RAY BARRETTO – Acid (1968)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Alejandro Muñoz G

When a Latin jazz musician releases an album called Acid — in 1968 no less — you would be forgiven for assuming it combines latin music with psychedelic rock. You would be forgiven, but you’d still be wrong. Not a hint, lick or indeed dab of psychedelia is on the entire thing (the eight minute long improvisation of Espiritu Libre comes close, but when the improv is this dry, it’s just called jazz). The only psychedelic thing about the album isn’t even on the album, it’s on the cover. What a waste of psychedelic font.

Not that Acid is a straightforward latin jazz record. It does draw influence from 60s soul/rock and tries to give them a latin spin, but the end result doesn’t really transform these genres in any significant way. A Deeper Shade of Soul sounds like a medley of covers rather than anything truly transcending typical soul. In fact, its melodies seem to be snatched from Twist and Shout and Summer Nights. The Soul Drummers is a bit of a slog except for that section near the end when the horns kick into high gear. And while Mercy, Mercy, Baby is a pretty good song, everything cool about it has nothing to do with the fact that Ray is belting your stock 60s soul/rock lyrics over latin percussion. Finally, Teacher of Love is Ray’s unconvincing attempt at hippy rock lyrics, not that actual hippy rock lyrics are all that convincing in the first place. Here’s a sampling:

I come to my class tonight
Don’t be late or you’ll be left behind
Cause I’m the loving loving man
I’m the teacher of love
(teacher won’t you teach me tonight!)

Stupendous. (That means it’s stupid, right?)

Where the album really shines is on its more straightforward latin tracks. All of the songs were written by Ray Barretto, a percussionist, but the real stars on display here are in the horn section. Just listen to the explosive horn riff that opens the first and best track, El Nuevo Barretto. It is the definition of a pick-me-up. Once that groove kicks, it’s hard to not let yourself be transported to a more pleasant state of mind. Think this is the kind of music George Clinton meant when he coined the term “mood control”. 

KETIL BJØRNSTAD – Seafarer’s Song (2004)

Review by: Dinar Khayrutdinov
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn

Ketil Bjørnstad is a classically trained Norwegian pianist and composer who is one of those artists who recorded most of their output on the well-known ECM label which basically means it’s going to be some middle ground between jazz, modern classical and new-age. Interestingly enough, the album in question – Seafarer’s Song – was released on a different label (EmArcy) but it is still an ECM album in essence.

Due to the shortage of time I’m experiencing at this point of my life I’ll have to keep this review brief and basically break it down to certain thoughts that came to my mind when I heard this record:

1) It definitely requires the listener to be in a certain mood that is pretty nicely summed up by the album cover art – that of a vast and fairly peaceful sea expanse, but with heavy clouds above it and a slight rain falling on its surface. It’s a seafarer’s song indeed, mostly elegiac and longing but occasionally changing to more energetic and resolute.

2) To properly enjoy Seafarer’s Song you’d have to appreciate Kristin Asbjørnsen’s slightly gruff vocals which I do not. In fact I think that this album would be truly great if it were purely instrumental. The unique combination of the piano, cello, electric guitar and occasional mournful trumpet is pretty amazing and creates a very specific mood (see p. 1). The vocals do nothing for me though, unfortunately.

3) The album is labeled jazz, but in fact it has little to do with jazz – it does not sound like it was improvised and does not feature many dissonant chords, saxophone solos or anything like that. Some instrumental passages do feel jazzy, but saying that this is a jazz album means missing the point of the record entirely. In fact, here is a nominally “highbrow” record that can be perfectly enjoyed by classic rock lovers. It actually consists of rather conventional songs (most of them slow and melancholic), which is its strength and weakness at the same time. If you’re in the mood for this you’ll probably enjoy it, but if you’re not this can get boring as hell.

4) It slightly grew on me after repeated listens (I even got used to the vocals) and I actually wouldn’t be surprised if I felt an urge to return to this sometime in the future. No regrets on hearing this overall, good stuff.  

