Album Reviews: Paul Kossoff – Back Street Crawler (1973)


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Free disbanded for the first time in 1971 due to growing friction between members of the band. Three spin off bands were created, Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit by Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke. Toby by Andy Fraser and Peace by Paul Rodgers. Only Kossoff and Kirke’s outfit managed to record and release an album though. One Toby track ‘Travelling Man’ did turn up on a compilation album as did a few Peace tracks which also featured Mick Underwood who would go on to be a member of Gillan on the drum stool. The Free reformation came around quickly and within a year of splitting they had reformed and released a new album Free At Last. The songs for that album were largely ones Fraser and Rodgers had ready for their new bands but in a show of collective togetherness they declared them all Fraser/Kirke/Kossoff/Rodgers compositions. That honeymoon period didn’t last long though and before too long Fraser had jumped ship and they brought in Tetsu and Rabbit on bass and keyboards. The one album recorded by that line up aptly entitled ‘Heartbreaker’ saw Kossoff relegated to a session musician on the album sleeve and not named as part of the band. Things were indeed looking bleak for the man who just a few years earlier had mesmerised Hendrix with his sound.

Kossoff had been something of a liability on the final Free tour and had often been replaced by Wendell Richardson from Osibisa or Paul Rodgers had taken on guitar and vocal duties. He somehow though managed to get himself together and moderate his drug addiction enough to go into Island’s Notting Hill studio a short while later to record a solo album.

The resulting album ‘Back Street Crawler’ is a mostly instrumental jam like affair which displays every ounce of Kossoff’s guitar playing genius at its best. Indeed Side One on the original vinyl edition is given entirely to one song. The seventeen and a half minute opus ‘Tuesday Morning’. The track constantly builds and takes you into different directions and styles on a whim. There is hard riffing, flashes of mournful soul, slight ventures into jazz, blues and even folky tones throughout its duration. The keyboards from Rabbit underneath the flashes of the guitar are a perfect blend and as I have said elsewhere Rabbit and Kossoff were musically a great match. The first significant solo kicks in at about the ninety second mark and Kossoff wrings out those high wailing notes from the Gibson whilst Rabbit keeps it all in tune underneath. Top class stuff. The second solo is a dirtier sounding one and then the track goes off in a totally different slower direction. Kossoff creating a great vibrating sound behind the main riff which is very atmospheric. I could wax lyrical about it all night but you would be better off going and listening to it.

The first of four tracks on Side Two is the criminally short ‘I’m Ready’. One of only two tracks on the album to feature vocals this song was my introduction to Jess Roden who sang the lead vocal and co-wrote the song with Jean Roussel. The track itself would not have been out of place on Roden’s debut solo album of the following year and Kossoff happily shares the limelight with the vocalist despite it being the guitarists name on the cover. The solo parts complimenting the vocal and not trying to steal the singers thunder. The song has an almost jazzy soul like feel to it. Once again the keyboards are vital to the song but this time its courtesy of co writer Jean Roussel. Roussel has a CV which is like a who’s who of music from the 70s and it would probably be easier to list people he hasn’t been involved with than to try and include them.

Next up is another instrumental ‘Time Away’ which Kossoff co wrote with John Martyn. This track is considerably shorter than the opener even though the original jam lasted thirty eight minutes and is also much slower, atmospheric and mournful. Once again instead of reading me waffling about it you would be better off going to listen to it. Thanks to the new deluxe edition you can actually listen to the whole thirty eight minutes of it on the second disc.

The second of the tracks to feature vocals isn’t from  the sessions for this album at all but is actually an out take from the sessions for the Free At Last album recorded the previous year. ‘Molten Gold’ was written by Kossoff and features the other members of Free. Paul Rodgers on vocals, Andy Fraser on bass and Simon Kirke on drums. Rabbits organ and piano were added at the Back Street Crawler sessions as was the backing vocal by Jess Roden. The song itself is pretty typical of the Free At Last material and it must have been a close call as to whether it was included. The Free remasters series and box set ‘Songs of Yesterday’ have other versions of the track without Rabbit and Roden.

The final track is the title track and although it is another instrumental initially it was supposed to have a vocal on it sung by Kossoff but for some reason it was never added. Kossoff had sung a track on the Kossoff Kirke Tetsu and Rabbit album so was more than capable of handling a vocal.

