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.

SILVERHEADPurple TPSA 7506

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 HARVEYCapitol EST 789

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.

BATDORF & RODNEYAsylum SYL 9004

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

MERMAN SINGS MERMANEthel MermanDecca PFS 4266

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.

Silly Symphonies

GOLDEN HITS OF THE SHANGRI-LASPhillips International 6336215.

No doubt about it, the Golden Hits of the Shangri-Las is one record that every lover of pop music should possess. And that doesn’t mean to say that you have to be a rock and roll intellectual to appreciate it. Amongst the twelve tracks included on the album are songs that are already legends in pop history, the best examples being Leader Of The Pack and Remember (Walking In The Sand). The former has just proved its worth for the second time by again making the top twenty, eight years after it originally appeared in the charts.

The main inspiration behind these recordings was Shadow Morton, who took the Shangri-Las up to the levels of success previously only reached by black vocal groups such as The Ronettes, The Crystals and The Chiffons. When Morton recorded these numbers it was still the single that was the backbone of the recording industry, whereas today it is the album. Subsequently it is unlikely that anyone will ever again reach the peaks of perfection Morton took the three minute single to. He made them within their own limitations, into a new art form, very much in keeping with the areas Andy Warhol has worked in.

The Shangri-La’s records were more than just songs — they were a form of theatre. A prominent feature of Morton’s production technique was the emphasis he placed on bringing out the tension and drama within the story-line of a song. This was achieved in a number of ways. To start with, there was always a strong melody and a well arranged two-part chorus. To this he would add sound effects, like the seagulls and rolling breakers on Remember or the thunder on Give Us Your Blessing, and because of the inventive way he utilised them, they would evoke a depth to the situation that is as near to theatre as can be. Also, by the use of monologues, which were pushed to the front of the recording, he helped involve the listener even further in the story. The result of this can be clearly seen on Leader Of The Pack, which also happens to be one of pop’s classic ‘death songs’.

Forgetting the technicalities and intricacies of the recordings, these tracks are as exciting and enjoyable as anything being produced today. Apart from the cuts already mentioned, other highlights of the album are Past, Present And Future, Out In The Streets, Give Him a Great Big Kiss and the absolutely incredible I Can Never Go Home Any More. Very reasonably priced at £1.35, I cannot recommend this album highly enough.

LIVE CONCERT AT THE FORUMBarbra Streisand – CBS 65210

The record companies are certainly churning out some ‘class albums’ at present. In January the amazing first album of Bette Midler was issued. This month there are new releases from Ethel Merman and Laura Nyro. In March, Liza Minnelli’s Liza With A “Z” will be available, after the screening of her television spectacular, from which the recording comes. Even Mae West has an album scheduled, called Great Balls Of Fire. Also, in the first week of February, Barbra Streisand’s Live Concert At The Forum is being released.

This record is particularly interesting and very enjoyable for a variety of reasons. It is over fourteen months since her last album was released, and it’s a recording of the first live concert she has given in six years. Judging from the audience’s reaction, it is about time she started appearing more frequently on stage, not forgetting a few concerts In this country as well. The Forum concert happened in April of last year, and was a fund raising benefit for Senator George McGovern, who, as we all now know, later failed in his attempt for the presidency of the USA.

Barbra Streisand

McGovern may have not made the White House, but Barbra undoubtedly succeeded in giving a great performance. Over half of the songs included have never been available on record by her before. Amongst these are a version of Didn’t We and melodies of Sing/Make Your Own Kind Of Music and Sweet Inspiration/Where you Lead. Of the songs we have previously been able to hear are On A Clear Day, Stoney End, and Happy Days Are Here Again, which all come over sounding remarkably fresh and exciting, especially the classic Streisand number People, which closed the show. Despite the familiarity of these songs, Barbra seems to put a more immediate, a more mature meaning into the lyrics, which fitted in well with the reasons for the concert. Her in-between-songs chats with the audience were very revealing, notably her progressive ideas on the legalisation of ’pot’.

It is hardly surprising that Live Concert At The Forum is high in the American album charts. The whole 45 minute recording is a very special kind of entertainment, from one of the few performers who justifiably deserve to be called a ’star’.

