Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Joss Stone LP1 2011

Let's start with the scorecard. Ten songs, four very good or excellent. That's not a very good percentage. In fact, based on that standard, this is the weakest Joss Stone record yet.

Who can we blame? Two people mostly, Ms. Stone herself and producer, songwriter, guitarist David A. Stewart of Eurythmics fame. Stewart is not the first name I'd come up with as a producer of a soul record, and if Stone isn't going to sing soul, what's the point? This is also the first Joss Stone record where she is co-songwriter on all tracks, and frankly, she could use more help than she gets from Stewart and a scant few others.

Betty Wright did a fine job on the first two, and Nas and Raphael Saadiq (and several others) helped assemble the next two, which updated her old school soul with more contemporary fare. But David A. Stewart is just not the guy for this job, and this is the fist Joss Stone record that can't really be defined as soul. Recorded in Nashville. Nashville?

Newborn starts things off on a high note, and it's a good rock/soul ballad with a dynamic arrangement and one of Stone's better lyrics. Karma keeps the quality high, with a strong, angry Martina McBride lyric. It's not really a soul song though, and almost sounds like Pat Benatar. It has a Stevie Wonder funk-lite piano line as it's only concession to soul. Don't Start Lying To Me Now is a funky rocker with a strong lyric, great vocals (and background vocals), and that spit-the-words-out angry thing Stone does especially well. Somehow is a funky, slinky soul groove with a hooky chorus that Stone sings the crap out of. That's the four good ones.

Last One To Know is another rock ballad that sounds like a Melissa Etheridge song and goes on for too long. Drive All Night is an OK slow burner with deliberately sparse instrumentation that just doesn't do anything interesting. Cry Myself To Sleep is a mellow folk-rock thing that Cat Stevens might have done. Landlord is an acoustic guitar/vocal tune that is a failed attempt to pull off a Janis Joplin  vibe. The lyric sounds forced. Boat Yard is a mid-tempo rocker  that could have been filler on a Tom Petty record. And Take Good Care  is an acoustic guitar-led folk song that sounds like the winner of a high school songwriting contest.

Ms. Stone has been screaming for her independence for years now. Her third record was called Introducing... and now her fifth is titled LP1. She didn't want those record company guys pushing her around. Turns out she was wrong. For a singer with such a soulful delivery, this rock product is way off the mark.

The four good ones are really good.

Suede (The London Suede) Coming Up 1988

This record always struck a chord with me. Trash, Filmstar, Lazy, Beautiful Ones, The Chemistry Between Us, all of them are perfect David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust crossed with Mott The Hoople's Mott album. Pretty cool stuff really, and even the ballads (By The Sea, Saturday Night) are strong.

There are a few lesser moments, but how many great songs can anybody come up with? And even the lesser songs hold up. It is a CD you can listen to without having to fast forward or skip ahead (does anyone still do this, other than me?).

The singer, Brett Anderson, is completely affected in that cool, detached way, and the band plays tight, straight ahead glam rock old school. The record was a smash hit in the UK, making it to #1 on the album charts, and generating no less than five top-10 singles. It's that good.

Anyway, I still like it. If you've never heard it and you don't hate glam-rock, it's worth your time.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cool Off

Taking the Kelly challenge (see comments on the last post), since it's HOT, maybe we should try to chill a little.

Cool It Down- The Velvet Underground
Cool- West Side Story Soundtrack
Cool Operator- Sade
Cool Water- Joni Mitchell
Coolin' In Cali- 7A3
Cool Love- Wanda Jackson
Cool Turkey- James Booker
Cool Jerk- The Capitols
Cool Me Out- Lamont Dozier
Cool World- American Men

Midwest girl may still be too hot extra cut:

Cool Off- Detroit Executives

Special thanks to the new site search tool for helping me track down some obscurities!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Very Hot Hotness

It is (at least) 95 degrees in Kleaveburg today.
I know it's hotter elsewhere, but here in the frozen north, it's smokin' hot for us.

