THE JIM CARROLL BAND – Catholic Boy (1980)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Album assigned by: B.B. Fultz

 

 

Well, somebody said once: “music, like life itself, is cyclic”. So, that means we regularly need a reboot. Humans need to get back (to somewhere they feel like) home, and Music needs to go back to.. well, rock’n roll. Even the good ol’ Beatles had in their short but meaningful career a return to roots (“Get back, Jojo!”).

And Punk was the best reboot that Rock and Roll could think of, at the time at least, with all those Elton John wigs and Styx shining suits. But .. Do you remember that weird band from the late 80s, “Pop Will Eat Itself”? (You don’t? Lucky you, but the name was great). Well, as any major movement, or government or world leader (Hey Romans, I’m looking at you!), no matter how big you get.. You’re scheduled to fall down.

And “Punk ate itself”. Or well the system ate it.. “streamlined it”. But those who survived, those who reconfigured themselves, did great stuff at least for a longer while (Clash, Jam, Cure, etc). The Sex Pistols would apparently reject any “dinosaur rock” reference, but they ended up acknowledging people like Lennon or The Doors.

Thus, Best Punk learned to reconnect with the raw emotion of rock and roll, that was the key, more than any  plastic hairdo – enter Jim Carroll.

Jim was a writer, primarily. I bet that’s how he established some bond with Patti Smith, with whom he got to play about 1978. “Catholic boy” is his band’s first album. And let me tell you, as a quick spoiler, that it rocks (and pops!) really fine.

Jim’s music in this album is good ol’ rock and roll, with great poppy hooks and professional playing. It will turn up as a slow rocking tune in “Day And Night” (female vocals and all), like the early and best Bruce Springsteen. Or feverish and punkish in the opening classic, “Wicked Gravity” and also in  “Three Sisters”. “People Who Died” is another fast rocker, featured on a LOT of movies out there. And the lyrics of course, cut to the bone, and the punk/joyful tone only adds to the wow factor: “Those are people who died, died/They were all my friends, and they died”..

“Crow” reminds me of The Stones’ “Shattered” and it makes sense, being that the Stones’ New Wavish album.

Highlights however are the more adventurous and moody songs like “City Drops Into The Night”. Or The winding “It’s Too Late” and its magnificent guitar work. “Catholic Boy” is a hell of a closer with that punctuating bass riff.

A hell of rock and roll album made with the heart by a Rocker, and of course a Writer. Read those lyrics, the guy will thank you from somewhere above or below where he’s staying with the (other) People Who Died.

Keep on rockin’!
Advertisements

EARTH AND FIRE – Song of the Marching Children (1971)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

This is an album by a prog(gish) Netherlands band called Earth and Fire. I say proggish because they are unusual for a prog band. Their sound, at least on this album, is more folkish and antiquated than the common definition of prog rock. They’re more like Jethro Tull than anything, and Tull was always sort of a white crow among the British and American prog bands of the time. Earth and Fire with its female vocalist (rare for any prog band) is maybe even more of a white crow.

The opening song is called “Carnival of the Animals.” It is about animals in the forest doing various animal things. My first impression was Jefferson Airplane. Lilting female vocals and a vaguely martial drumbeat. Both the words and the music set the theme for the rest of the album. Storybook lyrics, crisp drum rhythms, and prominent synthesizers dominate the songs. It is very much an album of its time. The synthesizers especially have that early 70s synth sound that was to change in a few years as synths became more advanced. The overall mood, to me, seems more 60s than 70s. There’s a sense of lost innocence and a yearning for a simpler and more natural world.

“Ebbtide” is an idyllic song about tides and gulls. It’s an interesting combination of watery synths, flute solos, random guitar licks, and an almost jazz-like rhythm background. It reminds me of another song, or a few other songs, that I can’t name at the moment. 

“Storm and Thunder” is reminiscent of early ELP, but with more baroque elements. The keyboards are more dominant here than on the other songs.

“In The Mountains” ventures into Pink Floyd territory. The lead guitar is slow and lilting, very much in the Gilmour style. The keyboard as well is more the art-rock of Rick Wright than anything by Emerson or Wakeman.

The closing multi-part suite “Song of the Marching Children” is an interesting piece. I’m not sure I get it, lyrically, but it seems to be about the endless legacy of war, which the human race seems like it will never entirely escape. It sounds like a lament for all the future generations that will have to send their youth off to fight. The very end confirms this idea … all the other instruments fade and there is only the relentless martial drumbeat, the endless march.