LIFE GOES ONPaul Williams – A&M, AMLS 64367.

Life Goes On is the second album by Paul Williams, who seems determined to establish himself as a performer, as well as one of the most gifted songwriters around. William’s songs have given a large number of artists hit records, in particular The Carpenters, who shot up the charts when they recorded his We’ve Only just Begun.

His first release didn’t fare too well, as it suffered from most of the mistakes, namely over-indulgence, which usually effect the initial recording of songwriters turned performers. But his recent BBC2 In Concert appearance was a perfect showcase for his talents and has generally strengthened his reputation with his obvious ability to convey his own material as well as the others who use it. And Life Goes On is further proof that he now has everything very much together.

Paul has a warm, almost fragile voice, that at first reminds one of Nilsson, although repeated listenings soon obscure this similarity. And with his songs he diplays his mastery at writing romantic, yet never slushy, lyrics, as this album amply demonstrates.

During the last few years, a number of very talented singer/songwriters have emerged, such as Jimmy Webb, Laura Nyro and Nilsson. Paul Williams justifiably is part of this growing number of lyricist/performers who between them are very much responsible for the improvements and developments in popular music. A nice new label for their music could be superpop.

STYLISTICS 2Avco 6466010

The Stylistics seem to be every reviewer’s favourite group to put down, judging from the amount of bad press given to Stylistics 2. They have been accused of singing watered down soul music to attract a wider, less demanding audience, whilst others have said that they are just imitating Motown’s super-group, The Temptations.

Utter rubbish. The Stylistics have an extremely original style all of their own. An enormous amount of effort has gone into their harmony work which is amongst the most pleasing I’ve heard. The lead singer has a very distinctive voice, with a remarkable range. His phrasing is particularly good, as is the rest of the groups’. Also the type of soul music they are into is not meant to be of the ‘heavy’ variety. They’re into melodic, very rhythmic music that is a joy to hear when it is as good as this.

Included are their two latest hits, Peek-A-Boo and I’m Stone In Love With You, the latter being destined to be popular for some time to come. Their version of Carole King’s It’s Too Late is particularly memorable, as is the seven minute Child Of The Night.

Responsible for the outstanding production, orchestration and arrangements is Thom Bell, who’s almost symphonic use of strings fits in well with the group’s singing and the various moods the lyrics create.

In conclusion, Stylistics 2 is a fine example of one direction contemporary soul music is taking, without the pretentions many groups fall foul of.

SWINGThe San Remo Strings — Tamla Motown STML 11216.

The San Remo Strings first attracted attention in this country when Festival Time became a much sought after single in the north of England. Subsequently it became a firm favourite in discotheques up there and eventually in clubs throughout the country.

I found Festival Time an interesting diversion from what one usually expects from Tamla Motown, and the follow-up, I’m Satisfied, was no less satisfying. Now Motown have released a whole album of the violin playing of the San Remo Strings, called Swing. And I’m afraid that this is where I lose interest. Whilst the occasional string arrangement of a Tamla classic is a worthwhile experiment, a collection of fourteen tracks isn’t, especially when some of them are only uninspired, wooden versions of ‘standards’ such as Ol’ Man River or Blueberry Hill.

Taken as a complete entity, as I think an album should be judged, Swing is little more than musak, of the type you can expect to find in any railway station, supermarket or bar. Save your money and wait until the new Gladys Knight & The Pips album is released.

360 DEGREES OF BILLY PAULBilly Paul – Epic 65351

HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES – CBS 65350

HERE I GO AGAIN – Archie Bell & The DrellsAtlantic K40454

One of the most important songwriting/production partnerships in contemporary commercial soul music is the teaming of the talents of Ken Gamble and Leon Huff. And their current, seemingly infallible formula for creating hit after hit isn’t something new. They have been responsible for a vast number of successful records during recent years.

Based in Philadelphia, Gamble and Huff are currently attempting to show the music scene, if not the world, the power and originality of vocal groups and musicians working and living in that city. And without a doubt, they are certainly proving their point, as each artist or group under their direction rockets up the album and singles chart.

