Tuesday, August 30, 2011

279. My Life. Apparently her name isn't Bilge.



Album: My Life
Artist: Mary J Blige
Genre: R and B
Year: 1994


Tracks

1. Intro
2. Mary Jane (All Night Long)
3. You Bring Me Joy
4. Marvin (Interlude)
5. I'm The Only Woman
6. K. Murray (Interlude)
7. My Life
8. You Gotta Believe
9. I Never Wanna Live Without You
10. I'm Goin' Down
11. My Life (Interlude)
12. Be With You
13. Mary's Joint
14. Don't Go
15. I Love You
16. No One Else
17. Be Happy
18. (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman


I've never actually heard anyone say Mary Jane Blige's name out loud. Seriously. She's never come up in any conversation I've ever had with anyone. For ages I thought her name was actually Mary Jane Bilge. It took me ages to realise that there wasn't someone out there who made Mr and Mrs Bilge proud every time they saw their daughter on the telly.

Now that I've clarified her name I've actually heard her music. My Life is the first MJ Blige album I've ever sat down and listened to and so it's my first experience with the woman that many regard as the queen of R and B.

There's no denying she has a nice voice and can hold a tune. Apparently Rolling Stone magazine decided to include her in the top 100 vocalists of all time (she just squeaked in at number 100) and I wouldn't argue with them. The problem is that she appears to be the only talent in the room. Most of the instrumentation on My Life comes from sampled beats and instruments augmented by the occassional low-key addition from a studio muso. Unlike Muddy Waters' Folk Blues, where the room was so full of talent even the janitor could probably have played a wicked harmonica solo, everyone surrounding Blige in the studio was only interested in providing a harmless backing to her vocals. The five producers (five!) who worked on the songs written by the 13 songwriters all contribute bits and pieces but were basically just padding out the sound so Blige wasn't singing accapella. Consequently if you think Blige has nothing more than a pleasant voice, there's nothing to latch onto.

Apparently My Life's reputation has increased over time but I wonder if it's days as a well-regarded album are limited. Other girls with nice voices will always be around and new ones appear every day. There will always be pretenders to Mary J's throne and one day she may be relegated to the pile of promising artists whose time came and went. It's a sad fact that the music industry is much harsher on middle-aged female artists than it is on their male counterparts.

Influenced by: Aretha Franklin (and who wouldn't be?)
Influenced: Lots of people who's names I've never heard said out loud either.

Highlight: You make me fee like a natural woman
Lowlight: Anything with the word interlude after it

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "This was one of her best albums during her whole career span."

-Interesting that even people who give her albums five stars are talking about her career in the past tense.

So does this represent your life or someone else's entirely? Let me know below.

Friday, August 26, 2011

280. Folk Singer - Muddying the distinction between Folk and Blues



Album: Folk Singer
Artist: Muddy Waters
Year: 1964
Genre: Blues

Tracks

1. My Home Is In The Delta
2. Long Distance
3. My Captain
4. Good Morning Little School Girl
5. You Gonna Need My Help
6. Cold Weather Blues
7. Big Leg Woman
8. Country Boy
9. Feel Like Going Home


We've seen Muddy Waters on this countdown before. 68 places and 4 years earlier he appears with his At Newport album in which he tears the place apart with some Mojo working and big band blues that is so down and groovy it could make an earthworm tap its toes. Give it a listen if you haven't already but make sure you're not expecting more of the same if you follow it up with this release.

Folk singer showcases a completely different side of Muddy Water's musical ability. It's not the electrified blues that set a stage alight but a low-key set of acoustic tunes that belongs in a smokey blues club somewhere. The original release of Folk Singer features Muddy playing acoustic guitar with unplugged bass and guitar for accompaniment and drums for rhythm. It's stripped back and sparse and I can't recommended it enough.

