones                       therollingstonesnumber2

TITLE:  The Rolling Stones No. 2 / The Rolling Stones, Now!

YEAR RELEASED: 1965

CHART ACTION: #5 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Time Is on My Side (#6 US), Little Red Rooster (#1 UK), Heart of Stone (#19 US), What a Shame (#124 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: They cover a whole bunch of blues and rock standards.

LINEUP: Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Ian Stewart

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT:  A mixture of well-played covers and a few originals. The dreaded US / UK album problem surfaces, though.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: In the UK, the collection resulting from these sessions were the second album released over there by the Stones, and it included “Time Is on My Side”, which wasn’t a single over there. The version on No. 2 has the intro we all remember, though. rollingstonesnow

Three of the 12 songs were on the previous US release, so there are nine new ones (counting that new version of the US single), and the Stones nail most of the covers. “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is a five minute workout (highly unusual), and their Chuck Berry cover is spot on perfect (“You Can’t Catch Me”.)

Over here, we got close to the same collection, but it was the third album so they needed to rename it. “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” is shortened, and that’s detrimental. There are only four songs that weren’t on any previous UK album, including “Heart of Stone”, the hit.

It’s confusing, but since there’s not really continuity to worry about, you can pick and choose what album to keep and what to pick through, or keep ‘em both.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: A lot of these songs were recorded at Chess Studios in Chicago during 1964.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: No.

GRADE: B+: Yeah, it’s a lot of covers, but they nail most all of them, and their originals are the beginning of their classic original singles phase.

NOTE: For my catalog thus far, I’ve kept the US version of the first album, 12X5,  No.2 for all but the 12X5 cuts, and Now!’s cuts that don’t appear on No. 2. Just in case you were wondering.

 

Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy

ARTIST: Warren Zevon                    220px-excitable_boy_cover

TITLE:  Excitable Boy

YEAR RELEASED: 1978

CHART ACTION: #8

SINGLES: Excitable Boy, Werewolves of London (#21), Lawyers, Guns, and Money

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Johnny Strikes Up the Band, Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Accidentally Like a Martyr.

LINEUP: Warren Zevon, Jorge Calderon, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, Jackson Browne, Kenny Edwards, JD Souther, Waddy Wachtel, Bob Glaub, Rick Marotta, Jeff Porcaro, Karla Bonoff, Linda Ronstadt, Leland Sklar, Jennifer Warnes. Mick Fleetwood and John McVie play on Werewolves of London.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT:  A fantastic album buoyed by a classic song, which was an unlikely hit.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Most every song on this record is a Zevon classic, which means well-written, impeccably arranged and played, sardonic, sarcastic, political, and darkly humorous.

Zevon can make you singalong to African mercenaries, trust funders in over their head, and werewolves. In fact, the only song that’s questionable is the title track, which seemed a bit forced and tossed off for a song about a teenage killer. Maybe that was the point, though.

Everyone who was someone in the LA session world was part of this album, with Jackson Browne and Waddy Wachtel producing. It sounds nearly perfect, and also a lot of fun to make, which is a hard thing to do. Zevon’s songs will do that to you. I can see musicians loving to play them.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Yeah, with the LA scene came the cocaine. Wachtel said that it only took him one take to get the solo for “Werewolves of London” down, and he didn’t have a chance to take a hit of the coke before hand. I’m sure he got a bump or two after, though.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: A few outtakes.

GRADE: A: And now you have the piano riff from “Werewolves of London” in yer head.

Styx – The Serpent Is Rising

ARTIST: Styx                          220px-styx_-_the_serpent_is_rising

TITLE:  The Serpent Is Rising

YEAR RELEASED: 1973

CHART ACTION: #192

SINGLES: Winner Take All

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: You must be kidding.

LINEUP: Dennis DeYoung, James Young, John Curulewski, Chuck Panozzo, John Panozzo

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Styx fails to follow up with their pop success, and releases a rock / progressive hodgepodge that fails on many levels.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Ooof. I don’t know what John Curulewski was thinking when he contributed songs to this album, but all of the exiled songs, they were all his (except for the “Hallelujah Chorus”, which is what the listener exalts when he finishes the record).

Not that the other stuff is any great shakes. Nothing rises to the prog / pop blend of “Lady” from their previous album. A couple of songs come pretty close but no cigar, and Dennis DeYoung’s prog exercises are bloated and showy-off for no reason.

This record set them back, and they were lucky to still have a contract after it. If I heard this as a record executive, I would have thrown it back at them.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The band has pretty much renounced this album, especially Dennis DeYoung.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Thank goodness, no.

GRADE: C-: Listen at your own peril.

Robert Cray – Bad Influence

ARTIST: Robert Cray                             220px-bad_influence_robert_cray_album

TITLE:  Bad Influence

YEAR RELEASED: 1983

CHART ACTION: #143

SINGLES: None

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Nope

LINEUP: Robert Cray, Richard Cousins, David Olson, Mike Vannice, Warren Rand

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Bluesman Cray releases a contemporary blues album that showcases his smooth guitar playing and songwriting.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Cray’s second album for Hightone (the first seems to have vanished) was kind of a breakthrough for the bluesman.

