2008 – August

CAROLE KING – Tapestry – Legacy Edition

As a long time music collector, it is always impossible for me to come up with one of those Top 50 Albums Ever lists that Channel 4 and the music press are so fond of creating. While I could never put my favourite albums of all time in any sort of numeric order, there are half a dozen that always pop into my mind, no matter the time or place; Lewis Taylor by Lewis Taylor, Rubber Soul by The Beatles, Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, What’s Goin’ On by Marvin Gaye, Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder and Tapestry by Carole King. While those six choices run the gamut from rock to jazz to soul and the various genres in-between, they all have one thing in common: no matter how many times you listen to each album, the music seems fresh and you always hear something new. Tapestry was released when I was just a kid, but I received a copy from a friend’s dad when he was clearing out his collection and “I Feel the Earth Move” was always on the radio when I growing up. I can still remember hearing the opening piano chords of that song and thinking how cool it would be to take piano lessons. Unfortunately for me, it was clear I had no talent for the piano or any other instrument, come to that.
Carole King, born Carole Klein, was not short on musical talent. She wrote her first number one song, “Take Good Care of My Baby,” with partner Gerry Goffin in 1961 when she was only 19 years old. The song writing team followed that up with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” sung by the Shirelles, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” sung by The Monkees and “”(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” sung by Aretha Franklin to name a few. All of these songs have subsequently been covered by other artists. Despite her massive success as a songwriter in the ’60s, Carole had little chart success as a singer. Her first album, Writer, released in 1970 didn’t make much of an impact on the music industry. But the second album Tapestry made her a legend. The album spawned three number one US hits, plus three others in the top twenty. It went on to sell more than 20 million copies worldwide and earned King four Grammy Awards including Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance (Female), Record of the Year (“It’s Too Late”) and Song of the Year (“You’ve Got a Friend”). What makes Tapestry significant is its sort of quiet appeal. After the psychedelic and protest rock of the ’60s, King brought things down a notch and sung about things like friendship and values over a soothing piano accompaniment. Tapestry is the kind of record you can put on to relax around the house or in your car to wind down after a long day at work. And now, Tapestry – Legacy Edition has recently been released. The new two CD set features the original eleven track album newly digitally re-mastered. The collection also features a second CD features the previously unreleased Live Tapestry which according to producer Lou Adler are “selections taken from concerts at Boston, Maryland, Central Park, and San Francisco, 1973 to 1976, just piano-vocal – that’s the way I heard the songs for the first time when Carole would come to my office and play them.” Live Tapestry is a very nice addition to the set. The versions of all the songs are stripped down to just Carole and her piano. You get a real sense of her tremendous song-writing talent and the excitement of the audience. Even after all these years, Tapestry still remains a musically adept and inspirational record and should be in everyone’s collection.


JOE BONAMASSA – Live From Nowhere In Particular

Current blues superstar, Joe Bonamassa’s double CD-set entitled Live From Nowhere In Particular has fire and fervour in the mix and there’s no better way than the live performance atmosphere to demonstrate just how mesmerizing this amazing guitarist can actually be. He’s truly a ferocious vocalist as well, a trait that has a lot to do with his popularity, and he belts out the lyrics with resolute passion and vigour.
Anyone familiar with Bonamassa knows the degree of respect and admiration he has for the music of yesteryear, primarily blues and rock. His renditions of the classics, such as Jethro Tull’s “A New Day Yesterday”, Yes’ “Starship Trooper” (my all-time favourite rock song!) and Alvin Lee’s “One Of These Days” adds smiles of approval to the faces of attentive audiences the world over. It’s a crucial key to his amazing talent: fans feel that they’re listening to one of their peers, someone who feels the same passion for the music. He’s similar to the best friend you had growing up, the guy next door you’d drink beers with on Sunday afternoons while listening to vinyl records. Perhaps without even realizing the music’s classic relevance at that time, you related to it in a personal and private way. A trait that never ceases to surface in his live sets, Joe pays homage to his idols and influences. He’ll often throw a classic lick into a song, and it’s often done with the same passion, phrasing, and tone of the initial recording. His influences are many from one end of the rock spectrum to the other, blues as well. However, the honour he bestows upon musicians of the past and present is a humble endeavour of appreciation, additives to accentuate a style that’s original and creative on its own. It’s all Joe Bonamassa, and he’s a tonal mastermind of the instrument. Nevertheless, he likes to toss something into the mix every now and then, just to remind listeners where it all came from. “Live From Nowhere In Particular” is all that and more. The barnstorming opener, “Bridge To Better Days,” as well as the astounding acoustic blues, “Woke Up Dreaming,” are both exemplary of the originality that’s Joe Bonamassa, and of the passion he exerts in the live setting. He’s incredibly adept at both electric and acoustic guitar, and this live set authenticates that. Covers of Free’s “Walk in My Shadows,”, Paul Marshall’s “How Many Roads”, and Warren Haynes’ “If Heartaches Were Nickels” are brilliantly executed. The Blues Foundation board member puts pure emotion and sincerity into the blues. Listen to the little Beatles insert at the end of “If Heartaches Were Nickles.” It’s merely one example of the fun he has with melodies, empowered by an imagination that segues tastefully from one area into another.