Overall impression — a mostly soothing and pleasant album, pretty on the ear, and with interesting moments here and there, but rarely rising above the level of basic prog-folk. Then again, maybe a little basic prog-folk is just what you’re in need of. Worth a listen or two, at any rate. 

The version I located on YouTube had bonus tracks. “Invitation” is the first of them, notable because it rocks a lot more than the original album tracks, so it’s an abrupt change of pace after the solemnity of the album. It’s different, and it’s quite good.  “Lost Forever” is another rocker among the bonus tracks, and it’s also quite good — slow and heavy and brutal, unlike the album. There’s some surprising guitarwork in it too, striking little arpeggio-moments that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iron Maiden song (!) although Iron Butterfly comes closer to describing the song in general (either way it’s a very metallic song). For me the highlights of this band are when they rock. They have a nice heavy sound when they rock, not unlike early Budgie, a band that I like a lot. There’s another new track called “Memories,” not quite as good as the other two, but worth a listen. There are also single versions of “Song For The Marching Children” (not “OF the Marching Children” for some reason) and “Storm and Thunder.” If you seek this album out, I’d recommend finding the version with the bonus tracks. To me Earth and Fire is at their most interesting when they rock.

IVY GREEN – Ivy Green (1990)

Review by: B.B. Fultz
Album assigned by: Mark Maria Ahsmann

Note : I was one of the two or three people that asked for a good album to review, rather than a deliberately bad album, so this review will not be a “panning” per se. I thought maybe this was important to mention because nearly all of the other albums in this round were bad (at least in the opinion of the people who assigned them).

Ivy Green is a late 70s punk album by the band Ivy Green. It has most of the earmarks of early punk — short song lengths, simple chord structures played at a fast tempo, and clipped, snotty-sounding vocals where you can’t always make out the words but you know it’s something being repeated over and over. It’s very much a straightforward punk album from the days when punk was still new and exciting. The band does a competent job with it, as long as you don’t mind them borrowing from other bands left and right. You’ve heard all these songs before, even if they were different songs by different bands when you heard them. 

The Ramones influence is obvious from the very first song. As soon as you hear the chainsaw buzz of “I’m Sure We’re Gonna Make It” you know where these guys are coming from, and have a good idea where they’re going. The more you listen, the more shades of 1978 you’ll find. “Another Sub-Culture Going Bad” has the barked vocal style of Johnny Rotten over a simple guitar phrase that would be right at home on Bollocks, and “Sue” sounds like some obscure 60s surf rocker that would have been covered on the Great Rock & Roll Swindle. “Why Not Tonight” also sounds like a song from the early 60s updated for the punk age — the rockabilly drive on that one reminds me of Johnny Cochran. I can’t tell if Ivy Green listened to a lot of 60s music themselves, or if they subconsciously picked up that sound by imitating other punk bands who listened to a lot of 60s music. 

They settle into this basic punk/proto-punk groove and stick with it for 36 minutes. Once in awhile they deviate from the pattern (a little) — “Every Day The Same” has some breaks in the monotonous guitar-buzz where they try for something a little different — but for the most part the songs all sound similar, and rarely stray beyond the stereotypical punk sound of 1978. 

The album is very much a product of its time, with all the good qualities (drive, youthful aggression, cool guitar tones) and bad qualities (stripped down structures, monotonous sound) that go with it. If you like punk, you’ll probably like this album. If you dislike punk, you’ll probably hate it. Ivy Green doesn’t try to be much more than just another punk band, but what they try they succeed at. Which is more than you can say for many other bands who tried for bigger things and failed. And even if Ivy Green’s debut was not exactly a milestone in the history of music, it’s a pretty cool album all the same.

KISS – Dynasty (1979)

Review by: Victor Guimarães
Album assigned by: B.b. Fultz

KISS don’t need an introduction: they are just too famous. Either for their iconic face paintings or for the infamous claims of making a band just to get laid and making money. Another very famous feature of KISS’s career is the amount of criticism of their music, for being too commercial, full of clichés (all types one can imagine) and with all songs seeming to be radio-formatted to be potential hits.

