Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Rickie Lee Jones 4: The Magazine

Her next “real” album took some time, but apparently Rickie Lee Jones found inspiration in Paris, and managed to kick whatever her addictions to record The Magazine. The producer is different, but the sound is still slick, with the reliable Steve Gadd drumming on several tracks and various members of Toto here and there. The big difference is the use of synthesizer, which is subtle, but pronounced in the all-digital recording.
“Prelude To Gravity” is a lovely piano instrumental with light strings, whereas “Gravity” itself crashes in with drums. It’s a very complicated song, with lots of tempo shifts and accents, and poetry we can’t begin to decipher. While it begins like a nursery rhyme, “Juke Box Fury” is more along the lines of her jazz-bo hits. It even has the same hackneyed horn part from her other albums, pinning the choruses, but her vocal blend at the end of each still kills. We’re amazed that “It Must Be Love” wasn’t a hit single, either by her or anybody else, since it’s one of the most perfectly mainstream songs she’d yet written, with just enough of the right ingredients to make it original. “Magazine” recalls the sadder stories from Pirates, and we’re not sure whether the narrator is waiting for a lover or a drug connection.
Those horns return “The Real End”, which seems like a more obvious choice for a single with its simple pre-chorus hook and matter-of-fact cynical lyrics about fleeting romance. There’s a stretch where she layers her own voice like horns, which would have been enough. “Deep Space”, subtitled “An Equestrienne In The Circus Of The Falling Star”, provides another welcome see-saw shift to quiet, especially before “Runaround”, which mentions the “Juke Box Fury”, and sounds like two different songs forced together. The album closes with three pieces called “Rorschachs”. The first is a very European instrumental with trilling guitars and mandolins and a hummed melody called “Theme For The Pope (Marrants D’eau Douce)”, which translates as “sweet water fools”. (There is a version out there sung as a duet with Sal Bernardi—yeah, him again—in French, and seem to describe some lost souls between Memphis and Nashville. We had to look this up, because the lyrics aren’t included on the original vinyl.) “The Unsigned Painting” begins with a lonesome plaint, which is brushed aside by a spoken impressionistic piece. This segues into the more musical “The Weird Beast”, which continues the strange imagery via interlocking vocals.
The album works best when she’s exploring, making the more adult contemporary ear candy seem out of place. The Magazine is impenetrable to be sure, but somehow she makes it all very compelling. The listener wants to understand the songs, and that makes it worthwhile. She’s unique, all right.

Rickie Lee Jones The Magazine (1984)—3

Friday, August 5, 2022

Elvis Costello 37: The Resurrection Of Rust

In 1972, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter named D.P. MacManus joined forces with a fellow aspirant named Allan Mayes in the latter’s combo, a folk-rock outfit dubbed Rusty. Eventually whittled down to the duo, the pair performed under that moniker for about 18 months in and around Liverpool before going their separate ways. In time MacManus would change his name to Elvis Costello, and while Mayes has continued to play music professionally in the decades since, he hasn’t attained a fraction of the acclaim or notoriety his erstwhile partner has.
Roughly fifty years after their initial collaboration, the two reunited to finally record what amounts to a six-song demo. The Resurrection Of Rust is supposedly drawn from their old repertoire, now with the added extra of having the Imposters backing them on each track. (As with Elvis’s last album, all the parts were recorded from various studios around the world, brought together in the mix. Thanks, Covid.) As a bonus, the prominent organ on the infectious “Surrender To The Rhythm” is contributed by Bob Andrews, who played on the original Brinsley Schwarz recording.
That song and the slower, soulful “Don’t Lose Your Grip On Love” are Nick Lowe covers—a writer who looms large in Costello’s history, and whose voice that of Mayes occasionally resembles—from the same album, while “I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind” was also covered by the Brinsleys back then. “Warm House (And An Hour Of Joy)” is a D.P. McManus original said to be a crowd-pleaser back then; here he sings it in his “precious” voice and harmonizes with himself as well as Mayes. “Maureen And Sam” is possibly the most intriguing song, since this original co-write would one day emerge heavily re-written as “Ghost Train”. In this incarnation, the subjects of the song are treated with much more pathos, with major-seventh chords to match. The staccato sections may have been part of the original arrangement, but here Elvis plays it way too heavy, and the canned applause halfway through distracts. The mood is lifted by their medley of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” and “Dance, Dance, Dance”; Elvis makes his long-awaited debut on electric violin here, in addition to the mandolin he trills here and elsewhere. (We’re pretty sure he wasn’t proficient on those in 1972. To make collectors even more irate, the Japanese version includes an actual Rusty demo from that year, the lo-fi “Silver Minute”.)
Pleasant as it is, the duo’s voices aren’t a natural blend—Elvis tends to emote to his nature, while Mayes sings low yet convincingly on his own. He’s the better guitarist, having spent all that time on the road playing covers, but Elvis nudges his own leads into the mix here and there. Nonetheless, The Resurrection Of Rust is a labor of love, and the mutual affection is evident in every note. A sequel would be welcome.

Rusty The Resurrection Of Rust (2022)—3

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Dave Mason: Alone Together

It’s hard to say where exactly Dave Mason fit into Traffic, the band he helped found. The psychedelia of their first singles gave way to more straight music, to the point where his compositions sounded very different from what Steve Winwood and the others were doing. He was on their first two albums, and quit the band after each one was finished. Even his first solo single featured them as the backing band on the B-side. When he finally recorded his first solo album, he’d gone even further away.
The credits on Alone Together have always been vague; there is a comprehensive listing of musicians, but it’s not clear which tracks specifically feature Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Carl Radle, and other names familiar from Delaney & Bonnie and Joe Cocker’s band. But right along with other albums out around the same time with those luminaries, this is more of your basic boogie. If anything, it’s most notorious for its elaborate cover art, which extended to the puke-colored vinyl.
“Only You Know And I Know” would be the “Feelin’ Alright” of the album, having been covered by lots of people since its introduction here. It is infectious, with its layered guitars and harmony blend fitting well into the Layla mold. “Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving” is more laid back, but has a nice full sound, and shows his tendency to restrict his melodies to a three-note range. “Waitin’ On You” is a little more funky, with a prominent electric piano and a “soul choir” to help out with the choruses. “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” sounds most like a Traffic sound instrumentally, with his wah-wah at full volume, and is that a banjo in the mix?
“World In Changes” is all trilling guitars with a nice organ counterpoint that eventually swallows the arrangement. “Sad And Deep As You” is fittingly titled, another nice piano and acoustic track, whereas “Just A Song” is just that, with a few more chord riffs, plus the banjo and the soul choir again. “Look At You Look At Me” was written with Jim Capaldi, which may explain why there’s something about it that seems unique while sounding like everything that’s gone before.
The album itself has gone in and out of print over the years, mostly because since the Blue Thumb label ceased to exist and MCA never knew how to keep it going. For its 50th anniversary, Mason rerecorded and released it as Alone Together Again, initially because he said he never liked his vocals, but more recently he’s blamed the Universal Studios fire of 2008.
We’re going to make the bold statement that Dave Mason was always a better session guitarist than he was a solo artist. Prominent and welcome on various Crosby, Stills & Nash solo and duo albums, his biggest hits would generally come from other people. His eventual addition of “All Along The Watchtower” to his live shows was a tribute driven by his appearance on Jimi’s original track, and gave him a chance to wail. There will be those that champion his albums, but we just disagree.

Dave Mason Alone Together (1970)—3