domingo, 23 de setembro de 2012

The Verve - Urban Hymns 1997

Not long after the release of A Northern Soulthe Verve imploded due to friction between vocalistRichard Ashcroft and guitarist Nick McCabe. It looked like the band had ended before reaching its full potential, which is part of the reason why their third album, Urban Hymns -- recorded after the pair patched things up in late 1996 -- is so remarkable. Much of the record consists of songs Ashcroft had intended for a solo project or a new group, yet Urban Hymns unmistakably sounds like the work of a full band, with its sweeping, grandiose soundscapes and sense of purpose. the Verve have toned down their trancy, psychedelic excursions, yet haven't abandoned them -- if anything, they sound more muscular than before, whether it's the trippy "Catching the Butterfly" or the pounding "Come On." These powerful, guitar-drenched rockers provide the context for Ashcroft's affecting, string-laden ballads, which giveUrban Hymns its hurt. The majestic "Bitter Sweet Symphony" and the heartbreaking, country-tinged "The Drugs Don't Work" are an astonishing pair, two anthemic ballads that make the personal universal, thereby sounding like instant classics. They just are the tip of the iceberg -- "Sonnet" is a lovely, surprisingly understated ballad, "The Rolling People" has a measured, electric power, and many others match their quality. Although it may run a bit too long for some tastes, Urban Hymns is a rich album that revitalizes rock traditions without ever seeming less than contemporary. It is the album the Vervehave been striving to make since their formation, and it turns out to be worth all the wait. AMG.

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Dorothy Donegan - The Incredible Dorothy Donegan Trio 1991

A brilliant virtuoso, Dorothy Donegan constantly switched between boogie-woogie, bop, stride, Art Tatum-style swing, and classical music, sometimes in the same chorus. In concert, she often put together spontaneous medleys of unrelated songs and was never shy to dance while she played. She studied at the Chicago Conservatory and Chicago Music College and made her recording debut in 1942. Donegan made a sensational appearance in the film Sensations of 1945 but never caught on that big despite her remarkable technique. She recorded a lot less than one would expect (six obscure albums during 1954-1963 and nothing during 1964-1974) and was not really that well-known in the jazz world until the mid-'80s. A couple of live Chiaroscuro CDs from 1990-1991 found her in peak form, but she had to be seen to be fully appreciated. She died of cancer on May 19, 1998. AMG.

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Joe Tex - Get Way Back The 1950s Recordings 2008

Before he finally had his first big hit in the mid-'60s with "Hold What You've Got," Joe Tex had recorded for a good decade, the singles he issued during that time largely remaining known only to committed collectors. As obscure as the songs he recorded for Dial between 1961 and 1964 (all now available on the CD compilation First on the Dial) are, the material he did prior to 1961 is yet more seldom heard. Much of it's on Get Way Back: The 1950s Recordings, which collects 27 tracks he recorded between 1955 and 1960 for the King and Ace labels, none of which were hits. It says something for both Tex's talent and perseverance that he was able to issue so much material without making a commercial impact, but it also says something about the derivative nature of that material. While Joe was already an adept singer at this early stage, the songs are just average snapshots of the time (on the earliest sides) when rhythm & blues was on the cusp of changing into rock & roll, or early rock & roll with hints of soul music (on the later cuts). You could imagine fellow King artist James Brown singing some of these tunes in his earliest years, albeit with greater distinction (as Brown indeed did with Tex's 1959 single "Baby You're Right"). It's also undeniable that Tex simply had yet to establish his own identity, as some of the tracks are quite imitative of Little RichardSam Cooke, and the Coasters (even to the point of attempting an "answer" record to the Coasters' hit "Charlie Brown" on "Charlie Brown Got Expelled"). A lot of labels and artists, of course, were trying to imitate hit formulas in the early days of rock & roll. But in Tex's case this can't be solely attributed to pushes he might have gotten in that direction from King or Ace, as much of the material was penned by Joe himself (including the "Fever" soundalike "Pneumonia," though Tex claimed he actually wrote "Fever" itself). In all, this collection is primarily recommended to serious Tex fans who are interested in hearing his rarest and deepest roots as a recording artist, as on its own terms it's merely competent mid- to late-'50s R&B and rock & roll. Note that three of these tracks are 1955-1957 King recordings with 1965 female backing vocal overdubs, though those overdubs actually fit in pretty well. AMG.

