Album Reviews

The Rolling Stones “Emotional Rescue” (Rolling Stones, 1980)

51H8tGhuOkL._SY300_Along with The Who pulling an “Eminence Front,” the Stones made some undeniably catchy tracks for more straight-ahead dancing. “Emotional Rescue” is the most blatant album example of this, and if you aren’t such a rock purist, it’ll sound pretty good to hear them put four on the floor in their opening tracks.

It’s all still The Stones though, even with their great chicken scratch rhythms and drum patterns squared off for tracks like “Dance” and “Send It To Me.” With less solos and almost no psychedelic intrusion, they still come off as an organic group, not sterile studio sessioners making a few bucks from Studio 54. Not all of the numbers are for the dance floor obviously, but then again “Indian Girl” doesn’t really scream for repeated listens the way their tackling of dance tunes do.

For Stones devotees, “Emotional Rescue” isn’t too bad to see them moving further sideways after the “Some Girls” punk reaction, into dance territory… and they avoid rubbing shoulders too much (ahem, title track) with white-soul New Wave, which is a blessing here. “Down In The Hole” helps confirm that they were exploring, and not drifting too far from their roots. -Wade

Tim Buckley “Greetings From L.A.” (Straight, 1972)

51jJnF-3yOLTim Buckley’s seventh album effort left quite an impression on me after I heard it’s centerpiece “Sweet Surrender” on the Johnny Rotten Capital Radio show from 1977. The whole show was great, mixing Celtic folk songs into Dub into Soul into Progressive Rock, Velvet Underground-affiliated solo projects, Beefheart, Can even… What a way to get hip quick!

But “Sweet Surrender” was the opener for his show as well, and it was the track that lingered longest in my head. So before exploring Buckley’s complete discography I jumped straight into “Greetings From L.A.” and I still think it’s his personal best. After albums of straight folk gave way to albums of avant-garde instrumentation and aural experiments using his impressive vocal range, he did an about face and moved back into a more conventional form; this time closer to Funk, Rock and Soul.

Buckley’s band is groove oriented whether quiet or busy, and in places they employ lush strings that fly as high as his voice can carry. He was not a limited singer. Actually, all that time making avant-recordings helped develop his voice as instrument approach, and when he belts out numbers like “Move With Me” or “Devil Eyes” he can really imitate those dirty bedroom yelps perfectly… No one saw this coming in his career arc, Buckley party music, but then again by the time he made it to this album he may have figured his audience wasn’t getting any bigger. Might as well have some fun, and it’s the most fun you’ll have listening to Tim. Try this one first. -Wade

The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” (Columbia, 1965)

MI0000506004The debut album by The Byrds charged forward with that jangly guitar sound, tambourines (of course) and woven harmonies that would become the template for many a folk or heartland rock band. Guitars are intricate with vocals complexly joined, bringing roots to rock format without substantial loss of the prior form.

Whether folkies see their rock and folk union as a watering down of tradition is another matter; as a rock exploration it opened doors. Their work of co-opting Dylan songs may have even helped lead Dylan to pick up an electric guitar, to most of his fans chagrin. But that’s just theorizing, since the only real connection is that this album and his infamous amplified set share the same year in history.

The album itself is in fine stereo presentation, and it sounds pretty close to a document as you’ll get from them before psychedelics and acid rock lead to more adventurous work in a studio vein. You can almost hear it coming in retrospect but with this album you have the best performance culminations of the Beatles and Dylan, with care given to the humble forms they lift up into rock celebrity. -Wade

10cc “Deceptive Bends” (Mercury, 1977)

10cc-Deceptive-Bends-427028I could hardly tell that half the band left by the time 10cc (or, 5cc) started work on “Deceptive Bends.” A studio band that worked the angle quite well already, this time around they were only a two-piece. Consider the opener, “Good Morning Judge”… it’s pretty much a companion piece to their earlier “Rubber Bullets” and shows that they weren’t suffering from their crumbling line-up in terms of production.

But then again, they open with some of their strongest single releases. It’s not a bad thing but most of their best work is right out of the gate. “The Things We Do For Love” comes in at track two and it’s an infinitely playable single. Try it! After that however, they go into their own studio-slow jams until they reach the art-rock of “Modern Man Blues,” all blues licks and synthy tones, but the blues still seem pretty work-and-woman oriented. Tongue in cheek I’m sure.

Side two opens with all the quirk you’d want from the remaining duo; it’s post-Sparks and pre-Devo. “Honeymoon With B-Troop,” with that righteous sanitized guitar, gets weird with playful piano propulsion and stereophonic use of panned vocals. Even with only two original members, “Deceptive Bends” is proof that 10cc could dish out singles and make a mostly memorable step forward on record. -Wade

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

Smokey Robinson “A Quiet Storm” (Tamla, 1974)

71IUgu2RM5L._SL1063_Defining a sound… just like he did at the beginning of Motown. Now here he his, just like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, going beyond the pop success for a new sound, new direction, new motivations. Marvin & Stevie went their way; and “Quiet Storm” was Smokey’s way.

