Bruce Springsteen – The Wild, The Innocent And The E-Street Shuffle (1973)

A little too wild, but sincere and it shows. Let the band play, Brucey.

Review by: Charly Saenz (Out of competition!)
Assigned by: Marissa Ashenfarb

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There was once an American Rocker, with big hearted dreams and small pubs gigs, his relentless band with great musicians, and his own music to go along. No, I’m not talking about the Piano Man (Elton John!). This is not the arena rock Bruce you’ll get to know (and love, I bet), mind you. This is a wild and innocent young man who played as hard and as black as he could (Dream on White Boy…). Innocent young man I said? Well it’s hard to be a saint in the city but.. that’s a story from the future.

Bruce tastes all kind of flavours in his debut. Which is fine, it’s a candy store (rock) and you gotta see what’s your thing. The opening song “The E-Street Shuffle”, is quite the R&B affair, heavy bass, all horns, Motown in the chorus. Fabulous song if you ask me, full of space for the band. God, these days Bruce was not that far from Paul Weller.. in 5 years.

I gotta tell you about Garry W. Tallent (adequate last name): what a bass player! and he played the tuba too. Smart guy, the boss, saving money in the horns section.

In other spots, Bruce starts to develop his traditional style. It doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes I feel Bruce sings too many words, and sometimes there’s too much of a big, convoluted sound (dangerously close to that ugly mammoth called “Born To Run”), as in “Rosalita”, which in fact has no spanish (or mexican or whatever) musical tone in my opinion to go along with the title. Well, the slower parts work much better, I’m not such a fan of the E-Street band rave-ups. I try to dance to it, but my head hurts. Worst thing is, this is “la piece de resistance” in this album. It’s not bad at all, but a little underwhelming for me.

Other classics here like “4th of july, Asbury Park” work better – I’ve always loved Sandy and Mary and all her sisters and their stories: sue me. But I think at this moment Sandy wasn’t ready for the prime time, in lyrics terms. There’s too much words and I don’t feel moved (Compare “The aurora is risin’ behind us/The pier lights our carnival live forever” with any bit in The River or Darkness In The Edge Of Town and you’ll see). Still it’s a nice lullaby and I’d play it in the porch while waiting for.. Sandy, you know. Random thought: In a way Mark Knopfler might be more of a Springsteen son than Dylan’s if you think about it. There’s that italian canzonetta feel in the chorus:  Good.

Another highlight is “Kitty’s Back” – This would have fit snuggedly in Shaft’s soundtrack, my God. This is good, as “Born To Run” can’t even dream to be (though the lyrics were better there: you can’t have it all). The groove is fantastic. I can almost hear “Heatwave” in parts. WAIT is that Clarence at 6:35? You betcha. Taking control, the man. Goosebumps.

“Wild Billy’s Circus Story”? I’m on the fence about this one. This is all about the lyrics now, and this goes like what? “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” all over! (OH WAIT Dylan hasn’t released that yet?). One thing I’ll tell you: the tuba is amazing: Tallent. And about 3:00 there’s some delicious guitar plucking, some mean harmonica and a sweet banjo. I’m sold, alright, you get a pass. Anyway, “Incident on 57th street” is more directly engaging, and I love what Vini Lopez did here on drums, but the whole band shines after Bruce runs out of lyrics, finally (that lonely bass  & drum at around 4:00 with Bruce smoothly crooning, well done) Bruce plays that guitar solo on the end? Really? that’s slick. And the piano coda is a little delight too.

To wrap things up, “New York City Serenade” starts on a mystery classic tone. Film Noir Springsteen, you know. A different scene indeed. Bruce’s voice is different too (A motorbike accident? Woodstock retirement?). Well after all it’s a serenade. And all of a sudden at 5:20 there’s a gospel surge! Just a bit. And then some soul, jazzy piano and that magnificent bass. It’s a cute little (but long, yet not overlong) song to say goodbye for now. Clarence does his bits too. Wasn’t he a little underused? Or misused? I’m never sure, but he was a heck of a player.

