Album Review: The Butts Band – The Butts Band (1973)

In 1973 following the disappearance of Jim Morrison the remaining members of The Doors came to England in an attempt to find a replacement front man. Several vocalists were auditioned including Kevin Coyne and Jess Roden. However, the hot favourite and choice of Jac Holzman, the Elektra record label founder, was Howard Werth the former vocalist of The Audience. Werth remained with the band for around a week rehearsing before Ray Manzarek called the whole thing off and returned to America and declared The Doors as no more. 

John Densmore and Roddy Krieger though had been more impressed with Jess Roden than Werth anyway and decided to stay in London and form a new group, which they christened The Butts Band, with Roden, Roy Davies and Phil Chen. 

The Butts Band were a mixture of styles encompassing rock, soul, blues, jazz funk and even a smattering of reggae and calypso. They recorded their self titled debut album in two distinct parts during 1973, one in England and one in Jamaica with the album hitting the streets later that year. 

Side one of the original vinyl edition contained the tracks recorded in Kingston, Jamaica and are packed full of that laid back easy going feeling of life on the island. The opening track ‘I Won’t Be Alone Any More’ from the pen of Robby Kreiger is a mid paced rock track with some country and folk undertones as well as a jaunty west coast American style feel. A couple of tasteful solos and an easy vocal melody make the track a great launch into the album. An album which is as far removed from The Doors as you can imagine. 

‘Baja Bus’ is something of a classic amongst musicians who play and appreciate a jazz funk soul type of rock and has claims to be the classic that all music of that ilk should be compared with. Jerky jazzy beats, great bass, drums and some guest conga work from Larry McDonald all help to create a great laid back groove that Roden positively shines over with his faultless vocal. Once again the solos and musical passages are tasteful and help to form the feel of the whole piece rather than being just there to massage the ego of the soloist. 

Having waxed lyrical about ‘Baja Bus’ I am going to follow that by claiming the following track ‘Sweet Danger’, a Roden composition, as the highlight of the album. A wonderfully laid back bluesy soul track it features one of Roden’s best ever vocals, a sublime melody and some great instrumentation from the band. The dirty fuzzy sound of the main riff works perfectly in contrast with the careful picking of the jazz blues guitar solo. As a vehicle for Roden’s voice it is perfect but the musicians play their part from beginning to end in helping to create a track that should have been declared an all time classic. 

The Jamaican influence comes to the fore in the final track of the first half of the album ‘Pop-A-Top’. Co-written by Roden and Chinese/Jamaican bassist Phil Chen it is absolutely dripping with Caribbean feel. The calypso style intro and the funky reggae guitar, courtesy of Chen, blends perfectly with the more straight up jazz funk of the rest of the band. Once again Roden’s vocal is straight out of the top drawer. 

The second half of the album, which includes the tracks recorded in London starts with the funky soul number ‘Be With Me’. Despite being written by Robby Kreiger it has the feel of Roden’s later solo material. An easy laid back track with nice jazz undertones it has particularly pleasing laid back guitar and piano solos. 

‘New Ways’ is a slightly faster more up-tempo rocker than any of the others on offer here and despite being above average it is probably the weakest track on the album, even with the addition of Mick Weaver’s Wurlitzer. 

‘Love Your Brother’ gets us back to the more funky jazz feel and is something of a jazz funk soul fusion stomper. Ideal for Roden’s vocal style it also allows the musicians chance to shine with some great organ and guitar work. The solo jamming to fade is particularly impressive and gets you into a nice groove. 

The final track on the album is a bit of an oddity as it is a live recording of the Leiber/Stoller track ‘Kansas City’. There is no information on the sleeve to suggest where it may have been recorded but the performance in certainly full of energy and quality. It is probably the closest thing on the album to The Doors and could go a long way to explaining why Deep Purple considered Roden as a suitable replacement for Ian Gillan in 1973. 

“The Butts Band” was well received on its release and a low key tour and several TV appearances followed. However, Kreiger and Densmore had returned to America whilst Roden, Chen and Davies remained in London. This of course proved difficult logistically and the former Doors men jettisoned Roden, Chen and Davies the following year before making a second album. That was a great pity as it would have been very interesting to see how this line up would have developed. Roden of course went on to have a moderately successful solo career and is widely regarded as one of the finest singers of his or any generation, particularly in the eyes of his fellow musicians. Chen also continued to be in great demand as a session player and such is his contribution to this album that he can be forgiven for playing on Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’.

The bottom line is that “The Butts Band” is something of a lost classic especially for people who like their rock music steeped in blues, full of soul, and with a huge helping of jazzy funk throughout. If you can track down a copy I can pretty much guarantee you won’t regret it.

 © Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2012

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Album Review: Frankie Miller – The Rock (1975)

Unlike his first two albums Frankie Miller’s third album “The Rock” featured his own backing band so was marketed as being by The Frankie Miller Band rather than as a solo release. Recorded in sight of the famous Alcatraz prison during the first half of 1975 it still contains certain elements of those first two albums “Once In A Blue Moon” and “Highlife”. It is testament to Miller’s skill as a songwriter and vocalist that the basic pub rock of that opening album, the laid back New Orleans soul of “Highlife” and the country tinged rock and blues of The Frankie Miller Band all blend together so seamlessly on “The Rock”. 

The band itself featured Henry McCullough on guitar, Chrissy Stewart on bass, Mick Weaver on the keyboards and Stu Perry on the drums. All of whom already had illustrious CV’s to their name. The “Highlife” style soul feel was provided by no less a talent than The Memphis Horns and the Edwin Hawkins Singers of ‘Oh Happy Day’ fame. Add to that a backing vocal appearance by James Dewar vocalist with Robin Trower and it is no wonder “The Rock” is such a solid and consistent effort. The production duties were handled by Elliot Mazer who had been involved in the recording of Neil Young’s “Harvest” a few years previously. As he had been with the previous years album “Highlife” Miller was critical of the final mix and production sound, feeling that it lacked the real live feel that he desired. 

A couple of years earlier Miller and former Free bassist and songwriter Andy Fraser had attempted to put a band together but despite spending several months in the studio they never managed to get anything solid going. What they did achieve though was to form a lifelong friendship and a great song writing partnership. ‘A Fool In Love’ was one of the tracks that came from those sessions and that gets “The Rock” off to an explosive start. Miller’s vocal kicks in virtually as the track begins and the gritty delivery is reminiscent of the first album whilst the horns and backing vocals are more akin to something from the second album. The influence of Fraser gives the song a real feeling of being a band song rather than that of a solo performer and also adds a commercial flavour showing that he was never the junior partner in the main song writing team with Paul Rodgers in Free. It provided Miller with his first considerable success in America and was later covered by Delbert McClinton, Etta James and UK rockers UFO to name but three. 

Second track ‘The Heartbreak’ is a slower struttier track with a good mix of rock, blues and soul feeling in both the vocal and the musical backing. The piano underneath the vocal drives the song along nicely and a decent guitar and organ solo along with some typically classy horn work all blend together to make it a real stand out track. It is almost a precursor to Miller’s rockier albums of the eighties. 

The title track is next up and gets the toe tapping straight away with its country rock flavoured tinge. A twangy guitar, some bar room boogie woogie piano and gospel backing vocals all compliment Miller’s easy vocal and it really should have provided him with his first major hit. The song itself was inspired by the sight of Alcatraz from the recording studio and Miller’s belief that were it not for music he would probably have ended up in somewhere similar. Subsequently the album was dedicated “ …to the plight of prisoners ….”. The Frankie Miller Band actually played a gig in promotion of the album at San Quentin jail where Johnny Cash recorded his famous live album.

The second of the tracks resurrected from the Rumbledown Band sessions with Andy Fraser ‘I Know Why The Sun Don’t Shine’ slows things down considerably. A gradually building brooding blues it is a little slower and more of a stripped back basic blues than the original Rumbledown Band recording which featured Paul Kossoff on guitar and eventually surfaced on the Paul Kossoff compilation album “Blue Soul” in the mid eighties. Although Henry McCullough is a fine guitarist and puts in a typically classy performance it is difficult not to prefer the faster and more soulful Rumbledown Band version with Kossoff. 

The first half of the album ends with ‘Hard On The Levee’ which despite being one of the lesser cuts on the album is still a mighty fine piece of work. It was an integral part of the live set and gives a clear indication of the direction Miller would go in with his next album “Full House”. 

One of Miller’s most loved, and most covered, songs ‘Ain’t Got No Money’ gets the second half of the album off to the same high standard as the first. A live favourite it is classic Miller and has claims to be the best bar room stomp track of all time. The song has a no frills fast paced approach with some more great boogie woogie piano, frenetic drumming, another tasteful solo and even a bit of cowbell unless I am very much mistaken. Throw on top of that a dirty gritty Miller vocal and you have something which is impossible to fault. The track has been covered by such diverse acts as  Chris Farlowe, Bob Seger and Cher. Having never heard the Cher version I can’t comment on it but I would assume there were a few lyrical changes. The Seger version is pretty true to the original albeit with more of an American country feel. Segar is often compared to Miller stateside and openly cites Miller as a huge influence. 