Back Street Crawler is an album that highlights everything that is good about Kossoff’s guitar playing. There has still never been anyone close to recreating that sound on a guitar and he remains in my top  three all time guitarists. The album itself has now been given the Island Deluxe Edition treatment and if you can track one down it is a must for every Kossoff fan. Not only do you get the full thirty eight minute Time Away jam but you also get six versions of ‘Tuesday Morning’ all done in a slightly different way. The full extended version of ‘I’m Ready’ as well as another take entirely, a second version of the title track and two more versions of ‘Molten Gold’. Just for good measure you can also add three new tracks ‘Leslie Jam’, John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’ and a version of ‘The Lady Is A Tramp’.

This album has been in heavy rotation for me ever since I first heard it and it will always remain one of my favourites an=s it not only highlights the genius of Paul Kossoff but also introduced me to Jess Roden who would go on to be one of my favourite singers.

© Martin Leedham. First published 26th November 2019

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Album Reviews: Rod Stewart – The Early Solo Years 1970-1978


An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down (1970)

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Great rock anorak and author of the magnificent ‘Great Rock Discography’ Martin C Strong wrote in his biography of Rod Stewart that his was the biggest and possibly most tragic sell out in the history of rock. Based on his early solo albums I would tend to agree with him.

This, Stewarts’ first solo outing, is a great mixture of heavy blues and folk with just a smattering of chocolate box sentiment thrown in for good measure.

To be honest the opening two tracks don’t get things off to a good start and are almost certainly the weakest cuts on the album. Although ‘Street Fighting Man’ does have a nice bass solo to fade.

Things pick up considerably though with the bluesy ‘Blind Prayer’. Despite the similarity to ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’ it is still a fine tune. The following ‘Handbags & Glad Rags’ which is probably better known now as the theme tune to hit comedy ‘The Office’ closes side one and is rightly hailed a Stewart classic.

The quality continues on side two with the title track, ‘Cindy’s Lament’ and that staple of Irish music bars ‘Dirty Old Town’ all more than listenable.

‘I Wouldn’t Ever Change A Thing’ is the weak link on side two and in retrospect it’s a pity he didn’t take his own advice as this type of album is far more palatable than the disco dirge he ended up turning out. Although he may argue that the leggy blondes and the cash in the bank have more than justified his decision.

Gasoline Alley (1970)

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This is quite possibly my favourite Rod Stewart album. ‘Country Comforts’ is a classic and Elton John cover or not on here Stewart makes it his own. It is undoubtedly the album highlight. ‘Cut Across Shorty’ is not far behind and features some excellent guitar work as well as a perfect Stewart vocal. The other real standout on the album for me is album closer ‘I Don’t Want To Discuss It’ which has a feel of Led Zeppelin about it in places. For those only aware of his ‘sell-out’ material that may be difficult to believe but check it out for yourself and prepare to be surprised.

Opener and title track ‘Gasoline Alley’ is packed full of melancholy and gets things off to a good start. ‘My Way Of Giving’ has a very sixties feel and the Rolling Stones cover ‘It’s All Over Now’ is maybe a little too similar to a live Stones version but both are still good tracks. Dylan cover ‘Only A Hobo’, ‘Lady Day’ and ‘Jo’s Lament are the weaker cuts on the album but are still pleasant enough.

Every Picture Tells A Story (1971)

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The album gets off to a fine start with the Rod Stewart/Ronnie Wood penned title track which features the dynamic Maggie Bell on backing vocals. Or vocal abrasives as the sleeve notes  put it. The backing vocal Bell changes to Madelaine for the second track ‘Seems Like A long Time’ which although not as good as the opener is still nice enough.

Things get interesting with the Elvis cover ‘That’s All Right’, the early part of the song sounds like a Led Zeppelin sound check before it drifts into a rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’.

The classic ‘Maggie May’ is probably the most commonly known of his earlier material and features a fine mandolin solo from “the mandolin player from Lindisfarne” Ray Jackson. It is also worth noting that its success is even more surprising given that it doesn’t really have what can generally be described as a chorus. Maybe that is why it was originally only the ‘B’ side of ‘Reason To Believe’ which although a good song in its own right is clearly inferior to ‘Maggie May’.

‘Mandolin Wind’ is another piece of pure genius from the pen of Stewart and is another of the album highlights.

