Thursday, July 25, 2013

Elvis Costello This Year's Model 1978

Here's something I like. I had to buy it twice, import and domestic, when it was originally  released. The UK version, which came out two months before the US release, included I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea and Night Rally, both omitted from the US version. I mean, I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea is maybe the best song on the whole record, and every song is better than the last.

It was Costello's second, but his first with The Attractions. Clover did a swell job backing him on My Aim Is True, and it's an amazing debut. But there is real magic in The Attractions for Costello, and they form a tight group, highly and deeply in tune with each other, Costello's songwriting, and the open anger he is so very good at. He spits out the ballads and snarls through the rockers, while the band plays relentlessly.

Some artists make their first record and then have a hard time writing enough new songs for the second, especially back when most artists released a record almost every year. Elvis Costello did not have any sophomore slump. None. Zero, zip, zilch. The songs on This Year's Model rank among his best.

The Attractions are on fire on every song. Steve Nieve's reedy, thin Farfisa-like organ and Bruce Thomas's bass are a unique combination that bolsters Costello's solid guitar. Bruce Thomas is a seriously hot drummer, and he's in a hurry, always pushing the songs forcefully forward. This band stayed together for eight years, and they did mostly great music during that time, but they arguably never sounded better than this.

I could describe how good this or that song is, or quote some of the venomous lyrics. Costello's wordplay is consistently strong, and the songs are filled with angry observations of stylish, vapid women. But by now you either have heard it or you haven't. If you haven't, it's fast hard pop-rock with a side of punk sass. It is intelligently delivered anger. It is great songs, a great band, and an excellent Nick Lowe production. It is one of Costello's best, even if there are quite a few of them. Turn it up.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Kinks The Kink Kronikles 1972

After The Kinks left Reprise for RCA to record 1971's Muswell Hillbillies, Reprise went to work on this 1972 kompilation for US-only release. The Kinks had no input into the record, but that doesn't make it any less a klassic. A kollection of hits, singles, B-sides, unreleased tracks, and a few album tracks from 1966 to 1970 (Face To Face to Lola), it's a fine selection, and fills in some of the Kinks' story for the American audience. The producers eschewed a kronilogical sequencing, choosing instead to put four thematically arranged sides together. I don't know if the themes hold up, but the record plays very well in the order it's presented.

The hits are all here: Victoria, Lola, Village Green Preservation Society, Waterloo Sunset, Apeman, Death Of A Clown, and the glorious Days. But many of the lesser-known songs are just as good, or uniquely revealing of some kool Kinksism. Polly sounds just like The Who, She's Got Everything features a reckless, crazy lead guitar, and Did You See His Name? and David Watts are pert slices of Ray's sensitive ego.

It picks up where Greatest Hits! 1966 left off. For kasual Kinks enthusiasts, Greatest Hits! and this one pretty well tell the story of the Kinks' greatness. For the more devoted, it is worth it for the rarities and UK-only releases. But any way you have it, it plays just like a well-structured album, karefully kompiled, and it is excellent.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Spinning Vinyl

It's been a while since I've documented a trip through the stacks. In the interest of transparency, this "session" took place over two days, with my lovely wife along for the ride on the second day.

I started out with Hot Tuna 1970, a traditional acoustic blues from Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy (from Jefferson Aitplane) that still sounds great today. Hesitation Blues, How Long Blues, Death Don't Have No Mercy, side one is hot.

From there I got more current with The Jayhawks Mockingbird Time 2011. A reunion of the classic line-up with Karen Grotberg, and an unusually good reunion effort, rivaling they're best work. Closer To Your Side and She Walks In So Many ways were standouts.

Side two of The Jimi Hendrix Experience 1967 never ceases to amaze. From there I listened to David Crosby's Almost Cut My Hair from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Deja Vu 1970, one of Crosby's finer moments.

Then I got all bluesy. I listened to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes' fairly recent Messin' With The Blues 2001, and I mean it when I say this guy's still got it (at least he did 12 years ago). It's remarkable, and the title track and Tell 'Em I'm Broke were killer, with knock-out harmonica on both. Then it's on to Born Under A Bad Sign 1967. I took in side two, which had been a while, and Almost Lost My Mind and The Very Thought Of you rocked. The record is pretty much the definition of blues music.

