Monday, January 30, 2012

Sanford-Townsend Band Smoke From A Distant Fire 1976

This record was first released as The Sanford-Townsend Band and later re-released as Smoke From A Distant Fire by Sanford and Townsend when that title song hit the Top 40. While it is quintessentially a 70s record, it is also a hook-filled dancing dream, and finely crafted product that fits perfectly between Hall and Oates and Loggins and Messina. No irony there.

Smoke From A Distant Fire is pure classic white soul with an ever-so-slightly country feel. Along with Smoke..., the record boasts Shake It To The Right (funky in a very friendly way), Oriental Gate (an effective slow-building Southern rock ballad), Squire James (Burn Down The Mission by Elton John, in a good way), Lou (a lovely ballad),  and In For The Night (southern funk with another marvelous vocal). I'm not sure if its Johnny Townsend or Ed Sanford with the Daryl Hall tenor, but they're impressive pipes either way. 

There are some weaker moments, and the whole thing has that super-clean, note-perfect gloss that feels almost just a little too right. But give in to your inner pop voice: this is well-written, intricately arranged, beautifully sung, perfectly played pop-rock. Guilty pleasure? Absolutely. Too slick? Certainly a possibility.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spinning Vinyl

It's been a little while since I last took up the occasional Spinning Vinyl series. The other night I got to fire up some records, and I had a fine time. Maybe these will stir a memory or make you curious. I started the night clearly inspired, as I slapped I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide by ZZ Top from Deguello 1979 on the turntable. A great song, one of my favorites from ZZ Top. Next up was John Mayer with Something's Missing from Heavier Things 2003, another very different take on the blues. Then I had one of those ideas, and it was on to Cat Food by King Crimson from In The Wake Of Poseidon 1970. Feeling a little random play about things, I skipped ahead to You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga 2007 and The Mystery Zone from Transference 2010, both by Spoon.They are a very talented bunch.

Life On The Moon and To The Stars from We Will Become Like Birds 2005 by Erin McKeown followed, and there's another just fabulous record, McKeown firing all all cylinders, and a finely crafted rock production to boot. Another quick left turn brought Turn My Life Down From Volunteers 1969 by Jefferson Airplane. I was never a big Airplane fan, but Turn My Life Down struck a chord with me, and it has remained with me every since. Next up I took a break from jumping up and down and listened to all of Side One of Shame Shame by Dr. Dog: Stranger, Shadow People, Station, Unbearable Why, and Where'd All The Time Go? I remain enthralled with this record, and they have a new one due out soon.

From Side Four of The Beatles White Album 1968 I spun Savoy Truffle and Cry Baby Cry. Then it was Brian Auger and Julie Tippetts Encore from 1978, a very cool record that reunited one of the most creative jazz-rock duos ever, whose mid-sixties work was just crazy, and well ahead of its time.  Git Up, a cover of Steve Winwood's Freedom Highway, and Auger's Future Pilot all sounded good, and Julie's voice is a thrill. From there it was on to The Who, My Generation and The Kids Are Alright from My Generation 1965, The Moody Blues Go Now from Go Now The Moody Blues #1 1965, Allen Toussaint's Yes We Can from Holy Cow! The Best Of Lee Dorsey 1985, and Burning Spear's Live Good from Marcus Garvey 1975 (classic reggae-where'd that come from?)

Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me Boz Scaggs from Speak Low 2008 is a lovely reading of the classic by Boz, who has lost nothing as he has mellowed. Soul Kiss from Joe Jackson's Big World 1986 (one of Jackson's better outings by my take). As the night drew to a close, I dug a deep groove with the extended version of Funky Drummer, from James Brown's In The Jungle Groove 1986 (but recorded with the great Clyde Stubblefield in 1970). And finally, I listened to Alcohol and Complicated Life from Muswell Hillbillies by The Kinks 1971. "Gotta stand a face it, life is so complicated". Seems like anybody could write it, but Ray Davies is the one who made it work. Ray Davies was really writing back then. Between 1968-1971 he could do no wrong.

So that's how I spent my evening a few days ago. No rhyme no reason, just my mind on random play and a big stack of records.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Keb Mo The Reflection 2011

Keb Mo has made some good ones over the years. His 1994 debut modernized acoustic blues just enough to made it a hit, but still keep it real. Slow Down 1998 and Keep It Simple 2004 were both good examples of laid-back electric blues grooves coupled with Mo's simple and heartfelt vocals. There have been some questionable moves, notably Peace...Back By Popular Demand, also 2004, where Mo covers mostly sixties hippy movement classics.

This new one is really a nicely made record, well-recorded, with a crack ace band, but the whole thing comes off like "smooth blues", as in "smooth jazz". Mr. Moore has always been laid-back, but previously that meant he brought to mind those fine Clapton albums from the late seventies that sound so great even today. This one is more like a smooth jazz record than anything else, and I'm a tad surprised by this much pablum from Mo. Sure, you knew he could go there if he wanted, but you didn't really expect him to do it.

