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Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Herd - "The Fontana Years" 2 x Vinyl, LP, Compilation, 2009 (Vinyl Lovers)

For this past month, I have been obsessing over the British 60s band The Herd.  Due to my shopping mood at the time I purchased an original U.S. compilation album of ten Herd songs.  Mostly due to the fact that The Herd seemed to be under the spell of the songwriting talents Howard Blaikley (Alan Blaikley & Ken Howard).   Dave Dee, Dozy Beaky, Mick & Tich used their services as well as The Honeycombs.  All brilliant.  So how can the Herd fail?  What surprises me is how much I love The Herd's music.  Listening to this double-album of 32-songs, it strikes me that The Herd was very much part of the 1967/1968 British world at the time.  "The Fontana Years" is like a See's Candy sample box of chocolate, but set in a specific era and place.  

The Herd sound is not original, but the way they mix it up is fascinating.  They would sound like The Small Faces if they had The Walker Brothers as vocalists, and with a touch of Procol Harum's love of classical melodies.  Gary Taylor only sings lead on a few songs by the band, but he has a rich baritone voice that yells out Scott Walker.  And when he sings the chorus or a bridge of a song, it brings out a 'wow' moment for the listener.   The Herd is very much a band that used and performed the songs by Howard Blaikley, but they also wrote their own material.   There is this duality in their vision, but their eye on the prize was a massive sound.  They can be a cool Mod-orientated Booker T, jazz band, to an obtuse baroque pop band.  And when you hear all their music on this two-disc collection (most of their work was released as singles), it doesn't seem odd that they made strange directional moves, in the context of their pop leanings. 

Peter Frampton (yes that Peter) and Andy Bown wrote half of their material, and they never settled for one sound or aesthetic.   I don't know if there is a Herd "sound," because they pretty much compile all their influences/sounds from their era.   What's surprising is that their technique, either planned or by fault, works.  All four had contributed to the package.  Andrew Steele, their drummer, even sings lead and wrote a song, and it's good.  For anyone who has even the slightest interest in the British music scene of the late 60s I heartily recommend The Herd.  Although they don't sound like The Move, I think they are equally as important as that band.  No foolin'. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Paul McCartney - "Chaos and Creation in The Backyard" Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, 2018/2005 (Capital)

Online I have been chatting away about the subject matter of Lennon and McCartney songs and the aspect that both of them have (or had in John's case) an incredible amount of craft in getting from point A to B.  That alone is almost if not on a genius level.  What they do lack in their solo career work is a lack of passion or doing things by the number, which again, in the hands of these two, that alone can be awarding experience.  For me, the solo work of both one time Beatle members is that without the inspiration or passion, their work suffers greatly.  On the other hand, both had or has a very long career in the music writing business.  There will be the dips and heights, and one should acknowledge that, even if they are heroes of some sort.   "Chaos and Creation in The Backyard" strikes me as a Paul masterpiece.  For one, I can feel the sadness that wraps around the voice and melodies.  There are albums such as Lennon's "Plastic Ono  Band" that hits your heart and head in an equal manner, due to its frankness and skills of putting a great collection of songs together for an album.   "Chaos and Creation" is such an album where it was either the right series of moments or a reflection that McCartney was going through at the time; nevertheless, this all added up to a superb album.

McCartney chose to work with people who were sympathetic to his heritage as well as the 'Paul' sound. Produced by long-term Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, shows a respectful but a strong hand in getting that sound perfectly, and with the addition of Joby Talbot, who worked with Divine Comedy" doing some of the string arrangements was an excellent choice as well.  Talbot is the contemporary walking version of Baroque Pop sounds.  He did remarkable work with Divine Comedy, and his light touch on the arrangements is very sympathetic to the McCartney aesthetic.  Paul had outside help, but it's mostly him on most of the instrumentation on the album, and it doesn't have the first solo album feel, but still, when he's devoted to a recording, it comes clear that he is working fully with his talent and vision.  