All in all this is a humble, heartfelt album. Some songs might use a little trimming? I don’t know, it would break the freedom feeling, perhaps. The lyrics are traditional Boss stuff but, the expertise is not there yet, for sure. I like the soulful parts. A lot. It will be better by the second album. Then eventually it will all become too much: Landau, you ruined my boy!

 

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Tyler, the Creator – FLOWER BOY (2017)

Review By: Charly Saenz
Assigned By: Michael Strait

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The Bees and The Flowers And That Loneliness Inside Makes You Wanna Rap.

I thought this was a sort of Hip Hop compilation, but in fact there’s a lot of guest singers here. Tyler the Creator is well.. The Creator (“lead vocals, production, recording, art, packaging design”). That kinda intrigued me: why would a rapper whose primary function is to be the frontman, invite other people to do his job? Outsourcing is still a great plan!

My take here was: ignore the rapping, for now at least. So, while the cassette rewinded, I went and bought me a sandwich. We need a picture!

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I’m not sure how much Frank Ocean embellished “Where This Flower Blooms” but the ending is gorgeous. Oh hold on – there’s a guy actually singing in “See You Again”! This could even be a song in a Doris day movie! I feel there’s a flower vibe here (Is this a concept album of sorts?). The rapping sorta ruins it at 1:34! Oh well that’s what the business is all about. But it’s just a bit. Good for tea time.

I’m sinking into isolation and anxiety now.. I mean that’s the album theme it seems – so it’s working. “Who Dat Boy” starts with some buzzing sounds, until a heavy bass underlines the bad words rapped full blast. Mind numbing.

After a few minutes with my head under the water, I’m back. “Pothole” is a bit more in the Barry White style but ain’t this a little muzak? “Garden Shed” starts off like a Who tune! I know it! I know it! I think it might be something from Quadrophenia, no wait it’s “See Me Feel Me”. Who wouldn’t like a Who Opera? Well, sampling is legal, let’s move on. Nice little song!

Anyway I’m quite bored, I gotta say. Until a song called “Boredom” comes along: affinity, you see. There’s some singing here, I like it. It’s like that movie “Breakfast in Tiffany”. Cool and comfy. Someone raps in the middle: who invited this guy? It’s quite the neo soul thing I guess.

Next song sounds quite similar but.. oh, I somehow repeated “Boredom” (makes sense). I went directly to “911/Mr Lonely” because “I Ain’t Got Time”. Let’s inject some lyrics here, people never read, never listen to the words:

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah
My thirst levels are infinity and beyond
Sippin’ on that lemonade, I need a Beyoncé
Can’t see straight, these shades are Céline Dion”

Master rhyming, if you ask me. It’s true – the album is about loneliness! I see it now. Reviewers are so smart. Oh there’s a fancy keyboard trick under the rapper (move move!) that is quite fun. At 2:15.

The Grand Finale: “Enjoy Right Now, Today”. There’s a kid in there (“Isn’t She Lovely” was better at this, mind you), a small casio keyboard and a martial drums loop. Not sure what this all means. Didn’t I hear this song in some cooking TV show? Oh, wait.. my sandwich!

CHARLY’S ROCK COLUMN: KISS – Rock and Roll Over (1976)

Review by: Charly Saenz

“I Want You” is one of those classic Kiss stadium pleasers. And it pleases me to no end, the slow part, the fast part. It works, it’s pure Stanley. “Take Me” is direct crunching hard rock, with that hiccup chorus and echo voices. Another Stanley rocker, this time with a quite involved solo by Ace.

Gene brings his super classic “Callin’ Dr Love” to the party. The key though, are the background vocals, most surely Paul & Ace but also some wicked “hidden” vocals, which I bet are provided by Gene. Ace really shines here, boy. “Ladies Room” is one of those pure rock and roll Kiss songs, not much to say, but it’s a good one. “Baby Driver”, composed and sung by Peter Criss, in his usual funky style, it’s a nice different touch to close Side A. Did I tell you I’m listening to this on cassette? As it should be!

