Sunday, February 3, 2019

Mighty Diamonds Right Time 1976

For many years, I carried around a little piece of paper in my wallet that had the names of vinyl records I wanted to purchase should I ever come across them. It was a swell thing to have with you when you stumbled across a record store unexpectedly. A guy just can't trust important stuff like that to memory.

I don't have that piece of paper any more. I've collected most of what I really want, and if I find something by happenstance and I'm in the mood, I've got a new record. The final iteration of The Vinyl List that I did carry had two records on it. One was Sarah Vaughn's 1954 gem Featuring Clifford Brown, which I finally broke down and bought on CD. The other record that had languished on the list for years was Right Time. I even bought Ice On Fire, the mostly disastrous 1977 follow-up that found the Mighty Diamonds trying to commercialize their reggae with producer Allen Toussaint. That was enough of a disappointment I wasn't even sure I needed Right Time. I was mistaken.

So as the list was being discarded, I found a copy of Right Time at one of the many online used vinyl retailers. And I ordered it, and it is one of the best reggae albums of all time, a classic of the genre, a must for reggae fans. I was much more of a reggae fan forty years ago than I am today. I liked Marley and the Wailers, The Heptones, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and Soul Syndicate. Today I still like the music, but the genre does seem to have it's limitations, and variability can be lacking.

This one is as good as reggae music gets, hands down. The Mighty Diamonds highly politicized lyrics, pristine harmonies, and solid backing (Sly and Robbie holding down the rhythm) make for a stellar debut. Their harmonies are as soul-filled as great Motown (similar to the Heptones in that regard), and the lyrics are never throwaways. They tackle the equity issues of Jamaica in the seventies and preach the Rastafarian gospel. And it has that beat. I wrote previously about five great reggae records. Make that six.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Best of 2018

I once again reviewed the many "Best of 2018" lists from many print and internet sources. I went and listened to samples and found what I found last year: I'm old and no longer musically relevant. But if you don't care for Rap, Hip Hop, Nu Soul, and manufactured Pop product, then maybe you'll like some of these. These are all records that I own, and the list doesn't include lots of great stuff I didn't get a chance to hear. But here they are, my favorites from 2018.
Kelly Willis Back Being Blue
Today's best country singer releases yet another stone classic. Great songs, perfect sympathetic arrangements, solid band, beautiful recording. My vote for record of the year.





Boz Scaggs Out Of The Blues
Scaggs continues to impress with his late-career revitalization. This time he does what he does best: smooth voiced blues and R&B with a solid band behind him and great (mostly) new songs.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio Close But No Cigar
Soul-jazz-funk perfection. Brilliant guitarist Jimmy James takes them from very good to excellent. Like Booker T. and the MGs with a large infusion of jazz.


Sloan 12
Canadian Power-popers Sloan continue to make great records twenty-five years in. Nothing fancy, just solid rock and roll songs with a pinch of magic.

Jennifer Warnes Another Time, Another Place
Laid-back beauty. Breathtaking singing. Complementary arrangements. Great songs. Wow.

The Jayhawks Back Roads And Abandoned Motels 
All but two of the songs were written with other artists for various projects. Because of this, the songs are less same-y than most recent Jayhawks fare with Gary Louris doing all the writing. It sounds more like the early years of the band when Mark Olsen shared writing credits.

Robin McKelle Melodic Canvas
Musical chameleon McKelle returns to jazz on this her seventh release. After a career that started with big band jazz and veered into pop and soul, she returns with an intimate jazz recording featuring her own solid songwriting and lovely voice and phrasing.
Kim Richey Edgeland
Always entertaining, Richey gets help from Chuck Profit, Brad Jones, and a stellar supporting cast. None of the all-star help is wasted.
Belly Dove
Twenty years after the break-up they sound like they never left.
JD McPherson Socks
Yes, it's a Christmas record. But McPherson writes a bunch of fun songs and applies the same rockabilly perfection that fills his other records.


Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Zappadan 2018 again The Persuasions Frankly a Capella: the Persuasions Sing Zappa 2000

Zappadan 2018 continues unabated with some fine contributions on YouTube from Rev. Alex DiBlasi who is reviewing a Zappa release each day of this year's celebration, and brilliant Dutchman Fred Handl plays a number of Zappa's compositions on solo piano. Both of them are celebrating the season in high style. There's also more links over at Zappadan.com.

I'm digging out a wacky a Capella tribute to Zappa by The Persuasions. They manage to sing a number of Frank's finest sans musical accompaniment. That's not so hard to believe on Any Way The Wind Blows, Tears Begin To Fall or Electric Aunt Jemima, which lend themselves to do-wop arrangements, but their versions of Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel, Lumpy Gravy and My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Momma are equally fine. Vocalizing many of the instrumental parts, they turn in fascinating renditions and pay loving tribute to the man who signed them to their first record deal in 1969. It is fun and entertaining, and a novel way to hear Zappa. Holiday cheer!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Zappadan 2018 Lumpy Gravy Primordial 2018

Zappadan is a celebration of all things Zappa. It is celebrated from December 4 to December 21 each year. It was originally conceived as a blogswarm, but has moved beyond just the blogosphere to be embraced on other media as well.

Zappadan, as far as I can tell, got started in 2006. The origin may have been The Aristocrats blog (now defunct) or Mark Hoback’s FriedGreen Al-Qaedas blog (still around, but idle since July 2017), or even Blue Gal (currently operating her own blog, The Professional Left podcast, and contributing to Crooks and Liars).