McCartney is very much a collaborative artist.  Still, he sometimes falls behind the wrong people in recordings, especially in his solo years.  Godrich, I think pushed him for excellence, and I have read that their relationship was tense, or that could be just gossip.  What I do hear is an artist who is pushing himself in a manner that is frank, but skilled with brilliant musical skills and chops to convey a world that is sad and reflective.  In other words, "Chaos and Creation" is very much a middle-aged man's type of record.  Not far off from Frank Sinatra's brilliant "September of My Years."  It's an album of deep feeling but with the light and upbeat melodies of songs such as "Fire Line," "Promise To You Girl," or the beautiful rumba ballad "A Certain Softness."  There is a range of feelings, but all of them looking back in a manner that comes with age and experience.  Some sections remind me of The Beatles "Revolver" where I feel certain songs "Promise To You Girl" or "A Certain Softness" comes to mind, that would fit perfectly in that Beatle album.  This is not nostalgia, but an artist working with what he has, which of course, is remarkable.  At the moment in my life, this is my favorite Paul McCartney album.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Joe Meek and The Blue Men - "I Hear A New World" LP, Album, Reissue, Italy, 1991/1960 (RPM Vinyl)

"I Hear A New World" is a masterpiece.  When I first heard the album, around 1989, I was living in Japan, which at the time, was indeed living in a world that seemed so familiar to me through films and books, yet a new world.  Not saying that Japan is another version of outer space, but to my sensibility and aesthetic, it indeed was an out-of-space and mental landscape.   Joe Meek's half-exotica (or the space-age) and Musique Concrete, with a touch of pop melodies, is a strange hybrid of science and the imagination.

Meek made this album after his odd career as an engineer for a large recording company, which mentally and aesthetically he didn't fit in.  He wrote and recorded "I Hear A New World" in a London apartment (Flat) in 1960.  Mostly made of tape reels and experimentation with speed, both slowing and speeding up the tape, as well as recording odd effects such as the toilet being flushed and so forth.   The Blue Men were a Rhythm and Blues outfit that had strange instrumentation when they added a Hawaiian steel guitar to their mix.  A weird mixture of Western and R n B and Meek had the genius even to advance that sound to another galaxy.   The leader of the band, Rod Freeman, helped Meek with his compositions by transforming it into 'songs.'  The Meek method was him humming the melody either in person or on a tape.  The fact that Meek was tone-deaf added more work for Freeman as the music arranger.  After that, it's Joe Meek 100%.

When I first heard these recordings in 1989, I thought it was music made by a madman.  Re-listening to the album very recently, I conclude that it's a remarkable piece of work.  Composition wise as well as how he brilliantly uses sound and shapes the aural like a magnificent sculpture in front of clay or steel.  The thing with Meek, since he did work independently by choice, away from the mainstream recording industry, he truly wanted to have hits and be commercial. He succeeds it at times, but he lived the life of an outside artist, due to his homosexuality (illegal in the UK during his lifetime) and temperament, which was on the violent side.  He eventually had no separation of home life and studio work, since he lived and worked in the same space.   The Meek world is one of a small apartment in Northern London.   The compressed sound he makes is not really of a world that is open, but in actuality very closed and almost locked up in a mixture of security concerns and paranoia.  "I Hear A New World" is although about outer-space, it is more in tune with Meek's life in London at the time.  Closed off from the mainstream culture, he invented a workspace where he can fully expose his demons, dreams, and sensuality.

"I Hear A New Year" if you were not aware that Meek did it, one would easily think it was a Pierre Henry piece of music in parts.  Total "Musique Concrete" that is both experimental and expressing a mood of otherness.  It is only when the melodies kick in that you realize it's a work by Meek, but still, the album is more avant-garde than a pop release. Especially for the year of its partly release in 1960.   Meek only released vol 1 on a 7" 45 rpm disc during his lifetime.

