A YEAR IN MUSIC: NITS – Giant Normal Dwarf (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Nits are a Dutch pop group that combines great pop instincts with a tendency to experiment a little. For some international perspective, think of this album as a mixture of the slightly absurdist subject matter of 10CC lyrics, coupled with the quiet, meandering, mostly acoustic instrumentation of Talk Talk, Paul McCartney’s sense of melody (or Crowded House, if we want to be a little more modest) and a love for some 60’s psychedelica. Sophisticated chamber pop might be a good description.
They manage to make each song sound quite different, even though the instrumentation is sparse. It sounds very introspective and quite romantic, and probably, in 1990, quite dated, with grunge and all starting to take over. But listening to it the 10’s, it has a beautiful timeless quality.
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A YEAR IN MUSIC: THE VAUGHAN BROTHERS – Family Style (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

The Vaughan Brothers are Stevie Ray and Jimmy. Stevie Ray is by far the most famous, and is considered by many to be one of Jimi Hendrix’ heirs. Jimmy was a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, sings and plays rhythm guitar, Stevie Ray plays solo guitar and sings as well. The album is actually quite varied, more varied than Stevie Ray’s solo output, but on the whole this may not be a good thing. Tick Tock for instance is a waste of their collective talents, Baboom/Mama Said sounds too funky for its own good. On the other hand, Long Way From Home, Telephone Song and Hard to Be would not have been out of place on Soul to Soul. It sounds like Jimmy brought the variety in sound and while that may be admirable (and Good Texan is nice), unfortunately they’re really the best at bluesy stuff. Brothers is a nice summary of the album: some great bluesy guitar playing, rather boring accompanying musicians, some silly back ground voices (“Turn that down!”)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: GRATEFUL DEAD – Spring 1990: So Glad You Made It (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Not many people that actually heard of the Grateful Dead will be indifferent to them: you love them or you hate them. The 1990 tour is usually considered their last consistently great tour. In true Grateful Dead style all fourteen concerts have been released in two lavish boxes (numbered, with tickets, back stage passes, and other memorabilia) for the hardcore fans. While definitely in the ‘love them’ camp, I think this 2cd best of tour set is a nice overview for the uninitiated.

Although a 2 CD set cannot do justice to the tour, it does show their strengths and weaknesses. As strengths I would present:

  • The breadth of their repertoire, including an enormous number of their own compositions and selected covers
  • Phil Lesh is a great lead bass player. Like Paul McCartney in his prime he doesn’t always go for the most logical solution, and especially in the jam parts he’s often leading the band
  • Their ensemble playing is amazing: you have to like jam music, but like the best Miles Davis groups, the band members listen to each other and create music on the spot. Best examples: Bird Song, Eyes of the World, Scarlet Begonias and Playing in the Band
  • Jerry Garcia has a nice voice and is a great melodic guitar player: bluesy, jazzy, folky, he can handle it. His playing and singing in Loser for example turn a nice enough song into a version that is considered one of the best in their entire career.

Their weaknesses:

  • Yes, they play a lot of covers and deadify them, but they usually do not actually improve on them: Gimme Some Lovin’ and It’s All Over Now, if not exactly painful, do not add anything much to Steve Winwood or the Stones. Morning Dew, almost a signature tune may be the exception here: they own it
  • Although Jerry has a nice voice, vocals are on the whole not their strong point. Also, they tend to forget some of their lyrics
  • Brent’s voice, while great as a harmony singer, is quite annoying to listen to. Here it’s most prominently featured in his own (rather bad) song Easy to Love You, and it makes for some frustrated listening.

On the whole, I would urge newbies to go for some 1969-1974 Grateful dead, but to strongly consider this set for some late career highlights.

A YEAR IN MUSIC: TEXAS TORNADOS – Texas Tornados (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Texas Tornados is a Tex Mex super group, consisting of Doug Sahm, Augie Meyers, Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez and others. This their debut album is great fun. Every song features the accordion, which you really have to like to like the album. Compared to say Los Lobos the music sounds on the whole more happy, and a little less rock and roll. Most songs have a very happy vibe, great for dancing parties, because they’re rhythmically simple: (Hey Baby) Que Paso, Dinero and Soy de San Luis are the best examples of this.

