Category Archives: CD

Review: Ram – Paul and Linda McCartney

Following up the multi-platinum release of McCartney (1970), Paul McCartney, who included Linda as a creator, issued RAM with several wonderful tracks that included the finger-pointing tune, “Too Many People”, and the breakthrough hit, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”.  “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”, which clocked in at almost five minutes of pure audio perfection, was too difficult to edit because of its flow.  (“Too Many People” was a B-side to that hit.)

Needless to say, Ram set the stage for Paul McCartney, whose next album would come from a formed band, Wings.  RAM contained twelve songs, all of which showcased a Paul McCartney that needed to be, for all purposes, a talent of his own worth, quite separated from the Beatles.  RAM succeeded with its rich smorgasbord of songs.

The newly remastered album released for the series, the ambitious Paul McCartney Archive Collection, is wonderful to listen to.  And if it were not for the actual presence of the added bonuses of an extra disc of tracks, and a DVD, we would be happy all the same.

The second disc includes eight more tracks, all outtakes from RAM sessions.  On it you’ll will be rewarded with “Another Day”, and “Oh Woman, Oh Why” as well as a collection of new mix versions of songs.  The DVD contains Ramming, an 11-minute documentary of the making of RAM, several promo films that include “Heart of The Country”, “3 Legs”, and “Hey Diddle”, and a short film entitled “Eat At Home On Tour”.

RAM is a significant title in the Paul McCartney catalogue, so much so that it is consistently remembered not only by its two well-known tracks (“Too Many People”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”), but also by its iconic cover with Paul holding the horns of a ram within a ’60s-based color outlay.

This new remastered re-release of RAM is an essential pick-up, regardless of which form you regain it as (there are single CD, 2CD, LP, and a massive Deluxe Edition with bound book packages for you to choose from).

Release Date: May 22, 2012

–Matt Rowe

Review: Strange Euphoria – Heart

Back in the ’70s, when two sisters formed a band called Heart and released their defining “Magic Man” single on the independent Mushroom Records label, they had no idea that the entire journey, thus far, would produce this aptly titled, career spanning Box called Strange Euphoria.

Ann, a vocalist extraordinaire, with her brilliant guitar playing sister, Nancy formed the basis of the band that became international stars on the strength of their songs and platinum selling albums over the years.  While their strongest periods were from the ’70s, and ’80s, they never gave up the ghost.

As there will be for immensely popular bands, there have been many ‘best of’ packages released for Heart over the years, including intimate Essential packages.  What makes Strange Euphoria a better package?  Because it is not a best-of package in the normal sense.  it is a complementary package that slots next to any Essential packages you may have.  Its collection is made up of quite a few demos that are quite wonderful to hear.

Strange Euphoria begins with a wide and satisfying collection of vault treasure demos that include a folkier “Magic Man”, preceded by the opening track of this box, the pre-Heart and folky “Through Eyes amp; Glass”, a proper song on loan from Ann Wilson amp; The Daybreaks (which should surprise fans of the rockier Heart).

The “Crazy On You” demo is even a refreshing thing to hear in place of its more popular studio cut.  Still, this box is rewarded with original studio cuts of songs to keep it interestingly a Heart career overview.  “These Dreams”, “Kick It Out”, “Little Queen”, and others go the distance, as they did during their fresh release dates.

In addition to the 51 tracks found on Strange Euphoria, 20 of which are previously unreleased (mostly demos and a few live cuts), the set adds in a 57-minute DVD that plays back a 1976 TV concert.  It’s great fun to watch, and worth more than several spins (I’ve watched it three times already).

The box is augmented by an obligatory book-sized document that covers ground by way of track-to-track commentary from both Nancy and Ann Wilson.  The 60-page book contains plenty of era-specific pictures, and memorabilia to make the package more attractive to dedicated Heart fans to whom this release is geared toward.

The “box” is a slip-cased, tri-fold CD wallet.  Strange Euphoria is essential material for those that are Heart fans.

Release Date: June 5, 2012

–Matt Rowe

Review: Analog Man – Joe Walsh

I was immensely surprised to hear that Joe Walsh, he of James Gang, Barnstorm, and Eagles fame, would be releasing a new solo effort some 20 years after his last, Songs For A Dying Planet.