After a hard, but successful time in the 70s and a temporary split in which all band members recorded solo albums, came Dynasty. It’s a bit sad to say, but Dynasty is an album to which these critics from above could be easily applied. One might want to burn me at a stake, but the album is not all bad. It’s got its good points, such as the megahit “I Was Made For Loving You” and some other OK songs, and despite the musical generality and lack of creativity there are also some cool instrumentals and passages here and there. Criticizing it is far easier as the record isn’t as entertaining as it would seem (although not as bad as other KISS albums) and could even be labeled as boring. Songs – melodies, lyrics, choruses, etc – and production – yes, including the recording-added effects and such – are all too mainstream, too pop-oriented for my taste, as it looks like the album is trying to please the audience first, and then making true, quality rock music. 

After two paragraphs with almost nothing but criticism to the comic-heroes band, I gotta say that KISS do have their positive traits. And if you think I’m going crazy, just try to see them live. I did, and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to, with nothing but great performances and production. And while it’s true that I find their discography quite lacking in general, they are, for me, the very definition of a you-love-to-hate band. Dynasty is not KISS’s best album, or even a good album as it would score above-average at most, depending on the reviewer’s parameters for what is average, but it’s still a listenable 70s hard rock album.

SOUNDGARDEN – Superunknown (1994)

Review by: Nina A
Album assigned by: B.b. Fultz

When you think of nostalgia, you probably think of 80s cartoons and such because these are the properties that have been aggressively revived for the past decade or so for um… your money, yes. But I think the 90s are properly in the nostalgia realm too already as the eventful conclusion to the already very eventful “short century”. Amid hip hop, boybands, collectible bubble gum stickers and regrettable fashion choices there’s always of course heavy metal’s ugly step-sibling: grunge. A genre that, so far as I can tell, nobody who hasn’t been between the ages of I guess 13 and 30 during its peak years cares about much anymore. Sure, Nirvana get played occasionally on the all-purpose throwback radio and so does “Black Hole Sun”, Soundgarden’s megahit from this record, which I imagine its regular listeners attribute to Nirvana too, but nobody seems to be giving grunge extended attention yet. However, I too, occasionally start to miss “the heavy sludge of ‘70s metal” and “the raw aesthetic of ‘80s punk”, and so I approached this record very enthusiastically.
 
Stretch the bones over my skin
Stretch the skin over my head
I’m going to the holy land
Stretch the marks over my eyes
Burn the candles deep inside
Yeah you know where I’m coming from
 
Oh… I had forgotten about this. Yeah, it’s gonna be one of those whiny “poetic masterpieces”. People lashed out at emo at the height at its popularity but seriously, I think people back in the 90s could get even cornier, especially in metal. Okay, screw this, let’s look at the music. 
 
Well, Soundgarden do deliver on their promise of a heavy sound, a heavy psychedelic one at that, and there are some delightful nods to Zep in tracks like “The Day I Tried to Live” and “Fresh Tendrils”. But at some point these tracks seem to really start blending in with each other, and they are neither the most sophisticated examples of the genre nor truly visceral in their nature – frankly, they are kind of forgettable with the possible exception of the above mentioned “Black Hole Sun”, which I assume has earned its vh1 status purely on its anthemic qualities. So you know, all things considered, and although I’d hate to deliver a lazy pun, Superunknown may go on to become indeed um… superunknown.

RAGNARÖK – Ragnarök (1976)