Aaron Pryor at Adventures Into The Well Known is a regular contributor, and has many Zappadan posts. Patrick O’Grady at Mad Dog Media, Brady Bonk at Ketchup Is A Vegetable, the The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing blog all either continue the tradition or have some swell posts in the archive. Mr. Pryor also maintains a blog for referencing more Zappadan info at Zappadan.com

Let's hope this will be a Zappadan filled with miracles for all. We could use a few miracles.
At Zappadan, I have frequently discussed whatever Zappa recordings I've added to the stacks during the previous year. I had come to the conclusion that I pretty much had all the Zappa I needed, and that I certainly didn't need all the posthumous stuff. But last April for Record Store Day, the Zappa family trust issued a mono, vinyl only, 45 rpm 12-inch original version of Lumpy Gravy, which had been released only as a four track tape in 1967. The story goes that Zappa released the tape in August 1967 only to be sued for releasing it on Columbia. By the time Zappa reedited the album for release on Verve, he had added several surf music pieces and spoken word bits and stretched the record to 32 minutes from the original 22 minute tape release.

I always liked Lumpy Gravy's orchestrated works, and was generally annoyed by the surf music and spoken word pieces. Especially the spoken word stuff, which Frank had recorded inside a piano when he discovered something he liked about the sound. He used some of the spoken word bits on multiple other releases over the years.

Now at last was the chance to listen to Frank's first orchestral work as he initially intended it. Yes, he always seemed happy with the record that came out in 1968, but this version is what he first put together, and like many an artist, Frank was not always his own best editor/producer. 

For anyone who likes Zappa's orchestral works, this presentation of this material is a vast improvement over the Lumpy Gravy we've had for the last fifty years. It is just delightful to hear this music without the stuff that got in the way of hearing this music all this time. There is nothing new here; this is the same material without the other stuff tacked on, but it makes such a difference.

More Zappadan over the years here

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Raspberries Raspberries Best 1976

Cleveland's own Raspberries made four pretty good records between 1972 and 1974, and each one had at least one fine single. Considered a band for the past in 1972 with their matching suits and choirboy harmonies, their legacy later placed them squarely ahead of their time before the burgeoning power pop scene. They wanted to rock hard and get singles on the radio.

Today not all of it holds up, and they had a schmaltzy way with a big ballad that singer Eric Carmen would build into a successful solo career. But their best, and this single LP issue mostly got it right, was some fine pop music taken to a grand level.

The hits are all here. The rarefied Go All The Way, the pure Beatles of I Wanna Be With You, and the brilliant arena rock bombast of Overnite Sensation would almost be enough. Add in Tonight's solid power pop, the Beach Boys inspired Drivin' Around and Let's Pretend's rocking harmonies, and you've got a hot collection. The other four songs suffer from too much of one thing or another, but it is a splendid look into an early seventies band that wasn't hippy or heavy or singer-songwriterly folky.

Two guitars bass and drums. Hooks for the choruses, big crunchy riffs for the rockers, and immaculate harmonies. It looks like a magic formula.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Belly Dove 2018

Belly were a fine band that made two excellent records in Star 1993 and King 1995 and then vanished. Tanya Donelly soldiered on as solo artist, and made some good records. But Belly was special. Sweet Ride, a compilation released in 2002, was a splendid swan song.

So now, more than twenty years later, the original line-up reconvenes. There's a fair amount of good news to report, even if this one doesn't quite rise to the level of their 1990s work.

The first four songs hold out the promise of a perfect return to form. Mine kicks things off with big hooks, reverb-drenched vocals, solid guitar and lots of melody. Shiny One keeps it going with razor sharp guitars and a fine arrangement. Human Child is the Big Anthem, and is fine arena rock all the way. The distorted guitars and sunny background vocals of Faceless spell smart music making.

Suffer The Fools and Girl both offer somewhat less magic, and the melodies seem less unique than Donellly's best songs. Then Army Of Clay and Stars Align make a comeback, but not quite all the way. Quicksand is a good ballad with space-y vocals, and Artifact is a strong mid-tempo rocker with steel guitar that's good. But then it ends with not one but two closing ballads, the acoustic Heartstrings and Staryeyed that sound like some of Donelly's recent solo work, but not so much like Belly.

If you'd love to hear that great band from the early nineties again, the first four songs will thrill you. Some of the rest is darn good, and at least two more hearken back to their heyday. So now they've made two and a half great original studio records. Fans will rejoice. The curious should still start with Sweet Ride if you've never heard Belly.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Bonnie Raitt Give It Up 1972

I hadn't listened to this one in a while, and thought I'd go back for an old one since I've mostly focused on contemporary releases lately. I have fond memories of this record, and it has remained in the primary stacks all these years.

As it turns out, I wasn't quite as thrilled as I sometimes am with a classic from the past. So I'm not sure what this review may add to the fray, but let's try to see it through some kind of objective lens.

Bonnie's voice is flat out lovely throughout, and her high register is clear as a bell. The songwriting is from A-listers, but some of the material does not revisit that well, being of the early-seventies singer-songwriter fare that today rings just a little too twee.

The good ones: the New Orleans horns, excellent lyric, and Bonnie's own slide on Give It Up Or Let Me Go (from Bonnie's pen), the R&B chestnut I Know, Bonnie's guitar and vocal on Love Me Like A Man, the sexy New Orleans vibe on You Got To Know How, and Bonnie's fine rendition of Eric Kaz's Love Has No Pride.

Everything else is good. Bonnie does the melancholy as well as anyone, and Spent Too Long At The Fair is one of those. Jackson Browne's Under The Falling Sky plods along. Bonnie's Nothing Seems To Matter is not great, but the guitar interplay and sax almost save it. Half the record is great, and the other half just sounds too much like 1972. Of course, it was actually 1972 at the time.

For a vinyl collector, Bonnie's early work is readily available used, and worth it just about every time. Not perfect records, but darn good ones. This is one of those.