Re-issues Reviews

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Fandangos In Space /
Dancing On A Cold Wind
Angel Air 2006
Both Tony Visconti-produced albums receive the long-overdue CD appearance. Magnifico!

If it’s “Innuendo” that you think of when a term “flamenco rock” is used, you’re right but at the same time you’re as far from the point as that QUEEN’s track from the genre’s origins… if a genre can exist with almost none of adherents bar its progenitors. And the progenitors were CARMEN. The name and the term notwithstanding, the band’s masternind, guitarist and singer David Allen, and his keyboard playing sister Angela came from the US, where they had failed to set on the “Forever Changes” track, to the UK. With a full line-up whose ranks included future JETHRO TULL bassist John Glascock, the ensemble didn’t achieve much commercially, although they were championed by the likes of Jagger and Bowie. Yet, with Tony Visconti producing, what they achieved creatively still stands out – and these albums recorded in 1973 and 1974 are fantastic.

The opening salvo of “Bulerias” comes as a blast, Spanish rhythms underpinned by acoustic guitar and electric riffs embrace you with a strongest of the grips but don’t lose none of the subtleties inherent in the music. The same iron hand in a velvet glove makes your soul dance in “Sailor Song” which, if stripped of its tasty quirkiness, could make a great pop smash and a touching ballad: two pieces, yes, it’s this fine. “Bullfight”, meanwhile, steps into the progressive rock field, but its melange of mellotron, funky guitar and vocal harmonies – ah, those “Ole’s”! – thrown over numerous time signatures feels delicious. All this creates a marvellous tapestry rather than a dazzling patchwork – well, the first album’s title cut is close to it – with pure flamenco instrumental “Poor Tarantos” a silver lining.

And it’s an acoustic mode that the second LP starts in: “Viva Mi Sevilla” brings a menace, not alegria de la vida, like “Purple Flowers”, but both these Gypsy dances present one hell of emotional swirl. This time, though, the fervor is mellower, with “She Flew Across The Room” soft electric interlude and Angela’s voice lending drama to the orchestral sweep of “Gypsy Girl” and propelling “I’ve Been Crying” to its climactic coda. Softness of this music can be not so comfortable, like in titular “Dancing On A Cold Wind”, yet it’s always rewarding when your heart beats faster to a mood of the melody. As enjoyable as it is, still, the second album feels less revolutionary than the first, and that was the dead end for the band who dissolved after the third platter. Through the sorrow, all through their splendor, CARMEN deserve to be known.


Don’t Blame Me…
I Just Play Bass
Angel Air 2006
If there’s a need for excuses, it’s for the absence of the four-string rumble, not for the music that’s fine.

For one, there are two bass players named Tony Stevens, both fantastic but it’s this Tony, or Tone, whose most famous stints were with SAVOY BROWN and FOGHAT that he’s still a member of. It’s a sign of dedication and commitment that over 40 years of strings-pulling Stevens came up with the only solo album. Released for the first time in 1998, “Don’t Blame Me…” shows another, non-bluesy side of the great player.

Ten years’ work resulted in more relaxed and soft music than anyone could expect from Tony. Not a great singer, Stevens infuses his songs with a homey, warm feel, and his unpretentious voice is nicely complemented with Anthony Glynn’s acoustic guitar ring even though Ant’s and Geoff Whitehorn‘s electric solos hold a great dose of rock ‘n’ roll in it. The brass-splashed boogie of “Run To The River” and “Long Way To Go”, the most rocking songs on offer – and, boy, how they rock! – the mood is ever-changing. More than once the epithet “Lennonesque” springs to mind when little hooks and instrumental vignettes hidden in Tone’s tunes make his songs easily memorable, like “China” which could have come from the ’80s, while a go at “Under My Thumb” is mostly passable.

The bass isn’t a leading instrument here but the humble yet strong way it underpins the “Good Night The Sun” melody is a sign of a real master, and it’s only a real master who’s capable of autumn-feel ballad that is “In My Eyes”. Real master equals “great musician” as opposed to “class player” here. And it’s not something to be blamed for.


Mixed Up Shook Up Girl
The Solo Sessions
Angel Air 2006
High flying, adored but, unfortunately, often ignored, the singer shines ever brightly.

Perhaps, not a household name, Paul Shuttleworth was the vocalist with THE KURSAAL FLYERS, one of the most warmly remembered ’70s bands who didn’t disturb the polls as much as their music deserved it. Maybe that’s because they fell in the gap between pub rock and pure pop, the style that the singer left the group to build a career in. He didn’t succeed that much again, and again it wasn’t down to his music as documented on this wonderful compilation which features both previously issued and unreleased material – written by well-known writers and Shuttleworth himself.

