Son Of The Melody Maker

SYREETA – Mowest MWS 7001
CHAMELEON – Franki Valli & The Four Seasons – Mowest MWSA 5501

New from the Tamla Motown Corporation is Mowest Records. The label was set up to handle artists emerging from the West Coast of America. It has been in existence for a year in the States, and has now been launched in this country. Whilst occasionally finding fault with Motown, I cannot deny that they are responsible for some of the most entertaining and satisfying popular recorded music available today. And with that in mind, I expect to be well rewarded with much fine music from Mowest.

The initial album releases are an interesting pair. One is the first solo venture of Syreeta, who may be better known as Mrs Stevie Wonder. The other is another first, but with another meaning, for it is Franki Valli and The Four Season’s first release since joining the Motown Corporation’s stable of artists.

Knowing that most reviewers have found the Syreeta album the most significant of the two recordings, I would like to reverse that trend by saying that I find the Seasons the most noticeable and certainly the most pleasing.

Syreeta’s album, whilst being an adventurous outing, leaves me unsatisfied, and no matter how hard I try to listen to it, my attention has usually strayed to other matters before the end of a side.

I cannot deny though, that an enormous amount of work and thought has gone into the making of the album, including the intelligent use of synthesisers, as programmed by Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil (perhaps better known as Tonto’s Expanding Head Band). Most of the cuts were written by Syreeta and her husband, and despite the successful pairing of talents, as heard on Stevie’s latest album, this time it doesn’t seem to work. The inclusion of Lennon and McCartney’s She’s Leaving Home, for instance, leaves me sadly unimpressed. Keep on trying though, Syreeta, next time it may all work.

On the other hand, Franki Valli and The Four Seasons’ Chameleon offers nothing but delights. The Seasons and Mowest have completely recreated the group’s old sound, and the new maturity in the lyrics, music and production of Bob Gaudio especially takes the whole project up to a high-powered, inventive musical level. The tracks spotlighting the talents of Franki Valli work well and the other standout cuts are The Night and the orchestrally magnificent A New Beginning.

Whilst Syreeta’s album is a good try, that will appeal to some, it takes the Seasons to really impress and to be a good travelling companions down the many avenues of music.

SPACE ODDITY – David Bowie – RCA LSP 4813 (US import at UK price)
THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD – David Bowie – LSP 4816 (US import at UK price)

Space Oddity and The Man Who Sold The World, re-issued by RCA, are the two albums that David Bowie recorded for Mercury Records a few years ago.

They are being re-released obviously because of Bowie’s recent rapid rise to success and self-imposed ‘stardom’. But it’s not just a matter of a record company cashing in with past ‘product’, for both these important albums were sadly ignored by the fickle record-buying public when they were first available. The trouble being that Bowie’s work on these albums was well in advance of the tastes or comprehension of the average listener to rock music at that time. Now they have caught up, as they have demonstrated by making ‘darling’ David a superstar and by buying his Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust records in vast quantities.

Space Oddity, first issued in 1968, contains the amazing single from which the album derives its name. This cut was a chartbuster on both sides of the Atlantic, and time has done little to dim the brilliance of this song. Other tracks of note are Cygnet Committee, The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud and Memory Of A Free Festival.

1970 was the year that The Man Who Sold The World first appeared. This album contained no hit single with which to promote it, and with the frighteningly strange lyrics and the sheer, screaming ‘wall of sound’ that accompanied the words, it gave little for the average listener of the time to hang on to or to accept, because of the new levels of intensity the record was exploring. Recent concert appearances have shown that audiences are now ready to take such numbers as The Width Of The Circle, All The Madness and Saviour Machine. A difficult, brilliant recording this, but well worth the effort of coming to terms with.

These are two very important re-releases, maybe the world is ready for them now.

LIFEBOAT — The Sutherland Brothers — Island ILPS 9212

Lifeboat is the second album from The Sutherland Brothers, who originate from Scotland. Their first release received many good reviews and subsequent ‘live’ appearances by the Brothers and their backup musicians confirmed the growing interest they were attracting.

The Sutherlands retain much of their Scottish folk music roots, but have expanded their sound with electric guitars and contemporary, heavy folk/rock keyboard arrangements. Stevie Winwood plays piano and organ on a couple of tracks.

Lifeboat is a hard, funky offering, with UK musicians working a musical area usually left to American artists. The Sutherlands incidentally play the first half of the Peter Straker concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 1st December.

ELEPHANTS MEMORY – Apple Sapcor 22

Any release by Apple Records is worth hearing and the album release by Elephants Memory is no exception. The band play heavy, raucous 1972 rock and roll, that steams its way through both sides of this record.

The album is produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, with whom Elephants Memory have been working. They were heard to good effect on Lennon’s recently released Some Time In New York double set.

The energy and uncompromising vitality of this first release of theirs on Apple, shows why they are worthy of Lennon’s interest, as well as his support and help in getting their own material on to wax.

An album to play loud and to rock to, anyway ya wanna.

FUMBLE – Sovereign SVNA 7254

Fumble are a new group who try hard to recreate pop hits of the late fifties and early sixties. Their album includes such classics as Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Oh Carol, Teddy Bear, and Carole King’s first and only single of that period, It Might As Well Rain Until September. The Everly Brothers’ weepie Ebony Eyes is faithfully reproduced, and one of my pubescent passions, Bobby Vee, is remembered with Take Good Care Of My Baby.

