quarta-feira, 25 de julho de 2012

Alejandro Escovedo - Thirteen Years 1994

The Austin singer-songwriter reaches deep once again, adding triple violins, harp, and cello to his palette of movingly introspective material. Overall, the expanded lineup provides for plenty of tonal space. Before the mood ever gets maudlin, Escovedo cranks up the volume with guest guitarist Charlie Sextonfor "Losing Your Touch," and a playful rocker that could have come from The Replacements/Paul Westerberg camp. With the exception of this track, "Mountain of Mud," and the John Cougar-ish "The End," Thirteen Years keeps to fragile, graceful interiors. AMG.

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Alain Bashung - Bleu Pétrole 2008

Released a year before Alain Bashung died of lung cancer on March 14, 2009, at the age of 61, Bleu Pétrole serves as a superb swan song for the chanson legend. This final full-length effort was a laudable comeback for Bashung, who hadn't released a new studio album since L'Imprudence (2002), and it returned him to the top of the French charts for the first time in six years. In some ways, Bleu Pétrole is similar to L'Imprudence. While that album was written in collaboration with Jean Fauque andChristophe MiossecBleu Pétrole is written in collaboration with Gaëtan Roussel of the band Louise Attaque and Gérard Manset, a contemporary of Bashung's whose career likewise goes back to the late '60s. Roussel is also credited with producing the album, along with multi-instrumentalist Mark Plati. Moreover, both albums were critically acclaimed as latter-day masterpieces. The difference is, whereasL'Imprudence is often described as a noir album, a somber and tortured portrait of an aging man, Bleu Pétrole is more luminous. Among the several highlights of the album are "Résidents de la République" and "Sur un Trapèze," both written solely by RousselManset contributes another couple standouts, the nine-minute album centerpiece "Comme un Lego," and his 1975 hit "Il Voyage en Solitaire," the latter of which closes Bleu Pétrole (and in turn the recording career of Bashung) on a perfect note. Beside the contributions of Roussel and Manset, there's a wistful cover version of Graeme Allwright's adaption ofLeonard Cohen's folk classic "Suzanne." In addition to the songs themselves, Bleu Pétrole is impressive from a musical standpoint. A trio of accomplished guitarists (RousselMarc RibotArman Méliès) infuse the album with touches of rock, the rhythm section (comprised of Plati and several others) leans toward jazz, and the string arrangements supply an air of grandness. Furthermore, the music varies from song to song; for instance, "Vénus" relies almost entirely on a string arrangement and a tiny bit of banjo, and then, three songs later, "Je Tuerai la Pianiste" is driven by a powerful bass riff and blasts of electric guitar. AMG.

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Abraxas Pool - Abraxas Pool 1997

Despite the occultic name and implied Egyptian symbolism in this album's cover art, there is nothing mystic or magical in the sounds presented in the eponymous debut CD from Abraxas Pool. What the listener will find are well-crafted, produced, and performed songs in the mold of Abraxas/Amigo-eraSantana, featuring veterans of the original band lineup and former members of Journey and Weather Report. This is an all-star affair, and includes much of the fire that made Carlos Santana's original entrée into the musical nexus of Latin, jazz, and rock so exciting in the first place. While Neal Schon more than adequately handles the Santana role on guitar, this recording really highlights the singing, playing, and writing talents of keyboardist/vocalist Gregg Rolie (the architect behind the pre-Steve Perry Journeysound). Fans of Santana's jazz-tinged Latin rock, and those pining for the more halcyon days of classic AOR, will not be disappointed. AMG.

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Ian Anderson - The Secret Language of Birds 2000

The Secret Language of Birds is Ian Anderson's third solo album, but the first to specifically highlight his melodic skill and guitar prowess on a set of folk-inspired songs. His first solo album, 1983's Walk into Light, was marred by its full embrace of sterile '80s production in lieu of rusticity. While his second effort, 1995's Divinities, was a move in the right direction and a sonic precursor to the set at hand, it still was held back by its conscious decision to downplay Anderson's obvious acoustic heritage for a more classical bent. But sometimes the obvious is what works best, and Jethro Tull fans were pleased to learn thatAnderson's third release finally embraced his classic sound. Just like Tull's excellent Roots to Branches, this one has a decided ethnic flair, running the gamut from Indian to Russian to Celtic. Even though the disc has several contributing musicians, it doesn't fall prey to the "too many cooks in the kitchen" syndrome that plagued many a latter-day Jethro Tull release. Instead, a very rich yet minimalistic sound is highlighted throughout, with Anderson's strong, almost-recovered voice and virtuoso mandolin/acoustic guitar work coming to the fore. The title track and "The Water Carrier" specifically recall such classics as "Fat Man," "Skating Away," and "Minstrel in the Gallery." Perhaps the best songs besides those two are "Sanctuary" and "Panama Freighter," both of which are mature yet quirky, the obvious fruits of Anderson's unique vision. Those are the highlights, but the whole album displays a consistency that even Jethro Tull rarely approached. There are even two bonus tracks not listed from a European TV broadcast. The Secret Language of Birds can be easily ranked among Anderson's best work,Tull or otherwise, and in many ways is the most impressive release of his career. AMG.