He’s brilliant throughout, but Willie de Ville-penned title cut and evergreen “Young Blood” from the former category aren’t as effervescent as “Say Hello (To Your Pretty Friend)” from the latter. It’s all different anyway, so “Clown To The World” and smoothly orchestrated “Just One Smile”, sung in warped crooning, Gene Pitney mode, sit snugly side by side with bubbly middle-of-the-road of “It Hurts To Be In Love” that bears Mike Hurst trademark. Before him, Paul was lucky to work with another hit-making producer, Mike Batt, yet here’s a genuine continuity in music, a rare example of sound-shapers working for the singer, not vice versa which speaks volumes about the artist. Shuttleworth followed the more rocky road with THE LATEST CRAZE in 1980 but his songs appeared too emotional for the times when synthesizers were beginning to dominate the waves, and singles such as “Here She Comes Again” seemed destined to flop. They did but, unlike many hits of that period, these tracks, including a disco take on THE KURSAALS’ “Cruisin’ For Love”, don’t feel dated at all, and ballad “Tenth Floor Romantics” could be a hit today. And there it is, a short solo career retrospective and a long-overdue rediscovery of the great artiste – no pun intended!


Crash Course:
A Hermetic Science Primer
Hermeticum Records 2006
Expanding the closed spaces with a mallet is the best way of battling claustrophobia.

It takes a deep knowledge of music to understand that progressive rock is not all bombast and vain virtuosity, but Ed Macan’s an experrt in the subject, and his own take on the genre replaces thick aural cloth with a veil of minimalism. Maybe that’s because he’s a vibes player, and this instrument, even though it’s being hammered, always sounds too gentle and can be easily lost in the arrangement. Maybe that’s because a good melody doesn’t require too many players to shine. This makes music timeless, and ten years after HERMETIC SCIENCE were formed, Macan remixed and remastered his volatile ensemble’s entire output, and now all of the band’s own compositions are gathered on “Crash Course”.

It’s not an anthology. The tracks are ordered for the most part chronologically, but it’s still possible to draw a bigger picture and see the continuity in what Ed and his colleagues are doing: call it hermetic, as there’s no progress or evolution, save for the barocco recorder and harpsichord plus sitar interplay on the late-period “Raga Hermeticum”. It’s all fully-formed, “Esau’s Burden” off 1997’s “Hermetic Science” isn’t that different from 2001’s titular "En Route" and pieces from 1999’s "Prophesies" don’t stand out – in a good sense. Too angular sometimes to be considered library music, it’s throbbing with life like the best of new age and, in “La-Bas” like Bach’s fugue, but “Barbarians At The Gate” comes in heavier armsuit, a masterpiece of orchestral proportions – without an orchestra! – and “Leviathan And Behemoth” is purely classical work with some quotes for connoisseurs to relish. Elsewhere, “Against The Grain. Part Two” imparts arty synthesizer to the canvas, and that feels claasy. The line is drawn, on to the new pastures now?


Beyond The Sunset –
The Romantic Collection
SPV 2004
What could have been a cheapo comp turns into a blissful romp.

As a rule, “Romantic Collection” is a generic title for shoddy compilations featuring schmaltzy ballads supposed to ignite the inner flame. Strange, then, that BLACKMORE’S NIGHT allowed their compilation to be subtitled so. But there’s no reason to ignore it, because Ritchie, Candice and their band of wandering minstrels have something new on there even for those fans who have everything The Man In Black has done. More so, this troupe doth never give cheap goodies, and for the pastance with such a good company there’s a bonus DVD, a preview of the ensemble’s forthcoming live video, and, in a limited quantities, a Christmas single. Yet the light mood is what this entire record swirls around.

It’s fair to say that the word “romantic” describes everything Blackmore and Night do, so the task of cherrypicking must have been a hell but the result is heavenly. The listener is invited in their autumnal world with a new ballad, the tremulous Jack White cover “Once In A Million Years”, which is at once hymnal and intimate. This soul-talking comes in equal parts from Candice heartfelt vocal delivery and Ritchie’s gentle guitar lace: that’s how the two easily make Joan Baez’s “Diamonds And Rust” their own. While melancholy plays a prominent part in the BLACKMORE’S NIGHT oeuvre, their Renaissance fayre holds more moody delights in store. There’s a majestic electricity and a delicate acoustic textures: “I Still Remember You” and a re-cut, less intense than before, version of “Ghost Of A Rose” filled with eternal hope. Then, “Durch Den Wald Zum Bach Haus” is a pastoral, sun-kissed instrumental piece offset with an upbeat remix of “All Because Of You”, a sunrise not sunset song. It’s great, going beyond!


The Evolution Of
Creature Music 2003

Read the interview

See the DVD

The arrested development of one of the greatest British music institutions.

There’s something wrong with Manfread Mann’s band: the ensemble should have been up there with such formidable formations as Alexis Korner’s and John Mayall’s for hosting an array of musicians who give some good traits to the face of British pop – but it’s not at such high level, which must be a testimony to the group’s evolution and not being content to dwell on a certain style. In the end of the day, it’s this band one can easily recall a couple of songs by. All the songs, hits and more, are here, on the most complete compilation to the date, and if these are from MANFRED MANN and MANFRED MANN’S EARTH BAND and not from CHAPTER THREE, that missing link wasn’t about songs anyway. Remember, then, it’s a keyboard player’s mindchild.

