Friday, October 25, 2019

Jerry Garcia 3: Compliments

Jerry Garcia’s second solo album (as opposed to collaboration) was originally titled simply Garcia, but some copies had a sticker above the title reading “Compliments Of”. In order to differentiate it from 1972’s Garcia album, we’re going with the expanded title, as has everyone else over the past 30 years.

Unlike that first Garcia album, which he recorded by himself with only Bill Kreutzmann, this installment features a pile of hired guns, as well as familiar names like Merl Saunders and John Kahn, who supposedly spearheaded the project and suggested several of the tunes. The album follows on from the recent Saunders collaboration, with Jerry playing mostly obscure covers from all over the place. For the most part, they’re fairly dull; “Let It Rock” barely sounds like a Chuck Berry song, and “Let’s Spend The Night Together” is just plain unconvincing. Van Morrison’s early “He Ain’t Give You None” doesn’t go anywhere, and the female backing singers don’t help. There’s something of a New Orleans vibe throughout, but we never had much use for Little Feat either.

From time to time his guitar leaps out of the mix, and it’s welcome. One true highlight is Irving Berlin’s “Russian Lullaby”, which evokes Django Reinhardt, complete with gypsy violin. “Turn On The Bright Lights” is another slow burner with plenty of lead work, but probably could have been faded earlier. We have to admit his Dr. John impression on “What Goes Around” is uncanny. “Mississippi Moon” comes from bluegrass buddy Peter Rowan, about whom more will be heard, while “Midnight Town” is a collaboration between John Kahn and Robert Hunter, and a wonderful ending.

This album grew on us to the point where we increased the initial rating; basically the less familiar you are with the original versions of these songs, the better. (The later expanded version of the album adds another nine covers from the Compliments sessions, some of which would feature in future Garcia bands and shows. There’s also a brief jam called “Cardiac Arrest” that’s livelier than anything else on the album, old or new.)

Jerry Garcia Compliments Of Garcia (1974)—3
2004 expanded CD: same as 1974, plus 10 extra tracks

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Robert Hunter: Tales Of The Great Rum Runners

Outside of the band members themselves, few names are more sacred to Deadheads than that of Robert Hunter. His lyrics first appeared on the band’s second album, and he would contribute more to just about every album after that, usually collaborating with Jerry Garcia but sometimes with Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart. According to one source, he is the only non-performing member of any band that has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He managed to rack up a pile of tunes that hadn’t been recorded by the time the Dead had their own label, and thus Tales Of The Great Rum Runners was his solo debut, albeit with some of the band helping him out. Unfortunately, his voice leaves something to be desired, forced when loud and nervous when quiet. While it does have some of the same weedy qualities as Garcia’s, to the point where one can imagine these as Dead tunes, Jerry could actually hit the notes and carry the tunes. Indeed, “It Must Have Been The Roses” would reappear on a Garcia solo album, and become part of many a Dead set. We can almost hear Jerry singing “That Train”, “Maybe She’s A Bluebird”, and “Children’s Lament”, the latter here with a nostalgic bagpipe background. “Keys To The Rain” is Dylanesque in words and delivery, except for the meter changes and mariachi horns. And as befitting the album title, each side begins with something of a sea chanty, sung a cappella.

Since it’s Robert Hunter, Tales Of The Great Rum Runners is essential for Deadheads, who will enjoy the lyrics and many of the arrangements. But his legacy is better appreciated on other albums.

Robert Hunter Tales Of The Great Rum Runners (1974)—

Friday, October 18, 2019

Genesis 17: The Way We Walk

Maybe they knew this would be the last big tour for a while, as Genesis took the opportunity to glut the marketplace with not one, but two live albums culled from their big tour supporting We Can’t Dance. Playing on the video and chorus for “I Can’t Dance”, both volumes were titled The Way We Walk, and were sequenced thematically.

Volume One: The Shorts was released first, in time for the holiday buying season, and concentrated on the hit singles, some recorded on the Invisible Touch tour. Outside of Phil Collins’ evangelist impression on “Jesus He Knows Me”, F-bomb in “Invisible Touch”, and gargling through “I Can’t Dance”, there’s no real difference from the studio versions, except that stalwart supporting players Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson are on hand to fill out the sound. (Nice of the boys to include them on the cover, though.) It helped that none of the songs had been repeated from earlier live albums, but that also meant that your enjoyment depended on whether you liked the ‘80s version of Genesis.

