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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Album Review: Jess Roden & The Humans – Jess Roden & The Humans (1995)

Time for another one of my stories folks. So if you are all sitting comfortably I’ll begin. It is 1996, a Saturday morning and we are soon to begin the bi-monthly pilgrimage to Goodison Park to watch the mighty Everton put us through ninety minutes of turmoil . My lady of the time brings me a cup of coffee and the post, the most interesting peice of which is the monthly magazine from the Robin Hood R & B Club in Brierley Hill. So I start flicking through it as she is telling our friends how Everton have got to start playing the ball into Duncan Ferguson’s feet rather than just whacking in high crosses all the time as he is a much better player on the ground than most people give him credit for (see they do listen sometimes !). Now I’m sure some of you know what I mean here but you know those occasions when the world just stops turning for a second. Time freezes and you can’t quite believe what you are seeing. Well on that Saturday morning as I turned the page to read that Jess Roden was playing the Robin Hood that is exactly what it felt like. “Bloody Hell” I exclaimed “Jess Roden is playing the Robin Hood, pass me the phone …”. This of course was met with a chorus of “Who’s she ?” from the rest of the room. An exasperated me then explained to everyone that this was one of the greatest singers the country had ever produced. That he had disappeared from the music scene years ago and that until that moment I never thought I would ever get to see him live. Then I pulled a copy of “Play It Dirty Play It Class” from the record cabinet put it on and exclaimed “Just listen to this …”. Fortunately my football friends were well used to such musical outbursts and knew it was no good to object. So they sat back in their chairs accepted more coffee and listened attentively for the whole of side one before someone announced that we better get going because Everton wouldn’t delay the kick off just because some bloke called Geoff Roden was making a comeback no matter how good he was.

So fast forward a month or so and a group of us are excitedly sat in the bar of the Robin Hood some 50 miles from home (I would eventualy live opposite and it would become my local but that is for another review !) pondering on what the set list would be and basically behaving like kids waiting for Christmas. Eventually we went into the room where the bands played and got a nice position by the bar at the front. Some bloke who I didn’t know came over and started chatting to us and insisted on giving us a glass of his champagne (I never did find out who he was). The support band came and went, the lights went down and it was time. What we witnessed then was one of the most incredible things I have seen or heard in all my time involved with music. The place was packed to capacity. In fact I’m sure they must have let more in than they should have but no-one cared about the lack of space. Jess Roden came onto the stage and looked genuinely amazed. From memory he said something along the lines of “I didn’t expect so many people to come” and then proceeded to play a set which featured none of his old tracks at all but a completely new set with a few old covers thrown in. Obviously we had all been hoping to hear the classic tracks from the seventies but no one cared a jot. The voice was just as we remembered and everyone was totally captivated. The voice of Jess Roden truly held everyone spellbound. It didn’t matter whether or not we knew the songs he was singing. We were just glad he was singing full stop. In fact in all my time attending gigs I don’t think I have ever felt such an atmosphere. It was like everyone just became one, united in one feeling of total joy at witnessing the return of a true talent ….. and a nice and humble guy to boot. I seem to remember we eventually got an unaccompanied verse of ‘Desperado’ between tracks at one point but by the time we got to ‘Keep On Rocking In The Free World’ I thought the roof was going to come off.

What a night ….. but there was more to come. There was an album as well. Fortunately there were enough copies to go around, at least I think there were. I certainly got one anyway and now dear reader after all that preamble I will finally get to the point and tell you about it !

For some reason Jess Roden had never made the breakthrough to super stardom that his talent deserved and apart from a couple of low key releases he had been silent throughout most of the eighties and the first half af the nineties. By the time “Jess Roden & The Humans” hit the street it had been fifteen years since the name Jess Roden had been on the front cover of a new release and to be honest most fans thought that Roden’s apparent retirement was a permanent situation. In fact I wouldn’t mind betting that there are some who even to this day do not know of this albums existence as I am not totally sure it was ever available other than at gigs.

The albums itself is a nine track affair split between new material written by the band and well chosen covers. The band, or The Humans featured a twin guitar combo of Bill Burke and former Rod Stewart and Strider man Gary Grainger, drummer Leo Brown and Nick Graham who handled bass and keyboards as well as occupying the producers chair. Roden also plays the harmonica on the album. I believe from a conversation I had with someone many years ago that the original line up was going to feature Jim Capaldi on drums but I am not sure if this is the case. Although from the sleeve information it would appear that Capaldi and Steve Winwood may have played on the final track of the album.