Fumble capture the sound of the originals, but somewhere lose the fun and vitality that makes many of these songs perpetual favourites with rockers of all ages. Fortunately for me, I have copies of these songs by the artists who first recorded them and think I’ll stick to listening to those, leaving Fumble to turn on the generations who missed out on these numbers first time around. I hope that new converts to this golden period of rock and roll will treat Fumble only as an introduction and eventually get round to searching for the original versions.

Keep a look out for the album’s cover, it’s worth a nostalgic laugh.

RHYMES AND REASONS – Carole King – Ode 77016

Not much I can say about Carole King’s new album, Rhymes & Reasons, except that it’s as good, if not better, than her previous three albums. It certainly is up to the standard of Tapestry, which for me personally was her most outstanding venture until now.

With advance sales guaranteeing this record a chart-topper in this country as well as in America, it seems a little pointless to describe the songs.

They all speak for themselves, far better than any reviewer can do them justice. The lyrics seem more personally introverted than before, all touched slightly with an air of sadness, even the happy, light ones. Carole’s Keyboard playing is more to the front than before. It fits so perfectly with her singing, you sometimes wonder which is the instrument and which is the singer.

It would be difficult not to be delighted with this album. Romanticism, in the finest sense, is alive and well and living very near to Carole King.

CARAVANSERAI – Santana – CBS 65299

I quite liked Santana’s first two albums and found their third rather weak. Caravanserai is their fourth and latest offering, which I find over-long, often quite boring and the layers of rhythms that made their initial releases at times magical and exciting are insipid this time round when compared to previous outings.

Side one is reminiscent of the freaky experimenting of groups way back in 1966-7, and the blind alleys that many of those groups disappeared into then are now apparently leading Santana into the same wastelands of pretention. The second side is nearer to what they are usually noted for, but as I said before, it is barely a reflection of their past music. The vocals throughout make me wonder if they ever listen to themselves.

A very disappointing album. One is certainly entitled to expect more from a band of this stature.

FEEL GOOD — Ike and Tina Turner — United Artists UAS 29377

Despite the fact that for me Ike and Tina Turner’s greatest recorded moment was River Deep Mountain High*, thought by some to be the rock and roll cut of all time, I still get turned on, almost to raving point, by the frantic funk of Ike’s music and the roaring, sweating sexuality of Tina’s singing.

Any release of theirs means that the rocking dynamics of their sound are turned up full, and this album is no exception. Tina wails and screams out the passion and love in the lyrics, whilst Ike’s guitar and his band let loose with all that is wild and joyous in rock and roll.

Of the ten tracks on this release. Chopper, Feel Good, Kay Got Laid (Joe Got Paid), and She Came In Through The Bathroom Window are all outstanding, with Black Coffee taking the prize for setting up new highs in recorded excitement and deep, deep soul.

My only complaint is that the total playing time of the album is a mere 28 minutes and 16 seconds. Surely it wouldn’t have broken anyone to have included at least two more tracks on this release.

STEALERS WHEEL – A&M AMLS 68121

I’ve been playing this first album by Scottish group Stealers Wheel for just about a week now, and am finding that it becomes more rewarding with each new outing the record gets on my turntable.

The basis of the group’s music is the excellent bass of Tony Williams and the drumming of Rod Coombes, with guitars and keyboard completing the overall sound. The songs rock along, without becoming excessive, ably assisted by the tasty lead guitar flourishes of Paul Pilnick.

But it is the Stealers’ singing, harmonies and arrangements that really make me take notice. To say they sound like the now quartered Beatles is the nearest I can get to describing them. And the group deliberately seem to be inviting such comparisons. These similarities are uncanny but in no way detract from the enjoyment of their music.

Surprises aren’t exactly unexpected though when one learns that those masters of rock and roll, the writing and producing team of Leiber and Stoller are responsible for production. And one wonders what else. Leiber and Stoller, for those who don’t read the credits on records, have collaborated on such a large number of hits, it would be a difficult task to count them all

Stealers Wheel may well be set tor a big future if enough people pick up on them. It all depends on how listeners react to their Beatlish melodies. Maybe the group’s name has something to do with what one ends up hearing. I don’t know, listen and judge for yourselves.

ROCK OF AGES – The Band – Capitol E-STSPJ1 (2 record set)

The Band’s latest album, a double, is titled Rock Of Ages, and is made up of tapes made during a concert on New Years Eve, 1971. All the songs have appeared on previous releases, but the capturing of their ‘live’ sound adds much to their material. The double set is reasonably priced at £3.25.

All their most respected numbers are here, including The Weight, Chest Fever, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Rag Mama Rag and Life Is A Carnival.

At the concert they were ably assisted by a first rate brass section, led and arranged by Allen Toussaint, who has worked with The Band in the past on studio recordings.

Here are four very fine sides of important American modern music, making it an absolute must for the group’s large following, as well as an excellent introduction to those who have missed out on one of the most original bands writing and performing today.


* Recently re-released by A&M Records on a maxi-single, with two other Spector/Turner classics, A Love Like Yours and Save The Last Dance For Me.

Twelve Inches Of Pleasure

STIR DON’T SHAKESouthern Comfort – Harvest SHSP 4021

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 BREEZESeals & CroftsWarner 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 HEROESJimi HendrixTrack 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 STABBERSO’JaysCBS 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 YOUThe CarpentersA&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 MOTHERLesley DuncanCBS 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 BREADBreadElektra 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 FOURCat StevensIsland 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 RUFFINRhino 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 FIRSTPeter TownshendTrack 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.

HOMECBS 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

SOME TIME IN NEW YORK CITYJohn Lennon & Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant’s MemoryApple PCSP 716

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…