Scintillating Rhapsodies – Denis Cohn

THE FIRST SONGSLaura Nyro – CBS 64991

Laura Nyro is raw experience filtered through the swinging prism of sophisticated New York funk. The First Songs, briefly available some years ago, are chronologically first in her relatively small output (5 albums in 7 years). Stylistically, this is perhaps the lushest music she has recorded, and contains three of her most stunning songs – Wedding Bell Blues, Stoney End, And When I Die (all heavily covered by other performers).

Her output of songs is small, but each song is perilously near a classic, and I feel the intensity generated by her records is one of the reasons she has never been taken to the heart of the British public. This isn’t hip muzak, but chamber music pop and demands the sort of total attention and concentration that few people can afford to give.

There’s also a strong element of disturbing truth in most of the songs. Analysis without the analyst. But make no mistake – she swings. The music itself, although based on simple melodic chords, is overlayed by multi-track dubs, and often produces the ‘wall of sound’ often associated with Phil Spector. But in 1966 wasn’t everyone influenced by him?

Laura Nyro is an enigma. Her name often appears in all the right publications, but her private life (except the clues she provides in her lyrics) is her own. No sleeve-notes – just the lyrics, but it’s possible to guess a lot from them.

And the voice. She knows every trick in the book – the squeals, the excitement, the dark, deep soul notes, and the way to skate across a melody lighter, more delicately than anyone I know. Nyro songs often make the charts, but Nyro LP’s don’t. That’s such shame, put it to rights.

Scintillating Rhapsodies – Denis Lemon

GARDEN PARTYRick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band – MCA MDKS 8009

If you fondly remember the string of fine pop songs Rick Nelson put into the charts a few years back, you owe it to yourself, and him, to take a listen to his new album, Garden Party. Even if Rick’s initial successes were slightly before your time, still have a listen, you won’t be disappointed.

Not that I wish to compare Rick’s recent work with his earlier career, that would be unfair and unkind. He has changed quite a lot since the days of Hello Marylou and Never Be Anybody Else But You, and all for the better, but still retaining the charm and sensitivity of those past recordings.

Today Rick Nelson is experimenting with many different styles and the lyrics of his songs are far more mature than they used to be. Also, he is lucky to have such a remarkable backing group, the very talented Stone Canyon Band.

The title track of the album, Garden Party, has recently given Rick his biggest hit single in a long while, justifiably so, as it is an exceptionally good song, with a fine melody and lyrics that rise above the usual banality of hit parade material. The rest of the cuts on the record, although varying in the areas of music they derive their inspiration from, nearly all equal the stature of the previously mentioned song.

Garden Party could well be the album that reestablishes Rick Nelson’s popularity, and secures his prospects for a long rewarding career. If he keeps on producing well balanced offerings like this, I can’t see how fate can treat him otherwise. Incidentally, take a look at the cover photograph. Rick must be one of the most glamourous 32½-year-olds around.

CREEDENCE GOLDCreedence Clearwater Revival — Fantasy FT 501

Fantasy Records seem to be changing distributors frequently in this country as of late. They have now settled with EMI and the first album released by them is Creedence Gold, a sort of Greatest Hits collection, but not quite. The eight tracks on the record are a mixture of hit singles and album tracks. They are described on the cover as being all from the group’s records that have grossed ‘sales of $1 million and each has sold over a million units, an unprecedented achievement’. Right on chaps, shame the band has broken up though.

Creedence Clearwater Revival’s music needs no introduction, the way they have dominated the singles and albums charts since 1968 says it all. Creedence Gold contains such tracks as Proud Mary, Bad Moon Rising and the extended version of I Heard It Through The Grapevine. Judging from the selection included it looks as if Creedence Gold will be the first in a series of similar volumes.

A good collection to replace battered and worn out singles, but if you have any of their previous albums you’re liable to find that you are duplicating cuts you already have.

HOT LICKS, COLD STEEL & TRUCKERS FAVOURITESCommander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen – Paramount SPFL 281

Even though Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favourites is the second album of Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen to be released in this country, the Commander and his band are probably new to most of you. Their first album, Lost In The Ozone, was less than successful, as often happens with a group’s first record and subsequently received little attention, even from those heavily into new developments in American rock music. But Hot Licks etc is an altogether far more exciting and enjoyable record.