Some Like It Hot- Power Station
Hot Fun In The Summertime- Sky And The Family Stone
Hot In The City- Billy Idol
Hot Summer Day- It's A Beautiful Day
Hot Hot Hot- Buster Poindexter
Hot For Teacher- Van Halen
Hot Smoke and Sassafras- The Bubble Puppy 
Hot Plate Heaven At The Green Hotel- Frank Zappa
Hot 'lanta- The Allman Brothers
Hot Blood- Lucinda Williams
Too Darn Hot- Stacey Kent

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lucinda Williams Live at Nautica Stage Cleveland July 17, 2011

A hot steamy night in Cleveland. With the Cuyahoga river behind her Lucinda gave a pretty fine performance.

The show started fairly slowly, with Lucinda and band playing some fine versions of slower material with nice feeling and solid jams. In fact I thought this was the best part of the show, the band interplay and the slow grind of many of these songs, and Lucinda's most poignant vocals. They started cooking a little harder near the end, but if you don't like her languid stuff you're going to want for more.

The set was rich in great songwriting, of course, with Blue, Drunken Angel, Joy, 2 Cool 2 Be 4-Gotten, World Without Tears (slow and smoking hot!), Honey Bee (hard rocking near the show's end), and Essence, which she did twice. The first time through, her voice cracked into a cough, and the band jammed out the song to it's end. Near the end of the show Lucinda called for a second take, and they burned the house down with Essence's slow smolder. 

The new record  was represented by Buttercup, Born To Be Loved, and Blessed, and all three were excellent. She went back to her early work for a hard-rockin' version of Changed The Locks, and it was nice to have a little angry Lucinda in the mix. I think she did Fruits Of My Labor. They did a knock-out version of Steven Still's For What It's Worth during the encore. Everything was really quite fine, with Lucinda's singing a highlight throughout.

The bass of David Sutton and drums of Butch Norton were tight and both players were locked in. Norton was outstanding. Val McCallum's guitar was mostly perfect, but he seemed to lose his way a few times.

Amos Lee opened the show, and brought a skilled band with him to flesh out his laid-back material. I'm not familiar with his work or material, but he and the band were up to the task. They were enjoyable.

Lucinda's putting on a fine show, and the tour is coming to your town. Go. Listen. Enjoy.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jonatha Brooke Steady Pull 2001

Jonatha Brooke has had an interesting career in pop-folk-rock-singer-songwriter territory, and while never quite breaking huge, she's continued to make good records and perform fine shows. She started off in a band called The Story with fellow singer Jenifer Kimball, and that band made pretty good folk-pop. I always thought Angel In The House, their 1993 swansong, was a good record, with some outstanding songs. But Brooke has matured in both writing and singing, and has made some recent records that defy categories and are delightful. My favorite is Steady Pull.


This record rocks. If you want to hear a typically more mild-mannered artist cranked up to rocking, here you go. Bob Clearmoutain (Bryan Adams, Rolling Stones, Hall & Oates) produced, and the band is a highly skilled set of studio pros (and maybe some of Brooke's touring band). And that does not mean that they sound like Toto. They cook. The songs are killer, and mostly a little less dark than some of her records. It's like Jonatha Brooke on beach steroids. I often think of Aimee Mann as too laid back, but not on I'm With Stupid, she rocked that one. This is Jonatha Brooke's I'm With Stupid.

There's so many good songs- Linger, Red Dress, How Deep Is Your Love?, Room In My Heart, New Dress, Steady Pull- really, almost everything, that there's no reason to go over the details. If you like Jonatha Brooke, and you haven't heard this, you must hear it. If you've never heard of Jonatha Brooke, this is a great place to start. If you like smart female singer-songwriters with a tough edge and a feminine core, you can't go wrong.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Pointer Sisters The Pointer Sisters 1973

There's a reason why this is one of my favorite records, and it isn't just the performance, although that is particularly hard to fault. It was 1973. I was still (just) a teenager, and music was all about meaning and message. And everything was important. And along comes this record, all Delta bijoux Southern-fried funky sass and swing revival.

