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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Album Review: Joe Cocker - Mad Dogs & Englishmen (1970)

Joe Cocker does write his own songs.  But it isn't in that capacity, of course, that he is best known for.  When we think of Joe Cocker, we think of  a raspy-voiced covers artist.   And it's a role that he excels in.  That's why he was so much loved.  Covering Beatles songs is what he is undoubtedly most famous for, but of course, he's covered much more than just Lennon-McCartney numbers.  Mad Dogs & Englishmen, a live album from 1970, contains many of the staple Cocker covers, but also features guest artists, including Rita Coolidge and her uncanny rendition of  "Superstar", a song perhaps best known for being performed by The Carpenters.  Stylistically, I will admit that this album is rather repetitive musically speaking, but not that it matters.  Most of the songs here still sound brilliant, and Cocker sounds as if he's singing them with heartfelt enthusiasm.  Not bad, given that the album was a recording of a purportedly rushed tour.  Leon Russell was perhaps the weakest point for me on this album, but even then I couldn't complain too much about him - I do think "Dixie Lullaby" is a great song, even if some of his others sounded a little too drained and paced for my liking.   A great cover of Bob Dylan's "Girl From the North Country", "Cry Me a River", "The Letter" and an excellent rendition of The Band's "The Weight" are my favorites on this record, but in spite of the overall monotony of the album, the vast majority of the songs here are certainly commendable and worth taking the time to listen to.  In conclusion, I can safely say that this is one of the better live albums that I have heard in a long time.  A-

Album Review: ZZ Top - Afterburner (1985)

Big-bearded boogie rockers ZZ Top really struck the jackpot when they released Eliminator in 1983.  It preserved the boogie-woogie bluesy sound they had maintained since the early 1970s, and supplemented that sound with synthesizers, creating in the process a hard rock/boogie/new wave/blues concoction for the 1980s.  And what a brilliant album it was.  I loved it, I love it now, and I will always love it.  And after reading reviews for its follow-up album, Afterburner, I quickly felt rather disappointed.  For me, this was a continuation of Eliminator - the ongoing use of synthesizers, the "Eliminator" hotrod on the cover, even the sound wasn't a huge derviation from that of its critically acclaimed predecessor.  But I insist, I absolutely insist that Afterburner is a great album.  "Sleeping Bag", "Stages", "Woke Up With Wood", "Planet of Women" and "Delirious."  Bugger it, I may as well list every damn song on the album.  They're all good.  Well, 'Dipping Low (in the Lap of Luxury) may be a tad lackluster.  I hope you come to the same conclusion that I have, and never mind what other reviews might dare to say about this record.  It's fantastic. A+

Album Review: Bob Dylan - Blood on the Tracks (1975)

Back in the 1960s Bob Dylan was one of the "go-to" guys for all of one's folk music and songwriting needs.  Songs like "Blowin' in the Wind" "Masters of War" and "The Times, They Are-A-Changin'", all key musical musical milestones on the highway of American musical folklore, easily asserted his place in music history as a lyrical genius, even though he was never a brilliant singer.  But of course, nobody listens to Dylan for his vocal qualities.  I could never envision Bob covering other people's songs - writing songs was his forte, singing them certainly wasn't.  But as the years went by, his ability to make music got better and better, to the point where his lyrical prowess was merely supplemental, and no longer merely his sole selling point.  And then one day, Dylan decided to go electric.  Folkies hated it.  But it was key developmental point in him expanding upon his generic repertoire, delving into other genres such as country and gospel, as well as blues and jazz.  An icon of the sixties, his brilliance didn't stop there - indeed, the timeline of his career is peppered with numerous high points as well as his less stellar efforts.  In 1975, Dylan released one of his best, Blood on the Tracks.  There's some stellar tracks on this record - opening with the famous "Tangled Up in Blue", the record soon moves on to some of my personal favorites, in particular, "Idiot Wind."  "Meet Me in the Morning", "Buckets of Rain", "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go" and "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts" also get a good thrashing from yours truly.  All up, a great album, one of Bob's best, and an absolute necessity for anybody who fancies taking up collecting Bob Dylan albums.  Nobody has it in for you, Bob, except for perhaps the die-hard folkies, but hey, as they should know damn well better, the times they are a-changin'.  A

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Album Review: The Bee Gees - Main Course (1975)

Main Course from 1975 is a landmark album for The Bee Gees for a number of reasons.  Firstly, getting R & B producer Ardi Mardin onboard helped to infuse a more R & B sound into the mix.  Secondly, the opening track, "Nights on Broadway" is best known as the debut song of Barry Gibb's now legendary falsetto.  Both of which, of course, went onto to cement that signature Bee Gees sound.  Saturday Night Fever from 1977 perhaps encapsulates and exemplifies this best - "Nights on Broadway" was never as well known as "Stayin' Alive" or "Night Fever", both songs which we tend to recall when the name "Bee Gees" is invoked.

But moving on to the "main course."  What else can be said about this album?  The first time I heard this album my impressions were initially lukewarm, but having given it a second chance, my opinion has shifted in a more favorable direction.  I can even overlook Robin Gibb's quivering vocals on this one, and I've never been a fan of his voice -  he sounded much more suited to a folk trio than a pop band.  Top song on this album goes to "All This Making Love" because of its pseudo-Beatlesque sound.  And I love that, because I love The Beatles.  Other songs to consider are "Jive Talkin", "Nights on Broadway" and "Fanny (Be Tender With My Love)."  "Winds of Change" deserves a playthrough as well.  So go and play it.  How was it?  Delicious.  A-

Album Review: Genesis - Invisible Touch (1986)

For me Genesis is an extension of Phil Collins, and not the other way around.  I grew up listening to Phil Collins, ever since I was maybe four or five - about the time this album and his solo record, No Jacket Required were doing the rounds of the radio airwaves.  I don't think this post, or any of the other posts on this blog for that matter, would exist had it not been for Phil Collins instilling within me a passion for popular music at a young and formative age.  And no matter how much Phil gets bashed by people for whatever reason, I'll still stand by him and his music.  But his work with Genesis - the Genesis that I know and am most familiar with, is for the most part as interesting as his earlier solo work ever was.  Some might perhaps argue that it's better.  But there's no denying that the landmark album being reviewed here, Invisible Touch, is a good album.  A good number of the songs here have all received radio airplay - "Invisible Touch", "Throwing it All Away" and "Land of Confusion" for instance, will all inevitably find themselves on an 80s playlist at some point.  But there's more to the album than the staple numbers - "Anything She Does" is certainly worth listening to.  All up, this is an album worth owning.  I certainly liked it.  A-