Well, Side B is a different affair for me. “Love’em, Leave’em” is the quintessential repetitive hard rock song with a nasty chorus; only Ace does something to save this mess, fortunately it ain’t too long. “Mr Speed” is even more forgettable. “See You In Your Dreams” is insufferable, Gene, please don’t dream about me. And I won’t even mention “Makin’ Love”. Oh I did: Hell’s Bloody Bells. Well, to be honest, Ace shines in the solo, but listening to Paul’s continuous plea for sex gives me a headache. What an irony.

But you get “Hard Luck Woman” too! a precious ballad by Paul, sung by Peter’s raspy voice (heck it was meant to be sung by Rod Stewart. That makes sense). In my heart it’s a much better song than “Beth”. It made it to the Top 20 but didn’t get that much love out of the circle except in old rusty Classic Rock radios.

I guess this is a usually forgotten album – but Side A and that classic in Side B are quite good! And the Argentina bloody cover is cool! Well – You make the best of what’s still around, you know.

León Gieco – De Ushuaia a La Quiaca Vol. 1 (1985)

Review by Roland Bruynesteyn
Assigned by Charly Saenz

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Wikipedia claims Léon Gieco is known for mixing popular folkloric genres with Argentinian rock and roll (suggesting something like the south American Los Lobos), and that he can be considered the Argentinian Bob Dylan (suggesting a political and / or poetic singer song writer). I wouldn’t know about that, but I do think there’s a local, ethnic, element in the music, a bit like the Argentinian Fairport Convention or Incredible String Band.

In 1981 Gieco started a Never Ending Tour all over Argentina, collecting material from the different places he visited during the tour. Following the tour, he recorded this first volume of De Ushuaia a La Quiaca various local musicians in 1985. Two other volumes were recorded in different locations of the country. Paul Simon may have gotten the idea for Rhythm of the Saints upon hearing this, when he had to come up with a follow up to Graceland…

His voice is nicely sincere and almost theatrical. Not as overdone as by flamenco artists (like Camarón de la Isla) but definitely in, say, Triana territory. Because I sympathize with social activists (he suffered censorship in the 70’s) and because I like the intention to redo traditionals and employ locals, I want to like this album, but the production is making it difficult. Sometimes bad production tricks seep through: at 7.32 (on YT) you’ll hear the programmed keyboard fuck up. At other times, for instance on the third song Por El Camino Perdido, a nice enough song gets lost in a silly repeating keyboard pattern and a nauseating guitar sound that make it sound like your average 80’s pop ballad. But then, on Principe Azul, it all works: mainly acoustic, sounding quite authentic.

The YT version I listened to, proudly claims that Gustavo Santaolalla, the musical director for the project, was the first to integrate MIDI into traditional music. Based on this album, I consider this a bad idea. In ‘updating’ the sound, he actually loses the sound, making it hard to judge the quality of the song writing. It’s as if you update the Clapton song Let It Rain into My Fathers’ Eyes. Still, Gustavo wrote No Existe Fuerza En El Muno. It is potentially one of the best songs on the album, but you wouldn’t know it from this version.

Yo Vendo Unos Ojos Negros does sound quite a lot like Los Lobos, as it’s one of the few up-tempo tracks. Again, not a bad song, the accordion and the background yelling adding to the authentic atmosphere. A nice song to end the album, but I do not really like the album

I’ll have to postpone my final verdict about Léon: I (desperately want to) believe that this is his “mid 80’s Dylan phase”, and that there are better albums before and after, but I just do not know yet.

CHARLY’S ROCK COLUMN: THE KINKS – SINGLES HISTORY – Part 1: Early Kinks (1964)

Written by: Charly Saenz

It’s almost a thrill to listen to that clumsy version of “Long Tall Sally”, their first single.. It’s really an amateur band sound in retrospect (George Martin said that newer bands tend to record in a higher speed.. Emotions out of control?), and not necessarily in the bad sense. They *mean it*, like The Beatles in their stuff pre “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, they’re hungry for more, baby. Ray wrote the flip side, and it’s hardly any better you know, but hey, family, friends, we were recording!

It’s in the second single “You Still Want Me” (and the similar sounding “You Do Something To Me”, both sides written by Ray), where they really shine – a precious melody and hooks, and well, let me tell you, it’s the kind of frame of mind in the recording companies those days you had to change. Why recording covers? Not everyone could, but Ray COULD write.