If you didn’t, maybe you were more excited by Volume Two: The Longs, which arrived a few months later with no intention of going gold. This set was devoted to their lengthy epics, mostly focusing on instrumental interplay. “Old Medley” begins with “Dance On A Volcano” before weaving tunes from the Peter Gabriel era over 15 minutes, then teasing the crowd with random lines from the likes of “That’s All”, “Your Own Special Way”, “Follow You, Follow Me” and, sadly, “Illegal Alien”. (Earlier tours had similar medleys, wherein Phil would even sprinkle a Mike + The Mechanics tune and “You Can’t Hurry Love”.)

Four tracks exceed ten minutes; “Drum Duet”, thankfully, is “only” six. Even in this context the newer pieces stick out, though the “Home By The Sea” suite does well, as does “Domino”, begrudgingly. The two epics from We Can’t Dance don’t gain any stature but don’t lose any either.

Genesis The Way We Walk Volume One: The Shorts (1992)—3
The Way We Walk Volume Two: The Longs (1993)—3

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Rush 17: Chronicles

Smart labels anthologize the ones who got away, particularly when the ones have continued to thrive elsewhere. While Rush had jumped to Atlantic, Mercury knew that their catalog would continue to sell, particularly in the CD era. Hence, Chronicles neatly summarized the band’s history from start to now, on two discs, democratically sampling each one of their albums; the exception was three songs from Moving Pictures, not two.

In addition to providing an excellent overview that documented the taming of Geddy Lee’s vocal cords, the big draw for fans was the inclusion of the songs that had been left off the original CDs of All The World’s A Stage and Exit… Stage Left. “What You’re Doing” and “A Passage To Bangkok” each appear in sequence to ensure that every album was represented. Moreover, “Mystic Rhythms” was included from A Show Of Hands, and “Show Don’t Tell” provides true closure.

The modes of the times dictated that a double CD was packaged in a clamshell case about an inch thick, but Chronicles was worthy of taking up space on a shelf, and seemingly would always. It stayed in print even after the catalog was remastered in 1997, whereupon Mercury took to anthologizing them again, and not for the last time. Retrospective I: 1974-1980 and Retrospective II: 1981-1987 each repeated ten tracks from either disc of Chronicles and made some very bold additions (“By-Tor”? “The Body Electric”?) while jumbling the chronology and adding zero rarities. (Both volumes were combined into a single slimline package for 2006’s Gold, which reinstated “Working Man” to the dais at the expense of “Something For Nothing”.)

Then in 2003, likely to cash in on the band’s return from hiatus, The Spirit Of Radio was a single disc purporting to present the band’s “greatest hits”, despite the fact that only one of their singles had ever cracked the Billboard Top 40. That said, it again stuck to the timeline and hit all the highlights, with the possible exception of “Force Ten”. (True completists would also want to make room for the two Rush entries in Universal’s head-scratching ICON series. The first was a glorified mix tape that mixed familiar tracks with deep cuts; this was repeated a year later in a second version, along with a disc that sampled all their Mercury live albums.)

Rush Chronicles (1990)—4
Retrospective I: 1974-1980 (1997)—
Retrospective II: 1981-1987 (1997)—
The Spirit Of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974-1987 (2003)—4

Friday, October 11, 2019

Jeff Beck 10: Flash

Five years was a long time in the ‘80s, so when Jeff Beck finally got around to recording an album, the music scene had changed dramatically. The cover of Flash is telling; here El Becko is shown wearing a stylish suit, not unlike the blazer Bob Dylan appropriated for the same year’s Empire Burlesque. (Like that album, producer of the moment Arthur Baker adds his sheen as well, dating the album just as severely today.) Nile Rodgers dominates the proceedings, fresh from Mick Jagger’s solo album.

Beck’s guitar is just as adventurous as ever, but on every track, drums boom and synths dominate the bass, bringing to mind “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, which isn’t on the album, and likely wasn’t recorded yet, but you get the idea. The album as a whole resembles so many movie soundtracks of that period.