This album stayed at number one in the UK album chart for six weeks and in the US for four whilst at the same time ‘Maggie May’ topped both singles charts. This is something which I believe had not previously happened and possibly justifies the opinion of the masses that this is indeed Rod Stewart’s finest hour (or 40 minutes at least).

Never A Dull Moment (1972)

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Trying to follow up the success of ‘Every Picture Tells A Story’ can not have been easy but Stewart just about managed it with this 1972 offering. It was also a brave decision to call it ‘Never A Dull Moment’ a title which could have easily have come back to haunt him had it been a flop. But then Rod has never been lacking in confidence or faith in his own ability so he probably never worried too much.

If there is a dull moment on the album it certainly doesn’t come on side two which features the albums four best tracks, the Jimi Hendrix composed ‘Angel’, ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’, the Sam Cooke classic ‘Twistin’ The Night Away’ and the albums most well known track ‘You Wear It Well’. All are top quality Stewart performances.

The album once again features the customary Dylan cover ‘Mama You’ve Been On My Mind’ and appearances by members of the Faces. Oh and we mustn’t forget the mandolin player from Lindisfarne was on there again as well!

Smiler (1974)

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This was really the beginning of the end for Rod Stewart as a credable rock performer really although the following years Atlantic Crossing did herald a brief return to form before the rot really set in.

My main gripe with this is that so much of it is unnecessary and a bit twee. I mean the cover looks like something on a cheap souvenir from a trip to Scotland. Which is made even more ridiculous when you consider Rod Stewart isn’t even Scottish. Maybe he got caught up in all the fuss surrounding Scotland getting to the World Cup but I seriously wonder what someone like the far more talented and genuinely Scottish Frankie Miller thought about a gravel voiced cockney being thought of the world over as a Scot and draping himself in tartan.

Cover aside there are also two totally pointless instrumentals. Okay so they are short and they are well played but Rod Stewart is a singer so why are they there other than as filler. Then you have barking dogs and to top it all a cover of ‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural (Wo)man’ It just doesn’t work. Thank goodness they didn’t let him do a cover of ‘Only (Wo)men Bleed’ as well. But knowing Rod he would probably have made a fortune out of it being used on a commercial for razor blades or something.

So now I’m done with the moaning what about the good points. Well, there aren’t that many in truth but ‘Sweet Little Rock n Roller’ is fun. ‘Farewell’ is a nice song, ‘Hard Road’ is good time fun too and ‘Mine For Me’ is a nice heartfelt closer.

The spandex and leopard skin years were coming and the cracks were beginning to show.

Atlantic Crossing (1975)

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The first thing to say about Atlantic Crossing is that it is considerable improvement on the previous years Smiler. This in fact is on a par with his earlier solo output. So much so that it is the like the last dying kick from a trapped animal before it drifts off to nothing. Which pretty much sums up Rod’s career after this.

The great backing vocals make the opening track for me, a rousing boogie pub-rock stomp ‘Three Time Loser’. ‘Alright For An Hour’ and ‘All In The Name Of Rock n Roll’ keep the tempo and the quality going but if I’m honest I’ve heard better versions of ‘Drift Away’, Michael Bolton for one, but it is still a great song.

There is some great stuff on the second half of the album too. Not least ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’ and ‘Its Not The Spotlight’ neither of which would have been out of place on his earlier albums. Of course the most well known song on here is the closer ‘Sailing’ which was a massive hit and it actually sounds a lot better than I remembered. In fact despite the over exposure it is still probably the best track on the album.

So this was really the last hoorah for Rod as a credible rocker although A Night on the Town had its moments. As I may have said elsewhere this is where I probably should have got off the boat and stopped sailing with Stewart.

A Night On The Town (1976)

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This is quite possibly the last musically credible album Rod Stewart put out before he turned into a leopard skin clad king of disco dirge but having said that it still isn’t a patch on his earlier solo output. Best track here is ‘The Wild Side of Life’ although ‘First Cut Is the Deepest’, ‘The Killing of Georgie’, ‘Trade Winds’ and more particularly ‘Big Bayou’ all show promise before ultimately leaving you with a feeling that they could have been better. The rest of the album is pretty ordinary especially the dire hit ‘Tonight’s The Night’. My biggest problem with the faster tracks is that they sound like a very poor mans watered down Rolling Stones.

Blondes Have More Fun (1977)

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This was the point at which I left the Rod Stewart story. Maybe I should have departed an album or two earlier in retrospect but retrospect is a fine thing … in retrospect !