Yet even though Manfred Lubovitz’s Farfisa organ is very prominent on his ensemble’s first chart position, 1964’s “5-4-3-2-1”, his real talent has always lain in the ability to arrange, rather than compose, and highlight others’ work. He very early spotted both Dylan and Springsteen and put his Midas touch to the former’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and “Mighty Queen” in the mid-’60s and the latter’s “Spirits In The Night” and “Blinded By The Light” the next decade, to much later trawl their catalogues for gems like “You Angel You” and “For You”. Moreover, Mann is one of those rare masters who know exactly how to imbue a song with an immense commitment, no matter if it’s Paul Jones pouring his blue soul into that pop jewel, “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”, Chris Thompson pondering over terrific ballad “Question” or Mike D’Abo smiling through “Fox On The Run”. That’s quite significant: the singers who went through the ranks of Manfred’s band remained famous on their own, and the proof is two solo D’Abo cuts added as bonus tracks here, 2002’s re-recording of the legendary “Handbags And Gladrags” among them. Still, with all the different characters onboard, Mann somehow managed to retain the group’s identity to bend it to some extent when EARTH BAND came to be. And it’s rather convenient that each band has a single disc in this collection.

What’s inherent in all these songs and common to all is their soulfulness which runs through the rhythm-and-blues period of “Come Tomorrow” through the “Joybringer”-signalled progressive period to the now, when on Noel McCalla the ensemble has a genuine soul singer to deliver vibrant “Nothing Ever Happens” that’s about to sum up the state of the band’s continuing popularity. Not bad for any evolution to result with, especially if hits dried up in 1979 with a dancefloor-friendly shuffle “Don’t Kill It Carol”. But wonderful tunes remained there and, thankfully, “The Evoultion” goes beyond the obvious to include some more great music and, as such, serves more like a teaser and calls for delving deeper into the ages of Manfred Mann and giving his combo the due recognition.


Let It Be… Naked
EMI 2003
Making the history modern kills it. Here’s the artifact that proves it. A Fabulous Nudity.

How would you like your Shakespeare re-written in a modern orthography? That’s what the “Naked” is. That’s how Paul McCartney views “Let It Be”. Right, he never liked it – no, not the songs, the Fabs bar was placed high, but what Phil Spector had done to them. The correction seemed a matter of time, then, and the time came when Macca seemed to have finally come to terms with the fact that his solo material is considered inferior to THE BEATLES’, if only because myth always wins over reality. The time came when George Harrison passed, who admitted the same truth rather early and was averse to any changes to the legend and reluctant to release the apocryphic versions of songs on “Anthology”; therefore, it’s possible to guess his reaction to this new project, even though he supposedly approved of it – but who’s then that “late band member” which didn’t want it out on a DVD? And who’s affable Ringo to stand against Paul?

“Naked” means presenting the music as it was intended to, but it was down to the Fabs themselves that “Let It Be” came out somehow different to what they wanted – or it’s nobody’s fault at all. How could the quartet break out from the vicious circle of the album that was to be a soundtrack to the film about making an album? Well, late in 1968 the original idea looked righteous enough: to get back to the audience that hadn’t see the band on-stage for more than two years. To get back with a new repertoire, and not just this but with the songs as simply arranged as it could be, because it was due to the arrangements’ complexity and impossibility of reproducing it that the group stopped playing live. THE BEATLES wished to come again in style, and with the concert album. Yet they didn’t wished to work…

(Read the whole article.)

***3/5 – for the productions, not performances

Down At The Crossroads
The Robert Johnson Connection
Sanctuary 2003
Don’t get stuck on blues on the way from past to future. Blues is train with two lights on behind.

He wasn’t the first and he wasn’t the last, he even wasn’t the best – but the most legendary of all he is. Robert Johnson may have lived a short life and recorded only three and a half dozen of songs, yet each of those became a classic and a staple in the repertoire of many a blues and rock idol. Tutored by Son House and rivalled by Muddy Waters, Johnson is nevertheless seldom observed in the musical history context rather than an icon, an aspiring artist who sold his soul only to play the blues. This budget 3CD-set sets the record straight and puts Robert’s work in the center of what had been before and after him.

