Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dusty Springfield Dusty In Memphis 1969 and various compilations

Much has been written about Dusty In Memphis, and if any record ever deserved the press, this one does. It makes everyone's list of best albums, and for good reason. First, the songwriting is impeccable, with Randy Newman, Mann and Weil, Goffin and King, Bacharach and David all contributing. Next, the recording is beautiful, with Dusty riding over a perfect soul-pop backdrop. Dusty didn't so much adjust to Memphis, as Memphis adjusted to her. Perfectly. Third, well, Dusty sings her heart out. You should own this record. If I have to tell you that, where have you been? Available in all your premium formats, and worth every penny.

But Dusty Springfield had quite a long and hit-filled career before this classic arrived, and continued to make some good music into the eighties at least. There are numerous compilations available, and they are tempting. But which one? Well, looking things over, the best of the single-disc jobs would be Silver Collection, a reasonably-priced import release. But who really wants a single disc by Dusty? For the 2-disc set there's Gold, also an import at an unusually good price. The American released Gold, with a different cover (Dusty on a blue background), has many fewer songs and costs more.

A more microcosmic look can be had with the Complete A And B Sides 1963-1970. It's another 2 disc set, but focuses on her post-Springfields sixties hit-making period, and the B sides hold a few treasures. Many are unavailable anywhere else (other than the original U.K. released 45s)

For those of you willing to make a commitment, there's The Dusty Springfield Anthology, a three-disc set that includes just about all the important material. I'm repeatedly surprised at how often I can listen to at least the first or second discs clear through. The last disc gets a little shaky, and there were some bumpy times for Dusty in the eighties, but there's also a few pearls. This compilation really lets you experience everything she did, even some of the less successful, but no less sublime, moments.

I can't end without mentioning one other single disc. And that would be Cameo, from 1973. An overlooked gem, this is an excellent record, not unlike Gladys Knight's work around the same time. Not perfect, but perhaps Dusty's last great record in it's whole. Usually pretty easy to find in used vinyl. Side one is perfection.

So there you go. My advice is the whole enchilada: Dusty In Memphis and The Dusty Springfield Anthology. Yes, the Anthology has six songs from Memphis, but the other five, well, the record just doesn't work without them.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Michael Landau, Robben Ford, Jimmy Haslip, Gary Novak Renegade Creation 2010

Here's an idea. Take two particularly hot jazz/blues session guitarists, add a talented bass player/ producer and an incendiary drummer, and make a blues-rock record.

Landau and Ford are both best known for blues work, but both have done session work in a variety of settings. Haslip is a member of the fusion group Yellowjackets, and has done production and bass work for multiple artists. Novak is a highly respected drummer who has worked mostly in jazz, but he also toured with Alanis Morissette.

Landau and Ford write the songs, and they are certainly capable writers, although the lyrical content is occasionally weak. You don't care. You're here for blues-rock guitars. And this group brings that in spades. What's Up is a funky, stomping rocker, and God And Rock 'N Roll, The Darkness, the title track, Who Do You Think You Are, Where The Wind Blows, and Brothers all follow suit, rocking hard and featuring crazy great drumming and wildly hot and creative guitar solos. Destiny Over Me and Peace both slow the pace, but they are also excellent.

The vocals are good. I prefer Landau as a singer, but that's just me. Ford's thin voice has never excited me much. But again, this record is about guitars, guitars, guitars. If you need a dose of some hot guitar, take this CD and call me in the morning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Damnwells No One Listens To The Band Anymore 2010

I've been enamored of the band Del Amitri for a long time now. One of the best straight up rock and roll bands of the nineties, with big, tasteful guitars, hook-filled choruses, minor-key angst, and strong lyrical content. Their Some Other Sucker's Parade remains a high-water mark for the band.

So now here's this fairly young band from Brooklyn making a big rock record full of emotional statements tied to big melodic rock. There's moments of U2, Tom Petty, and Mellencamp, but it is Del Amitri's best work that most comes to mind. The songs' minor keys, tales of heartache, and Alex Dezen's voice all sound like Justin Currie of Del Amitri.

