Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Boston - Boston (1976)

The term "corporate rock" has been applied to any act, especially a band, that is largely held in contempt by the "cultured" musical press who believe only they possess the right to determine what music people should listen to. These snobs' self-importance includes an overwhelming need to constantly attack the fans of any band they deem unworthy, sometimes even more than the artists themselves.

Back in the 70s and 80s the corporate rock label was used freely to describe bands like REO Speedwagon, Toto, Journey, Styx, and one band I truly despise, Foreigner. (Isn't "I Want To Know What Love Is" just awful?)

Let's assume for a minute that corporate rock is a real thing and these aforementioned groups only played music for fame, fortune and easy access to girls in lieu of creating art. Even if that statement is true we all know that Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" is still a classic while Boston's eponymous debut holds the distinction of winning Bloggerhythms' imaginary award for the greatest corporate rock album of all time. Readers, please take note: this should not considered faint praise!

Boston has an interesting backstory. Group founder, Tom Scholz earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering from MIT then spent years perfecting ways to obtain different guitar sounds out of his homemade, twelve track, recording studio. The band was born out of these efforts.

All of the songs on the album were written or co-written by Scholz with the only exception being "Let Me Take You Home Tonight" credited to lead singer Brad Delp, whose soaring, sky high, voice perfectly suited the kind of rock Scholz was laying down in his basement.

Boston is a very loud rock album but Delp's vocals, Scholz's distinctive guitar work, and his ability to write songs that are more melodic and hook-filled than those usually found on many hard rock records made this album a deserving hit.

Highlights include "Rock and Roll Band" about a fledgling group's rise from bar band status to stardom, the long, prog-influenced "Foreplay/Long Time" and of course, the classic rock staple, "More Than A Feeling."

Boston went platinum and became the biggest selling debut LP ever until Whitney Houston topped it a decade later.

Unfortunately, the quintet's status as an arena rock giant didn't last long. Their second album, released in 1978, was a virtual carbon copy of the first one, indicating that Scholz ran out of ideas quickly. Then they took another six years to release their third disc. By that time popular music had changed and Boston's days as a top act were done.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Bambi Lee Savage - Berlin Nashville Express (2019)

Bambi Lee Savages (BLS) has acquired a very good resume. In the 90s she worked as an audio engineer. Her work included U2's Achtung Baby and The Bad Seeds' The Good Son. Also, an earlier version of "Darlin'," the last song on her new album, Berlin-Nashville Express, named after the two cities where its ten songs were composed, was included on the soundtrack to the movie Sling Blade and was produced by Daniel Lanois.

In the process BLS discovered that songwriting suited her more than working in a control room so she cultivated her composing talent instead. Fortunately, it took root and blossomed.

Lanois, Bono, and the Bad Seeds' Mick Harvey have all helped Savage jump start her career and both Harvey and Lanois play on Berlin-Nashville Express.

BLS has released three previous solo albums. All of them fall into the alt-rock sub-genre while Express is pure unadulterated country. On this record she sites Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams and gospel music as inspirations. She said that it was surprising when country influences began turning up in her writing but the result, she says, is a gratifying set of new songs.

Perhaps Savage's inadvertent change in musical direction was fueled by her recent conversion to Christianity, something she discusses in several songs, even the ones that reference her penchant for drinking. On "Demon Alcohol" she admits her love for the hard stuff but at the same time she uses a synonym for the devil as an adjective to describe it. On "Drinker of Gin" she directly addresses her new found religiosity without getting preachy. Oddly, there are lots of references to both Jesus and booze all over the disc.

These songs have bite, most of them are uptempo, and they even rock. There is nothing on the record that suggests folk or bluegrass, two elements that turn up frequently in Americana. The album's opening blast, "Honey," is a perfect example of what Berlin-Nashville Express has to offer.

Savage appears to be a fiercely independent woman and this is where comparisons to Lynn could arise, especially on songs like the angry "I Can't Count On My Man."

Savage says that "I still have a strong affection for alt-rock, but Berlin-Nashville Express is generally more upbeat and sassy," she claims. "I have a lot of various musical influences that seem to lead me to write in varied styles, so for better or worse, no two records are likely to be all that similar. This album is an homage to original country and to all the fans of original country — especially to the many people who played a part in turning me on to it!"

This is a fine, fine country album. It's so good that we should all hope Savage's future work is just as inspired.

Bambi Lee Savage's official website can be found here.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Buried Treasure: Jacques Loussier (1934 – 2019)

Most people are unaware of Jacques Loussier. He was an excellent French, jazz pianist and classical composer who passed away on March 5, 2019.

Many years ago, without any knowledge of who they were, I picked up an album by the Jacques Loussier Trio, Play Bach, Vol. 3 (1963), from a woman who held large record sales in her cellar twice a year. Her bargain basement prices demanded that purchasers take an occasional risk with their cash and sometimes they paid off handsomely. I could go on forever about some of the gems I discovered there and Loussier's record was one of them.

Since this was the 80s, after greatly enjoying the pianist's unique work, I purchased more of the trio's later albums on what was, at the time, the new and exciting CD format. (My, how times change).

Until now I never knew a thing about Loussier. I just played his albums and that was the end of it. I only discovered he had a long, successful career when I saw his recent obituary on another music website. That piqued my curiosity enough to research his life.

