Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peter Tosh Equal Rights 1977

Anybody can make a list. Top ten, even top five (which is clearly a better choice than ten). I'm talking about going out on a limb here. Best Reggae record ever.

Now I know I should pick a Marley album, although for me number two is probably The Heptones Night Food, then maybe either a Marley record or Bunny Wailer's Blackheart Man. But when it comes right down to a perfect example of the Reggae form, Peter Tosh's Equal Rights is the bomb.

It opens with Tosh's version of Get Up, Stand Up, and this version wins on perfect hypnotic reggae rhythm and Tosh's soulful baritone. Downpressor Man follows, and it's another deep groove. I Am That I Am does it again, and then Stepping Razor finishes side one with an incredible quick-paced reggae with a threatening lyric that Tosh dares you not to believe, over a rhythm laid down by Sly and Robbie that is sheer perfection. "If you wanna live, treat me good, I'm like a stepping razor, I'm dangerous."

Side two breaks with Equal Rights, a slow jam with a fine political message, and another deep groove. The thing that makes this record so good is the instrumentation and the abundant talent and focus of the players. Tosh seems to evoke inspired performances from the entire troupe, and the little percussion effects everywhere and harmonies add layers on top of the already thick reggae stew. The band is built around Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare's rhythm, with Al Anderson's guitar and Tyrone Downie's keyboards, and Bunny Wailer singing backups. Skully's additional percussion is perfect. African, Jah Guide, and Apartheid all continue the high quality (and politically charged) songwriting, singing and musicianship, making this a rare Reggae (or any other genre) record indeed, without a single weak track.

The grooves are as deep as James Brown's funk at it's seventies best. The recording is super. The sound is great. Tosh made some great records after this, and before with the Wailers, but this is the pinnacle of his work, and at least in my view, the best Reggae record ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Trout Mask Replica Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band 1969

Over at My Husband's Stupid Record Collection, Sarah has gotten to Trout Mask Replica, the poor girl. There has been so much written about this record, and its genius, it is really very hard to believe.

I don't have much to add. If this record is a monumental leap forward into deconstructed, Dada-esque noise rock, so be it. That doesn't make it listenable, even as an academic study.

If it is a masterpiece, I don't get it. This can happen with any art form, and even within the music domain, there are other masterworks that elude my understanding.

Here's my take. The singer isn't very good. The rhythms change so often and so shockingly that they are almost impossible to keep up with, leaving the listener without an actual rhythm to follow. Forget melody. There are some, but they are unconventional at best. It might be hard to play music this bad, but I'm still unimpressed.

The best use of this record is to polarize people who are interested in music. Somewhere between "If you understood this music better you could appreciate it", and "Turn that crap off" lies the truth. Me, I turned that crap off a long time ago.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

David Crosby If Only I Could Remember My Name... 1971

David Crosby's solo debut has been hailed as a classic despite it's tepid initial sales and lackluster reviews. Today it stands as worthy, in some ways, of both the hype and the detractors.

There are vocal harmonies to die for, with Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell standing out. A fine blend of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Santana members providing solid backing and a few great jams. There's Crosby's writing, and this record contains examples of his better work, as well as some of the more slight. Dead-styled jams with a particularly hot Jorma Kaukonen, and Crosby's own rhythm guitar style that is at least unique, and perhaps also outstanding, and which frequently defines the jammy songs. Trippy, wordless vocals on two whole songs.

It is very much of it's time today. But if you can get through Music Is Love's sappy sentiment, and you should, because the vocals and the arrangement are spectacular, then the rest of side one is solid. Side two is hard to take by most standards. There are of course beautiful vocals, but in the service of pretty weak material.

So one great side. Not bad, really, but not quite a classic. It was very well made, and the recording is very nice. And Crosby is an exceptional singer. The good stuff is worth it, at least for some. And then there's that rare mix of Garcia and Kaukonen playing guitar together.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Spinning (45 rpm) Vinyl

The other night, as I am wont to do, I sat down, turned it up, and listened to music on vinyl. The first song was James Brown's Funky Drummer, the nine-minute extended version from In A Jungle
Groove 1986. The next thing that caught my eye was an XTC 45 rpm single of Senses Working Overtime and an unusually funky Egyptian Solution (homo safari series no. 3), which finds a unique cross-roads between James Brown and Can. Since the turntable was set for 45, I sought out selections in the format.

If LPs sound better than CDs (and they do), then 45 rpm is better still. Compared to LP, the fidelity of 45 is very high, sort of like red-book CD compared to SACD, DVD-A, or high-resolution files, all of which have the potential to sound just as good as analog.

Next up was Stevie Ray Vaughn's Pride And Joy from the Analog Productions pressing of a Canadian TV special performance with Albert King. Super-hot performance made even better by a fine recording. After that were several cuts from The Anthony Wilson Trio's Jack Of Hearts. Wilson has released most of his records on vinyl, and several of them, like this, in 45 rpm. Wilson is a fantastic guitar player and is always surrounded by only the best support. Groove Note's pressing on fat slabs of vinyl sounds incredible.