Last year, the O’Jays scored an enormous hit with Back Stabbers. That cut was one of the best soul numbers to be issued in 1972, and it is bound to become an all-time soul classic. The strength behind the song was the inspired arrangements and production of Gamble and Huff.

During the last month, three albums by their artists have been released, each of them including at least one track that has either been or is a hit single. The first is 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. Me and Mrs Jones, a track taken from it, is at present in the top tens of both the UK and the States.

98.4° of Billy Paul

And the rest of the songs are all up to the standard of that number. Billy Paul has, like all Gamble and Huff artists, a very distinctive style. Add to this the adventurous arrangements and the amount of depth Paul puts into the lyrics, and you end up with a most inspired and stunning record. His version of Elton John’s Your Song is considered to be the best since the original was recorded.

The second album is by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. Gamble and Huff have been working with this group for fifteen years, which is quite an achievement when one considers the average length of time a performing unit stays together. The Blue Notes are also in the singles charts with If You Don’t Know Me By Now. Previously they had a smash with I Miss You, and the full 8 minute, 31 second version of it is included on the album. As with Billy Paul’s record, Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes are consistently good throughout theirs, offering the listener a fine collection of layered vocal harmonies, with the inventiveness of the arrangements making the whole venture more than just another soul album.

Not quite so exciting, although this depends on individual tastes, is the recent album of Archie Bell & The Drells, called Here I Go Again. Like Billy Paul and the Blue Notes, Archie Bell has already had a hit with the title track of his record, but, for me, very few of the other cuts come near to being as good. It is only the arrangements and production that catch one’s attention, most of the tracks being ideal for discotheques but possibly have little appeal beyond that.

What does distinguish these three albums from the many others being issued, is the fact that Gamble and Huff produce a sound that is very much their own. It is as different to Muscle Shoals as it is to Tamla Motown, and bears no relation either to the production techniques of Isaac Hayes or the funk of Curtis Mayfield. Also the lyrics show a maturity that is rarely present in this type of music. Time will tell if they can keep this incredibly successful output up, but whether or not they can, for now ‘The Sound Of Philadelphia’ is a most welcome addition to the world of popular music.

SUITE FOR LATE SUMMERDion – Warner Bros K46199

One of my all-time favourites on disc is Dion. And his new labum, Suite For Late Summer, comes as a welcome release in chilly/cold/wet January.

Dion

Dion has been recording for quite some time now. His career began in the early sixties when he recorded monster hits such as Runaround Sue and The Wanderer. Later, after a label change, he followed his earlier successes with Ruby Baby.

After a period of chart inactivity, he scored heavily with Abraham, Martin and John, one of the most meaningful songs of 1968. During the same period he made the charts again with one of the best versions of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. The last two songs mentioned appeared on the very neglected and underestimated album simply called Dion. (London SHP 8390). Another outstanding track on that record was The Dolphins, a simple but very moving song, written by Fred Neill, the composer of Everybody’s Talkin’.

Since 1970, Dion has released four consistently good albums for Warner Bros Records, which are very often beautiful, both lyrically and musically. Suite For Late Summer is the latest and is no less satisfying than his previous work. Dion’s songs are extremely personal. They delicately convey the thoughts and experiences he has recently gone through. Sometimes they are obviously painful memories, at other times they describe his great joy at being alive and free. There is a genuine sensitivity about the lyrics that never allows them to become emotionally tearful or embarrassingly self-conscious.

Suite For Late Summer is a rewarding addition to my collection of Dion albums. If you bother to hear it for yourselves, you’ll find that it’s an indispensible record for those ‘quiet moments’ when something relaxing but stimulating is called for.

GET ON THE GOOD FOOT – James Brown – Polydor 2659018

James Brown rarely makes an unexciting album. But sometimes they are a little uneven, perhaps a trifle pretentious, and usually contain a track or two that’s already appeared on at least one other recording of his.

Brown’s latest release, a double set, is slightly more uneven than usual. Maybe it’s because he’s attempting to include too many of his numerous styles, resulting in four sides of music that are never quite one thing or another. The cuts that do come off, like the title track Get On The Good Foot, contain all the raw energy and pure funk expected from James Brown. Others, such as The Whole World Needs Liberation and Funky Side Of Town, also allow Brown’s magic to work perfectly, but the drawn out Recitation By Hank Ballard seems no more than an extended space filler, that succeeds in being both boring and rather childish.