It’s better to start with his work, those twenty-nine cuts gathered on the second disc, and go both sides to track down the roots and branches after revealing the performer under the layer not only of his myth but also of his music. Johnson wasn’t old and gruffy as any bluesman is supposed to be: a bark of “Come On In My Kitchen” comes from passion, and from behind “Kind Hearted Woman” comes a dandy with a sensual vibrato to his high-pitched voice. And then there’s that guitar which inspired the likes of Eric Clapton and Peter Green, both of whom recorded whole albums of these songs; albums not as punchy as Green and Duster Bennett’s take on “Kind Hearted Woman” on “The Legacy” part of the collection. Though one may try digging in vain for the famous riff of “Cross Road Blues”, the tension wraps around anyone’s wired nerves anyway. More so, rhythm spanks and short solo runs of “Ramblin’ On Your Mind” point at whose exactly manner it was the blueprint for Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll wigouts. And what are “They’re Red Hot” or “32-20 Blues” if not rock? There’s a whole Elvis in ’em, and in “From Four Until Late” serenade too. Johnson might be posessed just enough to be playful, like in jolting “Preachin’ Blues”.

It was Son House’s “Preachin’ The Blues” that Robert effectively re-jigged, and House is on the “Roots, Origins & Influences” disc with “Walkin’ Blues” Johnson appropriated as well as Skip James’ “23-20 Blues” and “Devil Got My Woman” bent into “Hellhound On My Trail” – yes, the dancing with Mr. D. began before the crossroads deal. But Hambone Willie Newbern? Who hasn’t heard a spin on his “Roll And Tumble Blues”, also a source of Robert’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day”? Carl Rafferty, anybody? “Mr. Carl’s Blues” tells of dusting the broom, a message that Elmore James – switch to disc three – got through Johnson. Then, Rory Gallagher had a song called “Mississippi Sheiks”, and here they are, THE MISSISSIPPI SHEIKS doing amazing country blues of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” – on fiddles! Jack Bruce’s live kick present rings a buzz different to this. Kokomo Arnold’s “Milk Cow Blues” changed considerably less, as judged by THE KINKS’ perky go at it, even though Johnson spiced his “Milkcow’s Calf Blues” with his own lyrics and took edginess off the original.

Robert was original, but just as original as Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s pupil could be: there’s the former’s “Revenue Man” and latter’s “Change My Luck” for comparison of phrasing and guitar picking, although the clearest vocals-wise influence is Leroy Carr, just take his “When The Sun Goes Down”. Full circle, that’s how it goes with Jimmy McCracklin’s piano splash on “Baby Don’t You Want To Go”, John Renbourn’s gentle reading of “Come On In My Kitchen” or Muddy Waters’ “Walkin’ Blues”. This would be fun to have also THE ROLLING STONES’ “Love In Vain” if contractual restrictions allowed, yet with Tony McPhee’s inspired version and FOGHAT’s fiery “Terraplane Blues” there’s no need to complain. Johnson’s direct influence needn’t be pinned down: Alexis Korner already did it providing this brilliant collection wiith grand finale. How’s the British Blues Godfather’s little musical drama called? “Robert Johnson”, of course!


Chrysalis 1980
re-issue 2004
“A” stands for “Anderson”. The label knew better, though.

This should have been Ian Anderson‘s solo album, but what is TULL if not a mindchild of his? And if Ian wanted to break away from the formula, what formula the stylistically ever-changing band did live by? The shift from folky pastures of the past to futuristic skies had begun on 1979’s “Stormwatch”, so bringing in bassist Dave Pegg from FAIRPORT CONVENTION was more like balancing the invitation of keyboard player Eddie Jobson, fresh from U.K., with TULL’s own guitarist Martin Barre anchoring the new line-up rounded off with Mark Craney on drums. It was a logical progression, then, and giving it a different name didn’t make much sense, especially when many used to think Jethro Tull was the group’s leader. Chrysalis’ decision feels right even now that Anderson has three solo albums under his belt. Still, a bold move it was.

Bold both visually, as seen on the accompanying “Slipstream” DVD – that same famous film; what a way to compensate the absence of additional tracks! – and sonically: the weaving of driving flute into a dry electronic sound pierced through by measured chunks of guitar propelled the ensemble into the ’80s without it losing the TULL identity. Gloomy, anxious “Black Sunday” topped with short punchy solos links “A” to the previous record’s “Something On The Move”, “Crossfire” comes up as cutting an opening as “Aqualung”, and “Flyingdale Flyer” vocal harmonies are nothing more than “Songs From The Wood” thrown in the new era, eerie piano replacing recent acoustic ring. Yet there’s enough acoustic instrumentation on the album – Anderson’s guitar forms the riff of “Working John, Working Joe”, while flute, coupled with Jobson’s fiddle, spins “The Pine Marten’s Jig” and makes “Protect And Survive” smell of Scotland despite the quirky time signatures. That’s Eddie’s input, whose electric violin swirls around “Uniform” in a crazy hoedown.

Crazy but clever, even though the second part of the album – Side 2 of the LP – is less melodious than the first. Only Ian can tell was it impetus lost or his original intentions, yet whatever it might be, he’s got his “A” levels anyway.


1968-1969 / 1969-1971
Hed Arzi 2003
The founding fathers of the Israeli rock receive their due laurels.