First of all lets get our heads around the ridiculousness of the cover. ‘Blondes Have More Fun’ is the title, so why has the woman adorning the cover got black hair. Now I know Rod is blonde and the point is supposed to be that he is having more fun. But if he’d have thought about it sensibly he’d have made sure the woman was blonde too. That would have suggested she was having more fun too … with him. Now my cynical mind is suggesting that someone in the art department was taking the mickey out of Rod here by draping a dark haired woman around him. Suggesting maybe that the blondes were having more fun because they weren’t with him and the poor dark haired girl had got the short straw. Just pointless mischievous thoughts but it gave me something to do whilst I was listening to the album.

As for the music well I’m not going to even mention the first track. Except to say that even if it had been put out as a joke it wouldn’t have been funny. Rod though has been laughing all the way to the bank ever since. Only passable songs on the album for me are ‘Dirty Weekend’, ‘Ain’t Love a Bitch’ and ‘Is That The Thanks I Get’. The rest of it is pretty awful. The hideous ‘Attractive Female Wanted’ is nearly as bad as THAT single that I am not going to mention.

© Martin Leedham 21st November 2019

 

 

 

 

 

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Album Review: Frankie Miller – Once In A Blue Moon (1973)


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Frankie Miller may not have recorded his debut album ‘Once In A Blue Moon’ until late 1972 but by then he already had a huge reputation in live music circles and was seen by many as a superstar in waiting.  Millers Mother and elder Sisters introduced him to music at an early age and he quickly became fond of the soul and R&B in their collections. Little Richard in particular hitting a note with the young Miller. Choosing music over football he wrote his first song at the age of nine after being given a guitar by his parents and was already auditioning for bands before he left school.

His first professional outing was with the Glasgow based band The Stoics but after a falling out with fellow member Jim Doris Miller relocated to London where he spent some time living in the Kentish Town flat of long time friend Jimmy Dewar from Stone The Crows. Whilst there Miller met Robin Trower who had just left Procul Harum and he introduced him to Dewar. The three of them along with former Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker formed a band called Jude, which at the time was heralded as a supergroup in the making and received plenty of attention from the music press. Despite this the project never really took off and they never even recorded an album. Bunker went on to become an in demand session musician and later joined Blodwyn Pig. Dewar of course remained with Trower and took on vocal duties as well as bass playing and as The Robin Trower Band they recorded a succession of hugely successful albums throughout the 70s. One Miller/Trower composition from this period ‘I Can’t Wait Much Longer’ appeared on their first album. Miller was offered a solo contract with Chrysalis.

‘Once In A Blue Moon’ was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, South Wales during the latter part of 1972 and features ten tracks, seven of which are original Miller songs along with one co-written with former Stoics man Jim Doris. There are also  two covers, one from blues man Willie Dixon and the seemingly obligatory for the time Dylan track.

Miller had become friendly with the band Brinsley Schwarz, who were a pretty big draw on the London pub circuit, so much so that they had a huge house in Northwood, Middlesex with their own recording studio in it. Miller would regularly turn up at their gigs and do a guest appearance. He was also a regular visitor to the Northwood residence and they quickly formed a good working alliance. Sensing that they worked well together Miller and Chrysalis decided to use them on the album so armed with crates of beer they all headed for South Wales to put Millers songs on tape.

Brinsley Schwarz consisted of Brinsley Schwartz himself and Ian Gomm on guitars, Bob Andrews on pianos and accordion, Billy Rankin on the drums and Nick Lowe on bass. Lowe of course would go on to carve out a successful solo career in the latter half of the decade. The line up was augmented by three female backing vocalists billed only as Bridget, Joy and Janice. Ian Gomm later commented that the backing vocalists weren’t at the recording session and that they never even met them as their vocals were added at a later date.

The album kicks off with ‘You Don’t Need To Laugh (To Be Happy) a mid paced song that sets the mood for the album perfectly. The instrumentation is tight, as you would expect from a band that worked together a lot and the song has a great infectious rolling rhythm.  There is plenty of room though for Miller to express his Dylanesque lyric to good effect. The vocal is gravelly and growling yet almost seems to be sung through a smile.  It is easy to see why Miller carved out a successful career as a songwriter and became something of a darling of the Nashville set in later years. Despite this being his first album he has already honed the art of story telling through lyric writing to perfection and the words conjure up great images in the mind not only through this track but throughout the whole of the album. The backing vocals also add considerably to the track and you would never guess they had been added later.

