Album Reviews

Alice Cooper “Love It to Death” (1971)

Love it to Death is the perfect brew of the Alice Cooper band’s mixture of hard rock, juvenile delinquency and shock rock theatrics. A lot of its strength relies in its diversity and the band always manages to sound convincing and original. Just look at the final three songs: the dark “Second Coming” plays out with a grand, stirring piano section into the unnerving lunacy of “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” before ending with the folky sing-a-long “Sun Arise”. “Caught in a Dream” and “Long Way To Go” are effective, short garage rockers that contrast with the extended, intense psychedelic trip of “Black Juju”. “I’m Eighteen” has simple lyrics that perfectly capture the confusion and disarray of adolescence and “Is It My Body” is a short, lusty rocker with a great guitar tone. “Hallowed be thy Name” is the weaker of the bunch, but it doesn’t really detract from the album as a whole and “Love it to Death” is a first rate seventies hard rock album. –Ben

Don Ellis “Don Ellis at Fillmore” (1970)

Don Ellis at Fillmore will satisfy even the most intense and discerning cravings that people might have to hear more music like Frank Zappa’s The Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka. Ellis explores all things quirky with his Jazz ensemble. There’s solos galore. Many of the songs are lengthy. There’s comedic thrills. They go so far as to inject “Hey Jude” with a syringe of heroine and steroids. The room may be spinning but Jude could still kick your ass. The audience gets messed with severely. Pretty much every Zappa fan should own this music. Ellis was probably one of the main people that influenced Zappa to make the move from his early phase (Freak Out! to Uncle Meat) into trying something like Hot Rats all of the sudden. A copy of Don Ellis at Fillmore surely must have been on the Zappa tour bus. –Rob

Maxophone “Maxophone” (1975)

The lone album from Maxophone is another piece of archaeological evidence pointing towards the inevitable conclusion that the Italians took progressive rock to heights only hinted at by their UK contemporaries. While richly melodic, Maxophone nevertheless are as go-for-broke with their ornamented arrangements as any other Italian prog act, regularly spouting riffs offering more twists than a bowl of fusilli, bursting into flowery orchestral beauty, or detouring down a jazzy sax-mad side road at the drop of a hat. The layered vocals are delivered with the inspired passion that hallmarks the genre, also managing to hit some angelic falsettos along the way. –Ben

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. –Tom

Black Oak Arkansas “High on the Hog” (1973)

Clodhoppin’ rockers Black Oak Arkansas achieved their biggest success with High on the Hog and it’s obnoxious #25 single “Jim Dandy,” which featured raspy vocalist Jim “Dandy” Mangrum and Ruby Starr hootin’ it up like a pair of courtin’ cousins. Featuring a few other, similarly buck-toothed entries in “Happy Hooker,” and acoustic pickers “Back to the Land” and “High ‘n’ Dry,” High on the Hog is redeemed by the inclusion of nasty southern-livin’ rockers like the funky opener “Swimmin’ in Quicksand,” the churning “Red Hot Lovin’,” and “Mad Man,” while “Moonshine Sonata” is a vintage guitarmony laced instrumental. Possessing neither the sophistication of an Allmans or attitude of Skynrd, High on the Hog is yer basic roll in the mud through a set of lowbrow rube-rock, worth checking out for fans of the genre. –Ben

Eddie Harris “Is It In” (1974)

If you dig funk, two words: “Funkaroma” and “Is it In.” (Okay, that’s four words.) “Funkaroma” kicks off the album with Eddie and his plugged in tenor going off on this sixty second intro that just oozes with funky soul. At the one minute mark the band kicks in and funk perfection ensues with everybody firmly on the one. The title track is perfectly realized funk from :01. Guitarist Ronnie Muldrow lays it on thick with this breakneck riff and the band does the rest with Eddie wailing along, electrified, over the top. The drum chant “It’s War” and gooey “Space Commercial” could both easily fit on a 70’s funky Bruton Sound Library LP. Although most of Eddie’s albums from this period are uneven in overall mood and performance (this one is no different), Eddie, his electric sax, and a group of accomplished stateside jam-hounds give funk true meaning with these songs. –A

Rainbow “Rising” (1976)

As a blossoming Deep Purple fan ‘Rising’ was my introduction to Ritchie Blackmore’s post-Purple work and although I was initially ambivalent about the sound and Dio’s voice I’ve since come to love this music which, has also helped me appreciate Dio’s stint with Black Sabbath a lot more. After a debut album that fiddled with some of Ritchie Blackmore’s ideas, ‘Rising’ sounds more like a band effort and everything about the sound has got heavier. Dio’s lyrics took me a while to get used to but they sound tailor-made for this kind of dramatic heavy rock and his voice is so good it doesn’t matter matter what is said. The first side of ‘Rising’ is made up of short, punchy heavy rock songs with “Do You Close Your Eyes” being the album’s weakest track and a mood lightener before the album’s two big statements, “Stargazer and “A Light In The Black”. “Stargazer” is a huge undertaking that demands nothing but the best from the people involved. The heavy drone is sustained for eight and a half minutes and Dio’s range is tested in trying to match the constant thunder of the music. “A Light In The Black” is my personal favorite moment of the album, proving that this line-up could rock as hard as anybody. Cozy Powell drives the song along, allowing Dio to swoop and fly vocally, and Tony Carey takes on Ritchie Blackmore in a furious solo battle that brings out the best from both. The album’s a bit short and there isn’t a huge amount of variation but ‘Rising’ contains six good tracks and at least two essentials. –Tom

