Merry Melodies

THE DEVINE MISS MBette Midler – Atlantic K40453

In 1972 it was undoubtedly David Bowie who came in first as far as the superstar stakes were concerned. Quite justifiably too. But even before this year is a month old, it looks very much like a very talented lauy called Bette Midler is going to be the sensation of this year, If not for some time to come.

Rumours have been crossing the Atlantic from the States for the past few months about Miss Midler, or the Devine Miss M, as she is better known nowadays. After having a part in the Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof, for three years, Miss Midler, originally from Hawaii, decided it was time to begin a solo career. Word soon got around about her after the success of her unusual singing debut at mens saunas in New York.

To quote her from a recent article in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, “The boys from the baths were the ones to give me the initial push … and they are still the foundation of my career.”

After a few television appearances, and a concert at Carnegie Hall, there was no looking back for Miss M.

Britain’s first taste of her is the recently released album The Devine Miss M. And it’s really pleasing to find that all the rumours were true.

She does at times sound a little like Ethel Merman, Judy Garland, Laura Nyro, Janis Joplin and Barbra Streisand. In fact Miss Streisand should watch out, she has some competition now. But it’s Bette Midler’s own talent that makes her so remarkable.

The opening track of the album is Bobby Freeman’s pop classic Do You Wanna Dance. And what a performance she gives. Taken at a slightly slower pace than usual, she oozes a silken sensuality that is enough to make you purr. The next cut is a version of the Dixie Cup’s 60’s hit Chapel Of Love. With this song she puts the word camp on a completely new and exciting level. The other rock and roll track included is Leader Of The Pack, which doesn’t work quite as well, although it would probably come over better at a live performance.

The Carpenters’ hit Superstar is also on side one. The song is about adolescent misery, so Miss M becomes a teenager, full of pain and teen tears.

The outstanding track of the first side though Is Am I Blue, a smokey torch song from the 1930’s. On this she excells herself, capturing the essence of the song completely. It is clear by now that what is so amazing about Miss M is the immense range of material she uses, and everything her tonsils touch turns to gold.

On side two, she increases this wide range by including John Prine’s Hello In There, a song of middle-aged loneliness and heartache. And it isn’t just camp this time, Miss M really does become a sad, ageing Middle American, living in an empty, despairing world. Two tracks later she is into Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, sounding, through multi-tracking, like the Andrews Sisters of the 1940’s.

Bette Midler’s first album is an unqualified success. From beginning to end the professionalism she possesses and the impact of her innumerable styles spells STAR all the way through. Let’s hope it’s not too long before we have a chance of seeing Bette Midler in person, becoming what must be the first genuine cabaret superstar rock music has produced.

ME AND THE FIRST LADY – George Jones & Tammy Wynette – Epic 65347

On Me And The First Lady, one of the first ladies of American country and western music, Tammy Wynette, is joined by her husband George jones. And there’s no need for me to explain what the message of the record is. The album’s title and songs, like We Believe In Each Other, You And Me Together and A Perfect Match, make it all too obvious.

Each and every album Tammy releases is a must for my record collection, and this one is no exception. But I think I perhaps enjoy her recordings for the wrong reasons. The slightly whining love stories about ever so conventional relationships often have me shrieking with laughter. They really can be hilarious, despite the fact that in the southern states of America, her fans take Tammy’s lyrics very seriously. If any of you can remember the context in which her songs were used in the film Five Easy Pieces, you’ll know precisely what I’m getting at.

Subsequently I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Me And The First Lady to anyone with a liking for country music and a sense of humour.

CLEAR SPOT – Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band – Reprise K54007.

Of all the rock groups currently recording, Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band are possibly the most esoteric.

To underestimate the Captain, one could say his vocals and lyrics are bizarre, whilst the Magic Band have a most original style of playing, quite unlike anybody else.

I find this new album a lot easier than usual to come to terms with, although I’ve been nothing but amazed and delighted with the Captain’s music since I discovered his first album, Safe As Milk, way back in 1968.

This is one rock band I’ve never been able to turn anyone on to. You either accept the Captain and his band completely, or think anyone who does, even to the point of just listening to them is utterly insane and beyond all hope.

It’s all a matter of taste you see. To those who are unaware of the Captain’s charms, and are willing to take the risk of being initiated into the strange and weird world of Beefheart music, have a listen to the first track on side one, Low Yo Yo Stuff.

You’ll either be completely converted, or will avoid his recordings like the plague in future.

ALBUM III – Loudon Wainwright III – CBS 65238

As the title of this album suggests, this is the third recording to be released by Loudon Wainwright III. Like Captain Beefheart, Loudon’s songs and style are very much an acquired taste, although his new record is exceedingly more accessible than his previous two outings for Atlantic Records.

There is a direct honesty about his lyrics that is hard to ignore. It is up to the individual listener whether they find Loudon’s world as fascinating as I do.

Unlike the sparse backings of Loudon’s earlier albums, on many of the tracks included here, he is joined by a group called White Cloud, who do much to expand the overall sound. Perhaps the more rock orientated backings will help capture the attention of those who found his past work limited.

But in the end the attraction of Loudon Wainwright is his words, and if you can get into those you’ll join the growing number of people realising the amount of talent this man possesses.

VALERIE SIMPSONTamla Motown STML 11219
THELMA HOUSTONMowest MWS 7003

The first album releases from Tamla Motown this year are very excellent recordings by two extremely talented ladies. One is Valerie Simpson, the other is from Thelma Houston. Both are second album releases from the two ladies concerned, and it is interesting to note that both Valerie and Thelma had their initial recordings sadly neglected by the record buying public, despite rave reviews from rock critics and journalists.