For many the second track ‘I Can’t Change It’ is the highlight of the album. A slow soulful song full of brooding melancholy it was reportedly written by Miller when he was only twelve years old. The almost spartan acoustic guitar and piano intro lead perfectly into Millers vocal which drives the song along with feeling and passion. The instrumentation and backing vocals are perfectly tailored punctuating between the lyric to great effect never interfering with Millers vocal melody but adding to it without ever trying to steal the limelight. For many this is as good a vocal as Miller ever recorded and the song has been used several times in film and TV productions most notably in the hit British dramas Cracker and Life On Mars. The greatest accolade for the song though from Millers and many of his contemporaries perspective was the fact that Ray Charles chose to cover it on his album ‘Brother Ray Is At It Again’. Quite a feat for someone who at the time was an unknown outside Britain and Miller must have had to pinch himself as he recalled listening to Charles as a boy with his Mother and Sisters.

The pace quickens again for ‘Candlelight Sonata in F Major’. A rather curious title but Miller must have preferred it to the more obvious title suggested by the lyric. The song chuggs along with a jaunty rhythm and it isn’t difficult to imagine it could have done well as a single. The honkytonk piano solo is also a nice touch and it is a perfect follow up to its brooding predecessor.

The country tinged Anne Eliza Jane follows and features another great Miller lyric in that it tells a story and conjures up great images of the old west. The song with its infectious chorus was a particular favourite of Millers and it remained in the live set for many years.

Side One of the original vinyl issue comes to a close with ‘It’s All Over’ a song which nods to the future a little and wouldn’t sound out of place on the Full House album recorded some years later. The song may well be the rockiest on the album and also features a short tasteful guitar solo.

Side Two gets underway with ‘In No Resistance’ another of those country tinged faster paced tracks that became a part of Millers trademark in later years. The hard riffing acoustic guitars accompany the vocal well and whilst the song isn’t anything revolutionary it is still a good track.

As with Side One the second track on Side Two is a slower more bluesy and soulful affair. ‘After All (I Live My Life)’ was co-written with Jim Doris when they were in The Stoics together. Once again the musicians leave Miller to drive the song along with his mournful vocal, adding to the song again with nice little touches here and there. The organ work of Andrews is particularly effective underneath the vocal and during his brief solo. The song had actually already been recorded by Kenny Rogers and the First Edition on their 1970 album Tell It All Brother and Lulu had also recorded it. Needless to say neither of them came close to matching Millers delivery. The track was later used in the Johnny Depp film The Rum Diary.

The first of the covers is next up in the shape of Bob Dylan’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues’. The song tells the story of a trip to Jaurez in Mexico where the narrator encounters all sorts of woes and the lyric references many literary figures such as Poe and Kerouac. The song  features no chorus and Millers vocal appears to have ben multi layered or given a slight echo. The overall feel of the song is quite dreary and for me at least it is one of the lesser tracks.

‘Mailbox’ which follows though is undoubtedly my personal favourite from the album. It has a ridiculously catchy melody and the organ sound that provides the riff is infectious and stays in your head for a lifetime once you have heard it. The lyric is once again one of those great Miller stories. It has hit single written all over it for me as that riff would be great on radio. The swirling keyboard sound at the end of the song is also a great touch as is the brief guitar solo. It may be slightly more frivolous than a lot of the tracks on here but for me its three minutes of pure aural delight. The track was covered by former Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson, who worked with Miller on his final completed solo album Dancing In The Rain, on his own solo album Diamonds and Dirt in 2011.

The final track on the album is the second cover Willie Dixon’s ‘I’m Ready’. Originally recorded by Muddy Waters, Millers version is positively dripping in sleaze as he delivers the lyric in a snarly gravelly drawl. Miller also plays harmonica on the track. My only criticism is that I am not sure it is the perfect track for ending the album and I would probably have flipped it with one of the other tracks. To be fair though there isn’t an obvious album closer track on the album so that may have been part of the reason for its positioning.

‘Once In A Blue Moon’ was released in January 1973 and is criminally short coming in at less than 33 minutes, but that was pretty much the norm in those days. Looking back it is hard to believe this is Millers first recording as everything sounds so professional and the songs are all well crafted. The album was produced by Dave Robinson, who later went on to be the founder of Stiff Records. The 2003 remaster features four extra tracks in demo form.

