Friday, July 21, 2017

Daniel Lanois 5: Belladonna

Going on three decades after he’d become, if not a household name, a name that most people might recognize if they looked at some of the CDs in their collection, Daniel Lanois still dabbled in albums of his own music, but good luck knowing what to expect with each.
Belladonna was described in its initial press release as the natural culmination of his work with Brian Eno in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which is a stretch. Outside of occasional wordless vocals, it’s entirely instrumental, but doesn’t have the electronic coldness and distance of Eno’s ambient work. Rather, Lanois works in combos, usually around a standard rhythm section, then treating the sounds afterwards to capture the mood. There’s still distance, but it’s more evocative of a southwestern landscape in North America—or more specifically, Mexico. A dusty scene, if you will, and Eno’s never been dusty.
It’s his album, so he can describe it any way he likes, but different ears react in different ways. For something simply gorgeous, go to “Telco” and “Flametop Green”. If you’re looking for Eno-type sounds, try “Oaxaca” or “Todos Santos”. “The Deadly Nightshade” has treated guitars that remind us of Cluster, and “Desert Rose” manages to recall “Silver Morning” from the Apollo project, thanks to the similar pedal steel. While not always screaming through the mix, that particular instrument is a main element of many of the songs here. To hear what he can do with an instrument most associated with straight country and certain Neil Young albums, cue up “Carla” or “Panorama”. He even pulls in Calexico mariachi on “Agave”.
As he’d begun to do, the credits on Belladonna are slim, with main co-conspirators Brian Blade and Daryl Johnson listed in bold, and a few other familiar folks added on, like pianist Brad Mehldau, Malcolm Burn, and Bill Dillon. The album was certainly compiled over time, rather than in concentrated sessions, but it holds together as a mood, either at night or while driving for miles on abandoned highways. They’re mostly brief sketches, averaging two to three minutes, but worthy of immersion.

Daniel Lanois Belladonna (2005)—3

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bad Company 8: Live 1977 & 1979

As good (or bad) as their records were, Bad Company was also designed to be a live band, and dutifully toured in support of each of those albums. Onstage, Paul Rodgers’ shirtless, hairy magnetism was able to reach the back rows of the arenas, and one only need to see Jason Lee’s character in Almost Famous to get an inkling of the appeal.
For many years, the only BadCo live recordings were of the later incarnations with different members, and the only ones featuring the classic lineup were from this century. That finally changed for a double-disc set that presented two complete-ish shows from the Burnin’ Sky and Desolation Angels tours. As each set relies on the most recent album, there’s surprisingly little overlap. Outside of an indexed drum solo on each disc, the repeats are limited to “Shooting Star”, one of which changes Johnny’s first Beatles song to “Here Comes The Sun”, and “Feel Like Makin’ Love”; both easily the band’s most overplayed songs.
In this context, even the Burnin’ Sky tracks get a little more life on a Texas stage, but you can practically feel the footsteps of the crowd heading to the bathroom during the slower songs. The London show is distinguished by the addition of keyboards, and some really rough harmonies on “Gone, Gone, Gone”. There is a slight detour to a Washington, D.C. show for a rip through the Hendrix version of “Hey Joe”, and interestingly, Mick Ralphs does most of the onstage patter.
Live 1977 & 1979 is a great addition to your shelf if you adore every one of the original six albums and just have to have more. Or, if you’ve seen any of the recent incarnations of the band, with or without Paul Rodgers or the late Boz Burrell, this could remind you what still makes them such a draw today.