‘All My Love To You’ displays Miller’s more soulful side and is very Otis Redding/Arthur Conley like vocally. A Miller composition it has the feel of an old time soul track and it is not difficult to imagine it being belted out by those soul greats Miller admired so much. The Memphis Horns give the whole thing a great authenticity and Miller’s vocal is as good as any of those he admired. 

Things quicken up again for ‘I’m Old Enough’ which features a typically well thought out Miller lyric over a bouncy fast paced rock beat. Some simple but effective guitar and more classy ivory tinkling add to the track nicely and the whole thing has a great sing-along feel. As with the earlier faster tracks Miller’s vocal is full of grit and attitude. An edited version was released as a single but failed to trouble the judges although that didn’t stop the French Elvis, Johnny Halladay, trying with his own version. 

The final two tracks of the album take us back to Miller’s roots in Scotland. ‘Bridgeton’ is named after the area of Glasgow he came from and is another slower brooding track which builds nicely and tells the tale of Miller’s days there. The guitar has a dobro or even steel feel in places and there is even something which sounds uncannily like bagpipes although there is no suggestion of either in the sleeve notes so I am guessing it must be an organ effect. Whether that is the case or not the more obvious organ work is one of the highlights., as is the very sing able vocal melody.

The title of the final track ‘Drunken Nights in The City’ is pretty explanatory and tells the tale of Miller’s nights of heavy drinking with Celtic footballer Jimmy Johnstone. Miller is an avid Celtic fan and often wore a Celtic shirt on stage. The track itself is a simple vocal over an acoustic guitar. On live performances Miller would often play the song alone and the guitar playing here sounds like it is Miller rather than McCullough. The vocal also has a feel of being recorded after a decent amount of alcohol had been consumed. This gives it a very authentic feel and is either a great display of vocal acting by Miller or totally authentic. Having seen a few live shows my money would be on the latter ! 

Despite being released to critical acclaim ‘The Rock’ like its predecessors failed to shift a huge number of units but the American tour to promote the album was a huge success and they regularly went down better than the acts they opened for. A UK tour with Rory Gallagher was not as successful though as guitarist McCullough was pre-occupied with recording his solo album and eventually the band began to fall apart. A disconsolate Miller went off to Holland to sing with old mates Procul Harum. 

For me “The Rock” is the album where the final pieces of the Frankie Miller sound and style came together. The basic pub rock elements of the first album and the smooth laid back vibe of the Toussaint collaboration are both evident throughout but have now been married together with a bluesy soulful band feel and a smidgeon of American country commerciality. This was very much the blueprint for his next venture “Frankie Miller’s Full House”, a band which encompassed the sound and styles of his first three albums into one tight unit and finally delivered the chart success he deserved.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2012

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Album Review: Stephanie Kirkham – That Girl (2003)

The female singer songwriter market is a crowded one to say the least, my ever increasing pile of ‘to be reviewed’ albums is testament to that, and finding something to lift you above the ordinary is no easy task for a newcomer. That task is made even more difficult by the cut throat and cavalier attitude of some of the fat cats that sadly prowl the jungle that is the home to new and unsigned acts.

Sadly, Stephanie Kirkham was another victim of their lethal pounce. Signed to a subsidiary label of Virgin she was given a five album deal on the strength of some promising demos and ideas. The plug though was unceremoniously pulled after the first album. The label was closed down and Kirkham’s deal was no longer worth the paper it was written on. 

The one album she did manage to get out on Virgin/Hut, “That Girl”, released in September 2003 features ten nicely crafted tracks which all have lyrics and melodies written by Kirkham although the music has been composed by various collaborators. The overall feel of the album is quite lightweight, airy, ethereal and quirky although there are a couple of darker deeper moments hidden amongst the niceness. That may in truth be the only problem with the album as a whole as it could, for some, get a little too ‘middle class art student’ at times. 

It wastes no time letting you know what is in store as the title track and opening cut launches straight into a jaunty poppy rhythm and the chorus is pretty infectious. Kirkham’s easy to like light voice flits around the accompaniment and whilst it isn’t the strongest it has a certain other worldly feel to it. The second track ‘Stay Here Close To Me’ is a more stripped down folky affair and Kirkham comes across as delicate and vulnerable. Her almost child like tone gives the track a very pleasing feel. Things almost drift into power pop for ‘Inappropriate’ which I believe was released as the first single. Like the opener it has another jaunty mid to fast paced instantly accessible melody which is a perfect vehicle for Kirkham’s style of vocal. The three tracks ensure a great start to the recorded career of an artist who should be around for many years to come.