THE AEROVONS – Resurrection (1969, recorded in 2003)

Review by: Avery Campbell
Album assigned by: Charly Saenz

The Aerovons were an American psychedelic pop band who really liked The Beatles. No, I mean REALLY liked The Beatles. They liked The Beatles so much that they turned down a recording offer from Capitol Records because they wanted to be able to record in London. Somewhat miraculously, this stubbornly starry-eyed hero worship actually did eventually land them in Abbey Road to record their album, although it’d go unreleased until 2003.

Sound-wise, the album is pretty standard baroque psychedelic 60s pop. Nice harmonies, swirly string arrangements, piano, etc. In fact, standard might not be a strong enough word – some of this stuff is really derivative. Resurrection and Say Georgia make this clear almost immediately, borrowing heavily from Across the Universe and Oh Darling respectively, but the feeling of a band really excited by music but without much new to say permeates most of these tracks. They take a stab at the “ballad with stinging electric guitar” on Quotes and Photos, “doofy British music hall” on Bessy Goodheart, “lightly psychedelic hippie strummer” on The Years, and so on. All of these songs are competently written and performed, but they have trouble distinguishing themselves as more than a band writing songs in particular styles because those are the styles their favorite bands wrote in.

On the positive side, though, this album is certainly an enjoyable one. It’s a very pleasant listen, the production is excellent, and there are a few songs that manage to be pretty striking. My personal favorite is the opening “World of You”, a wonderfully orchestrated ballad and the major keeper here. Bessy Goodheart sounds quite a lot like both The Kinks and Lady Madonna, but is probably the catchiest song on the album, and She’s Not Dead also has a pretty solid chorus. The closing bonus track Here is quite lovely as well, despite being a little too obvious of a stab at a McCartney ballad.

So, while Resurrection is certainly an enjoyable album, I wouldn’t rate it as one those “lost 60s masterpieces” like Odessey and Oracle, Forever Changes, or Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina. More than anything, Resurrection makes me wish this band had stuck around long enough to put out more albums. There’s all the signs of a potentially excellent songwriting outfit once they’d matured a bit. After all, at the time our main songwriter here was 17, and what 17-year-old doesn’t want to be his hero? File this with the early Bee Gees albums, and that sort of thing, though the melodies are weaker here. Still, not a bad grab for lovers of obscure 60s pop.

ROY WOOD – Boulders (1973)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

I’ve read interesting things about Roy Wood, as well as his bands Wizard & the Move, though I’ve never actually heard any of his work until now. Part of the reason that I’ve never been motivated enough to check it out is that I am not at all a fan of ELO, the most famous band associated with him. I am also not familiar with the ELO stuff featuring him, but it’s possible to see a connection between the ELO I do know and this stuff. I must say I like this a lot better, though.

As far as the music goes, it’s hard to describe, but I will try. It’s vaguely Beatle-esque pop with strong folk influence. There are also touches of Beach Boys harmonies and 50’s rock ‘n’ roll. He plays almost all the instruments on the album himself. All the songs are very strong melodically. A couple of them have quirky qualities to them, most notably “Ms. Clarke and the Computer”, which sounds like a children’s song sung by a 70’s computer voice, which in the middle inexplicably turns into jazz for a couple of measures before resuming. “When Grandma Plays the Banjo” sounds just like you think it would. Amusing but not one I’ll likely go back to again. This one, “Rock Medley” and “Rock Down Low” don’t work for me much, but all the other ones are very good.

Thumbs up on this one.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

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.

DANIELLE DAX – Pop-Eyes (1983)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Tom Hadrian Kovalevsky 

Art. No, no that’s not right. ART! Still, not feeling that. Maybe @ur(T). Yeah, that’s it. That’s what Danielle Dax plays on Pop-Eyes, @ur(T). I know, I know. That’s a weird pretentious misspelling of art, and not a music genre, but i think it sounds better than experimental post punk progressive pop ART SCHOOL music. 

Because seriously that’s a lot of words to describe music that says only one thing, and that’s “I went to art school and You need to know about it.” It’s weird, It abandons the rules. It’s very satisfied about itself. When it clicks two simple acoustic guitar chords to a saxophone solo, you know it’s done for the ecstacy of all the chin scratching intellectuals in the world.  It’s @ur(T). Love it because it makes you interesting and different. Love it even more because most people will never get it. Your special. The world will never understand your innate genius. Stupid world! More saxophones pls!