After that, it was 7-inch singles. Revolution by The Beatles (wow), the Supremes' You Can't Hurry Love by the Stray Cats (the b-side of Rock This Town), John Lennon's Stand By Me (a superb Japanese pressing), and an early Nick Lowe single of Goffin and King's girl-group
classic Halfway To Paradise, which is both funny and perfect. Graham Parker's live White Honey and Soul Shoes from the Hold Back The Night single followed, and then Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' I Just Dropped In To See What Condition My Condition Is In. Oh yeah, today's finest soul outfit takes on Kenny Rodger's foray into psychedelic music. Priceless.

I don't own many seven-inch singles, or many 45 rpm twelve-inch LPs like the Albert King or the Anthony Wilson, but they sure are fun to hear. I don't want to hear great recordings of mediocre performances, but all of the above are great performances made all the better by quality sound.

Friday, June 20, 2014

NRBQ, Beachland Ballroom, June 19, 2014

This is the newest iteration of NRBQ with founder and keyboardist Terry Adams, guitarist Scott Ligon, bassist Casey McDonough and drummer Conrad Choucroun. I was skeptical, but other than Joey Spampinato's sweet voice, this version of the band lacks nothing up against the post-1994 line-up.

And they were a blast. The show's first hour was heavy on songs from their new release Brass Tacks, and based on this show, it might just be a fine record. The second half was a non-stop romp through the classic NRBQ songbook. Choucroun and McDonough laid down a sold rhythm, and Ligon knows his way around the Telecaster, and is a talented singer and songwriter. And then there's Terry Adams. He's crazy, funny, and a great showman. He's also the best rock and roll keyboard player on the planet. The guitar-like tone he gets from his clavinet and his jazz approach are like no one else. No one ever.

I'll always miss those awful Tommy Ardolino vocal appearances, rest his soul. I wasn't sure Adams should have revived the NRBQ name, but they do the legacy proud.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Analog vs. Digital

I've waxed on this issue several times before, but I can't say I've allowed myself the extemporaneous approach deserved by this topic.

I was really P.O.ed when I recently found out that they released the Beatles In Mono on vinyl, cut from the original analog tape masters. I already bought the damn CDs. I just knew they'd do it. Why didn't I wait?

My CD player has been being repaired off and on for two months, so I've spent plenty of time with vinyl recently. I can play CDs on the Marantz CD Recorder, but the Cambridge Audio 840 C is sorely missed for it's sweet, almost analog-like up-sampled sound, and it's DAC functions that make the iPod sound like a true source component.

I'm surprised to say that my stereo consists of the same stuff it did almost five years ago. I really like the equipment I've got. What more do I need? I'm looking at a possible turntable upgrade.
I can barely tolerate listening to music on any mP3 format. Even the "improved" mP3 on iTunes. CD quality varies dramatically depending on engineer, recording, mixing and mastering. Some "Red Book" CDs can be very excellent in their sound, but they rarely rival the vinyl, if there is also a vinyl pressing.

I had a SACD player for a while, and I liked hi-res. Blue-Ray and DVD-A offer similar potential. Hi-res downloads are widely available. I can't really download at speeds commensurate with hi-res audio, and frankly, I have plenty of source material.

I don't care at all about more than two channels.

I think tube amps sound better than solid state, everything else remaining equal. Vinyl over any digital format.

Crap. I might even end up with a phone before it's over.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Utopia Another Live 1975

Rundgren used Utopia for his more prog leanings, especially early on. This, their second release, includes three new songs on side one and a few hits and covers on side two. This early version of the band includes three keyboardists, and is quite different from the four-piece outfit that Utopia would become.

The new songs all feature Todd's spiritual/searching lyrics; reincarnation, karma, and enlightenment. Another Life kicks things off with an impressive jazz-rock-prog-fusion display of complex arrangement and skilled playing. The Wheel follows, an acoustic number with folk leanings, featuring a sweet melody and Roger Powell's trumpet. The Seven Rays ends the first side, and is a keyboard-heavy rock anthem with crazy time signatures and turn-on-a-dime changes reminiscent of Yes, or even Zappa.

Side two opens with more prog-jazz and fine keyboard and guitar interplay on Intro/Mister Triscuits. Then comes the fast and furious Something's Coming (from West Side Story), and it is a good version of the Bernstein/Sondheim classic. Heavy Metal Kids follows, and is a perfectly good take on one of Todd's lesser songwriting efforts. The band then does a passable cover of the Move's Do Ya, and closes the set with Just One Victory, a perfect show closer, even if it is bettered by the original on A Wizard/A True Star.

Not a great record by any measure, but one of the better Utopia outings. There are some fine moments, most notably Another Life and The Wheel.