Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nils Lofgren 1975

This 1975 classic hit the turntable tonight, and what a fine record.

Back It Up kicks things off with a great riff and a searing lead. One More Saturday night is a laid-back attempt at getting some, with a funky charm and great backbeat. If I Say It, It's So is a humorous conceit, and rocks hard with both piano and guitar. I should probably mention that one of the best rock lead guitarists anywhere (and certainly the best in the E Street Band) plays quite a bit of piano on this record. But it was 1975, and his piano is quite good.

I Don't Want To Know is a piano driven soft rocker that's good, and the lyric is an interesting approach to relationships. Then there's Kieth Don't Go, Nils' homage to his hero, and it rocks riffage as well as any Stones song, even in '75. Millions of kids everywhere should have been screaming for Kieth Don't Go like they did for Freebird. It would have made more sense really, except then we'd hate Kieth Don't Go just from overexposure.

Side two opens with Can't Buy A Break, and all the sudden the line "The cash ain't pullin' me through" makes perfect sense. Duty follows, and it's a driving, piano driven number. The guitar lead is what really shines, though. The piano on The Sun Hasn't Set On This Boy Yet rivals that on the album closer, Gerry Goffin and Carole King's Goin' Back, on which Nils certainly proves why he featured so much piano on the record. Goin' Back has a terrific arrangement and Lofgren's piano is killer. Nothing like the difficulty of his masterful guitar leads and fills, but his rhythm on piano is uniquely like that of a rhythm guitar, and it rocks.

Just before that Lofgren plays the heck out of Rock And Roll Crook, but it is still a lesser track, even with great guitar, as is the sappy Two By Two. Lofgren plays some nice acoustic guitar on that one though.

Throughout the entire record Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Wornell Jones on bass are ideal band mates to Nils on acoustic and electric guitars and piano. The rhythm section are pushing these songs forward all the way. Dunbar especially adds great drumming and keeps many of these songs more interesting than they would be with a less knowing drummer.

What's the downside? Nils Lofgren's voice is soft. Some might say great for vocal harmony, but without the strength to carry the lead on these songs. I think he does a fine job myself. But this is the stuff of stadium rock with the right singer.

But Bob Seger didn't write these songs, Nils Lofgren did (too bad for Bob). And he plays the heck out of the whole enchilada. He played with Grin and Neil Young before going solo, was hired when the E Street Band needed a pro, and released a bunch of solo records over the years.

Made this stone classic rock record in 1975.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Top Five What?

So Stereophile magazine has a write-in "contest" to list five songs or albums that "most strongly evoke the places and times in your past, music with which you have a transrational emotional connection". The "winners" get a free CD from their web site, which is pretty lame, although they do have some good CDs.

Here's my entry.

For me these evocative songs all deal with love, love remembered, or love in dysfunction:
Right In Time - Lucinda Williams, from Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, 1998
The Song Remembers When - Trisha Yearwood, from The Song Remembers When, 1993
Hard Line To Draw - Cheryl Wheeler, from Circles And Arrows, 1990
Late For The Sky - Jackson Browne, from Late For The Sky, 1974
Come A Little Bit Closer - Fleetwood Mac, from Heroes Are Hard To Find, 1974

Maybe I'm a romantic.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Roots Of Rock 'N' Roll 1946-1954 2004

This three-CD set is yet another classic from Rhino. Now out of print (for how long?), it's bringing a premium price on the used market. It is worth it. More than a history lesson (and it is that), it's huge fun and the sound quality is first rate.

Several, if not all, of the songs labeled as the first Rock 'n' Roll record are here, including Arthur "Big Boy" Cruddup's That's All Right, Jackie Brenston & His Delta Cats' (with Ike Turner) Rocket 88, and Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog. These recordings are not all technically Rock and Roll because, well, they didn't have that yet. Tell that to these guys.

Blues, country, swing, jazz, and early rockabilly are all represented, and the song selection is hard to argue with. T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, The Clovers, Bill Haley & His Comets, Merle Travis, Fats Domino, B.B. King, and a host of bands and artists that you've never heard. And the unheralded artists have every bit as many killer tracks as the stars.