Sung by four angelic voices, written and arranged with great care by talented artists and producers, and sounding not quite like anything I'd ever heard. And I daresay like nothing I've heard since.

Allan Tousaint's Yes We Can Can kicks things off in high fashion with it's upbeat message, and it is a keeper, with the sneaky vocal arrangement it is easily my favorite version of the song, among several great ones. Cloudburst is a fast and furious romp of a song, and Jada is a sweet homage to motherhood. Both sound like they're from the forties. River Boulevard is a stompin' rocker with a funky bass line that cooks. Old Songs longs for the day and the songs that recall those special memories, and does so to a memorable vocal arrangement. On side two, That's How I Feel and Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle are both long funky workouts that dig a deep groove. Between them, Sugar, Pains And Tears, and Naked Foot continue the Andrews Sisters on steroids and whiskey vocal stylings that pervade the record.

And it is those vocals, the close harmonies of sisters, real sisters, not just sistas, that makes this record so good. But it's more than that, too. Because the Pointer Sisters kept making records, and for a while they tried to make this one again, and they never could. (Or maybe they foolishly tried not to make this one again.) The material is strong, and the production is excellent, the band is hot and tight, and the funk is real. Check it out. This is not that terrible disco group that came later, this is The Pointer Sisters.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Friends Of Distinction Grazin' 1969

The Friends Of Distinction were an interesting act, and this, their first LP release, is a great find in a used record shop. The late sixties-early seventies were an oft-overlooked, highly fertile time for soul music. Motown was struggling to remain relevant in a flower-power world (and doing a fine job, at least in retrospect), Philly soul sounds were being birthed, and soul-pop still could find room on the radio dial.

The four vocalists of the group were Floyd Butler, Harry Elston, Jessica Cleaves, and Barbara Love, so it is hard not to draw the Fifth Dimension comparisons, and this record holds up just fine compared to that fabled group.

The record opens with the classic Grazing In The Grass, which takes the Hugh Masekela trumpet song to new heights with a snappy lyric and a faster, Stone Soul Picnic feel. It's an amazing single, and garnered them their greatest chart success. 1970's Love Or Let Me Be Lonely was as close as they ever got again to that level on the charts. I've Never Found A Girl is a smooth soul tune with the pop-soul sound of the Fifth Dimension. I Really Hope You Do has a soul-jazz mellow vibe. Sweet Young Thing Like You has a Motown feel, like a Smokey Robinson or Temptations song, and a good one. Side one ends on Going In Circles, the second single, a top twenty performer, which brings a smooth Al Green-style understated vocal on the verses mixed with big Temptations harmonies on the chorus. The song builds slowly until it develops into a huge soul treat.

Side two holds up pretty darn well, too. The cover of Eli's Coming is a little too fast, but the big production number is a showcase for some fine female vocal gymnastics. Help Yourself sounds like the Fifth Dimension again, with too many tempo changes, but a tricky vocal arrangement that saves it. A cover of the Lennon-McCartney And I Love Him features a female lead that sounds like Marilyn McCoo and includes a Philly soul sound and a different approach to this oft-covered tune- and it works. Lonesome Mood is a Cole Porter tune that the group performs with a big band arrangement and a jazz vocal style reminiscent of Manhattan Transfer (on their good days). It's jazzy and special. Only Baby I Could Be So Good At Loving You (Broadway anyone?) and Peaceful (smooth pop hippy vibe) disappoint.

I haven't heard their other records, except for the 1973 Greatest Hits, and it is killer. The group hung on until 1975, but no singles or albums charted after 1971. I love the soul that was being made in the early seventies, and much of it sneaked by unnoticed the first time. The vinyl isn't expensive used, but it is a value purchase.