They might have been less unique had THE CHURCHILL’S stem from England, yet Israel is where Dome of Rock is situated and not where rock seems to thrive. Still the band, led by guitarists Hayim Romano and Michael Gabrielov, did rock and even boasted an ex-Tornado (of “Telstar” fame) Rob Huxley, in their ranks, who wrote or co-wrote most of their output presented on this compilation in its entirety. A live cover of “She’s A Woman” aside, the ensemble, granted the title of the Israeli Beatles, didn’t aspire to the beat glory though, having opted rather for a variety of styles from the “Sunshine Man” exquisite psychedelia and THE PLATTERS-like romanticism of “Talk To Me” to the Stax-shaped “Coming Home”.

Eclectic and confusing indeed, if one takes it too seriously, which would be a mistake, as “Straight People”, a stab at THE DOORS, suggests. Still, seriousness has to be involved here, with impressive rendition of Bach’s “Double Concerto” and “Chorale For The Young Lovers” recorded with The Israeli Philarmonic Orchestra at the same time when DEEP PURPLE did the similar thing. The two bands, incidentally, toured together – when THE CHURCHILL’S evolved into JERICHO JONES, whose highly sought-after album is included in this package as well. The progress towards heaviness started already on their 1969’s debut album, “The Churchill’s”, with sharp “Comics”, but there’s also been a strong folk influence in Middle Eastern-colored “Debka” and “Subsequent Finale”, to not accuse them of blindly following the trends, especially after entering the ’70s with a not too inventive version of ZEPPELIN’s “Living Loving”. This – and said eclecticism – aside, the band were great, their songs easily on par with those that made it to the top, while THE CHURCHILL’s didn’t. Still massively revered, now they must be up there too.


The Best Of
EMI 2003
With David Coverdale riding the serpent again, a glance back seemed unevitable.

You may think of this compilation either as of a cash-in on the band’s revival or as a precursor to the long-overdue re-issue programme. Let’s hope it’s the latter, but even if it’s the former this is a great introduction to the beast of a group that so effectively linked ’70s hard rock to the poodle metal ’80s and went aflame when its bluesy heart started cracking, to do the Phoenix now. David Coverdale has always been looking for a best way to put out the blues’ sexual charge – it’s no secret what his ensemble’s name means – therefore those forays onto the pastures old bringing a bitter fruit sometime. So here’s a chance to forget the slick “Fool For Your Loving”, recorded in 1989 with Steve Vai alongside AOR new classic “The Deeper The Love”, and cherish the 1980’s original, a prize moment of the finest line-up.

For many, once David remained the only of the three ex-DEEP PURPLE members – more than in any of the off-shoot bands – who set the formula “passion + excellence”, the magic was gone, so-called “1987” album being a hype. While some will argue, the truth lies somewhere in between, as three-part vocal harmonies from Coverdale and guitarists Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden were indeed lost on the run to the commercial top. Whatever cool “Is This Love” might be, it’s quite emotionless if compared to pre-mutation “Standing In The Shadow”, let alone horny-hot early stuff like “Ready An’ Willing”, yet cosmic “Still Of The Night” breathed the equal fire sharing its hidden bluesiness with “Give Me All Your Love”. A pity, then, the “Starkers In Tokyo” unplugged effort isn’t represented here – there’s no live cuts at all – as it highlighted the same restless heart that the re-shaped “Here I Go Again” covered in fat, robbing this “Best Of” of the “Saints An’ Sinners” version’s solemnity. Yet wasn’t all the circling a way forward?

Coming back to his roots to find the strength to move on has always been Coverdale’s forte, but though the innocence of “Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City” or “Love Ain’t No Stranger” romanticism would never be reproduced, ‘SNAKE will be vital and won’t date – if only for the real feelings the band used to give and to feed off. And though “Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues” here ain’t, they still do the walk.


The Essential
Columbia 2003
You couldn’t ask for more with this collection – only for Joe to still be here.

This release should have marked the band’s induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and, therefore, be a celebration. It feels bitter-sweet though, as the inimitable Joe Strummer, the voice and the face of the British foursome, passed away in December 2002. Great loss, indeed, yet Joe would be the first to reject the mourning in favor of rejoicing, and this peculiar way of rebellion pervades all the 41 tracks on display, both anthems and more obscure cuts, like “1977”. A telling title, linking THE CLASH with THE STOOGES and firmly anchoring them with the times they lived in. The time and the place, hence “London Burning” and “London Calling”, “This Is England” (the only song here from “Cut The Crap”, while other albums are represented very well) and “English Civil War” – and Junior Marvin’s “Police And Thieves” too, which brought Kingston street-fighting over to Britain. Fervent “White Riot” sums it up in a graceful way as a cleansing fire that punk pretended to be.