Things get under way with ‘So Fine So Young’ a great bluesy track that has a nice chugging rhythm and immediately shows that time has done nothing to diminish Roden’s vocal ability. The band obviously have a great respect for Roden as his voice is considerably higher in the mix than on most accredited ‘band’ releases. The song slows down midway before launching into tasteful solo from Burke. A perfect start to what you already know is going to be a mighty fine album.

Things get even better with the first of the two slower more soulful tracks. ‘Surrender To Your Heart’ is quite simply as good as anything Roden released in the early years and his voice is possibly even better than it was then. The feeling and emotion is positively dripping and Roden’s pleas to let him come on home will tug at the heart strings of the stoneiest hearted listener. Pure briliance, and comfortably in my best tracks of all time list. Yes, its that good. It really is a perfect showcase for Roden’s talent as he takes the solo too with some great harmonica work. The band play their part in creating the masterpeice though with some clever understated playing which pushes Roden’s voice and harmonica to an even higher level. It really is a track that should have been heard by a wider audience.

The first of the covers follows in the shape of Joe Tex’s “You Better Believe It Baby”. This is more of a band track and Roden is a little gruffer and lower in the mix here as this time Grainger takes on the guitar solo.

The longest track on the album and one which may have been the opener at some early gigs ‘Before I Hurt Myself’ is up next and after a tasteful and atmospheric instrumental introduction of about a minute it chuggs into life with some great riffing and harmonica before Roden launches into a laid back and smokey almost lazy feeling vocal at around the hundred second mark. The song builds into a great workout for the whole band. One look at the composer credits here gives you an idea how good the track is as Grainger and Roden co wrote the track with Nick Lowe.

Two more covers come next, firstly Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’ which is pleasant if nothing spectacular and Willie Mitchell’s ‘Love The Life I Live’ which is far better. Starting off with a short bass solo it is another great vehicle for Roden’s dexterous vocal ability as it features some growly blues as well as some more gentle melodic singing. Despite that Grainger possibly steals the limelight here though with some great chugging blues guitar.

The second of the real stand out tracks ‘If It Takes Just A Little While’ possibly sees Roden delivering even more emotion in his voice than on the earlier ‘Surrender To Your Heart’. As with that track the band take a back seat and allow Roden’s voice to drive the song along. The organ at the beginning of the track sets the tone perfectly and Burke’s solo provides the perfect break mid way. The backing vocal choir behind Roden’s main vocal towards the end of the song is also a nice touch. Once again this as good as anything Roden released in the seventies.

The final cover is ‘Forty Four’ an old blues standard which is credited on the sleeve notes to Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf). Like so many of the old blues songs though there were several earlier versions and some of the lyrics go back to the original Roosevelt Sykes version. Starting off with an unaccompanied vocal from Roden before it launches into the now familiar chugging sound of the band it is pretty standard barrel house blues but it still a more than decent track and builds into a nice climax.

The rockiest track on the album is closer ‘Railroad of Desire’. Who exactly plays what on the track is not clear as I guess there could have been some rights issues but I would guess from the placing of an asterisk on the sleeve notes that both Jim Capaldi and Steve Winwood play on the track. It features some great guitar and keyboards especially towards the end. The swirling keyboards could easily be Winwood and there has to be every possibilty that Capaldi is contributing to the percussion department and even the backing vocals. It certainly has a slightly different feel to the rest of the album but this may be down to the fact that it was recorded in a different studio to the rest of album in Stow, Gloucestershire. The remainder was recorded  in London.

For a year or so Jess Roden & The Humans plugged away on the gigging circuit and after that initial show at the Robin Hood R & B Club I was lucky enough to see them several more times at some very intimate venues. They also returned to the Robin and recorded a live album before Roden again became disillusioned with the music industry and disappeared into obscurity once more.

Now as I write this on a wet and windy bank holiday Monday somewhere in the midlands of England some seventeen years after Jess Roden & The Humans was released Jess Roden’s fans are in line for another long overdue treat. Sadly there is no comeback due this time but thanks to long time Roden fan and music archivist Neil Storey a 5 CD career retrospective of Roden’s work is due for release any time now. With the blessing of, and contributions from, the man himself. Hopefully some of this criminally under exposed album will feature in it.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM May 2012

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Album Review: Blackmore’s Night – Shadow Of The Moon (1997)

The Deep Purple musical family story is full of controversy and events upon which many of their followers have differing opinions. Ian Gillan and Roger Glover arriving whilst Nick Simper and Rod Evans were still on board and the subsequent departure of them both some four years later. Hiring an unknown David Coverdale. Continuing with Tommy Bolin when Ritchie Blackmore left. The Rod Evans fake Purple episode. Gillan joining Black Sabbath. Coverdale going all hair metal. The reformation. Gillan getting the sack. Joe Lynn Turner. The band continuing after Jon Lord left. These are but a few and the list is close to endless. But nothing has sparked more conversation, more differing opinion or more extreme reaction than Ritchie Blackmore forming Blackmore’s Night and re-inventing himself as the Lord and Master of Renaissance folk rock music.

