Tag Archives: 1970s

[164] Cartolo – Cartolo

3 Jun

The gentle, graceful, fragile guitar and vocal work of the first track lulls me into a false sense of relaxed security before the samba kicks in in earnest and blows the doors off any possibility of sitting still.

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But it’s not the Brazilian sound as I think I know it.

The guitar and percussion is present, but in song after song it is woodwind and occasional brass that takes the lead, the attention, the starring role.  While the mild yet beautiful vocals hold the structure, the beat, it is (depending on the track) flute and sax and trumpet which meanders all over the beach, explores the city, entwines friends and lovers.  These are the instruments which provide the passion, power, precision.

The fact that it is all so unexpected means that I can’t stop listening.

Having recently finished reading my brother’s book Benfica to Brazil an exploration of his time studying the language and culture (and football) of Cartola’s home -I am keenly aware of the lilting, slightly imprecise sound of Brazilian Portuguese he so wonderfully describes.

I see the scenes he wrote about, which Cartola lived and later recorded.

Here is a old fashioned but somehow timeless sound, neither modern nor dated, and always a pleasure to hear, but especially as the temperature climbs into the 80s, letting us know that summer is on its way.

Next Week:  Enrico Caruso – Twenty-one Favorite Arias

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 164 = 7%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 164 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (137 of 164 = 84%)

[156] Can – Tago Mago

8 Apr

Another week, another mish-mash of an album, cramming all sorts of sounds and feelings into its experimental 1970s frame.  (That’s five consecutive albums full of experimentation, for those keeping score at home.)

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This time it’s German Rock.  This time I love it.

There are the sweeping prog-rock jam tracks, noodling and soaring for minutes on end.  There is the borrowed punk attitude, at times so necessary in life, put to excellent use here as a sort of color commentary.  There is the ponderous, goth-flavored epic “Aumgn”, so effective that my wife and daughter requested I turn it off since (and I quote), “It’s freaking us out.”

Unlike moments over the last weeks where the experimentation has been too extreme, too uneven, Can manage to create a homogeneous sound from all the diverse parts, resulting in an album that (when my girls aren’t around) I want to listen to from beginning to end.

There is plenty that is familiar here, more than enough influences in common with the rock I already know and love from the UK and the US of around this era.  When the guitar solos you can hear Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry.  In the layers of sound, with the raw vocals buried way down in the mix, it is not a stretch to intuit the inspiration of the more out-there Beatles moments.  The jam band tracks even have a Jazz tinge, following the idea wherever it leads, allowing each band member the opportunity to solo in the spotlight.

Surprisingly I find that the discords – the at times almost atonal vocals – do not grate.  Rather they act as a pleasing counterpoint to the tightly coiled rhythm that rules every track.  The driving, endless beats remind me of nothing so much as Harry Connick Jr.’s wonderful attempt at a Rock album, She.

Yes, I acknowledge what a weird combination I am juxtaposing here – experimental German Rock of the 70s and popuar US Jazz of the 90s.  But just humor me.  Play Can’s “Halleluwah” (all 18 minutes of it) then follow it up with Connick’s “That Party”, and see whether I’m onto something, or just plain crazy.

I’ll accept either answer.

Next Week:  Nati Cano’s Mariachi los Camperos – Viva el Mariachi

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 156 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 156 = 13%)
Recommend? Yes. (130 of 156 = 83%)

[155] Camaron De La Isla – Le Leyenda Del Tiempo

1 Apr

I love the sound of a guitar.  Electric or classical, picked or strummed – even more than vocals, the guitar tends to be the touchstone for my musical appreciation.

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And the technical ability on display here from the very first notes is impressive.  It can be hectic fun in the more familiar, high energy flamenco moments, but these make up less than half of the recording.

It’s amazing that an album quite so short – the run time is just over a half hour- can be quite so scattershot.

Beyond the guitar work, this album is too eclectic even for my newly opened ears, too all over the place, with weird electric piano solos, odd disco riffs, chanting and wailing which appears to veer far from the Spanish roots one might expect,

The vocals are fervent, but quite raw and almost monochromatic.  Just one more facet of the sound that leaves me wanting . . . not more, precisely.  Perhaps the correct idea is wanting something different.

It’s kind of a mess, and not in an interesting or engaging way.

I want more wandering guitar, less experimentation, more melody and less uncomfortable wall of sound rhythm.  It has its moments, but not many of them, and they are not nearly consistent enough.