Bad Company Live 1977 & 1979 (2016)—3

Friday, July 14, 2017

Jeff Beck 4: Jeff Beck Group

Jeff managed to keep the same band together for consecutive albums, and perhaps that time spent together helped the next album come together better. Prominently featuring an orange on both front and back covers for some reason, the simply titled Jeff Beck Group was recorded in Memphis with the legendary Steve Cropper producing, which probably also had a lot to do with its cohesion.
For a start, the guitar drives most of the proceedings, whether slide or wah-wah, layered where needed with different effects. When combined with straight piano, it brings to mind some of the high points of Beck-Ola; when it’s an electric piano, we’re reminded that this is Max Middleton. Bob Tench is still the singer, and gets the task of layering his own contributions in startling variations. (The female backup singers are uncredited.)
After the opening swamp boogie “Ice Cream Cakes”, covers dominate, from a boogie-flavored take on “Glad All Over” (the Carl Perkins tune, not the Dave Clark Five smash) that screams for Rod Stewart to the surprisingly soulful rejig of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”. The producer didn’t play any guitar, but co-wrote “Sugar Cane” with Beck, which begins promisingly as an instrumental, but soon gains lyrics. However, “I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” is taken from a Motown torcher to a showcase for Beck with no vocals—and is that a Coral sitar?
Side two simply builds from there. Tench doesn’t do much outside the box on “Going Down”, letting the band plow through a powerful performance of a recent Freddie King hit. The Motown influence continues on “I Gotta Have A Song”, a recent Stevie Wonder album track and B-side, and another harbinger of music to come. “Highways” finds peaks and valleys in unexpected changes, taking several extended solos, while the gorgeous “Definitely Maybe” opens with twin slide leads in harmony, and follows Beck around the neck, frustratingly fading after only five minutes amid an electric piano solo.
Given its tempered emphasis on vocals, Jeff Beck Group is proof that the guitarist didn’t necessarily need a singer in his band, but apparently he wasn’t ready to go all instrumental yet. Nor was he completely thrilled with this incarnation, as he started over with a different rhythm section within months of the album’s release.

Jeff Beck Group Jeff Beck Group (1972)—3

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Yardbirds 2: Live Yardbirds

Once Led Zeppelin had become a worldwide sensation, Epic Records realized they had a live recording of the Yardbirds’ final incarnation as a quartet from 1968 sitting in their vaults. After beefing up the mix with unconvincing audience atmosphere (according to legend, from a sound effects LP featuring ambience from a bullfight), the concert was released as Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page, to the guitarist’s immediate displeasure—partially because the fourth Zep LP was due out shortly. This and any subsequent reissues were quickly recalled, making actual copies rare, but commonly pirated and bootlegged. It’s a shame, because what one can hear of the show is quite entertaining, the band mixing some of their hits with a couple of tunes from the recent flop Little Games.
Beginning with a welcome from singer Keith Relf and a riff soon famous from “Dazed And Confused”, they plow through “Train Kept A-Rollin’”, then manage to make a medley out of “You’re A Better Man Than I” and “Heart Full Of Soul”. What comes next is likely what most worried Page: the Yardbirds version of a song they then called “I’m Confused” to differentiate it from the song it was stolen from, but still maintaining many of the elements of the track that would close side one of the first Zeppelin album. “My Baby” was a mild hit a couple of years earlier for soul shouter Garnet Mimms, and would be later recorded by Janis Joplin; here it’s an exercise in staying in sync with the time changes.
Relf asks the crowd to help out with the “heys” on “Over Under Sideways Down”; whether they comply is hard to tell under all the fake applause. “Drinking Muddy Water” is prefaced by an explanation of the detuned guitar, and a similar boast sets up “Shapes Of Things”, wherein Page replicates Jeff Beck’s original solo while sneaking in his own flourishes. He plays “White Summer” mostly by himself, the rhythm section joining in ably here and there. Finally, “I’m A Man” is dragged out to twelve minutes, incorporating the riff from “Over Under Sideways Down” and a violin bow solo, and Relf muttering some mystical lyrics (“Deep within the turning sands of inspiration…”?) before the drone goes back to the main riff via a detour that today sounds like parts of “How Many More Times”.
Jimmy Page supposedly has the master tapes of this show in his possession, and considering how he managed to expand the Zeppelin catalog in record time, it would be nice to have an officially restored version of the album without the extra sound effects. Besides being historic, captured a mere five months before Led Zeppelin as we know it was formed, it’s a fine showcase for the man Keith Relf dubbed “Jimmy Magic Fingers, the Grand Sorcerer of the Magic Guitar.” The band was pretty good, too.