‘When You Were Here’ is the first of a couple of forays into Dido territory whilst “Monday Morning” is reminiscent of late seventies pop and again makes good use of the vulnerability and naivety evident in Kirkham’s singing style. ‘Garden of Dreams’ meanwhile manages to be upbeat and downbeat at the same time as the music is very bouncy whilst the lyric appears to be telling a tale of lonely but optimistic. It shouldn’t really work but it does and it is one of many growers on the album. 

Dido comes to mind again on ‘Somebody Else’s Girl’ which is another of those growers and has definite claims to be one of the albums highlights. The lightweight dreamy delivery of the vocal works perfectly with the musical backing, which is just a little bit too electronic sounding for my tastes. However it does give it an ethereal sound which works well with the vocal and leads nicely into ‘Heavy Boots’ which is a quirky pop folk tune which is difficult not to like. Something that can be said for most of the album actually. 

The mood changes considerably for the final two tracks. ‘Never In A Million Years’ is probably the most experimental track on the album and has an almost Celtic feel about it at the beginning. Kirkham’s almost spoken vocal gives the track a poetic feel and the background vocals set deep into the mix provide the other worldly feel of mystery. Like its predecessor, album closer ‘Blank White Sheet’ is another far more grown up and serious sounding song than the lightweight pop of the earlier tracks and Kirkham’s nice voice contrasts well with the darker feel of the music and lyric. 

Despite favourable reviews on its release “That Girl” soon drifted into obscurity due more to a lack of promotion on the part of the ailing record company than any fault on the part of Kirkham. As debut albums go it is well above average and well worth a listen for anyone with an interest in the poppier side of the female singer songwriter genre. There is certainly enough on offer here to justify a visit to her subsequent albums which hopefully will be plentiful. 

NB. More of you will have heard Stephanie Kirkham than you realise as her song ‘Easy As 1,2,3’ was used in the TV advert for the Peugeot 308. The track was finally released as a single in May 2012. Kirkham will also be appearing at this years MFest at Harewood House, Leeds on July 7th with Texas, Big Country and Bob Geldof to name but three. There is also a second album “Sunlight On My Soul” released in 2006 available from the artists website.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM July 2012.

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Album Review: Lowell George – Thanks I’ll Eat It Here (1979)

By the late seventies Lowell George was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the direction his band Little Feat were taking. He is on record as saying that the growing influence of jazz fusion from certain other members was having a detrimental effect on the sound of the band. With that in mind he disbanded the group during the sessions for “Down On The Farm” and fully turned his attention to his solo album. He had signed a contract to make a solo album some three or four years earlier and had been delving in and out of ever since.

“Thanks I’ll Eat It Here” is a short nine track affair of little more than half an hour but it manages to cover many styles and display George’s talent in a very easy and accessible way. Surprisingly for a songwriters solo album most of the material is written by people other than George and there are only three tracks on the album co-written by him and just the one sole composition which is actually a reworking of an old Little Feat track.

The album may be short but it doesn’t lack for quality of material or performance and also manages to feature a multitude of top quality guest musicians. Far too many to list here as they number more than thirty! But if I mention the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Chilli Charles, Nicky Hopkins, Jeff Porcaro and Jim Gordon you will get the idea of the quality we are talking about.

Things get under way with the Allen Toussaint penned ‘What Do You Want The Girl To Do’ which had originally been aired on Toussaint’s 1976 album “Southern Nights”. The George version is pretty true to the original although it has been rocked up just a little bit from the slightly more laid back Toussaint version. The song builds up beautifully and has a truly wonderful hook and I can’t quite figure out why no one has managed to turn it into a major hit. It sounds to me like the type of thing that someone like Stevie Wonder would have had a massive hit with. The George version is as good as any I have heard and his style of singing and playing fits the Toussaint style of writing perfectly. Something that was also evident from the Little Feat version of ‘On Your Way Down’ from a few years earlier. The backing vocals and horns are the icing on the cake and it is a perfect start to the album.

‘Honest Man’ also has that great funky bouncy feel with some great backing vocals, keyboard and horn work. Again reminiscent of Toussaint, Muscle Shoals and the like it competes with the opener for the accolade of best track on the album for me.

The funky vibe continues into the third track ‘Two Trains’ which originally appeared on the Little Feat album “Dixie Chicks”. The funk here though is joined by a healthy smattering of southern boogie rock and a little bit of lowdown dirty blues. If you imagine Lynyrd Skynyrd with a horn section and a bunch of funky backing singers you won’t be far away from the effect.

