Neverending Randomplay #211-#220
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly Wednesday night/Thursday AM feature in which I let my J-River Media Center choose what we get listen to. My collection currently stands at 18,346 titles. The lion's share are rock of all genres, with a mix of pop, blues, country, pre-rock, jazz, reggae, soul, electronic, avant-garde, hip-hop, rap, bluegrass, trance, Afrobeat, J-Pop, trip-hop, lounge, worldbeat, commercial jingles, etc. filling it out. I don't influence the track selection in any way; whatever comes up, comes up. Jam Tags, 1-5 stars, follow each track. iTunes links, when available, are included for your convenience.
211. Roxy Music: Avalon ***** iTunes
"Avalon" is a lush, slow, elegant, and sensual piece of sophisticated synth-pop that's pretty hard to resist; it may well be one of the most romantic tunes on the 1980's. Dominated by Bryan Ferry's croon, which sounds eerily like David Byrne minus any hint of irony, as well as his own synthesizer playing, and Andy Mackay's atmospheric saxophone, this is mood music for pop sophisticates. It also was a considerably change in direction for the band, whose 1970's art-rock had become fairly obsolete by the time "Avalon" was released in 1982. This change was probably dictated by commercial concerns as well as creative ones; the band's previous album, Flesh + Blood represented a significant tailoff in sales for the band in 1980. This change was controversial among the band's core fans, and didn't necessarily help sales, although it did gain Roxy Music some listeners who had failed to connect with their more experimental offerings. The band released one more studio album in 1983 before breaking up; Bryan Ferry then focused on his solo career, which he had maintained during most of Roxy Music's existence.
212. Love: My Little Red Book ***** iTunes
"My Little Red Book" the leadoff cut from their 1966 self-titled debut and a #52 single in its own right is a Burt Bacharach/Hal David tune given a punky, garage-band style workout. A classic example of the convergence of garage, folk-rock, and psychedelic rock, "My Little Red Book" gets much of its power from an incessant bassline and semi-fuzzed lead guitar; Arthur Lee's vocals are expressive but tough and the whole recording has a direct and spare sound that rattles by at an economical 2:34. Most of Love's first album is in a similar vein; their next two albums would feature more elaborate, ornate, and psychedelic arrangements with strings and horns. While those later albums generally received better reviews, the debut remains the favorite of garage band aficianados for its relative lack of pretension. Love is one of the fairly unsung heroes of the 1960's; they disbanded in 1970 and aren't well remembered these days. They deserve better; their sound was wholly their own, and stands up well against classic bands of the era.
213. Alan Jackson: Where I Come From **** iTunes
Alan Jackson was the second most popular male country artist of the 1990's behind Garth Brooks. "Where I Come From" was a #1 country hit in 2000, from his #1 country album "When Somebody Loves You". It's the type of tune that probably won't appeal to many Northern urban rock fans; with its familiar themes of being a working class redneck and proud of it, and how no place measures up to good old home, it displays a lot of the smug and vaguely paranoid themes that often turn-off the non-country crowd. However, as a country tune, it also displays a certain homespun wit and charm. It's a pretty slick recording; while Jackson is generally a traditionalist, he's not above taking an overtly commercial approach to his music. But there are interesting touches, like the Jew's harp in the background, and some good guitar that recalls ZZ Top to an extent. If you like modern country, you'll probably like this. If you don't, this'll be an acquired taste at best. Now that Garth Brooks is only selling his new album through Wal-Mart, Jackson may well currently be the top male country artist of all.
214. Everly Brothers: Let It Be Me ****
Written by Gilbert Becaud/Mann Curtis/Pierre Delanoe, "Let It Be Me", from 1960, is one of the Everly Brothers' most tender heartache ballads. Boasting a lovely melody, very sweet sounding chord changes, and some of the brothers' most delicate vocals, it is an unabashedly pretty and wistful tune. Its ultra-sweet string arrangement and naive lyrics aren't going to make this something a lot of people under 60 are going to listen to, but fans of the duo consider this among their best ballads, and a remarkable number of performers have covered it, including Elvis Presley, Nina Simone, Indigo Girls, Dave Edmunds, and many others. Included on arguably the best Everly Brothers album, The Fabulous Style of the Everly Brothers, it is among good company, including "All I Have To Do Is Dream" and "Devoted To You". The duo would switch to Warner Brothers the following year and see their sales taper off; the brothers had an acrimonious breakup in 1973, although they patched things up enough to resume playing together in 1983. Their last studio album appeared in 1989.
215. Canned Heat: Don't Know Where She Went (She Split) ****
Originally broadcast on the syndicated radio program the King Biscuit Flower Hour, this recording was recorded at the Woodstock 10th anniversary concert held September 7, 1979, in Brookhaven, NY. Canned Heat was an unlucky band; both of its leaders Alan Wilson and Bob "The Bear" Hite died young, and while versions of Canned Heat tour to this day, byzantine lineup changes make it the same band in name only. In 1979, Hite was still alive and in the band, which also still included Larry Taylor on bass and Adolfo "Fito" de la Parra on drums, plus newer members Mike "Hollywood Fats" Mann on guitar and Jay Spell on piano. "Don't Know Where She Went (She Split)" is a great piece of stomping barroom blues, with tight playing from the band; Mann in particular plays a blistering lead on this rendition. Sadly, Hite would soon be gone, dying of a heart attack in 1981. King Biscuit Flower Hour is probably the very best document of Hite's last days; it's a party from start to finish.