By the mid nineties Blackmore was tired of the whole rock scene. The Purple reformation hadn’t exactly set the world alight despite the quality of first couple of albums. Eventually he had tired of it and jumped ship somewhat dramatically mid tour. The re-emergence as Rainbow, with a totally new line up, hadn’t come as a total surprise even if the energy and power of it had. The “Stranger In Us All” album being far closer to Dio era Rainbow than the pop rock Turner version which many of us expected. Even that though failed to inspire Blackmore and before long the foundations for Blackmore’s Night were being carefully laid. It is not difficult to imagine Candice and Ritchie sitting in their home gently crafting the songs as much for their own pleasure and entertainment as for their first album as the moonlight shone and the candlelight flickered.

Of course as word spread about Blackmore’s new project there were plenty of disbelieving cries, suggestions he had lost the plot wandering around in a silly pointed hat, and opinion that it would be a one off thing he needed to get out of his system. It might even turn out like that cello album he’d been promising us for years and never even materialise.

Then on one Friday evening in the late spring of 1997 I answered the telephone and a familiar voice on the other end of the phone said “You aren’t going to believe this but I’ve got something for you …..”. Subsequently a dinner date was hastily planned for the next evening and over a glass of rather good claret I was eventually presented with a package containing a Japanese pressing of a new album by ….. yes you’ve guessed it Blackmore’s Night.

Now I have to be honest here and admit that I wasn’t exactly sure this was the direction I wanted my favourite rock guitarist to go in so I was more than a little concerned when I put it on as I really hadn’t got much of a clue what to expect. But it was what he wanted to play so surely that was better than contractual obligation going through the motions stuff.

The title track gets things under way and right from the outset it is clear that Blackmore here is playing with a new found enthusiasm and is enjoying exploring a new style. Yet at the same time he is integrating the techniques and skills from his rock background and blending it all together with the art of a true craftsman. The oriental sounding introduction of the opener for example would sit easily on a Dio era Rainbow track. In fact throughout the album there is a little run here or fill or tone change there that reminds of Purple or Rainbow but it never intrudes on the freshness and feel of the mood created by Night’s hauntingly sweet vocals, lyrics and melodies. Make no mistake the singers contribution here is every bit as important and full of quality as Gillan, Coverdale, Dio or Turner had been in Blackmore’s previous bands. Blackmore accepts nothing less than perfection and you can be certain that his personal relationship with Night would have had no bearing. If he hadn’t have thought she was his musical equal he would have got someone else in to do it. This is no happy family benefit album. That is not the Blackmore way so get any ideas of that out of your head straight away.

After ‘Shadow of the Moon’ has built into a nice mid paced folk rock track full of great guitar a fanfare heralds the beginning of ‘The Clock Ticks On’. Based on a traditional peice by Tielman Susato and featuring one of Night’s best melodies and some great medieval sounding instrumentation it has long been a favourite of Blackmore’s Night fans.

‘Be Mine Tonight’ could almost be a Turner era Rainbow track based on the introduction but once the vocal begins it is pure English folk. Blackmore’s excellent acoustic solo and the overall arrangement of the song stop it from getting too twee but it is not in the same league as the opening two tracks or indeed the two that follow.

The first of those ‘Play Minstrel Play’ was developed by Blackmore and Night from a traditional Pierre Attaingnant song and was probably the track that garnered the most attention at the time as it is a pure Renaissance meets rock track and features long time Blackmore friend Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull on flute. The following ‘Ocean Gypsy’ is also of particular interest as despite there being a number of tracks that were developed from traditional songs on the album it is one of only two out and out covers on the album. Originally written and recorded by UK progressive rock act Renaissance in the early seventies it fits perfectly as a Blackmore’s Night track and once again makes great use of Blackmore’s skills on the acoustic as well as Night’s ethereal phrasing.