What makes Folk singer so outstanding is the sheer weight of talent in the studio. If blues mojo was snow you could toboggan down the slopes of Folk Singer. Drums are supplied by Clifton James who played on all the great Bo Diddley tracks that helped establish the rock and roll rhythm. Bass is played by Willie Dixon who wrote so many blues standards he can pretty much take credit for Led Zeppelin's first two albums. And providing guitar solos is Blues master Buddy Guy. Whenever any magazine assembles their list of "Greatest guitarists" you will always find Buddy Guy on there somewhere and every member of the top ten will cite him as a major influence.

With that amount of support Waters himself only needs to phone in a half-decent performance to make a great album. The truth is Muddy's vocals are amongst the best ever put down on a blues record. He's created the archetype for blues vocals. If his lyrics were as deep as his voice you could write PHD's about the song titles alone. His dulcet tones make your ears vibrate with happy.

The bonus tracks added to the CD release are great but not as essential as the original nine cuts. Folk Singer is proof that all you need to make great music is a few basic instruments, a recording studio and a huge amount of talent.

Influenced by: Robert Johnson
Influenced: Clapton, Page, Beck- those lads.

Highlight: Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Interesting to hear the original lyrics)
Lowlight: The bonus tracks (which are still fantastic)

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Hell man. I remember one night I was knockin' the boots with this one chick and listening to this album. It was smack."

-If knockin the boots means what I think it means then I'm not sure what Smack means because I'm not sure that this release is such a great soundtrack for boot knockin. Unless you knock boots incredibly slowly.

So is this album smack? And is that a good or bad thing? Let me know below.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

281. Can't get enough- Trying not to giggle.



Album: Can't get enough
Artist: Barry White
Year: 1974
Genre: Soul

Tracks


1. Mellow Mood (Pt. 1)
2. You're The First, The Last, My Everything
3. I Can't Believe You Love Me
4. Can't Get Enough Of Your Love, Babe
5. Oh Love, Well We Finally Made It
6. I Love You More Than Anything (In This World Girl)
7. Mellow Mood (Pt. 2)


It's only when you sit down and listen to a Barry White album all the way through that you realise just how brilliant Flight of the Conchords really was. It's impossible to hear Germaine Clement sing Business Time without being impressed at how he's got Barry's voice and persona down to a note-perfect impression. Sadly the traffic flows in the other direction as well. It's now not possible for me to hear Barry without the words "It's business, it's business time" in my head. If I manage to exorcise New Zealand's finest from my mind for a minute then the image of Barry's Simspon's appearance kicks in and I find myself turning his heartfelt declarations of love for his woman into "I love the sexy slither of a lady snake." On the odd occasions when I can completely clear my head of both these images an old Lenny Henry routine about how Barry's voice is so low it can penetrate the deepest parts of the ocean immediately jumps to the forefront of my mind ("Can you hear that music? I can, I love Barry White and I'm a fish!") Even Barry's nickname (The Walrus of Love) is intrinsically hilarious.

There's just something about Barry that's kind of hard to take seriously. I think part of it might be because he's just so comical but so earnest at the same time. His voice is kind of funny and that spoken seduction thing he does is so easy to gently mock. But on Can't Get Enough he's taking himself so seriously. The opening minutes of I can't Believe You Love Me are a spoken introduction and it sounds like someone doing a Barry White parody. I know that it's not, I know it's actually Barry but somehow he's become so easy to mock that even the original seems like someone poking fun.

There's no doubt however that Can't get Enough of Your Love is a great song. It's his signature tune and deservedly so. Credit should go to Barry for writing, arranging, producing and singing a timeless classic.

Barry White might be easy to mock and a breeze to parody but it's important to realise that he's never been effectively copied. He's endured people poking fun over the years but has never seen anyone step up and do what he does better than he can. He's a true original and one  to be admired (between giggles).