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sábado, 21 de julho de 2012

Kula Shaker - K 1996

By the mid-'90s, most bands had abandoned the sounds and sensibilities of late-'60s psychedelia, which is what makes Kula Shaker's debut album, K, such a weird, bracing listen. The band doesn't simply revive the swirling guitar and organ riffs of psychedelia, it embraces the mysticism and Eastern spirituality that informed the music. On both "Tattva" and "Govinda," lead singer Crispian Mills has adapted portions of Sanskrit text for the lyrics, chanting Indian mantras without a hint of embarrassment. Similarly, Kula Shaker are unashamed about their devotion to HendrixTraffic, and the Beatles, cutting their traditionalist tendencies with an onslaught of volume, overdriven guitars, and catchy melodies -- though they have a song called "Grateful When You're Dead," all of their psychedelic sensibilities derive from British rock, not the more experimental American counterpart. Kula Shaker may play well -- they have a powerful rush that makes you temporarily forget how classicist their music actually is -- but they still have trouble coming up with hooks. About half the record ("Hey Dude," "Tattva," "Govinda," "Grateful When You're Dead") has strong melodies, while the rest just rides by on the band's instrumental skills. Consequently, much of K doesn't stick around once the record is finished, but the singles remain excellent blasts of colorful neo-psychedelia. AMG.

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Wilko Johnson - Going Back Home 2000

Best known as the guitarist in Dr. Feelgood, one of British pub rock's greatest bands, Wilko Johnson went on to a long solo career playing the kind of rootsy, R&B-based rock & roll he loved. Born John Wilkinson (which he inverted to come up with his stage name) in 1947, Johnson grew up in the coastal Canvey Island area, and played around the local music scene during the '60s (often in jug bands). He studied at Newcastle University beginning in 1967, but returned home during breaks to keep up his musical activities.

In 1971, after returning from a trip to India, he joined the band that became Dr. Feelgood, and quickly became one of their focal points thanks to his maniacally intense stage presence. Dr. Feelgood played locally for a couple of years and made their debut in London in the summer of 1973; their distinctively scruffy image and menacing energy soon made them a hot commodity on the pub rock circuit. The band released its debut album, Down by the Jetty, in 1975; Johnson stayed for two more studio albums (Malpractice and Sneakin' Suspicion) and the chart-topping live document Stupidity, contributing a number of fine original songs. However, tensions between Johnson and the rest of the group led to his departure toward the end of 1977.

Johnson soon formed a backing band called the Solid Senders, which featured keyboardist John Potter, bassist Steve Lewins, and drummer Alan Platt. They signed to Virgin in 1978 and released the LP Solid Senders that year. The following year, Johnson joined Ian Dury's Blockheads, where he remained until 1980; there he met bassist Norman Watt-Roy, who later became a regular collaborator. In early 1981, Johnson released his second album, Ice on the Motorway, and two years later issued the EP Bottle Up and Go! with Lew Lewis; several small-scale LPs, mostly for European labels, followed over the '80s: 1984's Pull the Cover, 1985's Watch Out!, 1987's Call It What You Want, and 1988's Barbed Wire Blues. The latter was the first recording with his new regular group, the Wilko Johnson Band, featuring Watt-Roy and drummer Salvatore Ramundo. Ramundo was replaced in 1988 by Steve Monti (ex-Curve) for the Barbed Wire Blues tour and remained in the band -- which toured almost literally nonstop throughout Europe and Japan for the next decade -- until he tired of touring and was replaced by ex-Blockhead Dylan Howe. Johnson finally had the opportunity to release another album, Going Back Home for Mystic.
There has been renewed interest in Johnson's career in the 21st century, due largely to director Julien Temple's Oil City Confidential, a documentary about Dr. Feelgood and Johnson. The film appeared on the festival circuit where it drew rave reviews, as did the soundtrack. As a result, two volumes of The Best of Wilko Johnson were released in 2010, as well as a remastered reissue of Barbed Wire Blues, with more titles planned for re-release. AMG.

