Blues

Yoko Ono “Fly” (Apple, 1971)

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This is one of the triptych of records you need to pull out to shoot down the Yoko haters—of whom there are many, because we live in a deeply flawed world. The other two? 1970’s Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band and 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe. Of course, there are other solid Ono releases, but these three make the most persuasive case for Yoko as an important artist.

Let’s be honest: Ono used her connection to husband John Lennon to gain access to the phenomenal musicians who play on Fly (Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Joe Jones, and, you bet your ass, Lennon himself) Don’t front: You would, too, if you were in her position. But it’s what she does with the assemblage of massive talent that makes this double LP so righteous.

Ono wrote all 13 tracks on Fly, and if she’d only conceived the 17-minute “Mind Train,” this full-length would still be worth your precious time. “Mind Train” is like Tago Mago/Ege Bamyasi-era Can, with all the loose-limbed, trance-inducing funk and id-mad vocal improv tics that that implies. Lennon seems to be having a ball, unspooling a bunch of weird guitar arabesques and eruptions while Voorman and Keltner do their best Czukay/Liebezeit impressions. All I can say is, “¡Hallelujah!”

As for the other highlights, “Mind Holes” starts almost like a Popol Vuh-/Dzyan-like kosmsiche reverie before shifting into disjointed blues-rock vamping. On “Don’t Worry, Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow),” Clapton, Starr, and Voorman grind out a sick, funky blues-rock groove that would make John Lee Hooker say, “DAMN!” More filthy, stripped-down funk comes with “Hirake,” over which Ono commands listeners to open their box, trousers, legs, thighs, flies, ears, nose, mouth, city, world, etc. with unhinged urgency. Yes, ma’am, whatever you say!

Weirdnesses abound on side 3, as you might expect when Fluxus mischief-maker Joe Jones enters the studio. “Airmale” is enhanced by eight of Jones’ “automatic instruments,” which play themselves with only the turn of a switch, as Ono wails in tongues. If you thought the Beatles’ “Revolution 9” was strange, well, “Airmale” says, “Hold my beer.” With “Don’t Count The Waves,” Ono’s voice gets electronically treated into an eerie, delay-laden shriek as she intones the title, accompanied by a grotesquerie of percussive accents. “You,” the last of the Jones experiments, features lease-breaking metallic percussion … Read more›

Blue Cheer “Vincebus Eruptum” (Philips, 1968)

BlueCheerVincebusEruptumMade up of blues covers half this album may be, but what a new way they had to warp and distort such standards! Key words there, as Blue Cheer were pioneers of the Metal genre we all have come to associate with the monoliths… Zeppelin and Sabbath, somewhere, they stand in between.

A little ways into opener “Summertime Blues” you get a confirmation that yes, things will be forever different, as a break becomes filled with masochistic riffs unheard prior. On “Rock Me Baby” the use of guitar distortion reaches new heights, and the interplay on “Doctor Please” hits you like scorched earth, molten lava running and tumbling downhill.

More blues covers and an original number follow, but the reinvention heard here is absolutely notable. When you hear some metallers discussing roots, this will probably be one album cited in conversation. -Wade… Read more›

Buster Smith “The Legendary Buster Smith” (Atlantic, 1959)

Legendary_Buster_SmithPlaying with the great Count Basie and hailing from the same Southern locale as sax-savant Ornette Coleman (Fort Worth, TX), Buster Smith was one of those jazzmen who kept blues and jazz traditions together as tight and coarse as jute rope.

Unlike Coleman who ventured further out nationally while exploring free territory, and later amplified acts like Prime Time, Buster remained a Southern treat and and had his own way of delivering standards alongside great conventional numbers; a purist. His barebones “September Song” variant, a glum pop standard, goes well before original “King Alcohol,” featuring tumbling drums acting hardly more than brash timekeepers with Buster’s grainy blues-sax spillage upped on top. Get me a drink…

On side two “Kansas City Riffs” has some of the best interplay on the disc, and everybody makes a modest solo, even the seldom heard piano that only appears on half of the cuts. “Late Late” sounds like what could reasonably aftermath of “King Alcohol” and is as expected, a downer. Buster even switches from sax to blues guitar and shows he has chops on a six-string. For fans of Basie, Charlie Christian and even Charlie Parker with whom he affiliated, Buster Smith’s only official release is of definite interest. -Wade… Read more›

Cat Power “What Would The Community Think?” (Matador, 1996)

WhatwouldthecommunitythinkMammal music was how Richard Meltzer described Chan Marshall’s music. Probably one of the last positive statements he said about anyone musical (that wasn’t playing jazz, blues or country maybe), since he called the decade of the 90’s an “empty room” and had long before pulled the plug on rock in most any form.