Of the new versions of previously recorded material, Cold Sweat and Please, Please, Please make it, whilst the rest are best forgotten. Dirty Harri on side four is an instrumental, and to hazard a guess, I’d say it was Brown playing electric organ.

Priced at £3.90, I feel that the sales of this double album will be restricted to only the most devoted of James Brown’s followers. Discotheques though would do well to pick up on the best of the material included.

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.

Remembrance of Things Past

Most of us reflect on past events in our lives, some by looking at old photographs, or rereading diaries, and others by relying on their memories. For filmgoers the showing of old films on television and the occasional revivals in cinemas must suffice. But when one thinks of these old screen musicals, how nostalgic it all is. My own personal memories are truly overcrowded as I think of those old Busby Berkeley Warner musicals of the mid 30’s with stars like Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, James Cagney and Joan Blondell. As thoughts take us through the years of the musicals the casts become interchangeable. The late 30’s and the start of the successful Jeanette McDonald-Nelson Eddy teaming … Fox’s technicolor trifles with such stars as Alice Faye, Betty Grable, Don Ameche, John Payne, Jack Oakie and always somewhere in her outrageous costumes and hats the dynamic Carmen Miranda … all those Crosby musicals at Paramount … the Astaire-Rogers ones at RKO … the many magical moments spent watching those MGM musicals with a roster of talent like Garland, Home, Rooney, Kelly, Keel etc …

One good way of reviving one’s memones of old films is by playing through the sound track records of these films. For a long time many of these were unavailable, but now with the current wave of nostalgia riding high, the record companies are releasing a wealth of material for the film record collector fans. RCA is digging ud early talkies tracks that even include a song by Joan Crawford, whilst Decca have already given us some fine vintage stuff by Deanna Durbin, Carmen Miranda and Judy Garland.

But the best of the batch so far as filmgoers are concerned comes from the Phonodisc group on the MGM label. They have already issued over a dozen in this series and this month a further 4 arrive which comprise some 7 films of the 1950’s. Many of these have long been unavailable since being deleted from the original MGM label back in the early 1960’s.

These reissues are all nicely sleeved with some interesting line notes and pictures and credits for the films. Remember too that they are mostly recorded direct from the sound-tracks, long before stereo was invented. The mono recordings have been enhanced for stereo and a pretty good job they’ve made of them. Of all film records available to fans at the moment, I think that these Phonodisc reissues, priced at £1.95 are indeed the best buy.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes / Till the Clouds Roll By – MGM 2353067

The best buy of the current batch for collectors is undoubtedly this double feature. 20th Century Fox came out with their newly developed Cinemascope in 1953, launching it with block busters such as THE ROBE and HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE. The first musical in this new process was GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES. This story by Anita Loos was previously produced on Broadway with Carol Channing in the lead, but when Fox transferred it to the screen they decided to use their Number One glamour girl Marilyn Monroe as Lorelei Lee, with Jane Russell co-starring as her friend Dorothy. The plot has the girls going to Paris to fulfill a nightclub engagement. Lorelei says goodbye to her rich fiancé before the boat sails and during the boat ride becomes involved with a rich elderly millionaire. The happenings on board ship and in Paris are fast and furious but like all good tales, ends happily with both girls getting hitched. Unfortunately in its translation to the screen a lot of the bright and bouncy Jules Styne songs were left on the cutting room floor, and only 3 survived the trip to the screen. Two new songs by Hoagy Carmichael added to the score were ‘Is There Anyone Here For Love’, featuring that brunette amazon Jane Russell cavorting round a gymnasium full of muscle men, and ‘When Love Goes Wrong’ featuring both female stars, and is not a particularly interesting tune. Of the old songs, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ is first sung as a slow seductive ballad by Monroe, and then bounced into a fast up-tempo song by Jane Russell. ‘Little Girl From Little Rock’, originally a solo for Lorelei becomes a bright opening song for both stars. There remains the famous ‘Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend’, sung by Marilyn Monroe. For those who saw the film ’nuff said, and for those who didn’t, if you use your imagination, you can visualise this lovely lady at her screen peak singing this song.

