Monday, October 29, 2012

The Kinks The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society 1968

This record sounds English in a way few records do. Some of the Small Faces work comes to mind, and some of the English folk-inspired music comes to mind, such as Fairport Convention and Fotheringay (those sound English, but not like this).

This is something else entirely, and uniquely English. It is at once pop confection, ode to a romanticized simpler English past, and rock and roll record. Ray Davies had a clear and unique vision in 1968, and it sounded like nothing else. The intricate arrangements were rivaled by only Lennon and McCartney and Brian Wilson in 1968.

The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society was released near the end of a ban from live performance in America that had harmed the Kinks popularity here, and it sold poorly (in America and the U.K.) despite positive press. It is the only Kinks record to stay off the charts in both America and the U.K., and the band would never again see the U.K. album charts except for compilation records, although they continued to sneak a single in once in a while. The lack of a hit single on the record probably didn't help. It's one of those records that became famous long after it's initial weak sales. Dusty Springfield's Dusty In Memphis suffered the same fate, and has since, like this one, become an "instant classic".

There are, of course, quite a few songs about the idyllic English past and quaint pastimes. The title track, Picture Book, Last Of The Steam-Powered Trains, Sitting By The Riverside, Animal Farm, and Village Green all focus lyrically on nostalgia for some idealized past. The mature psych-rock of Do You Remember Walter and Big Sky is refreshing, and the blues-rock of Wicked Anabella and Steam-Powered Trains recalls their early singles. Throw in Starstruck with its Beach Boys chorus, the odd chamber-pop of Phenomenal Cat, the Latin styling of Monica, and a bit of Davies' music hall/carbaret influence on the self deprecating All My Friends Were There, and you've covered a lot of territory.

The songs and arrangements are almost universally strong. Mick Avory is an outstanding drummer. Nicky Hopkins is still assisting on piano and harpsichord. Ray and Dave Davies both bring unique assets to the rock and roll game. The recording is good, if at times a bit thin on the low end.

Is it THE Classic Kinks record? If you say so, I won't argue with you. It is the culmination of the style they birthed two years earlier with Face To Face, and which will begin to change with Arthur. They will begin to rock just a little bit more after this, and branch out a bit stylistically. The next few years hold quite a few more highlights.

For me, Ray Davies wrote his strongest song cycle for Arthur, where he combined the nostalgia for the past on display here with bitter social commentary on the present. A couple of years ago, I reviewed Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1969 here.

Here's my other Kinks reviews:
Face To Face 1966
Something Else By The Kinks  1967
Ray Davies The Kinks Choral Collection 2009

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Brad Paisley American Saturday Night 2009

I'm not the biggest fan of what country music radio calls country music these days.

And this record contains every modern country cliche: patriotic rocker (the title track); sentimental weepers (Then, No, Oh Yeah You're Gone); assorted topical rockers (Welcome To The Future, Water); modern romance (She's Her Own Woman, You Do The Math); humor to a two-step (The Pants); lessons learned (Anything Like Me).

The band is stellar. Paisley is a highly qualified singer and songwriter. The recording and production are clean and clear. It sounds great.

There's one other thing. Brad Paisley might be the best living guitar player on the planet. Or he might just be the best one in country music. Either way, it's well worth your coin.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Loose Fur Loose Fur 2003

Loose Fur was a side project of Wilco. Jeff Tweedy, Glen Kotche, and Jim O'Rourke went into the studio and made this little slice of experimentation in 2000. It didn't get released until 2003 as Tweedy and Wilco (with O'Rouke's assistance) were working on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

There are moments that sound like deconstructed Wilco (So Long, You Were Wrong). There are several songs that include long, spacey jams that are subtly delicious (Laminated Cat, Elegant Transition, So Long, Liquidation Totale).

So Long is a crazy discordant mess that has a melody that eventually crawls out from under the cacophony. Elegant Transition is a soft, gentle, slightly country ballad. Laminated Cat, a reworked version of a Wilco demo entitled Not For The Season, has spacey lyrics followed by a long instrumental jam section. You Were Wrong is a sad breakup song with a nice keyboard part from O'Rourke. Liquidation Totale is a mellow, slow-building instrumental that includes an interesting banjo part. Chinese Apple contains some of the lyrics that became Heavy Metal Drummer, but is a very different song, gentle and repetitive.

