Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big Star - Big Star Story (2003)

I never participated in the multitude of the recent tributes to the late Alex Chilton because I wasn't familiar with the music of his post-Box Tops band, Big Star. I've always known about this hallowed group but somehow I never found an opportunity to listen to their music, until now.

While shopping in my favorite used CD store two weeks ago, armed only with the information that for decades Chilton and his band were crowned the kings of power pop by a loyal cult following, I decided it was time to take the plunge and make a purchase. There were several choices available. I could have bought a double disc repackaging of #1 Record / Radio City, (1972 and 1974 respectively) their first two LPs, or Big Star Live, but I settled for a compilation called Big Star Story.

Research has indicated that fans view Story as a poorly assembled retrospective. First, not every track is a Big Star song. Both "I Am the Cosmos" and "You and Your Sister" are from a solo album recorded by Chilton's band mate, the late Chris Bell. Unfortunately, there is no discussion about why these particular numbers were included in the package and if you aren't already familiar with Bell's songs you'll have to dig deep into the disc's confusing liner notes to discover what they are. Devotees also complained about too many live songs, too many alternate versions, and even the track sequencing. None of this is explained in the liner notes. Because this disc is not a "best of" collection the general consensus is that I would have been better served by purchasing the re-released version of their first two records.

However, as a Big Star virgin this collection is my only frame of reference. The quartet's vocals sound like an amalgam of Revolver era Beatles, The Byrds, and early Who. Their loud electric guitars rock yet never lose sight of the melody. There is no jamming and soloing is kept to a minimum. Big Star is about the songs, not the musicianship, and in their case it's the perfect way to be.

Here is more on Big Star from writer Tom Moon.

Chilton's signature song, "September Gurls," from Radio City is the ultimate representation of what this cool little band was all about. If you are not familiar with Big Star please allow them to introduce themselves now.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Forgotten Music Thursday: Do You Remember Tim Moore?

Obscurity claims another victim. For the second installment of Scott Parker's Forgotten Music let's take a look at Philadelphia's Tim Moore. He has been totally forgotten in his home town and was never known enough anywhere else in North America to have even achieved forgotten status. Isn't it true that to be forgotten someone had to know who you were in the first place?

Here at home, Moore was best known for a song Art Garfunkel also turned into a minor hit, the moving ballad, "Second Avenue." Unfortunately, except in Philadelphia, Garfunkel's version did better on the charts and on the radio. To this day Moore's version remains one of my all-time favorite breakup songs.

Early on, Moore was the drummer for a local Philadelphia band, Woody's Truck Stop, featuring Todd Rundgren. Later, believe it or not, Frank Zappa became a fan and wanted to produce the rather conventional rocker and singer-songwriter. However, when the avant-garde composer didn't have the time to follow through with it, Moore left New York City and went to work for Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff back in Philadelphia. He then recorded one album with Daryl Hall in a band called Gulliver before John Oates came along.

Soon Moore's songwriting attracted enough attention to secure a record deal with Asylum. The multi-instrumentalist played almost everything himself on his 1974 eponymous debut album. The record contains some really good stuff: "A Fool Like You," "When You Close Your Eyes," "Charmer," and "Second Avenue."

Three more LPs soon followed. Moore composed "Rock 'n Roll Love Letter," a song The Bay City Rollers turned into a hit for his second disc, Behind The Lines. Don't let the The Rollers connection fool you. Moore's version really rocked. His third, White Shadows, was recorded in Los Angeles in 1977 with help from Bill Payne of Little Feat, Timothy B. Schmidt, drummer Jeff Porcaro, David Foster, and Michael McDonald. High Contrast followed two years later. None achieved even a modicum of success before he disappeared from the music scene.

In 1985 Moore recorded one more album, Flash Forward, and a song from it, "Yes," became a giant hit in both Brazil and Portugal in the late 80s. This resulted in a long tour of The South American country after the song went to the top of the charts. Meanwhile, Moore remained a non-entity in the United States where the CD is available only as an expensive import.

Here are the original versions of the upbeat "Charmer," the ballad "A Fool Like You," and the beautiful "Second Avenue."

