Thursday, February 23, 2012

Forgotten Music Thursday: Daryl Hall & John Oates - Whole Oats (1972)

Whole Oats, the out of print, debut album from Hall & Oates is a complete anomaly in their catalog. The LP is more acoustic folk music than blue-eyed soul and more singer-songwriter based soft pop than rock. Here they sound nothing like the monster hitmaking machine of ten years later. Even so, it's obvious the duo was targeted for big things because Atlantic Records signed them to a contract and assigned the outstanding Arif Mardin to produce. His sterling track record includes Dusty Springfield's Dusty In Memphis.

According to Wikipedia, the famous Philadelphians were going to use Whole Oats as their band name, and Atlantic even released a 45 RPM with that moniker, but the album was released in their own names instead even though they kept the original play on words as the album title.

The closest this platter sounds to anything else Hall and Oates ever recorded was their classic followup, Abandoned Luncheonette, from 1973 but even that record differed greatly from this one because Whole Oats is easily the quietest music the duo ever put on vinyl. The upbeat moments remind the listener of Luncheonette, especially on the regional favorite "Fall in Philadelphia." "Goodnight and Goodmorning" features Hall on mandolin, a track that sounds like "When the Morning Comes," part one. "Lilly (Are You Happy)," "I'm Sorry," and "All Our Love" also have light traces of R & B, tight harmonies, or both, but the rest of the time these two voices will be hard to recognize. Very soft acoustic backdrops frequently accompany solo vocals, most notably on Hall's "Waterfall," which is predominantly his voice backed by a quiet acoustic piano.

Whole Oats is for H & O completists, aficionados (like me) of the 70s version of the blue-eyed soulsters, and for fans of ballads and light rock. If you are someone stuck in the Private Eyes and H2O era of the band you might be taken by surprise and possibly even disappointed at what you'll hear.

You can still buy the whole album on mp3 from Amazon but if you want it on CD you can only buy it at outrageous collector prices. It's less expensive on vinyl but still not a bargain. However, the music gods were smiling down on me because earlier this week I found a copy at a local used record store for just $2.00 and the disc looks and sounds as if it was never played. The LP's cover is in outstanding condition too.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Is There Anyone Out There?

Hello!

I've really enjoyed publishing this blog for the last seven years and I want to keep going. However, the time has come for me to reassess if it still has a place on the web. Both comments and readership have declined significantly over the last few months so I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just writing for myself.

Have the quality of my posts deteriorated or is it just that blogs are too old school and are no longer relevant because everyone now spends most of their cyber-time on Facebook and Twitter?

I really enjoy mixing the classic rock with the current stuff. Since the former still seems to draw a bigger audience than do posts about new artists I'm going to assume I have an older readership. On the other hand, Forgotten Music Thursdays, this blog's most popular feature, has also attracted a smaller audience recently.

So, I just want to know. Do you have any suggestions to improve Bloggerhythms and is there still anyone out there?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Paul McCartney - Kisses on the Bottom (2012)

We all know that Paul McCartney has a taste for music that was written not long after the fictional Lord Grantham and his family were walking the giant halls of Downton Abbey so it may have been inevitable that the rock veteran would release a CD of (to use his own lyrics of many years ago) "relics from a different age." While I'm aware that standards and songs from the Great American Songbook may not be everyone's cup of tea those of us who appreciate the sound of those bygone days know McCartney always possessed a flair for writing, playing, and singing this kind of stuff quite well. He started recording tunes like these all the way back in 1963 during his early days with The Beatles. They include The Music Man's "Til There Was You," "When I’m Sixty-Four," "Honey Pie," "You Gave Me the Answer" and more.

However, the ex-Beatle's latest CD, Kisses on the Bottom, is a questionable venture and not because of the enterprise itself. It's the timing of the release. While hooking up with Diana Krall's band is a very good idea, and the song selection is fine, the problem lies with McCartney's singing. His voice is past its prime and the spare musical backdrop supporting him tends to emphasize this more than his recent rock productions have. If he had taken on this project fifteen years ago he probably would have been able to pull it off with whole lot of panache.