NORMAN JAY – Good Times – London

The occasional series by MOBO DJ superstar, Norman Jay, trundles along with another release, this time supposedly based on our very own London town.
Never one to let his listeners down, Jay has handpicked a selection of his favourite jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, reggae and r-n-b classics for you to get on up or get on down to … kicking off with the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald’s take of Get Ready. How can you not want to hear more when the best singer that ever lived is opening a compilation like this?
Across two discs, we move through numbers as diverse as SL2’s On A Ragga Tip, Chaka Khan’s Love Has Fallen On Me, Ray Charles’ Wichita Lineman along with some Dennis Brown, Eamon, Lou Rawls and The Whispers. It lifts you up, it brings you down, it makes you wanna dance, it makes you want to cry … it’s an emotional roller-coaster, but one of the best rides around right now. Now, That’s What I Call Music …
This isn’t about music from London, but more about the groove and vibe that Norman himself has helped bring to the city in the time he’s spent playing there. Having set up The Good Times Sound System in Notting Hill many moons ago, he’s been spreading the word of soul – and all it’s sub-genres – for years since, across the radio, in clubs, at live events .. wherever he could, and now he’s releasing his eighth compilation and still preaching. Amen to that, my brother … the man’s a legend.


VARIOUS ARTISTS – Story Songs

It’s not often I review general compilations.
Okay, so the Norman Jay one above is technically a compilation, but I think of it more as a DJ release, so it doesn’t count. The reason I don’t? Well, because most of them are rubbish and you only end up with at best half an album you like. In this day and age with mp3 players, music on your mobile and kids growing up never physically buying an album (if at all), I guess it doesn’t matter. But do you remember the days of making tapes for your friends, or perhaps your lover?
Hoping to impress them, designing a cover, thinking about the track order … no? It was just me then, was it, cutting up pictures from the Sunday Times magazine …
Well, anyway .. Story Songs has the feel of a handmade compilation to me and it works. Even over three discs the quality remains high throughout. As the title suggests, it’s a collection of songs with a tale to tell, singers with a narrative quality about them and from the opening bars of Disc 1, Track 1’s Rocket Man, by Elton John, you kinda get it right away. Eleanor Rigby, Baker Street, Maggie May, You’re So Vain, American Pie, Babooshka, Don’t You Want Me, Common People … these are all songs which had something to say, like a three minute play you might catch between shows on the radio.
It’s a great idea, well executed and serves the number one purpose of any compilation : it makes for great driving music. This is going on my Christmas list … for everybody else!
 

RUSH – Spirit Of Radio – The Greatest Hits 1984-1987

Never much of a chart band, I find the whole idea of this album quite laughable given that the only UK hit they ever had was the title track itself. But then again, it’s an import and the American chart system is quite different to ours, being based on radio play alone and not physical sales.
I do like Rush though and feel they deserve to be heard by those young rockers I see roaming the streets in their Iron Maiden, Metallica and AC/DC t-shirts. Are they being ironic? Are they being force-fed by their dads? Or do they really like those bands? Well, Led Zep have always had an audience and they straddle the metal/prog divide and while I can’t ever see the logos of Yes or Genesis being sported by a spotty oik on a skateboard, I think Rush may have half a chance.
This collection numbers 19 tracks, some of which have been edited or included as radio versions as a lot of their songs ramble on for ten minutes or more … but then that’s what prog’s all about, right? Which is why this shouldn’t work .. but it does. It’s a snapshot family album of all their best material and makes for a great in-car album. I don’t know what’s going on this month but I think I need to cut down on my driving a bit …

 Originally published in 2008

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