Is it that the sound is alien to me, or that it is actually less accomplished than most of the recordings to date?  Tough to tell, but I know I’m not enjoying it, and this time there is not enough surprise or suspense to hold my attention once I realize that this isn’t something that I want to be listening to.

Next Week:  Can – Tago Mago

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 155 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (21 of 155 = 14%)
Recommend? No.  (129 of 155 = 83%)

[149] Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

19 Feb

Oh, that voice.  It has always been present in my life, and it has always done something to me.

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Kate Bush had a powerful effect on the boys of my generation.  Even into our 40s, my friends and I still find ourselves captivated by a Kate Bush video, a potent combination of hormones and nostalgia ensuring our complete attention.

Kate Bush was certainly a part of my childhood, her singles playing on the radio, on Top Of The Pops, on early MTV.  But The Kick Inside came out just a little too early for it to have had a great influence on my musical education – indeed I believe it was the only Kate Bush album I was not thoroughly familiar with before exploring it for the blog.  The Hounds of Love is likely my favorite, although The Red Shoes and the wonderful compilation, The Whole Story, certainly received more play over the years.

And when I was ready, finally prepared to really engage with the themes and emotions explored by Kate Bush, it was Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes which opened my eyes, blew my mind, shaped my world.

While I was pleased to see Kate Bush on om Moon’s list, it always bothers me that it appears that she makes the cut at the expense of Tori Amos – the only mention of Tori in the hundreds and hundreds of pages of the book is as a “Next Stop” footnote to The Kick Inside.

I understand Tori claims never to have heard Kate before recording her debut album, but whether or not you believe that has little to do with the powerful effect of her raw yet still cultured musicality.

While I have little doubt that a Kate Bush album makes my top 1,000, Tori Amos makes my top 100 at the very least.

After taking this opportunity to rant at what appears to me a near unforgivable omission, I return to the album and the artist of the day, and find that I have many vivid and varied memories of listening to Kate Bush:

– My first love (long ago and far away away) once included “The Man With The Child In His Eyes” on a mix tape for me, as I was flying away from her, perhaps forever.  Twenty years later the song still has the power to make me blush and smile and sigh.

– I liked “Wuthering Heights” from the first time I heard it, on the radio back when I still listened to the radio, but it wasn’t until I studied the novel in High School – I devoured it while home sick one week, getting a jump on the assigned reading – that the true genius of the composition was revealed.  It sounds like the book reads, lyrical and awkward and cold.  The song always reminds me of my warm, dusty, dizzy teenaged sickbed.

– As an older teen, I would often sleepover with a couple of friends on Saturday nights, and after a few drinks, The Hounds of Love would be one of a small roster of records which would play once the lights were out and we could concentrate on the pure music on the way to sleep.  We were all terrified by the shrieking musical gymnastics of “Waking The Witch” and this fear was a delicious part of the ritual.  The strings still drag shivers down my spine today.

– I can’t hear her Christmas single, “December Will Be Magic Again” without  recalling one of my most favorite misheard lyrics:  instead of “I’ve come to sparkle the dark up” (a wonderful line in its own right), I initially heard, as did other friends, “I’ve discovered a Womble . . .”

But enough asides!  What about The Kick Inside?

The vocals are appropriately haunting and powerful, palpably intelligent and moving, every word enunciated beyond clarity, often distorted or affected in order to achieve the perfect tone.  And the lyrics are equally innovative and memorable.

Famous for her ballads, it is Bush’s uptempos which always surprise me, with her exquisitely complex rhythms, odd percussion and staccato delivery across an absurd number of octaves.  The instrumentation is all so unusual for Pop, yet perfect for the mood and timbre Bush is reaching for with each delightful track.

Once more my love of all things sax is fully indulged, with solos and flourishes, and even a song named for the instrument.

Since The Kick Inside does not sound like anything else of its time, it has aged very well – it is timeless rather than dated, not tied to the Disco or Rock sounds so associated with the popular music of 1978.

And who knows – without The Kick Inside, perhaps I never have the opportunity to hear Little Earthquakes, Into The Pink, Boys For Pele and beyond.

Next Week: William Byrd – Harpsichord Music

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 149 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? Yes.  (21 of 149 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (124 of 149 = 83%)

Kate Bush, Pop, 1970s, UK, Recommended, Memories

[147] Burning Spear – Marcus Garvey

5 Feb

I may not have much of a context for appreciating Reggae, but the metronomic rhythm and socially conscious lyrics of this 1975 recording proves to be a hugely effective primer.