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Julie Tippetts - Shadow puppeteer 2000

Perhaps this is the work of a lifetime spent in front of a microphone. Perhaps it is merely another stopping place on the journey, or a report from the outlands and there will be more. But whatever it is, Shadow Puppeteer is the final step into the open for Julie Tippetts. After 30 years in the business and over 25 with her husband and collaborator, Keith, she has stepped out into the open completely naked (solo -- all instruments and voices were hers) and created a dream work for the ages. Shadow Puppeteer is a concept work in that there is a narrative that is revealed inside the improvisations and compositions. The protagonist is Esha, the woman observed, sung about, and spoken through. Tippetts took three years to unfold her story, using a friend's eight-track studio to record every temple bell, drum, recorder, and of course, vocal, in stack upon stack until the project revealed itself. Tippetts uses her voice in ways that are not usually associated with the human voice. Though she sings beautifully, her fierce, pioneering vocal techniques, all of them based on improvisations, point here toward composition, a shaping of sound and reaction to it that is poetic, deep, multi-dimensional, and metalinguistic. This is a language story without words, only utterances and created speech that communicate from both the center of the body and the heart. This story of Esha is a story of heart and trial and transcendence. It is revealed experientially through Tippetts living the work as she records it. It comes out of the speakers whole, raw, full of edges and angles, and somehow perfectly formed. These sounds, then, are indeed those of the human voice and its delineations inside one being as it attempts to communicate with a host of others in song. Shadow Puppeteer illustrates in striking unspeakable beauty, with the tenderness of the wolves, the blinding darkness that is the essence of the creative process. AMG.

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Jon Anderson - Three Ships 1985

This is an oddity: a Christmas album incognito. Save a red and green stripe on the back cover, the outside packaging is conspicuously devoid of the usual holiday trappings, leaving the astute person to deduce from the track listing Three Ships' true intent. Further complicating matters is the fact that half of the songs are new compositions from Jon Anderson, none of which have holiday-related titles (unless "Forest of Fire" warms your holiday chestnuts). On listening to this, the songs themselves do little to clear up the confusion; while the traditional tunes ("Three Ships," "The Holly and the Ivy") are obviously Christmas songs, the new compositions are spiritual in Anderson's typically general sense and rarely address Christmastime directly. "How It Hits You," "Save All Your Love," and "Where Were You" might just as well have come from the Jon & Vangelis albums ("Easier Said Than Done," the album's single, was actually co-written with Vangelis). So Three Ships is really an album inspired by Christmas. Not a bad venue for Jon Anderson in theory, but someone must have been ding-dong merrily on high when they chose Roy Thomas Baker to produce it. Baker, best known for cramming synthesizer pop into tasty two- and three-minute parcels (the CarsAlice Cooper), is an awful match for the ethereal Anderson. "Day of Days," which like "Easier Said Than Done" would have worked on the island-tinged pop album Song of Seven, is arguably the lone keeper from Three Ships. The Christmas songs are processed with synthesizers, overwhelming Anderson's voice most of the time, and the end result is a disappointing and superficial collection of Christmas classics (including one of the lamest versions of "O Holy Night" on record). As with In the City of Angels, also recorded in Hollywood, fans would do well to let Three Ships sail by. AMG.

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Fila Brazillia - Black Market Gardening 1996

Hull-based duo Fila Brazillia is the most popular and acclaimed of the noted Pork Recordings stable. Formed in 1990 by producers Steve Cobby and Dave McSherry, Fila followed Cobby's association with Ashley & Jackson, a moderately successful pop/dance group signed to Big Life! that went belly up as the label began demanding more and more pop and less dance. Returning to his native Hull from Manchester, Cobby met DJ/dabbler Dave Pork, and the two forged a creative alliance. Hooking up with McSherry to form Fila, the group's first 12", "The Mermaid," was released that same year on Pork's fledgling imprint (formed, actually, specifically for the occasion), gaining instant acclaim among DJs and headphonauts alike for its innovative fusion of funk, dub, house, hip-hop, and acid jazz.