Beginning in 1959 the trio performed light jazz arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bach's repertoire. You could tell Loussier was classically trained but he rounded out his band with real jazz men. He was supported by upright bassist Pierre Michelot, who played with Miles Davis and drummer Christian Garros who was a sideman for Django Reinhardt.

Some serious music critics were not happy at the idea of interpreting Bach in the jazz idiom. In 1975, New York Times' John Rockwell wrote that he was "actively appalled by the very notion of 'popularizing' Bach - or any classical composer, for that matter." "Mostly," he said, the group "stuck too close to Bach for jazz and too close to cocktail/salon jazz for satisfaction."

The pianist broke up the trio in the mid-70s then resurrected it in 1985 with different musicians to celebrate Bach's 300th birthday. In their second incarnation they expanded their repertoire beyond Bach's music and recorded jazz versions of Vivaldi, Beethoven, Handel, Ravel, Chopin, Mozart and Satie. Overall, Loussier's two trios released thirty-two albums.

Loussier was more than just an interpreter. He also composed music for more than a hundred movies and TV shows as well as a trumpet concerto, a ballet, and a mass.

Loussier opened his own recording business, Studio Miraval, in the South of France in 1977 where he composed his own work. Believe it or not, he also recorded rockers Pink Floyd, Elton John, Sting, Steve Winwood, Yes, Chris Rea, AC/DC, UB40, plus singers Shirley Bassey and Sade, and a host of others. Parts of Floyd's most famous album, The Wall, were recorded at Miraval. He sold the studio in 1992.
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Much of the biographical information for this article was taken from Wikipedia and the New York Times. Only the latter was quoted directly.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Buried Treasure: Various Artists - Exile On Blues Street (2003)

This is a re-posting of a review that first appeared here in 2006. It has been edited from the original.
I offer my deepest apologies to those people who believe the Rolling Stones really were the "world's greatest rock 'n' roll band" because I'm about to commit rock 'n' roll blasphemy with this statement: Exile on Main Street, the band's 1972, double-disc LP, considered by most critics of the musical cultural elite to be one of the finest rock albums ever recorded, is an immensely bad set of songs. Maybe it's the very muddy sounding final mix that made every track, except for the two big hit singles, "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy," sound exactly the same, or is it the crudity of many of the songs. After all, what is there to like about a song titled "Turd on the Run?"

Therefore, you may be surprised to find that I feel just the opposite about this compilation from Telarc consisting of ten songs from Main Street re-recorded by a crackerjack blues band along with a host of blues all-stars.

Exile on Blues Street is another in Telarc's series of CDs in which they take classic rock albums and record new blues versions of them. Two other classics they've reinvented are The Beatles' White Album, which the record company re-titled The Blues White Album, and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde.

The studio band Telarc gathered for this CD includes Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon, formerly of Stevie Ray Vaughan's band. Each track has a different lead vocalist and often a different lead guitarist. Christine Ohlman does a hot version of "All Down the Line," Otis Taylor sings and plays guitar on "Sweet Black Angel" with Cassie Taylor on backup vocal, and Tommy Castro sets fire to "Rip This Joint." Another favorite is Lucky Peterson's take of "Ventilator Blues" and Tab Benoit steps to the plate with "Shake Your Hips." Jimmy Thackery closes the ten song disc with a fantastic "Rocks Off."

It is common knowledge that the Stones music was born from the blues, but they mostly played a hybrid fused with rock. This album is the real thing and is a great example of how the Stones would have sounded if they stayed in the genre rather than playing rock for more than fifty years. Listening to this CD will make you appreciate their music in a way you never have before.

Fortunately, "Turd on the Run" is nowhere to be found.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Michael Bublé - Love (2018)

Love (the cover has only a heart signifying the disc's title), is Michael Bublé's first album since his very young son, Noah, has gone into remission during his hard fought battle with liver cancer.

Love is another of Bublé's perfectly executed collections of songs and the album's title is a brief, but accurate, moniker for the disc's theme. On this, his tenth release, the Canadian star has proven again that he is today's most important purveyor of the Great American Songbook. No one else comes close.

The eleven tracks feature big band arrangements, full blown orchestras, and small groups. Much of it is swinging. "Such A Night" is high octane, big band, jazz at it's finest and "I Only Have Eyes For You" sounds like Nelson Riddle backing Frank Sinatra.

Bublé does great justice to "La Vie en Rose." He receives important assists from a sad violin that conjures up images of a Parisian sidewalk café and from a Grammy winning jazz singer, Cécile McLorin Salvant, an American now living in France. They make this track appropriately old fashioned and surprisingly effective.

"When Your Smiling," a song long associated with Judy Garland, is another upbeat, swinging affair that has call and response backing vocals, a common musical device used in the 1940s by the big bands.

As always, because Bublé is not entirely stuck in an era that his grandmother should know he adds a few modern tunes to every record such as the one song on which he shares a composing credit. On "Forever Now," he is backed only by a solo, acoustic piano. Here, he gets to show off his perfectly smooth voice, totally unencumbered by an arrangement.

"My Funny Valentine" has quite a lush setting, the kind of production that David Foster, his long time producer, has always excelled at. He's perfectly suited to work with an artist like Bublé.

"Unforgettable" may not be as unforgettable as Nat King Cole's classic hit but you'll probably love this version too.

It has been written that this set of songs is in direct contrast to the tough times Bublé and his family have been going through the last couple of years. That assessment couldn't be more accurate and that is a good thing for both the singer and his fans. It's one of the reasons that Love is among Bublé's best work.

Bublé's website can be found here.