The first of the instrumental tracks ‘Minstrell Hall’ is a recorded example of Blackmore playing for Blackmore and is a pure audible delight for fans of his playing style. It is instantly recognisable as Blackmore right from the very first note. ‘Magical World’ is another Pierre Attaingnant mid tempo folk track which lacks the majesty of some of the other tracks but still has a more than pleasing melody and some very fresh crisp sounding guitar from Blackmore.

‘Writing On The Wall’ meanwhile is a mixed bag of styles that really shouldn’t work as well as it does. Based on a Tchaikovsky piece it starts off more like a Jacques Brel composed Scott Walker track before it suddenly bursts into life with what is best described as a disco drum beat behind a very poppy vocal. Meanwhile whilst all this is going on Blackmore decides it is time for some vintage 1978 Rainbow rock guitar. A strange mixture but one which ends up working reasonably well.

The second Tielman Susato peice ‘Renaissance Fayre’ does exactly what it says on the tin and bounces along good humouredly painting a picture of summer fayres, twirling maidens and gentlemanly acts of goodness. The shortest track on the album is ‘Memmingen’ which is basically another instrumental but this time with the added bonus of a haunting female choir of ‘aahs’ deep in the mix.

‘No Second Chance’ is probably the closest to rock in composition terms and also features the rockiest guitar on the album. It could easily pass for Turner era Rainbow with a male vocal. However that doesn’t mean that it is in any way out of place. The longest of the instrumental tracks ‘Mond Tanz’ takes the mood straight back to the sixteenth century and the hand claps throughout give it a nice authentic feel.

One of the candidates for track of the album, and my personal favourite, is undoubtedly ‘Spirit of the Sea’. Blackmore plays some typically superb guitar but is still upstaged by Night’s magnificently ethereal vocal which actually manages to send a shiver down your spine in places. ‘Greensleeves’ is an apt if unoriginal choice and is pleasant enough without setting the world on fire. In fairness to it it probably suffers from following the wonderful ‘Spirit of the Sea’.

The album closes on a rather curious note with ‘Wish You Were Here’. Another beautiful almost sweet mid paced ballad it sounds as though it is an original Blackmore’s Night track or had been written specifically for them. It was, however, written by and originally recorded by Swedish novelty act Rednex who had a worldwide hit with ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’ in 1994. Despite its slightly strange provenance it does fit Blackmore’s Night perfectly. The mid seventies Rainbowesque guitar solo that Blackmore plays as the track fades out is also a perfect touch. I like to think of it as Blackmore’s way of saying “I can still play this stuff …. I just don’t want to ..” and it is not difficult to imagine the smile on his face as he contemplates the bewilderment of some of his rock fans at his new direction.

Now fifteen years later as I am trying to record my thoughts about as much of my old music as I can before the opportunity to do so disappears altogether it is difficult to believe I ever had those initial doubts. Over time each and every one of the tracks on this album has left its musical print deep inside my heart mind and soul. This album is as important in the making of the legend that is Ritchie Blackmore as Deep Purple In Rock, Made In Japan, Burn, or Rainbow Rising and anyone that tells you otherwise is talking out of their silly pointed hat !

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM May 2012.

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Album Review: Sam Brown – Box (1997)

As the daughter of rock and roll nice guy Joe Brown and the superb vocalist Vicki Brown, Sam Brown was always going to be a rather special talent. But rather than take the gilt edged pop route that could have easily opened for her after the hit single ‘Stop’ she took the financially less rewarding decision to be a serious musician and songwriter. Top of just about everyone’s list when a female voice is needed for a solo album she has also carved out a nice little sideline in guest appearances on the albums of some of rock musics finest. The worlds greatest rock keyboard player Jon Lord from Deep Purple needed a lyric and female voice for one of his solo albums and remarked that he never even considered anyone else such is her genius at crafting a melody and a deep but accessible lyric.

By the time “Box” was released in 1997 Brown had two successful pop albums and a few hit singles under her belt and really should have been at the forefront of the British arm of the Lilith Fair style of songwriter performers that were taking the world by storm. However her record companies attitude towards her third album “43 Minutes” which had been written around the time of her mothers death and was a dark, but nonetheless wonderful, album had slightly disillousioned her.

As you can see from the cover photo Brown was doing things her own way by 1997 and the glamour of the “Stop” and “April Moon” artwork is long gone and replaced with an image of a strong minded woman who is in charge of her own destiny and isn’t going to have some suit from a record company putting her in any box. Hence the title track.