Influenced by: Loooove, the sweeet looove of a beautiful lady
Influenced: Lots of comedians

Highlight: Can't get enough of your love
Lowlight: I can't believe you love me

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "berry white music has always played a big part of my boyfriends life and mine after working all week on fridays we both relax with good music and a little wine and berrys cds make it all complete white sister and white brother"

-I thought the first "berry" was a typo but after the second I'm wondering if it's a strange nickname. Odd

So can you get enough or have you had your fill? Let me know below.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

282 The Cars. The driving force behind New Wave music.



Album: The Cars
Artist: The Cars
Year: 1978
Genre: Rock

Tracks


1. Good Times Roll
2. My Best Friend's Girl
3. Just What I Needed
4. I'm In Touch With Your World
5. Don't Cha Stop
6. You're All I've Got Tonight
7. Bye Bye Love
8. Moving In Stereo
9. All Mixed Up


Their primary purpose of a car is to get you from point A to point B. If you're in one you're between a place you came from and on the way to somewhere else. The Cars feels like a journey rather than a destination. It feels like a mid point between two other locations, which musically is what 1978 was all about.
After the mid seventies, big rock and roll was starting to slowly expire. Zeppelin, The Who and the Rolling Stones had all had their finest hours and the standard guitar-band format was begining to die out. In the eighties synthesized pop and heavily produced rock ruled the airwaves. The Cars feels like the half way point between two places. They're a guitar band with eighties affectations. A bunch of rock and rollers who are just discovering electronica. Guitar breaks sound strange backed with eighties synth sounds and processed hand claps, even when the guy playing them is genuinely talented.

At the time The Cars felt revolutionary but now it feels strangely dated. It's by no means a car crash but it's not a classic either. There are some highlights that sound like good Rock and Roll songs (My best friend's girl, Just what I needed, Don't Cha Stop) but some lowlights that feel like directionless meanderings in need of a musical sat nav (Good Times Roll, I'm in touch with your world).


Influenced by: The Boston music scene
Influenced: Eighties alternative rock and roll

Highlight: My best friend's girl
Lowlight: I'm in touch with your world.

Favourite Amazon Customer Review: Head on over to Amazon to check out the weirdness going on at The Cars page. Someone has created  multiple accounts and uses them to slang off the Cars and promote Dire Straits. And it appears the same person has created further accounts to slang off their other reviews and talk about how great the Cars are. Odd

So is this album a Porsche or a beaten up old bomb? Let me know below.

Friday, August 12, 2011

283 Five Leaves Left. Eclipsed by a Pink Moon



Album: Five Leaves Left
Artist: Nick Drake
Genre: Folk
Year: 1969

Tracks

  1. Time Has Told Me
  2. River Man
  3. Three Hours
  4. Way to Blue
  5. Day is Done
  6. Cello Song
  7. The Thoughts of Mary Jane
  8. Man in a Shed
  9. Fruit Tree
  10. Saturday Sun

A few albums back I raved about Pink Moon, the final album by Nick Drake. You can reread the review here but if you want a quick summary: I found it sad but great.

We're now many albums further on from Pink Moon and we've gone back a few years to when Drake was a promising young talent entering a studio with his debut set of songs. Expectations were high as Drake and his producer tried to turn his demo recordings into a top selling album. They failed dismally. The record was basically ignored by the music-buying public which (to be fair) had a lot on it's mind back in 1969. On the same day Five Leaves Left was released, record stores were displaying new releases from The Steve Miller Band, Vanilla Fudge, The Guess Who, The Nice and Al Stewart. All of these artists were desperately trying to compete for the few crumbs of musical attention that weren't take up by the release of Abbey Road on the same date. If your album hits stores on the same day as a new Beatles release your publicist has their work cut out for them.

Abbey Road has held it's fanbase over time but the other albums that kept Five Leaves Left off the charts have faded away while Drake's debut is held us a classic and makes so many top 100 lists I wouldn't be surprised if it started turning up in the Top 100 metal albums and even the Top 100 chocolate cake recipes, it's getting that ubiquitous.