Review by: B. B. Fultz
Album assigned by: A.A

Ragnarök is a Swedish band from the seventies. A number of sources list them as “progressive folk” in the vein of Jethro Tull. For me, this distinction is clear for Tull because I’m familiar with the textures of medieval English folk music, but I have little idea how Swedish folk/traditional music sounds, so I’ll have to take their word for it. From what I remember of Nordic mythology, Ragnarök roughly translates to “Twilight of the Gods” — the final war that heralds the end of the old gods and the old world. The album cover does indeed depict a Twilight sky, but no apocalyptic battles … just a shadowy figure on a bicycle riding down a winding country road toward an oncoming bus. I do not know who is riding the bike or who is driving the bus, and there is no clear indication whether the two will pass one another or collide head on, so the message is unclear. On the cover, the umlaut-dots in “Ragnarök” look like two more stars in the night sky. Who knows, maybe they are? In stark contrast to the name, the cover is very pastoral, almost idyllic. The looming black cloud seems to be the only hint that something ominous could be on the way.
The reason I’ve tried to decipher the album cover is because the music itself has no lyrics, so it doesn’t explain what any of this has to do with the end of the world. Maybe they just thought it would be a cool name for a band?
The music itself is essentially an acoustic tapestry of different moods and textures. The “progressive folk” label is misleading because it has none of the trademark elements of Prog. No futuristic sound effects or Keith Emerson synth solos here. In fact I don’t think there ARE any synthesizers on this album, and very little keyboards. About the only real connection to Prog is an occasional jazz influence on the guitar solos and some tricky drum syncopations. It’s a lot closer to Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull than it is to ELP or Yes. The song titles are in Swedish, but I listened to the songs before I deciphered the titles, to absorb the various moods neutrally. The album mostly follows a folk pattern, yet there are a variety of subtle nuances here.
Färval Köpenhamn (translated to “Father Choice in Dubai?” … I split up Farval syllabically, so I’m not sure of the accuracy here) begins the album on a simple folk pattern of interwoven acoustic guitars in the style of David Gilmour (both the early and latter days of Pink Floyd) crossed with something else I can’t recall. It’s wistful sounding in that way a good Gilmour acoustic track is. This Pink Floydish quality recurs in several songs, including the very next song, called Promenader (“Walks”) … a longer and more complex song with an attractive guitar melody and spacey/dreamy solos laid atop a mellow jazzy background. Stoner rock of sorts, but of very high quality.
Nybakat bröd (“Freshly Baked Bread”) shifts gears into a mid-tempo medieval ballad. As soon as I heard the opening notes, I thought Jethro Tull … amusingly, a few seconds later a flute made its first appearance on the album, and I had to smile (did I call it, or what?). If you heard this without knowing all of Tull’s back catalogue you could easily confuse it for one of Ian Anderson’s Elizabethan forays. Purposeful and meticulous minstrel-strumming with a sense of forward motion. Yet ere you climb on your steed and make haste, it is over, and we’re falling into the Dagarnas Skum (“Days of Foam”) and another Pink Floydian fugue state. The longest song on the album, it begins almost too softly to be heard, climbing out of the gloom in a way reminiscent of “Echoes.” It has some VERY Gilmour-sounding guitar playing, and all of these surreal little background chirps and chimes that make the whole thing sound somewhere halfway between dreaming and waking. When the flute comes in, it sounds so right it seems almost preordained. Soft sibilant percussion appears and intertwines with the rest, sometimes steadily, sometimes in convoluted little syncopations. The whole thing is amazing — if I didn’t know the band I would swear I was listening to early 70s Pink Floyd at the top of their game. I can only assume the Foam in the title is sea-foam … it’s a dreamy undersea world, like Echoes, where “everything is green and submarine.” The finale of Side One, beautiful and sad and deep, a song where everything flows together just so, like some fable that gets better with each retelling. Simply a great piece of music.
Side Two begins with a return to the land of Tull, and Ragnarök’s answer to Bouree’ … a super-short (44 seconds) flute solo called Polska fran Kalmar (“Polish From Kalmar”) and essentially the prelude Fabriksfunky (“Factory Funky?” Not sure on this one). Fabriksfunky is an interesting one, another smooth jazz-rocker reminiscent of Robin Trower. The rhythm section as well as the tone of the guitar solos all remind me of the Trower song “Somebody’s Calling” — one of his best, by the way. Then things slow down a little again with Tatanga mani (“Walking Buffalo” and the only non-Swedish title, apparently it’s borrowed from Amerindian dialects). This is the one that most reminds me of a Yes song, at least in the beginning. The tumbling acoustic runs are reminiscent of Steve Howe’s better moments. The first half of the song consists of these noodling little acoustic fingerings, almost like it’s looking for direction. Partway through it turns into something quite different, a kind of Flamenco lounge number on the acoustic with nifty little bass runs. Somehow they bring the flute into it toward the end. And somehow it works. Don’t ask me how though. It’s really more like “aimlessly wandering buffalo” or maybe “schizophrenic buffalo looking for its medication” because it never sounds like the same song for long. It gets a little disorienting at times, but at least it’s never dull.
The last few songs don’t cover much new ground — Fjottot (no idea what it means) brings us back to ELP. It has a bouncy circus-like sound with an almost hurdy-gurdy style background, like you caught Keith Emerson in a playful mood and then he realized you were there and abruptly stopped playing after a minute and a half of noodling around. It’s a little too short, but it’s fun while it lasts. Stiltje-uppbrott (“Lull Breakup”) returns to a solemn introspective mood, at least at first, then breaks into a rousing medieval-esque acoustic barrage complete with a very emphatic flute (back to Tull again). I’m guessing it’s about the lonely period after a romantic break-up (the “lull” between partners) where one is in a numb lethargy and then suddenly snaps out of it. The closing song Vattenpussar (“Water Kisses”) starts very softly with wistful sounding little chiming keyboard notes weaving with a lonely and bluesy electric guitar, building into a strange kind of jazz-rock-blues thing that I can’t exactly describe, with a horns section (at least they sound like horns) that verges on something from Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats album, or almost … then dwindles back to its soft beginnings … then ends. It was a good song to end the album on because somehow it just SOUNDS like a coda. But don’t ask me exactly how or why.
For an album where most of the songs follow a similar theme, I’m a little surprised this review turned out so long. These are all basically guitar-based folk songs, aside from the one flute solo (which was basically a prologue to a guitar song). But there’s so much going on, so many different moods and textures and shadings of meaning, that it seems impossible to do it justice with a brief review. George might be able to pull that off, but I don’t think I can. This music was nothing totally new or unique, not even back in 1976, and they seem to borrow from a lot of other, more famous bands. Yet they mix these elements in a novel way, making it all somehow greater than the sum of its parts. I have no idea what freshly-baked bread or sea foam or buffalos have to do with the end of the world, but even if I don’t understand it, I still feel like I “get” it. This is not an album of certainties, it’s an album of nuances. In fact it’s so nuanced I think adding lyrics would just have been a distraction. It’s an amazing rainbow of moods and emotions and whimseys, and an ideal example of what a few competent musicians are capable of when they stop trying to explain life and the world and everything, and simply concentrate on making good music. This is an album of contemporary folk rock and that’s about it, so I suppose it’s nothing special. But not being special is what makes it so special. Thumbs up, 4 or 5 stars, whatever … just go listen to it. This is an album that should be heard, and heard often.