In California, Commander Cody and his LPA are something of a legend. They have been playing small clubs and bars for many years, building up a strong repuation, although they never found time or thought it necessary to record until last year. Their music is an amalgamation of ‘redneck’ country and western rock ’n’ roll, with a little bit of soul thrown in for good measure. And throughout the twelve tracks, including songs with titles such as Truck Stop Rock, Mama Hated Diesels and It Should’ve Been Me, the band display a sly sense of humour, that sometimes is near to parodying the types of music they are playing. Also on the album are versions of rock classics like Rip It Up and Tutti Frutti, which showcase the other side of their musical roots.

As the song titles suggest, the theme of most of their material is the world of American long distance truck drivers, and the folklore that has built up around them. These men cover vast distances in their enormous ‘rigs’ and they seem to have taken the place of horse riding cowboys in the hearts of many Americans. But as I said before, Commander Cody instils a sense of humour into the way he relates their exploits and mythology.

The combining of styles on Hot Licks etc results in some very fine music that is also a lot of fun to listen to.

CAN’T BUY A THRILLSteely Dan — Probe SPB 1062

With the record companies swamping the market with a never ending torrent of ‘product’, it’s so easy for some of the better albums to get lost and unnoticed in the vast tide of new releases. Add to this the fact that only a percentage of them ever get anywhere hear the amount of promotion the need/deserve and you’ll soon realise how crazy the whole situation is.

Being responsible for the popular music selection of this paper, I get sent a fair number of review copies of albums, a proportion of which are so bad or boringly mediocre that they spend only a very short time on my turntable. I try to be as impartial about my assessments as possible, but sometimes I make hasty judgements and dismiss an album because it doesn’t immediately turn me on. And sometimes I make a mistake and nearly miss out on hearing something very special.

Such an album is Can’t Buy A Thrill, the first release by an American group called Steely Dan.

My first impression of their music was ‘it’s OK’ but nothing really struck me as being particularly different or original. But over the last two weeks I’ve found that instead of it gathering dust on my ‘rejected’ pile, it’s been finding its way back to my stereo more and more frequently. Until it is my choice in between every other record I play.

I won’t go into a detailed description of Steely Dan’s sound, it’s enough to say that it is a combination of all the good things that have happened in pop/rock music in recent years, as well as having the collective originality of the six musicians who comprise the group.

The first track on side one, Do It Again, as a single has just zoomed into the American top ten, so there is a possibility that it will receive adequate airplays in this country. But don’t count on it.

Get out and hear the album for yourselves and maybe you, like me, will find that you have discovered one of the most exciting new rock bands around. The colourful cover has a rather amazing photograph of a line of ‘street ladies’ incorporated into its design, making it difficult to miss at your local record shop.


The latest addition to outrageous rock are an American group known as Silverhead. They are a sort of son/daughter of Alice Cooper, with a passing resemblance to Grand Funk Railroad, and a little touch of the David Bowies’ here and there.

Whilst not wishing to be too unkind, their first album is a pretentiously irritating mess. It rambles on for nearly forty-three minutes, and the only way you can be sure a song has finished and is not the same number all the way through, is because of the few seconds silence in between tracks. Musically they produce nothing that one has not heard a hundred times before, and the vocals of Michael Des Barres become tedious after the first couple of songs.

The only interesting and exceptional things about Silverhead’s album are the photographs on the double cover, especially those on the inner sleeve. All the group appear to be into make-up and super-camp in a big way, which makes me think that I may possibly form another opinion about them if I had the opportunity to see a live performance of theirs. Until such time my thoughts on Silverhead are more or less completely negative. Substitute the word atrocious instead of outrageous in the first sentence of this review.

BARNSTORMJoe Walsh – Probe SPBA 6268

Barnstorm is the first solo outing of Joe Walsh since he split from the James Gang, the group he was the founder member of. Whilst with them, his lead guitar work was very much responsible for the success they enjoyed, but Walsh was seemingly unsatisfied with the direction the James Gang was taking.