Those were harsh times and you had to get a hit, so we did that razor thing with the speaker and Dave came up with that feedback storm (it’s 1964, get this in your system!), that piercing sting called “You Really Got Me”. In those times The Kinks were about electricity you know, so no big words from Ray, but he wrote a musical anthem for the early Kinks. It was a monolithic achievement. “It’s All Right” on the other side, was unremarkable: another “let’s all scream in concert” tune (a cousin of “I’m Alright” by the Stones, probably).

Same year, The Kinks released an EP called “Kinksize Session”, with a “Louie Louie” cover; much better than “Long Tall Sally”, at least Ray sang in his own gritty voice, not like a suicidal lamb. Can’t say much about “I Gotta Go Now” but it’s marginally better than the cover (they’d perfect this style on albums like “Kinda Kinks” or even on “Kontroversy”). “Things Are Getting Better” is another frantic number, quite disposable.  But “I’ve Got That Feeling” with that pretty piano (Nicky “Session Man” Hopkins perhaps?) is a beauty. Going slower is sometimes a great decision…

.. But we accelerated a bit for “All Day And All Of The Night”. Certainly a successful clone, a sombre child of “You Really Got Me”, and I usually prefer the child, as it’s slightly darker, more intense, and obsessive. The B-side, “I Gotta Move” is very good, with a pretty crescendo at the end, as it never leaves the original punching beat (kudos to Mick Avory’s hi hat); also a much better realized song for a dynamic concert number (in this case, the Stones title-alike would be “I’m Moving On”).

This was, dear friends, a single year in the life of The Kinks.. Evolution? Well I’d say quite some big steps for them and humanity, but they would be bigger steps next year.

PAUL MCCARTNEY – Press to Play (1986)

Review by: Charly Saenz
Assigned by: Francelino Prazeres de Azevedo Filho

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Welcome to the Rock Superhero Bashing Circus! Well, as you might know “Press To Play” is usually indicated by some reviewers (oh those are terrible.. Oops) as Paul’s nadir. Oops again: I used to despise this album. But my fellow reviewer has given me the opportunity to explore this album under a new light; mostly in the darkness of my room, to be honest – just the music, and no videos. Those really didn’t stop playing back in the day. That wasn’t good.

“Stranglehold” is an extraordinary start. It’s strong and luminous, slightly bluesy. I feel some good 90s vibe here, even a bit of Lloyd Cole. There’s a double bass quality in the rhythmic base and the sax touches are totally engaging.

I changed scenery for the second song “Good Times Coming/Feel The Sun”. Had to step out in the street on a cold threatening night, so I mounted the Fiio DAC and the Sennheiser cans on my head and I connected the DAC to my Android phone. BOOM! POW! Well, all those Batman 1966 onomatopeias. After the goofy start, it really blew my mind. You know sound counts, this is mostly a finely recorded album, no matter what they say.

I’m back in the computer and I launch the next song, “Talk more talk”, on the Yamaha amp. This one is a tad more annoying in the production department. The song itself is interesting (the guitar work is indeed very detailed) but it goes nowhere. Still, hardly offending. “Footprints”, instead, is one FINE Macca-style song. Extremely joyful details (some remind me of the future “Driving Rain” but everything was a little more guitar-rocking there). There’s a cracking detail in Paul’s otherwise still beautiful voice.. Is this when he starts to show the signs of age? “Press(ed) to play”..

About that song, and let’s forget the video clip, it’s probably the weakest in the lot. Paul what were you trying to achieve? This album has no hits (Will you count the bonus track, “Spies like us”? Well that video was.. slightly funny) and this is for the best: “Press” is really awful with the extremely tiring electronic drum, the echo vocals. No, please: “Never like this”.

Save your breath, then we have another little gem, “Pretty Little Head”, that could have been considered an A-HA (or even Tears For Fears) song as it begins. Here the electronic drums roll deliciously over the keyboards, and there’s that feeling that Paul is on the loose, experimenting.. The “African” voices are exquisite; the intertwined guitars and of course the effect-laden synths. It might be a little long; but I won’t complain, Paul is having fun.