From the title track's hook-filled Petty/Mellencamp hybrid, to Let's Be Civilized's cooking harmonica break, to the acoustic ballad turned stomping rocker of The Monster, to the big building ballad The Same Way that ends the record, almost everything is top notch. There are a few acoustic ballads (good ones), but mostly the record rocks pretty steady. The guitars are especially excellent and provide texture and depth to the arrangements. Mid-tempo rockers benefit from hooks and creative guitar fills just as much as the faster songs, and the lyrics are not stupid, and are frequently original.

Need another rock band in your life? Wish Del Amitri were still around? Either way, the Damnwells have you covered.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Jackson Browne Hold Out 1980

It occurred to me recently that I write almost entirely about records I like. Well, I am writing mostly about records I own. And if I really don't like them, eventually I sell them or otherwise dispose of them.

But there's always a few in the stacks that even I wonder why I keep. Which brings us to Jackson Browne's Hold Out. Browne has made a few of my favorites (his eponymous debut, Late for the Sky, I'm Alive), but this one is everything wrong about the eighties.

You know you're in trouble when any record opens with a song titled Disco Apocalypse, and it's at least as bad as it sounds. That Girl Could Sing is almost good enough, but it has the same keyboard-driven sheen that hurts the rest of this unusually disastrous LP. Hold On Hold Out may be the worst song he ever wrote, but several others on this record might also qualify. The lyrical awkwardness Browne displays on this record is shocking after his first five records, which all contained great songs.

The attempt to make Browne sound contemporary in the eighties couldn't be wronger. Keyboards abound and the inorganic feel of this music serves Browne particularly badly. But mostly it is the songs. Awkward lyrics hung on melodies that lack, well, melody. About the only thing that might be worse than this would be the rest of Browne's eighties output, his politically charged (but melodically challenged) Lawyers In Love 1983, Lives In The Balance 1986, and World In Motion 1989.

But this one deserves it's place as one terrible Jackson Browne record. The irony is that this was Browne's only record to chart at #1, but that is only because it followed The Pretender 1976 and Running On Empty 1977.

Thankfully Browne recovered in 1993 when he released I'm Alive, an emotional record on the heels of his much-publicized ugly break-up with Daryl Hannah, and a return to form. He came through again in 2002 with The Naked Ride Home, and his recent Solo Acoustic series isn't bad either. All of his first five records are excellent.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Bruce Hornsby Hot House 1995 and Spirit Trail 1998

Bruce Hornsby made three records with The Range in the eighties, and they were certainly well-crafted, well-received product made for fans of post-Police Sting. They were good records with interesting pop ideas, but Hornsby had more to offer.

He began his solo career in earnest in the nineties while also playing piano fairly regularly with the Grateful Dead. Hot House, his second release under his own name, is an excellent rocking piano record. Spider Fingers kicks things off with a driving rhythm, rocking piano and a hot drum line. Just a taste of bluegrass colors White Wheeled Limousine, another driving beat pushing the song forward. The Tango King stomps with a Band-like organ figure and organic feel. Big Rumble, Country Doctor, Hot House Ball and Cruise Control are all up-tempo rockers that add various textures to the record, with big horn arrangements, talented guest stars, and Hornsby's easy and talented singing. John Molo's drumming is a consistent high point.

The slower songs are just as good, with the single Walk In The Sun, the jazzy The Changes, and melancholic The Longest Night all adding great songs to the mix. But this baby rocks better than almost any other piano-led record. There's enough fast songs to take it on a road trip. In a perfect world there would have been five hit singles.

Three years later, the follow-up, Spirit Trail, a sprawling 2-CD affair, proved that Hornsby knew another way to make a great record. A mix of great songs similar to those on Hot House, plus solo piano compositions, longer jam-band styled pieces, Range-like earnest ballads, and that singular approach to Americana that fuses Grateful Dead, The Band and Dr. John.

It's got everything he has to offer, and almost every song is a keeper. From the opening rocker King Of The Hill to his reimaging of China Cat Sunflower to the solo piano Song D, it all works.

These two mid-nineties records really capture a man at the top of his game. If you're looking for the best from a beguiling if somewhat inconsistent artist, it's right here.