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Hypnotic, repetitious, coiled and poised always at the very point of action, each track bobs along in technically impressive and sonically pleasing haze, with the chanted vocals of Winston Rodney providing the structure for the horns and percussion to wind sinuously around.

While Reggae does not excite me the same way that Rock or Jazz can, I am greatly enjoying the juxtaposition of safe and comforting rhythms contrasting with on the nose lyrics – “Do you remember the days of slavery?”  And with repeated plays, the simple melodies and gentle relentlessness drill deep down into my brain, providing a contentment which is priceless.

There is very little variety among these 10 tracks, but very little is required in just of half an hour of music.

Nothing world altering, but not everything has to blow my mind to be enjoyable, memorable, worthy of revisiting.

Next Week: R L Burnside – Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 147 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 147 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (122 of 147 = 83%)

[138] Jackson Browne – Late For The Sky

27 Nov

The initial notes of this album capture my heart – huge warm piano and twangy guitar quickly followed by velvet vocals subtly understated in the mix – but it turns out this is only the start of my journey.

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Late For The Sky is far from the slam dunk, the instant favorite that the opening moments suggested.  My relationship with this fascinating album from the year of my birth is a more complex and ultimately more satisfying tale.

On superficial first blush I am wondering where this recording was in my formative years, imagining an alternate reality where I spent my teen years memorizing Jackson Browne lyrics instead of Billy Joel to teach me how and what to feel.

Quickly I step away from trying to decipher meaning and I’m caught up in the close harmonies, the unconventional melodies, hearing the Eagles, hearing James Taylor.  Which is when it all starts to sour . . .

With all of these touchstones – and without a lifelong connection to this voice, these words, these tunes – I find myself wanting to hear the songs and albums that are actually familiar, not mere shadows.

I want to sing along and find myself unable.

I am saddened and frustrated – a mindset not at all at odds with the sound of Browne’s creations on Late For The Sky – so I leave this album alone for a time to revisit old friends; Hotel California, Storm Front and Sweet Baby Jane.

That detour out of my system, I find myself back listening to Browne at odd moments, find myself with unexpected earworm snippets, and I realize that this album has touched me after all.  I am still not singing along, still don’t have a concrete handle on the story arcs of song or album, but I no longer seem to need these.

The mood paintings – perfectly crafted, soulful and sublime – touch me viscerally rather than intellectually which is all the more satisfying for being so surprising.  I love story songs, and expected to fall in love with this facet of Browne’s craft, but instead it is the production and performance which moves me and keeps me coming back to this album.

This blog has talked before about the limitations of Classic Rock radio.  That there does not seem to be a place for anything from Late For The Sky is as damning an argument as any.

Next Week:  Anton Bruckner – Symphony No. 7 in E

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 138 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 138 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (114 of 138 = 83%)

[135] James Brown and the JB’s – “Sex Machine”

6 Nov

Don’t worry.  Of course I am going to recommend this remarkable single.

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That said, I am left with a bizarre sensation, coming to the end of three James Brown recordings – all excellent – without any mention of his signature tune, “I Feel Good”.  It’s as if Tom Moon had included Chuck Berry but left out “Johnny B Goode” . . .

But back to sex – sometimes cumbersomely titled “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine”.

The two note guitar stab, the bouncing piano fills, the seemingly improvised lyrics, the all day long call and response – “Sex Machine” is spontaneous perfection.  The fruits of the first recording session with his new band in 1970, here was the start of Brown’s second act, exploding once more into mainstream consciousness with a monster hit and a see-what-I-can-still-do gauntlet.

I listened to a handful of different live versions of this infectious groove and no two are quite the same, lyrically or even in tone.

The studio version is still the definitive, managing to feel at once laid back and urgent, while 1980s Live at Studio 54 version is all hectic energy and messy skatting.  The 1971 return to the Apollo provides a teasing groove of husky masculinity, in stark contrast to the full on, straight ahead, no nonsense pounding of the recording captured at the Olympia (Paris, France) the same year.

All the various settings of the Machine are satisfying – variety being the slice of life – but it’s still weird to know that Tom Moon has something against “I Feel Good” . . .