Finally, here is a Portugese video of "Yes" sung in English.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Poco - The ForgottenTrail (1990)

Poco has never released a box set but there are some nice compilations out there that need to be scooped up. The best one is the superlative double disc, The Forgotten Trail (1969 - 1974). It's not only for the casual fans or curiosity seekers. This is a collection for true Poco aficionados.

The package's thirty-eight songs span Poco's formative and glory years with Epic Records. Included are most of the best songs from their first eight albums plus eleven other previously unreleased tracks from 1969 to 1974. Then the quartet left Epic for MCA where Paul Cotton and Rusty Young finally led them to some much deserved commercial success.

In addition to all of the band's "hits" (and I use that term both lovingly and jokingly) there are some fantastic rarities. Among them are Richie Furay's single "My Kind of Love" backed with Timothy B. Schmidt's "Hard Luck." Both appear on an album for the first time. Young's pedal steel inflected instrumental "Last Call (Cold Enchilada #3)" was released here for the first time as was another of his wordless entries, "Skunk Creek." A special treat is an all acoustic version of Jim Messina's "You Better Think Twice" with some great guitar pickin' by the composer. There is also the never before heard Messina ballad, "Lullaby In September" that he wrote for Furay's wife as a baby shower present. She was expecting the couple's first child.

The set also includes "Pickin' Up The Pieces," "Grand Junction," the original "You Better Think Twice," "C'mon," "From The Inside," "Kind Woman," "Just For Me And You," "A Good Feelin' To Know," "And Settlin' Down," "Crazy Eyes," and Cotton's "Bad Weather," a song about the breakup of his previous group, The Illinois Speed Press. The only glaring omission is "Let's Dance Tonight."

An outstanding thirty-six page booklet is included that offers tons of biographical information about the band's golden era including interviews with most of its members. There are some nice pictures and good information about who played on the different albums, something that is necessary because Poco's lineup was constantly in flux.

The most important thing about this whole release (other than the obvious joy of listening to the music) is that it shows Poco's importance in rock history. These trailblazers heavily influenced The Eagles (whose lineup even included two former Poco members) and almost all other country-rockers. Today, anyone involved with a sub-genre often referred to as Americana owes a huge debt to the band that played a significant role in its birth. Why Rusty Young, Jim Messina, Paul Cotton, Timothy B. Schmidt, George Grantham, and Richie Furay (who was inducted with Buffalo Springfield) are not in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame is not only a mystery, it may be the museum's greatest travesty.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Controversial Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame

Yesterday the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held their annual induction ceremonies. This year ABBA, Genesis, The Hollies, Jimmy Cliff, and The Stooges were the honorees and, once again, disagreements have arisen over who is deserving of membership. As always, the only real eligibility requirements are that you can not be inducted until twenty-five years after you made your first record and (here is where the controversy begins) you must make a significant contribution to the art form.

There are artists in the hall who most definitely are not rock musicians but their influence on the music has been significant. That explains why Cliff was inducted. The Stooges were only marginally popular with the masses but were critical favorites. The opposite is true of ABBA. They were hated by the music snobs but were hugely popular worldwide. Genesis were lucky enough to receive both widespread popularity and artistic acceptance. My favorite among this year's rookies are The Hollies who, like Genesis, were both popular and critically acclaimed.

Many of us, me included, often curse Jann Wenner and his minions because of the musicians the museum chooses to honor. Yet I'd like to suggest that the people running the often maligned institution mostly get it right, especially when you consider the meaning of the term rock 'n roll. The All Music Guide believes that rock music had a clear definition only during its formative years. I agree. There have been so many colors broadening the genre's palette since "Rock Around The Clock" that its boundaries have become clouded and controversial. Doo wop, the teen idol era, the British Invasion, Southern Rock, Heavy Metal, most singer-songwriters, and more are all considered rock 'n roll. I believe its all-encompassing nature is a big reason why so many of us have problems with who is chosen for entry year after year. I don't believe the arguments will subside anytime soon.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Michael Bublé - Crazy Love (2009)

A few years ago, while discussing Michael Bublé's outstanding Christmas EP I wrote, "When I first heard this CD I was stunned. Nobody sings like the old time big band vocalists anymore and therefore saying Bublé is the best 1940s band singer since Sinatra may seem like faint praise. However, one listen and you know Frank would have been impressed." I still believe every word.