The new album, Analog Man, begins with the album’s title track with Joe’s familiar style.  On it, he sings about the good old analog sound versus the digital sound.  But he isn’t on a rant.  Far from it.  But he does state his mind clearly enough.  It’s good old Joe in great form.

Walsh visits several levels of Rock, a little country, and his “Life’s Been Good” biographical edge with the latest single, “Lucky That Way”.

“Lucky That Way” is, to put it simply, excellent Walsh.  It’s pop/rock at its finest.  It also holds its own in the Walsh singles catalog.

Another treat is the revisiting of James Gang classic, “Funk #49” with “Funk 50”, further letting us know that Joe Walsh can still bring it when called upon to do so.

There’s not a bad song on the album, not one.  He hits the heavy sound (but never with the same heft that “Rocky Mountain Way” carries), he tinges with country, he butters with Pop.

And still I have to ask, “Joe, how do you do it ’cause you do it with such style and grace.”  But he’ll just “shake his head and smile, look (me) in the eye, and tell me that “I’m just lucky that way”.

Classic Walsh!

Release Date: June 5, 2012

–Matt Rowe

Review: Thick As A Brick 2 (TAAB2) – Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson

Opening with the same fade-up technique that first greeted listeners forty years ago, Thick As A Brick 2 quickly establishes itself as something new.  After the oddly familiar opening, it slips into an organ-driven riff that, if it were amplified ten times might have come from Dream Theater.  Moving ninety degrees to the side, the music then quickly slips into an acoustic flourish that might have come from any period of Fairport Convention.

Suddenly there is a riff that screams progressive jazz rock and, after a minute and a half, it settles into an acoustic interlude that slips right into a nod at straight rock.  The music may seem to be all over the place, but the opening can only be described as Tull-like, near the finest that Ian Anderson has ever been.  TAAB 2 won’t convert many new fans, which is a shame, but a lot of older Tull fans are sure going to be happy.  The mixture of folk and rock with nods to jazz and progressive rock is near perfect.

A little after two minutes, the music references an older version Tull for the first time.  Right after Anderson sings “Journey’s I might never take” the song slips in a few quick bars of a recognizable Tull song you’ll swear you know, but aren’t exactly sure what it is.  The answer hangs in the back of your head but there is no time to think about it because Anderson is already moving forward.  This isn’t the first time that the past is acknowledged.  Nor is it the first time that he races right by the past.

The instrumental that follows the first three minutes is pure Anderson/Tull at its best.  You can easily hear why Anderson is so welcome on Fairport’s Cropredy stage when he is given the chance.  There are biting guitars, unexpected left turns in the middle of songs and more than anything, wonderful flute.  Musically this is one of the most satisfying and challenging Anderson releases in a while.

As Anderson has said many times over the last few years, the original Thick As A Brick was as much a send up of concepts as it was a concept itself.  The original Thick As A Brick was based on a poem by one Gerald Bostock, a 14 year old who ran afoul of the local press for the subjects he tackled.

Thick As A Brick 2 moves from Bostock’s problems with local censorship to the life of the author of the poem.  It becomes a biography of the young man’s long 40-year journey.  He moves from being a successful banker to homelessness.  Various stages of his life are recounted in and out of order.

Starting as a banker, he becomes Adrift and Dumbfounded Bostock becomes the Military Man.  Unlike the original, which seemed at times to lyrically drift, Anderson tightly grounds Bostock’s life in real events, real times and real reactions.

This is as much a concept album about alienation and loss as is Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  Only this time the central character is one of us, not a removed and disenchanted rock star that is a million miles removed from our own shared collective experience.  Bostock could be any one of us, just moving through life trying to get by as best we can.

As the story unfolds, Anderson takes precise and detailed looks at banks, the military, religion, the cruelty of others toward someone who is different from them and the gentile comfort of suburbia.  Little of what he says condemns anything he speaks of.  Instead Anderson sets scenes, allowing us the distance of time and age to make up our own minds.

Where Aqualung once condemned religion directly, Anderson places Bostock’s foray into Religion before us and by grounding it inside the character, makes it personal.