Adios Mexico is a bit more in the old Sir Douglas Quintet vein, sort of a speeded up version of Mendocino, his great hit from the 60’s. Freddy Fender has the least generic sounding voice, sounding a little like a cross between Neil Young the balladeer and Percy Sledge. He sings the two (sad) love songs, A Man Can Cry and If That’s What You’re Thinking. Nice!

A YEAR IN MUSIC: FUGAZI – Repeater (1990)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1990
Review by: Lex Alfonso

Truly, few groups in the history of the punk canon have expanded the vocabulary of the genre so swiftly and so decisively. Fugazi’s compact, but powerful, opus opened the floodgates and redefined what a punk album could be. Its 35 minutes are packed with the detail of a record thrice its size. Repeat listens yield subtle layers hiding behind the riffs. Stabs of jangly guitar leads pierce the walls of distortion and the politically charged lyrics belie a guiding theme of identity and automation.

MacKaye’s commitment to his craft is tragically unprecedented in its near-total absence of pretence. It’s daringly free of compromise, hybridisation or dilution. 1990 might have been the year the world discovered punk could be intelligent and legitimately important, but we were just catching up to Ian MacKaye’s genius. 

BERNIE SANDERS AND 30 VERMONT ARTISTS – We Shall Overcome (1987)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

Well, what do we have here?
 
Oh, Freedom – In principle a nice gospelly, anti-slavery tune, performed very generically, with a weird monologue (presumably by Bernie) in the middle. After that he joins in the singing, which doesn’t really add anything of quality, to put it mildly.
 
The Banks of Marble –  Bernie starts singing solo this time, and it’s pathetic: his phrasing, his diction, his (total lack of) sense of rhythm. He sounds like a priest, recorded separately, with music added later. With the (little) chorus you can hear the other singers desperately trying to make up for Bernie’s lack of talent. Second verse is more of the same. Loving Phish, Adam Green, Ween and many 60’s artists, I’m no stranger to silly lyrics but this beats everything, and detracts from the musical enjoyment, such as it is.
 
Where Have All the Flowers Gone –  This starts with a traditional drumming pattern that reminds me of an old Christmas song that I can’t be bothered to check. Some electric piano creeps in, and then Bernie with a pacifist sermon. He really likes long enumerations. When the chorus starts, hearing several professional voices comes as a relief: some are a little whiny, but they’re certainly adequate.
 
This Land Is Your Land – A reggae-ish intro doesn’t make things any easier for Bernie; his delivery is painful to hear and sounds insincere. This is strange, come to think of it, as most likely Bernie believes what he’s ‘singing’ and probably had a hand in his lyrics as well. The music and the ‘back-up’ singers are certainly OK, but it still sounds like a low budget version of songs like We are the world of the same era.
 
We Shall Overcome – “In many ways, the world in which we’re living today is an extremely depressing place. It’s hard to deny that, and it’s wrong to deny that”. No Bernie, it isn’t difficult or wrong to deny that. Having a choir sing We shall overcome (with nice electric guitar) may be true in most cases, but it doesn’t help your message. A message that, even thirty years ago, seemed to imply that government can solve all life’s problems, on an individual level, for society as a whole, and even for the whole world: just give politicians more power!
 
What to make of it? Curiosity value? Certainly, with him being a current presidential candidate and all. Musically it’s nothing special: happy gospel music with dated 80’s production values. Some nice voices, a nice organ tone or electric guitar here and there, but even without Bernie’s ‘contributions’ it’s nothing special. ‘Bland’ is the word I think.
 
It’s also very short, 5 songs, half an hour, but already too long to not bore the hell out of you. Lyrically it’s even more outdated, bordering on the insane: with a mix of faith and socialism Bernie tries to make the listener feel guilty, failing miserably but making a fool of himself.
 
Emotionally charged? Sort of. I switched between outright laughter, frustrated anger and annoyed mockery, so on an emotional level he certainly got to me, once. But I will absolutely never listen to it again. Bernie lost any sympathy I might have felt for him as an underdog in the American presidential elections. I’d even prefer Trump over Sanders as the worlds’ next US president, and that’s saying something.
 
In fact I’d prefer most tv evangelists of the 80’s and 90’s over his pathetic semi-religious hippy shit. Any tune can be a nice singalong song at any of his campaign meetings, but playing the cd (including his spoken parts) out loud at these meetings, is bound to make him lose the nomination.
 
In the end, this half hour taught me a lot about American politics I more or less feared and did not want to know…