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Jon Anderson & Vangelis - Page Of Life 1991

Vocalist Jon Anderson and master synthesist/composer Vangelis draw upon their legendary individual histories and more than two decades of classic collaborations to create this very spiritual and musical synergy, which combines elements of rock, classical, symphonic, jazz, soul, electronic new age, and worldbeat. Best known, respectively, as the lead singer of Yes and the Oscar-winning composer of "Chariots of Fire," the duo has released several extraordinary tandem recordings over the years, beginning with the 1976 album Olias of Sunhillow. This is the sixth of the series, and was originally released in 1991, though until Omtown's release, it was only available as an import. Page of Life offers clever social commentary and messages for world harmony in musical landscapes that allow amazing showcases for both Anderson's angelic vocals and Vangelis' multifaceted synth textures. Ballads like the hypnotic "Garden of Senses," the whimsical and elegant "Is It Love," and sweeping piano/vocal duet "Anyone Can Light a Candle" find Anderson at his most passionate and romantic. The one previously unreleased track is "Change We Must," a march-like number that functions as a statement of purpose. AMG. 

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Laurie Anderson - The Ugly One With The Jewels And Other Stories 1995

On her later albums, Laurie Anderson had moved from her earlier spoken word-plus-effects style to a more overtly musical approach, with less effective results. The Ugly One With the Jewels, a recording of a live performance of readings from her book Stories From the Nerve Bible, returned her to speaking instead of singing, and it was her best album since Big Science. The 18 stories reflected Anderson's extensive travels, including forays into the Third World and to convents, although she made Los Angeles and Houston sound just as exotic. In fact, telling her stories over sounds from birds, guitars, and electronic beeps, she seemed an anthropologist from another world, always finding the natives friendly but strange. And she didn't fail to recognize that she could appear just as odd to them: "The Ugly One With the Jewels" was a name used by one of her subjects to describe her. AMG.

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United Jazz + Rock Ensemble - Teamwork 1992


Featuring some of the finest avant-garde jazz players from Germany and beyond, the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble began life as a loose studio aggregation assembled for a youth-oriented German television show in 1975. Hoping for a contemporary balance between rock and jazz, producer Werner Schretzmeier called upon pianist Wolfgang Dauner, the former leader of Et Cetera, an avant-garde jazz group Schretzmeier had managed until their breakup in 1972. Initially recruiting musicians from his home base of Stuttgart (then a hotbed of avant-garde jazz), Dauner put together a rotating cast of musicians that were at first dubbed the Eleven and a Half Ensemble (after the program's airtime); this group featured guitarist Volker Kriegel (who shared writing and arranging duties with Dauner), drummer Jon Hiseman, trumpeter Ack Van Rooyen, and trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. As demand for recordings and public performances grew, Dauner solidified the lineup with saxophonist Charlie Mariano, saxophonist/flutist Barbara Thompson, trumpeter Ian Carr, and bassist Eberhard Weber. This nine-piece aggregation recorded the first album under the United Jazz + Rock Ensemble name, Live im Schutzenhaus, in 1977; released on the group's own Mood Records label, the album was a hit, eventually becoming the best-selling German jazz record of all time.