“I sense the power. And I sense the spirit move in stately corridors of oak and stone, vaulted above.

Beyond the nave, beside dark transepts, candles flicker in the quire.

First the glow deep in the belly, tight grip of faith to fan the fire.

In the chapel, I am wondrous in the eyes of lesser boys.

Raptures touch me, lift me, shape me. Brotherhood, an ode to joy.”

This is the rational logic that drives an individual into religious conversion.  That conversion, that fire, may not last, and indeed it doesn’t, but for a minute Little Gerald has found the Lord.  We can sympathize with his need to connect with something bigger until the very last moment when he pleads for the listener to “Give till it hurts. Give till it hurts.”

This time, at the very last minute of the song, the religious cynicism that threaded its way through much of Aqualung reveals itself in just a few words.  “Give till it hurts.” Faith may be at the center of what is being said, but at the very end, it comes down to money.

Given the focus on Bostock’s life, those who love minutiae and detail can sit in their basements for hours and debate whether this can actually be a sequel.  It may share a title with the original, but TAAB 2 is its own piece.  Almost everyone else is just going to enjoy over fifty minutes of brand new music from Anderson in the Tull vein.

Which brings up another, inescapable part of this release, one that has caused some long time fans concern.

Anderson has never been less than honest either lyrically or in interviews.  He has billed this release as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson for a reason.  It stands apart from his solo work. And while Anderson is also the acknowledged leader in Tull, it is apart from the Tull canon as well.

The biggest note in this claim is the absence of Martin Barre, Anderson’s long time guitarist in Tull.  There are brief moments when the tone of Barre’s guitar and the way he can rip into a great lead could have made the CD different. (This is not meant to denigrate guitarist Florian Opahale’s great work in any way.)

That said, Barre’s presence would have only made TAAB 2 a bit different.  At the heart of this CD, as there is at the best of Tull’s work, is the brilliance, music and leadership/director’s ability of Ian Anderson.

Even with Barre’s long service and his highly individualistic style, Tull has always been Anderson’s home.  You can’t help but feel that throughout the cycle that Anderson is fully engaged.  The use of his own band doesn’t diminish this work one bit.

There are a lot of other classic rockers and writers who would have fallen back into their familiar names and claimed this was by their original band, but Anderson knows TAAB 2 isn’t by Jethro Tull.  The Tull that created the original Thick as A Brick was a hard worn, tight touring unit that walked into a studio forty years ago and brought Anderson’s work to life.  TAAB 2 is a work based on something by that original band. It is different and he knows it and he doesn’t lie to us about this.

Thick as A Brick 2 holds an amazing narrative about one man’s life.  It jumps across time and, as Anderson always has, jumps across musical genres.  There are plenty of nods to Tull’s past such as the scratchy ‘Locomotive Breath’ guitar on “Kismet in Suburbia” and the ever present flute, but TAAB 2 never slips into nostalgia.

It is one of the best releases that Anderson has delivered in quite a while.  It is his most lyrically engaging work, and by looking directly into the eyes of his past he has found something new to say musically.

If there is any doubt that this is really a sequel to the original, take the very last lyric:

So, you ride yourselves over the fields.

And you make all your animal deals.

And your wise men don’t know how it feels

to be Thick As A Brick…… two

Ending with something vague or inexact isn’t Anderson’s style. He declares this “…Two.” And he delivers that last word with a wink.

But the most telling part of that lyric is actually the second line.  “And you make your animal deals.”  For that is really what is at the heart of much of this album, the deals we make with ourselves and each other in order to stay alive, in order to keep going each and every day.

Pushed and cajoled by executives for years to make a sequel to a time-honored classic number one album, Anderson made a deal with them, his audience and himself.  And delivered in style with wit, grace and intelligence.

The CD is available in both a single CD release and a special edition with a 5.1 mix and a DVD.  In addition to the Tull website, fans of the new CD may want to visit the St. Cleve Chronicles website.  This is the modern equivalent to the original’s newspaper. http://www.stcleve.com/. IF you visit the Tull site there is a wonderful piece from Anderson that explains the genesis of the project as well as many excerpts from the CD and much more.  http://www.j-tull.com/.

