For me one of the best albums to come out recently is Stir Don’t Shake by Southern Comfort. This group has released a number of albums since departing from Ian Matthews, for whom they were back-up band. These albums haven’t sold too well, but the group has gained a strong following through ‘live’ performances, and recently had a minor hit with a single.
Basically they are a country music band, but they have a healthy affection for rock ‘n’ roll and for recent trends in modern American country/rock. The appearance on the record of Jesse Winchester’s Yankee Lady is a sign of this. And they deliver a fine version of this song, written by a truly underrated ‘underground’ artist.
The first side is all their own material except for the Winchester number. Other stand out tracks on side one are the countrified I Need Help and the rather magical, string embraced Something Said. Side two is a varied assortment of past hits from various sources. The Beatles of yester-year in the form of If I Fell are remembered. This is one of the most pleasing tracks on the album, for it captures all that was so good about the ‘fab four’ at that time. There is also a light rock version of Fats Domino’s I’m Walkin’, as well as the inclusion of Neil Young’s Harvest.
But it is the closing track that completely converts you to Southern Comfort. Remember Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny, vintage…? That really shows an old rock ‘n’ roller’s age. Their treatment of it is beautiful and is an ideal choice to finish the album. EMI ought to release it as a single, could be a monster hit for them, just like Albatross was for Fleetwood Mac.
Really try and hear this album. It’s not too heavy, is generously nostalgic, and it makes you feel real good. Good rock ‘n’ roll forever.
SUMMER BREEZE – Seals & Crofts – Warner Bros K46173
In the last issue of GN I reviewed an album by England Dan & John Ford Coley. I found them a very relaxing, gentle duo. much the same as I find Seals & Crofts’ Summer Breeze. If anything it’s a superior album to Dan and Johns, partly because of their more apparent professionality and seemingly greater experience. The back-up players are also a much finer selection of musicians. Incidentally, John Ford Coley plays some piano on the record.
The sympathetic arrangements and general togetherness of everyone makes for a headily beautiful series of performances. The lyrics are concerned with love, life and the things that too quickly pass by. Summer Breeze, the title track, is a hymn praising the simple joys of nature and a season, forgetting for a while the more materialistic games of life.
The first cut on side one is Hummingbird, which apart from encouraging my parakeet to sing along, is a good opener, and sets the mood for the rest of the album. And the remaining songs also all have something to more than just recommend them.
The words occasionally touch on the religious beliefs of the duo, but this doesn’t come over in a heavy handed way They sound sincere and happy when they mention their personal influences and do not come across as super-salesmen Jesus freaks. It’s all very acceptable, with no pressures on the listener to be converted to their brand of religion. As it should be. A Dion song. Attraction Works Better Than Promotion, comes to mind when trying to describe how the spiritual side of Seals and Crofts strikes me.
This American duo have a minor reputation in this country. This new album should enhance it. James Seals and Dash Crofts Summer Breeze is a highly suitable recording to have around this winter. They make a good addition to an electric fire or central heating. Have a listen.
WAR HEROES – Jimi Hendrix – Track Deluxe 2302020
This record is the latest posthumous release by Jimi Hendrix to be brought out in this country, and of those so far released. War Heroes is the third to be issued by Polydor. In comparison to the last album of his put out by this company, Hendrix In The West, the material included is not quite as strong.
But that doesn’t mean to say that it is not another valuable collection of unheard Hendrix. Of the numbers included, Highway Chile is the only one that has appeared before. This alternative take is different enough from the original to make it worth hearing. The rest of the songs and instrumentals range from remarkable through to just interesting. A version of Duane Eddy’s Peter Gunn is begun but abandoned, and makes you wish that they hadn’t given up. The second side contains the best tracks. Midnight and Beginning feature some beautiful, mind-blowing guitar work, with the rest of the group providing the powerful, all out backing so much associated with the best of Hendrix’s recorded work and the excitement it still generates.
Whilst I dislike the cashing in on unused material and old takes by some record companies, I think that if the records are of this standard then it is important that they are made available. Jimi Hendrix is an irreplaceable artist, but at least we can still be amazed at the genius and magic of his talents on record.
BACK STABBERS – O’Jays – CBS 65257
The O’Jays are a new soul outfit who are at present riding high in the singles charts with their cut, Back Stabbers. It’s also the title track of their first album.