As if he was paying the debts for “Press”, he scores high again with “Move Over Busker” (“Busker”.. Wasn’t that a movie with Phil Collins?). An engaging number, with more traditional sound, and a line that is certainly closer (specially in the second part) to a good rock and roll circa 1958, if you clean up the make up, that is. It rocks better than, say, “Take it away”.

Well in the end, you know, this wasn’t the awful album I’ve grown to despise. There is no such thing as bad production per se; it’s all in the numbers, “Press” ain’t a great song anyway and it tainted the whole set as a single, but a good electronic drum can be put to good use as we all know. For completists, “Angry” ain’t a particularly great song and “However Absurd” is a weird ending, but a good effort, anyway.

And the melodies, the hooks are there, Macca brand. Oh by the way did I mention “Only Love Remains”? 100% Macca ballad of any era, and it’s really good.

This is how you do it, and it’s 1986 so it’s worth a lot. Go and buy it before the fools and the critics find out and all the “Press To Play” CDs start to dissapear from the record stores. We still have CDs right?…

A YEAR IN MUSIC: DOUG HILLARD & GENE CLARK – The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark (1968)

A YEAR IN MUSIC: 1968
Reviewed by: Charly Saenz

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There are some musical genres that will split the audience in two, and I’ll readily include Country Rock in that lot. I ain’t been a fan myself, after all, liking some faux cowboy british stuff, like Dead Flowers or Muswell Hillbillies, however cool, won’t mean that you’re in the Country Music appreciation business. No more than taking a selfie with a dead cow on Route 66.

So it took me a couple of feverish months of listening to heaps of Gene Clark music, going back from its magnificent 1974 masterpiece to the point where he broke up with those nasty Byrds guys (Silver Ravens?) and he started a low profile but endearing career playing the music he loved, with lots of folk and bits of psychedelia and even soul; but firmly rooted in Purely American Country rock. At least he didn’t have to fly anymore: pun intended, but in fact it was actually like that.

And this is some Country Music that really appeals to me. As an opener, “Out On The Side” is a nice classic folkish tune by Gene, not that far from that Cosmic Soul Country Music from 1974 (add some gospelish backing vocals and there you go). And these words, I do gracefully understand now:

“No I’m not looking to find any holes
From what I think has been denied
That’s not the feeling of love when it flows
I hope I can lose that much pride”

Doug Dillard brings authenticity to the roots sound with his majestic banjo playing; He’s really outstanding in “She darkened the sound”, and Gene brings a more subdued singing style that matches Bernie Leadon’s great backing vocals.

In fact Leadon really put a lot in this album both in his musical performance (he plays several instruments) and in the songwriting area: listen to “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Eagles, in your face: You cannot really start to compete. But well you know, a future Eagle, Bernie Leadon co-wrote it with Gene, so well they had some right to play it. Instant classic.

“With Care from Someone” is awesome, a perfect amalgam of the three main musicians talent, there’s a vocal line by Gene almost opposite to the intricate banjo/guitar/harmonica interplay. Pure ear candy for the country uninitiated. “The Radio Song” follows with an even more delicate delivery, with some added piercing keyboard (is that a xylophone?) for utter pleasure.

But don’t let the laid back vibe fool you: there’s touches of colour from the pop/folk rock sensibility by the author of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better”. “Don’t Come Rollin'” is such a song; you might have included it in The Beatles’ Help, that nice Byrdie folkrockish album.

Towards the end of the album, “Git It On Brother” doesn’t do it for me, this is way too .. country, not much rock here, and it feels quite like a cliché. But it’s just a little spot clocking under the 3 minutes, so I’ll let it go. The album closes with “Something’s Wrong”, a perfect song-song in any genre. The bass pulse and the heavy guitar plucking really make it a pretty instrumental match to Gene’s gloomy singing.

So – this is quite a groundbreaking album for its time; it’s probably less rootsy (or shall I say authentic) than say Willie Nelson or Cash, but for me it’s just like a Screwdriver (no, not the tool, the drink): you need alcohol but the juice must be there, else you’d be drunken in a few minutes… WAIT, this might not be a good selling point for the album…

Let’s start again: There are some genres that will split the audience..