The one album that comes to mind while listening to this Meek album is Brian Eno's "Another Green World."  Both artists use the studio as a recording instrument, and both, I think could visualize another world through their sounds.  Eno's album was made in 1975, and although he never credits Joe Meek, I find it difficult to believe that he wasn't aware of "I Hear A New World."  Listening to both albums - side-by-side, "Another Green World" is the brother or sister (nephew or Niece) to "I Hear A New World."   Eno's world is more inner, and Meek's sounds are approaching the sky above and beyond, but still, both are a very contained and cut-off world of sorts. "Another Green World," I think is Eno's best album of 'pop' songs, and Meek's album is another masterpiece of its time and place.  For me, "I Hear A New World" due to the optimism of the space age, it's a painful work to look back on, considering Meek's suicide and murdering (or shooting accident) his landlady in his studio/living space.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

Brian Eno - "My Squelchy Life" 2 x Vinyl, Limited Edition, Album, 2015 (Opal Records)

Keeping up with Brian Eno stopped around "Discreet Music" and "Before and After Science."  At the time I figured I got all the Eno I need.   And when he went on the route to U2 and Coldplay, I pretty much played his older recordings as a memory of his greatness.   And over the years, after those two solo albums, I have found traces of his music that I like a lot, but not essential to my budget or grand interest.  Recently I re-discovered Eno through his recent album "The Ship."  That album seemed to be the brother or sister to Gavin Bryars' fantastic "Sinking of the Titanic" album, which was released through Eno's label at the time, Obscure Records.  "My Squelchy Life" was supposed to be released in the early 1990s, but he pulled the album before its official release date.  In 2015, for Record Store Day, the vinyl edition of 4,000 copies was released.  It's a great Eno album.

In theory what happened is that Eno wanted his album to release the September of that year, but the record label insisted that they wanted to put "My Squelchy Life" early next year.  Eno's thought is that he would want to put something different out at that time, so in the artistic sense, it's very logical.  On the business level, the record label was also being logical.  So logically this album disappeared and showed up as a bootleg once in a while.  Now, it's officially released.   "My Squelchy Life" is the last great pop orientated Eno album.  Beautiful songs, great recordings & performances, and touches of genius throughout the album.  

"Not To Fail in the Harness" is the song with the killer riff, which is either guitar or a keyboard.  Like the other Eno recordings, all instruments are treated through his magic tricks in the recording studio.  A lot of the songs are dreamy, but some are funk workouts that are not far from the Miles Davis electric era.  The strong bass playing, and with traces of African beats, also reminds one of the David Byrne match-ups or traces of The Talking Heads.   Still, I like this album much more than "Before and After Science."   Robert Fripp appears here and there, as well as the underrated fantastic guitarist Robert Quine. 

When Eno does pop, he's a great melodist.  His wishful vocals bring sunshine to his material.  "Little Apricot" is Eno playing piano and it's a sweet piece.  "My Squelchy Life (especially on vinyl) is a sonic delight full of little surprises.  It's an excellent way to be re-introduced into Eno's world.  

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Serge Gainsbourg ' "Le Cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg" Vinyl, Compilation, LP, 2015 (Decca)

This is volume one of a two-volume set of the vinyl release of Serge Gainsbourg's soundtrack work for French films.    It's an excellent compilation for those who want to put their toe in before putting their entire body into the bath water that is Serge Gainsbourg and his music making for films.  For me, it's impossible to have the name Serge Gainsbourg on a disc or CD label that it's essential for one to buy and enjoy.  But in real life, there is, of course, better compilations or albums out there than "Le Cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg."  For instance the CD box set "Le Cinéma de Serge Gainsbourg 
Musiques De Films 1959-1990."

For those who are not fussy with formats of vinyl or CD, the box set is the completist choice where one has all the Gainsbourg film music in one container (three CDs in the box set).  For the nerd, such as yours truly, I need the vinyl edition as well.  Don't ask why.  It's a collector's illness if anything else.  But to focus on this particular vinyl compilation, it's a gem.   Throughout his career, Gainsbourg worked with three great arrangers: Alain Goraguer, Michel Colombier, and Jean-Claude Vannier.  All three are represented in the vinyl edition of "Le Cinéma..."  