There are two McCartney originals that blend in well with the standards. The first single, "My Valentine," has Eric Clapton playing acoustic guitar, and "Only Our Hearts" features Stevie Wonder on harmonica. Because both are self-penned tunes they work better than the covers do because the singer composed them to fit into his vocal range.

The double entendre album title comes from the song "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter." It's cute but a little weird.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

The Bucket List: John Mayall - Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966)

It's often been said that Eric Clapton's greatest album is Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. It's supposed to be one of the few double LPs that can justify its length but, while it's a nice set, to these ears it shouldn't be considered one of rock's most revered classics. Instead, Clapton's best work goes all the way back to 1966, between his gigs with The Yardbirds and Cream, to a time when he was a member of John Mayall's Blues Breakers.

A hallmark of British blues, this is the album that began all of the "Clapton is God" pronouncements that were everywhere at the time. However, he isn't the only one to give an outstanding performance during these sessions. Mayall, who always owned a phenomenal reputation as a bandleader who discovered a boatload of talent more so than as a musician, put together his best band ever with this short-lived lineup. The soon-to-be-famous axeman was accompanied by Mayall on keyboards, harmonica, and lead vocals. The group was rounded out by an outstanding rhythm section of John McVie (later of Fleetwood Mac fame) on bass and drummer Hughie Flint who went on to organize the forgotten folk-rock outfit McGuinness Flint that featured songwriters Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle.

The leader allowed Clapton to take his first ever recorded lead vocal and his guitar is showcased on every tune. His solos are blazing and nobody can stop him. He always played the right thing at the right time. It's absolutely amazing how "God" can just turn it on at will. Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton stands as the template for all of the American influenced English blues that followed. I know this statement is going way out on a limb but not only is this record closer to the real thing than any other LP recorded by superstar blues oriented bands such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin it's also a much richer listening experience because there is no pretense involved. It's just a true labor of love.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Charlie Phillips - What It Is (2012)

I'm always reluctant to write about artists who are strictly part of the local music scene because reader interest is usually minimal. However, all artists start out with nothing more than small, local followings. There was a time when Elvis Presley was an unknown singer from Tupelo, Mississippi, when nobody knew The Beatles outside of Liverpool, and REM was just another band from Athens, GA. In today's almost totally connected world it's easier than ever for artists to spread their wings beyond home. A young band's music is no longer confined to just low wattage radio stations and seedy bars that are within a short car ride from their day jobs.

So, keeping all of that in mind I bring you Charlie Phillips who I've had the pleasure of seeing twice at a local suburban Philadelphia coffee house, Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square. Phillips currently plays there for free on the first Friday of every month and in January he hosted a CD release party for What It Is, his third album of original songs. His following is small but his fans are also quite a devoted bunch because they are fully aware of his multiple talents. The musician's business card advertises that he is a "performing songwriter." That's true because he's both a talented lyricist and a rock 'n roller who doesn't forget about the music behind the words.

What It Is is eclectic. The CD jumps out at you right from the starting gate with "Grace of God", a danceable, upbeat rocker about the role luck and fate can play in our lives. There are ballads too. "Just Not Ready Yet" and the title track are anything but sappy. Phillips plays acoustic guitar and harmonica but his band supports him with an array of keyboards, saxophone, accordion, and hot electric guitar work. There are also cellos, violas, and violins on the last three tracks. Overall, it's a smart work by a man who has been musically active in Delaware County, PA for the last fifteen years.

For the release party Phillips played all twelve tracks from What It Is and then he encored with four more songs: one of his original tunes, two by members of his band, and he closed the evening out with an all acoustic but quite powerful version of The Beatles' "Back In the U.S.S. R." The concert was definitely worth the one hour drive.

From anywhere in the world you can learn more about Charlie Phillips on his website and at ReverbNation where you can currently stream a whole bunch of tracks for free. You can buy What It Is at CD Baby and on iTunes.