The Ensemble recorded and toured fairly regularly after the success of Live im Schutzenhaus; 1978's Teamwork and 1979's The Break Even Point placed the group in a studio setting, with the latter featuring trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. 1981's double-LP Live in Berlin was another success, and was followed by United Live Opus Sechs in 1984, with Wheeler back in tow. On 1987's studio album Round Seven, trumpeter Johannes Faber filled in for Wheeler; Wheeler returned once again for the 1992 studio set Na Endlich!, which also featured new bassist Dave King. Mariano was subsequently replaced by tenor saxophonist Christof Lauer, who made his recorded debut on the 1996 concert album Die Neunte von United. In 2002, after well over two decades together, the group announced that it was embarking on a farewell tour, after which its members would move on to other projects (possibly collaborative). AMG.

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Marcia Ball - Let Me Play With Your Poodle 1997


This album of snaky swamp rock is one of Ball's best recordings. Great choice of songs (she wrote 5 of the 13) that let her show all her talents, both vocally and instrumentally. Slow-tempo songs display the force of her voice, as in "I Still Love You," and another of the many gems, "For the Love of a Man." Meanwhile, the playfulness of the title cut and "The Right Tool for the Job" allow her to have fun and let the band air it out. Then there is the perfect song to end the disc and an absolute tour de force, Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927."
Ball has again assembled another top-notch cast of characters who more than hold up their end of the bargain. A few of the many who shine are George Rains on drums, Mark Kazanoff, who does double duty as a co-producer and excels on various saxes, and Derek O'Brien, who also co-produced and shares much of the guitar work with Steve Williams. If you don't know Marcia Ball, this is a fantastic introduction, and if you liked her past work this is a gem you won't want to miss. AMG.

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domingo, 16 de setembro de 2012

Jerry Garcia - Run For The Roses 1982

Run for the Roses is the last of the studio albums to have come from the Jerry Garcia Band, even though the combo would continue to tour for another 13 years. Sadly, it is also Garcia's most lightweight effort as a bandleader. The disc certainly features a few distinct and redeemable moments; however, taken as whole there are far too many marginal performances for it to be deemed as thoroughly captivating as any of his previous solo work -- especially the wholly inspired Cats Under the Stars (1978). Along withJohn Kahn (bass/fretless bass/synthesizer/piano/clavinet/guitar/slide guitar/electric guitar/co-producer), Garcia chose some interesting cover tunes -- such as the impotently executed "I Saw Her Standing There" and the underachieving "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" -- the latter of which would become increasingly effective as a live vehicle for the Garcia Band as well as the Grateful Dead during the ensuing years (an ultimate acoustic rendition can be found on the highly recommended and infamous Pizza Tapes from 2000). There are several highlights from the Garcia/Robert Hunter canon, whose brilliance ultimately makes Run for the Roses a justifiable release. Chief among them is the title track, which bops along at an agile pace and formally introduces the effusive organ fills and licks that typify Melvin Seals' style of aggressive interaction with GarciaHunter is up to his old lyrical insinuations and poetic ambiguity on "Run for the Roses." Couplets such as "If you got the do-re I got the mi/And I got a notion we're all at sea" are as poignant and poetic as they are Dadaist, reflecting the inherent beauty of Hunter's lyrical prowess. "Valerie" is another standout track; it's a slightly tweaked song dealing with the extremes of an unrequited love. Garcia's vocal is one of his best on this release and perfectly fits the hang-dog mood and persona that Hunter so aptly depicts in the narrative. Both tracks quickly became enthusiasts' favorites and remained in the core rotation of the Garcia Band's performance songbook. On an aesthetic level, Run for the Roses is also notable for the disconcerting artwork by Bay Area visual artist Victor Moscoso. While die-hard enthusiasts may feel as if the disc has more to offer than mentioned above, when contrasted with the material's perpetual on-stage evolution this album falls short of the high standards set by Garcia's earlier studio efforts. AMG.