One final curiosity is the cover, or more to the point the inner cover. One side of the bag has the lyrics for four tracks Ann Eliza Jane, In No Resistance, I Can’t Change It and You Don’t Need To Laugh but the other side of it is totally blank.

(Dedicated to Secret Squirrel for giving me the encouragement to write again)

© Martin Leedham. First published 19th November 2019

 

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Martin Leedham’s All Time Album Chart (A work in progress)


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https://rateyourmusic.com/list/MartinLeedham/martin_leedhams_all_time_album_chart__a_work_in_progress__updated_19th_january_2014__now_including_reviews__/

UPDATE 20TH JULY 2014

As my ratings and reviews seem to have been included on some other sites (including Wikipedia) thought I would update the current chart. Remember it’s awork in progress so there are quite a lot still missing. 1-62 are all 5/5 ratings the next 90 or so are 4.5/5. Someone has been putting them on Wikipedia using the rating given for my review rather than my actual rating. Hope that clears things up.

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“So what’s all this reviewing about ?” is a question I get asked quite a lot. Well not quite so much now as most people seem to have got used to it (nearly 14,000 views so far). Anyway as I’ve reached a sort of milestone with the first 1000 rated and now over 300 reviewed including the entire Top 50 I thought I’d make the original point of it known to all.

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Album Reviews: Jonatha Brooke – Back In The Circus (2004)


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First thing to point out here is that I am rating and reviewing the UK release of this album which is slightly different to the original US version. The differences are the removal of the three cover versions which have been replaced by older songs from her back catalogue, and a change to the running order. Quite why this was thought neccesary I don’t know and I for one would have preferred it to have been released in its original format. Especially as I already have the three ‘replacement’ tracks.

Despite the changes ‘Back In The Circus’ is another solid quality album from a much under rated performer. Those familiar with the works of Jonatha Brooke will know exactly what to expect here. Clever lyrics, good melodies and perfect vocals. Unfortunately they will also be unsurprised to find their attention wandering a little towards the end of the album as things do start to get a little samey on a Brooke album after a while. Of course the good side to that is that if you like her voice then you will enjoy them. It is just a shame that ‘Back In The Circus’ becomes one of those albums that doesn’t require you to actually sit and listen to it attentively. You will happily leave the room for a few minutes without pausing or may start writing a letter or shopping list or something.

For me, the better tracks are towards the beginning of the album, with the exception of ‘Steady Pull’ (one of the replacement tracks, and the title track of the previous album). In fact the two best tracks on the album are ‘Steady Pull’ and ‘Linger’ which are both replacement tracks from the aforenamed album. ‘It Matters Now’ ‘ Back in the Circus’ and ‘Better After All’ are easily the best of the new songs and although ‘Less Than Love Is Nothing’ has a nice vibe the remainder of the album is pleasant but nothing spectacular and the songs can become a little anonymous in retrospect.

In conclusion then I would suggest that this album is a little inferior to the previous one Steady Pull despite including three tracks from it and the follow up ‘Careful What You Wish For’. Newcomers to Jonatha Brooke may be better with Plumb which although being credited to Jonatha Brooke and The Story is to all intents and purposes her first solo album.

 
© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM April 2010
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Album Review: Babe Ruth – Kid’s Stuff (1976) or A rant on the demise of the record industry !


This was initially going to be a review of the album but it turned into more of a rant about the demise of record shops and good record companies. Given the way things have gone lately I think it is worth re-isuing in its original form. So apologies to anyone out there who was hoping for in depth analysis of the music

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I may as well make it clear from the outset that this is easily my favourite Babe Ruth album. That will surprise and possibly disappoint many Babe Ruth fans as they mostly see it as the weakest with the main protagonists from the band departed.

A brief explanation of how I came to purchase the album in the first place may explain all however.

Those of you that are old enough to remember the good old days of ‘Record Shops’ will know what I’m talking about here. The poor youngsters among you will just have to curse your bad luck for being born in a time of muti-national corporations where every High street in every town is exactly the same.