Till The Clouds Roll By

Jerome Kern, that much loved American composer, is said to have written over 1,000 popular songs. In 1946 MGM produced an all star technicolor musical titled TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY which was very loosely based on his life story. For many years this remained in my memory as one of the finest musicals of all time, yet when I saw it again recently, I was saddened to find how trite the story seemed by today’s standards. However, some two dozen of his songs used during the two hours running time have in the main remained as fresh as I recall them to be. What a pity that due to contract troubles MGM were only able to record a fraction of this film’s magnificent score.

Working in Hollywood at this time as musical director of most Metro musicals, was Lennie Hayton, and his scoring for this particular film is amongst his best work. Also worthy of praise for her work as vocal arranger in those days is Kay Thompson. Her close harmony arrangements are particularly noticeable in the songs ‘Leave It To Jane’ and Who’. I recall the latter number featuring a much pregnant Judy Garland portraying Marilyn Miller dancing up and down a moving escalator.

The film has a 20 minute sequence of Kern’s most beloved musical ‘Showboat’ early on, and this record features some of those songs: Caleb Peterson doing ‘Ol’ Man River’, the amusing ‘Life Upon The Wicked Stage’ sung by ‘Dead-pan’ comedienne Virginia O’Brien, the definitive version of ‘Can’t Help Loving Dat Man’ by Lena Horne, and ‘Who Cares If My Boat Goes Up Stream’ by Tony Martin, followed by some brief dialogue from Martin and Kathryn Grayson, leading into their duet of ‘Make Believe’. The film’s title song is sung by Ray McDonald and chorus, June Allyson does ‘Leave It To Jane’ and ‘Cleopatterer’ in her husky voice. Judy Garland sings ‘Look For The Silver Lining’ with great feeling and also the exciting version of that evergreen song ‘Who’. Altogether a bumper bundle.

Kiss Me Kate – MGM 2353062

Cole Porter’s score for KISS ME KATE is considered one of his finest, yet it is strange that none of the songs have become standards in spite of the fact that many of his songs are known as such. This MGM musical produced some four years after the show’s debut was made in the 3D process, which Hollywood attempted to make popular at the time. It can claim to be the only musical made in that process, but the company soon discarded their plans to give out free pairs of glasses for patrons to use when viewing the film. Here we have 14 songs which sound as fresh today both lyrically and musically as they first did back in the late 40’s. The teaming of Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson proved successful and they were particularly suitable for the roles of husband and wife continually battling offstage as well as on stage when portraying Shakespeare’s leading characters in ‘Taming Of The Shrew’. Ann Miller gives good support and 3 of Hollywood’s top leading dancers at the time. Tommy Rail, Bobby Van and Bob Fosse are also featured. Keel has several fine solos: ‘Were Thine That Special Face’ (surely one of Porter’s best love songs), ‘I’ve Come To Wife It Wealthily In Padua’ and the amusing ‘Where Is The Life That Late I Led’. Grayson solos on ‘I Hate Men’ and together they team well on ‘Wunderbar’, the title song and the show’s biggest hit ‘So In Love’. Ann Miller solos on ‘Too Darn Hot’, ‘Why Can’t You Behave’ and ‘Always True To You In My Fashion’ and brings her usual vivacity to every song. Cut from a 1950 stage show and added to this film score is the number ‘From This Moment On’ which Ann Miller sings along with the 3 featured dancers. There is also the amusing ‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’ performed by Keenan Wynn and James Whitmore. This record serves as a good reminder of Porter at his best ranging as it does from tender ballad to witty ‘point’ songs.