The group followed their debut single with a string of full-length releases (Old Codes, New Chaos, Maim That Tune, and Black Market Gardening among them), which were instrumental in building Pork's reputation as one of the most consistent and respected of England's vast ocean of underground breakbeat/trip-hop labels. Later releases integrated elements of pop and drum'n'bass on a number of tracks. Fila's rep also translated into a number of acclaimed remixes, including Lamb's "Cotton Wool," the Orb's "Toxygene," and DJ Food's "Freedom" (over a dozen of which were featured on the 2000 collection Brazilification). During the new millennium, the duo released the mix album Another Late Night in 2001 and the studio effort Jump Leads early the following year. After two years of recording inactivity, in 2004 the duo released a pair of production albums (The Life and Times of Phoebus Brumal and Dicks), plus another mix album (Another Fine Mess). In addition to Fila, Cobby is also an active member of other Pork stable acts such as Solid Doctor (his solo guise) and Heights of Abraham, both of which have released a number of full-length recordings. AMG.

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Elvis Costello and The Attractions - All This Useless Beauty 1996

Following his second covers album, Kojak VarietyElvis Costello set out to assemble a collection of songs he had written for other artists but never recorded himself -- sort of a reverse covers album. As it turned out, that idea was only used as a launching pad -- the resulting album, All This Useless Beauty, is a mixture of nine old and three new songs. Given its origins, it's surprising that the record holds together as well as it does. The main strength of All This Useless Beauty is the quality of the individual songs -- each song can stand on its own as an individual entity, as the music is as sharp as the lyrics. Although the music is certainly eclectic, it's accessible, which wasn't the case with Mighty Like a Rose. Furthermore, the production is more textured and punchier than Mitchell Froom's botched job on Brutal YouthAll This Useless Beauty doesn't quite add up to a major statement, but the simple pleasures it offers makes it one of the more rewarding records of the latter part of Costello's career. AMG.

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Joe Zawinul - My People 1996

If one must indulge in categories, My People, featuring the Zawinul Syndicate and a United Nations coterie of guests, probably belongs on the vast world music shelf, the links to so-called jazz now so tenuous as to be nearly, but not quite, invisible. On the percolating "Slivovitz Trail," "Orient Express," "Many Churches," and the Caribbean-tinged cleverly titled "In an Island Way," the music does suggest earlier versions of the Syndicate, and Joe Zawinul's nostalgic evocations of Wayne Shorter on the Korg Pepe reach back even further. Otherwise, Zawinul is looking entirely toward ethnic cultures for musical sustenance. The musical structures are linear, the rhythms full of intricacies welded to Zawinul's love affair with the groove, the synthesizer textures usually sparer than ever. There are vocals in several languages by Zawinul's longtime colleague Salif Keita (for whom Zawinul produced a great album in 1991), Syndicate percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, a throat vocal specialist from South Siberia namedBolotThania SanchezZawinul himself, and several others. When translated, the lyrics speak of joy and unity among the cultures, and there isn't any doubt that Zawinul's bubbling music feeds the message of uplift. Hear it; you purists may be jiggling along in spite of yourselves. AMG.

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sexta-feira, 13 de julho de 2012

John 'Spider John' Koerner - Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Been 1986

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Been contains classics from the American Songbook like "Cotton-Eyed Joe," "The Leather-Winged Bat," "Froggy Went A-Courting" and "Shenandoah." Spider John Koernersings and plays (12-string guitar) with a knowing but commanding casual authority that brings this material to life brilliantly. The music jumps out of the speaker so effortlessly you can appreciate the fun and dark side of these old songs. Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Been is an excellent example of contemporary interpretations that don't treat the songs like academic artifacts. "The Leather-Winged Bat," for example, is a courting song that sounds cute and innocent in most interpretations. Koernerbrings out, and seems to delight in, the licentious innuendo as each verse leads to the advice that for a girl to catch the boy she should keep him up both day and night. Blood, love and murder are at the heart of many songs so familiar that we have forgotten to even listen anymore while we sing along. A record like this is a wake-up call to all interpreters. The fact that it was impeccably recorded live to two-track in one day with killer musicians only adds to its reputation. AMG.listen here

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Steve Earle - Guitar Town 1986

On Steve Earle's first major American tour following the release of his debut album, Guitar TownEarlefound himself sharing a bill with Dwight Yoakam one night and the Replacements another, and one listen to the album explains why -- while the music was country through and through, Earle showed off enough swagger and attitude to intimidate anyone short of Keith Richards. While Earle's songs bore a certain resemblance to the Texas outlaw ethos (think Waylon Jennings in "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" mode), they displayed a literate anger and street-smart snarl that set him apart from the typical Music Row hack, and no one in Nashville in 1986 was able (or willing) to write anything like the title song, a hilarious and harrowing tale of life on the road ("Well, I gotta keep rockin' while I still can/Got a two-pack habit and motel tan") or the bitterly unsentimental account of small-town life "Someday" ("You go to school, where you learn to read and write/So you can walk into the county bank and sign away your life"), the latter of which may be the best Bruce Springsteen song the Boss didn't write. And even whenEarle gets a bit teary-eyed on "My Old Friend the Blues" and "Little Rock 'n' Roller," he showed off a battle-scarred heart that was tougher and harder-edged than most of his competition. Guitar Town is slightly flawed by an overly tidy production from Emory Gordy, Jr., and Tony Brown as well as a band that never hit quite as hard as Earle's voice, and he would make many stronger and more ambitious records in the future, but Guitar Town was his first shot at showing a major audience what he could do, and he hit a bull's-eye -- it's perhaps the strongest and most confident debut album any country act released in the 1980s. AMG.listen here