I found the James Gang’s first album to be the most pleasing, and Barnstorm seems to be an extension of that earlier work. That’s not to say the overall sound is familiar, just that Walsh’s guitar carries on from where it previously left off.

Walsh’s impressive guitar playing is very much postpsychedelic in its origins, and his distinctive style sets him apart from the many other guitarists who have emerged since the ‘acid rock’ peaks reached in 1967.

On this album he demonstrates the way he can produce both a soaring and expansive sound on his instrument, as well as showing professional control during the record’s quieter moments. Despite the excellent production of Bill Szymczyk (I dare you to pronounce his surname), my only reservations about the record are that the sound becomes a little cluttered at times, but these excesses should disappear in subsequent releases.

Barnstorm is very much music for 1973, from a musician whose playing is never less than stimulating.


Alex Harvey is yet another singer/songwriter, this time emerging from the South of America. His initial push came after other artists had achieved considerable success through recording his songs, the most notable being Reuben James and Tell It All Brothers.

We now have the chance of hearing Alex Harvey in person with the release of his first album, and I’m happy to say that it is well worth hearing. Harvey’s voice, which at times reminds me of a restrained Joe Cocker, is not particularly strong, but he delivers the vocals to the best of his ability.

It is the songs though that hold one’s attention, not his voice. Of the ten compositions included, nine are written by Harvey, and all display a considerable depth of feeling and a straightforward awareness of life. A few of the songs are strongly religious, and on these, Harvey incorporates a gospel sound.

Producing credits go to Kenny Rogers and Michael Sunday, and they are to be congratulated for the results they get, as are the musicians who accompany Harvey. The arrangements too are exactly in keeping with the rest of the production.

A fine example of the worth of the album is the opening track, To Make My Life Beautiful. Listen to the sound created between and underlying the song’s verses. Bet you’ve never heard anything quite like it before.


Asylum records, in the short time it has been in existence, has produced some of the best contemporary sounds currently available. The Eagles and Jo Jo Gunne received considerable acclaim last year, and the first album of the young singer/songwriter Jackson Browne was one of the best initial releases I’ve heard.

The second album of Batdorf & Rodney is on Asylum, and it is a great improvement on their first, released on another label. Their earlier effort suffered from a general lack of direction and control, faults that don’t appear on this recording. The mellow, joyful and beautifully delivered vocals of Mark Rodney combine well with the meaningful but never pretentious, lyrics of John Batdorf. The duo’s acoustic and electric guitar playing is at times stunning and throughout provides the perfect rhythmic accompaniment, expanding and illustrating the moods created by the songs stories and personal statements.

Of the nine compositions, including By Today, All I Need and Under Five are the most impressive, the rest being extremely listenable, but never quite reaching the heights achieved by those mentioned. The album as a complete entity though is a most invigorating experience, with Batdorf’s songwriting talents impressing from the first track to the last.

Scintillating Rhapsodies – David Seligman


A brand new album from America’s grande dame of the musical theatre, Ethel Merman, who is my personal favourite, glittery, chintzy, aged, cult singer. She’s got an immensely powerful voice that bangs and bounds the lyrics straight into the adrenalin, making one want to dance joyfully around the room

Recorded in London last summer, it includes such classics as You’re The Top (Cole Porter), I Got Rhythm (the Gershwins), There’s No Business Like Show Business (Irving Berlin), Everything’s Coming Up Roses and Alexander’s Rag Time Band (Irving Berlin). Accompaniment is by Stanley Black, and the London Festival Orchestra and chorus.

Amazingly, Ethel Merman’s name has been up in lights on Broadway, as the star of almost every show these songs come from, spanning a period of almost fifty years. I was lucky enough to see her on Canadian TV last year, on the occasion of the live broadcast of the Tony Awards from New York. As she energetically sailed through a dozen songs or more, before receiving a special award for her invaluable contribution to the Broadway stage, I saw the emergence of a rather special lady, who believed and had experienced every sentiment in her songs, and that comes across very forcibly on this really enjoyable album.