Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings Soul Time! 2011 Brendan Benson Upstairs At United 2011

For the last four years the third Saturday in April has been Record Store Day. Record companies big and small release new music, and they also release some limited edition products aimed at the "collector" market. This year the Record Store Day folks decided to have another Record Store Day on Black Friday, and for the first time in what feels like forever I went shopping the day after Thanksgiving. I went specifically to purchase the new Sharon Jones record, which her web site had announced for release on Record Store Day. The guys at the store had to dig into a shipping box to produce the LP. They didn't think they had it. Record stores never change.
The new Sharon Jones is killer. The sales pitch calls it the funkier side of Sharon Jones, and the liner notes say the songs are live show staples that never made it to a record. I'd have to say that they nailed it. Jones and the Dap Kings have long emulated the best of James Brown, but their sound is more sixties Brown sounding, in a good way of course. This new one digs deep groves more like Brown's remarkable seventies output. Genuine Parts 1 an 2 is seven minutes of if you ain't dancin', you dead. He Said I Can, I'm Not Going To Cry, and When I Come Home keep the funky soul driving right at you.

You've got to love What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes, and they make a pretty good lyrical point. Settling In and Without A Trace are deep soul highlights, and the remarkable Christmas funk of Ain't No Chimneys In The Projects is spectacular, and previously existed only in 45 rpm, 7 inch format. Everything they've done has been great, and they just keep getting better at it. I really didn't think they could outdo I Learned The Hard Way, but they've at least matched it right here.

The only thing that Sharon Jones and Brendan Benson have in common is that I bought them both on Record Store Day. While at the store, I looked through the special Record Store Day limited edition vinyl releases, and I was tempted by some overpriced Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan 7 inch "box sets" of four singles in a set. The Dylan stuff was original sixties mono mixes, and the Janis had some "rare" versions. Snap out of it!

But there was this 12 inch 45 rpm four-song Brendan Benson Upstairs At United, recorded live to tape and pressed on black plastic. Benson sings and plays guitar, and is ably assisted on drums (Nicole Childrey), bass (Young Hines) and keyboards (Andrew Higley).  As you wouldn't expect from a songwriter of Benson's talent, they do four cover songs: David Bowie's Candidate, Dave Davies' Strangers, Elvis Costello's Beyond Belief, and Randy Newman's Love Story. Strangers and Beyond Belief are top notch, and Benson delivers them reverently. The all-analog direct to tape sound is very immediate. It sounds like you're in the room with the band. Lovely really.

If I'd known that shopping on Black Friday was this much fun, I would have done it long ago.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lou Ann Barton Read My Lips 1989

Blues and R&B, belted out with conviction through a powerhouse, smokey, scratchy Texas drawl with a heavy dose of Southern-style smoldering heat. Lou Ann sang with Stevie Ray Vaughn early on and did a great record in 1990 with Marcia Ball and Angela Strehli called Dreams Come True.

This was Lou Ann Barton's shining moment. Backed by an all-pro band featuring George Rains, Kim Wilson, Jimmie Vaughn and others, it is a remarkably clean recording of a set of Blues and R&B classics. Her versions of You'll Lose A Good Thing, Sexy Ways, It's Raining, Sugar Coated Love and Let's Have A Party are all stellar. Everything on the record works. Lou Ann can sing the daylights out of these tunes, and she inhabits every single one like the pro she is. She's made a few others, but this is her claim to fame. A talented singer has a magical moment when everything works. Nothing fancy, just perfect blues, and a fine list of songs.

It's party time in Texas and you'll only need one CD.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Be Bop Deluxe Modern Music 1976

Be Bop Deluxe was one of those bands that never quite got off the ground commercially, even though they made some very interesting music. Singer-writer-guitarist Bill Nelson blended his impressive guitar playing into a sound that was equal parts glam, progressive rock, and quirky pop. Nelson's frequent lyrical forays into science fiction territory were sometimes fun, occasionally pretentious. Releasing six records between 1974-1978, their two 1976 albums, Sunburst Finish and Modern Music, were both excellent.

Orphans Of Babylon kicks off side one in fine style, and Kiss Of Light and Bring Back The Spark are both strong. Kiss Of Light should have been the hit follow-up to their most successful single, Ships In The Night, but it didn't dent the charts. Even their most commercial moments contain a certain lyrical awkwardness that Nelson never seems to escape.

Side two starts with the Modern Music suite/medley, and it is twelve minutes of near-perfect Be Bop Deluxe. The suite contains all of their best elements, from the romance of Modern Music, to the catchy pop of Dancing In The Moonlight, and on to the instrumental fireworks of Dance Of The Uncle Sam Humanoids. Forbidden Lovers follows and features their more prog side, and contains enough ideas for three songs in most bands' hands. It is a fine example of Nelson's weakness for cramming too many ideas into one song, and his inability, sometimes, to weave those ideas together comfortably. A common problem for prog bands in general, with Yes, ELP, and Genesis all displaying this same dilemma.