This is not the first @ur(T) release I’ve encountered, and it won’t be the last, but it’s definitely something I try and avoid. See I’ve never really fully got this type of music. I can dig the artist that dip their toes into art school shenaniganry like say Sonic Youth or Crass, but full on @ur(T) turns me off. I have nothing against experimentation in music. Hell, Can is one of my favorite bands (and I do indeed on occasion listen to the second record of Tago Mago too). But the experimentation of @ur(T) always seems egoic, like the strangeness is done for a “look at me, I’m deep” effect rather than any actual boundary pushing. 

And that is all the experimentation on this record. Dax twists her voice in affected mannerisms. Dax recites nursery rhyme lyrics over a simple synth riff with clanking spoons percussion. Etc etc. This record reminds me of Lydia Lunch’s Queen of Siam, and Dagmar-led Henry Cow, except a more minimalistic and synth heavy. 

Okay, okay, I’ve been pretty hard on this lady, but it’s not all bad. This album opens with a brilliant post punk take on Indian music. It’s pretty brilliant and i have never heard a mashing of post punk style guitars and indian classical music, all wrapped up in a catchy pop structure. Kudos. Also, throughout the rest of the album there are interesting textures here and there. The odd bottom basement synth will stumble on some cool sound or the odd guitar or sax will play something else interesting. But these pieces are few and far between, and I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that each time i listened to this, I was constantly checking how many songs were left, and wishing there were fewer. That’s especially damning considering this record is only 35 minutes long. 

So in other words. This is great high @ur(T). I just wish this record came with a performance art piece featuring excrement, nudity, and a condemnation of Bosnian war crimes.  A+ will use at future parties to intimidate hipsters. Animal Collective? That’s cute. Come back when you listen to real @ur(T) like Danielle Dax.

JETHRO TULL – Aqualung (1971)

Review by: Irfan Hidayatullah
Album assigned by: Victor Guimarães

A must for every prog lover. But I guess you know it already.

That seems to be the general critics’ assessment for this album, although frankly, apart from the title track or “My God” these songs are not really prog, at least not in my opinion — most of them are hard rock/folk rock with medieval styling, and somewhat unconventional chord progressions. (Maybe that’s what they meant by “prog”?) What they did may seem simple on paper, marrying hard rock with folk/medieval motives, but nobody back in 1971 did this stuff, at least when it comes to major prog rock stars — Yes were busy complexizing its music, ELP went straight to the classical genre, basically continuing The Nice’s legacy, King Crimson were sucking free jazz influences, and Genesis (with whom they have *arguably* things in common the most) lacked hard-rocking energy, concentrating instead on mellotrons, twelve-strings acoustic textures, and some pretty pretty music. But I digress.

Anyway, for such a classic album, I was surprised there’s a relative lack of diversity. Relative, because there’s at least distinctions between “epics”, relatively normal songs, and pretty acoustic links. But somehow it gets pretty tiring, at least to me, around tenth track or so. Maybe because of similar instrumentations and mood between the harder rocking songs — of course, you could argue that Genesis’ Selling England by the Pound, immaculate as it was, also didn’t change much in terms of instrumentations — but it still sounds exciting to my ears, while Aqualung drags in places, even if none of the songs suck or something.

“Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath” are the most well-known songs off this album, and quite deservedly so, even though I’d be pressed hard to tell what makes these songs stand out from the others. But those are not the only good songs off the album — I somehow also favour “Up to Me”, with its menacing riff, and “Hymn 43”, where the stop-and-start riff manages to sound almost funky (!) in its own way, and of course, “My God”, even though I still don’t know what to do with the mid-section. Is it a brilliant medieval-styled flute solo or just a pointless instrumental section? You tell me…

Still, the songs are good, the riffs are well written, and the album as a whole still sounds fresh today; even though the progressive influences might have been exaggerated, it is still arguably one of the most unique art-rock creations of its day.