Their music is uptown soul, with a fair smattering of dynamics, which occasionally is a little reminiscent of Sly & The Family Stone. The opening number, When The World’s At Peace, is particularly close to the Sly sound. At times there are also similarities to the Chi-Lites. These are influences though, rather than rip-offs and for a first album they are surprisingly good. The originality portrayed makes me think they have even better things to offer on future releases.
Soul music has been for too long relegated to just singles. The O’Jays are yet another group to bring out an album that is a complete entity and not just two hit singles and a load of fillers.
A SONG FOR YOU – The Carpenters – A&M AMLS 63511
There are quite a few ‘middle of the road’ groups around, many of whom have met with considerable success (The New Seekers), but The Carpenters are most certainly on top of the pile.
The opening track, and possibly the most impressive on the album, is A Song For You. It is also used as a reprise at the end of the record. The Carpenter’s version of Leon Russell’s Superstar, on their last album, was one of the finest recordings of the song, if not the best, and the choice of using another Russell number was a wise one. Unfortunately for Russell, his voice doesn’t give the songs the depth and sincerity they need. Mind you, his rockers cannot be beaten. Bob Messenger’s sax solo on A Song For You complements the song well. Four of the other songs included are by Richard Carpenter, whose writing techniques consistently improve. His Goodbye To Love has given the group yet another hit single, for it is currently highly placed in the charts.
The production and arrangements are as usual faultless and of the three albums they have released, this is undoubtedly the most enjoyable. Karen Carpenter’s vocals are strong and passionate, but at no time become too syrupy or over-emotional..
The Carpenters have produced an extremely enjoyable album that is never clumsy or over-done. On the levels they work on, they always achieve what they set out to do.
EARTH MOTHER – Lesley Duncan – CBS 64807
Earth Mother is the second album of Lesley Duncan. The first, whilst much raved over in music circles, failed to impress the record buying public. This one has much more chance of being a success.
An obvious remark to make would be to say she is Britain’s Carole King or Joni Mitchell. But she could very easily be so. Her songs are about people and the complicated, often sad, lives they live. Nothing is forced though, you can take your time to absorb the stories and messages that Lesley Duncan sings about.
This lady is no ‘pie in the sky’ dreamer either. She knows about realities as her lyrics show, and throughout the record she displays a down-to-earth awareness of what’s going on around her. You just have to listen to Earth Mother to understand that – it’s dedicated to the ecology organisation Friends of the Earth.
The simple honesty of a line like “You caged the songbird but you can’t make it sing” from Fortieth Floor shows a darker side to a personal love affair and also makes a lot of sense in other contexts. One of my favourite tracks is By and Bye, which finishes the second side. It is a send-up of an old-time harmony group, but is ever such a friendly one.
The musicians that accompany Lesley are the cream of London session men. Chris Spedding is on guitar, Barry de Souza takes the credits for drums and percussion, and Andy Bown helps out on bass. The album is produced by Jimmy Horowitz, who is very aware of the right sound for an artist such as this.
Lesley Duncan deserves to be heard and recognised as an exceptional singer and a very gifted songwriter.
THE BEST OF BREAD – Bread – Elektra K42115
If you are into dreamy, romantic, soft rock music then this is an excellent collection of Bread’s best bakings
Included are their two biggest hits in this country, Make It With You and Baby I’m A Want You. Both songs still sound as good as they did when first released, and promise to become continued favourites for the end of parties and near to closing time at discotheques. These two numbers are both delicate and gentle love songs which would become painfully ‘gooey’ if handled in the wrong way, but Bread’s treatment turns them into moody, drifting, un-possessive reflections on love and desire.
A very pretty album that has a wide appeal to dreamers and romantics of all ages. And we’ve all got a soft, receptive side, haven’t we?
CATCH BULL AT FOUR — Cat Stevens — Island ILPS 9206
After bringing out three of the best singer/song-writer albums around, I find this new release a great disappointment.
The production and the arrangements are still inventive, their playing a
inventive, the playing and singing are as good as before, but somehow this time out the songs as a whole evade being anything more than mere background music. The obvious failure is the songs, or rather the words they are comprised of. They are either trite and pretentious, and are often very boring and uninspired.