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Talking Heads - The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads - Live 1982

Although most people probably think the only Talking Heads live release is Stop Making Sense, the fact is that there's an earlier, better live album called The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads. Originally released in 1982 on LP and cassette, the album chronicles the growth of the band, both stylistically and personnel-wise. The first LP is the original quartet version of the band, recorded between 1977 and 1979, performing excellent versions of tunes (mostly) off 77 and More Songs About Buildings and Food. Also included were the previously unavailable "A Clean Break" and "Love Goes to a Building on Fire," as well as early versions of "Memories Can't Wait" and "Air." The second LP comes from the Remain in Lighttour, recorded in 1980 and 1981. In order to present something close to the music on that album, the original quartet lineup was greatly expanded. Added were two percussionists (Steven StanleyJose Rossy), two backup singers (Nona HendryxDollette McDonald), Busta Cherry Jones on bass, Bernie Worrell (!) on keys, and a young Adrian Belew on lead guitar. The excitement of this material is palpable, and the muscular band rips into these tunes with more power than the originals in most cases. "Drugs" gets revamped for live performance, and "Houses in Motion kicks into high gear with a great art-funk coda. Belew is absolutely on fire throughout, especially on "The Great Curve" and "Crosseyed and Painless," where his deranged feedback soloing has never sounded better. At this point in their career,Talking Heads were still basically an underground band; it was "Burning Down the House" that really thrust them into the mainstream, and Stop Making Sense documents their arrival as a more or less mainstream act. The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads captures a hungry band on its way up, performing with a fire that was never matched on later tours. Unfortunately, The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads remained unavailable on compact disc for years, which is a shame since it's arguably one of their finest releases. AMG.listen here

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Spandau Ballet - Once more 2009

New wave/'80s fans found 2009 to be a year of reunions. The Midge Ure-era Ultravox lineup toured, even after keyboardist Billy Currie spent years spewing venom in Ure's direction. The Specialsreconvened, albeit sans keyboardist Jerry Dammers. Heck, even Haircut 100 decided to give it another go with Nick Heyward at the helm (only percussionist Mark Fox and saxman Phil Smith sat it out). Perhaps the most successful and least likely reunion occurred when all five members of Spandau Balletannounced that they were getting back together. What makes this so amazing is that, just a handful of years ago, vocalist Tony Hadley, drummer John Keeble, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Norman had taken guitarist Gary Kemp to court over songwriting issues (they lost), and any chance of a reunion seemed to have gone sour. But, against all odds, the five members (who also include bassist Martin Kemp) ironed out their differences and undertook an enormously successful tour. Fans who were not able to catch them live were treated to a live DVD plus this acoustic-based studio creation called Once More. Apart from the acoustic reinterpretations of some of their biggest hits, the real attractions here are the two new tracks, "Once More" and "Love Is All." Both tracks are wonderful ballads that may not be as drop-dead gorgeous as "True," but they are right up there with other favorites like "How Many Lies." Perhaps as some sort of truce, "Once More" is credited to Gary Kemp and Steve Norman, while "Love Is All" is Hadley's baby. Both are proof that the Spandau magic is intact and ready to conquer the world again. As for the rest of the album, the boys in the band have rearranged songs from their catalog, putting the emphasis on the "song" itself and not the production. Some of the songs are given new life in the mostly acoustic arrangements, with only one, "Chant No. 1," sounding awkward and not entirely successful. The rest, though, are delicious new looks at songs that served as a soundtrack to a generation: "True," "Gold," "To Cut a Long Story Short," and "Only When You Leave," to name a few. They add a bluesy, funky feel to "Communication," while retaining its hook-filled melody. Lesser-known tracks like "Through the Barricades" and "With the Pride" are stunning in these new, simple arrangements that showcase Hadley's still-fantastic voice. Thankfully, the Spandau boys are still in top form, and one can only hope that a full studio album will hit the racks before they start suing each other and fall apart again. AMG.listen here

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