Saturday, May 10, 2003

Time now for Johnny B's Mondo Vinyl-O!

These are (hopefully) short capsule reviews of the vinyl LP's I've listened to in the last week or so. All opinions generated are my point of view and are in no way to be intended to be taken as gospel truth. Unless, of course, you just want to– which you're very welcome to do as far as I'm concerned.

Rolling Stones-Tattoo You
It's a bit of a hodgepodge, true, but it's also by far the best album they did in the Eighties, if nothing else than for the magnificent side two which was probably the purest R&B they did since the very early days. Tracks 7-11 for you CD listeners. The first side's not bad but just doesn't hit the same groove for me.

Van Morrison-Hard Nose The Highway and His Band and the Street Choir
Accepting it as a given that Van's eight-album streak from '69-'74 produced no bad records, these two fall at the bottom end of the spectrum...but that doesn't mean that they're not full of great songs. Hard Nose is the more innovative of the two, and His Band is, to my ears, the most straightforward. Hard Nose sounds a little fatigued; two years removed from his biggest hit, His Band's "Domino", his career was at its peak and there must have been a lot of record company pressure placed on him to follow it up. To his credit, he responded with an innovative album full of choirs, Muppet songs and jazzy odes to Autumn and the obvious choice for a single "Warm Love" should have been a huge hit but wasn't. Reacting to this, he then retreated even further, to the acoustic jazz-folk-blues of the superlative Veedon Fleece. As a whole, there are some flat spots but it's a fine record nonetheless. Getting back to His Band, like I said, very straightforward and earnest in its folk/R&B styles and is very enjoyable– but side two really drags.

Fleetwood Mac-Future Games and Bare Trees
What we have here are two albums from that dimly remembered post-Peter Green and pre-Lindsey and Stevie period of Fleetwood Mac, when Bob Welch's rilly mellow, spacey musings were the order of the day. Games isn't really all that great a's overall murky and soemwhat tuneless, but it does have a couple of highlights: the longish title track, which has a strong melody and nice, breathy vocals; and one of Christine McVie's best songs: Show Me A Smile, a gorgeous, winsome ballady thing that pretty much laid the template for her subsequent style. Bare Trees, on the other hand, was the first Mac album I ever heard– I bought it because I liked the cover. The songcraft is stronger, and Bob has his finest moment with Sentimental Lady, which he re-covered in 1977 on one of his solo albums but didn't improve it any. Welch's Mellotron-driven The Ghost is another strong track, and the instrumental Sunny Side of Heaven has a beautiful, haunting melody which isn't soon forgotten. For more on the pre-Rumours era Mac, go to Brendan's Letting Loose With The Leptard blogpage– he's written a great piece on the Peter Green/Jeremy Spencer/Danny Kirwan days of the band.

Renaissance-Azure D'Or
This is the only Renaissance album I ever warmed to. They made a sort of prissy, overblown art-rock in the mid 70s which, I understand, has its fervent following but I'm not among them. Vocalist (and former Roy Wood girlfriend) Annie Haslam had an impressive voice, but too often she was asked to carry ten-minute, synth-driven, completely melody-free mini-epic songs that really didn't hang together very well. That being said, I suppose by the time of this 1979 release they realized they were being swept under the Punk/New Wave tide, and this effort reflects that; it's more song-oriented (previously, their idea of a short song seemed to be at least 5:30) and less self-indulgent. Two songs in particular stand out: Friends and Kalynda (A Magical Isle), which are lyrically a bit dodgy but express honest sentiments and are melodically gorgeous. I liked the cover very much, too. I think most Renaissance lovers hate this record.

Randy Newman-Good Old Boys
Now here is a wonderful record. Newman has done much fine work since this 1974 release, but he's never been as consistently sharp, witty, sentimental, winning, and smart as on this one. Most of the attention went to the ironically twisted Rednecks, which was pretty controversial in its day, but there's not a bad track on this LP and it contains many of his best songs: the forlorn Marie, nostalgic Louisiana 1927 (does anybody else remember seeing him perform this on Saturday Night Live back around '76 or so?), and the hilarious A Wedding in Cherokee County. Not long after, Randy discovered synthesizers and modern production techniques and his music took on a gloss that this album thankfully lacks– and his recorded output hasn't been the same since. If you've never heard this, please, PLEASE go out and score a copy somewhere. It's a staple in my all-time top 25 list.

Lou Reed-Coney Island Baby
By the time (late '75) this little long-player came out, Lou had released both Sally Can't Dance and Metal Machine Music, and between the amusicality of the latter and the slovenliness of the former, people were beginning to run out of patience a bit. But then out of the blue he gave us this, which was so open and sincere that many assumed he was putting them on again somehow; it really faked a lot of folks out. Many years later, it still stands up as a solid record– and while I kinda prefer the more hit-and-miss efforts like Sally and Berlin, I like this one a lot, especially the title track, the cheery Crazy Feeling and cowbell-driven Charley's Girl, which bops along agreeably .

Neil Young-Time Fades Away
One of four consecutive records which, in my opinion, represent Young's peak along with On The Beach,Tonight's The Night and Zuma. TFA is a compilation of new songs recorded live at various venues on Young's ill-starred Harvest tour, in which he was doing a startling amount of drugging and was also mourning deceased friend and Crazy Horse member Danny Whitten, whose passing he felt in part responsible for. This is not a happy fun record, which is not to say that there isn't humor on it; heck– the closing track, ten minute "Last Dance" is one long extended joke. But there's an edge and a bitterness to this record which makes it a sobering listen, especially in the romping title cut and the loping, biographical "Don't Be Denied". Every cut is a strong one, even the slighter ones like "Love in Mind", a simple piano-only ballad which still evokes resigned melancholy. And, of course, it had that great, crude, scraping mid-70's Neil Young Guitar Sound, which always activates the pleasure centers in my brain.

Nona Hendryx-The Art of Defense
The former LaBelle member did a handful of great, new-wavey funk records with people like Bill Laswell and Talking Heads in the 80's, and while most regard this one as the weakest of the lot, naturally it's my favorite. Fave cuts: surging, soulful uptempo ballad "Soft Targets" and the harsh, synth-driven reggae "Ghost Love".

That'll do for now...see, I said I'd write some more music stuff eventually!

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