The Ann Peebles classic ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ is the rather surprising choice for the next track and although George’s voice is in no way comparable to that of the composer he does a decent enough job of it and the arrangement gives it a different identity to that of the original. Much faster and more upbeat it also benefits from some great female vocals. On paper it looks like an experiment that shouldn’t necessarily work but the evidence on tape proves otherwise and it completes a wonderful four track opening salvo to the album.

Things deteriorate slightly with ‘Cheek To Cheek’ which has a feel of Spanish/Mexican gypsy music and really does nothing for me at all but fortunately the quality is back in abundance with the magnificent ‘Easy Money’. A sleazy jazzy blues rock romp from the pen of Rickie Lee Jones it conjures up some marvellous images and is three and a half minutes of pure aural delight.

Something similar can be said of ‘20 Million Things’, a simple little song the beauty of which is nigh on impossible to put across in words. ‘Find Me A River’ is a simple country folk type tune by Fred Tackett, who co-wrote ‘Honest Man’ with George. Whilst it is not of the same quality as its predecessor it is still pleasant enough and worthy of its place, particularly for the easy on the ear chorus.

The album ends with the curious ‘Himmler’s Ring’. A strange almost musical comedy vaudeville track from Jimmy Webb it sounds ridiculously out of place at first but after repeated listening it sort of gains a ‘so odd its good’ feeling. That is not to say the performance is bad it just doesn’t fit in with the style of the rest of the album at all. Something which I also think can be said of ‘Cheek To Cheek’. The inclusion of those two songs is a little puzzling as there are two other tracks recorded around the same time that sit far better ‘Heartache’ which has been included in the CD remaster and ‘China White’ which is available on a Little Feat bits and pieces compilation.

It is impossible to close without mentioning the cover art by Neon Park which at first glance may just appear to be a portrait of George wearing a bathrobe in a garden. However if you look more closely you will see that the backdrop is a version of Edouard Manet’s Le dejuener sur l’herbe with Bob Dylan, Fidel Castro and Marlene Dietrich as the diners!

George toured briefly to promote the album and gave an interview to Bill Flanagan in which he stated that it was his intention to reform Little Feat but without Bill Payne and Paul Barrere who he felt were harming the Little Feat sound. Sadly, eleven days after the interview in June 1979 Lowell George died of heart failure aged only 34. The remaining members of Little Feat regrouped and completed the “Down On The Farm” album and included George’s contributions but this 1979 solo album was the last completed work to be released before his death …… and for me it may also have been his best.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM June 2012

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Album Review: Kate Bush – The Kick Inside (1978)

Kate Bush’s debut album “The Kick Inside” was released in 1978 but the story started a few years earlier when she was just a schoolgirl. ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ for example was written when she was little more than thirteen. 

A demo tape of some fifty or so songs was sent to record companies in the mid seventies but universally rejected. The tape though made its way into the hands of Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd and he was impressed enough to set up the production of a more professional sounding demo. The resulting tape was sent to EMI and they signed her on the strength of it. 

Although the managing director of EMI, Bob Mercer, was impressed with the strength of the material he sent Bush back to school and put her on a two year retainer refusing to allow her to release any of the material. The thinking behind this was that a young Bush may not be able to recover emotionally if the album did not go down well and similarly she may not be able to handle the pressure if it became a huge success. 

During the two years before the main recording session began Bush finished her school work, achieving far above average results, and also took extensive dancing and mime lessons. As well as this she wrote around two hundred more songs and played in pubs as The K.T Bush Band. A couple of the tracks on the debut album were also recorded during this time although the main recording sessions began in August 1977 when she was still barely nineteen. A group of seasoned session musician were put together by EMI to help her record the album with only brother Paddy from The K.T Bush Band appearing on the final recording.

 “The Kick Inside” starts with a recording of whale song from a humpback whale which leads into the first main track ‘Moving’. Bush wrote the song as a tribute to her dance coach Lindsay Kemp.  A beautiful song with a great structure and a particularly elegant and engaging vocal melody it immediately sets the bar at a high level. Bush’s vocal almost enters operatic territory in places. The song was particularly well received in Japan where it was a major hit and reached the top of the Japanese single chart. ‘Wuthering Heights’ was the b-side ! 

Recorded at the 1975 session ‘The Saxophone Song’ is a more jazzy and uptempo affair with the vocal almost becoming scat in places. The track also manages to blend in a little feel of Japanese techno as well. In fact the Oriental feel pops up quite often throughout the album. Given the songs title it is not surprising that it contains a good sax break. 