I know that Catch Bull At Four is high in the record charts on both sides of the Atlantic, but Steven’s reputation is enough at present to understand why. If he is to maintain his position of popularity he must make better offerings than this.
Father and Son and Where Do The Children Play? are still as good as ever though, so I’ll play the earlier albums till Cat brings out something as excellent as those.
BRUCE RUFFIN – Rhino Records SRNO 8001
After recently beginning to acquire a liking for reggae music, I find Bruce Ruffin’s first album a rather mixed collection of failures and successes.
Mad About You, which reached the lower parts of the singles charts, is the opening cut, and is one of the best songs, even if it rather corny. Other tracks worth listening to are Save The People on side one, whilst Rain, We Can Make It and Colourless World on the reverse side are good. The rest are rather ordinary but quite painless.
This record is the first album to appear on EMI’s new reggae label. It is not an unpleasant attempt, but could have done with a little more thought and versatility.
WHO CAME FIRST — Peter Townshend — Track Deluxe 2408201
Peter Townshend, leader of the Who, claims that this is not his first solo offering. It is, in Townshend’s opinion, a mixture of unissued Who tracks and songs previously only available on a limited edition album dedicated to his late guru, Meher Baba.
Apparently the group and its leader are having a difficult time working out what they should do next. They are still one of the most exciting rock groups to see ‘live’, but on the recording front they still haven’t produced anything significant since Tommy, which is, if you remember, the rock opera.
Many of the tracks on this labum are reminiscent of earlier work, whilst the others seem a little more than fillers. I also find Townshend’s slightly ‘holier than thou’ attitudes a little pretentious, no matter what his good intensions are. Let’s See Action, also available as The Who’s latest single, is the most rewarding track.
Who fans will no doubt have heard this and already passed their own judgements by now, but there is very little to interest anyone else on this sadly disappointing record. Townshend is capable of better things.
HOME – CBS 64752
Home is CBS’s latest entry for the rock and roll bigtime. What immediately strikes you about them is the interplay between the two lead guitars, which they use to great effect throughout the album.
Basically they are still in with the minor league of English bands, of which there are plenty at present, but they show the promise of progressing, much as Wishbone Ash over the last two years, have worked hard at getting the acclaim they are beginning to achieve.
Back to the album. The opening track, Dreamer, is a good start. But they don’t keep to this high standard throughout the rest of the record. Often the bass is inaudible, although it is to the fore on Rise Up. The vocals tend to become monotonous and make most of the songs sound rather the same.
Fancy Lady, Hollywood Child is an exception to this though, in fact the words and singing far outshine the playing on this track.
Although at times intriguing, side two doesn’t work as well as the previous side. The songs are too weak to hold up to the extended treatments they receive. Things pick up on the last cut, Lady Of The Birds.
Home have faults but they still have a lot going for them. If in a year’s time, they haven’t vanished off the scene, they should be a band to be reckoned with.
By the way, there’s a nice friendly hand on the front cover photograph
I’ve left reviewing John Lennon’s (plus) new double album (priced at £2.90) till last as it is, for me, incredibly difficult to write about. His last two solo albums were a lot easier to come to terms with. This double set is quite definitely something you accept as a further extension of Lennon or you dismiss it (demand that it be removed from the turntable immediately). So please accept the sketchiness of this review as being my dilemma rather than failings of the records.
Personally I enjoy it and think it a valid contribution, but at times I must admit that I find it difficult to take. You see, it’s pretty ‘alternative’ to the previous albums. The first record is studio recorded. The structures of the songs are a lot simpler, the lyrics being very direct. Also very political. Included is Woman is The Nigger Of The World, which caused such a stir in the States when it was released as a single. Other tracks are Sunday Bloody Sunday and The Luck Of The Irish. The cliche ridden sentiments expressed in these two cuts are extremely militant, and I can imagine a lot of people being unable to take such a radical stand about the depressing situation in Northern Ireland.
The second record consists of tapes of two ‘live’ performances. One is from the Filmore East in 1971. and also features Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention. The other was recorded at London’s Lyceum in 1969. This record is called Live Jam LP and that’s exactly what it is.
On both records Yoko Ono is very much in evidence. Yoko’s performing talents are a very debatable point which is best not gone into here. If you’ve found the solo Lennon outings rewarding in the past, give this a listen, otherwise…