Release Date: April 3, 2012

— Mark Squirek

Review: New York Connection – Sweet

The newest album from The Sweet, a band that still survives under the watchful care of original member Andy Scott, still has that instantly recognizable Sweet sound fashioned decades earlier when the band cranked out plenty of Top40 hits.  But this album doesn’t have Sweet originals (unless you want to count the album’s title track, “New York Connection”, originally written and recorded by Sweet early in the ’70s).  Instead, Scott’s recruited band takes some highly respected songs and gives them the Sweet ‘go-round’ musically.

The new album, New York Connection, opens up with a captivating Russ Ballard song, “New York Groove”, which demands instant replay, even before you move on.  And that’s a helluva way to begin an album.  Scott’s latest incarnation of Sweet takes on classic tracks like the enduring Dead Or Alive’s 1984 song, “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)”, Velvet Underground’s most noticeable “Sweet Jane”, and Springsteen’s (or does this really belong to Patti Smith?) “Because The Night”.

“You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)” takes on a new life as Sweet turns it away from its ’80s synth-style to the revered Sweet effect.  I can’t confess to liking Sweet’s take on “Because The Night” because it is quite a different song, however, I was never much the fan of the song anyway.

The surprises of the album are their covers of “Blitzkrieg Bop” (The Ramones) in a super-great version; “Gold On The Ceiling” (Black Keys); “Shape Of Things” (The Yardbirds); and of course, the show-stopper, “New York Groove”, which rules this album’s groove space (listen below).

I’m a fan of Sweet.  New York Connection reaffirms why I’m a fan.

Release Date: May 08, 2012

–Matt Rowe

 

Review: Farther On Up The Road: The Chrysalis Years (1977-1983) – Robin Trower

Following the previously released 3CD album collection A Tale Untold: The Chrysalis Years (1973-1976), which contain some of the best known Robin Trower classics albums for fans, Chrysalis issues a continuance of the catalogue collection with Farther On Up The Road: The Chrysalis Years (1977-1983).  Just as the first collected set offered new remastering, and a few bonus tracks, so does Farther On Up the Road.

When Robin Trower came into his own with Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973), featuring the inimitable Jame Dewar on vocals and bass, there awaited a legion of dedicated fans, many of who would insist that Trower, as a guitar player, knew no equal.  While that is a subject open to debate among fans of super-guitarists, there is no denying the greatness of Trower.  You hear all of that on each album that Trower recorded.

Farther On Up the Road brings together In City Dreams (1977), Caravan To Midnight (1978), Victims Of the Fury (1979), B.L.T. (1981), Truce (1981), and Back It Up (1983).  After In City Dreams, each successive Trower release was noticed less and less although there was no musical reason to ignore the bluesy richness of these albums other than that times were changing.  But even the band was changing in small ways.  B.L.T., and Truce, both featured Jack Bruce of Cream fame.  Back It Up found Dewar reunited into the Trower fold, where he belonged all along.

Farther On Up The Road is a fan’s set.  With excellent remastering by Peter Mew (Abbey Road Studios), and two bonus tracks (a 7″ edit of “Bluebird” from In City Dreams, and the single-only b-side song, “One In A Million” from Victims Of The Fury sessions), this budget gathering of the Trower catalogue (with A Tale Untold) serves a suitable purpose.  There is no one quite like Robin Trower, and there never will be.  The two sets that cover the two periods of Trower’s “solo” career are discoveries waiting to happen for young searchers of greatness (to call the Trower albums a stage for Robin alone would be a travesty as it was a fully formed band with it’s own unmatched uniqueness of musicians).  This 3CD set offers a small booklet, with a short three-page essay, complete cover art of the six represented albums, photos, and full credits of each album.

Trower’s albums were wonderful issues, every last one of them.  You cannot go wrong with the newly remastered music of Robin Trower found here.  There’s a lot of damn fine magic found here.