‘Strange Phenomena’ is one of my favourites from the album and features a range of vocal techniques and an absolutely stunning vocal melody. Bush flits effortlessly from the deep to the high pitched and the musical accompaniment is very atmospheric. The almost haunting monastic ending is also a nice touch. 

This is all followed up by a huge slice of quirky late seventies pop in ‘Kite’. A faster upbeat almost frenetic track Bush performs vocal acrobatics on a track that once again has that Oriental feel. It is something of a surprise that it was never released as a single as it would surely have received a lot of airplay and is very commercial. 

The first of the heavy weight hits is up next and it is testament to Bush’s song writing ability that tracks which have been played constantly for over thirty years have not become tired or unwelcome due to over exposure. ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ is the second of the tracks recorded back in 1975 under the guidance of Dave Gilmour although as with the earlier offering he does not play on the track. It gave her a second consecutive top ten single in the UK and her first significant success in the US. My only criticism of the song is that it is a little too short. If anyone needs me to go into any great detail about it then I can only assume you have been on a desert island for the last thirty years. It is quite simply a classic. Basically a straight forward vocal over a piano it lacks the usual vocal acrobatics but is overflowing with emotion and won an Ivor Novello for its lyric. 

The same of course can be said of ‘Wuthering Heights’ which closed the first half of the original vinyl edition. Obviously based on the Bronte novel of the same title it is sung from the perspective of Catherine Earnshaw. Bush read the novel several times before writing the lyric after being inspired to write it by the final minutes of the film version and discovering that she shared the same birthday as author Emily Bronte. After all the research she wrote the lyric in one sitting of just a few hours late at night. The song itself of course is as important as any other in the history of British music as it was the very first song to top the singles chart that had been self penned by a female artist. As with the previous track it needs little description as it one of the most played tracks in music history and I seriously doubt that anyone reading this has not heard it several times. However unlike ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes’ ‘Wuthering Heights’ does display Bush’s incredible vocal acrobatics. The delivery of the word “wuthering”  being particularly impressive. The guitar solo which ends the song, and was regularly faded out or spoken over on radio play, was played by former Alan Parsons man Ian Bairston and not Dave Gilmour as some people have suggested. Engineer Jon Kelly has stated in recent years that he regrets not pushing it higher in the mix as it does get a little lost. 

The second half of the album kicks off with ‘James and the Cold Gun’. A pleasant enough song although for me it is not of the same quality as the tracks on the first half of the album and despite the nice organ work it is one of the weaker tracks on offer here. Curiously EMI had wanted to issue it as the lead off single but Bush had been adamant that it should be ‘Wuthering Heights’. Subsequently the track was never released as a single. Similar things can be said of the following track ‘Feel It’. Another pleasant enough track it just lacks the majesty of the majority of the album despite Bush giving a typically passionate performance. 

The quality returns in abundance for the next couple of tracks. Firstly ‘Oh To Be In Love’ which has a simple gentle opening that soon gives way to something which manages to blend sixties Britpop, robotic Japanese and the British brass band feel into the musical accompaniment as Bush delivers another of her sublime vocal melodies and exquisite displays of range and tone.  That is swiftly followed by the all too brief  ‘L’Amour Looks Something Like You’ which has yet another of those beautiful Bush vocal melodies and hypnotic delivery. 

The third of the big UK hit singles on the album ‘Them Heavy People’ is up next although the version that actually charted was not the version from “The Kick Inside” but the one from the live EP released a couple of years later. Another classic example of late seventies British pop it once again has a jerky Oriental feel to it and lyrically talks about the power of religion. The only single release of the album version was actually in Japan where it was re-titled ‘Rolling The Ball’ and reached number three. 

‘Room For The Life’ is a pretty standard piano led album track which despite yet another pleasant vocal melody is nothing above the ordinary. The album concludes with the title track which is based on ‘The Ballad of Lizzie Wan’. A hugely atmospheric track with dark and haunting vocals over a dramatic piano and a mournful string arrangement it is a perfect end to a truly wonderful album. 

“The Kick Inside” was released in February 1978 and immediately pushed the nineteen year old Catherine Bush into a world of superstardom and she has remained there ever since. The significance of this album can not be over stated and every female singer song writer from the UK and possibly even the world owes her a huge debt of gratitude as she paved the way for every one that followed. One of the few albums that can truly be described as essential to any lover of popular music “The Kick Inside’, like Kate Bush herself, is nothing less than a national treasure.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM June 2012


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Album Review: Jann Arden – Living Under June (1994)

I feel as though I have started many a review with this phrase but it is more than appropriate again here as Jann Arden is yet another one of the seemingly endless stream of talented female singer songwriters from the environs of Canada. Her first album “Time For Mercy” released in 1993 had provided her with a Canadian hit and a prestigious Juno award for best video courtesy of the track ‘I Would Die For You’ so this follow up “Living Under June” was highly anticipated.