This is not a greatest hits collection of songs, but a thoughtful approach to his soundtrack work - which at times he co-wrote with his arrangers.   The one thing that never changes is the lyrics - which belongs entirely to Gainsbourg.   It's a solid and delightful collection of music.  If you are like me, this is a springboard or entrance to the Gainsbourg world.  Enter, and for sure you will be spending more money and time locating the actual soundtrack albums or EP's. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Screaming Lord Sutch - "Screaming Lord Sutch Story" Vinyl, LP, Album, Compilation, Unofficial Release,

I never feel that Screaming Lord Sutch came from the world of rock n' roll.  The legendary Lord I feel came from the theater and film world of Tod Slaughter.  A horror icon who traveled throughout the United Kingdom performing in Victorian-era macabre theater plays as well as appearing in borderline exploitation horror films. Theater of absurdity meets rock n' roll plus a dash of Tod equals Screaming Lord Sutch. 

Only one man can capture the intensity and eccentricity of Lord Sutch and that, of course, is Joe Meek.  Probably their most famous recording is "Jack The Ripper" which even out cramps The Cramps in horror rock.  If one has to compare Lord Sutch to another artist, Alice Cooper comes to mind, but Alice (and that band) strikes me as more intellectual.  Sutch is in one's face, and it's entirely music hall entertainment, but not in the tasteful sensibility.  

Meek brings the horror out of Sutch's visions into the 3D sound of its production.  Screams, laughter, and the savage rocking of the backing band, The Savages, of course, are remarkable then as well as now.  The membership of that band is a mystery.  Possibly Jimmy Page, but more likely Ritchie Blackmore (of Deep Purple fame) played guitar in the Meek recordings, but due to the insane world of Meek and company it is never obvious or explicit, which comes to this album or compilation of Lord Sutch cuts - "Story."

The album is a lovingly put together bootleg, but even with liner notes, it gives no credit to Joe Meek, or any information regarding the recordings, or who plays what.  With the help of the Internet, I figured that Meek produces all except one cut.  For sure all the early trademarks of the Meek aesthetic is tattooed on these set of recordings.   Side one is devoted to horror, which is Lord Sutch's natural habitat, and side two is "rock."  The highlight for me is the demented version of "The Train Kept A Rollin" which is insane.  As for the others, they seem to be the blueprint for bands like the excellent Cramps to follow or connect their dots.  Punk rock in a garage rock manner, Screaming Lord Sutch plus Joe Meek was a brilliant team.  

Monday, June 4, 2018

Scott Walker - "Scott" Vinyl, LP, Album, Reissue, 2008 (4 Men With Beards)

Probably one of the most unique artists that appeared in the 20th century.   Scott Walker is a remarkable singer of course, but what is even more interesting is that he's a singer that was placed in the teenage world of England and Europe, and as an American who has a strong taste in European culture, that goes beyond being a mere fan.  If one can transform oneself into another being or spirit, Scott Walker succeeds greatly.  

"Scott" is the first of many albums, and although he only wrote three songs out of the 12 cuts, each one has his stamp or personality tattoed on the grooves.  For one, it is a mature work done by a young man.  While Mick & Keith were concerned about getting a "Connection" or the Fab Four reflecting on Lovely Rita, Scott was meditating on "My Death."   For a pop album of that period, 1967, it must have stood out like a diseased object, swelling with strings and orchestration, and then Scott's voice cutting through the arrangements like a hot knife cutting bread.    One can compare his work at the time with the Sinatra world of the 1950s, specifically his ballad albums, but the truth is Scott's take is more internal, private, and of course, angst.  

None of the covers on this album are obvious.  Even though they are written by classic songwriters like Mann/Weil, Wayne Shanklin, and Andre Previn, it's mostly unknown material, at least to my knowledge and ears.  The big discovery here is both his Jacques Brel obsession, and one of the first singers to dwell into his work in English, and his songwriting.  "Montague Terrace (In Blue)," "Such a Small Love," and "Always Coming Back to You" sound like classic songwriting from an earlier era.  He has nothing in common with his age group of fellow writers.  Scott comes from an alternative universe, and listening to "Scott" is still a discovery of something new that seems to come from an imagined past.