Music Consumption in the MP3 Era
Music Consumption in the MP3 Era

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Saturday, April 01, 2006
 

Weekend Reissue Roundup #39 04/01/2006

Mott the Hoople: The Hoople (1974)   Pete Townshend: Empty Glass (1980)   LaVern Baker: Jim Dandy (2006)   Dave Mason: Alone Together (1970)


Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars

Mott the Hoople: The Hoople (BMG International, March 28, 2006) ****
Pete Townshend: Empty Glass (Revisited, March 28, 2006) ****
LaVern Baker: Jim Dandy (Collectables, March 28, 2006) ****
Dave Mason: Alone Together (Universal Japan, April 4, 2006) ****

Mott the Hoople: The Hoople
Mott the Hoople: The Hoople (1974)
This 1974 release marked a turning point for the influential glam-rock/hard rock Mott the Hoople, and unfortunately it was a turn towards decline and dissolution. Not that there's anything really wrong with The Hoople; while it was a comedown from the 1973 Mott, which was their most realized album, and the 1972 All The Young Dudes, which was their most commercially successful, it still holds together fairly well as an album, and includes such undeniable classics as "Roll Away The Stone" and "Crash Street Kidds". However, guitarist Mick Ralphs had left the band prior to the recording sessions to join Bad Company, and his absence is felt. Ian Hunter dominates this album to a degree that had been previously impossible, and frankly he didn't have enough solid material to stretch over the whole album. New guitarist Ariel Bender brought an agreeable glam-rock trashiness to the band, but had none of Ralphs' swaggering hard-rock chops that he had brought to earlier classics like "Ready For Love". Still, there's plenty here to enjoy, like the meaty faux-50's spectacle of "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll", bassist Overend Watts' crunching "Born Late '58", and Hunter's delicate Dylanesque "Trudi's Song". A lot of the filler really sounds like filler, although "Through The Looking Glass" has an agreeable soft-to-grand buildup. Tacked on at the end are three singles from the Ariel Bender era, the best of which is the strangely Spector-esque "Foxy Foxy". Mott the Hoople is a band that is not best experienced via compilations, so newcomers might want to try All The Young Dudes and Mott first (or the earlier Mad Shadows or Brain Capers, recorded before David Bowie helped reinvent their sound). But if you've got those, The Hoople is worth adding to the collection. Following the release of The Hoople, Hunter brought Mick Ronson into the band to play guitar, and the two of them departed shortly after to work on Hunter's 1975 solo debut. Mott the Hoople lurched on for two more albums without Hunter: Drive On in 1975 and Shouting and Pointing in 1976; both are justifiably forgotten.

Pete Townshend: Empty Glass
Pete Townshend: Empty Glass (1980)
Few fans realized it in 1980, but Pete Townshend's solo album, Empty Glass, marked both a particularly desperate moment in the man's life, and also arguably marked the end of Townshend's career as "vital" rock star, a tag he was bestowed with in the late 70's. It was the first new material to appear from a Who member in the wake of Keith Moon's death, and was recorded while Townshend himself was struggling with alcohol and cocaine issues. It isn't a Who record; while half of the songs could conceivably been sung by Roger Daltrey, half were particularly personal songs that benefit from Townshend's thin, homely voice. The album contained two excellent singles; the homoerotic "Rough Boys", one of Townshend's best ever uptempo guitar riff rockers, and the more reflective keyboard-based "Let My Love Open The Door", which sounded very much like what the next Who album, Face Dances, would sound like. "Gonna Get Ya" is a primo piece of strutting hard rock combined with art-rock flourishes; "A Little Is Enough" opens with one of the most lovely synthesizer intros ever laid to wax and benefits from a touchingly humble vocal. The rest of it is pretty good; even the minor songs on the album have hooks and stand out in their own way. There is no more personal Townshend album, with or without the band. Unfortunately, the next two Who albums were greeted as disappointments, and Townshend's solo career has been a wildly erratic one with more downs than ups, and ever-dwindling sales. So in retrospect, Empty Glass really was a milestone in Townshend's career; one he's never really been able to match ever since. Recommended to all Who fans; however the album is a lot less "vital" than it seemed at the time.

LaVern Baker: Jim Dandy
LaVern Baker: Jim Dandy (2006)
If the name "Jim Dandy" rings a bell, it may be as the name of the lead singer of 70's southern rock band Black Oak Arkansas, who had a minor hit with their version of LaVern Baker's "Jim Dandy". Baker was an integral figure in the early days of rock 'n' roll; her red hot mama voice ignited a bunch of great singles, all recorded in a jump blues/r&b style. This quicky 10-cut compilation on Collectables, which clocks in at well under half an hour, is probably as good a quick introduction to Baker as any other. "Jim Dandy" is here in all its smoking rhythmic glory, and the other nuggets here are worth the low price of admission. Everything here is from her mid-late 1950's peak at Atlantic records; good ones include the novelty "Tweedle Dee", a fine showcase for her voice, the slow and romantic torch blues "I Cried A Tear", and the slinky "Play It Fair". "Jim Dandy" gets a reprise in "Jim Dandy Got Married". "Tomorrow Night" has a sleepy late night vibe. Most of these songs made the top 10 on the Black Charts, although her pop success was limited to three top-20 singles. Baker was a regular on the Ed Sullivan show in the 50's, and later traveled to Vietnam to entertain troops in the 1960's. She died in 1997.

Dave Mason: Alone Together
Dave Mason: Alone Together (1970)
At the time of the 1970 release of his solo debut, Dave Mason was one of the most prominent names in rock. As a key member of Traffic, and Delaney and Bonnie, he rubbed shoulders with some heavy hitters, from Eric Clapton to George Harrison to Joe Cocker to Steve Winwood. Alone Together has no shortage of all-star guests; Delaney and Bonnie are on it, as are John Barbata, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner, Jim Capaldi, and other familiar faces from the Delaney and Bonnie/Leon Russell/Joe Cocker axis. In many respects it sounds like an early 70's Eric Clapton record, except with more Traffic-style jamming. While Mason's voice isn't the greatest, it's no worse than Clapton's and he is capable of a little soulfulness. The songwriting ranges from good to very good, and there's no question the assemblage of talent can play their instruments. So why has this album, which peaked at #22 and received generally good reviews, fallen off the radar, just as Mason's career did long ago? Hard to say; Mason plays a mean guitar and the familiar "Only You Know and I Know" isn't even the best thing here. The Capaldi-Mason "Look at You, Look At Me" is a fiery closer, and most of what comes between is varied and rich. Perhaps the problem is the lack of a distinctive character; it sounds like it could have been made by any of the Delaney and Bonnie extended family with the same amalgamation of superstars. Mason's subsequent solo work in the 1970's sold fewer copies each time out; by 1980 his career had dried up, except for a beer ad and a short stint in Fleetwood Mac in the 90's. Still, it's a fine album for what it is, and they don't make 'em like this anymore.

Also out this week: Pete Townshend's spotty-but-good 1977 album with Ronnie Lane of the Faces, Rough Mix, and his odds-and-sods collection of demoes, Scoop, on Revisited; the career-spanning Essential Roy Orbison which suffers from the inclusion of a couple of inferior takes but is still worthwhile, on Sony; Earth Wind and Fire's mediocre 1993 offering Millennium, on Collectables; and a trio of ABBA albums, ABBA (1975), Arrival (1977), and The Album (1978), as a three-fer called Chronicles on Polydor.


     

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