Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Philippe Margotin & Jean-Michel Guesdon - All The Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release (2013)

All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release is a thoroughly entertaining coffee table book that is a chronological reference guide about their recording career. It's a massive volume that is chock full of information that needn't be read as a cohesive whole. The five pound, 653 page, encyclopedia covers all of The Beatles' songs.

The inspiration behind every track is discussed, along with details of how each one was constructed and recorded in the studio, which Beatle played what instrument, and what support outside musicians contributed during their guest appearances. We also learn a lot of background and biographical information because quite often the quartet's personal lives fueled a song's creation. Also included are many photographs that you've probably never seen before.

The book begins in Hamburg where the band, recording under the name "The Beat Brothers" and with Pete Best still on board, served as a backup group for Tony Sheridan in 1961. It continues on, discussing the demos that led producer George Martin and Parlophone to offer The Beatles a one year recording deal. From there the book takes us on a tour of all 213 songs they released during their career, ending in 1970 with "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)," the B-side to "Let It Be."

Author Philippe Margotin is the author of several books about music including biographies on The Rolling Stones, U2, and Radiohead. His co-author, Jean-Michel Guesdon, is both a producer and musician who owns a large collection of information about The Beatles that he amassed over the last thirty years.

The preface is by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Patti Smith, an unlikely Beatles fan if there ever was one but, as we quickly discover, even the "Godmother of Punk" succumbed to the charms of the ultra-famous Liverpudlians.

All the Songs is both very interesting and well researched but it's appeal is strictly for hardcore fans. Casual fans will view it as information overload.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Annie Haslam - Annie Haslam (1989)

Some singers are outstanding in any format. They are the ones who can easily rise above the restrictions that are sometimes thrust upon them by record companies and popular trends. The great Annie Haslam, on this self-titled, eleven song CD that is her attempt at staying relevant after her time in the spotlight had passed, is one of them. Here, away from Renaissance, she succumbed to the very trendy synthesizers and electronic drums that took over pop music during the era this album was created. The electronics, of course, wash all musicality and originality out of her arrangements.

Fortunately, the English prog-rock singer uses her gorgeous five octave range to minimize the distractions. Haslam is so good here that the listener frequently doesn't even notice the mundane music behind her and by the album's mid-point she offers up two co-written tunes, "She's the Light" and "Celestine," that almost take her back to her roots. There are enough touches of violin, harp, and other sounds loved and used by her old band to keep the computerized musical demons in their places most of the time.

Despite the album's drawbacks there is still some good stuff to listen to. Haslam can still easily reach the upper registers. Listen to the end of "Wishin' On A Star" for proof.

She (not the band) supplies the melodies to "Moonlight Shadow" and "The Angels Cry" making both of them satisfying listens. Fellow British prog-rocker, Justin Hayward, a man who knows a little bit about composing melodies himself, wrote the latter and sings backup.

Mel Collins, former sax player for King Crimson, also helps out on "Let It Be Me" which is as close to R & B as a singer with Haslam's influences and track record can get without actually crossing the line.

The synths only get completely in the way on "When A Heart Finds Another" and on "One More Arrow."

The sessions were produced by Larry Fast who is famous for working with Bryan Ferry and Peter Gabriel.

Annie Haslam was the singer's third solo album and her first post-Renaissance effort.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Forgotten Music Thursday & Great Cover Versions: Nilsson - Without You (1972)

Once in awhile a piece of music sounds so generic that you wonder what someone else hears in it but that's what makes some people musicians while millions of us without talent work in cubicles. They hear things in songs we never will. One of those blessed with such talent was the late Harry Nilsson who obviously heard something in Badfinger's "Without You" that no one else did, not even the song's composers.

The troubled British quartet released the original version of "Without You," written by the band's Tom Evans and Pete Ham, for their 1970 album, No Dice. However, their arrangement of this soon-to-be massive 1972 hit for Nilsson never got noticed by the public and it was destined to be just another deep track from a classic album.  Even Ham and Evans believed it was nothing more than album filler.

Badfinger's recording is quite thin when compared to Nilsson's more melodramatic take that appeared on his 1971 Nilsson Schmilsson LP.  The 45 RPM that was culled from his album reached #1 on the US pop charts and stayed there for four weeks in the winter of '72.

Mariah Carey also covered the song as a single in 1994 and she rode it to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in America. It also became her biggest hit in Europe. Carey's performance was based on Nilsson's record and because it lacked the originality that his did the critics were not as kind to her.

Today, it is Nilsson's version that still resonates while almost no one remembers the original Badfinger track.


Friday, August 22, 2014

Great Cover Versions: The Allman Brothers Band - Heart of Stone (2003)

A new, occasional series starts today on Bloggerhythms, Great Cover Versions, featuring songs that are just as good, or better, than their original and/or more famous versions.

In 1965 The Rolling Stones released "Heart of Stone," an early single that became a big hit in America. It's one of The Glimmer Twins better, early ballads, but today, unfortunately, it mostly takes a back seat to many of their more famous tunes. It's a fine performance with an excellent vocal by Mick Jagger.

As good as The Stones version was, The Allman Brothers Band released an even better take of this tune on their last album, Hittin' the Note, in 2003 with both Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes playing guitar. Greg Allman's superb, soulful vocal is superior to Jagger's. If this album truly was the last ABB studio set it was a great way to go out.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Puss N Boots - No Fools, No Fun (2014)

Other than the actual music one of the more endearing qualities about Norah Jones is that the anti-diva is among the few unselfish pop stars on the planet when it comes to sharing the spotlight with others. Her ego doesn't need to call attention to herself because she is all about the music.

While the singer-songwriter is the main attraction in The Little Willies she is not the sole reason to listen to that country band's two albums. She is even more selfless when teaming with Billy Jo Armstrong on Foreverly, the duo's tribute to The Everly Brothers, and now Jones has allowed herself to be nothing greater than one third of Puss N Boots, another country collaboration with Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper.

Jones, Dobson, and Popper have been performing together since 2008 and this year they finally released an album, No Fools, No Fun. Only five of the songs come from the ladies themselves, the rest are cover versions, and there are four live tracks.

Speaking of covers, the band has impeccable taste, choosing works from many hall of fame worthy composers: Robbie Robertson ("Twilight"), Roger Miller (a live version of "Tarnished Angel"), and Jeff Tweedy ("Jesus Etc."), as well as "Cry, Cry, Cry" by Johnny Cash.

The only two songs that rock are "Don't Know What It Means," the only composition on the album written by Jones. On it she handles electric guitar duties like she was born to play rockabilly. It's immediately followed by a killer cover of Neil Young's "Down By The River" where she rips some great lead lines while sounding a lot like Young. Jones has mostly been known as a pianist but here she proves that she's no slouch with an axe in her hands.

The trio is not interested in playing to current trends at all. The ultimate proof is "In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town" which dates back to 1932. Their vocals on this chestnut as well as Tom Paxton's "Leaving London" feature pure, three part, country girl harmonies reminiscent of Trio, the great country roots disc by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt. The difference is that Puss N Boots is rawer than that celebrated super group's first release. This isn't a criticism of the younger outfit because their sparse, often drummerless arrangements, are a perfect foundation for their vocals and songs.

The star's democratic role here also brings to mind Mark Knopfler's one-off sessions with The Notting Hillbillies, Missing...Presumed Having a Good Time, a country album with a group of unknowns on which the fabulous guitarist takes less than a starring role.

I have no idea if No Fools, No Fun is just a lark or if Puss N Boots will use this effort as a springboard into something more permanent. However, the music the three make on these fourteen tracks is completely worth your time and often a lot of fun.