But were THE CLASH the punks? In attitude, sure, but musically even Paul Simonon’s bass playing progressed immensely, squeezed between the “human drum machine” Topper Headon’s bashing and incendiary rockabilly guitar of Mick Jones’. First addition was reggae, then the band’s cooking moved on from the kebab shops to something piquant if still pungent, from “I’m So Bored With The U.S.A.” and “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” self-criticism – “turning rebellion into money”, anyone? – to “Jimmy Jazz” impressive swing or “Groovy Times” exquisite garment. Such a variety helped the quartet who unleashed their debut before “Never Mind The Bollocks” last longer than the whole punk thing, and such a tunefulness was pretty much anti-punk. As well as dance rhythms of “Ivan Meets G.I. Joe” or “This Is Radio Clash” funky rapping. They were real revolutionaries – sadly, there won’t be rocking the Casbah anymore.


Time To Think
Zephyrwood Music 2003
Four albums down the line, the ambient jazz purveor pauses for a breath.

It’s teasing to guess which route Earnest Woodall’s music will take now, when all his records make a wonderful shadows-and-light cycle so whole this compilation has a life of its own. Life is a key word here, as mostly there are synthesizers but perfectly operated to take a listener on a moody journey. It’s spectral both ways, colorful and ghostly, “Peculiar Attributes” from “Unusual Characteristics” building from diffuse spattering to the solemn organ cloth and sharing its court dance shape with “128 Details From A Picture” off "Pictures In Mind". That’s about as jolly as it gets, and sometimes a certain nervousness comes through, as in “Crossed Fingers” (that’s an album called “13”), yet with all the pieces’ chamber beauty and light sophistication you can hardly find a better soundtrack when set to pondering and wondering.


The Very Best Of
Silvertone 2002
Time to stop and smell the roses and get stoned.

As it happens ever so often with a great band, a legend slowly overshadows the music, and only an event of sorts can penetrate a common wisdom to get to the visceral – and the visceral has always been a significant element of the Mancunians’ songs, while this compilation can be thought of as event. It punches one right in the stomach with a desperate plea of “I Wanna Be Adored” an insistent beat of which kickstarts this collection thrown together by all four members (quite a collaboration!) and remastered by John Leckie, who produced their debut masterpiece. Now, a glance over the shoulder reveals that these infectious melodies and thoughful arrangements drew a bridge from synthetic post-new wave ’80s to the driven ’90s when Britpop brought back the ’60s spirit for a little while, THE ROSES’ “I Am The Resurrection” sounding very prophetic.

It’s their sentiment kept the flame alive, especially with John Squire’s guitar that, wrapped in cosmic effects from Mani and Reni, could rock exuberantly, like in “Love Spreads” and then grow orchestral, as in “Ten Storey Love Song”, to complement Ian Brown’s mostly soft vocals. For them, still, it wasn’t a matter of revolution, and a dub of “Fools Gold” and “Beggin You” is just a signal of how firmly the band held onto the Manchester’s club culture. So it’s been an evolution, all the way through, and why they became a missing link is a question this collection doesn’t give an answer to. Which is right: to hell with those laurels, music is what THE ROSES ooze out.


The Essential
George Gershwin
Sony 2003
Wide timeless music panorama from under one pen, featuring G himself.

There’s an equation in G: Gershwin was Genius, and couldn’t be other in that not only did he write fantastic melodies but also brought together classical and popular music, getting established in both realms. No need then, to go further than the opening cut of this collection, “Prelude No. 2 For Piano”, to witness how what ostensibly springing from symphonic sequences can have an immense swing to it. Recorded by George himself in 1928, it’s not the earliest piece on the display; spreaded over two discs are tracks spanning almost a whole century which this music helped define.

Diversity of performers sheds a special light on the music’s richness, veering off the obvious – and really, what is the obvious choice for these tunes, always open for interpretation? It can be very light like Buck & Bubbles’ take on playful “Oh Lady, Be Good”, heavily emotional as Billie Holiday’s “Summertime”, or solemn like Buffalo Philarmonic’s rendition of “Of Thee I Sing Overture”, to get to everyone, but Gershwin’s influence goes much deeper, beyond operetta or jazz. One can easily align a famous Ritchie Blackmore’s riff to Morton Gould’s graceful piano line of “Fascinating Rhythm”, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Starlight Express” to “Bess, You Is My Woman Now” delivered here by Robert McFerrin, Bobby’s father, and Adele Addison. So if that’s obvious, why not proclaim George the first crossover composer? This package does.

Compare it all on different levels – set Benny Goodman’s clartinet on “Liza”, one of handful previously unreleased songs thrown in for a good measure, against Miles Davis’ trumpet on “I Loves You Porgy” within jazz realms, or purely operatic “Love Walked In” from Maureen McGovern to Fred Astaire’s groovy “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”, add cool crooners, Tony Bennett for “They All Laughed” and Frank Sinatra for “Someone To Watch Over Me”, plus hot dames Aretha for “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and Ella for “I’ve Got A Crush On You” – and there’s an amazing spectrum of heartfelt wonder entwined into the very fibres of time. Not always happy it might be, yet G knew that when he was hiding into “Rhapsody In Blue” – hear the masterstroke.