Release Date: March 13, 2012

— Matt Rowe

Review: The Essential Donovan – Donovan

There are many of you who can warmly remember when you heard (for the first time) the opening of “Sunshine Superman”, leading into the vocals of the man who would go on and leave us even warmer memories.  Donovan, who’s career began in the UK, adopted the psychedelic period to gain a foothold into the American consciousness.  After leaving a grand string of hits that include “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, ” Season of the Witch”, the incredibly fantastic “Mellow Yellow”, “Atlantis”, and a few lesser known tracks, Donovan left behind fewer songs that captured Top 40 imagination.  But then, music was changing so rapidly.

In 1978, Donovan released a self-titled album on Arista (US), and RAK Records in the UK.  That album was an excellent collection of music but yet, the mystique of Donovan had run its course for the current audience, which was more than ten years of age removed from Donovan’s most fruitful period.  However, this diminishing of one of the ’60s most talented singer/songwriters did not in any way reduce the charm of the early material that brought fame to Donovan.

This recent release of collected music from Donovan on Legacy’s noted Essential series heralds not only the singer’s earned induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it also brings a few previously unreleased on CD (in the US) tracks to light.  Those include an early mono version of “The Land Of Doesn’t Have To Be”, two live tracks (” Sunny Goodge Street”, “Sand And Foam”), and a previously unreleased in the US song, “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)”.  It further explores Donovan from the earlier single CD release collection of the same name.

Much of the music found on The Essential Donovan, of course, can be found elsewhere in many forms.  This reasonably priced, Anesini-remastered, 36-track, 2CD set is a nice collection of Donovan music that delves fearlessly into his most accessible period with a little extra.

The included booklet contains a personal note by the singer himself, a four-page essay by Anthony DeCurtis, in-depth credits for each song, as well as dialogue from various artists on Donovan’s music and influence.  With a gathering of some nice photos, this booklet adds more value to The Essential Donovan.

For me, The Essential Donovan brings back not only great memories of that magical time, it also reconnects me to the singer that left behind an indelible mark on all our Rock and Roll hearts in a way that isn’t being done much these days.

Release Date: April 17, 2010

–Matt Rowe 

Review: Live Dates II – Wishbone Ash

One of the great Live moments in Rock and Roll history is the release of Live Dates, the double LP issued back in 1973 from UK band, Wishbone Ash.  That album is not only a great collection of songs in a live setting by one of Rock’s most overlooked bands, it is also proof of the consummate musicianship capably played by these four men (Martin, Andy, Steve, Ted).  Live Dates impressively (and warmly) stands the test of time with its generous selection of Wishbone Ash classics.  But while it is the most impressive live document of the band, it was not the only well-received one.

The band followed up Live Dates with Live Dates II.  Originally released in the UK as a Limited Edition, twelve track set with only 25,000 copies made, the album, once sold through, pared down to a truncated eight-track collection.  In the US, that release was named Hot Ash.  Like the legendary status of the band’s promo live set, Live In Memphis, Live Dates II in its full glory is also legendary, and, until now, largely unattainable.

Live Dates II showcases the band’s music released after Argus, and with the Mark II lineup that included Laurie Wisefield (Home) on guitar.  The Live selections found on this revered set include “Doctor”, and “No Easy Road” from their unheralded Wishbone Four; “Lorelei”, “Runaway”, “(In All My Dreams) You Rescue Me” from New England; “Living Proof”, and “Helpless” from Just Testing; “F.U.B.B.”, and “Persephone” from There’s The Rub; “The Way Of The World” from No Smoke Without Fire; “Goodbye Baby, Hello Friend” from Front Page News; and a cherry-picked blessing from Argus in “Time Was”.  Without question, these songs well represent the band from the second line-up phase.

Real Gone Music, a varied reissue label, has saw fit to revisit the Live Dates II in its original release state.  And happy we are.  As a collector, the complete 2LP Limited Edition set eludes all but the most richest of collectors.  But with Real Gone on the fans’ side, April 4 brought a single-disc CD (in a digipak casing) into availability once again.  We couldn’t be happier as we can now slot another classic on the shelves.

The CD (with all that glorious Wishbone Ash music in a live setting) is joined by a folded six-page booklet that lists song credits, adds a photo of the band, and includes a new (2012) essay from Scott Schindler.  If you’re a fan of the band, then Live Dates II needs to be in your library, no questions asked.  Soon enough, it too, will be as rare as the original.