Tuesday, June 28, 2022

John Cale 3: The Academy In Peril

Somehow John Cale got a job as an A&R exec for the Reprise label, and his first album for them came loaded with lots of arty cachet. The very clever cut-out cover design via Andy Warhol is based on those good old Kodak slides, which don’t hint in the slightest at the predominantly classical contents, with only slight detours.
“The Philosopher” opens with a bluesy acoustic slide guitar while percussion thumps, an organ bleats, and horns blare, then a viola arrives. Ron Wood is thanked in the notes for the next track, but we suspect he’s playing the slide on this, because “Brahms” is simply solo piano in the classical style. Maybe he came up with the title? “Legs Larry At Television Centre” is named after the titular narrator, the drummer from the Bonzo Dog Band, here in the role of a director in an imaginary control room guiding the cameras supposedly filming the string quartet. Frankly, he’s distracting. The title track returns to the piano, starting quietly and eventually getting more frantic.
Layers of swirling piano make up the “Intro” to “Days Of Steam”, the most conventional track here, missing only a vocal and lyrics. The viola takes the melody, with a piano and vibraphone mostly doubling each other, before a recorder right out of “Ruby Tuesday” and a trumpet playing chromatic scales takes us out. The next “3 Orchestral Pieces” are banded as one track, and could be film soundtracks: “Faust” is lovely and haunting, “The Balance” begins regally and goes off-balance, and “Capt. Morgan’s Lament” is more stately. “King Harry” returns to the style of “The Philosopher” and “Days Of Steam” with percussion, plus demonic hissed vocals by Cale. Finally, “John Milton” is another piano piece with orchestral touches, and it’s quite moving.
One wonders how Reprise thought they were supposed to market this album. It’s not radio-friendly in the least, but when the guy whose name is on the cover works for the label, maybe that was enough for them. It’s tough to recommend The Academy In Peril, but for all its lovely moments, it still deserves to be heard.

John Cale The Academy In Peril (1972)—

Friday, June 24, 2022

Eric Clapton 4: Rainbow Concert

Credit Pete Townshend for trying to get Eric Clapton back to regular work instead of succumbing to his heroin addiction. This entailed assembling an all-star band to back him for a pair of shows at London’s Rainbow Theater. In addition to himself, the other musicians were erstwhile Traffic members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, Rebop Kwaku Baah, and Ric Grech, plus Ron Wood and the elusive Jimmy Karstein. All were prominently listed on the cover of Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, released nine months later by a label that had already been busy recycling Clapton recordings.
All-star concerts are often more notable for who’s playing rather than how well they play, and the six songs here aren’t exactly mind-blowing. After a half-decent “Badge” and a run through the Dominos rarity “Roll It Over”, Stevie sings “Presence Of The Lord.” He takes the lead on Traffic’s “Pearly Queen”, which manages to hold together despite the full stage before galloping to a finish. “After Midnight” is somewhat plodding, but “Little Wing” benefits from the extra players, and they’re mostly in tune. (Reports that several vocals were overdubbed after the fact have not been disproved.)
Coming soon after the Dominos live album, Rainbow Concert wasn’t much more than a cash grab with star power to move it, and so it remained. Following Clapton’s resurgence in the ‘90s, the eventual remastered CD was filled nearly to capacity with further performances from the two shows, reconstructed to approximate a true setlist. Unfortunately, they did so by editing down the songs that were on the original album, which was short to begin with, and leaving out two others from the original night. (Did we really need to hear Townshend ribbing an unamused Capaldi between numbers about an alleged STD?)
That said, the new version is certainly listenable, if not a true document. We hear an emcee introduce “Eric Clapton and the Palpitations,” and they rip right into “Layla”. “Blues Power” and “Key To The Highway” allow for more dueling and noodling, and Stevie nicely takes the high parts on “Bottle Of Red Wine” and “Tell The Truth”. The two drummers can’t cop Jim Gordon’s backwards beat on “Bell Bottom Blues”, but they trade off with Rebop for the middle of “Let It Rain”. All told, it’s better, but not exactly essential.