Greatest Hits 1970-2002
Universal 2002
And you can tell everybody one of those is your song.

Elton John – or Sir Elton, if you prefer to address Reginald Kenneth Dwight so – is a musical phenomenon, that’s why this collection is bound to be successful, although there’s no rare or previously unreleased tracks on the two CDs. There’s no obvious reason for summing the artist’s accomplishments either. Anyway, some ten years on since the triple shot of “The Best Of Elton John”, the musician not only had been granted knighthood and some hair to his head but also brought forth new excellent songs.

Those new pieces are logically shifted towards the end of the chronologically-ordered compilation bar the piano finale “Song For Guy”, written back in 1978 and now dedicated to the recently diseased Gus Dugeon who produced Elton’s best works. A wise placing demonstrates how close John came to his classic writing style as of lately, and a wonderful bluesy ballad “This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore” could have fit in any of the records that made the singer a star in the first place. More so, as he renewed this important creative partnership with a lyricist Bernie Taupin which is the “Greatest Hits” axis. Yet sure, it couldn’t do without “Circle Of Life” or “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”, Elton’s collaborations with Tim Rice for Disney’s “The Lion King” and a duet with LeAnn Rimes for “Aida”.

There are many duets under Elton John’s belt, and if “Don’t Let The Sun Going Down On Me” is here in its original version, not the one with vocal duties shared with George Michael, it’s due to lack of space, because omitting, say, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, a funny duet with Kiki Dee where Elton tried out his disco suit, would be a crime. Suffice is that “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” didn’t do it to the collection – but it’s a celebration of Elton, not another John, Lennon, no matter how vital their common work proved for the latter.

As for the suits, Elton’s unrivalled here, and all those outfits had nothing to do with the artist’s sexual preferences. The extravaganza’s peak was the mid-’70s, exactly when “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” came to life to tell the story of John’s marriage which was not to be thanks to Long John Baldry who knew his apprentice better than Elton himself. Reg Dwight started off in Baldry’s BLUESOLOGY, the other band member being Rod Stewart, one of many singers to cover the piano man’s pieces later revealing their real depth – like Joe Cocker who took “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”, desperate in the author’s version, to the same dramatic edge that matured Elton himself hit in the early ’90s with monumental love hymn, “Believe”.

All the glasses, clown boots, feathers – no matter how he was dressed, the only John’s link with glam was his ability to make infectious rock ‘n’ roll numbers like “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting” and “Crocodile Rock” glitter. The latter appeared augmented with a good dose of calypso displaying the singer’s feel to this kind of music, and as reggae was just flooding the UK in 1973 he came up with a parody, “Jamaica Jerk-Off”, absent from this compilation. Still, the album it was on, stupendous “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, spawned perhaps the best-known Elton’s song, “Candle In The Wind”, originally a tribute to Marilyn Monroe and to Princess Diana in 1997.

So no matter how he’s dressed, it’s always the music that matters, fantastic in its simplicity and invariably close to the heart of everyone who cared to listen to the tunes and lyrics. It’s this magic that made Taupin and John, each one a loser in the beginning, the masters of such a class. The main face of the multifaceted artist, still, was the one he shouldn’t have created at all – an image of a bespectacled fat guy, quite a anti-star as one imagines. But he managed to be open to any escapade, so none of his garish clothes, no fooling-aroundness, no drug addiction got in the way of Elton remaining an amazing piano player and singer, even though his ’80s output felt less appealing to the previous decade’s music.

John seemed to feel that decline yet, never shy to admit his own weakness, he’s always been finding new strengths in this admission and convincing the public – and himself – there’s no reason to fall whatever awry it may go. That’s why the less melodic ’80s became for Elton the most human years, from proud and ironic “I’m Still Standing” to the vulnerability-showing “Sacrifice” with their irresistible honesty. Only a true artist can deliver his sentiment to his audience, so Elton John, together with THE BEATLES, appeared able to reveal to everyone what an ordinary people the stars are. Ordinary – yet extraordinarily determined: no wonder the singer broke through in 1972 having released no less than four full-blooded LPs the year before. Still, he’s hardly proud of it, as it’s only a work.

What he considers worthy to be proud of is his provenance, and no one can reproach Elton for too much pride put in “Made In England”, as it’s about him as well. Him who brought his music across the Atlantic and back, with love to the American music much more clear not in 1975’s “Rock Of The Westies” or “Songs From The West Coast” recorded twenty years later, represented on “Greatest Hits” by playful “Island Girl” and passionate “I Want Love” respectively, but in early works – with only airy “Your Song” and “Tiny Dancer” to fight their way herein. That pastoral atmosphere, best embodied in “Country Comfort”, which missed the charts, grew little by little in an urban neon of “Honky Cat” – and John’s star went ablaze.

When, in “Rocket Man”, he sang “it’s gonna be a long long time”, there hardly was anyone to think that star would burn as bright thirty years on. Yet Captain Fantastic, he knew.