Next Week: Oscar Brown, Jr. – Sin & Soul

Owned before blogging? Yes. (12 of 135 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (20 of 135 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (111 of 135 = 82%)

[129] Benjamin Britten – Peter Grimes

25 Sep

It is not the fault of Tom Moon or Benjamin Britten than when I saw that I was to listen to an English Opera, my expectations were set way out of tune with reality.

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I grew up listening to English Light Operetta courtesy of my Grandpa’s passion for all things Gilbert and Sullivan.  My first visits to the theater were for amateur dramatics, touring and D’Oyly Carte productions of The Mikado, The Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore, and eventually the entire canon.

(I always took perverse pleasure in the fact that our local AmDram troop was called the Southend Operatic and Dramatic Society – acronym, SODS . . .)

Some of the earliest songs I sang, many of the earliest lyrics I memorized were these clever and catchy period pieces – unmistakable English (even when ostensibly set in Japan!) and as entertaining as they are musically well-crafted.  So I was excited to further explore “English Opera.”

I was very quickly disappointed.

The melodies and flat and dense, likely very appropriate to the dour subject matter but far from enjoyable.  And the plummy, hammy performances which so enhance the absurdity of a G&S show is grating when the subject matter is played straight.

I tried and tried, but wanted to stop listening halfway through every single time I hit “play”.

Would this engage me in a theater?  There appears to be enough of a plot here to hold interest, and I’ve never been put off by dark stories and the absence of a happy ending.  But as a purely audial experience I was left unengaged and frustrated.

Again, the fault here is as likely mine as the composer’s, the performers’, or Tom Moon’s.  I was just expecting something else, hoping for something to build upon a genre with which I have fond and intimate familiarity.  Instead I am left longing for the oxymoron of sophisticated slapstick, for patter songs and pretty tunes.

I’m off to listen to Trial By Jury . . .

Next Week – Big Bill Broonzy – The Young Big Bill Broonzy, 1928-1935

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 129 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 129 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (105 of 129 = 81%)

[122] The Boys of The Lough – Live at Passim

7 Aug

Exciting and authentic, if I were to describe this album to you, it would sound identical to a description of The Bothy Band’s Old Hag You Have Killed Me, but each album is worthy and distinct in its own right.

Live at Passim

Live at Passim

In truth there is more range here than on the contemporary yet somehow more traditional Bothy album.  There are at once Classical leaning explorations (“The Day Dawn”) and wild Jazz tinged tangents on this live recording.

The highlight for me is the almost tape-loop minimalist effect achieved by the fiddles on “The Hound and the Hare” – it approaches Free Jazz levels of experimentation and is a wonder to hear.

The scope of what is heard here is larger than on most of the albums in any genre today, even including multiple hugely engaging moments of spoken word humor.

I enjoyed The Bothy Band well enough, but now I wonder if I might have found them a little lightweight if I had heard The Boys of the Lough first.  Perhaps it would be as valid to ask if I might have found Live at Passim impenetrable if I had discovered it before Old Hag . . .

In the end, for all the superficial similarities, there is certainly room for these two top notch examples of Celtic music from the 70s in my collection, and perhaps yours too.

Next Week: Johannes Brahms – Sonatas for Cello & Piano, Opp. 38, 99, 108

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 122 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 122 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (101 of 122 = 83%)

[121] David Bowie – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars

31 Jul

Never mind 1,000 recordings, Ziggy easily makes my all time Top 10.

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I once sang in a band (briefly) called The Diamond Dogs, so it should come as no surprise that David Bowie is one of my all time favorites, from his wierd-folk beginnings, through his metamorphosis into rock god, his asides into industrial metal, his consistent reimaginings and his always enormous reinvention.

And it all began for me with Ziggy . . .

The whole thing is flawless, at once creating a specific mood and and an entire world, exactly as a concept album should.  Each track is a complete story song in its own right, and at the same time advances the larger Bouroughs-esque novel of sci fi rock and roll fame.

I recall spending hours pouring over the images painted by the words on the opener, “Five Years”, each phrase a vignette worthy of comparison with the best Beatles equivalents (think an apocalyptic “Penny Lane”.)  The details of disaster are sketchy, but the emotion and the unspecified dread was as recognizable when I discovered it in the late-late 80s as it must have been in the early 70s.  I am certain that it still moves new listeners today.

And I have always been a fan of meta, so the shout out,

“I don’t think you knew you were in this song”

resonates long and loud.