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Albert Lee - Heartbreak Hill 2003

Albert Lee has garnered such a good command of American country music it will probably surprise a few listeners that he was born in England. On Heartbreak Hill, he delves into a number of songs associated with Gram ParsonsRodney Crowell, and former bandmate Emmylou HarrisLee has a well-deserved rep for his guitar skills, so it makes good sense that he's joined by a top-notch band that includes veteran steel player Buddy Emmons. The band opens strong with the jaunty title cut before sliding into Paul Kennerley's heartbreaking "Heaven Only Knows." Lee's joined on vocals by Patty Loveless on the first cut and Buddy Miller on the latter, adding extra pizzazz to the choruses. The arrangements -- steel, piano, drums, and bass -- achieve a good blend behind the vocals, while Lee's multiple guitar parts add subtle touches in unexpected places. Other enjoyable cuts include Townes Van Zandt's "If I Needed You,"Kennerley's "Born to Run," and -- for guitar fans -- an instrumental take on Parsons' "Luxury Liner."Heartbreak Hill never overwhelms the listener with its originality, at least partially because it is so grounded in music associated with other people. But Lee and his bandmates have crafted a solid and likable album that lovingly recalls the best of '70s and '80s country. AMG.

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Roxy Music - Flesh and Blood 1980

An even slicker record than ManifestoFlesh + Blood precariously balances between alluringly seductive, sophisticated soul-pop and cloying, radio-ready disco-pop. At its best, the album is effortlessly suave and charming -- "Over You" is one of their greatest singles, and "Oh Yeah" is nearly as persuasive -- but much of the record is devoted to ill-formed, stylish lounge-pop. In particular, the reliance on reworked covers of "In the Midnight Hour" and "Eight Miles High" is distressing, not only because it signals a lack of imagination, but also because it suggests that Flesh + Blood is simply a lesser solo effort from Bryan Ferry. And even the handful of undeniably strong moments can't erase the feeling that Roxy Music were beginning to run out of ideas. AMG.

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Paula Cole - Courage 2007

Once ubiquitous, as her "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone" was a staple on adult alternative radio and "I Don't Wanna Wait" served as the soundtrack to turn of the millennium teen soap Dawson's Creek,Paula Cole suddenly disappeared after her third album, Amen, failed to live up to the commercial expectations set by her 1996 breakthrough, This Fire. Throughout the 2000s she stayed quiet, raising her newborn daughter as she worked toward reviving her muse, eventually resurfacing in 2007 -- a decade after the peak of her popularity -- with Courage, her first album for Decca and her first album in eight years. Immediately, it's apparent that this is worlds away from the stylized worldbeat and vague electronica leanings of Amen, never sounding as self-consciously restless as that album. Not that Colehas abandoned her refined eclecticism -- she dabbles in gentle bossa nova beats on "Hard to Be Soft," duetting with Brazilian singer Ivan Lins -- but never once does Cole sound as strained in incorporating hip-hop beats and electronic textures as she did on Amen. Instead, she sounds relaxed as she eases into a subdued collection of songs jazzy enough to justify Herbie Hancock's cameo on "Lonely Town." Such casual sophistication reigns here, but Courage doesn't sound like a clean break from her past, or a contrived attempt to refashion herself for Norah Jones' audience; the opening "Comin' Down" and thePatrick Leonard collaboration "14" sound like This Fire, only a little more settled yet managing to sidestep slickness while emphasizing her gentle, insinuating melodies. While Courage may stray into sleepiness on the ballads, it nevertheless always flows naturally even at its slowest moments and that comfortable feel is the most appealing thing about the record, since it's evident in the unhurried songs and the unstrained performances. It may be low-key, but Courage certainly qualifies as a successful comeback from a singer/songwriter who had seemed lost to the Lilith Fair era. AMG.