It is a quiet record mostly. There are clearly keys to what would become the Wilco sound on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and later records A Ghost Is Born and Sky Blue Sky. But this isn't Wilco. It's casual. It was fun for these guys to make, and there were no commercial aspirations. Both O'Rourke and Kotche have been blamed for much of the turmoil that lead Tweedy to disband and reform Wilco's personnel line-up, and Tweedy has been quoted as wanting to take Wilco in the direction of Loose Fur. For Wilco fans, this is an interesting record for it's effect on that band.

Three players that work well together, doing whatever they want to do. It is well worth hearing, and could easily become a late night, low key staple.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967-1968

What the Experience did on three studio records is astounding. There's little I can add to the dialogue, but here goes anyway.

Hendrix not only redefined rock guitar in a way still not surpassed, or even approached, but he was also a gifted songwriter and an expressive singer, with the gift of nonchalance in all three categories.

Mitch Mitchell was a remarkable drummer who not only kept time, but played parts of the melody from time to time. A rock drummer with jazz-blues cred, he was certainly never intimidated by his band's leader, and their musical sparring is always perfect.

Noel Redding provided solid bass lines that held the rhythm, and allowed his bandmates to find their ways down all sorts of musical rabbit holes. His bass playing is more important than the credit he receives. 

The three records they released are all strikingly different, and all three are near perfect. Are You Experienced is a debut as big and bold as any, and the encyclopedia of rock guitar. Recent reissued versions (including a two-record vinyl version that's stellar) include the UK singles and UK album tracks that were absent from the original US release, and greatly enhance the record. To have heard this record in 1967 was mind-exploding. It was from Mars.

Axis: Bold As Love is the most commercial sounding of the three, and Hendrix experiments with stereo effects tricks and studio magic in a way that sounds a little dated today. But the songs and the playing are just fine, and some of these tracks (Wait Until Tomorrow, Little Wing, Bold As Love) are indispensable.

1968's Electric Ladyland found Hendrix letting loose with blues jams, as well as recording some of his most concise, single-worthy tracks. It's a sprawling affair, and rewards repeated listening.

There is little else you really need. Band Of Gypsies? Buddy Miles makes you miss Mitch Mitchell. Period. Billy Cox is more fundamental than even Redding was. This was never more than a brief whim in what should have been Hendrix's long career.

Everything else was released posthumously, and there are good reasons why that stuff never saw the light of day in his lifetime. I've heard plenty of it, and there's some that's worth hearing, but it isn't what we would have enjoyed had he not passed so young. I know there are plenty of fans that want whatever they can get their hands on, heck, there's been something like thirty records released since he died, and that was 42 years ago. But all most of us need is these three right here.

The Experience records are the bomb.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Dwight Yoakam 3 Pears 2012

I really wanted to like this CD. And as it turns out, there's a lot to like about it.

Yoakam can still sing in his twangy, hiccuping Bakersfield style. That's good. He can still write a great song, especially the sad country weepers he has always excelled at. That's good, too.

And songs are the strength of this CD. The rockers are hot (Take Hold Of My Hand, Waterfall, Dim Lights Thick Smoke, 3 Pears), and the ballads are very good (Trying, It's Never Alright, Missing Heart). Long Way To Go is mid-tempo classic Dwight Yoakam melancholy, and the song's reprise at the end of the CD in a piano and voice version is one of the best vocal performances on the disc. There are a few that don't quite hold up: Rock It All Away is just OK, and Nothing But Love and A Heart Like Mine both miss Pete Anderson's guitar. Anderson played guitar and produced every Yoakam CD through Population Me in 2003.

And there's the rub. Yoakam is the only electric guitar player on more than half the CD. Eddie Perez and Jason Faulkner are both good when they appear, but Pete could always dress up a Yoakam song with some tasty licks, and his absence is felt. Yoakam seems to do pretty well producing in Anderson's place, and the sound is good. Ah, but Anderson's great lead guitar breaks are missed.

If Yoakam were really the right guy to produce his own material, he should have known to get a hot shot guitar player to fill twelve bars or so in every song.

Most of the songs are good enough that it's not a big deal. Like I said, there's a lot to like. Maybe it's not fair to hold this one up to This Time or Gone from his mid-nineties heyday. So long as you don't compare it with those, it is a fine outing.