Now if smooth blues sounds like a good idea to you, I think you're in for a treat. There are several good tunes here, Mo's voice is in fine form, and Whole Enchilada, Inside out, All The Way, and the India.Arie duet Crush On You are all standouts, with funky slap-bass, horn charts and hooky choruses keeping things interesting. My Baby's Tellin' Lies and Just Lookin' feature funky rhythms and good lead guitar from Mo.

The record has several lyrical low points, including the overly-sentimental We Don't Need It and Something Within. And there are some pretty boring tracks musically as well. My Shadow is reminiscent of Gaucho-era Steely Dan, and not in a good way. The title track is quite the least interesting of all, a too-mellow pop ballad without drama or a hook. A cover of the Eagles One Of These Nights does not work at all, unless you're grocery shopping at the time you hear it.

My first couple of times through it, I enjoyed the record, but I wasn't really paying that much attention. If you don't have Keb Mo 1994 or Slow Down 1998, buy those. If you enjoy smooth jazz artists and want to dip your little toe into a mildly bluesy sound, this new one is for you.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shopping Trip

I had the good fortune of visiting the Bay Area recently, as I have frequently for several years. I went back to my very favorite haunt, the Amoeba store on Haight St. I'm not sure when I'll get back, so I gave myself permission to buy whatever struck my fancy. I stayed in the vinyl sections of the store, because to add CDs would make the visit take all day.

It turned out to be an interesting and varied motherlode of fine tunes. I've already discussed the Live Mott The Hoople, but I also picked up three 12-inch EPs by XTC, The Mayor Of Simpleton, Five Senses (both including swell tracks not on any LP), and Love On A Farmboy's Wages, which includes live versions of Burning With Optimism''s Flame and English Roundabout that are marvelous.

I grabbed an older M. Ward record, End Of Amnesia 2001, a reissue of Superchunck's 1994 outing Foolish, Matthew Sweet's most recent, Modern Art 2011, and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women 2009, which also features the lovely voice of Christy McWilson throughout.

And then there's the Proclaimer's classic Sunshine On Leith 1988, which I already owned on CD, but the vinyl  was pristine, and I really love this record. I suppose 2001's Persevere is still my personal favorite, but Sunshine On Leith is darn close.

I've made my way through all these new records once (I did spend more time with the Mott), and hopefully I'll have more to say about some of them down the road. It's all been good, but I haven't been keeping track. Lazy listening, I do love that.

By the way, that list of Popular Posts over there on the right lists the more frequently hit posts during the last thirty days. Frank Zappa's Chunga's Revenge has gotten more traffic than almost anything I've ever posted. Go figure.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mott The Hoople Live 1974

One of the more terribly under-appreciated bands of their time, Mott The Hoople was almost completely ignored in the U.S., except for Bowie's All The Young Dudes, which became their biggest hit. Their bigger-than-life glam rock style may have been a bit much, but they produced a string of excellent releases from 1971-1974, starting with Brain Capers 1971, an almost great record spoiled by a murky recording that sinks the songs in an audio quagmire. Then came All The Young Dudes 1972 and Mott 1973, both indispensable (Mott is my pick for the one record you should own if you only own one. It's their finest hour). The Hoople 1974 was less successful, but still had a few great songs.

And then Live, also from 1974, was released just before the departure of Ian Hunter. The band made a few more without Mr. Hunter, but they are...well, they're without Ian Hunter, and Mott without Hunter is, well, it's just not Mott The Hoople.

And so this live document, their swan song, fittingly, is just like a live version of their studio recordings- it's not perfect, it's flawed, it's a little ragged, not all the songs are equally good, but... it's Mott. Nobody does this shtick better than these guys. Big ballads, hard-rocking tales of being a rock star, aggressive, crunchy, power-rock glam. And Ian Hunter's vocals, all cock-strut attitude and panache.

All The Way From Memphis kicks things off, and it's a fine live rendition of one of the very best rock road songs ever written.

    I got to Oreoles, ya know, it took a month
    And there was my guitar, electric junk
    Some spade said "rock and rollers, they're all the same- 
    Man, that's your instrument", I felt so ashamed

    Now it's a mighty long way down rock and roll
    Through the Bradford cities and the Oreoles
    An' you look like a star but you're still on the dole
     All the way from Memphis

Sucker follows, and outshines the studio version by kicking things up several notches. All The Young Dudes is grand, and the perennial live favorite Walking With A Mountain rocks hard. Side two opens with Sweet Angeline, a magnificent song sounding way better than the studio version, and also benefiting from a hot live band firing on all cylinders. The record closes with an 11-minute medley that includes One Of The Boys, Rock 'N' Roll Queen, Violence, and a bit of the Beatles' Get Back.

It's a shambles. And it's shamboliffic.