My Bloody Valentine “Isn’t Anything” (1988)

My Bloody Valentine spent a few years wasting time in paisley limbo before growing a massive pair and reinventing psychedelic music as well as a new language for the electric guitar. Isn’t anything is their first full length representation of this, and in my opinion, their greatest achievement as a band. Jesus and Marychain and Spacemen 3 may have peaked before this, as critics love to point out, but who really gives a shit? The Marychain and Spacemen are the dictionary definition of posers, who in the process of riding on America’s musical history for cool points, happened to luck out and make some good music. But there’s nothing original there, no real emotion. Isn’t Anything, on the other hand, is just a total swirling cacophony of electric sounds and emotions; sometimes bending, sometimes stacked on top of each other,sometimes crashing. You realize that this is truly what it feels like to be an opened up human being. It’s the feeling that you’re feeling everything at once and bordering on insanity except that the one connecting point is, no matter what emotions are consuming your senses, they will be extreme. Love, loss, change, it’s all here in it’s purest form, the abstract form. And what’s truely impressive is that the music doesn’t sound dated at all yet it’s blatently psychedellic. The drums and bass border on hardcore via Dinosaur Jr’s mammoth-like approach, while the guitars and vocals, both provided by the heavenly duo of Kevin Sheilds and Belinda Butcher, flow over and consume the sound in a way that the ocean might look lazy but ultimately it couldn’t give a fuck about you and could wipe you out in a second if you were in the way of it’s power. Just throw this on, and make sure it’s at a somewhat loud enough volume. –Alex

Pink Floyd “Atom Heart Mother” (1970)

This is a hard Pink Floyd album, even the band admits it was an unwise “concept” idea. Side one, the “Atom Heart Mother Suite” marries orchestration with Floyd’s ethereal wisps of other worldliness, but…it didn’t quite turn out. The AHM is not quite a convincing mesh of band and orchestra as the band and orchestra play around each other, not together. To me, the issue is AHM really acts more as a traditional score/soundtrack rather than a Floyd contemporary reinvention of soundtrack soundscapes into what should have been a major prog opus, but…it needed more (no pun!!). That said convoluted as it’s concept and execution, to my ears, some bits did work out, side two…Summer ’68, Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast…are all sublime slow burners. It’s a record you need to have if you dig seventies era Floyd at all, for experience, it’s a sweet struggle to hear the Floyd moving past Gilmour’s recreation of the world Syd Barrett invented. –Nipper

Crazy Horse “At Crooked Lake” (1972)

I love this record, it skillfully straddles country rock and (something like) power pop without sounding contrived. The songs are uplifting, driving, downright sweet and packed full of harmonies…the album is worth it alone for the lead track “Rock and Roll Band”! And, honestly, for all the Neil Young and Crazy Horse collaborations considered canon, I’d play this before any Neil Young (and Crazy Horse) record. Take a second to swallow/regain your composure…I KNOW, right!? Don’t hate me…but…it’s true!! Crooked Lake is that good. Unfortunately, with member Danny Whitten locked into a downward spiral of booze and pills, from which he would die soon after, this was the last of Crazy Horses LPs before they faded back into their other bands for a bit…Nils Lofgren back to Grin, Nitzsche, back in to production work…and the other core Crazies back with Mr. Young. Crazy Horse wouldn’t reassemble, without Young, until 1978’s Crazy Moon. –Nipper

Emmylou Harris “Elite Hotel” (1975)

Great interpretations of classic country and rock songs by the rare singer who’s voice matches up to her physical beauty. Backed by the excellent Hot Band, Emmylou exudes a sort of dewy innocence, even when singing world-weary songs of heartache and drinking. It makes the sadness all the more palpable, because you want such purity sheltered from the evils of the world. –Lucas

Big Star “#1 Record” (1972)

A shimmering, exciting record that captures pop’s innocence, hints at rock’s degradation, and mines melody for all it’s worth, this is the gold standard by which all so-called power pop would be measured. The only group I know of to convincingly meld the Beatles, Byrds, and Rolling Stones to create something wholly new, this has been worshipped by hipsters for years and influenced countless great bands… but in a just world, the three original Big Star albums would be at least as famous as the aforementioned bands’ classics. Perhaps it’s just too skewed to register in the popular psyche. The harmonies are unconventional, the guitar attack hard but never wanky, the ballads emotionally complex.

Big Star’s Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were music lovers above all, and wrote music that celebrates itself above all. Each song is distinct, filled out to the appropriate shape, never overstepping and never failing to follow a hook where it might go. It’s the kind of debut album most groups would kill to have for a career’s greatest hits package. –Will

R.I.P. Alex Chilton (1950-2010)