I've always liked T-Bone Burnett's Trap Door from 1982, and I listened to the entire six-song EP. It's a perfect slice of pop-rock from a basic four-piece band and fabulous songwriting. It's a shame Burnett never did it this way again. While into the pop scene, I listened to side two of The Beatles 1969. Aside from Harrison's embarrassing Piggies, it'd got fine tunes from both Lennon (I'm So Tired, Julia) and McCartney (Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon).

Back to blues-rock for The Allman Brothers' Eat A Peach 1972. I always liked One Way Out. I listened to Bill Champlin doing What Good Is Love from Single 1978, his first solo effort, and even if it sounds too much like Earth, Wing, and Fire, it's still good.

Then it's back to blues for Bob Dylan's Modern Times 2006. I've said it before that Dylan has been experiencing an artistic Renaissance of late, and this is a smoking hot record. Thunder On The Mountain and Rollin' And Tumblin' are just superb, as is Someday Baby. That rasp of a voice still carries more weight than most singers half his age.

Lindsey Buckingham's Go Insane from 1984 is a real ear candy treat. I Want You, Go Insane , and Slow Dancing all thrive on Buckingham's studio smarts, but they're also great tunes.

And why not end the evening mellow, with Jack Johnson In Between Dreams 2005. Better Together you have to like if you have any romance in you. But Good People and Sitting, Waiting, Wishing are also solid gold. I haven't bought any other Jack Johnson records because this one is so good. That's not really like me.

Old and new. The Hendrix and Albert King are both available on new remastered vinyl, and they sound great.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Matthew Sweet Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu 2003

Matthew Sweet has had an up-and-down career, and along the way he's produced some of the best hard power-pop ever recorded. His magnum opus was his third, the gorgeous Girlfriend in 1991. But he's come darn close to equaling that classic several times, and this one is one of them.

The CD was released in Japan in 2003 as a gift to his Japanese fans, and wasn't released in the US for another 18 months or so. Sweet wrote the songs quickly, and recorded them with Ric Menck, Greg Leisz and Richard Lloyd, the core group that produced Girlfriend. Sweet's pop-rock confections really benefit greatly from Richard Lloyd's scronky guitar sound.

The songs themselves are unusually strong, and the bash-it-out home production allows them to show their strengths without over-embellishment. The stronger songs include Dead Smile (the smashing opener), Morning Song (a perfect rock ballad), The Ocean In Between (a lovely melody thrashed out with abandon, and a great Lloyd guitar lead, indispensable), I Don't Want To Know (another quick-paced ballad), and the hard-rocking Hear This. The record almost never lets up. Even the few ballads include big, loud, crunchy guitars. Sweet comes up with some of his best melodies and catchy choruses, and the band rocks hard.

Not everything he's done has been equally successful as Girlfriend, but at least he hasn't rehashed the same formula over and over. Then again, this is that same formula, and the result is stellar.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Dave Clark Five The History Of The Dave Clark Five 1993

The Dave Clark Five were super-hot in their day. From 1963-1965 they were competing in the charts, and doing quite well, thank you, with the Beatles and Stones. They continued chart success in the US through 1967, and in the UK until 1970, the year they disbanded.

Dave Clark played the drums, and he beat the crap out of them. Mike Smith on organ and lead vocals, the star of the show, had the biggest voice of nearly any singer ever in Rock and Roll. A big, booming voice to accompany the raw baritone sax by Dennis Payton. These guys rocked with a vengeance.

This 2-CD set, currently out of print but available nonetheless, is a pretty complete picture of the band, and includes an informative 32-page booklet. Admittedly a bit of overkill, all the great hits fit on one CD. The second CD, which covers '66-'70, contains some gems and minor chart hits, and both CDs contain B-sides and album tracks that help to flesh out the big picture.

You can't really find a place for them in the top echelons, but they deserve more recognition than they have received over the years. Part of that is due to Clark's own resistance to licensing the original material, which has kept them out of the reissue market and off the various sixties compilations that would have at least reminded us of their existence.

There is a more recent single disc available (The Hits, 2008) that is also out of print, but The History Of from 1993 is really the bomb. Yes, there are some weak ones from the late sixties as they tried in vain to stay relevant, but the B-sides and album tracks are treasures. Discover the London sound, big and brash, that rivaled the early Beatles for chart dominance.