The ten track virtually all self penned album kicks off with ‘Could I Be Your Girl’ which was also chosen as the lead off single. A nice upbeat poppy track with country and gospel undertones, as well as a decent guitar solo, it not only hit the number one spot in Canada but also scooped the Juno for single of the year. It was also her first success in the US.

The country feel is even more to the fore with the second track ‘Demolition Love’, due mostly to the very twangy guitar. Arden provides a dreamy passion filled vocal which prevents the song from becoming too countrified and twee. The guitar sound is far crisper even if it is still a little twangy in places on ‘Looking For It’. Once again Arden delivers a fine vocal but the acoustic guitar which punctuates the song is the real highlight and gives the track its identity. 

‘Insensitive’ is the only non Arden penned track on the album and was written by Anne Loree. Curiously though it has to date provided Arden with her biggest world wide success as it reached the lofty heights of number twelve on thev US singles chart. A far more poppy and commercial sounding track than the others here it is not difficult to see why it achieved the radio play it did as it has a very catchy hook. So much so in fact that it was used in the film Bed Of Roses and also as an advertising jingle for a well known brand of jeans in Italy ! 

‘Gasoline’ is the first of three rockier tracks and has the same sort of feel as a mid to late eighties Robert Plant arrangement, especially in the backing vocal and riffing departments. ‘Wonderdrug’ meanwhile has a rather strange introduction before it continues with the rockier sound. For me it has a Jonatha Brooke feel to it. The third of the rockier tracks is the title track ‘Living Under June’. Lyrically and vocally it is as good as any track on the album. The vocal melody in particular is very pleasing as is the guitar break towards the end but the whole track is slightly ruined for me by the electronic sounding backing which takes something away from feel of the track. 

Things slow down considerably for the gentle sensitive ballad of ‘Unloved’. Once again Arden delivers a faultless vocal on a very atmospheric track and she is joined in a vocal duet by Jackson Browne. It is difficult to fault Arden’s performance and even though Browne struggles with the key at the end of a couple of lines it adds to the effect rather that detracts from it. The recurrent guitar is also a nice touch. 

‘Good Mother’ takes us back to the more rock pop sound of the earlier tracks and it is not difficult to imagine a young Chantal Kreviazuk being influenced by it as she wrote her debut album a couple of years later.

The album ends with something of a surprise as the country pop and rock is replaced by smoochy jazz. ‘It Looks Like Rain’ immediately transports you to a smoky jazz bar of yesteryear and Arden provides a pitch perfect vocal over a lone piano that would be the envy of many a performer of a blues or jazz style of singing. If there was any doubt prior to this that Arden deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the finest female voices of her generation then ‘It Looks Like Rain’ surely puts it to bed. 

In a bid to get Arden more exposure outside Canada A&M decided to add the hit from her debut album ‘I Would Die For You’ to the end of the album as a bonus track on all of the issues apart from the original Canadian one. As good a marketing idea as that may be it does sort of ruin the effect of ‘It Looks Like Rain’ as the perfect album closer. ‘I Would Die For You’ has a pretty fast tempo and was actually the opening cut of the debut album so maybe positioning it earlier in the album would have been a better option. 

“Living Under June” was released in August 1994 in Canada, although it was held back until early in 1995 elsewhere. It gave Arden three hits in Canada, ‘Could I Be Your Girl’, ‘Insensitive’ and “Good Mother” as well as her first major International successes with ‘Insensitive’ in Italy and the US.  It also gave her two more Juno awards, best single for ‘Could I Be Your Girl’ and best video for ‘Good Mother’. 

“Living Under June” is a fine album and can easily be recommended to anyone with an ear for a good female singer songwriter. There isn’t a bad track on it and its only flaws are that in places it does sound a little over produced and it lacks the one big stand out track that will keep you coming back to it automatically. When you do revisit it though it makes you think “I should listen to that more often” as rather than having high highs and low lows it is an album of consistent quality. Jann Arden’s vocal ability is second to none, as is her songwriting, and it remains something of a mystery to me why she hasn’t achieved the same level of international success as the likes of someone like Sarah McLachlan for example. She appears to have suffered a similar fate as that of Chantal Kreviazuk and Jonatha Brooke, to name but two, in that she is a major player in Canada and the US but in England and Europe is lauded by only an enlightened few. You could do far worse than to join us.