His way was smoother, more gentler, never one to ruffle feathers like Marvin or Stevie did with their songs. That’s why Smokey is the genius he is; he didn’t try to do anyone else’s style but his own.

The album is quintessential Smokey…his same songwriting formula he has used for decades. You can imagine that if this were the mid 60s, these tracks would sound something like “Track of My Tears” or “Ooh Baby Baby”. The melodies and rhythms simply reflect what the 70s were about, using “non-native” instruments (latin percussions/rhythms), funkier beats and bass lines, and non-standard rhythms and times. Smokey is a master songwriter, always keeping his ear to what’s hip, and that what “Baby That’s Back Atcha” is; hip, funky, and totally Smokey. “The Agony and the Ecstasy” is old-school Smokey and those from all the ‘hoods and barrios include this in their Oldies mixes (how ’bout that opening line? Vintage Smokey hooking you into the song). And the title track itself started a whole new sub-genre of R&B music…can you think of another song that has done that? Nothing more need be said. – MCB2

Kate Bush “Never For Ever” (EMI, 1980)

Kate_Bush_-_Never_for_EverBritish music scribe Simon Reynolds, a champion of arty underground music from the late 70′s/early 80′s, had a bit of a fascination with the popular Kate Bush. Mostly with how she triumphed as a pop star with so many radical sounding singles. And also, while her work is far-reaching, arty and interesting in the way prog-to-pop folks like Peter Gabriel are in the studio, she gives very little insight into her process, or her inspirations.

In 1980, UK music was full of arty types and the most hip had punk rock credentials in some form or another. Kate Bush is just as arty and modern as The Slits, Wire… yet, no ripped clothes, so little hip factor. And when those groups sound scrambling or angular, Kate’s sound is ornate, meticulously layered and placed in direct opposition. “Never For Ever” is her third full length, the most focused of the bunch and the one that further secured her place in pop culture after a string of leftfield-hits like “Wuthering Heights” and “Wow.” And it’s another step sideways from conventional pop.

And speaking of hits, the tracks bookending the album are two of her best. “Babooshka” is a classic that chronicles a wife’s desire to test her husband’s loyalty by taking on the guise of a younger woman… From personally paranoid to worldly heavy, album closer and single “Breathing” is about being born after a nuclear holocaust, which seemed like a very legitimate threat around that time.

Even with such content, Kate is pleasant throughout, with songs ranging from piano ballads to art rock. The darker tone is reminiscent to the glam of UK group Japan. “Never For Ever” is a good one to dive into before further exploring her discography, which is varied and still keeps her a bit of a cypher, despite massive popularity. -Wade

Black Flag “Damaged” (SST, 1981)

Black_Flag_-_Damaged_coverHow many members burned through Black Flag’s stay on earth? The answer is seventeen in their initial run, which lasted about a decade. Primary songwriter and guitar hero Greg Ginn was the sole lynchpin holding it all together, and as tough a band leader as he was, he wouldn’t outright fire people if they couldn’t meet his vision. Instead they would fall off from exhaustion.

By the time Henry Rollins got on board, they had the hardened vocalist they needed. “Damaged” had been attempted in small stages before, and finally came together in ’81 to change the face of rock and punk forever. The production is a bit muddy but the songs blast through efficiently… And what “punk” songs these are with their tight interplay, tempo changes made on a dime and heavy, Sabbath-heritable interludes with expressive and new noise-to-blues guitar flaying.

Side one has the most recognizable favorites; the opening anthem of “Rise Above,” “Six Pack,” “TV Party…” most of the tracks are narrated by damaged characters through Rollins, whether they are abusive macho types, alcoholics, or those pained by them, cops, or existence itself. Though Rollins is channeling these stories written mostly by Ginn and bassist Chuck Dukowski, he does let loose on side two’s grinding closer “Damaged I,” which he was known to improvise in performance.

But the whole disc is a document that spells the beginning of the end for Rock-as-Field Recording. It’s real, raw as in legitimately raw, and they didn’t take years in a studio assembling it together. Neither would their contemporaries. They kept slugging it out for another half-decade, got heavier, and you about know where Rock picks up from there, Seattleites. -Wade

James “Blood” Ulmer “Free Lancing” (Columbia, 1981)

303362After releasing his solo work “Are You Glad To Be In America?” through Rough Trade instead of say, ECM, the direction of his work grew more technical but remained engaging after his jump to Columbia. And he didn’t lose what he had going on with the post-punk label: innovation and a feeling of warmth throughout despite his unique brand of guitar flaying.

If you see live clips of Chick Corea in 1986 with his “Elektric” band, or other fusion bands of that time headed by Miles, and your only major turn off is the electric keyboards sounding like the audio equivalent of stale cheese, then “Free Lancing” will work for you. Ulmer’s band is electric, but it operates how a crack jazz/funk/rock outfit should. The heavy bass pops and acts as the main rhythmic component, James sings over his precise scratching and scrambling, and the drums embellish when they don’t drive the most memorable track, “High Time,” to the conclusion of the first side.