All of the styles of the forties and fifties that were part of the gene pool out of which Rock and Roll was born are here. And for most of us, we've never heard this stuff. Which usually is no big deal. But when the set is put together this well, and the contributions that will become a new sound are documented with such loving glory, it is hard to resist, and hard not to love.

I can't possibly make you understand how good this collection is. Maybe your library has a copy. They should- it should be in the history section. If you like any of the early Rock and Roll, say pre-1964, and you want to know where the artists that developed the sound got their ideas, here is your best opportunity to do so. It's all here, even if there isn't an actual Rock "n" Roll song in the bunch. Yea, right.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Meet John Doe 1990

John Doe's debut.

I don't know what X fans might have thought, but I was, and am still enamored of this CD.

John Doe has a voice that always sounds like it might crack at any moment. But in a good way.

Let's Be Mad kicks things off high voltage, only to be out-done by A Matter Of Degrees. It's Only Love is a country-tinged weeper with a wry lyric. Doe's cover of John Hiatt's The Real One is killer, and Butch Hornsby's Knockin' Around is just Doe's finest moment. The rest is a mix of country-ish ballads, hard-ish rockers, and power ballads. And they are pretty darn good.

A crack ace band and decent recording round out the package. Doe really sings his heart out on good-to-great material. And it rocks a strangely unique, yet familiar mix of post-punk Americana country-rock.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Paul Weller Wake Up The Nation 2010

Paul Weller's Wake Up The Nation is a plenty good record. I'm thrilled that a friend turned me onto the release, because that's always fun. I'm also embarrassed that it's the first time I've heard Mr. Weller's work (half of the U.K. just had a fit). I knew of the Jam enough to know I wasn't really a punk fan. Style Council went by unnoticed. But I suppose I have no excuse for the fact that this is the first of his ten solo albums since 1992 that I have heard.

Hard punky rock with hook-laden choruses. Rock with electronica splashes, and big Brit-pop anthemic ballads. There's quite a lot going on.

The record opens with Moonshine, a Bo Diddly stomper via Springsteen via The Clash. Wake Up The Nation is The Jam/The Clash all the way, but this punk is dressed up today. No Tears To Cry is a big Spectorian production of what sounds like a Southside Johnny soul ballad. And Andromeda is another big production, this time over a Kinks-like ballad.

Find The Torch, Burn The Plans is a huge Brit-pop anthem, with big guitars, twitchy keyboards, and a sing-a-long chorus that Coldplay would die for. Aim High brings a moody vocal over driving jazz-rock that sounds a little like the better R&B sounds of the seventies. 7&3 Is The Strikers Name is a noisy mess of a song that is perfect for the angry lyric.

There are a few lesser moments, but when you pack 16 songs onto a CD, there's almost always some editing to be hoped for. There are two pretty trite instrumentals, and some of the rockers are a bit mundane (Up The Dosage). But even some of the weaker tracks exhibit interesting experimentation (Trees, Pieces Of A Dream).

I'm sure there's Jam and Weller fans just agape that I finally just now heard Weller. Well, no matter what you do, you just can't get to them all. Better late, as they say. I can't tell you how good it is compared to any other Paul Weller record, but it was certainly worth my time.

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Band Of Heathens One Foot In The Ether 2009

Sometimes derivative isn't bad at all. Here's a good example. This record has tracks that sound eerily like The Band, The Jayhawks, Olabelle, Keb Mo, Steve Earl, The Drive-By Truckers, Calexico, The Meters, and even The Staple Singers. Maybe there's a countrified Jimmy Buffett tune.

This is a bluesy country record with hints of gospel and soul, played by an outstanding group of three singer/guitarists (who also add piano and organ to the mix), and a rock solid drummer and bass player. Three good voices, harmonies abound, and the songwriting is generally quite good.

What else do you need? Well, it is a good recording with a nice organic sound, and the ensemble playing makes for a record that at once sounds spare and busy. There is almost always something interesting going on in the arrangements. L.A. County Blues, Say, Shine A Light, Golden Calf, You're Gonna Miss Me, Somebody Tell The Truth, and Hey Rider are all standouts, and the other half of the tracks hold there own.

If you like most of the references noted at the beginning of this entry, there is a very good chance you'll like this one, too.