Not only did it showcase his tasteful modern blues sound, but it also gave him a spotlight on his originals (8 of the 10 songs on the original album were new). The lead cut, “Phone Booth”, is one of those Cray songs that sticks with you. The rest of the album is tasteful. Cray doesn’t overplay and keeps everything in his vocal range.

Cray doesn’t take any chances either, but at this point he was trying to establish himself and that was probably a smart move. For all of the good, the production sounds muddy and flat, so that is a little detriment to the album.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Phone Booth” was covered by Albert King, and “Bad Influence” was covered by Eric Clapton. Good company.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Two extra tracks, including a cover “I Got Loaded”, made famous later on by Los Lobos.

GRADE: B+: It’s good modern blues, with the production letting it down a bit.

Kelly Clarkson – Thankful

ARTIST: Kelly Clarkson                       220px-thankful_album

TITLE:  Thankful

YEAR RELEASED: 2003

CHART ACTION: #1 US, #41 UK

SINGLES: Before Your Love (#1 US), Miss Independent (#9 US, #6 UK), Low (#58 US, #35 UK), The Trouble with Love Is (#101 US)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: A Moment Like This

LINEUP: Kelly Clarkson and multiple session musicians.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: First album from first American Idol winner is safe and unexceptional.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Goopy ballads, songs that let the diva in her go, and very safe pop records, this debut album from Clarkson doesn’t signal anything except product that they could sell to her fans on American Idol.

It’s very obvious that Clarkson can sing, and sing well. American Idol dodged a bullet by her victory in Season One, since she was obviously the most talented and pop ready of the contestants. What this album lacks, though, is true inspiration except on a couple of cuts.

“Miss Independent” really saves the album from a total collection of ready made pop schlock. That song is funky, and has a unique production and doesn’t sound like it came from the synthesizer of a song doctor. That songs a winner, and really about the only thing truly memorable about this record.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: “Miss Independent” was originally slated for a Christina Aguilera album, and she gets co-writing credit on it.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: The usual Japanese bonus track.

GRADE: C: Pop schlock same as it ever was. I exiled most all of this.

Bastille – Bad Blood

ARTIST: Bastille                        bastille_-_bad_blood_album

TITLE:  Bad Blood

YEAR RELEASED: 2013

CHART ACTION: #11 US, #1 UK

SINGLES: Overjoyed, Bad Blood (#95 US, #90 UK), Flaws (#122 US, #21 UK), Pompeii (#5 US, #2 UK), Laura Palmer (#42 UK), Things We Lost in the Fire (#28 UK), Oblivion (#82 UK)

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Seven singles out of 12 doesn’t leave much room for deep cuts

LINEUP: Dan Smith, Kyle Simmons, Will Farquarson, Chris Wood with Mark Crew and string players

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Huge and pompous sounding group’s debut somehow makes huge and pompous less pretentious than you’d think.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: They sound big, and important. But in the wake of Florence & the Machine, that’s not a liability, especially if you have the songs.

Using strings, orchestration, huge drum sounds, combined with a pop sensibility, Bastille’s album is actually an enjoyable record that doesn’t pummel you. That’s due to the hooks, and the production by Mark Crew, and leader Dan Smith. It’s big sounding, but radio friendly. bastille_all_this_bad_blood

At their worst, they sound somewhat cold and distant, but that’s only occasionally. This is a modern pop album that you won’t skip through.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: Their initial self-released single is now worth over 300 pounds.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Several, but the largest one is a collection called All This Bad Blood, which takes B-sides and adds them to an EPs worth of new songs, including a new single “Of the Night” (#2 UK)

GRADE: A-: I know some UK critics didn’t like the record, but I did. I’m just as surprised as you are, probably.

Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow

ARTIST: Material Issue                                                                220px-material-issue-ipo

TITLE:  International Pop Overthrow

YEAR RELEASED: 1991

CHART ACTION: #86

SINGLES: Valerie Loves Me (#3 Modern), Diane (#6 Modern), Renee Remains the Same

OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: No

LINEUP: Jim Ellison, Ted Ansani, Mike Zelenko

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Chicago-area power poppers make a retro sounding record, and it sounds fresh in 1991.

SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: Recorded in the studio the Shoes owned (in Zion, IL), Material Issue’s debut album mines the same fertile power-pop ground as their mentors, but with a little more modern sound. Still, the album sounded like it came from a couple decades past.

There are definite high points here. Every song named after a woman (and there are four of them) is a winner, especially “Diane”, which is infectious and hooky. Also, the title track has some nice moments, a fiercer guitar, a faux UK accent, and great harmonies.

While the sound is still enjoyable, the overall album has some tracks that just aren’t up to scratch, sounding like second-drafts or copies of their hits. Still, for the best songs, it’s a good one to have around to remind yourself of the joys of power pop.

NOTES & MINUTIAE: The Shoes’ Jeff Murphy produced this.

IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Some B-sides have been appended.

GRADE: B+:  The lesser tracks knock this down a couple of notches, but the best songs are fun and joyful.