The big draw was Rod Stewart’s appearance on a cover of “People Get Ready”, which would bring the singer a needed boost, soon to be derailed by “Love Touch”. Most of the rest of the vocals came from the soulful throat of Jimmy Hall, once of Wet Willie, here following the footsteps of Bobby Tench. “Ambitious” is fairly funky, but takes off when Beck takes over. He’s all over “Gets Us All In The End” pretty much from start to finish, a track otherwise tailor-made for Bonnie Tyler, but “Stop, Look And Listen” and “Ecstasy” are ultimately generic vocally. And while anybody would know by now that Beck was no singer, somehow Nile Rodgers felt he should take the mic for “Get Workin’” (punctuated by the stuttering sample best personified by “Rock Me Amadeus”) and “Night After Night”. Luckily for everyone he’s mixed low, and several background singers fill up the cavern of sound.

Interestingly, two instrumentals each come from keyboard players we’ve heard on previous Beck albums. Jan Hammer’s “Escape” manages to employ dynamics over the same metronomic beat. Tony Hymas offers “You Know, We Know”, which starts okay, but soon turns into everything else. The LP and cassette ended there, but certain CD pressings maximized the extra playing time by adding two B-sides. “Nighthawks” is another ordinary Nile Rodgers tune sung by Jimmy Hall, while “Back On The Streets” features the talents of Karen Lawrence, soon to be heard singing the opening theme to the hit TV show Misfits Of Science.

Flash managed to become something of a hit, mostly for the Rod Stewart connection, but also because it fit squarely into radio formats of the time. It’s undeniably catchy, perhaps a guilty pleasure, and at its best when you can concentrate on the guitar, not the dressing. If you can’t, dock the rating a full point.

Jeff Beck Flash (1985)—3

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Cat Stevens 12: Footsteps in the Dark

After a few years of musical silence, the news emerged that Cat Stevens had changed his name yet again. Now known as Yusuf Islam, he had retired from pop music to devote his life to his family and his faith. Meanwhile, his songs still played on the radio, in all formats, so releasing a second greatest hits compilation wasn’t too much of a stretch.

Despite its subtitle, Footsteps In The Dark is fairly short on actual hits, but it’s still chock full of quality. In a covert admission that the albums since the first hits album hadn’t aged well, the set covers songs throughout the entire ‘70s. As an added bonus, three songs make their album debut.

Side one is nearly flawless, beginning with “The Wind” but veering off course with “(I Never Wanted) To Be A Star”; okay, we get it. “Katmandu” and “Trouble” are rescued from Mona Bone Jakon. In between is the charming “I Want To Live In A Wigwam”, the B-side of “Morning Has Broken”. “On The Road To Find Out” turns out to be just one of the foreshadowings scattered throughout his pop career, while “If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out”, written for and featured prominently in the film Harold And Maude finally appears for home enjoyment.

The second side hops even wider throughout the decade, from “Where Do The Children Play?” and “How Can I Tell You” to later tunes “The Hurt”, “Daytime” (whence comes the album title), and “Silent Sunlight”. The simple but sweet “Don’t Be Shy” is the other Harold And Maude song here, and for some reason “Father & Son” appears, despite its inclusion on the first hits album.

The CD era would eventually inspire further collections, beginning with Classics Volume 24 (numbered as part of A&M’s 25th Anniversary Classics series), which combined tunes from both hits albums and nicely included “If You Want To Sing Out”. Several different releases purporting to be The Very Best Of Cat Stevens have appeared over the years; the most recent is not chronological, but includes more pop material from the ‘60s and concludes with, yes, “If You Want To Sing Out”. A 2001 box set alternately titled either Cat Stevens or On The Road To Find Out covers his career over four discs, with the requisite outtakes, demos, and live tracks. 2005’s Gold double CD was very comprehensive, going from “Matthew & Son” through Teaser And The Firecat on the first disc alone, and including both Harold And Maude songs. The second disc rushes through the rest of the ‘70s, and even includes a new track recorded by Yusuf Islam himself specifically for this set.

All that said, Footsteps In The Dark is still the best (and cheapest) choice, particularly for “I Want To Live In A Wigwam”. As for Harold And Maude, a handful of limited vinyl-only releases in this century covered the new and previously released Cat Stevens music used in the film, until an official soundtrack was finally released for CD and streaming in 2022, adding dialogue and other music from the film.