Loved by Ornette, post-punk art schoolers, rock enthusiasts and fans of Hendrix’s cross-town traffic music in general… well let’s put it this way, the material you hear on “Free Lancing” was the same stuff they would flaunt in front of Captain Beefheart and PiL. You can consider it a treasure of the era that occupies it’s own space. -Wade

Minnie Riperton “Adventures in Paradise” (Epic, 1975)

220px-Adventures_In_ParadiseA modest album after some initial direct hits, Minnie was one of those up and coming R&B divas set to rival Aretha Franklin. After losing Stevie Wonder as super-producer however, this ’75 release instead opted for an even softer and smoother production, bringing it into the fold of Quiet Storm, the pristine music reflecting the promise of Black middle-class quality of life that was expected to stick around.

The entirety of the album isn’t made up of slow-jams, however… “When It Comes Down To It” has some popping bass lines and sharp instrumental work, while “Minnie’s Lament” showcases real signs of life vocally on top of, what seems to me, like a Xenakis “Rebonds A” sort of drum loop. Really! It’s no wonder Quiet Storm and sophisticated R&B are the next forms up for assimilation by our current musical underground. On one level, the hippest kids are more empathic than ever before and are less likely to dismiss it for classy connotations, and on another, the form is still ripe for mining outside of Hip Hop. It seems only natural that people like Sade and Minnie are new points of reference for genre-appropriating youth. This stuff is reactionary socially and at times, it’s otherworldly sounding.

But how about at the time of release? Of course this was an important album to those whose young lives were being enriched by hopes of a better home and life, an opportunity to raise a family, more cosmopolitan integration. That’s what makes this release so beautiful. It’s an album about love on deeper levels. The most recognizable track drifting through Adult Contemporary stations could be “Inside My Love,” which should be noted, isn’t about sex…“will you come inside me / do you wanna ride inside my love?” But to get back to Black upward mobility, Minnie’s popular album track for radio play, “Love and it’s Glory,” was never released as a single. Yet it had massive air play and it’s message bounded out:

It’s a lonely world my children
You’ve got to do the best you can
If you’ve found a chance to love
You’d better grab it any way you can -Wade

Spirit “Clear” (Ode, 1969)

220px-Spirit_-_Clear-2The original Spirit lineup was the sleeper band of its era, maybe the top LA band from the ’68-’72 span. Their first and fourth albums are acclaimed classics by just about everybody, but this disc is IMHO as good as them. While the roots of jazz rock taken further by Steely Dan’s “Bodhisatva” could be heard on their third album’s “All the Same” this disc has three jazz explorations, with “Ice” and “Caught” being superb instrumental, improvisational tracks.

The Hendrix vibe of the earlier discs is just as evident in “Dark Eyed Woman”, and “So Little Time to Fly” and “Ground Hog” show early signs of the evolving sound that stuck to many on “Dr Sardonicus.” The only stiff on this disc is “Give a Life, Take a Life,” but the bonus tracks on this release more than make up for it: both sides of the “1984″ single and several jazzy instrumentals, including a great track called “Eventide” that recalls “Caught.”

Top it all off with maybe the best non-single track on any Spirit disc, “New Dope in Town,” and this is the record that doesn’t get respect it should as a classic disc from a classic band. -Frank

Manuel Göttsching “E2-E4” (Racket, 1984)

gottschingkansiA lot of compelling story arcs claim that the big-time minimalist composers and Krautrock participants had stake in the creation of House or Techno. Maybe, MAYBE these eggheads stumbled onto the formula, just by nature of building music up from scratch in such small parameters, but these instances were generally closed off from actual American dance participants. Folks who saw Disco fall from charts after the Demolition saw dance music go underground, as the rise of DJ culture became more prevalent, and the Chicago/Detroit/Paradise Garage history unfolded in front of them. Lotsa moving parts involved.

But hey, the general modus’ of DJing in those days was far from the stifling mixes of today’s more massive EDM festivals. The rules weren’t set, actually, in those lofts in warehouses. Frankie Knuckles made smooth, silky and seamless mixes from a variety of records (a VARIETY of records) and machines, while Ron Hardy made jarring, physical mixes rendering songs almost unrecognizable from their source material. A few of those early House and Techno pioneers had a copy of “E2-E4” laying around, to be sure, maybe next to some Phillip Glass, or that guy who came up with “Drumming”… Steve Reich.

Manuel Göttsching was a member of Ash Ra Temple and was known to immerse himself in electronic work ala Schulze. “E2-E4” has the stark feel of a Chicago record, maybe, but it’s not dance floor optimal. But then again, if Larry Levan could play it in the Garage, and he could make anything work, then it doesn’t matter. If this COULD be a template for dance music, then the propulsive rework of “Sueno Latino” COULD assert it into dance history proper. Sampling creates that backdoor to history. -Wade