STEVE MILLER BAND – Fly Like An Eagle (1976)

Review by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho
Album assigned by: B.B. Fultz

Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle is supposed to be a “space blues” record from the 70s. While I don’t know exactly what “space blues” is meant to sound like, I’m pretty confident it’s not like this album. The only “space” element here is the trippy synth intro; nothing else feels spacey to me. And the “blues” part? Well, you know when a power pop album might have a single blues track to add some variety? This one has 4 or 5 of those, but they’re still blues as interpreted by a pop-rock artist, and not really pure blues or even blues-rock.

With failed expectations out of the way, this album sounds very much like it belongs in the 70s, which is good for a fan of that decade like me. While there’s an effort to give every song a nice melody, none are really stellar. The main problem here is the overall tameness of the rock and blues attempts.

Take “Mercury Blues”, for example: it manages to update an old blues song structure to the 70s quite nicely, but lacks any grit whatsoever. The two blues tracks in the end aren’t bad, but they seem like an afterthought, filler if there ever was any. “Rock’n Me” is actually embarrassing. It tries to emulate the blood-pumping guitar  style of Townshend and Hendrix, but it’s so mild, it’s like one of those “parkour fail” videos on the internet, where the person tries to jump from a rooftop onto another and falls in the middle. This is made worse when you consider Steve Miller was godfathered by no one other than Les Paul himself, and was supposed to be a great guitarist. Well, if he was, he certainly didn’t show it here. The guitars were unimpressive throughout the album.

That’s not to say there aren’t good songs here. The title track is very funky, with a catchy chorus. “Dance, Dance, Dance” is a country song that has the kind of energy this album could’ve used more of. The Sam Cooke cover “You Send Me” is the strongest point; it couldn’t have been otherwise given the differences in the songwriting capabilities of the two of them. It is sung in a way that makes it clear that the singer loves the song, and that makes it even more endearing to me. The best Steve-Miller-penned track here is “Take the Money and Run”, a piece of power-pop in the best Badfinger style and backing vocals stolen from “Sympathy for the Devil”. Fly Like an Eagle is much better when it does full pop than when it goes halfway blues.

In the context of all those great 70s albums, even when you just consider pop-rock ones, it won’t stand out too much. It should never appear on a best-of-the-decade list. But that is more of a testament to the amount of good stuff that appeared in that time, not that Fly Like an Eagle is bad or weak. I’m glad I’ve came across this album, a very pleasant listen.