An American In Paris / Les Girls MGM 2353068

The pairing on one record of musical scores by both Gershwin and Porter sounds exciting. However this record features fewer artists than the others and unless you are a confirmed Gene Kelly fan, there isn’t much here to listen to other than a grand arrangement of George Gershwin’s AMERICAN IN PARIS suite. This film has probably had more bookings on the Classic circuit than any other Metro musical, with the exception of “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” (which always seems to be showing somewhere in London.) Kelly plays an impoverished artist surviving on the Left Bank of Paris, who meets a little perfume seller and falls in love with her. Partnered with Leslie Caron, he performs some of his best screen dancing in this film. Apart from the orchestral suite itself, Kelly is featured singing ‘Love Is Here To Stay’, the last song written by Gershwin before his untimely death in 1936. He also sings ‘I Got Rhythm’ accompanied by a chorus of street urchins, and is paired with George Guetary on ‘S’Wonderful’ Perhaps I’m biased, but for me the high spot of the whole record is Guetary’s dynamic rendering of ‘I’ll Build A Stairway To Paradise.’

I shall dispense with LES GIRLS as briefly as possible, as it really is one of the poorest Porter scores around. Indeed Porter is reported to have said that he was displeased with it. The title song, ‘Les Girls’ features Kelly with his three leading ladies, Mitzi Gaynor, Kay Kendall and Taina Elg, and the ladies are together on another track ‘Ladies In Waiting’ without Mr Kelly. The lovely Kay Kendall joins him on ‘You’re just Too, Too’ but none of these songs have the usual verve and wit associated with Porter. Taina Elg solos on ‘Ca C’est L’amour’ which is too much like ‘I Love Paris’ to sound original. Kelly ends the record with his one solo from this film ‘Why Am I So Gone About That Gal’, which is also unmemorable, though I recall, in the film it was an amusing parody on Brando’s ‘The Wild Ones’.

Brigadoon / Two Weeks With Love – MGM 2353065

Long before GIGI brought the names of Lerner and Loewe to the public’s eye, they created an effective musical titled BRIGADOON back in 1947. This tale of a magic Scottish village which comes to life for one day ever 100 years was fairly successful both here and on Broadway, though coming as it did in the wake of those two colossal hits, OKLAHOMA and ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, it rather got lost in the shuffle. The film version was delayed several times and finally saw the light of day in 1955. It’s hard to believe that Vincente Minnelli could create such a heavy-handed film version from such a lovely stage musical. The record, however, can serve as a fond reminder of the fine score, though here again one would have to be a confirmed Gene Kelly fan for full enjoyment. His tendency to sing sharp proves a little irritating on the three fine ballads, ‘Heather On The Hill’, ‘Almost Like Being In Love’ and ‘There But For You Go I’. Carol Richards who dubbed for Cyd Charisse in the film sings ‘Waiting For My Dearie’ nicely, and the fine voice of John Gustafson does justice to ‘Come To Me, Bend To Me’. Gustafson is joined by Van Johnson in the sprightly ‘I’ll Go Home With Bonnie Jean’, and the orchestra and chorus make up the other tracks.

I can’t recall much about TWO WEEKS WITH LOVE as a film, but listening to the record I was reminded again how much I enjoyed Jane Powell’s singing in all her films. She uses her lyrical voice to fine effect on ‘A Heart That’s True’, ‘My Hero’ and ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’. She seems equally at home with the jazzy ‘Oceana Roll’, ‘Row, Row, Row’ and ‘Aba Daba Honeymoon’ are the two remaining tracks, some with suitable buoyancy by Carlton Carpenter and Debbie Reynolds (NOT Jane Powell as wrongly listed on both disc and sleeve).

These then are the four current reissues. Offhand I can’t think of many more Metro musicals not rereleased, but I may be wrong. For full details of the previous issues in this series ask at your nearest record shop.

Between The Grooves

SUNDOWN LADY – Lani Hall – A&M AMLS64359

One of the most pleasing records I have heard recently has been Sundown Lady by Lani Hall. It is this lady’s first solo outing, but you may find her voice familiar as she was lead singer with Sergio Mendes and Brazil ’66 for a number of years. (At present she is a ‘close friend’ of Herb Alpert.)

Now that she is starting a solo career, she manages to exhibit far more tenderness and maturity than was evident in the past. The choice of songs for this initial venture (an important matter for a first effort and also difficult if the majority of material being used is from other writers) is superb. Her capabilities, which are by no means limited, are especially suited to what she has chosen to sing here.