Eric Clapton Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert (1973)—
1995 Chronicles remaster: “same” as 1973, plus 8 extra tracks

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Todd Rundgren 27: With A Twist

So this was kinda cute. Anyone wishing Todd would do an album like one of his old classics was greeted with a collection of older songs freshly re-recorded lounge/exotica-style with his usual studio cronies. He even insisted With A Twist... was not a gag in the liner notes, alongside a photo of him standing shirtless in a large body of water.
The songs are still recognizable, but rearranged from top to bottom to highlight the ensemble. Some of the differences are striking: “I Saw The Light” plays with the meter so it sometimes feels like it’s missing a beat; “Can We Still Be Friends” gets a sax solo; “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” uses the bossa-nova setting common on any number of keyboards. “Love Is The Answer” is far from anthemic, and “Hello It’s Me” is just plain creepy. Along with a remake of “Never Never Land” from Peter Pan and Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You”, less obvious choices of his own compositions—“Influenza”, “Mated”, “Fidelity”—sound closest to their soft origins, but none more so than “A Dream Goes On Forever”.
There’s a sameness throughout the album that wears out the concept pretty quickly, but the album actually works. Anyone hearing these songs for the very first time may have a better shot at enjoying them, because they were good songs to begin with. But none surpass the original recordings.

Todd Rundgren With A Twist... (1997)—3

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Rush 23: Feedback and R30

Now that they were back at full strength, Rush happily began celebrations for their 30th anniversary as a band. Their first order of business was to release a covers EP. Yes, you read that correctly—one of the bands who always played their own material, to the note, was doing covers.
Most of the eight songs on Feedback come from that period around the Summer of Love that fostered countless garage bands. “Summertime Blues” follows the Blue Cheer template, but with more touches of The Who, who are also represented by “The Seeker”. Two other bands are saluted twice: the Yardbirds with “Heart Full Of Soul” and “Shapes Of Things”, and Buffalo Springfield with a staid “For What It’s Worth” and “Mr. Soul”, which sports a clever quote from “Eight Miles High”. Geddy Lee adds his own harmony to Love’s “Seven And Seven Is”, which repeats the first verse rather than go straight to the explosion. Finally, “Crossroads” is all Cream.
This little album is a labor of love from the band, and will be best appreciated by its fans. Purists who revere the originals but despise Rush should appreciate that Geddy’s vocals are mostly restrained, Alex Lifeson pretty much sticks to the riffs, and Neil Peart doesn’t hit more drums or cymbals than anyone has to.
Four of the songs on Feedback would become regulars on the setlist for the so-called R30 anniversary tour, the Frankfurt stop of which was subsequently documented in a DVD package. The deluxe version included archival content, plus the music on two CDs, with a slightly abridged program that repeats only eight songs from Rush In Rio.
Coming soon after that album may seem like market saturation, but the sound is superior to that set. The opening “R30 Overture” is a nice arrangement of snippets from their early epics, going right into “The Spirit Of Radio”. “Between The Wheels” is a surprise inclusion, and of course we get a banded nine-minute drum solo out of “Mystic Rhythms”. Another unplugged “Resist” leads to an acoustic “Heart Full Of Soul” with Neil’s most understated drums ever. By the end of the show, Geddy has to compensate for some of the high notes. (The visuals add to the experience, especially since vending machines are now visible near the washers and dryers on Geddy’s side of the stage.)

Rush Feedback (2004)—3
Rush
R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour (2005)—3

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Prince 19: Girl 6

Even though nobody knew what to call him, The Artist Formerly Known As Prince managed to keep people guessing just by staying in the news. The soundtrack for the Spike Lee joint Girl 6 further confused things by proclaiming “SONGS BY PRINCE” on the cover. It even appeared on Warner Bros., the label that had made him so angry in the first place. We haven’t seen the film, but the album is a curious little sampler of old and new, with album tracks and B-sides going back a decade, plus contributions from other Paisley Park artists driven by the man himself.
The brand new “She Spoke 2 Me” has mild jazz overtones in the horns and especially the guitar solo, and while “Don’t Talk 2 Strangers” is sweet, somehow such a sentiment seems odd coming from him, and after the more charged material on the rest of the album. The title track is danceable, and features samples from the film; interestingly, it’s credited to New Power Generation, but he’s obviously singing. “Count The Days” is a soulful one sporting a certain twelve-letter insult from a so-called “solo” New Power Generation album, and everybody knows “Nasty Girl” by Vanity 6, but more exciting is “The Screams Of Passion”, which was the debut single in 1985 by The Family. “Pink Cashmere” is repeated from the Hits album; so technically are “Erotic City” and “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”, making this a more convenient, less expensive way to obtain those songs. “Girls & Boys” comes from Parade, while three tracks from Sign "☮" The Times don’t excuse anyone from owning that album.
Again, while it’s an odd collection, Girl 6 provides something of an alternate Prince mix tape. And although the material comes from a variety of sources, it all holds together just fine.

Music From The Motion Picture Girl 6 (1996)—3