Crazy Love is Bublé's latest full length CD and it may be the most diverse disc of his career. As always he offers us a bunch of old standards including "All Of Me," Georgia On My Mind," "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You," "All I Do Is Dream Of You," and "Cry Me A River." The acapella group, Naturally 7, accompany him on Hoagy Carmichael's ancient "Stardust."

Of course, being younger, Bublé is simply not just your parents' crooner. His choice of collaborators and more modern material mixed in with the older classics are the proof. "Baby (You Got What It Takes)" is performed with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, "Whatever It Takes" is a duet with the song's composer, fellow Canadian, Ron Sexsmith. More recent standards that your Mother or Grandmother wouldn't know because they aren't from the days when Bing, Frank, Dean, and Sammy ruled the roost include Van Morrison's "Crazy Love," Billy Vera's "At This Moment," and The Eagles' "Heartache Tonight." The latter doesn't really lend itself to being transported out of a rock setting but Bublé nails it as best he can.

Bublé co-wrote two new songs for this album, "Hold On," and the bubbly single, "Haven't Met You Yet." Both fit in very well.

Everything on Crazy Love shows that lounge singers, or crooners, or whatever you want to call them, can elevate their often derided and stereotyped genre to wonderful heights with the right mix of songs, collaborators, and vocal talent.

Having grown up on my Mother's 78 RPM records I've been a sucker for jazz singers and big bands all of my life. I wish there were more vocalists like the classy Bublé working today. There are a few who come to mind, mostly women, (Diana Krall, Madeleine Peyroux, and Jane Monheit) but nobody represents the style as well he does.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Eric Carmen - The Best Of Eric Carmen (1988)

Eric Carmen never tried to be the hippest dude on the music scene yet he managed to carve out a niche for himself and ended up cooler than many of his critics would ever be willing to admit. Carmen first came to prominence with The Raspberries, a four piece who were considered musically out of touch by just as many people who believed they were the quintessential 60s rock band of the 70s. Two early hits, "Go All The Way" and "I Wanna Be With You," had obvious British Invasion influences but most critics considered them trite imitations. Also, the band wore matching outfits on their LP covers, something that made them even more disliked by the rock establishment of 1972. The band may have begun their career far behind the times but they were eventually considered to be power-pop pioneers a few years later when a significant portion of the rock community embraced artists like Nick Lowe who helped make the sub-genre popular.

On their last album, Starting Over, released in 1974, the band updated their sound by adding a harder edge to their music, at times even sounding like a genuine 70s hard rock outfit. Side one opened with what I believe was their best song, the terrific "Overnight Sensation." It's about Carmen's desire for a number one hit record.

After Starting Over failed to live up to Carmen's expectations he disbanded The Raspberries and rose to greater commercial heights as a solo artist. The Best Of Eric Carmen is an eleven track compilation that is perfect for the casual fan as it contains all of his best known solo hits. Included are "All By Myself" a song he based on Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto #2," and "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again," both from his solo debut. There is "Hungry Eyes," from the soundtrack of Dirty Dancing, as well as "Hey Deanie," "She Did It," "Boats Against The Current," and "It Hurts Too Much."

The set would not be complete without the best song he wrote and recorded either as a solo artist or with The Raspberries, "Make Me Lose Control," a huge hit that the CD's liner notes describe as "an infectious hymn to the seductive powers of pop." The highlight of Carmen's career occurs when he sings, "Turn the radio up for that sweet sound, hold me close and never let me go." The song may not be high art but it sure is fun.

As a solo artist Carmen may have driven in a different direction than his original band traveled but his pleasant singing voice, his production values, and his knack for writing melodies that stick with a listener long after hearing them for the last time, make him an artist who transcends traditional top 40 fare.

Here is a live version of "Make Me Lose Control" introduced by Cousin Brucie, the legendary New York DJ.