© Martin Leedham 2012. First published on RYM June 2012.

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Album Review: Edie Brickell – Edie Brickell (2011)

Like many others I was first introduced to the talents of Edie Brickell through the Windows 95 installation disc as the video for her track ‘Good Times’ was on it. Suitably impressed I bought the album and the back catalogue with The New Bohemians and waited patiently for the next release. Well it was a long wait. Almost a decade in fact before we got the excellent “Volcano” in 2003. Another long wait appeared on the cards but fortunately things have improved considerably in the last few years. As well as a new New Bohemians album we have had the Heavy Circles project and a new band The Gaddabouts which features Pino Palladino and Andy Fairweather-Low as well as Steve Gadd and Brickell. Also sandwiched in between those last two was this self titled ten track album so it would appear that she is attempting to make up for lost time.

“Edie Brickell” gets under way with ‘Give It Another Day’ a fast paced pop song with a particularly infectious melody. It is completely soaked in early seventies pop feeling as it bounces along. Within a minute your head will be nodding along and by the end you will be joining in the “doo doo’s”! The song itself reminds me of Lindsey de Paul.

‘Pill’ has a more staccato beat in the drums and bass but enjoys another one of Brickell’s great vocal melodies as well as one of her nicely crafted lyrics. Again the piano is very much to the fore and the pace is quite quick. As the song builds it becomes lighter, faster and more poppy. With a great hook the track is, like most of the album, very radio friendly.

Things get a bit rockier with ‘Been So Good’. In places this could pass for a full blown rock track. With a harder edged vocal it could easily pass for Sheryl Crow or the like. The contrast of the dirty riff, Brickell’s light and almost sweet sounding voice and the pop/rock arrangement work together perfectly. Throw in a rock like guitar solo and you have what for me is one of the standout tracks on the album.

‘Always’ is a much jazzier affair and makes good use of her ability to carry a melody without the need of instrumentation as the entire melody of the song is provided by the voice. The piano and drum playing a sort of jazz shuffle behind her which has no singable melody to it at all.

After four reasonably fast paced songs things slow down considerably for “2 O’clock In The Morning”. Again it has a slightly jazzy feel musically and the vocal melody is the highlight of the song and what lifts it out of the ordinary. Lyrically the track is wondering what would happen if a platonic friendship was to develop into something more. Personally with the way the song is arranged and the emphasis in the vocal I would have thought a title of ‘Natural Friends’ would have been far more suitable but that is really neither here nor there. The track ends with a nice instrumental passage.

‘On The Avenue’ starts with a ten second drum solo which leads into some jazzy and funky bass. The track has a really funky and jerky strut about it and the fresh instrumental passage at the mid way point is also a nice touch. As ever Brickell delivers a great vocal and melody. It is in total contrast to the next track ‘Waiting For Me’ which is almost a bluegrass meets skiffle meets country hoe down track. Some great guitar over a simple drum shuffle provides the back drop for a vocal which is classic Brickell and despite the frivolity of the whole thing it has claims to be one of the best on the album. The superb way in which she changes the key and tone at the end of the line “you’ll be waiting for a long time” is a pure audible delight.

The album ends with three far more serious grown up ‘album’ tracks that prove Brickell is not just some lightweight pop performer but a serious artist and songwriter with something to say. ‘You Come Back’ is the faster paced, lighter and more upbeat of the three and as with the majority of the album has a jazz like feel to it musically. At times there is a little too much going on beneath the vocal and her voice gets a little lost in the mix. The solo though has a clean cut freshness to it and as ever the vocal melody is out of the top drawer.

‘It Takes Love’ has a great dark brooding feel to it with some great mournful atmospheric piano. The vocal is bordering on the melancholy and shows her phrasing and timing to great effect. The natural Texan lilt of her accent also comes through and gives the song a nice natural authenticity. As with a few other tracks it has claims to be the album highlight.

The album ends with another of the highlights ‘Bad Way’. The wurlitzer, mellotron and strings giving the track a different dimension to anything else on the album. Brickell manages to flit effortlesly between the moody concern of the opening verse and the pleasant melody of the chorus and latter part of the song. Her phrasing which is always of the highest quality is so good here it deserves special mention. 

Edie Brickell has long been one of the army of female singer songwriters that I like to wax lyrical about and in this self titled album she has delivered another set of superbly crafted songs full of catchy melodies, clever lyrics and good instrumentation. There is not a bad track on here and they all highlight her quirky, light, airy, easy to listen to voice. In fact this may just be her best album yet.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM May 2012.

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