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The White Stripes - Icky Thump 2007


A lot changed in the White Stripes' world between Get Behind Me Satan and Icky ThumpMeg Whitemoved to L.A., while Jack White left Detroit for Nashville, married and had a daughter, and formed the Raconteurs, a side project that won so much praise that some fans worried that it meant the end of the Stripes. Those fears were as unfounded as the speculation that White's new hometown meant that the band was going to "go country" (after all, Jack and Meg are wearing the costumes of London's Pearly Kings and Queens, not Nudie suits, on Icky Thump's cover). Though it was recorded at Nashville's state-of-the-art Blackbird Studio and covers everything from bagpipes to metal, Icky Thump is unmistakably aWhite Stripes album. The eclectic feel of Get Behind Me Satan remains, but is less obvious; interestingly, out of all the band's previous work, Icky Thump's brash and confessional songs most closely resemble De Stijl. "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues"' acoustic blues and carefully crafted wordplay hark back to "Sister, Do You Know My Name." Meanwhile, "Rag & Bone" is a cute, ragamuffin cousin of "Let's Build a Home" that casts Jack and Meg as enterprising garbage-pickers; the sly grin in Jack's voice as he says "we'll give it a...home" is palpable. And, while Get Behind Me Satan was heavy on pianos, Icky Thump is just plain heavy, dominated by primal, stomping rock that feels like it's been caged for a very long time and is just now being released. Jack White's guitars are back in a big way; "Catch Hell Blues" is a particularly fine showcase for his playing. Once again, though, the Stripes defy expectations, and their "return to rock" isn't necessarily a return to the kind of rock they mastered on Elephant.
Aside from the searing "Bone Broke," which would fit on almost any White Stripes album (and in fact was partially written in 1998), on Icky Thump Jack and Meg push the boundaries of their louder side. Darker and slower than most Stripes singles, "Icky Thump" is their very own "Immigrant Song," with guitars that chug menacingly and lyrics that run the gamut from fever dream meditations on redhead senoritas to pointed political statements ("Why don't you kick yourself out/You're an immigrant too"). "Little Cream Soda" is also outstanding, pairing ranting, spoken-word verses with grinding surf-metal guitars that make it one of the Stripes' heaviest songs. However, the boldest excursion might be "Conquest," which turns Patti Page's '50s-era battle of the sexes into a garage rock bullfight, complete with dramatic mariachi brass, flamenco rhythms, backing vocals that would do Ennio Morricone proud, and dueling guitar and trumpet solos that capture the band's love of drama. As fantastic as Icky Thump's rockers are, its breathers are just as important. Though the Celtic detour that makes up Thump's heart feels out of place initially, "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" is indeed a sweet and genuine sounding homage to Scottish folk, bagpipes and all (and could also be a nod to the Rolling Stones' flirtation with British folk in the mid-'60s). And while its psychedelic counterpart "St. Andrews (This Battle Is in the Air)" doesn't work quite as well, it feels like the kind of quirky tangent that pops up on plenty of vintage albums as a palate cleanser. the Stripes' poppy and vulnerable sides get slightly short shrift on Icky Thump. "You Don't Know What Love Is" is so hooky it could just as easily be a Raconteurs song, though it boasts a guitar solo that stings like lemon juice in a paper cut. "I'm a Martyr for My Love for You" is the album's lone ballad, and while its melody is beautiful, it may be the album's weakest track. And though Icky Thump's track listing might be slightly front-loaded, the Stripes uphold their tradition of ending their albums on a playful note with the wonderful "Effect and Cause," which feels equally indebted to hillbilly wisdom and Mungo Jerry's sly jug-band shuffle. With its fuller sound and relaxed flights of fancy, Icky Thump is a mature, but far from stodgy, album -- and, as is usually the case, it's just great fun to hear the band play. AMG. 

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Frank Zappa - Francesco Zappa 1984

This is chamber music written by an 18th century Italian composer who may or may not have been an ancestor of Frank Zappa. The younger Zappa discovered the music at the music library at the University of California at Berkeley and programmed it into his Synclavier. The result is pleasant-enough European classical music with an electronic twinge -- in the same category as Switched-On Bach. AMG.

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