Curiosities And Old Favourites

Naturally” — J. J. Cale – A & M Amls 68105 “Come From The Shadows” – Joan Baez – A&M Amlh 64339 “State Farm” – Jeffrey Shurtleff – A & M Amls 64332 “Vindicator” – Arthur Lee – A&M Amls 64356

19720901-13The A&M catalogue comprises a great variety of artists, ranging from the immensely popular Herb Alpert and The Carpenters, and includes an impressive array of folk and country singers and musicians, and also puts out the hip-rock sounds of people like Leon Russell and Billy Preston. With A & M’s acquisition of the rights to release the American Sussex label over here, they are releasing much fine soul music; Bill Withers being their most successful soul artist to date with his hit single Lean on Me.

In the last few weeks they have released a number of notable, if not always successful, albums. One of the best is Naturally by J.J. Cale. This is one of the funkiest country/blues records to come out for a long time. The mixture of Cale’s gravelly, bluesy voice, his good, if somewhat sparse guitar playing, excellent choice of Nashville back-up musicians, and sympathetic production have resulted in 12 enjoyable tracks tharmake up this album.

No one single track stands out from the others, but this does not mean that there are any bummers included. All make for worthwhile listening and the album comes into its own if heard late at night, when one is relaxed and doesn’t want something too overpowering to cope with.

Recently released too is another collection of songs from Joan Baez. The album is entitled Come From The Shadows and is made up of the usual protest, socially aware songs she is well-known for, it has a number of adult love songs, and includes two numbers dedicated to other performers. In The Quiet Morning is for the late Janis Joplin, whilst the other is for her old friend/lover, Bob Dylan.

Baez’s treatment of John Lennon’s Imagine is particularly memorable, and is one of the best tracks on the album. And I find her Song Of Bangladesh far more moving than George Harrison’s equivalent.

If you are a Joan Baez fan you will no doubt already have this new offering of hers, if you’re not or have missed out on her recent work, this is an excellent re-introduction to her.

State Farm by Jeffrey Shurtleff is a valuable addition to the world of modern folk music. Shurtleff is an old friend of Joan Baez and was recently on a national tour of America with her. This album has come about chiefly because of her collaboration and encouragement, and her involvement and recommendation has paid off for this first album of Shurtleff’s is a rewarding collection of folk songs. Shurtleff has a melodious, warm voice that is well suited to this type of rhythmically vital music.

Lastly, worth mentioning, not because it is any great success but because of his previous work is Vindicator by Arthur Lee. Lee was the leader of Love, the ill-fated Los Angeles rock band that produced classic rock albums such as Forever Changes and Da Capo. The band never got the type of exposure that was rightfully theirs, although their laziness and untogetherness about live performances was partly responsible for this lack of interest and appreciation. Add to this the extremely temperamental ego of Arthur Lee and the whole band’s over-indulgence in drugs and I suppose it’s hardly surprising that so much of their best work went unnoticed.

Lee’s latest offering is his first solo effort since the final break-up of Love, and it has little of the power and originality of his earlier work. His support group on this record, Band-Aid, are competent but suffer from lack of direction, and Lee’s choice of material ranges from weak to mediocre. There are occasional flashes of his past creativity but they are few and far between.

Admirers of Lee’s work with Love will pick up on this because of the vague aura of mystery that always surrounded that band, and because of the brilliance of some of his past endeavours, but the album is unlikely to attract anyone who does not remember or know of these bygone achievements.

Thumbthings Up

“Headkeeper” — Dave Mason – Blue Thumb ILPS 9203
“Striking It Rich!” — Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks – Blue Thumb 9204

19720901-13At long last there is an outlet for the American Blue Thumb record label in this country. Island Records have acquired the rights of their most recent recordings and are issuing them here with the label’s own name and logo on the records. Previously EMI’s Harvest Label had the releasing rights, but what they issued was soon lost in the deluge of other material they were at that time issuing.

But now we have a chance to hear this label’s product. One of the first releases is Headkeeper by Dave Mason, his second solo album and for me it is one of the best rock records available this year. As an import Headkeeper sold in large quantities, which is hardly surprising now that I have had a chance to hear it.

The record has rather a strange history, apart from its delayed release over here. Dave Mason abandoned the album after completing the five numbers on side one, and the second side is made up of tapes of live performances he made at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles. Apparently Mason wasn’t happy about the way things were going with the record, and the final mixing etc, was done after his departure. He is reputedly unhappy about the record being issued, partly because of the sound quality and partly, I suppose, because of his differences of opinion with Blue Thumb. But the record, especially side one, is a minor masterpiece of intelligent, adult rock ’n roll.

Usually each song is introduced by two or three of the instruments, which, after a few bars are joined by the rest of the band before breaking into the main body of the song. And the words, unlike the trite verses so often just tagged onto a melody line, offer us images that are both meaningful and evocative.

Side two is partly made up of live versions of songs previously available on Mason’s first solo outing, Alone Together. These lose nothing from being live performances, but if one wanted to bitch about re-offering them so quickly on this new album, you could say they were almost exactly the same in sound quality and deliverance as the originals. The other two tracks on this side are Pearly Queen and Feelin’ Alright?, which are songs Mason has recorded in the past when he was with Traffic.

Mason’s relationship with Traffic was seemingly a love/hate one, and it is apparent now that Mason’s departure robbed that group of a guitar style that was an essential ingredient of their sound.

Throughout Headkeeper the guitar work is excellent, whether as part of the over-all sound or on a solo break. The guitar solo on the title track is especially stunning.

The total togetherness the album achieves is obtained from the use of accompanists such as Lonnie Turner (bass) and Mark Jordan (organ and piano). The combination of piano and swirling organ in A Heartache, A Shadow, A Lifetime on side one creates a perfect mood for the romantic lyrics.

In conclusion, records as good as this are hard to find. The album market is continually flooded with many inferior products, which means quite a few fine records go unnoticed. At least give this a listen. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.

The second Blue Thumb disc to come out is Striking it Rich! by Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks. This is Dan Hicks and his group’s third album, but his first two, for the American Epic label, have never been released here.

An easy description of the music presented here would be happy and unpretentious. The album, you see, is impossible to categorise. A friend commented that it was ‘high class musak’, which may be true, although I find the carefree singing and playing too well done to be passed off as just that.

At times I am reminded of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five and King Pleasure; in parts, of harmony groups from the fifties, and the album is dotted with nearly every musical cliche in the book.

I am left in a state of wonder by the instrumental solos all through the record, apart from being generally puzzled about the group’s musical background. For instance, the violin break on I Scare Myself is superb, as is the guitar/violin solo/duet on Walkin’ One and Only.

For me this is an immensely enjoyable record. Hear it yourselves and make up your own minds.

Enormous Vacuum

“Great M.G.M. Film Themes” –
M.G.M. Records 2353060

19720901-13 – is quite frankly simply and utterly boring and does little justice to the great films the music comes from After listneing to the record twice I still have no sense of the atmosphere of the films, most of which I have seen

The themes from most of the successful M.G.M. films are featured on this record: — Ben Hur, Ryans Daughter, Dr.Zhivago, Where Eagles Dare, etc., etc. However, once again separating music from its film, even when it comes from the original soundtrack, highlights the fact that it is usually played totally without expression, just creating an enormous vacuum.