Cat Stevens Footsteps In The Dark: Greatest Hits Volume Two (1984)—
Cat Stevens
Harold And Maude—Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2022)—3

Friday, October 4, 2019

Peter Gabriel 9: Us

While fans were accustomed to Peter Gabriel’s slow release pace and interest in world music, they were clamoring for the true follow-up to So. With Us, chock full of songs built on hooks, they got it.

He’d written about relationships before, of course, but what made this album so different was that each of the songs (well, nine of them, anyway) overtly dealt with topics like communication, desire and sex. He was in a crossroads; having finally divorced from his wife, he had also found himself in the tabloids when he was seen in the company of the fetching Rosanna Arquette.

The opening fanfare of “Come Talk To Me” sounds like bagpipes, with galloping drums accompanying a plea, a demand for attention, it’s hard to ignore him. Things turn down though, first for the straightforward “Love To Be Loved”, then for “Blood Of Eden”, which musically sounds akin to “Don’t Give Up”, only this time the voice of hope is provided by Sinead O’Connor. The horn-heavy “Sledgehammer” sound returns on “Steam”, and while it’s not explicitly about the physical act, there’s a horniness to it. “Only Us” uses a variety of conflicting meters to disguise the song’s true rhythm, but it doesn’t really settle in.

“Washing Of The Water” is lyrically and musically reminiscent of spirituals, and its feel certainly conveys the desire to be cleansed, to start anew. (Indeed, some of it sounds influenced by “Bread And Wine”, the closing track on Passion.) The mood is truly jarred by “Digging In The Dirt”. Here the emotions touched on via therapy are exposed to the raw, culminating in the sinister “don’t talk back” sections before the choruses. “Fourteen Black Paintings” begins as another throwback to the Passion album, with its tense ambience and use of Mideastern instruments, but its simple lyrics rather recall “We Do What We’re Told”. But to revive the attention of anyone who left the room to get popcorn, “Kiss That Frog” provides an uptempo come-on, with all the hallmarks of vintage soul, and little subtlety in the lyrics. But he saves the best for last. “Secret World” gears up steadily on an almost machine-like beat, and brings in a vocal that’s tired, resigned yet proud of the state of his relationship. It’s not clear whether the people in the song are going to stay together or separate, but that’s what makes it universal. Chills arrive at the whispered “shh—listen” near the end.

Us is a heavier listen than So, but the overall strength endures and reveals itself over time, just as the composer revealed himself in the songs. While Daniel Lanois (again) helped bring Peter’s ideas into the ‘90s, older fans likely enjoyed the touches that reminded them of the Peter Gabriel of a decade before.

Peter Gabriel Us (1992)—

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Paul Simon 13: 1964/1993

Lots of people’s careers were celebrated with box sets in the early ‘90s, and some of them were actually worth investing in—usually if there were rare or unreleased tracks on them. That’s what made Paul Simon’s place on the shelf so maddening. First of all, the title was off; the music runs the gamut from 1957 to 1991, so somebody wasn’t paying attention. Even limited to three discs, as befits a guy who’d recorded fewer than a dozen albums, much of 1964/1993 was stuff people had already, whether on the albums themselves or, more likely for the time, Negotiations And Love Songs.

The set begins with the version of “Leaves That Are Green” from his then-out-of-print solo album, moving through only a handful of tracks from the Simon & Garfunkel albums—possibly due to licensing—with the live take of “Kathy’s Song” for variety. A tentative demo of an unfinished “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, already sounding like he meant it for Art to sing, is included for petulant reasons. The classic rendition follows, as does a strange little spoken segment called “The Breakup”, wherein Art attempts to make a statement about their separation while Paul interrupts constantly from the control booth. This goes into the original “Hey, Schoolgirl” single from 1957, then “My Little Town” is the last we hear from Art before the chronology returns to the start of Paul’s actual solo career.

From there, it’s basically an expansion on Negotiations, with a lot of the same tunes, save a live version of “Still Crazy After All These Years” from 1991. The final disc has seven songs from Graceland, five from The Rhythm Of The Saints, and three from Concert In The Park. There is another bonus in the form of “Thelma”, an outtake from Rhythm Of The Saints that’s worth more than a cursory listen.

Certainly, the music contained on 1964/1993 is such a high quality, even if you had it already, that we can’t fault the content. It simply should have been something else entirely, and both he and his label would soon learn a harsh lesson on what consumers were willing to abide.

Paul Simon 1964/1993 (1993)—