Valerie Simpson, with her partner, Nickolas Ashford, started working for Tamla Motown just over five years ago as songwriters, following the success of their song Let’s Go Get Stoned when recorded by Ray Charles. During this period, Valerie and Nick have shown themselves to be one of the strongest songwriting/production teams working at Motown, with a string of hits, far too numerous to mention, to their credit.

In 1971, Valerie cut Exposed, her first album as a solo artist, and as I said before it received much critical acclaim, but created little or no reaction from the public. The release of this new record, simply titled Valerie Simpson, should replace the past neglect with justified praise and recognition of her and Nick’s combined talents.

One label that is being bandied about at present to describe Valerie is ‘the black Carole King’. There arc occasional similarities, but it is unjust to let this phrase mean much more than a reviewers dilemma to find an easy category to put this artist in. Valerie’s music stands up in its own right as being both original and attractively commercial, with depths of feeling that many other performers of contemporary soul could well do with.

As an introduction to Valerie’s album, have a listen to Fix It Alright which opens side one. You won’t be disappointed.

Thelma Houston’s first album was called Sunflower, and all but one of the songs were written by one of the most important songwriters around – Jim Webb. The other track was an amazingly soulful version of the Jagger/Richard composition Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Like Valerie Simpson’s Exposed album, Sunflower too was overlooked by most people. It has been re-released recently on the Probe label, and hopefully more people will listen to it now than they did before.

This new release of Thelma’s is her first for Mowest and is going to do a lot to get her the recognition she too rightly deserves. Included are fourteen songs which gives the listener ample opportunity to discover the full range of Thelma’s ability. Whilst each track has something to recommend it, the standout cuts are No One’s Gonna Be A Fool Forever, Nothing Left To Give, And I thought You Loved Me and I Ain’t That Easy To Lose. Also included is a very moving version of Me and Bobby McGee.

Thelma has a naturally funky voice that can be both powerful and tender, depending on the material she is singing. And like Valerie Simpson, Thelma Houston looks as if she will become one of the big names of 1973.

PAINTED HEAD – Tim Hardin – CBS 65209

Earlier in his career, Tim Hardin was responsible for some of the most beautiful and stimulating songs to come out of the late 1960s.

Since then Hardin has never repeated the peaks he reached with songs like Don’t Make Promises, Reason to Believe and If I Were A Carpenter. And sadly his new album Painted Head isn’t going to renew the mass popularity he once enjoyed.

To start with, none of the ten songs on the record have been written by Hardin. A bad mistake for he has always been at his best when singing his own material. The unexciting middle of the road arrangements don’t help matters much either, and the at times excessive use of electric instruments arc completely out of keeping with Hardin’s vocal delivery and the moods he tries to create. Also the delicate phrasing that made songs of his like Misty Roses and It’ll Never Happen Again so enchanting, is replaced by a slurred and often dreary style.

Painted Head is, I’m afraid, a totally disappointing album. Perhaps he’ll get it together for his next release.

LOGGINS AND MESSINACBA 65194

In the States Ken Loggins and Jim Messina’s second album is high in the charts. And a single taken from it, Your Mamma Don’t Dance is one of the top selling singles. Judging from the amount of air-plays this song is receiving on Radio 1 and 2, it looks as if it’s going to repeat its success over here.

That song, I must admit, is particularly attractive, and is a welcome replacement for some of the shoddy, uninspired records currently highly placed in our hit parade. But the rest of the album, whilst recognising their sheer professionalism and Messina’s excellence as a record producer, leaves me somewhat unsatisfied.

Technique and style are not, for me, enough to keep my interest for more than a few tracks. After a while I start to listen for something new and original. And I don’t find it on this album. The position of Your Mama Don’t Dance in the charts will no doubt be the deciding factor as to whether the album is commercially successful. I just wish the rest of the material was of that standard.

AN ANTHOLOGY – Duane Allman — Capricorn K67502.

An Anthology, a double album set, featuring the guitar work of the late Duane Allman is a fitting memorial to one of the very best rock guitarists to emerge in recent years. Motorbike riding Duane died in October 1971, from the injuries he received when he swerved to avoid a lorry. It was a great loss, for he was just beginning to realise his own potential. Also, at the time of his death, his group, the Allman Brothers Band, were being recognised everywhere as outstanding musicians, the success of the groups albums clarifying their rise to fame.

Previously, he had spent many years as a session musician, Duane being one of the few white blues guitarists who could hold his own in the company of black musicians. He also played with Eric Clapton’s Derek and The Dominoes group. His slide guitar playing with them met with much acclaim.

The first three sides of An Anthology are taken up with tracing Duane’s career up until the time of the Allman Brothers Band. Side one opens up with an example of his playing with an earlier group of his called Hourglass. There is also a track from the solo album he tried to make but later abandoned. But the most important material is his work with artists such as Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Boz Scaggs and Wilson Pickett. Duane’s guitar on Pickett’s version of Hey Jude was one of the turning points in his career, as was his opportunity to record with Clapton’s Derek and The Dominoes. His time with Clapton is represented by Layla, one of the greatest rock recordings ever.

Side four of the anthology is a selection of tracks from the three albums by the Allman Brothers Band. Included is the group’s theme tune, Statesboro Blues. The side ends with a soft, sensitive cut, Little Martha, showing a side of Duane’s playing rarely heard.

Duane Allman’s untimely death was a terrible tragedy. It also robbed the world of one of rock music’s geniuses. At least we can remember his artistry, especially his slide guitar work, through records such as this and the other recordings he made during his short career.

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