Monday, February 10, 2014

Dave Mason - "Alone Together/Headkeeper"

Dave Mason, does the name sound familiar? If not do not worry, Mason is an unassuming rock guitarist and songwriter.  He was most active during the late 1960s and through the 1970s though he continued to record and release albums through the 1980s and more sparingly but all the way into the first decade of the 2000s.  Mason has a decent following and he has had hit songs that will be instantly familiar to many a listener ("Feelin' Alright" is his composition, first performed as a member of Traffic) his most famous song is "We Just Disagree" (written by friend Jim Krueger) a big hit in 1977 and still getting radio play.

Born in England, Mason is a very adept guitarist but never gained the popularity (or reached the innovation) of contemporaries like Clapton, Hendrix, and George Harrison.  He first gained notice as a founding member of Traffic with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood.  But Mason was not a team player while the other three worked as a composing unit Mason worked solo.  Mason left the group in 1968 after the release of their second album.  He went to work as a session guitarist for Jimi Hendrix's "Electric Ladyland" album most notably playing on Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower."  He toured with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends appearing on their album "On Tour with Eric Clapton."  After that he was a session guitarist on George Harrison's epic "All Things Must Pass" album.

Shortly after working with Harrison, Mason completed and released his debut album 1970's "Alone Together." With backup from Jim Capaldi, Rita Coolidge, Leon Russell, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner and Delaney and Bonnie.  This started Mason solo career with such promise, all eight tracks are solid.  Opening with the semi-hit "Only You know and I know." There are nice banjo and acoustic numbers like "Just a Song" and "World in Changes."  The piano ballad "Sad and Deep as You." "Shouldn't have took More than you Gave" and "Look at you Look at Me" are more rock oriented and sound like Mason's work with Traffic. "Waitin' on you" is gospel styled obviously influenced by Delaney and Bonnie. "Can't Stop the Worrying, Can't Stop loving" is pure smooth pop.

After a second album that was a partial duet with Mama Cass Elliot.  Mason started recording his third album but got into a contract dispute with his record label.  The label took the five tracks that Mason had completed for his third album and paired it with five tracks recorded live (I believe at the Troubadour) and called the album "Headkeeper."  The record company released the compiled album without Mason's permission and Mason publicly denounced it.  Despite the controversy the live tracks are well performed but are not very different from the studio versions, however the studio tracks are some of the best of Mason's career. "To Be Free" with its great piano lines is gorgeous and ends with a Stephen Stills-esque choral movement. "Here we Go Again" with its chiming guitars, mandolins, and hand claps is one of Mason's catchiest compositions. "A Heartache, a Shadow, a lifetime" is wonderful pop. They find Mason expanding and capitalizing on the promise of his debut album.

In 2005 Mason released these two records on one CD set, for record buyers in England.  Available as a reasonably priced import from Amazon and other sources this is a great record and some of Mason's finest work.  There is a foldout booklet that is a bit short but still interesting.  If you are interested in Mason's work, a fan of Delaney and Bonnie's "On Tour" or Eric Clapton's solo debut this is a great addition to your collection. I'm glad I own it.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Loggins & Messina - "On Stage"

Once again I must apologize for the long break between posts.  It has been a month since my last post about Gordon Lightfoot's "Gord's Gold" album (if you missed it check it out in my blog roll).  I shall not make statements that I am back on my weekly track because those haven't worked out on the previous four installments.  So let us just enjoy this post about Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina.

It may be hard to guess but Loggins & Messina are a pretty killer live act.  They were one of the most popular touring acts in the 1970s and have a massive range of musical abilities.  They can sit on stools with only an acoustic guitar and sing "Danny's Song" then pull out electric guitars and do a rocking ten minute "Angry Eyes," transition into a country hoedown with "Holiday Hotel" and then return to a band ballad "Another Road."

Released in 1974 Loggins & Messina are assisted by a crackling back up band made up of Jon Clarke on horns, Al Garth on fiddle/violin/horns, Merel Bregante on drums, and Larry Sims on bass.  All members of the group add immensely to the concerts and all get opportunities to show off their talents.  The album has a nice mix of country rock stylings and it feels like a big country jam sometimes.

The centerpiece of this double album is a spectacular 21 minute(!) version of "Vahevala" that opens disc 2.  It goes through several movements starting the way the studio version does then moving into a fiddle guitar battle, then slowing to a crawl in the center with barely audible notes, before revving back up for a rocking finish.  It's a spectacular version.

Compiled from five concerts two at Winterland San Francisco April 1972, two Carnegie Hall March 1973, and one at Boston's Orpheum Theater also March 1973. Released in a remastered Legacy "live from the vaults" edition in 1998 this CD version features a recreation of the inner artwork from the original fold out LP case.  It also features a brief paragraph essay about the album.  A must have for Loggins & Messina fans especially those interested in their live performances.  I had the opportunity to see them live in 2010 and I must say they are still quite excellent.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Gordon Lightfoot - "Gord's Gold"

A very strong greatest hits compilation of Lightfoot's most popular recordings. Released shortly after his commercial peak with the album "Sundown" and featuring songs like "Carefree Highway," "Sundown" and "If you Could Read my Mind."