The Yardbirds Live Yardbirds! Featuring Jimmy Page (1971)—3
Current availability: none

Friday, July 7, 2017

Pretenders 8: The Isle Of View

Having returned to the charts, Chrissie Hynde and her latest Pretenders lineup were in prime position to be tapped for an “unplugged” television show. They could have simply played the songs acoustically, but instead, the band chose to be joined throughout on most songs by a string quartet. They also set up in the round, playing to each other, while the audience looked on from a distance.
Both the TV show and subsequent album were given the punning title The Isle Of View, though the sequences aren’t identical, and the CD doesn’t include two of the better performances: the recent hit single “Night In My Veins” and her cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”. (As for the “title track”, it’s merely a brief lush instrumental by the quartet with seaside effects, stuck at the end of the disc.)
Those omissions aside, it’s a very entertaining listen, touching on every one of the albums in equal measure, and not always relying on the more familiar ones. “Sense Of Purpose” and “Criminal” are rescued from the obscurity of Packed!, just as “Chill Factor” is better served in this format than the faux-soul of Get Close. “Kid” is slowed down to a near-lullaby, while “The Phone Call” maintains its broken-leg menace. Damon Albarn, then riding high with Blur, is trotted out to play piano on “I Go To Sleep” (take that, Oasis).
The Isle Of View is a good way to spend an hour, and goes a long way to re-establishing Chrissie as both a superb vocalist as well as a songwriter of note. Even better, with her voice up front and the songs given space, it’s possible to finally understand the words to the songs. Some of them, anyway.

Pretenders The Isle Of View (1995)—

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Mott The Hoople 5: All The Young Dudes

The legend is usually more interesting than the truth, and this very much applies to the phoenix-like return of Mott The Hoople. Having become frustrated with their career path to date, the band grumbled to David Bowie, then having just exploded with the Ziggy Stardust album. He gave them a little song called “All The Young Dudes”, and Mott followed the demo to the note, but with the key embellishment of Ian Hunter’s asides during the choruses and over the fadeout. Suddenly they had a hit, were mistakenly labeled glam rock, and saw their ensuing fifth album, produced by Bowie, become a major worldwide smash.
The thing is, if not for the lead vocals, All The Young Dudes sounds more like a Bowie album than a Mott album. For one thing, the producer insisted on adding his own saxophone honking throughout. Also, his backing vocals are unmistakable, as are the synched acoustic and electric rhythm touches. The string arrangements are better matched to his albums, or even Lou Reed’s Transformer, Bowie’s other grand resuscitative gesture that year. Just to muddle the lineage, the album opens with their own tame cover of “Sweet Jane”.
Things get back to the Stonesy crunch for “Momma’s Little Jewel” and “Jerkin’ Crocus”. “Sucker” has potential, but again, belies the Bowie touch. “One Of The Boys” takes a while to get rolling, bracketed by a ringing telephone for some reason, and features a riff that Mick Ralphs would soon recycle for the opener on the first Bad Company album. Speaking of which, “Ready For Love” appears here, in a too-long version that entails both an alternate chorus and the subtitle “After Lights”. Despite the ill-advised strings, “Sea Diver” is another Ian Hunter weepie, and welcome to these ears.
The title track notwithstanding, and Verden Allen’s lead vocal on “Soft Ground” conjuring Bon Scott at his wackiest, All The Young Dudes is at its best whenever his wheezing organ dominates the mix. After all, a band’s biggest hit isn’t necessarily its best album. (For a wider picture, the eventual expanded CD added some early Bowie-less rough drafts, a couple of live versions from a year after the album was released, and an alternate mix of the hit single with Bowie himself singing the verses against Ian’s usual chorus.) At least Mott was given a chance to keep going, and they would, and did.

Mott The Hoople All The Young Dudes (1972)—3
2006 remastered expanded CD: same as 1972, plus 7 extra tracks