Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Crosby, Stills & Nash - "Crosby, Stills & Nash"

"The only American-based band to approach the overall societal impact of The Beatles" - William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide

Crosby, Stills & Nash are one of, if not my favorite band. This, their debut album, is also on my top ten favorite albums list. A trio formed by three musicians who were part of other successful bands, The Byrds (Crosby), Buffalo Springfield (Stills), and The Hollies (Nash), but were unhappy with their respective groups. When they joined together and created this album they became more successful than any of their previous groups or albums.

I picked this up at Costco in the early 2000s when the group's albums had been newly remastered on CD. I had previously bought the compilation "So Far" and fell in love with the great music and wanted more of their work. Three talented individuals form a much greater sound, like The Beatles the whole is larger than the sum of its parts. Their voices blend effortlessly in perfect harmony, well written songs, and accomplished playing, you can't ask for more from an album. The styles range from jangly folk pop to electric rock and they are strong tunes no matter the style.

Listing the good songs is kind of pointless because everything on this album is choice. Though the album was written 15 years before I was born the songs still resonated with me. "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" is just a truly great song. "Marrakesh Express" took me on a journey to another place and time that I could never see otherwise. "Wooden Ships," though written about Vietnam and supposedly intended as a futuristic story, struck a chord because when I first got this album America was heading into Afghanistan. "You Don't Have to Cry" and "Helplessly Hoping" the titles explain why these songs resonated with me. When they sang "Steady Girl, Be My World, Now its over, they left in the Spring, Her and the Drifter Looking for Beautiful Things" in "49 Bye-Byes" I knew how they felt and where the words were coming from.

A truly great album, on a technical note they also released an expanded version of this album in 2009. It is not an improvement, the sound in not as good as this earlier remaster and the four demo songs added at the end are not all that great. Stick with this earlier regular CD edition.

"The Combination of Talents Creates a Great Sound," Rolling Stone Magazine.
I wish there were more albums like this.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Creedence Clearwater Revival - "Chronicle"

Creedence Clearwater Revival (excellent band name), although they were from San Francisco epitomized and perfected Southern Rock and Roll like no other band. John Fogerty the lead singer, lead guitarist and chief songwriter steered the band to the top of the charts in the late 1960s and early 70s before leaving the group. There also turned out to be a huge rift between Fogerty and the rest of the band which has prevented any type of reunion.

None the less the band has a vast legacy and a number of stellar songs. I first got "Chronicle," it is sometimes listed as "Vol. 1" because they later released a second volume, anyway I was at Tower Records and they had one copy and the back insert with the track listing was inserted upside down. At the time I did not know you could simply pop open the CD tray and flip the paper right side up so I did not buy it. I went back to the store several times for other albums and would look at this CD but it was always the same upside down one. Eventually I just bought that one and even though I eventually found out how to open the CD tray I have left the insert upside down. I now think it is kind of cool, like I purchased a one of a kind disc. Sometimes it is troublesome when you flip the case over to look up a song and I have to turn one more time to get in right side up, but that is minor.

Anyway on to the compilation itself. This is basically a perfect compilation of Creedence, the only song that I would have liked on this disc is "Born on the Bayou" but it is on the second volume. The compilation contains all nineteen hit songs that the group released plus an 11 minute version of "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Every song that Creedence is known for is on this compilation from "Fortunate Son" to "Who'll Stop the Rain." The songs really show how good a band Creedence was and how excellent a songwriter Fogerty was/is. He could write catchy deep meaningful lyrics and strong melodies as well as focus on social issues truly a great songwriter. The perfect disc for new fans or interested parties and actually only the die hard fans will want the original albums; most will only need this disc and its companion second volume. "Chronicle Vol. 2" focuses solely on album tracks. "Chronicle" is an excellent compilation of a really good band, there are decent liner notes: a short paragraph about the group and then facts about the albums and a time line. I am glad I purchased this album and glad I have a silly story to tell about it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Country Comfort & Billy Kaui - "The Very Best of"

This one is a little bit of a cheat because I made my own compilation of the Hawaiian Music group Country Comfort. I took all 14 songs that are featured on the regular disc, pictured left, and then added nine more songs which basically gave me all of the group's music on one disc.

Country Comfort were a Contemporary Hawaiian Music band of the mid-1970s. Their music while linked to Hawaii was all sung in English language and is actually closer in style to the folk rock of Bread, James Taylor or Crosby, Stills, and Nash. They did mix in Hawaiian slack key guitar stylings into their arrangements and their songs often focused on issues facing Hawaii as well as universal love songs.

The group was a notoriously rowdy bunch and truly lived the rock and roll lifestyle. They were notorious for drinking heavily and using hard drugs like heroin and pills. Their live performances often ended in the band members passing out in the middle of songs and/or throwing equipment (like mike stands and guitars) at each other. Radio DJ and Concert promoter Tom Moffatt was their band manager and he vowed to never manage a band again after his experiences.

All of that aside they did make some great music including their 1974 debut "We Are the Children" which is considered by many to be one of the finest albums in Hawaiian Music. The music not only was catchy and well made but it also dealt with social problems facing Hawaii at the time like the big hit "Waimanalo Blues," which spoke of Hawaii's overdevelopment. The songs also connected with the era's disaffected college students and high schoolers who bought up the album in droves.

Due to all the bands internal problems it took them two years to record their second album "Country Comfort II" which at the time of release was considered a failure but in retrospect it is quite a strong album. The band broke up shortly after the album's release, unofficial leader of the group Billy Kaui cleaned up his act and released a self titled solo album in 1977. The album seemed to be his stepping stone to solo success but he tragically passed away from a brain hemorrhage a few months later.

This hits compilation collects some of the best songs from Country Comfort's two releases and Kaui's solo album. While it is an excellent compilation and a perfect introduction to the group as I said earlier it can easily be turned into a complete disc. Either way I think everyone needs a little Country Comfort to ease away their Blues, Waimanalo or otherwise.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Elvis Costello - "The Best of Elivs Costello The First 10 Years"

Elivs Costello burst onto the music scene in 1977 with his debut album "My Aim is True." His forceful energy and fast pace linked him with Punk and New Wave music, but upon closer listens to Costellos' music those are the only similarities. Costello finds inspiration from all sorts of music from Punk and New Wave, but also Country, British Rock, Old Musicals, anything that interests him. His lyrics are often cynical, yet usually witty and upbeat. He also has a penchant for catchy melodies and choruses even if he often turns his music in unexpected directions.

I had first come across Elvis Costello because I really liked his song "Everyday I Write The Book," I still really like it actually. Anyway I was looking for an earlier compilation called "The Best of Elvis Costello and the Attractions." As I would come to find out Costello has moved his entire album catalogue to several different labels over the years and that specific compilation had gone out of print (after only a few years) because he had switched labels. This was before sites like Amazon became very common to purchase out of print or older items.

In 2007 Costello switched labels again and his new label , HIP-O Records, released this compilation. There are 22 tracks on one disc and all but three are the same as on the earlier compilation that I wanted. The three changes are improvements especially since one is "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes." This is actually an excellent single disc and contains all of Costello's most familiar songs. Perfect for those who are new to Costello's music and are interested in his early most productive years. If you prefer his Country and Bluegrass style that he is currently performing this is not the compilation for you. Also the booklet that comes with the CD only contains songs lyrics so you are not missing anything if you download the songs. Excellent compilation that lives up to its name.