Lightfoot was one of the most popular singer/songwriters of the 1960s and 1970s.  Hailing from Canada, some considered him the closest thing to a Canadian Bob Dylan. Lightfoot focuses on mellow acoustic based songs with strong lyrics that often tell stories. His deep, warm and husky voice carries his tunes well and he has more vocal ability than Leonard Cohen or Dylan.

This collection covers basically the first ten years of his career. This period actually turned out to be the best part of his career as well. He would continue to write good songs and have a very dedicated fan following but his commercial popularity and creative abilities are at their best here.

Picking at least one song from each one of his albums from his 1966's debut "Lightfoot" to his 1975 hit "Cold on the Shoulder." His earlier songs have been re-recorded like "Canadian Railroad Trilogy" and also turned into medleys like "I'm Not Sayin'/Ribbon of Darkness" (John Denver did the same thing with his early songs on his Greatest Hits album). The versions are not drastically different, but the new recordings do make a number of the songs sound similar since Lightfoot's voice and style on the old songs sounds similar to the "new" songs.

Upon first listen the songs may all blend together (it is a 21 track album!).  But repeated listens will reveal the great nuance and quality of Lightfoot's music. Originally released in 1975 as a two record set,  to fit the album on one CD they deleted the song "Affair on 8th Avenue" (die-hard fans will complain about this omission for years). The CD has a short but nice booklet with an overview essay of Lightfoot's career and photos of his longtime band members. This is a great compilation for those unfamiliar with Lightfoot.  A 2002, 20 track CD called "The Complete Greatest Hits" is another option for those looking to get Lightfoot all on one album. That disc covers a larger period of time 1966-the 1980s and features the original versions of the songs. In the end it is up to you dear listener to see which compilation fits your needs. I like this one.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Huey Lewis & The News - "Greatest Hits"

I am so sorry for the nearly two month long absence from my postings. Just one of those things where other daily matters overtake your time.  If there are any readers left out there thank you so much for sticking with me.

Here is my triumphant return, hopefully not followed by another long gap.  Returning to my alphabetical listings here is the mighty Huey Lewis & The News.

Released in 2006 this is the perfect compilation for the 1980s hit makers. Lewis and company were essentially a good time bar band that hit it big in the 1980s with a string of top ten hits and platinum albums.  Their sound is a mix of rock, pop, soul, r&b, with some great acappella chops.  They incorporate catchy pop hooks with big brass horns and electric guitars.  They also did not take themselves too seriously, they took their music seriously. Always making sure they were putting out great products, but they also made sure they were having a clean good time.  Their music videos were mini movies, with elaborate sets and costumes, featuring the band dressing up and even being buried in the sand.

This compilation lives up to its name as basically every hit the band put out contained on one CD (even Lewis' version of "Cruisin'" with Gwyneth Paltrow from the movie "Duets" is here). Their previous compilation "Time Flies" contained 12 songs and four new recordings none of which were super popular.  "Greatest Hits" contains all 12 songs from "Time Flies" and adds nine more tracks!!! The live version of "Trouble in Paradise" is included as well. The song order is not chronological but instead like a concert set list. Not a bad thing as the songs flow well together, but it does leave one of their earliest rowdiest songs "Workin' for a Livin'" as the closer.

The CD packaging is well done with lots of photos and collages, three essays (one by Jimmy Kimmel) and chart listings for each of the songs.  All in all this is the perfect hits compilation for fans or newcomers of the great band known as Huey Lewis & the News.

In the words of Mr. Kimmel, "I know what I like. I like Huey Lewis and the News."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

John Lennon - "Lennon Legend"

Hello readers, if there are any of you left, I greatly apologize for the long break I know it has been two months since my last post. It is one of those things where you suddenly get busy and start doing all these different things and the time seems to vanish. Wake up and before you know it it is time to sleep again.

After some special posts, one for Stephen Stills' birthday, I am returning to my alphabetical list of albums. This is the last CD I have by John Lennon. This 1997 single disc Best of compilation is really perfect. "Lennon Legend" subtitled "The Very Best of John Lennon" certainly lives up to it's subtitle.

Contained here are all his solo singles (even the ones released after his death) along with a few choice album tracks. Sure there are other good songs in his solo catalogue but this is the best of it.

After Lennon's first two solo albums, his remaining albums had a cobbled together and sometimes tossed off feel.  A few great tracks then some stuff he was just playing around with.  This grabs many of the best moments from "Walls and Bridges," "Mind Games," and "Milk and Honey."  Also included are songs like "Cold Turkey," "Give Peace a Chance," "Instant Karma," and "Happy Xmas" which never appeared on any album.

All four Beatles solo work actually had the same feel, a handful of great songs then the rest of the album was devoted to forgettable songs.  Each of the four had at least one excellent album though.  So their solo catalogues are prime arenas for compilations.

As I said before this is an excellent compilation showcasing Lennon's best solo work. It follows basically chronological order, but when it does move songs around it is with good taste and for good effect.  The sound is strong and the booklet contains many candid photographs and very brief information about each song.