As a vocalist, I can’t help but notice that some of the phrasing here is Sinatra-esque.  It all sounds simple and straightforward, but is often surprisingly difficult to sing along with.  Although the Chairman of the Board never screamed in pain the way the Thin White Duke does as this opener comes to and end.

If this powerful and nuanced opening wasn’t notice enough that this is not just Rock and Roll (or even genocide) the next number is the smooth and mellow “Soul Love”, perhaps Bowie’s first flirtation with the Motown sound he would claim for real on Young Americans.  His vocals, just affected enough to catch the ear, almost veering into parody, always just keep enough reality to avoid ridicule.

It is a tightrope he has now walked with stunning balance for decades.

The sax meanders and the vocals build in intensity, and the words are poetry as backing singers moan gently behind, until the guitars finally crunch to open “Moonage Daydream”.

“Keep your ‘lectric eye on me, babe.”

How can you focus on anything else while Bowie (Ziggy) preaches here?  The great secret behind Bowie is that he never set out to become, nor ever considered himself a rock star.  He is a performance artist, and Ziggy is his most memorable (if not his most enduring) persona.

Ironically, it is the Rock God persona of the Heroes / Young American eras which people believe to be “the real David Bowie.”

Yet still the leash is on, the power and prowess of Mick Ronson and the rest of the Spiders still harnessed, controlled, straining to let loose.  This can be clearly heard in the outro solo of “Moonage Daydream”, only for the next track “Starman” to revert to a gentle if insistent acoustic vibe.

Did I say Top 10?  Try top 3.

The snippets of conversations between young kids discovering the alien “waiting in the sky” that make up the verses are painfully true – I could and can vividly image my friends and I reacting exactly this way if our very own ET had come along.

Yet still the brakes are on as Ziggy starts to wail “It Ain’t Easy”.  For a pillar of Rock radio, this is so much more controlled and restrained than (for example) Aerosmith’s Toys In The Attic or AC/DC’s Back In Black.

Which is when we reach my favorite Bowie song – “Lady Stardust” – a perfect tiny story of “darkness and disgrace.”   The guitars are replaced with a piano lead, much the way that Queen would often do in years to come, and the lyrics are front and center in this, perhaps the height of Ziggy’s rise before the fall.

The acoustic demo that can be found on later reissues is even more immediate and raw.  It was discovering recordings like as a teen these that made me want to (even need to) sing.

More meta – “Star” is a wonderful piece of that performance art that Bowie so embraces – a rock star imagining that he is not, wishing that he was.  And here at last the pace is hard and heavy, driving towards a big rock n roll climax . . .

Instead the song morphs into a mellow chilled-out final verse.

“Hang On To Yourself” – name checked in The Bangles oversold and underrated album,  Everything – picks up the pace again, grinding and grooving and grinning until I find it impossible not to tap along.  I also find it nearly impossible to stop a grin from filling my face as this one plays.

And now the crunching majesty of that chord, leading into that riff and the title track.

The star himself, “Ziggy Stardust” appears.

Lyrically the song is a perfect telling of the archetypal internal journey of every star and wannabe (while hinting at the specific events in the life of Jimi Hendrix, as Bad Company would later in “Shooting Star, another favorite.”)

I am struck at this point at how much tension and power has been built up through the first nine tracks as they drive purposefully but with that unexpected restraint.  It seems all that energy is released in the opening notes of “Suffragette City”, like a pebble from a slingshot, and the kid gloves come epically, wonderfully off.

At least, that’s how I hear it in my head.  In reality, the groove and restraint is still there.  The explosion is one of attitude rather than volume.  The rhythm is so tight, every piano stab so precise and purposeful, the guitar solo so briefly, beautifully sketched.

I think of the many bands I have heard cover this song live in concert (including The Diamond Dogs so very long ago, and Marc Rentzer with Kreb’s and the Maynard G’s just this year) and realize this track would be worth the price of admission even if the rest of the album were only mediocre.

There is nothing at all mediocre about what has already occurred, and the final track ensures a perfect score.  “Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide” predates Grunge by two full decades and does it better than the Seattle scene ever came close to.

With “. . . Suicide” as coda to the prelude of “Five Years” the story has a concrete and satisfying arc.

Ziggy is more than Rock, or Pop.  It is Art.

Next Week: The Boys of The Lough – Live at Passim

Owned before blogging? Yes. (11 of 121 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? Yes. (19 of 121 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (100 of 121 = 83%)

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