The best of the songs are terrific, and the band have a truly unique sound. Nelson's guitar is always a stand-out, but Andrew Clark's keyboards and Simon Fox's drumming are also very important to the band's tight, quirky arrangements. This record's immediate predecessor, Sunburst Finish, is equally good, contains their biggest hit, the reggae-flavored Ships In The Night, and comes with a cover that includes a naked woman holding a flaming guitar. How could you go wrong?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Led Zeppelin 1969-1982

Led Zeppelin had a magnificent genre-defining career in heavy metal. And they did it better than anyone else, unless you discredit their love of English country folk. Lovers of their work fall into two distinct camps- those who favor the first two records, and those who favor the fourth and fifth.

The first two (1969) featured the heavy blues-rock that would be the claim to fame of the band, and much of this music is excellent, if today a bit dated. Classics like Good Times, Bad Times, Whole Lotta Love, You Shook Me, Ramble On, I Can't Quit You, and Living Loving Maid, all are stellar, and deeply rooted in the blues.

The fourth (1971), the ultimate classic rock standard, blended the blues with something else, and Black Dog, Rock And Roll, Going To California, Misty Mountain Hop, and When The Levee Breaks all rock hard with amazing hooks. And Stairway To Heaven. The follow-up, Houses Of The Holy 1973, brought more of the same with The Song Remains The Same, Dancing Days, and The Ocean, plus reggae with D'yer Mak'er. Huge.
And every bit the classic of the fourth's mammoth success.

Anybody who stuck around for Physical Graffiti 1975 was in for a troubled ride. Great tracks like Houses Of The Holy, Trampled Under Foot and Kashmir shared time with too much lesser material.

After that, Presence 1976 and In Through The Out Door 1979 held their charms for the devoted, and at least one or two great songs each. Coda 1982, a piece-meal effort at best, let them leave without regret, if nothing else.

More recently, their work has been remixed to very good effect, and the Mothership 2007 collection is worth the trouble. The four-LP vinyl set is the bomb, but the CD sounds great, too. It is pretty remarkable how well their work holds up.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Bob Dylan New Morning 1970

I suppose I could write about Blonde On Blonde, but what is there left to say? I like much of Dylan's work, but between 1967's John Wesley Harding and 1975's Blood On The Tracks, both classics, things were mostly disappointing. Except for New Morning. I rank it much higher than many would put it in Dylan's cannon, and you should hear it again.

If Not For You is a celebratory love song with a nicely simple arrangement. Day Of The Locusts features soulful singing from Dylan, and Al Kooper's organ "high whine and trill". On Time Passes Slowly, Dylan's deceptively simple piano and languid vocal are paired to the fine dueling lead guitars of David Bromberg and Buzzy Feiten(?). The funky beat and scratchy guitar figure of Went To See The Gypsy are genius, and the line "He did in Las Vegas, and he can do it here" is irresistible. The frolic of Winterlude follows, and the tongue-in-cheek traditionalism is fun. The jazzy blues of If Dogs Run Free ends the first side with Kooper's fine piano and Maeretha Sweart's scat vocal.

The back side is solid, too. New Morning celebrates life and love with a great lead break, a hooky chorus, and sweet organ throughout. The yearning for simpler times, and Dylan's own simple, Randy Newman-esque piano make the difference on Sign On The Window. One More Weekend is a classic Dylan country blues that sounds like a Blonde On Blonde outtake (a good one). The soulful ballad that is The Man In Me is marvelous "happy" Dylan. Three Angels is a bit of a jolt in an otherwise fun record. But it's solemn, surreal, and when the choir kicks in... Father Of Night ends the record on a simple, deep note, with all the faces of God called upon in prayer.

It's monumental. In a simple, easy, organic way. That's Dylan for you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guy Clark's website videos

Over at Guy Clark's website, you can listen to almost all of his music streaming. You can buy it, too, which I highly recommend. You can't go wrong. I discussed one of his recent records here.

You can also enjoy great performances of a couple of Clark's fine tunes. At the video section of Clark's website, there's three live performances that are wonderful. The second video is one of Clark's finest moments ever in a songwriting and performing career of unusual breadth and depth. The Randall Knife, a heartfelt son-to-father tribute, is far and away the best song on it's theme ever, and if it isn't true, you'd never guess from hearing Clark's touching delivery. Man this guy can sing. There's also a fine reading of The Guitar, another of Clark's fine songs, and one with a great punch line. Check it out here.