After the double barrel shots of “Dear Sir” and “Myra Lee,” Marshall went for something a bit prettier and more ornate than her stripped-down debuts. Not that Chan’s themes have changed much; it’s all nervous woman-breakdown content, but each song doesn’t sound so morbidly hopeless this time around. Steve Shelly of Sonic Youth is still drumming and some SY feedback rubs on the production in places, but for the most part this is Chan’s vision, and while the songs are brighter with chimes and steel pedal all is not well in this Southern girl’s world.

Originals “Good Clean Fun” and “Nude As The News” can leave a slab in the back of your throat with their honesty and moments like “They Tell Me” are very country-derived and sound just as true. Gearing up for Moon Pix, Chan shows that she can work people into her own personal foil and come up with something more elegant. But her own reinterpretation of “Enough” near the closer is still anxious and skittering, like what the inside of her head must’ve been like. -Wade… Read more›

Charles Mingus “Blues & Roots” (Atlantic Records, 1960)

115405940What might be seen as a regressive move from the current post-bop experiments of the time to doing extended takes on blues and church songs was actually a great percolation of styles in Charles Mingus’ hands. What we have here are six tracks that play off of blues sensibilities quite well, makes you want to dance more often than not and comes across as quite modern.

Nine players appear on this record (with one swapped for piano on the final track) and what’s presented are layers of the same parts played just about at once, making rather simple, swinging music with plenty of room for subtle shifts and surprises. Opener “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting” is a case in point, with joyous horns and a galloping rhythm charge set by Mingus. Most of the tracks presented herein are fairly loose (though not disorganized) and give a snap shot of ground-breaking performers taking a break and having a good time recording an album more suitable for a party rather than something set up for your rapt attention.

Not that there are tracks you can’t be pulled into, however; killers like “Moanin’” and “Tensions” have so much going on that repeated listens will be inevitable to take in all the action presented to you. For tracks that are so rich, the swing is also pretty undeniable. Mingus seems to be at a crossroads here, between the blues of his past and the modern tug of his jazz progressions. The result is a record you can’t help but wear a smile to. -Wade… Read more›

Savoy Brown “Looking In” (Parrot Records, 1971)

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A British Blues group who were quite good at grooving, “Looking In” would be the last album Savoy Brown would create before half the members jumped ship to join Foghat. That would be their bass player and drummer, essential crew here. So, this album arguably represents Savoy at their best before a major lineup change.

Delivering solid slabs of amplified blues and ascending percussion, Savoy Brown create a pretty uplifting world here. Tracks “Poor Girl” and “Take it Easy” are grooving and easy going affairs that let you remember rock as a more optimistic music before it’s many permutations down the long road of the 70’s.

This idea is reinforced by driving numbers like “Sunday Night” and “Sitting An’ Thinking” which go down smooth, while penultimate rocker “Leavin’ Again” delivers the blues the best way Brits of the time could, and it’s great, full of changes with a nice bass tone throughout. Warm. Strangely, album opener “Gypsy” and closer “Romanoff” are nearly identical, one minute instrumentals that seem to take this hard piece of blues-rock full circle.

