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Friday, December 16, 2016

Album Review: Bryan Ferry - Avonmore (2014)

Bryan Ferry almost seems to get better with age.  Boys and Girls from 1985, for instance, is overall an average album, but it does contain in my opinion the greatest love song ever written, "Slave to Love."  1993's Taxi was a surprise - it's common for long established artists to wane musically as time moves on.  But Bryan Ferry never stagnates - he matures.  Olympia again reinforced this, and once more, having listened to Avonmore, the album which I am writing about here, I am more convinced of this than ever.  And whilst Olympia was perhaps a spiritual successor to Roxy Music's Avalon in many ways, this new album is not a spiritual successor to any other album as such, but a contemporary rendition of Ferry at his best.  Much better than Boys and Girls, but it is nonetheless rich in that musical finesse that makes "Slave to Love" the ultimate love song that it was, and of course, still is.  Starting off great with "Loop de Li" and "Midnight Train", it slips a bit on "Soldier of Fortune", but picks up again from then on.  "Lost", "One Night Stand" and "Johnny & Mary" are my favorites for the second half of the album.  I can only hope Bryan maintains the momentum and keeps knocking out brilliant albums like this for many more years to come.  A

Album Review: The Commodores - Machine Gun (1974)

Most of my favorite instrumentals are of the heavy metal variety - Metallica, I'm looking at you in particular.  But there is one non-metal instrumental that I regard very, very favorably.  In fact, it's so good it's the title of an album!  Here's a hint - it's a type of automatic firearm.  Some of you may have already guessed by now - yep, Machine Gun by The Commodores.  Bar two successive slips, the album is brilliant.  First half is back-to-back epic funk numbers - "Machine Gun", the title track, never fails to satisfy, nor does it's "sister" instrumental, "Rapid Fire."  I'm loving both of them.  The nowadays questionably titled, "Young Girls are My Weakness" is a great second number, followed by "I Feel Satisfied" and "The Bump", all good solid funk numbers that all up make up the excellent side one of the album.  Side two gets off to a less impressive, if not slightly disappointing start with "Assembly Line" and "The Zoo (The Human Zoo)."  But this is quickly rectified by the much better, "Gonna Blow Your Mind", "There's a Song in My Heart" and to end it all in spectacular fashion, the epic, "Superman."  A great debut not just by The Commodores, but by any band, really.  In fact, I haven't been this impressed by a debut album since Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual.  And just like Lionel's 80s hit, this album could've had me 'dancing on the ceiling.'  For me at least, this record is definitely a keeper.  A-

Album Review: Bee Gees - Spirits Having Flown (1979)

Having been surprised a second time around by the acclaimed Main Course, I decided to have a crack at another "great" Gibb Brothers album - 1979's Spirits Having Flown.  Not too bad an album, greatest hits "Tragedy", "Too Much Heaven" and "Love You Inside Out" all guarantee some form of listening pleasure to varying degrees.  Too soft and dulcet in some parts for my personal preference, there are nonetheless some noteworthy numbers to consider here.  "Search, Find" is good and "Living Together" resonates fairly well as well.  But I'm not sure where I stand on "Reaching Out" - it's a bit of a mixed bag there.  The final track on the album, "Until" gets the stop button treatment almost immediately.  All up, it's not a bad album, but it pales in comparison to the surprisingly good Main Course.  You should own this album if you're crazy for the Bee Gees, but for those of us who can appreciate the brother's remarkable pop songwriting ability, but not to the extent of outright fandom, this album is worth a miss.  B

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Album Review: Mr. Mister - Welcome to the Real World (1985)

Think of Mr. Mister and the song "Broken Wings" is likely to spring to mind.  Or perhaps "Kyrie."  Good songs you say?  The latter certainly is, and should be on every quintessential 80s playlist.  The former, "Broken Wings", I feel, is somewhat overrated and its inclusion on such playlists is more or less obligatory in terms of historical importance and nothing more.  "Kyrie" is a proper power ballad and is by far the best song I have heard from them.  Well, right now I'm reviewing the album from which both songs originate.  Welcome to the New World is not a good album, but it's not awful either.  It barely scrapes into 'OK' territory, and its only saving graces are the two aforementioned songs, especially "Kyrie" which is the only real highlight of the album and which is more or less keeping my rating of the record afloat.  Granted there are some interesting songs outside of the hits on this album, such as "Uniform of Youth" and "Into My Own Hands", but unfortunately, they're not quite interesting enough to thrill or excite you.  Distinctively eighties in sound of course, but all up it fails to capture that upbeat, emotionally stirring sensation that pop and rock music of that era often invokes.  Not so much a letdown, but there are much, much better albums from the eighties to be savored than this one.  I for one will stick with "Kyrie."  For the rest of the album, "Meh" is the word here.  C+

Monday, December 5, 2016

Album Review: Willie Nelson - The Troublemaker (1976)

I never envisioned Willie Nelson singing gospel - I thought that kind of thing was Johnny Cash's forte, given his theological convictions and his (perhaps) more cover-happy proclivities.  Johnny almost always did gospel well, in fact, he usually did covers well as a whole.  Bob Dylan's crack at gospel wasn't too bad, either.  To start with, anyway.  But I was definitely surprised to hear Willie do it, and do it remarkably well to boot.  The Troublemaker from 1976 is astonishingly good, with plenty of faster tempos to see me through to the end of the album, as well as some more tempered and carefully crafted ballads to fill in the gaps.  But they're not 'fillers' in the derogatory sense of the term.  Whilst my preference is for a faster song, I find myself happily indulging in songs like, "In the Garden."  But of course my favorites here are of that "On the Road Again" upbeat tempo variety - "Uncloudy Day", "When The Road is Called Up Yonder", "Will the Circle be Unbroken" and the best song here, "Shall We Gather", I song I know best from John Ford western films such as The Searchers and My Darling Clementine.  This record exemplifies Willie at his best, and yet at the same time, out of his element.  And the end result is nothing short of brilliant!  A-