The album opens with Lesley Duncan’s Love Song. A very good beginning. Then follows Tiny Dancer by Elton John and Bernie Taupin. If you are not converted by these first two tracks, then one of Cat Stevens’ better songs, How Can I Tell You is next. And how beautifully she performs it. Also included are Don McLean’s Vincent, and an unaccompanied version of Paul Simon’s very lovely Wherever I May Find Her. Particularly of note too is Sun Down from which the album gets its title. This is written by Willis Alan Ramsey, a little-known but superb songwriter and musician. The rest of the material is as strong as that already mentioned.

Lani has a gentle, smokey, expressive voice. Completely relaxing and undemanding of the listener. Perfect for the quiet hours.

I highly recommend Lani Hall to you. The moods created, the sensitive singing and the sympathetic arrangements all combine to form a great addition to quality, intelligent but popular, music and entertainment.

DIANA ROSS GREATEST HITS – Tamla Motown STMA 8006

A must for Diana Ross addicts is her newly issued Greatest Hits compilation. It contains all of her hit singles, plus some of the best tracks from past albums. The twelve tracks selected make for very good value, and the inclusion of the full six minute version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough is an added bonus.

There isn’t much to say about Diana Ross that hasn’t been said before. The freedom of now being a solo artist has meant the range of her talents has been vastly extended.And always the fully orches trated backings and faultless production are in perfect harmony with the songs and Diana’s singing.

This is a great collection by a great artist. It’s handy to replace those worn out singles and Remember Me and I’m Still Waiting will stand out as two of the best pop songs in recent years.

GRASS ROOTS — Dillard and Clarke – The Flying Burrito Brothers — A&M AMLB 51038

Grass Roots is a very interesting collection of material by two of the finest country/rock bands that have been around in recent years. They are the Flying Burrito Brothers and Dillard and Clarke. Both groups have now sadly gone their separate ways, but this record comes as an excellent reminder of their strength and achievements. And at the low price of 99p it is remarkably good value.

Each band has taken one side of the record. The material included is a selection of some of the better tracks from their past albums. Of note are Dillard and Clarke’s Don’t Come Rollin and their version of the Everly Brothers hit, So Sad, whilst the Flying Burrito’s are at their best on Dark End Of The Street and Cody Cody. All told there are eleven tracks, all of them perfect examples of what happened when rock musicians returned to their country roots.

An important reissue, this, and an essential buy for those who have an interest in the development of rock and roll.

IN SEARCH OF AMELIA EARHART – Plainsong – Elektra K42120

Plainsong are very much a neo-folk band, who occasionally stray into country music. And the sound they end up with is a very agreeable mixture that is both easy listening and relaxingly rewarding. In Search of Amelia Earhart is their initial album release, and is, for a first outing, both entertaining and competent, if not a particularly exciting effort.

The title of the record comes from the famous woman aviator who was believed lost whilst attempting a flight around the world in 1937. Recent newspaper stories, which are repeated on a printed insert that comes with the record, offer other ‘possibilities/probabilities’ of what happened to Amelia Earhart and her navigator. Two tracks refer to this heroine of the air and her disappearance. Of the other songs, those written by Ian Matthews, are handled extremely well, whilst the rest are never less than pleasant

Plainsong will sell well to folk enthusiasts and are good enough to attract other ears.

LOOKIN’ THROUGH THE WINDOWS – The Jackson Five – Tamla Motown STML 11214

Coming fairly quickly after their recently released Greatest Hits collection, is a new Jackson Five album.

Apart from the tracks which have already been single hits, there is a very good cross-section of other songs.The inclusion of Jackson Browne’s Doctor My Eyes is a particularly good choice, and their performance of this beautiful song is excellent. Also a version of Roy (Professor Longhair) Byrd’s classic Little Bitty Pretty One is a great success.

With each album the Jackson’s release they become more proficient, which in turn means more enjoyable, quality pop entertainment for us. These kids are really going to be something by the time they all reach their twenties, if they are still working together.