I believe this compilation went out of print in 2010 when Lennon's entire catalogue was re-released in honor of what would have been his 70th birthday. Now the only compilations available are well packaged box-sets or a shorter compilation. The albums "Plastic Ono Band" and "Imagine" are must haves but if there is one Lennon compilation to seek out it is this one.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Stephen Stills - "Stephen Stills 2"

For the 68th Birthday of one of my all time favorite musicians Stephen Stills, I am writing about his second solo album released in 1971, a mere seven months after his first. This also happens to be my first post of 2013. Happy New Year everyone.
[I previously posted about his debut album for his last birthday check it out.]

Stills had been making great music with a streak of excellence that goes from Buffalo Springfield, Super Session, CSN, CSNY, to his solo debut. After all that success it was no surprise that Stills stumbles a bit here. He mostly falters when he goes into Chicago (the band) territory adding a horn section (The Memphis Horns) and creating his own version of the Wall of Sound. At the time of release the album went Gold but did not produce a big hit single like "Love the One You're With" and the critics ready to bash Stills found ample opportunity here.

Looking at the album now Stills really scores on about half of the tracks. "Change Partners" feels like a ballroom country dance with a swinging tempo and great chorus that gets things off to a great start.
"Fishes and Scorpions" starts slow with acoustic guitar then turns into a rocker in the second half with some nice work by Eric Clapton. "Know you got to Run," a banjo led tune (reworking of John Hopkins song) is a brooding dark accusation (the first two lyrics were used on CSNY's "Everybody I Love You").  "Singin' Call" has a tight acoustic picking and quiet reflective vocals that show off Stills' abilities. "Sugar Babe," is a blues based mid-tempo song with a great feel and good organ work. "Marianne" is superb catchy rock featuring Stills singing in a high register.  "Word Game" is a fast acoustic number  with swirling wordy ranting lyrics about racism and prejudice.

On the rest of the tracks is where Stills stumbles. "Nothin' to do but Today" and "Open Secret" mix gospel and rock, but they are take them or leave them tracks, listenable with choruses that may stick in your head but are not so great. "Relaxing Town" and "Ecology Song" feel unfinished and rushed. The lyrics are also below par on both and the production can be overbearing.

The closer "Bluebird Revisited" is one of those 'why would you remake this?' questions. Seemingly intended as a epic finish that does not succeed. It seems like Stills had a portion of a new song and decided to mix in verses from his Buffalo Springfield classic. The music has been redone and is not bad I especially like the trumpet playing before the last verse.

Like his debut album there are some famous guest appearances by Eric Clapton, Nils Lofgren, Billy Preston and David Crosby. As well as Henry Diltz photography (the back of the cover photo shows what could be a bag of white powder on the table next to Stephen). The CD version I have sounds good, certain vocals seem really soft though. iTunes may help listeners with this album because they will pick their favorite songs and leave the rest.

All in all as many critics pointed out Stills seems to have rushed the album out before enough strong material was ready. His creative energy, however, would get a shot of adrenalin from Manassas a year later. In the end this album has some good moments that many critics chose to ignore and it is definitely worth a look.

Happy Birthday Stephen Stills, let's wish for the much anticipated and long overdue release of the Stephen Stills Box Set this year.

Monday, December 24, 2012

John Lennon - "Imagine"

I had originally wrote about John Lennon's "Plastic Ono Band" album for what would have been his 70th birthday in 2010 here is a link to that post

Lennon's second solo album "Imagine" was released in 1971 and became a number one hit. Again produced by Phil Spector who is able to incorporate more of his Wall of Sound techniques than he was on the previous "Plastic Ono Band" album.

"Imagine" finds Lennon moving toward the political activism that would comprise his next album "Sometimes in New York City" and his public life for much of the early 1970s.

The title track has become his signature tune and will always be a spectacular plea for peace and understanding that, for me, never gets old. It is Lennon being the master musician but also pushing a slightly political agenda. On my car I have a bumper sticker that reads "You may say I'm a dreamer but I'm not the only one."

"I don't Wanna be a Soldier" and "Gimme Some Truth" are straight forward political songs obviously protesting the Vietnam War and the latter calling out politicians. Despite the ranting lyrics (particularly on the latter track), Lennon is such a strong musician he makes them catchy.

The rest of the album focuses on confessional songs similar in content to "Plastic Ono Band." Yet where that album was raw and bare, the songs here are given smooth sweeping arrangements that slightly mask their raw emotions. "Crippled Inside" is a mix of two faced politicians and Lennon's own pain with his winking off-center humor. "Jealous Guy" is a beautiful apology (possibly to Yoko Ono) set to sweeping strings. "How Do you Sleep" is a snarling through gritted teeth confrontation with Paul McCartney (but Lennon later said the song was a way to separate himself from the Beatles). "It's So Hard," "How?" and "Oh My Love" are simple quiet emotions and would have fit well on his previous album.

This is a great album, especially for Lennon fans. The version I have has a lot of photographs and lyrics in the CD booklet. Thank you John for another gift of music

For Christmas 2012 lets imagine all the people living life in peace and the world as one. Merry Christmas Everyone.