216. Jesse Winchester: Yankee Lady ****
Shreveport, LA-born Jesse Winchester was originally best known for evading the Vietnam War draft; after getting his notice in 1967, he uncerimoniously fled to Montreal, Canada. There, he met Robbie Robertson who helped him launch his career. A solid singer/songwriter, he didn't become a household name largely because his draft status made him unable to tour (or even enter) the U.S. "Yankee Lady" is the best known track from his 1970 debut, and features Robertson and Levon Helm (on mandolin). It's a good track, displaying much of the timeless quality the Band always conjured up, and Winchester's expressive voice is distinct enough to give this an added texture beyond usual singer/songwriter fare. Winchester became a Canadian citizen in 1973, and ultimately was allowed to re-enter the U.S. after President Carter granted amnesty to draft evaders in 1977. By then, his career had largely stalled, although he has a small cult of fans to this day.
217. John Denver: Mr. Bojangles *** iTunes
This oft-covered song was originally written by singer songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, and was popularized through the giant hit version by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. John Denver gives it a solemn, straight reading here, with minimal instrumentation and an emphasis on the lyrics. While there's nothing really wrong with Denver's version, there's nothing especially right about it; fans of his will appreciate it, non-fans will yawn. The song is taken from one of Denver's least-selling and most unusual albums, Whose Garden Was This from 1970. At this stage in his career, Denver hadn't yet had a hit of his own, although Peter Paul and Mary had just gotten him on the map with a cover of his "Leaving On A Jet Plane". Whose Garden Was This, his third album, consists almost exclusively cover versions of The Beatles, The Band, Tom Paxton, and a couple of others; it's a rarity now. Denver's career would pick up the following year with his #2 hit, "Take Me Home, Country Roads"
218. Badfinger: Keep Believing ****
"Keep Believing" was part of the tragically ill-fated Badfinger album Head First, recorded in 1974 and unreleased until 2000. Badfinger had been signed to Warner Brothers following their five albums (one as The Iveys) with Apple records; shortly after their second album for Warners, Wish You Were Here, was released it was discovered that the band's money, which had been placed in escrow, was gone. The likely culprit was the band's management, and when it was discovered, a flurry of lawsuits flew in all directions. Warners responded by yanking their album from record stores right when it was on the verge of breaking through. Guitarist Joey Molland quit in disgust at this point, and the remaining trio hired singer/keyboardist Bob Jackson to take his place. In an attempt to keep up their end of the bargain, the broke band recorded Head First, which Warner's refused to release. Despondant, bankrupt, and with a child on the way, group leader Peter Ham hung himself in his garage in April 1975. This bit of history makes the oddly optimistic "Keep Believing" which features nice harmonies with Tom Evans (who also hung himself in 1983) particularly difficult to listen to, although it is a fine song. Head First was finally released in 2000 by Artisan/Snapper Music Group.
219. Belly: Dusted **** iTunes
Belly's first album was an excellent one and generated a lot of buzz. Formed by Tanya Donnely (ex-Throwing Muses) in 1992, after a brief stint in The Breeders, Star featured guitar-driven hard rock hooks with bizarre, off-the-wall lyrics that recalls both of her previous bands to a degree, but also had a sound of its own, which incorporated some of the textures of dream pop. Also in the band were fellow ex-Throwing Muse Fred Abong on bass, and brothers Chris Gorman (drums) and his brother Tom Gorman on guitar. Star went gold and generally received very positive notice, but for reasons that remain unclear, their Very good second album was largely ignored and the band broke up in 1996. "Dusted" is fairly arresting from the start, with Gorman's guitar slicing through Donnely's airy vocal with admirable grit.
220. Tricky: Broken Homes ***** iTunes
Tricky was in a bind. As star of Massive Attack's Blue Lines in 1991, he had a hand in one of the all-time essential electronica/trip-hop albums. His 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, established him at the forefront of the trip-hop movement; an almost flawless album of sensual grooves and head music. Like many trip-hop artists, though, Tricky hated the term and the trendiness it implied. He also didn't want to be pigeonholed with the raft of easy-listening trip hop acts that permeated the coffee shops in the mid-90's. So, he set out to dirty things up, adding angular and abrasive textures to his music, making it a challenge instead of easy background music. This is to his credit; his best moments following his debut have been inspired indeed, and he's always remained an interesting performer. However, he's become very uneven and erratic, even his fans get frustrated with him. "Broken Homes", which also features PJ Harvey on vocals, is case in point. From his fourth album, Angels With Dirty Faces, from 1998, it has some of the same smoky, languid, late-night ambience as his classic earlier work, but arts things up with stangely layered backing vocal effects that recall Funkadelic-style gospel, a peculiar, bumpy rhythm, and very little of Tricky himself, who remains behind the controls for the most part. It's an excellent number; one of his best. It also is heads and shoulders better than the worst moments on the album, which make for a singulary rough ride. This is probably what he wanted, but might not be what you want. Still, he's interesting.
Neverending Randomplay is a weekly feature, normally on Wednesday Night/Thursday AM.
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