This is a nice piece of work, an album full of joyous grooves covered by a light sense of melancholy through some great electric guitar work. Definitely ready for some reassessment. -Wade

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John Lee Hooker & Canned Heat “Hooker ’n Heat” (1971)

There have been a number of albums produced over the years which match a legendary figure from blues music with some his admirers in well known contemporary rock or blues bands. Blues and other music critics often lambast these efforts and hold them in utmost contempt. Some of these sessions are truly awful but some come off well, such as “Fathers and Sons” with Muddy Waters and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. “Hooker ‘N’ Heat,” released on Liberty Records in 1970, stands as possibly the best example of generational meeting of the minds. Canned Heat was at the top of their popularity and Hooker was fading from the public eye somewhat. This record helped to revitalize interest in Hooker’s music. Most of Hooker’s best work, out of hundreds of recordings, many under assumed names, is solo, just “The Hook,” his left foot and his guitar. On albums where he recorded with full bands or other accompaniment his rough, often uneven style, with a measure count that often varied, didn’t mesh well with musicians accustomed to playing arrangements or standard blues classics. Sometimes the clash detracted from the product. The band Canned Heat had no such problems. It was obvious that he loved the band and they loved him! Bob “The Bear” Hite, the band leader, who usually provided the gruff vocals on much of the band’s material, was a blues collector and historian and was well acquainted with Hooker’s music and the band itself was rough hewn and unpolished but played with feeling and a respect for the music. Hite is not heard on the album. He wisely stood aside and gave the spotlight to Hooker. No band ever backed the Hook better. This was the last album for ‘Heat member Alan Wilson, who plays harmonica and piano. Wilson would soon after be dead from poisoning and choking on barbituates while on a camping trip. Wilson plays inspired harp on this album and gets special recognition from Hooker for it. Wilson is one of the under rated harmonica players of our time and this stands as his memorial. With the recent passing of John Lee Hooker this album could be considered among his best work as well. —DickRead more›

Chicken Shack “40 Blue Fingers, Freshly Packed and Ready to Serve” (1968)

Formed in 1967, Chicken Shack consisted of Stan Webb on guitar and vocals, Andy Sylvester on bass, Christine Perfect (later known as Christine McVie, as a part of the great Fleetwood Mac), on vocals and keyboards, and Alan Morley on drums.

“40 Blue Fingers” is an excellent example of the booming late 60’s blues scene in & around London. With John Mayall & Alexis Korner creating benchmarks for the British blues scene, Chicken Shack were absolutely in the right place at the right time. Stan Webb is another under-rated guitarist of the late 60’s British Blues Scene along the lines of Paul Kossoff (Free). Christine McVie is a Goddess featuring a very powerful, soul-driven voice that’s very clearly influenced by the great John Mayall.

Chicken Shack made their public debut at the Great Britain’s National Blues & Jazz Festival at Windsor along with Fleetwood Mac on August 13, 1967. “There were two stages at Windsor, the main one an open-air ramshackle structure, the other inside a marquee. Fleetwood Mac had their initiation on the main stage but much was made of Chicken Shack’s tented debut.” All said and done, Christine McVie’s performance and Stan Webb’s charismatic guitar playing make this album a worthy buy. —Warchild786Read more›

Muddy Waters “Electric Mud” (1968)

This may be the most polarizing album ever to come out of the Chess empire (unless that Rotary Connection Christmas album really drives you batty); it’s telling that they chose to release this on the more daring Cadet Concept subsidiary. It’s funny to think that this album was intended to update Muddy Waters’ image to appeal to the younger people and, 42 years on, that’s exactly what it did for me, who currently fits the original demographic they were after: I have no quarrel with traditional blues, I even enjoy it when the mood strikes me, but this is the only Muddy Waters album that I beat the proverbial door down to acquire. And this album is ferocious! There’s no session information given but I would have to imagine that it’s the usual Chess/Cadet session crew backing him up. The bass rumbles along louder than I’ve ever heard John Paul Jones’ or John Entwistle’s. The drums, in particular the bass drum, are louder than those in any psych group I can think of other than maybe the Move. The most surprising aspect may be that, despite the fact that Muddy reportedly hated this album with a passion, his electric guitar playing is phenonmenal. I suppose this is expected from a great bluseman, but he also knows how to use its new-found volume and distortion to great effect. He growls through each monster track, achieving what Jimi Hendrix was ly after in his formative days. As it is a late 60s Cadet Concept album, the ace in the hole is the arrangement, this time from the great Charles Stepney, in the midst of arranging the hell out of those Rotary Connection and Ramsey Lewis albums (the latter along with Richard Evans). Stepney actually displays quite a bit of restraint here, with his patented complex string and brass parts lurking way in the background, the exception being when “She’s Alright” brilliantly morphs it’s coda into the string-laden bridge from “My Girl”.