Personally it doesn't affect me in nearly the same way that Pink Moon does, something I can attribute directly to the production. Pink Moon is Nick Drake and a guitar. Vocals, sing strings and emotion. But Five Leaves Left adds bass guitars, drums, flutes, extra guitars and even entire string ensembles to Drake's original compositions. There are several tracks in which Nick doesn't even contribute guitar and instead sings over the top of a wash of cellos, violas and violins. To my mind it ruins the whole thing. Drake's music is at it's best when it's as simple as possible- one man and his guitar. After he died the demo version of Man in a Shed was discovered and released. It's wonderful. Simple, flawless and brilliant.

Five Leaves Left is still a great listen and I'd choose it over a good chunk of the other albums on the countdown. But I can't help but wish the only sounds were Nick's voice and his guitar.

Influenced by: Bob Dylan and a youthful desire to make music heard.
Influenced: It's creator into a feeling of despair.

Highlight: Man in a Shed (the demo version)
Lowlight: Cello Song

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "We are so lucky to be alive in an age of recorded sound"

-Yes. Yes we are. It's always worth being reminded.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

284 Music of my mind



Album: Music of my Mind
Artist: Stevie Wonder
Year: 1972
Genre: Funk (or soul. Or Pop)

Tracks


  1. Love Having You Around
  2. Superwoman
  3. I Love Every Little Thing About You
  4. Sweet Little Girl
  5. Happier Than The Morning Sun
  6. Girl Blue
  7. Seems So Long
  8. Keep On Running
  9. Evil


As far as I’m concerned there are two Stevie Wonders: the funk superstar who wrote the magnificent Supersition and Higher Ground and the balladeer who penned the worthy but cringy and a bit dull Isn’t she lovely and I just called to say I love you. Music of my mind was the first chance I’ve had to hear an album all the way through and establish whether I’m a Stevie Wonder fan who dislikes a few songs or a guy who just likes a couple of his funkier tunes.

Music of my Mind starts off in a way that I could only describe as musically deceptive. Love Having You Around sounds like a groovy party in a studio that somehow resulted in a song. It rocks and bops along with a great atmosphere and you can imagine Stevie at the keyboard surrounded by some ultra-cool bandmates and sexy backing vocalists. They grooved and jamed for a bit and then played back the tape and realised they created a great song. The truth however is that the whole thing is basically just the one guy. With the exception of the trombone, all the instruments are played by Stevie. It’s possible he even sang the female backing vocalists since they’re uncredited and he’s clearly talented enough. It makes you wonder who he’s singing Love Having you Around to? The studio cleaner? It’s an impressive effort. I’ve always said the best music comes when people bounce off each other and inspire each other so to create a great track by laying down vocals, keyboards, bass and drums all by yourself earns my respect.

The next track has a guest guitarist but from then on every instrument you hear is Wonder himself.  The man is such a talent he can create entire albums without help. He doesn't even need someone to turn the studio lights on he just needs a studio, some instruments, a familiar floor-plan and he’s away.

Music of My Mind has confirmed what I felt about Stevie Wonder before I heard it. When he’s funky (Love having you around, Keep on Running) he’s fantastic but when he slows down (Superwoman, Seems so long) he tends to lose me a bit. There are other Wonder albums to come and Music of My Mind has made me look forward to hearing them.

Influenced by: James Brown and his own abilities
Influenced: Rock/Funk like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

Highlight: Love having you around
Lowlight: Seems So Long

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "I didn't give it an A+ because it isn't as good as his others, but it is excellent nevertheless--just what I expected."

-Is it possible you also avoided giving it an A+ because it's technically impossible with Amazon's star based system?

So is music of my mind a no brainer or completely brainless? Let me know below.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

285 I'm still in love with you- Just as well since it was only 2 albums ago you were urging me to call you.



Album: I'm still in love with you.
Artist: Al Green
Year: 1972
Genre: Soul

Tracks


1. I'm Still In Love With You
2. I'm Glad You're Mine
3. Love And Happiness
4. What A Wonderful Thing Love Is
5. Simply Beautiful
6. Oh, Pretty Woman
7. For The Good Times
8. Look What You Done For Me
9. One Of These Good Old Days
10. I Think It's For The Feeling
11. Up Above My Head


285 sees another appearance by Al Green who we haven’t seen in the countdown since...oooh hang on let me check... it wasn’t the last album and it wasn’t the album before that- no hang on, it was, it was the album before that. We haven’t heard from Al Green for three whole albums.  But here we are again listening to a one of Soul and Gospel’s greatest voices.