The Yes Piano Variations
Legend Records 2002
Sancta simplicita – the keyboard wizard goes down to celestial heights.

In and out of YES for many times, Rick Wakeman loves the band’s music dearly and rarely misses a chance to go back to the classic – and not so classic tunes – and give them another slant. More often than not the veteran sticks to an instrumental version but never as elegant when taking to a piano, the most sensitive of all the keyboards and the most able to amble where all the voices and guitars are turned into one of the ivory-tinkling threads. Here, the simpliest example of such a technique comes with wrongly-credited “The Meeting” off “Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe” album: without drastically adorning his original piano line, Rick supplants vocal part to retain the song’s sublime message.

Real variations spring out of epic titles, like “Your Move” which Wakeman feels free to extemporise on, not having played on the studio cut, and “Close To The Edge” that not only veers from the main melody but also doesn’t immediately get to it at all. Even more jazzy is scherzo-shaped “Long Distance Runaround” but, enveloped in vibrato, “Awaken” sounds grandiose, almost baroque yet rather light, and this lightness reigns in never as forceful “Heart Of The Sunrise” showcasing Rick’s dynamic touch. Simple and sophisticated at the same time, it makes these pieces, culled from two “Two Sides Of Yes” albums, very special.


N-M-C Music 2002

Originally issued as
“Wolves And Leopards”

A gentle soul outta harsh heart of roots reggae sharing his love with the world.

A child prodigy, Dennis Brown was too young to take to the core of Jamaican rebellious sound, and even music wasn’t an act for insurrection for a son and brother of performers. With others spilling an anger about “them belly full,” Brown in his “hooligan scorn” only asked “Whip Them Jah Jah,” all those “Wolves And Leopards” which lent this title to the opening tune and, originally, the whole album. The indiscernible phonetic shift between “leopards” and “lepers” is, perhaps, a key to understanding his message, but in the late ’70s the singer was preaching about love divine, wrapping his voice in mellifluous dub like that of “Emmannuel” – the name meaning “God’s with us” comes as another key, yet “Let Love In” and “Lately Girl” holds the subject more down-to-earth. With Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespear and other names at hand, Brown may never distanced himself from roots reggae, while easily crossing over to light soul and dancefloor-friendly disco. Though the artist bade farewell in 1999, his legacy of around 100 albums, particularly this 1978’s outing with a smattering of rare bonus tracks, is a good witness of rare talent.


NIRVANA – Nirvana
Geffen 2002
Legal complications eventually resolved, the definitive compilation shapes up with a previously unreleased cut to boot.

The victims in a battle between Kurt Cobain’s widow and his former bandmates were the fans. Finally, there’s a collection mapping the trio’s short way in chronological order, and if the opener “You Know You’re Right,” only heard on-stage before, had been recorded just months before the singer’s suicide, there’s a certain logic: everyone will start with it anyway and, more, its chorus’ sustain of the word “pain” and a line, “Things have never been so swell / And I have never been so well,” clicking with claustrophobia of closing “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” Cobain just couldn’t choose another Leadbelly’s blues, “House Of A Rising Sun,” because there’s a hope in it, while listening to Kurt’s pieces hardly finds a slight ray of light even in still-fresh “About A Girl.” All this goes to show the leader of the pack as one who got away yet never got over his teenage frustration, hence the anguish of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” desperate challenge of “Rape Me” and that dirty guitar stumbling over well-oiled joint of Dave Grohl’s drums and Krist Novoselic’s bass. Vulnerability laid bare for the MTV Unplugged performance and a little left to do after, the music had never fully grown up – but, with a bitter irony in a band’s name, wasn’t it meant to always remain such?


CARAVAN – Cool Water
Classic Rock Productions 2002
Canterbury dreamweavers go experimental, a paradox resulting in a good pop record.

A sort of an unborn child, this artefact was recorded in 1977 to surface only 17 years later. Actually, there’s an album and a half, as the first seven songs the CARAVAN leader Pye Hastings had cut with Richards Sinclair on bass, Richard Coughlan on drums and Jan Schelhaas on keyboards, and laid down the latter four with members of Gordon Giltrap’s band. A reason for it to languish for so long? The music’s simply isn’t what took the band to the forefront of the Canterbury scene in the early ’70s, and only “Tuesday Is Rock And Roll Nite” has the folk tune mutating into smooth boogie with synth solo replacing a fiddle dance. And spare for an odd soft waltz like that of a title track, a solid dance collection it is, with cuts one hardly associates with Hastings’ name, like easy rolling “Just The Way You Are” or funky “Cold Fright” which develops into jazzy groove more in the band’s spirit. There’s more of this vibe in the songs recorded with Giltrap’s ensemble, “To The Land Of My Fathers” being among Hastings’ best songs but, as he sings here, “You Won’t Get Me Up In One Of Those.” Either for completists only or folks not familiar with CARAVAN at all.


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