Most blues purists decry this, which I suppose is understandable, but you have to admit that this is as convincing a psychedelic-blues album as anything Cream or Led Zeppelin could hope to come up with. Still underrated by most critics, this is truly a left-field masterpiece. –MikeRead more›

Peter Green “In the Skies” (1979)

So, after eight years away from the music scene does Peter Green still have it? Of course he did! This album is almost, for me, a testament to the longevity of raw talent. Considering all that Peter Green had been through throughout the decade, it’s quite something that he could come up with something this good (as well as putting out a record better than 1079’s effort from his former bandmates). The only slight downer is the uncertainty over which songs Peter Green actually plays lead on due to his ill-health, but that doesn’t really detract from the quality of these songs. There’s a really laid back feel to the album, like mellow blues. “A Fool No More” was the only song I’d heard prior to purchasing the album and it’s probably this song that sounds most like Green’s Mac efforts (it was originally written for the first Fleetwood Mac album). The guitar playing and vocals are strong, as they are on the other vocal led tracks “In The Skies”, “Seven Stars” and “Just For You”. “In The Skies”, “Tribal Dance” and “Proud Pinto” have Santana-esque rhythm sections and drums, underpinning the laid back mood and displaying Peter Green’s musical influences. “Slabo Day” has a really nice riff and emotive leads (the sleeve notes state that Snowy White plays lead on this track), and “Apostle” is a beautiful closer to the album, displaying the feel and sensitivity of Green’s compositions. As the first of Peter Green’s many  comebacks, “In The Skies” is a great effort and a worthy addition to the man’s catalogue. –TomRead more›

Taj Mahal “Taj Mahal” (1968)

Taj Mahal’s debut is a perfect example of how The Blues and Rock are one and the same. It smokes from start to finish, greatly thanks to Ry Cooder’s presence on guitar. There’s a lot of use of the word “baby”, but it seems to mean something deeper than when you hear it today in the latest cancerous pop morsel. I’ve always admired singers who seem to be able to sing right from their gut, like Howlin’ Wolf and Taj Mahal. Of course, no Blues album is complete without a reference to a gypsy woman, which Taj Mahal was aware of. hahaha. –RobRead more›

Fleetwood Mac “Then Play On” (1969)

If I was forced to name a favorite album, then I think I might go for “Then Play On”. I can’t really think of another album I consistently enjoy as much. With Danny Kirwan on board the expectation no longer falls squarely on Peter Green’s shoulders and Kirwan’s arrival had already bore fruit with the preceeding “Albatross” and “Man of the World” singles. There’s a much broader feel on here than the previous Fleetwood Mac albums and “Then Play On” includes everything you could want on an album: soul-searching ballads (“Closing My Eyes”, “Before the Beginning”), raucous rock ‘n’ roll (“Coming Your Way”, “Rattlesnake Shake”, “Oh Well (Part One)”), McCartney-esque pop ditties (“Although the Sun is Shining”, “When You Say”), serene instrumentals (“My Dream”, “Underway”, “Oh Well (Part Two)”) and breathtaking jams (“Looking for Madge”, “Fighting for Madge”). Listening to “Then Play On” is particularly interesting when you consider how troubled the chief song writers would become in the ensuing months, years and decades. You can almost sense something ominous on Peter Green’s horizon when listening to “Closing My Eyes”, “Show-Biz Blues” (which includes the line “and you’re sitting there so green, believe me man I’m just the same as you), the acoustic section of “Oh Well” or “Before the Beginning”. There’s something incredibly sad about Peter Green’s contributions here although he still gets down and dirty for “Rattlesnake Shake”, an ode to masterbation. Danny Kirwan proves himself to be a phenomenal song writer with his delicate, beautiful ballads and his album opener “Coming your Way” has an epic guitar outro. There isn’t one dud to be found here and “Then Play On” is never anything less than an engrossing, moving, imaginative, flawless, impressive album from a band who may not have even hit there peak yet. –TomRead more›