Just like Call Me (which was recorded the following year) I'm Still In Love With You is a collection of soulful ballads that Green sings accompanied by a backing band, a string section, some horns and backing vocalists who sound more like choristers than session musicians. The mood is slow and laid back and some songs (For the Good Times for example) are so languid in tempo if you tap your toes there’s enough time to make a light meal in-between taps.

There’s a familiar track or two on  I'm Still in Love with You. None of the originals have become staples  but Green does have a crack at Oh, Pretty Woman and turns it into a slow and soulful ballad (which it was pretty close to anyway) and fans of country might recognise For the Good Times which Green turns into a Soul number (you get the feeling he could turn pretty much anything into a soul number, the early works of Metallica could become soul classics if Green covered them). The final track (Up above my head) is definitely the album highlight thanks to it’s change in tempo and at just under three minutes is far too short

If you loved Call Me you’ll love this. If you found it well-sung but a bit tedious then this is definitely more of the same. Hopefully that’s it for Al Green for a while but it’s possible there’ll be another dose along in two albums.

Influenced by: Happy relationships, country and God.
Influenced: Lots of reviewers at Amazon to wax lyrical.

Highlight: Up above my head
Lowlight: I think it's for the feeling


Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: " This album reaches a frothing peak of creative genius that mere mortals can not describe in words. I won't try."

-You just did try. And I think "frothing peak" was actually quite a good attempt. Very descriptive I thought.

So are you still in love with Al Green or is the Honeymoon over? Let me know below

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

286 Los Angeles



Album: Los Angeles
Artist: X
Year: 1980
Genre: Punk (or not)

Tracks


1. Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not
2. Johnny Hit And Run Paulene
3. Soul Kitchen
4. Nausea
5. Sugarlight
6. Los Angeles
7. Sex And Dying In High Society
8. The Unheard Music
9. The World's A Mess; It's In My Kiss


X are not a real punk band. If anyone tries to tell you that they are please cite the following collection of achievements that preclude them from full-on punkdom...


  • Their original members are all still alive and are even on speaking terms and still play together.
  • The recorded a Christmas single. (Santa Clause is coming to town backed with Jingle Bells)
  • They know how to harmonize and are even confident enough to do it on record.
  • Guitarist Billy Zoom loves to solo and can really play. His lead breaks are perfect little melodic runs played with passion at breakneck speed (check out Sugarlight and Johnny Hit and Run Paulene if you don’t believe me). He also has a reputation for smiling a lot onstage. This is very, very not-punk.
  • They’re fans of The Doors and have one of their members as an occasional producer (Ray Manzerek). They’re not afraid to throw in an occasional Doors cover (Soul Kitchen) in true defiance of Punk sensibilities.
  • They’re happy to play ballads (although Los Angeles is a punk ballad so it’s not so much strings and syrup as slash and swagger- but it’s still a ballad)
  • Their lyrics have a sense of poetry about them. X may have the simplest name in punk but they've definitely got the most complicated lyrical sensibilities.
  • The band members extra curricular activities include: exhibiting mixed media collages, poetry, acting,  repairing vintage amplifiers and playing in Jazz quartets.


Finally the main reason X aren’t true punk is because I actually really like them. I wouldn’t choose to listen to them too regularly but I’ve definitely developed a healthy respect.

Influenced by: The Doors and the Sex Pistols
Influenced: Green Day and other melodic punkers.

Highlight: Sugarlight
Lowlight: Soul Kitchen

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "it certainly dates me to write of hearing this "vinyl" record for the first time back in the late 70's"

-It not only dates you it makes you a time-traveller of some kind since it wasn't recorded until 1980.

So does X mark the spot or would you rather they stayed in LA? Let me know below