You see back in the seventies and eighties, and into the nineties too just about, things were very different. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda (Wal-mart) etc sold bread and cheese. If you wanted records you went to a record shop or in some places like Woolworths and Boots (yes Boots the Chemist) you went to the Record Department. Okay there were some National chains still like HMV but Virgin was an Independent little place, which was great for imports I seem to remember, and every town had a couple of good privately owned little record shops, some even had massive ones. The majority of these had secondhand sections too where you could dig out all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff that someone else had grown tired of. How many of you reading this (that is of course if anyone is reading this) can remember, like me, wading through the endless racks of secondhand albums in the gloriously named ‘Record & Tape Exchange’ in Camden and Notting Hill Gate among other places filling in gaps in the beloved collection. It may have been more time consuming but it was much more fun than downloading them from the internet like people do nowadays.

The other thing is that in those days musicians paid their dues. They made an album every year, they played in countless bands before hitting the big time. Touring up and down the country in a beat up Bedford van. So subsequently you would find albums in the secondhand racks and be surprised by the names of musicians you knew playing in bands you’d never heard of. Because they were so cheap you bought them and thats how you got to build up a proper eclectic collection rather than 50 issues of Now Thats What I Call Music and the three albums your favourite band have released in the last 10 years that a lot of people call a collection these days.

So back to 1981 then (for that is where we were about to go before i went off on that little rant !) there I am in the aforementioned Record & Tape Exchange in Camden and I pick up ‘Kid’s Stuff’ look at the musicians credits on the back and see one Bernie Marsden. Crikey thinks the seventeen year old know all that was me, thats the guitarist out of Whitesnake I’ll buy that it’ll probably be good.

Well it was good, it still is good. Whenever I play it I think of afternoons spent in the secondhand record shop when I should have been studying. The smell of the cover reminds me of the shop and of carefree happy days when the only real concern you had was where to go on Saturday night. Twenty five years from now someone who is seventeen today isn’t going to be able to do that with a downloaded MP3 file, but if I’m still around I’ll still have all that vinyl and the memory of finding it.

This type of album wouldn’t exist today, it would never have been made in the first place. The record company would have pulled the plug and no-one would have paid to make it or promote it. There were literally hundreds of great albums like this made in the seventies if you can get your hands on them. It’s not brilliant, it’s not revolutionary but its also not manufactured music by numbers. It is where the people involved were at the time, the ideas they had in their heads. They recorded them and put them out in the shops before they had time to tinker too much or decided they didn’t think it worked. Subsequently the albums tend to be far more interesting and differ more from each other than modern day equivelants where they take three years to write an album and another year to promote it.

Short shelf lives meant it was easy to experiment. That’s what this album is like, it is like no other I have. It certainly isn’t like Whitesnake and it’s never bothered me one bit.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2007

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Album Reviews: Alaska – Heart of the Storm (1984) / The Pack (1985)


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Bernie Marsden left Whitesnake after (or during depending on who you believe) the Saints & Sinners album. That band were never the same again as they lost one of their three main songwriting forces. The fact that Bernie Marsden has never since then played in what you would call a top flight band is one of rock musics biggest mysteries and tragedies. Marsden is undoubtedly one of Britains best exponents of the blues based rock song, co-writing classics such as Here I Go Again and Fool For Your Loving to name but two. Yet he seems to have become one of those forgotten men of rock.

So on to this album, which is after all what I am supposed to be talking about, although I have got a three litre box of Californian red for company which may or may not excuse the rambling depending on your view of such things. I remember being surprised at the time when he resurfaced with this band of little known musicians on the lowly Music for Nations label. The whole feel of the release was as though it had been done on the cheap with the dodgy looking typed lyrics on the inner bag and the uninspired artwork. Musically and vocally the album is competent enough but you just feel that a man who had written Here I Go Again just a couple of years earlier was capable of much much more than this. Vocalist Rob Hawthorne was very much in the mould of a Rod Stewart wannabe and the whole album sounded as though it was geared up as a vehicle for him rather than for Marsden. The single Susie Blue is the best cut by far but overall the album is far too sodden in cheesy keyboards and MOR mediocrity.

 
 
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As with the first Alaska album this ultimately disappoints. Marsden seems best in a twin guitar combo with Micky Moody when playing this type of music and that may be where the problem is with the Alaska releases. This is basically forgettable MOR radio friendly rock and the rating is more to do with respect for Bernie Marsden as a songwriter and guitar player than anything else. In places it is predictable and cheesy, in others it gets your foot tapping. Wondering what ever happened to vocalist Rob Hawthorn I’ve just googled him and all references are to the sky sports football commentator and a character in the soap Hollyoaks !!

All in all its a once every five or ten years album. Sorry Bernie.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2007

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