THERE IT IS — James Brown — Polydor 2391033

One of the most powerful and successful black men in America has just unleashed another album to keep ‘frenetic soulsters’ and discotheque people up and moving on their feet. For the ‘king of soul’, James Brown, has a new release, full of his tight, uptown brand of funk. There’s no stopping this guy, he keeps on bringing out hit after hit and in quantities to make any record company executive leap with joy. In the States he’s never out of the charts, although in this country he doesn’t receive the same amount of attention, and certainly does not get the fanatical adoration his North American fans lay upon him. But his records sell consistently well here and each new cut released is a must for every club and disco.

The basic format of a Brown album is the latest batch of single smashes he’s had. For instance, There It Is and Greedy Man are both included. Then there’s a few new tracks to fill the record out. Of these Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing and I Need Help are the most outstanding and contain all the vibrating magic that Brown can instil into them. King Heroin and Public Enemy No 1 are both heavily anti-hard drugs and are the type of ‘message to society’ songs Brown is fond of experimenting with now and again. Hopefully they will reach the ears of those involved in that form of chemical self-destruction.

There It Is isn’t really meant to be analysed. It’s for dancing and grooving to, and on that level the album’s achievements are admirable.

ON STAGE – Richie Havens — Polydor 2659015 (2 record set)

Richie Havens has been around now for a number of years, and despite being a confirmed favourite at festivals and the like (also one of the ‘heroes’ of Woodstock) has never managed to catch the imagination of the majority of the record buying public. A slightly puzzling situation considering his talents, but one that also applies to many other excellent, original artists who find great difficulty in breaking through to a mass audience.

This new release, a double album, is made up of recordings from three ‘live’ concerts and contains many of the numbers Havens is well-known for. Plus there are a few new songs that haven’t appeared on his previous waxings. These include Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey and Bob Seeger’s immortal Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Amongst the old favourites are Freedom, Just Like A Woman, and Rocky Racoon.

On Stage captures the essence of Havens’ performances very well, but I’m afraid that its appeal will mostly be to the already converted, and stands little chance of reaching many new ears. But if you feel like taking the trouble to discover a most satisfying entertainer, this could well be a perfect introduction to a lot of rewarding musical experiences.

PLIGHT OF THE REDMAN – Xit – Rare Earth SREA 4002

Plight of the Redman is an explicitly biting album from a new Red Indian rock band called Xit. It is divided into two ‘phases’, each of which takes up one side of the record.

‘Phase 1’ describes Indian life before the coming of the white man, in what was then a vast, sprawling, unspoilt continent. ‘Phase 2’ is more intense and is concerned with the rape of the Indian people through countless atrocities, committed by the ‘invaders’. The last track is spoken condemnation of the ‘immigrants’ who destroyed the redman’s tribes, stole their lands, and humiliated them almost out of existence. The words are direct and simple and are filled with anger and frustration. At times they sound very pretentious, but, for me, the sincerity and truthfulness of the statements compensates adequately.

Musically the band are extremely proficient. Side two, which comprises exciting, extended pieces, and reaches two thrilling, rhythmic climaxes, is the most rewarding. The production and arrangements are also of a high standard.

Xit have produced a fine first album, and promise better things to cnme with subsequent releases. More experience should remove the limitations they saddle themselves with, in the form of repetitiveness and over stagey lyrics.

TWO WEEKS LAST SUMMER – Dave Cousins – A&M AMLS68118

Dave Cousins is lead singer and songwriter with the Strawbs, who with their last album, Grave New World, managed to achieve the success and popularity they had sought for some time. Two Weeks Last Summer is Cousins’ first venture solo, and to Stawbs fans it will come as a very welcome release.

Cousins has a soft, folky voice, and whilst never losing sight of his folk roots, is not afraid to experiment and to make use of all a modern 16-track studio has to offer. Thus we have an album that attempts to go further than The Strawbs have gone with their recordings, through the occasional use of electronic effects and the often bizarre songs. All the compositions incidentally, are written by Cousins. Also there are some very tasteful lead guitar breaks amidst the songs.

It all works very well, and as I said earlier, is sure to delight Strawbs devotees. Two Weeks Last Summer is also different and inspired enough to attract a lot more attention from people previously unreceptive to that group’s work.

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…