The main difference between this album and the early ones, apart of course from the lack of saccharine tinged pop is that this actually sounds more like a band than a solo artist and attitude and energy just leaps out at you right from the word go. What sets Brown aside though is that none of this comes at the expense of melody and carefully crafted lyrics. Lyrically there is some great stuff in here and anyone who is going to use words like  ‘twixt is going to get a nod of approval from the lexicographical part of me.

“Box” gets under way with the title track and as soon as it starts your attention is grabbed by the jazzy riff which punctuated the song throughout. Brown’s smoky velvety voice, which is possibly one of the most instantly recognisable voices in music, caresses your ears with its beauty even when it is delivering a vocal full of angst and ‘Box’ possibly features the most beautifully sung expletive in the history of recorded music. The track is not all about Brown though as there are some great musical touches going on underneath and behind the vocal. I’ll say it again but this has the feel of a band not just a solo artist.

‘Ebb and Flow’  has a hypnotic keyboard melody, some swirling Hammond and a tribal rhythmic drum beat behind a simple but pleasing vocal which leads perfectly into one of the albums highlights ‘Whisper’. This may well have the best melody on the album and has to be close to being the best recording of Brown’s career, at least to these ears. Displaying all of her vocal abilities it finds a place in your musical mind and just point blank refuses to leave as is subliminally suggested by the lyric.

The quality bar doesn’t drop for the following ‘I Forgive You’ which may well be the best known song on the album as it was co-written with Maria McKee and included on her album “You Gotta Sin To Get Saved”. Again Brown displays both ends of her talent from the powerful to the beautifully tender. The end part of the track with the choir is nothing short of brilliant. Structure wise it reminds me of the Ragavoy/Berns classic ‘Piece Of My Heart’.

‘They’re The One’s’  takes us back to the almost protest/angst of the opener and again the tribal drum breat drives the song along nicely whilst Browns voices dances and flits around it in a mixture of styles. As the song build it turns into a full blown rock track with some great instrumentation towards the end. This could be a rock band jamming out with the Hammond of Claire Nicolson battling away with Richard Newman’s drums. Top quality stuff.

‘Liberty in Reality’ features another great Brown lyric and once again the musicianship is of the highest order. Brother Pete, who also handled production, on guitar and bass player Aaron McRobbie playing their part as much as the aformentioned Nicolson and Newman. Add to that a guest appearance on percussion by Jim Capaldi and you’ve got a great fast paced track.

Things slow down considerably for ‘Embrace The Darkness’ which is classic Brown with its haunting melody, deep lyric and dramatic piano. It builds from the gentleness of the beginning into a  powerful false ending before slipping back to a gentler climax. ‘T.O.E.S (The Obligatory Earth Song)’ also starts of with a soft, almost jazz like piano intro as Brown warns of the anger of Mother Nature. The fact that a song warning of such doom can be delivered with such a gentle and wonderful melody without appearing ridiculous is testament to Brown’s ability as a songwriter. The anger and feeling of danger being saved for the musical passage works perfectly and gives the meaning of the lyric more chance to work into your mind than if it had been deliverd in a more menacing way.

‘Intuition’ is a mid paced piano led track which features a big radio friendly chorus although it once again has a rock feel to the instumental passage. It may be one of the weaker tracks on offer here but it is still far too good to be mentioned in the same breath as filler.

‘As The Crow Flies’ has another jerky jazz like beat and riff and another big infectious chorus. Once again it gives the musicians on the album a chance to shine and a certain Mr Capaldi pops up again with some great extra percussion. ‘What’s The Use’ is another jazz rock sounding track musically with Brown delivering a fast and in places almost snarling vocal. This is about as far removed from ‘Stop’ as you could possibly get and is an absolutely wonderful track that many a rock band could do worse than cast an envious ear towards. My only criticism of it is that it could have easily been extended beyond its brief sub three minute duration and turned into something far more substantial. The album ends with ‘Bert and Flo’ which is basically a slower two minute reprise of ‘Ebb and Flow’ leading into the sound of a stylus coming off a record at the end.

Those that know me know of my love of the female singer songwriter and Sam Brown has always been right up there in the top echelon for me with her unique style and phrasing ability. Despite the quality of the early pop albums “Stop” and “April Moon”, and the dark haunting beauty of “43 minutes” “Box”, for me, took Brown on to a new level and despite releasing another couple of excellent albums since in “Reboot” and “Of The Moment” it remains the pinnacle of Brown’s career to date.

© Martin Leedham 2012. First published on RYM April 2012



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